A Different Sort of Challenge

So a few days ago, I was minding my own business, scrolling through Facebook to see what’s up. As usual, it was a mix of everything. There were lots of political ads telling me why this or that candidate is sure to ruin this great state of Alaska. There were friends’ status updates of their children heading off to college or various other adventures. There were a ton of beloved pets behaving cutely, and sadly there were a few notices of those beloved pets passing on. As always, there were beautiful photographs of sunsets, sunrises, mountain summits, garden harvests; plenty of inspirational quotes and stunning graphic designs. There were some hilarious, irreverent memes making fun of the ways humans behave, and some more thoughtful memes created for the purpose of urging people to question the system—the man. Twice I watched the clip of a swearing two year old who’d just had water dumped on her head. I admired the smiling face of a woman celebrating her 99th birthday. Of course there were selfies and rants, photos of new tattoos, a few poses with Disney Princesses and in my feed, lots of links to articles about writing—and not writing—and the difficulties of writing—and the things we do to motivate ourselves to keep writing. (Seems as though writers write a lot about writing…).

As it stands, I haven’t written anything for about a month. August was an incredible blur of family, fishing, fish processing, boating, cookouts, working, berry picking—all typical Alaskan summer stuff, and this stretch of (good) madness came just after returning from Anchorage where I presented my thesis colloquium, read a short story of mine aloud to the faculty and my peers in the UAA MFA program and brought to a conclusion my stint as a graduate student.

And so now that it’s Labor Day, and the company has left, and my daughter has returned to school, and the salmon runs are over and my degree is finished, I’m feeling a little unmoored. Borderline lost. At times dispirited. I need to anchor myself again. I need to get back to writing. The busyness of my life was a great excuse to keep me away from my keyboard and notebooks, but now I have no excuses, and yet there is still something inside of me that wants to resist, even though I know, without a doubt, that writing is what I need to do.

I have two big projects in mind—so big that if I spend too much time thinking about them I start to panic. I also have a bunch of stories to revise and expand and send out. And I have the day-to-day writing—the writing I do here and now. It’s what keeps me grounded. It gives me courage. It keeps me noticing the things going on around me. It makes me look at the life I’m living right now without getting bogged down by the past or overwhelmed by the future. It’s always where I need to start.

And this leads me back to where I started this little bit of writing—scrolling through my Facebook feed, minding my own business. Scrolling through Facebook, as unimportant as it may seem sometimes, can be a reminder of what real life looks like. Real life is a mix of funny and sad, irreverent and serious. Real life is beautiful and frustrating. Sometimes Facebook is used to perpetuate narcissism, but sometimes it gets me out of my own head and into the lives of others. Two things brought me out of my anonymous comfort zone of scrolling the other day.

As most all of you who have spent any amount of time on Facebook recently know, everyone seems to be posting videos of themselves getting ice water dumped over their heads. And honestly, I hadn’t been paying much attention to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Up until a couple of days ago, the only clip I’d watched was the aforementioned video of the two year old girl swearing when the cold water was poured on her. But then I got a notification that I’d been tagged. My nephew Dan (who lives in Phoenix, where a bucket of ice water might be thought of as a less of a challenge and more of a delight) challenged me, and his challenge was creative and funny and as much as I wished to ignore it, I knew it would be lame to pretend that I hadn’t been tagged. That was the first thing that demanded my attention.

And so I was considering this challenge—giving it a lot of thought. But then I saw a second thing come through my newsfeed that hit me on a more personal level. It was a Go Fund Me site that has been set up to help out a cousin of mine who has recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Although I am not personally close to her, her life and the difficulties she and her family are facing have been in the forefront of my mind. Knowing of her situation has reminded me that all of life is a gift—spouses, siblings, sons and daughters. Sunrises, sunsets, poetry, paintings. Incessant rain, fog, windstorms, mud. Bugs, flowers, pets, music. Woodstoves, windows, clean water, friends. All of it. The good and the not-so-good.

And so I’m accepting Dan’s challenge, sort of. I’m not going to dump ice water on myself and I’m not going to film myself plunging into the cold waters of Kachemak Bay (although I think that would have been awesome.) Instead I’m going to give thanks for my health, my family, my life that is full to the brim. I’m going to get back to the business of writing, because being able to do so is a gift I shouldn’t squander. I’m going to remind myself that like life, writing doesn’t always have to be perfect. And I’m giving a donation to my cousin and her family instead of to ALS research.
I encourage everyone to donate to a cause or a person or a family that could use your help and I challenge all of you to find love for the life that you’re living. Take a step toward doing that thing you know you’re supposed to be doing. Filter through the myriad of things life throws your direction and find what matters.

And to see the site set up for my cousin and her family, click here: http://www.gofundme.com/dodrz4

3 thoughts on “A Different Sort of Challenge”

  1. I love it, although the Kachemak Bay thing would have been awesome! If you guys ever need a break from the Alaskan winters there’s great deals on flights to Phoenix :0)

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