William Matheson (nova_one) wrote,
William Matheson

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A river runs rantant

For a September 4th writing workshop class:

A thing that you have to get used to about rivers is the one-way ness. It's not necessarily impossible to swim upstream, but it's often exceedingly difficult. You might not even be able to hold your place. If you're headed for the rocks, you might be able to reduce the impact forces infinitesimally, but you can forget about getting back up to a place where you can walk out of the water.

How much are our lives like the plight of the river swimmer? People say "don't blame your circumstances, make them", but everything about your ability to make new circumstances comes from your existing circumstances. Things are complex and therefore all but theoretically unpredictable, yes, but that doesn't mean we should expect a Target in Sherbrooke tomorrow.


Our myths of a meritocracy might be a momentary delusion. At the very least, its newness is worth bearing in mind. Would you tell a medieval peasant that he could become a king if only he worked harder? If network marketing pays better than looking after your sister's children, does that mean top-tier Amway distributors are simply more worthy? No, those things aren't mutually exclusive, but there are limits to our time and energy. Things that we can't imagine are possible, but not everything we can imagine is possible.

The merciless river won't allow us to be perfectionists. We have to work with what we have - if we try to reach for the calmer upstream waters, we guarantee a close and personal meeting with something hidden, jagged, coarse, and very hard.

Here is an excerpt from Ecclesiastes:

Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Perfectionists are necessarily narcissists. For us, that first verse reads:

Whatsoever thy mighty hand findeth to do, do it with thine almighty power; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, wither thou may go, therefore set thine everlasting works upon the earth and let them shine for ever more.

And then you're frustrated when things don't work out. And then you're frustrated because you're frustrated, because things are just supposed to work out. It must be somebody else's problem. They just don't understand how great I am. I admit, sometimes such greatness can be intimidating.

I used to believe that being a perfectionist was a compliment. Perhaps in certain circumstances is still is. But if you're the only one who cares about the "perfection", it might be time to readjust your priorities.

What were we talking about? Something about how great I was? Oh, no, the river.

We're lucky to have the rocky rapids, really. It's a wonder somebody didn't try to make it navigable. Imagine if you could ship your whale oil and ceiling wax up to Lochaber Lake, and ship timber down? Log drives, at least, were apparently common. I wouldn't want to be among those responsible for clearing a jam in the rapids. Sometimes, though perhaps not around here, they used dynamite.

There used to be lots and lots of salmon, too. Today there is only a recreational catch-and-release fishery, and that only some years. If you'd like to meet some friendly people in green trucks, head out onto the river with your fishing gear.

Acceptance is the word of the day. Whether you're lost in a river, trying to find a job, or spending some time in the crowbar saloon after your fishing trip, do the best you can with what you have, and try not to whine so hard that it drowns out the forest breeze and the calls of the wild creatures. Go ahead and drown out the Sherbrooke lawn mower brigade, though. In fact, put holes in all the gas tanks. You have my blessing. Just don't let anyone see you, or you'll be hearing about all the best salmon spots.
Tags: writing exercises

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