A friend wrote me a note the other day, part of which read, “ . . . It only reminded me that I used to write and that I don’t anymore and that is only one thing in a long list that I have lost along the way.”
Her words came back to me this Saturday as I considered the stark landscape of the depleted Skeena beneath the old bridge. Rocks, bare. Trees—no, trunks. Severed. Separated. Set apart. Stripped of bark and branch and leaf. Rootless. They looked like ivory bones on the earth’s silty guts.
She needs to get back to the creative things she let go of, I thought. She needs to.
Fall is an introspective season. Perhaps it’s because the weather forces a physical slow down and a turn to inward contemplation. Or perhaps it’s more primal: as nature goes dormant or dies, thoughts tune to the occurrence of the same in other parts of our lives. Or maybe, for me, it’s more personal. My parents both passed away in October, and fall seems indelibly linked to my own mortality. Whatever the reason, this time of year I find myself thinking about how I live and what I put my energy into.
I had a hard week. Month. Year. If it wasn’t for my writing, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Sounds melodramatic—and maybe it is, but I don’t care. I look at our world, at the things that go on in it, and I don’t know how—without music, without art, without poetry and stories—people stay sane.
Most people loved some creative pursuit, I hate to say it, when they were young. What is it about adult life that makes so many of us forsake the things we enjoy most? Sometimes it’s because dreams and desires honestly change, but a lot of time (maybe even most of the time) we give up those passions, those unique activities that make us us, out of fear, out of misplaced feelings of obligation, out of pressure from people who don’t get it (and don’t get us even if they love us).
I’ve long battled feeling selfish. I spend hours by myself—and I need more than I get. I don’t keep a tidy house. I tune my family out sometimes. (I also love them sincerely and passionately, and try really hard to know them, respect them and give them space to be who they need to be, etc.—though that’s a whole other column). I can be distracted—and unapologetically disinterested in some things, like small talk.
Yet my writing has made me a better wife, mom, person. I think. I hope. It is good for people to pursue their passions—and as a parent it’s critical. We have to model what we value: thoughtfulness, a pursuit of things with intrinsic value—things with cultural, emotional, mental, or spiritual significance. Society will do all it can to sway our children (and us!) to a life of materialism, vapid pleasures, and looks-based self-worth. We need to counteract that influence the best we can, and I think the best way to do that is to show the rightness of thinking, learning, and expressing.
Letting ourselves sing, play an instrument, carve, write, garden, fish, quilt, sew, work in a shop—the list could go on and on—is crucial in so many ways. It helps us deal with stress, with sadness, with anger. It reminds us that joy can co-exist with sadness, beauty can survive hard times, and one can find peace even amidst inner storms.
The Skeena is lonely in November, but there’s beauty in her sharp grey-on-black-on-white lines and something inspiring in her resolute journey onward. If you have regrets about things undone or neglected, make this the year you take up that dropped course, cause, art, or hobby. Live as you feel you’re supposed to. That’s the thing about things that get lost along the way. They can be stumbled upon later. Found. Reclaimed.
This piece was originally published in the Terrace Standard, November 21, 2012 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.” I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to share here (normally it would’ve been archived at evbishop.com, but that’s another story as you may know!). “November’s River” is not your typical December reading, but ah, well . . . We all experience November rivers at some time or another. I’ll post something lighter and Christmassy when I’m . . . feeling lighter and more Christmassy.