Fall has been very sneaky this year for me. I find that living in a town or city presents added challenges getting in rhythm with the seasons. When I lived in the woods, every type of tree was there, and I noticed the poplars changing at the first hints of fall. They are normally the first, but in a concentrated area, poplars are not popular (see what I did there), because they grow really tall and they like to shed branches. So, I was surprised to walk out onto the balcony of the Fine Arts Building and see maples changed to red seemingly overnight. I’ve caught the subtle hints: the see-sawing temperature, the sneezing and head congestion, the dryness of the grass and leaves. In my memory, though, the change of the leaves is not so sudden. I feel like I should have more time to relish this, to chart it’s change.
It’s been another busy week for me, and it doesn’t look like the busyness is going to let up. I think in the West, at least among the affluent, I think busyness is the greatest hurdle to happiness so long as you don’t have some kind of serious trauma in your life. We numb ourselves with it, thinking it will make us feel worth and thinking it will get us the money and comfort we need to live out our lives. In moderation, it’s an important tool to keep us learning and growing. But, we are a nation of addicts, and those of us who manage to resist addiction to drugs, alcohol, sex, and gambling often fall prey to busyness.
I think I’ve taken on a little too much for me to have enough quiet, enough reflection, enough quality time with those I care about. I’m working 2 jobs, doing masters classes, writing a national camp curriculum, and helping edit a poetry publication for the University’s English Department. This week is also WKMS’s fundraising campaign (more on that in a moment), so I’m working extra hours to help us get our funding which helps us stay so good and also helps me keep my job. And when I am this busy, my creative projects, in particular my writing, becomes very difficult–it makes it hard for me to come up with ideas, because creativity needs reflection, and busyness doesn’t allow time to reflect. I’m trying to keep from sounding pathetic and whiny. Understand that I know billions of people have it worse, and there are people who work so much they hardly sleep just to keep the lights on in a dilapidated, dangerous apartment, praying their kids make it to 18. This is not meant to sound tragic–I’m talking about truly being healthy in a world where I really already have more than I need, which I think will actually make me better able to offer more help to those who really have it hard. So, I’m really just asking myself where my priorities are, and if happiness is really up there at this moment.
As I mentioned, the radio station is Fall fundraising, which means we interrupt programming periodically to “pitch,” which basically means we talk to you about how cool public radio is and ask you to support it. I got a chance to really step up my radio game this week by being one of the people pitching. I’ve been on live for nearly a month now each Friday, but this was another challenge, because I would be going off script using my own words, trying to develop rapport with other people, and doing this for 7 minutes at a time as opposed to the 1.5 minutes that was the longest I’d ever been live.
The first day I was the kind of nervous that keeps you on top of your game but doesn’t allow you to go very far beyond a script. I read everything 4-5 times, went over which buttons needed to be pressed, where the dials needed to be over and over. I didn’t make any technical mistakes, and I didn’t say anything incredibly stupid. Whew. The next day, I was comfortable enough with the system I was able to relax more. I came up with my own playlist to go in the background when my group pitched. The third day, I was answering phones before my shift, and we had so many calls that I had to run from a phone call straight into the studio, throw on the head phones, and begin talking. It was exhilarating and fun, and I was beginning to feel comfortable with the process. One problem–we had not gotten a single pledge during our shift.
Everyone at the station will tell you our shift (9-11am) is brutal. People are just getting to work, not yet on a lunch hour. If they are going to give, they already have or they are putting it off till later. Still, it’s hard to be there doing your best to extol all the virtues of this station you truly love and just watch the phones stay silent in the room next door. So, by Friday, I was beginning to look at our slot kind of cynically, throwing out self pitying quips like, “They hate me,” etc. During our time Friday, I wanted to run a mic test to see which mic was connected to which dial, so I’d know what to have turned up and what to have down. We ran through the “test, tests,” when we observed a web pledge for $150. This was huge, and we celebrated a little bit, dancing around, singing, “we got a pledge, we got a pledge.” In the aftermath of our first pledge dance number, someone in the room next door turns and says, “hey, someone’s mic is on,” because he could hear it coming over the airwaves. Instead of turning the mics on in our studio, I had turned them on on, like on the radio on. So, 10,000ish people heard in the background of regular broadcast us partying about getting our first pledge.
