I've spoken many times, within these pages even, of how I lack a "fixed notion of self." And by "spoken" I mean bemoaned, lamented, mourned.... For once, though, I want to try something new: I want to flip this too-familiar (to me at least) train of thought and celebrate the migratory, champion inconsistency. Today, I'm here to praise the ever-changing path.
As I type this, change swirls around me like a temporal twister. There's the overall change, still very active in my consciousness, affected when my family and I left the business we'd run for 12 years to live in the literal wilderness. The fallout from this move has been slow, often boring, occasionally tumultuous, but we've now effectively established this weird life shared with two bossy cows, a mess of pigs and countless chickens and the winds of change have started picking up again. I can smell a storm brewing.
My gut reaction involves fear and anxiety, and I won't lie to you, there's a buzz of terror humming inside me 24/7. I feel it now, churning unbidden, and I don't like it. But just the other day I heard a radio program that celebrated oddballs like me and mine, folks like the NYC bus driver who, one morning in 1947, turned right rather than left onto his route and didn't stop until he reached a warm, Florida beach. Yes, he was arrested, but public acclaim for his detour landed him on talk shows rather than behind bars. The general populous loves an active, preferably public redefinition of a self otherwise determined by routine and consistency. The other day an office worker with a state job and a writing habit told me, after learning of my own writing career, that "the rest of us are living through you." Truth is, I silently coveted the steady reliability of her desk job the entire conversation.
But we love the weirdos, don't we? At the risk of equating myself with superior luminaries, I'll call your attention to Apple's iconic "Think different." campaign that championed the "crazy ones," outside-the-box thinkers such as Jim Henson, Amelia Earhart, Pablo Picasso. While my understanding of these figures is that unwavering dedication to their dreams drove them ever-forward into uncertainty, the key word "different" speaks to the change I'm feebly attempting to celebrate, that shift away from normalcy, from office jobs and (sigh) regular paychecks.
This celebration of change, of the constant, headlong bus drive away from familiarity into the shadowy unknown...well, it really is easier to do from inside the box. Most folks remember Frost's metaphorical path, the less-traveled one, for all the difference it made to the narrator. I've long loved that poem, but it's always been abundantly clear to me that Frost never actually said the difference was a good one. He speaks of a late-in-life "sigh" as he recounts the choice, and the poem's second line states a wish to travel both. I recall footage of Frost reading at JFK's inauguration and wonder where his ambivalence came from. The poetry path certainly worked out for the man who, previous to national acclaim, worked as a farmer and an English teacher, so why would he even remember the more-manicured trail? Is it because he understood that, for every poet who enjoyed Frost's success, thousands more languished in poverty and uncertainty until their final breath?
So it's in this last luminary, the rural and gravelly and didactic Frost, that my hand is forced. I must compare myself. Though a failed farmer, he owned farmland throughout his life; despite a body of published work, he always wondered about that other path. My farm is wildly unprofitable, and touch the page before you my work is published, and not irregularly. And when I stand at the farmer's market, listening to a gainfully-employed woman tell me how she envies my career, I'm mentally picturing money silently appearing in her bank account every Friday. I stumble down the long, gravel driveway to my mailbox, drawn along this path by the hope I'll find a check from one of the magazines I write for.
Because, you see, we can't celebrate this change, wherein folks buck the system to forge their own paths, without ambivalence. I mean, they're called "crazy ones" for a reason, and that reason is the system works. The system takes care of those inside its box. Some people step off the trail to find a hidden fortune in the wilderness, but plenty of folks get lost in the forest; taking that first step, you never really know which one you're going to be.
Back to the incomplete Frost comparison for a minute: Before and after his transformation into what some believe was the finest poet of the 20th century, Robert Frost was an English teacher. I've never been an English teacher but, for many years, I believed my path led in that direction. And now, in the woods on what appears to be a totally different trail, tripping along as way leads on to way, I remember Mr. Pingilley, my high school English teacher, reading Frost's most famous poem (his was the more conventional interpretation of Frost's meaning). I emailed this teacher the other day, in fact, not to discuss Frost but to share some news: After years of metaphorical burrs and thorns and brambles and, yes, the occasional clearing filled with unspeakable beauty, I've begun the process of earning my teaching certificate.
Because, really, there's just one path, and it's yours. Champion every twist, every blind curve, every shifting footing. Celebrate change, and be a crazy one.
/ Rodney Wilson is either a pig farmer who writes or a writer who farms pigs. Either way, he’s got a freezer full of bacon and a finished manuscript, and he’s trying to sell both.
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