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Beef jerky and ambiguity

Maybe you think that I haven’t posted in my blog for awhile because there hasn’t been much to say. Actually, there’s been too much.

You know what’s been happening around the globe, so you don’t need for me to regurgitate or weigh in on any of it. I just have to say one thing (and it’s my blog, so I can): Sharing memes on Facebook will not change the world.

So while I go delete the memes I posted, please enjoy this story about beef jerky and ambiguity.

My husband Brian and I just returned from a dazzling undertaking of a road trip: 5060 miles, 20 states, 21 days. That’s a lot of beef jerky and veggie chips in a short amount of time.

Now is a good time to mention that Brian drove. Every. Single. Mile. After the thousandth mile or so, it became a cause. Who am I to stand in the way of greatness?

When you’re encased together for that length of time, lines can blur. Brian eats veggie chips now, for instance, and I’ve become a jerky connoisseur. Bottom lines, however, are equally important. Empty beverage containers are simply not allowed to stack up. Miles per gallon must be tracked at each fill-up. The music playlist is driver’s choice unless he defers.

Yes, there was method to the madness. In a future blog post, I’ll tell you more about the madness, a.k.a. what motivated the trip in the first place. And yes, it’s about my journey as an artist.

As for the method, Day One came and I had no idea “how” the trip would go. At all. On the macro level, I worried that I wouldn’t find the inspiration I was looking for. On the micro level, I worried about executing a plan which was amorphous at best. It’s tough to hunt for jackalopes — or unicorns or even needles in haystacks – on a budget, in the winter, with no hotel reservations, in unfamiliar territory, when another person gets a say in the matter.

Fortunately, we did have the foresight to build in shore leave. We spent a couple of days in Iowa with Brian’s mom and sisters and another couple of days in Florida with my sister and her husband.

Our layover in Florida coincided with a milestone in my brother-in-law’s life. After working for over 60 years as an auto mechanic and small business owner, J.L. was closing his shop for good at the end of the month. With so much that could be said about the kind of business he ran, I’ll sum it up in one word: honest.

I asked him if he wanted a retirement party, and he said, “Let me see if I like it first.”

My brother-in-law JL and my sister Judy, saying good-bye to the shop and hello to whatever's next.  

My brother-in-law JL and my sister Judy, saying good-bye to the shop and hello to whatever's next.  

When you do one thing really, really well your entire life and then you stop doing it, what do you do next?

As we were lounging in the family room, recovering from Christmas dinner, J.L. asked me if I missed going to work every day. I do, I responded, but mainly because I miss the people. “Now I generate my own work,” I said, “which is the most satisfying and terrifying thing I’ve ever done.”

Then I caught myself. He’s not asking me about the madness. He’s asking me about the method.

“As I was starting my business,” I told him, “I made a one year plan and a five year plan. I also started a running list of ideas. All kinds of ideas: things I’d like to learn about, places I’d like to visit, concepts for art pieces, whatever. The simple act of writing it down turns a vague thought into something real, even if it’s something crazy that I may never do.”

Ambiguity can be a powerful enemy and even more powerful excuse. Maybe this is especially true for artists, but it doesn’t seem any less true for accountants or parents or mechanics or retirees.

I hope the conversation helped J.L. It helped me. Although I’m working my five-year plan every day, I realized that it had been awhile since I added to — or even looked at — my idea list. In the first months of my venture, that list really helped me stay creatively productive as well as tactically focused.

Absolutely everything we do is limited by time, but nothing should limit thinking and dreaming. We just have to take them on a road trip every now and then.

This story was originally published on January 3, 2017.