No one acted like it was a big deal, and I apologized profusely, but I knew I had made my co-workers embarrassed, because it was their voices. I had, up until then, prided myself on double and triple checking myself to make sure I did everything right, so we sound professional, so the work we put into this really shows. It rattled me for the rest of the show. I stumbled over a bunch of the underwriters I read, and I botched the name of someone providing a matching grant, calling her “John,” instead of “Jane.” If a person is going to donate money to help you pay your bills, you owe it to her to know her name. It was a rough day for me, and the crazy thing is that we got even more pledges with one caller mentioning hearing our celebration. But, I couldn’t enjoy it, because I couldn’t forget how much I had dropped the ball.
I came out of that morning in this sad fog that I couldn’t shake. I knew it was a little self-indulgent and pathetic, but I could feel that it wasn’t just because I screwed up a few times at the station. I just haven’t been enjoying life as much as I should. I’ve been dreading doing the things that are some of my life passions. I couldn’t shake this feeling that I would never get everything done, and if I did it would not be my best. I knew that I needed what I was about to do.
As soon as I finished at the station Friday, I began packing my big gray backpack for an overnight solo scouting trip to Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois. It’s a collection of sandstone cliffs jutting up out of the Ohio River watershed that look out for miles. They look like ancient fortresses or giant creatures turned to stone. I was traveling to plan a trip for the college students at the Wesley Foundation next month, but I needed this for me as much as I needed it to plan the trip. I took the scenic route, taking the free ferry across the Ohio river, allowing myself to get lost, but knowing I would get there and I would know the place better because I got lost. That night, I made dinner for myself outside under trees at the edge of a cliff. I walked out to the edge to watch the sunset. I built a fire and just sat next to it for nearly an hour until it burned out. I slept feeling the breeze coming off the hill. There was time to think, time to observe, time to calm myself and know I am alive. Time to feel comfort simply in the fact that I had enough food and water and that I am surrounded by an enormous world that I will always have more to learn about.
The next day I scouted more, spending time on more cliff faces staring out over the world. I had this refreshed feeling about myself. There was about 5 miles of trails to walk, to figure out what would be the best route for my group next month. I set out with a map and compass, following the trail past more rock formations, down into the valley to the beautiful dried up creek bed full of moss and ancient stones. Then I realized I wasn’t on the right path. I had accidentally gotten off on a side trail, not noticing the actual trail, and I had gone probably more than a mile out of my way. It wouldn’t be the last time I took the wrong turn. That’s when the gnats really came on if full force. This tiny little bugs began circling me, flying into my ears and eyes. They don’t bite, but they are annoying enough that if you let them get to you, they are all you can think about. They get close enough to your eyes that some of them actually get stuck on your eyeball and you have to dig them out. I began slapping my hands and killing them to the point that I bruised my hand. I was even having trouble enjoying being outside.
Today, I’m going over to a friend’s apartment to watch the final Cubs game of the 2014 season. As has been the case the past 6 years, the Cubs aren’t playing in a game that matters, that could decide whether they clinch their division or go to the play-offs. They are well below .500, so there will likely be nothing in this game anyone will be talking about tomorrow. I still plan to honor it, though, because, in the end I stay with this because I love baseball and I love the Cubs, so analyzing whether the game matters to the post seasons, I think, is missing point. For another 6 months or so, I won’t get to watch my favorite team play, so regardless of what it means, I should take the opportunity to watch them. I need to remember what I enjoy and why I enjoy it.
In the end, our ideas of success are often something someone else made up, something we were told we should line our lives up with. We spend so much time chasing these ideas of success without even asking ourselves if that’s what we think success is. We pile more and more tasks and expectations on ourselves and often drop the things that are most healthy and life-giving first to give us time for more stuff. This constant control of moments to fit in more tasks causes us to expect things to go exactly like we think they should. It also makes the unexpected things tougher to deal with, because that requires an adjustment. I’m tired of this. My body is telling me that. What’s left of my brain is saying the same thing. The Cubs are playing today, hoping to only end up 14 games below .500. I wish they were better. But, it’s still baseball. I still love it. I will still show up, holding on to an assurance that there’s a good somewhere in the unexpected, the unwished for.