Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chasing Wallace Stevens, Adam Brown and Danny Way

Maybe I've been chasing Wallace Stevens all along. I don't know. I'm no expert. Didn't know that much about him, really. But he came to stand for something in my mind before I even read him.

Wallace Stevens is a path, a way to combine the philosophical and the creative; the absurd and the profound; the stars, the Earth, myth and books. From my first times reading him, I've know he was doing something with his writing that I want to do with mine. It's also his commitment to writing, since he didn't write for a living, but still made time, composing in his head on his walk to work. All the same, I don't want to get shoved to the ground by Hemingway or sell insurance like Stevens did.

I like Stevens as a model, albeit an imperfect one. Not a catwalk-turning model, but something to strive for.  I've been thinking about a couple other models lately: Adam Brown and Danny Way. I don't have designs on being a modernist poet, a Navy SEAL or a game-changing professional skateboarder. But at times I've wanted to be all three.

I'm not going to go into detail about Adam Brown's story. I'll let Eric Blehm do that for you in his book "Fearless: The Undaunted Courage and Ultimate Sacrifice of Navy SEAL Team SIX Operator Adam Brown," which I think all human beings should read. What I want to say about Brown is that he has become a model for me for overcoming obstacles. From drug addiction to injuries that should have ended his career, Brown relentlessly and compassionately ran down his dream. He would not be stopped. That's something I want to cultivate further in myself.

And Danny Way represents a couple things. Forging a new path, a new way of doing things is part of it. As I've mentioned here, I've been hooked on skateboarding since I was 13. At that time it was Tony Hawk, Mike McGill, Lance Mountain and the Bones Brigade. It was Christian Hosoi and the Alva skaters. It was Mark Gonzales and Mike Vallely. And then at a time when I had drifted a way from skating, Danny Way started building mega ramps and doing things that make my jaw and stomach drop.

If you want to be inspired by the story of a guy who goes after what he loves doing, watch "Waiting for Lightning" about Way jumping over the Great Wall of China. But it's as much Way's life story as it is the jump itself. And that's where it's most powerful. Way represents for me, figuring out how to make a living doing what you love, even when you weren't sure there was a living to be made doing it. Way didn't become a pro skater in a cookie-cutter manner, he redefined what people thought could be done on a skateboard, and revolutionized the sport. Whereas most people think that work is somewhere you go, put in effort, get paid--doctor, lawyer, teacher--Way invented another way to go, doing what he loves.

So there are three models I'm perpetually chasing. Chasing Wallace Stevens is a commitment to write and a striving for depth and form, marrying philosophy and creativity. Chasing Adam Brown is living up to Brown's example of overcoming any obstacle in my path, while not losing sight of what's important in my life. And Chasing Danny Way is creating a new way to think about, to pursue making a living and doing what I love.

That's a lot of chasing. Time to lace up the running shoes.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Save your freedom for a rainy day

"Save your freedom for a rainy day," someone had written on the bathroom wall... It remained there at eye level above the washbasin all summer. No retorts or cross-outs. Just this blank command as you angled and turned your hands under the faucet. - Rachel Kushner, THE FLAMETHROWERS.

Freedom is a tricky one. It's generally owned by your routine and your obligations. Freedom sits doing shots with your commitments and your bills, seeing who blacks out first. It may be that we are the most free at those nondescript times, like washing our hands in the bathroom of a bar, where our next decision doesn't carry the weight of the big ones.

For the past three and a half years, I've worked on a contract as a writer for the Coast Guard. The job in and of itself meant a commute to Washington, D.C., from Maryland's Eastern Shore, a trek I never thought I would make. It was a better job, a better opportunity than the previous eight-ish years working at a museum. The past three-plus years writing for the Coast Guard have been eye-opening, learning, defining. I've been up at 5 a.m. each morning researching and compiling an early morning report that went out before most people are at work.

This morning that contract is over. I still woke up at 4:30 a.m. (I'm a morning person), and wasn't sure what to do. So I started reading Rachel Kushner's "The Flamethrowers," which came as a Father's Day reading recommendation. It's already drawing tightening circles around art and freedom and the things I like to put my head around.

I'm not sure what contract or other opportunity is coming next. There's a freedom there, a reflection point that maybe asks what I want it to be, but also feels like we generally limit our choices before we really consider them.

We've been meandering about Maine this week, a geographic change from Maryland, and our girls first visit here, as a backdrop to mull things over, in odd moments, sipping a Long Trail Ale, looking at what happens when God employs a different palette, Bob Ross-style, painting mountains and rocky coasts and lobster boats, where we are used to seeing corn fields, cattails, and workboats chasing blue crabs.

It's not lost on me that our girls sat atop Cadillac Mountain yesterday in Acadia National Park, a decided and welcome experience and shift in perspective, as I wonder what will fill my work life next.