On Purpose

Here’s my response to WordPress’ daily prompt: https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/purpose/

Purpose is something I’ve struggled a lot with lately. It’s queer how such an abstract noun can affect such concrete consequences in one’s life.

We speak often about our lives “having Purpose.” What does this actually mean? Is Purpose a little slip of paper with a short checklist of tasks to be accomplished, passed out by someone on your first day of adulthood? Did I miss that day?

Is Purpose a vocation — firefighter, accountant, kayak guide — that I was supposed to choose based upon that multiple-choice test they had us take in high school? I think I was under the bleachers kissing my first girlfriend when they went over the results.

Is Purpose finding a thing that you love to do, and doing it all the time? I’ve seen written: “do what you love and the money will follow.” So I spend an afternoon birdwatching, and when I return to my car and go to put my binoculars back in their case, I am shocked to find that no currency of any sort has materialized in there.

Is Purpose a prize you stumble across while sweeping the sand of some great beach with a device designed to detect destiny? Am I to simply keep walking, plotting a methodical course, waving my arms steadily back and forth in front of me, waiting to hear a beep? How do I know I’m even on the right beach?

A couple months ago, I was offered an incredible opportunity to work as an Interpretive Planner with Taylor Studios, Inc., one of the nation’s premiere exhibit design firms. I was over the moon. I pulled myself up by my roots and found myself trying to replant them in Champaign, IL.

Obviously, this opportunity was a Big Deal for my Life Purpose. A full-time job! A salary! Moving On Up! Finding My Way! Lots of capital letters, and all.

And it was, sure. It was a great job, working with great people, doing important things. TSI is an incredible company. I loved it there.

But things happened. Things I didn’t expect and couldn’t have foreseen even with the best pair of optics on the market. A latent depression that, cicada-like, returns to stretch its legs and see what’s new. Anxiety that I’ve always carried around abruptly getting much heavier, and commencing a curious ticking sound. A longing for my family and friends and homeland so profound that it must surely be some evolutionary remnant of a migratory urge.

I had found Great Purpose in my Great Move and Great Job and Great Growing Up. So why was I suffering to the tune of unbearable?

I think it’s largely because I thought I knew more about Purpose than I really did. I find this is a great causer of problems in many different arenas, this gap between what we think we know and what we really do, and then between those two and what we can ever actually really know.

So here I am, just giving you a gentle reminder that maybe you don’t know all that much about your Purpose, even if you think you do. Don’t be surprised if Things Happen and quietly, almost tenderly tear your theory to shreds. Don’t be surprised, and don’t despair. You’re on the same beach I’m on. You can keep searching frantically for Purpose if you want, but I’ve decided to just sit back and watch the tide for awhile, and I’m doing just fine.

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An open letter from a Park Desert

It was a warm and sunny weekend in the Midwest. Having moved to Champaign mid-February, I had anticipated being cooped up indoors for awhile. So when thoughtful Global Climate Change gifted us with a high of 70 this Saturday, I jumped at the chance to get outside. A bit of internet research led me to a disappointing conclusion. I had two options for a Saturday Afternoon Adventure here in central Illinois.

One option was to stroll the abundant, cute little city parks. These parks are refreshing, breaking up the urban landscape with freckles of green. But their recreational potential is really limited to (a) exercising your Yorkie or iguana (b) swinging on swings (not complaining) or (c) admiring the lovely sculptures (again, not complaining; I rode a bronze horse the other day, and it was delightful). Not exactly worthy of busting out my binocular harness.

I chose the second option, which was to take a drive to one of the handful of state parks that form an unfortunately girthy halo around Chambana. At just under an hour’s drive, the closest was Moraine View State Park. The pictures I saw online… well… they didn’t thrill me. The park’s website left a lot to be desired, too. The impression I got from the internet would ultimately echo my feelings about the park itself.

Sure, it was a place to roam. I saw a couple interesting birds and some pleasant scenery. But there were no oak savannas, no mighty mighty river, no wet prairies. There were no trails longer than a mile. In fact, there were no trailheads or maps to help us find the three sad trails that did exist; we drove around for quite awhile before finally spotting a decrepit wooden post marked “nature trail.” That description was a bit inflated, to say the least.

Moraine View State Park lake

Bright colors and cheery atmosphere brought to you by Instagram.

Without getting too melancholy, I’ll just say that I felt a pretty profound homesickness yesterday. What’s that phrase that you always hear, regarding divorce? “I’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle…” Some of my fondest memories of my time in Toledo are from weekend jaunts at Oak Openings Preserve or Maumee Bay State Park or Wildwood or some other lush oasis of green. I could hop on my bike or in my car, and within minutes, be lost among towering oaks or cactus-dotted sand dunes.

