Revisiting some thoughts I had last year on blogging for a year, making discoveries, and on Columbus Day, which is tomorrow, 13 October…..
This year on 14 October we are celebrating, or not celebrating, depending on your world view, Columbus Day.
Either he discovered something, or was terribly lost, and then found by people who already lived where he landed.
But since it is also the day that marks one year since I have been blogging for Reflection and Choice, I am here to tell you: sometimes, whether you know it or not, you are both lost and found, unsure and triumphant. Clueless, yet on your way to the epiphany that you never saw coming, the shore that you thought you would never see. It’s the price of the ticket, the risk of the voyage. You don’t know how it will end.
When I was asked to start blogging, I have to confess that I dragged my heels for about two months. Like Columbus and his voyages, I wasn’t exactly ready to say “Bon Voyage.” It wasn’t that I didn’t want to do it: it was more that I did not know what I was doing. When Columbus was asked to find the East Indies, I am sure he said, “Sure, where are the East Indies?” Much like I said, “Sure, what is a blog?” Whenever I have a student say, “I have never written anything like this before,” I can honestly say, “I know what you mean.”
So it is true, I admit it, I was a little intimidated, and unlike a paper that you hand into a professor (as in, ONE person), you have no idea how many people will read your blog. Like landing on the shores of an unfamiliar island, there is no way of knowing if the natives will welcome you like a god, or harpoon you like a whale. It can get dicey.
So I thought that I would share a few epiphanies that I have had blogging, but I am really hoping that you can apply them to anything that you might set your mind on doing. Life is short, and sometimes things are a shipwreck. But there is no shipwreck like the shipwreck of the intense regret of not trying something that might turn into something worthwhile. You know how that feels, and it isn’t good.
1. Go ahead and get on the ship. You cannot help that there are already millions of people blogging, singing, acting, enrolling in law school, or making multicolored knitted hoodies. If they had asked you, you might have requested that there not be so much widespread participation in your particular endeavor of choice; but, alas, they did not. Don’t think about those people for one minute, because trust me, they are not thinking about you. Sure, other countries in Europe were getting on the exploration bandwagon. But Columbus thought of representing Spain mainly for Christian colonization (and okay, some greed), and so competition wasn’t on his radar as much as finishing the mission. Forget the politics of Columbus DAY, because we are not resolving that here, but think of rather how he HAD a mission, and although there were major glitches, he still proceeded. And now, whether you are staying home from your bank job, or protesting somewhere, you are doing it because of Columbus and his voyages.
2. Don’t stop because it is too easy, or too hard. One time I wrote a post on Houston, and it sort of took off, and was run in The Houston Chronicle on Father’s Day Weekend in the Sunday Features section. I got a nice “letter to the editor” printed about it the next day. I was in such a state of intense happiness. I just wanted repost that essay forever, because nothing in this world is easier than taking it easy when things go well. I just wanted to shop for shoes at Nordstrom, get my hair highlighted, and tell people about that swell essay for the next ten years.
Get a grip! HOW LAZY CAN YOU GET??
Do you really think Columbus said, “Fantastic! I have reached the fifteenth century equivalent of Sandals, and I am on the all inclusive pre-paid package, and I am never going back for another rough voyage without towel service and drinks with umbrellas again.” Why, no. No, he did not.
Another time, as in last week, I did a piece on the government shutdown, and for the first time in my life, I got hate mail. I admit it, it was stressful, it was uncomfortable, but my essay was a solid piece and I think I had something to say that needed to be said. Armed with super cute shoes and recent highlighting, I just bucked up and read that mail, and guess what it was not the end of the world. Columbus died in poverty and was profoundly disrespected at times, but you know, we don’t celebrate Isabella and Ferdinand Day. We celebrate Columbus Day.
Sometimes things are easy. Sometimes things are hard. But you have to Celine Dion it and sing that song “My Heart Will Go On” even if you have sung it a million times, even if people buy a gazillion copies of your compact disc, even if Saturday Night Live parodies you to death. You cannot ever control how people will react to your song. But that is not your job. Your job is to sing. Or act. Or paint. Or build a business. Or sail the ocean blue. Or become the best personal assistant in the history of the world and help me cope with my hate mail. You get the picture.
3. Inspiration is everywhere. You don’t have to go to Paris. But if you do, for heaven’s sake, take me with you. See what I mean about being open to possibilities?
But seriously, (and it pains me to say that I might not need Paris, which sounds kind of crazy on some level), some of the deepest thoughts I have ever had in my life were at a neighborhood a stone’s throw away from where I live doing a volunteer ham radio thing with my son, Christopher. My mind was reeling as I thought about how unprepared we are for what life throws at us, and I didn’t even have to ride the metro to come up with something to say about that. I don’t know if Columbus was inspired by God, or fame, or fortune, but the point is that he committed to the trip.
Sometimes I get the sick feeling that I might never be able to write something again. But words are like drops in the ocean. We are not going to run out. Sometimes, you just read a new book, talk to an old friend, look at the fall moon, and you will change, and have something new to say. Sometimes I stutter, but I am committed to the trip.
Sometimes, that makes all the difference.
I am lucky. I look at my students, and they have everything in the world to look forward to. I read books with them, look at their writing, try to help them align what they think with what they say on the page. It is not easy, and some days, every page feels like discovering a brand new country. Sometimes we invade the country, make people mad, get hate mail. Sometimes we live in harmony with the natives, reconfigure our place in the world, improve. I can assign my students a lot of homework on the mechanics of writing, and sometimes I do. You have to know the technical details of how the ship sails, after all.
But what I really want to tell them is this:
The world is so big, and there are so many voices. It can feel like you have nothing to say. It can feel like the people around you, because they speak almost entirely in declarative sentences, have everything all figured out. It can feel like everyone is saying no, because they lack a certain kind of nerve and imagination that we need in this world.
Now I am not saying don’t take a life jacket.
But don’t miss the ship you are supposed to get on just because someone else would never, ever get on board.