I do a lot. People are always telling me that. It’s true, I do more things than some people. But also that I do much less than others – I think of my friends who work in more demanding fields, or who run their own businesses and simultaneously volunteer a zillion hours at their children’s schools. I think of the people who are on the ground in parts of the world desperately needing to be made better.
The things I do? Largely fun. Mostly rewarding. I have one job that involves creating ways to inspire others to care about the ocean. I have another that consists of writing about music, Humboldt County and mostly anything else I want. I have a semi-regular column offering unasked-for advice! Sometimes they send me to movies. Yesterday I spent seven hours on the Trinity for readers of a future Get Out column. Taking the day off from my regular gig means making up the hours by working early, late and weekends, but the warmth, the sunshine, the waterfall, the wildlife, the occasional rush of ricocheting through the rapids was easily worth it.
I needed it, especially the part about being out of cell service for several hours. Because I have been doing a lot, to the extent that I haven’t disconnected enough and that when I’m engaged in something my brain is thinking of the other things I need to do – you know when you go to visit somewhere you used to live and everyone wants to see you, so you find yourself scheduling in time with way too many people and each social moment becomes compromised because you’re worried about getting to the next one? Like that. Don’t live like this.
When we first moved to Humboldt in 1998, I’d envisioned a more homesteady life. We’d be those people who grow vegetables in our backyard and then put them in jars. Our resourcefulness would provide us a fine life. We’d build and sew and make art and being broke wouldn’t diminish our happiness.
And then a few things happened.
I started surfing, which meant a few hours of each day dedicated to scoring waves. Factor that in with the raising of three children, attending school full-time, working part-time and writing, and something had to give. “Look, if it’s between yanking weeds in the garden or going surfing, I’m going surfing,” I told my (poor, beleaguered) husband.
I also realized that all these Humboldt people whose lifestyles I was trying to emulate were only able to have those lifestyles because they were growing pot – yes, I was naive. I mean, I knew pot was a thing here, but I had no concept of the enormity of the economics or that it was a thing everyone did. For a while, I thought I was just really bad at managing my own money because all the other young parents and students had such nice things, all quality tools and stylish hemp clothes – and they took amazing vacations. The reality turned out to be simply that we needed to make more money and that meant working more.
So I gravitated toward what I’m good at: entertaining people, creating events and the very non-sexy sounding strength of working on political, environmental and social justice issues through writing and organization. These are the opposite of a quiet life at home. Also not very useful skills when civilization collapses; I will be among the first eaten, I am sure.
It must be this new chapter in my life that prompts such assessing of it lately. I’ve always tried to live, as they say, an examined one, but with the kids grown and moved out, and my work life both precarious and expanding, making note of what’s been successful and what hasn’t helps in looking forward. Seeing the path in hindsight affirms my faith that working hard and generally not being an asshole pays off, even if the how, when and where reside in an as-yet-undetermined future.
Trajectories are not always straightforward. I was a wild teenager with no interest in marriage or kids. A few years later, I was a committed mother and saying “I do” to the man I’m still with over two decades later. Who could have foretold? At 21, I started cocktailing in a live music club, which led to a bartending job at another place with bands and thus an ever expanding circle of people in that world, which meant I was prepared to write about it all when the Arcata Eye needed a scene editor, and that job grew to include writing about environmental issues, which grew my circle of contacts, which meant when Ocean Conservancy arrived in town looking for someone to hire, my name came up, which meant I was able to experience an amazing, life-changing job, which enabled me to get hired on at the NEC after my OC program ended – this was not a predictable path. And, with simultaneously trying to be a good mom and wife, the long phase of struggling financially, not an easy one. Never a coal mine, yet I do not want to discount the efforts I put into keeping everything afloat.
All of which comes down to trying to have an answer when people ask, “How do you do it?” I wish I had a snappy response, something profound or, if I can’t be profound, at least something witty. (“Start out rich! Much easier!”) But all my advice is the usual: work really fucking hard, make friends with good people, love your people, be open to all opportunities, don’t be afraid to change directions if something isn’t proving constructive, seek practical solutions, assert your value, never get caught up in your own hype, cross your fingers, hold on.
Oh, and this: As often as possible, walk away from all the screens into the forest, ocean, river, whatever fills you back up. That, do that.