You’ve heard of Food Deserts, I’m sure. While not quite so grave, there’s another kind of desert that exists in our society: the Park Desert. And after many years in a metropolis blessed with a truly world-class park district, it is truly, deeply saddening to find myself living in one.

So this Letter from a Park Desert is my humble request of the people of the greater Toledo area, and of anyone who lives in a region with similarly amazing parks:

Please, please don’t take your green space for granted.

Especially for those who have lived in Toledo for years, it’s all too easy to grow accustomed to that “certain lifestyle,” to forget (or not even realize at all) that there are places out there without parks like yours. It’s easy for an after-work jog at Swan Creek or a weekend hike at Oak Openings to become so second-nature that you don’t even consider what it would be like to not have places like these.

(If you couldn’t see it coming: I am now going to climb up on my soapbox for a minute.)

Just as it’s easy to take these parks for granted, it’s easy to take their creation, their upkeep, their quality for granted. When I tell people that my new job involves writing copy for exhibits in museums and zoos and the like, the most common response I get is this: “Oh! I never actually thought about how there has to be someone who does that.” It makes sense. Grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, and you don’t stop to think about how it got to be that way, who made it, for what reasons.

But parks don’t just appear. (Obviously – or I wouldn’t be here bemoaning Park Deserts.) Parks don’t clean themselves up, they don’t mark their own trails, they don’t give potential visitors information to attract them there. Parks don’t select their own rare and interesting wildlife out of a mail-order catalog. Parks don’t have the ability to maintain their own unique and beautiful habitats (thanks largely to our handiwork as humans).

Parks are the work of nature, sure. But they’re also the work of people. Of very learned, very dedicated, very professional people. People who work diligently, tirelessly, and nearly always thanklessly, behind the scenes to make those parks as wonderful as they are. People who have to make important decisions that will result in their parks either flourishing or fading.

So here’s the corollary to my first request that you don’t take your parks for granted:

Trust in the people who make these decisions.

They are in their respective positions for a reason. They did not walk in off the street, I can assure you. They know what they’re doing. And, perhaps more importantly, they care. They care deeply. They want, ultimately, one thing: they want for you to not have to live in a Park Desert.

So if those people believe that the deer herd must be thinned, carefully and safely, to keep your park beautiful and wild and healthy? Trust them.

If they believe that a marketing campaign will improve user experience, solve costly customer service issues, and attract more visitors and residents (and their money) to your city? Trust them.

If they feel that in order to keep one of these learned professionals – these people who care deeply about their parks and the health and happiness of the public – around and dedicated to their agency, they need to offer him or her a higher salary? Trust them.

These are the people who have offered up the incredible banquet of green (and red and orange and indigo and sienna and brilliant yellow and deep brown…) you find spread before you, yours to enjoy. They’ve kept you out of the Park Desert, and they will continue to do so, if you let them – if you trust them, if you support them and the decisions they make. As a new resident of a Park Desert, trust me when I say you’ll be glad you did.

 

#humblebrag: I’m a Writer (capital W)

Good evening, readers! I wanted to take a moment to apologize for my recent absence from bloglife.

Actually, that’s a stiffly-built formality if ever I wrote one. I really just want to #humblebrag. (I only feel comfortable using this word since it recently appeared as my Word of the Day.)

I’ve been busy of late. After a lovely holidaytime with my family, I jumped into my car and raced off to dazzling Rantoul, IL for an interview with Taylor Studios, Inc., an interpretive design firm.

greeings from rantoul.jpg

Home of 12,000 people, three Mexican restaurants, a healthy population of old-timey fighter pilot ghosts, and one killer interpretive design firm.

The interview must have gone well, because I was offered a position as Interpretive Planner. If you have no idea what the terms “interpretive design firm,” “interpretive planner,” or “fighter pilot ghosts” could possibly mean, you’re not alone. I’ll cast some light on these very vague, millennial-sounding job words in a forthcoming post. (Well, the fighter pilot ghosts are exactly what they sound like.)

For now, I’ll just say that I’ll be doing a lot of writing. And that makes me incredibly happy.

I’ve loved words as long as I can remember. Collecting them like stones, sorting them by color and feel. Stringing them together in different patterns, testing each prototype on paper or in speech, feeling the effects of that particular combination. The only sport I played in school was Power of the Pen; I’ve gone through notebooks like toilet paper.

So when I was offered this position – working with the same concepts I knew and loved from my prior work as an interpreter and programmer, but using the vehicle of writing more than speech, as a part of a small and passionate company that creates incredible products and experiences – I couldn’t be happier.

That is, until last week, when the editor of Adventure Kayak magazine told me that she’d like to publish my last blog post in their next issue as an op. ed. piece. The new job was like a slowly growing campfire: a rising, glowing, hard-earned satisfaction. This? Well, this was a firecracker – one that went straight to my head.

