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Entries in purpose (4)


Riff on This: Go

Crochety middle-aged people like me are sometimes overheard saying things like oh puh-lease. Kindergarten graduation? Give me a break. But when I saw the stack of hand-decorated mortarboards in Ezra's classroom, I knew this was the kind of celebration that didn't take itself too seriously.

In the run-up to the end of the school year I found myself more astounded by this kid Ezra is becoming than where-did-the-time-go nostalgic. He surprised me last week by taking over a Dr. Seuss book at bedtime and reading to me out of the blue. (And with that, Hop on Pop catapulted into first place in my personal ranking of books in the English language.) When he was a baby I used to stare at him and wonder who are you? and now every day he reveals a little more of himself.

The teachers told the parents to wait on the playground while the kids lined up for their processional. Suddenly 100 kindergarteners shuffled down the walkway, each wearing a paper graduation cap and holding a laminated piece of paper inscribed with one word, usually an adjective. One by one they passed the teacher with the microphone, stopping to hold up thier sign and say

I'm Sophie, and I'm curious!

I'm Ben, and I'm smart!

I'm Neveah, and I'm funny!

I'm Aiden, and I'm an artist!

And finally, here comes Ezra.

Engineer. Of course.

Afterward I asked his teacher where the words came from. She said we asked the kids to think of a word that describes who you are on the inside. And I laughed because I'm amazed to think Ezra knows himself so well at age five.

If he was finishing high school I might have given him that Dr. Seuss graduation classic, Oh The Places You'll Go but instead I wondered if I could possibly settle on one word that describes who I am on the inside.

Mother? Witness? Storyteller?

On Facebook last week, an old friend posted a letter from Hunter S. Thompson to someone who had asked him advice for finding your purpose. He wrote it when he was only 22, and while I don't tend to take advice from people who have barely escaped adolescence, the Good Doctor had an interesting perspective on finding and creating meaning even then.

...[Often] we set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

...[So] to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors— but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires— including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES... In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important.

This little ditty loops through my mind as I wonder where do I go from here? Does who I am on the inside match who I am on the outside? For Ezra, it may take years to know if the desire to build leads him to engineer. Hell, here I am, ostensibly a grownup still asking myself the same questions. I hope we both get to become who we are, most authentically and satisfyingly.

In the meantime, Ezra's making a beeline for summer vacation.


Some of my compatriots in this month's blog hop have much bigger adventures to report.  Hope on over to Lindsey Garrett to see the epic GO she's documenting.


The Point

Happy birthday, new friend!The topo map of my internal creative landscape lately looks a bit like I imagine Kansas - wide, meandering contours, vast empty space, point-less.  I am used to inhabiting a creative Colorado, ideas jutting up into my consciousness like the million points of the Rocky Mountains and flowing out here like snow melt.  Now I'm down here in the flat lands, trying to herd words uphill.  Gravity is not my ally in this effort, when it seems like every helium-filled wisp of idea is encased in concrete boots and ditched somewhere around Byers, Kansas.

I bought a fancy new camera, and suddenly all the simple things I usually train my eye on seemed too banal for this equipment, like driving a new Ferrari down West Colfax, waiting at endless stoplights and passing shuttered motels and used car lots.  This is neurotic, for sure, but if I have no pictures and if my ideas have all gotten lost somewhere in the central time zone then this space starts to look a little, er, past its prime. 

So in case you have been wondering where I've been lately, think Kansas.


I got lucky this week though, when a close friend pushed this little Buddha of a boy out and into our village. This? This was worth getting the Ferrari out of the garage and racing at top speeds out to the University to witness.  We human beings do this everyday, this birthing of new human beings.  But damn if this nine-and-a-half pounds of confusion and tiny clenched fists isn't a miracle anyway.  He is all fuzzy blond hair and fingernails and soon-to-be-blue eyes that are mostly shut hard because why do you have to keep it so bright out here, people?  He is 12 hours old when I meet him and he is full of qi and hungry and smells like the fountain of youth.

The gift of all this for me was that I got to have a point.  Milestones, rites of passage, these are obvious signposts that beg us to sit up and notice and freeze them in our hearts and minds.  This morning as I write this, the baby boy is five times as old as he was in this picture, so I bet when I see him later he'll have lots of teeth and be cranking The Pixies in his room while he writes algorithms.

This makes me want to take note of things - all kinds of things - before they escape to Kansas, never to be heard from again.


My old friend Larisa told me a few months ago that I should enter a piece of writing into BlogHer's annual Voices of the Year competition, and since I usually do what people I admire tell me to do I dropped this piece into the running in their Identity category.  And then because I am afraid to ask people to vote for things, I didn't tell anyone about it.  And then I forgot about it.

So you might imagine my surprise when I got an e-mail yesterday saying I had been selected as one of the honorees.  There is simply no way to adequately convey my delight at being included in this group of artists and truth-tellers, and more broadly, at having this space to air my joys and struggles and fumbling excursions through the wilderness of my internal creative Rocky Mountains.  May a million more points solidify here and in our virtual village at large.



81.365 50mm f2.8 1/500 ISO 200If I know anything about nurturing deep and abiding friendships (and I like to think I do) it must be in part because I have watched my mom and my godmother do it beautifully for my whole life.  I am lucky to be a sort of junior partner in their small sisterhood.

I am lucky also that they are both unflinchingly supportive of whatever folly I might indulge in, including this blog.  Jewel, my godmother, is an artist and I was surprised to discover that I really got her thinking with my repeated handwringing in this space about the what does it do? test I feel compelled to apply to my pictures.  (I should admit here that I have never really had a specific list of criteria that would prove to me whether any given picture actually does anything.  It's been more of an I know it when I see it kind of thing.)

But.  Luckily there are people in my life who are more methodical than myself.  Jewel had not only been thinking through the question of what does it do? but answering it.  In actual list form.  And of course the minute she told me that I thought oh right!  I should have thought to do that.  She was  kind enough to share her list with me, with the caveat that it is by no means complete:

by Jewel Wheeler

How cool is that?

So here is a resolution as I start 2011 and continue on this 365 path: aim to have each picture do something.  It may not be possible to live up to this every day, but I'm going to point myself toward this True North.  Of course it would be easier to achieve if the list were longer.  Any ideas of other things I might add?

Oh, and Happy New Year everybody!


Raison D'ĂȘtre

35.365 45mm f5.3 1/125 ISO 400I watched this husky practically prance through yesterday morning's light snow.  She was actually smiling, looking for all the world like she had been waiting for this weather through the long hot months and now that it was here her sled dog genes were urging her on in a propulsive burst of bliss.  She just had so much graceful momentum.

It made me wonder what it would be like to have a purpose so clear that it's not even necessary to think about it, that it's just coded into you.  How would it be to just be on the path, with confidence?  There would be no need to fret over it.  It would just fit.  You would simply do it because you couldn't not do it.  And I imagine it would look a lot like joy.

Anybody out there on that path?  How did you find it?