Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Danger of Turning Around...

Highway 441 North from Cherokee to Pigeon Forge was the road I needed to take to get to a certain dinosaur exhibit I'd been promising my son we'd go to for 3 years. It was a Friday in July, and we were finally going to see it. It wasn't a long way from where we were staying on the reservation, only about 40 miles, but it meant traveling a mountain road.

I don't like dislike mountain roads, don't get me wrong. But I'm not keen to be on mountain roads and come across signs like this when there's a thundercloud overhead and my son's in the car with me.

I spent a large majority of my life in the mountains, traveling and hiking, exploring and, yes, driving. And I've never turned back from a sign warning me that the road was dangerous. I've never even thought of it. I'm not a linear person who wants a western-style road that goes on straight forever, the horizon stretching out before me. I don't tend to find a path that will work well enough, feel relieved, and simply stay on it. I can't imagine living my one and only life that way.

I love seeing a bend and wondering what's around it, especially when I'm kayaking a river or taking a leisurely walk. I don't even mind curves when I'm driving. When I've got my child with me, however, there's an entirely different feeling that presents when I see a sign warning me that the road I'm about to go down is dangerous.

But I wondered, in the moment that passed as I read the sign, what would be more dangerous: continuing along the road, as so many other people were doing without hesitation ...or turning around, making a lame excuse to my son for why we couldn't go see the dinosaurs, and settling for some other place to visit, some place with a safer, more predictable road leading to it?

What was, really, more dangerous, the curvy road...or the fear of what lie around the curves? After all, on a linear path, you can see what's coming. There are no bends, and as a result, there's no mystery. And when there's no mystery, there's no fear. You just drive along that path forever, seeing what's coming, in control of...of...what?

No mystery means no surprises. No surprises means no unexpected blessings, no random joy. Nothing but predictability...and the need for predictability is usually based on a need to control. Control and fear, those two dream crushers, always hovering around, waiting for a chance to shine thier dark light.

Seeing the dinosaurs was a long held dream. Fear and the need for control kill dreams. This was an all-or-nothing moment, because there was only one choice: to give in to fear and turn around...or not.

I didn't turn around. Not because I'm bold or brave or reckless, but because I had no real valid reason for turning around. No reason I could have given my son aside from fear of a road I'd never traveled, and that just wasn't a good enough one to me. And so I drove carefully, paying attention to the weather, the other drivers, and most of all, the posted speed limits. And yes, we saw dinosaurs. We saw the Tennessee towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, which are lovely. The views of the mountains we crossed on 441 North were outstanding. The three tunnels we passed through were unexpected surprises. The rain didn't come, save for a few splatters that I didn't even need wipers for. And on the way back down to Cherokee, we came around a bend and spotted an elk foraging on the roadside.

We've got one life to live. Many unfamiliar roads to take. Many times to be presented with the choice to turn around. Many times to give into fear...or keep going and spot an elk around the bend .

Life is already good. It's up to you to make it extraordinary.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bold Ventures

Last weekend, my son and I took a road trip up to Dunn, NC to visit the coffee shop that my friend and my son's former childcare-giver opened up in October. I'll affectionately refer to her as TT, which is what my son called her from the time he could talk until, well, basically the last time he'd seen her.

TT had opened this shop with her husband in October, but she'd left the Greenwood area about 3 years before. The shop was a long awaited dream. I can remember, when she was caring for children in her home, and I was picking up or dropping off my son, we'd talk about coffee (as it seemed to always be brewing at her home like it is at mine,) and how nice it would be to have a coffee shop.

It did my heart good to stand in her shop, and see this dream realized, for it was a greater dream to her than it was to me. And because we are friends, we know something of one another's history. I know what this shop means to her, because I knew her during the time it seemed, as many dreams do, completely unfathomable that this could ever come to be. Yet here it was.

Because the truth is nothing, really, is unfathomable. Another dear friend of mine is off in Asheville taking a 3 week intensive training to become a yoga instructor. She's 59 and only within the last few years has been practicing the art (for true yoga is more of a spiritual art than a sport), and she was very nervous about taking the training because of...drum roll...her age. I'm glad I was able to help her shrug that misconception off. Age is merely a number, meaningless for the most part, and something I never consider in any way when contemplating a new venture. So what if a person is 25, 59, or 110? It's life. I've regaled my readers before with the story of Paul, one of my favorite people of all time, (and someone who I unfortunately lost touch with during many moves), but who decided in his mid-fifties to chuck a double-decades long career as an attorney and go back to college to become a high school art teacher, a job which made him deliriously happy in a way that practicing law never could.

I've written many times in this column about fear, one of those twin demons that keep us from fully living life or accomplishing our dreams. Here are a few fear-driven questions and their appropriate answers:
What will others think?
Usually nil, and it's devestatingly narcissistic to operate from the perspective that others are even thinking of you and what you're doing at all.
What if I fail? What's the worst that will happen in that scenario? Chances are, you'll survive it.
What if I'm told no? You'll say okay, and move on. But at least you would have asked.

I'm sitting here writing this today with the startling realization that, after seeing what my friends are up to, I've been idle long enough. It's time to make some changes. For most of 2010, I was pretty sure I'd be living and working abroad by 2012. A pretty fantastic dream, yes. I'd love to live a while with my son in another culture. But now that plan has effectively been scrapped and it's time for some new ones.

A couple of weeks ago I came across an old life list I'd written in my 20s, things I wanted to do and accomplish. And I was pleased to see that, for the most part, I'd done most of the things that were on the list, even though the list itself had been shoved into the abyss of my filing cabinets for a decade. I'll share a few items:

1. Visit Finland and stand on the shore of the Baltic Sea (done)
6. Make a large outdoor sculpture in an area where I can't control it's permanence (done)
12. Learn to spin yarn (done, and not something I'll likely ever do again!)
23. Write a book (done)
32. Write for a magazine (done)
38. Paint a portrait of a Great Blue Heron (very recently done)

There is still much on the list to accomplish:

2. Learn to dye yarn
8. Have my art exhibited on another continent
15. Visit Australia and learn to paint Dreamtime Paintings with the Aborigines
24. Be fluent in another language
28. Sell art at a street fair
46. Be able to do freelance work from home and not be tied to any certain 'job'

I look at the list. There are a few things on there I no longer want to do, like 'get a tattoo', and of course, many new things to add, like 'own a cottage at a beach'. But I feel blessed to know bold people like TT; my future yoga-instructor friend; and of course, Paul, and to have been touched and inspired by their boldness as they pursue thier dreams. I celebrate what they are accomplishing in thier lives, and it has inspired me to get off my duff and start figuring out what I really want to do with mine. Because no matter what, in the end, there is only one thing in this world truly capable of holding us back.