Outside of fishing trips, I get column ideas from everywhere.
Sometimes a discussion in class or interaction with a stranger leads me to a column. Sometimes it’s a conversation with my high school basketball coach, college professor, college roommate or a knife-wielding fish cutter.
One of my journalism professors in college told me never to underestimate people as a potential source of inspiration for a piece. As a result, I’m usually mining just about anyone for ideas. Some weeks I need a person or two to help me work through my thoughts or give them an advanced read to check for clarity an editorial board if you will.
A couple of them have been working overtime lately since I’ve been packing my life into fish boxes for my trip home. I returned my Comcast box, which leaves the Playstation 2 as a sole distracter, but the last game I bought was in 2003 and I gave it away. My DVDs are gone too except for the complete Northern Exposure series I buried into a box I didn’t bother to label.
So I wander around my place packing, cleaning, reading Supreme Court decisions for my Constitutional law class, thinking and writing.
One of my most recent trusted Alaskan idea volleyers set me up with a thought that lasted me well past bedtime. The question was for her, but I think she asked it because she also knew I was stuck and needed something to ponder. She asked me the same question everyone asks of themselves at different points of their lives, and concluded with a statement.
“I feel like there is so much more for me somewhere else and I just need to go find out what it is.”
She let the question hang there, then like a coward went to bed. I remember feeling how she does twice in my life. First was when I went to college as an 18-year old kid who knew nothing. I didn’t go back home during college summers. Instead I worked for a lawyer in Washington, D.C., did basketball camps in Maryland and interned one summer at NBC sports. In the process, I lost my connection to home, but I was seeing what was out there. I learned I’m not a big city dude.
One of my favorite dates was walking around the monuments in D.C. at night when the crowds are gone. I made a bet that whomever saw the most rats didn’t have to pay for the five-layer chocolate cake or brownie sundae we’d split at Bertucci’s after the walk. Classy, not so much, but memorable no doubt and we had a great time.
Anyway, my time in D.C. solidified my longing for the West Coast.
After I graduated from college, I sort of fell into teaching, which I ended up loving. Now, 10 years into my career, I’m on the cusp of another life change.
My trusted board of column supervisors all said I can only write one goodbye column and I hate goodbyes, especially long ones, but all I can think about is leaving. I’ve caught nice rainbows swinging Griffiths gnats on the Stanislaus lately, but I can only get 75 words before Sept. 29 demands attention.
So I think about a sendoff column, but what do you say? After high school you say goodbye, because a whole world is waiting. You’ve spent years thinking about it, lusting for the freedom to see what you’re made of. After college you have a piece of paper that, for the most part, qualifies you for a myriad of opportunities all over the place.
But after a decade of working at a career it feels different. The question, “What’s out there” is the same, but in a new context.
Donald Miller wrote, “People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen. But joy costs pain.”
It’s easy to talk about what you want, and how you think you’ll end up, but it’s not easy to test yourself, and see what it is that’s out there for you.
That’s what I would have told her, tangents and all. I know there’s not a discernible answer in there because I don’t have much of anything figured out, but sometimes when you respond to someone, you end up talking to yourself.
That’s not always a bad thing.