31 August 2011

The Forest For the Trees

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

-Wendell Berry

I find 'impeded' to be an imperfect word, but it's true: those wide smooth rivers and streams just schuss by with whispers. A river, brook or stream filled with rocks and boulders and downed logs crashes and hums and roars and sings.

I wouldn't call my mental or heart state for the last 11 1/2 months "singing". I would call it screaming, more accurately, definitely at least crashing, but it felt more helpless than that most of the time. Downed logs? oh, yes.  What in the hell I'm doing with my life; what purpose it has, if I have to compromise so far on things important to me, or feel so useless and wasteful. Major case in point: life's work.

The one type of work I love takes me to another state, and leaves my partner in the lurch, holding all of our life up here, by himself, making me feel terrifically guilty, marring the perfection so far that I consider giving it up, and it's so hard on him that he puts up an ultimatum, later withdrawn: himself or the lookout.... What can I/should I do, at this point in my life, when I've done only work that makes me content, and is let go when I no longer enjoy it: be a grown up, make myself miserable 40 hours a week? Run away and join the office, as Mike Doughty once put it? Take on the work that is right here in front of me, but in no way feeds my soul? I seem to be pretty good at manifesting things that I want: when that lookout a state away was shut down and broke my heart, putting an extra crunch on my uncertainty of what to do with myself while simultaneously lifting the guilt of being too far away to help--within just a few months I managed to find my way onto another lookout, this one only 3 hours from home. It's still not practical, and only lasts a few months of the year, but still, it's a good sign--can't I manage to figure out something more useful, that makes me content, that is in Whatcom County, and also actually contributes noticeably to our shared income? Just to go one point further, while I'm wishing, how about it involving local food, my other major passion? I could still be outside and with the soil and air…

I am grateful for so many things, small and large, along the way, and feel that I am in the right place; but my sense of balance has been out of whack, and I feel more twitchy, negative, pessimistic and dislocated, dis- or mis- oriented, though it's not so much that the compass is spinning, it's more that I can't get my eyes to see it through the fog. More negative and pessimistic than I’ve ever been in this life, and that alone makes it hard to focus properly.

So, yes. Thank you, Wendell, for telling me that I am finding my true work, and my true journey. It is obnoxiously true, that when we are completely lost, then we are finding our own path the hard way, the most challenging way, and hopefully, the most fulfilling way. My path to this point has been one I drew for myself, and hasn't always been easy, but has never been this hard to see between the rocks and brush and trees. It is simultaneously comforting and frustrating to hear "yeah, all of that journey was swell and things, ya did good, kid, but here's where shit actually gets interesting, where you're gonna have to do the real work. I know that that back there seemed pretty real, but here we are, now, so get to it."

This here path is one of the sort through metaphorical mental, heart, and soul mountains. Here on the blog, I don't get into these terribly often, or at least not exclusively. Thanks for the companionship as I crash around in these damn willows and slide alders, looking for the path on the other side of the stream.

(thanks, Lansia, for the Wendell Berry; and thanks, Kristina, for reminding me that it'll get better, written wonderfully, complete with lots of curse words. it's the best way.)

{and apologies, especially to those who do google reader: blogger was having fits, and giving me fits, and part of the post was missing when it finally went up. here's (most of) the whole thing.}


  1. [blush] You're welcome. I've been having an identity crisis myself the last two months. It's so easy to put up these big bullshit barriers to what you know and love. Then you have this disaster of autopiloting where you move in the directions you know you can move, but it doesn't feel like your actual, authentic self doing the moving. And it's a terrible thing to "just get by" when it comes to the person you know you are. Ugh. No easy answers tonight. I'm pullin' for ya...we're all in this together. :)

  2. Also, the akismet word for the comment was "spermint." A misspelling, sure, but you had me at constant-unintentional-culinary-herb-reference.

  3. Betsy, thanks for sharing. I'm sure you are finding the perfection of where you are at in the moment, which is really all we have, and then the imperfection of every other part of life. Would it not be so spiritually perfect to be able to live "Walden-like" in the moment? I think most of the time, yes, definitely. And then there is love and family and everything else that pulls us back. And we want that too. I struggle with all of these things as well, and it is always comforting to read words from Wendell Berry (Frances Moore Lappe just came and spoke on Monday...another refreshing/inspiring person to look up to). Anyway, my heart is with you. I'm glad that in the moment you are enjoying the peace of the woods, and the humbling words of those wiser. We do miss you out this way too though!