Post Semester Thoughts: My Role

My semester is finally over, and I’m still up well before 6am. Apparently, this is my body and my brain’s favorite time, and I’ll be dedicating myself to writing at this hour so long as they wake me up to do so. I had hoped for a nice, late Thursday morning wakeup (late meaning 7am) in honor of my sudden lack of work (hah! I suppose I could finally do that load of laundry I started last September), but I’m obviously destined to be a sunrise-watcher.

I don’t go to Piedmont as often as I’d like, so I’d like to use this blog to consider other nature thoughts.

Yesterday was Earth Day, and I always feel a little bit jaded by its celebration. On the one hand, even one day dedicated to the planet is better than none, and perhaps each Earth Day a few more souls are brought over to the cause. We need those souls. On the other hand, it feels like lip service, the day we all remember to care. It’s like folks who go to church on Christmas and Easter.

Don’t look at me…I go on Christmas, Easter, and when there’s free food. Have you ever tasted church lady biscuits and gravy?

Anyway, Earth Day feels sour to me, and again, I’ve had a hard time in the last few years seeing the environmental glass as half-full. In fact, rather than the glass I see the Doomsday Clock. On a day to day basis I’m a pretty happy, pleasant person. I look on the bright side, never a Debbie Downer. Except about this subject, because it hurts. The one thing to which I want to devote my life is the biggest, hottest, ugliest mess in human history, and shows signs of ballooning into a series of problems that will make my children’s existence unpleasant. And nobody seems to care. Check that. The little people care. Not dwarves; regular people. Well, I’d hope that those with with dwarfism care too, actually. It’s a diverse movement. Okay. Many of the Average Joes care.

How will I approach my part in the telling of this story? I don’t have the fortitude to be much of a doer, a rally-er, or a screamer. Unfortunately, the man upstairs blessed me with incredibly thin skin, a heart that seems to beat outside of my chest (thereby exposing it to wind, rain, insults, and papercuts, not to mention Sara McLachlan commercials and Facebook posts from the animal shelter). And I was given an ability and desire to write. So that’s my angle.

This seems like a simple and natural conclusion. But I’m about to turn 36 years old and only now, in this chair, am I accepting that my duty is to write. As I read the works of Abbey and Muir, and the more contemporary folk too, I feel a great desire to go out west and put my hands in the dirt and run around in the sand adding a physical contribution to the environmental cause. For four years at Eckerd College I prepared for a job with the Everglades Restoration Project. (And you know, I’m still sore that Life screwed me out of that one, despite the fact that it bestowed upon me a husband and two children.) It simply wasn’t meant to be. That’s not my contribution.

I fight that notion. Oh, certainly I can contribute in other ways. There’s no reason to spend my life indoors assuming my pen is my only tool. There will be plenty of adventures, and anything might happen. Any job might come along that would allow me to write and do. I won’t rule it out at all. But, my progressing thirties have delivered me a message: I am to write, and that is my weapon of choice. I’ll never be a scientist–that’s okay, too; I didn’t excel when I held a test tube instead of a pen. And happiness doesn’t come when we’re in a field in which we struggle. I wasn’t born to be a scientist. I’ll never study the black-footed ferret (at least, not as a scientist….maybe they need an author on their team, though).

It’s a cliche to talk about life lessons, but this was a big one. I’ve been fighting the “writer” path for decades. In high school my favorite English teacher begged me to apply to Kenyon. I refused. In college I was drawn to every environmental course that involved long, research-heavy papers (writing them with glee), and did terribly in Biology, but still failed to see the bigger picture. As recently as two years ago I was preparing to take the GRE to apply to graduate school in Florida and become a marine scientist.

I suck at science. And, though he never used those words, Shawn has been whispering the word “write” in my ear for 13 years. I hate it when Shawn is write. Er, right. Correct.

So why fight the writer path? Is it because, unlike planting Syringodium filoforme (manatee grass…planting involves a snorkel and a day in warm Gulf waters with a bunch of other Siren-lovers), there is no immediate payoff? Is it because I have to let go of my control freakism and trust that my words will reach the ears of people, youth perhaps, who will grow up to plant more manatee grass?

Writing is like parenting. I work my ass off; I fill sippy cups and wipe butts, and then as time passes I go over spelling words and talk about morals and spend money on organic food…and I won’t know if I did a good job until my kid grows up to either knock off a liquor store, or doesn’t. (Felony larceny being the ultimate litmus test for the successful raising of progeny, of course.) Putting my heart and soul into nature writing is no guarantee that it will spark change, and so I am forced to rely on my very old frenemy, Faith. You tricky concept, you. You terrible burden and wonderful blessing.

All a writer can do is run something up the flagpole and see who salutes it. And regardless of how uncomfortable that is for someone like me, OCD and Type A and overachieving and self-critical, writing is the gift I have been given, the task assigned to me. It brings me joy.

Life Lesson #769: You’re a writer. Stop fighting it. This is your weapon in the environmental war.

Geesh. I was all set to sit down this morning and write about the fornicating mallards in my backyard. I’ll save that gem for tomorrow.

One Reply to “Post Semester Thoughts: My Role”

  1. There will be plenty of adventures. There is no immediate payoff. You work your ass off. Stop fighting it.
    This is a stellar insightful post. It shows a side of you we haven't seen this semester. You're a writer!
    (BTW- almost 36 is NOT old!)

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