All this #humblebragging to say that I’m very grateful. I’ve worked very hard in my life, particularly in the last year or so, to get to this point. To the point of calling myself a Writer, capital W. And it feels awesome to finally be here.

This time last year, I was flailing, not knowing what I wanted to do or why. I was, by and large, working for my paycheck. Sure, I was invested in my agency, and its mission, and I enjoyed what I did. But my work seldom brought me joy. It rarely got me passionate. I never felt challenged. Perhaps more importantly, I felt resentful toward the people in my life who were so committed to and enamored of their careers that they felt deeply and personally fulfilled by them.

So I guess I’ll try to bring this around to some sort of moral, try to infuse this wholly self-indulgent post with some sort of redemptive message. If you’ve ever been jealous of someone who is totally, sickly in love with their career…

Harness that emotion. Put it to work for you. Tell yourself “I want that,” and take steps toward getting it. Think about what you’re good at, what you’re passionate about, what you love. Figure out how to make it your life’s work. Write down some goddamn action items, the whole nine yards.

And make it happen.

Because when I was asked offhandedly the other day what I did for a living, and I simply said “I’m a Writer,” the feeling was worth the work.

They’re always there.

Good morning, people reading!

I hesitate to use the word “readers” because I realize that I haven’t exactly been doing my duty in producing enough readables to keep readers reading. But hopefully there are still a couple of you out there, bearing with me, or at least being pre-programmed to do so thanks to the magic of subscriptions.

Life ebbs and flows, falls and rises, sometimes seeming to follow the pull of the tides themselves. We spend periods of time creating, and then sometimes spend periods of time digesting things that others have created. I’ve been in such a “digestive” period of late: reading, watching, observing.

Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

I could also blame my absence on Kimmy Schmidt. But I’ll stick with the more noble explanation.

As the tides changed, I remembered that I started this blog for a reason, and that it simply won’t do to just abandon it. I paid for the domain name, after all, and I gotta get my money’s worth! So here I am again. Not much has changed… say, wait, did you rearrange the couches? Huh.

Despite what yesterday’s snow may have you thinking and have me cursing silently under my breath… spring is upon us! Every day, a new voice joins the chorus: the titmice, the cedar waxwings, the blackbirds. The chorale is slowly but surely reassembling, its sopranos and its tenors making their ways back whence they were scattered to the four winds. What a joyous noise they make!

Last weekend I had a great experience at Toledo Rowing Club’s “Rowing Fitness plus Yoga” program – led by none other than my partner Kristina, who kicked my butt from here to Biggest Week in the best way possible. (Revelation: I am not by any means fit.) The workout was good, and the proceeding yoga was an excellent follow-up. Our wonderful yogi Sandy was playing some typical dreamy, soothing yogalicious music as we moved through some great stretches and flows.

Toward the end of the practice, at a quiet moment, it seemed that all of us at once heard that beautiful, beautiful birdsong drifting in from outside the building. It was a gray, drizzly, chilly morning, but the birds were there, just like they always are. They had a job to do, and they weren’t about to quit for any freezing rain, no sir.

I drank in that tinkling, twinkling song, and so did my fellow yogers. Sandy turned down the volume on her music so that we could hear the birds even more clearly. There’s nothing like the sound of nature, the sound of beautiful, delicate beings returning after a winter apart, to help clear the mind and ground the body. It was the perfect accompaniment to our yoga flow.

Despite my efforts of meditation, the thought drifted quietly across my consciousness: I should write a blog post. I’ve been away for awhile, but what does it matter? I can always come back, just like those sweet songsters. No matter how long they’ve been away, they’re there again – they’re always there.

Carry this thought with you today, readers, as you travel your path. No matter how long you’ve been away from something – be it blogging, birding, banjo-ing, or anything else – you can always return. You can always choose to be there.

Just a coupla’ updates!

Hello blogland! I’ve got a post a-cookin’, but I just wanted to briefly share a couple of exciting updates.

Firstly, you may notice that Love and Birding is all growed up and has its very own domain space! You can now find me at loveandbirding.com, instead of the dreadfully long-winded loveandbirding.wordpress.com. Oooh! Aaah!

Secondly, the tweeters are a-tweeting. I’m now on Twitter as @loveandbirding. Check that out! Kabam!

And finally, a dear friend of mine just informed me that Legacy, the magazine for the National Association for Interpretation, has just mailed out its January/February issue. If you should happen to receive this publication, you may or may not notice that one of the feature stories was penned by yours truly! I am very excited to have had this opportunity; it’s what rekindled my interest in writing and ultimately led to the birth of this blog. If you are a NAI member, be sure to check it out! If not, tough cookies.

That’s all for now! Look for a new post in the not-so-distant future.