I'm on Christmas break at my parents house and for the first time in a long time find that I have absolutely nothing to do. After working an average of 60 hours a week for the last six months this free time is, to be honest, kind of freaking me out. There are no articles to write, no research to be done and no interviews to schedule. I don't even have any emails to get caught up on. And now, consequently, it seems I have nothing to say. It makes me feel oddly untethered to anything normal. After sitting here in the quiet calm of my parents living room for the last thirty minutes warming my toes in front of the fire I finally turned to my friend Jeff and begged him to give me a topic, any topic, to write about. His answer? "Talk about a rafting trip."
But which one do I talk about? I was a raft guide for four seasons and that means a lot of trips. There are people I could tell stories about, animal encounters I could gloat over and more than one rapid that I could speak of as if it were a person. Basically, there was a lot...maybe too much. I could talk about the first and only time I flipped my boat, the most obnoxious student I ever had (thankfully I've forgotten her name), the time I saw a bear or recount my very first trip as a guide. I could talk about how I saw adults turn into little kids on the river, or my favorite clients, the Johnson family. I could talk about what it was like to help someone in trouble or even how I ultimately lost the itch to be a guide. There's so much I could say that now, ironically, I don't know where to start.
It's Christmas time, or Hanukkah for some. Regardless of what you believe, it's a time of gratitude and joy. Each year, as my plane makes it way to Columbus for the holidays I think of all the things that have happened during the year that I am proud of and grateful for. This is the first year in a long time that I'm not counting rafting on my list. I was busy in Wyoming this past summer getting my career in journalism off the ground. To my surprise, I went a whole season without putting my paddle in the water. And while the absence of that which defined me for so long is odd, it's not necessarily bad. I was working on the next adventure and improving my skills as writer, or at least I'd like to think so.
But Jeff had told me to write about a rafting trip, not just the whole experience. And while the memories of those days as a guide are never far, I thought it would be fun to pull up an old essay I had written almost two years ago about a day on the water. It was supposed to be a finished piece, but as I began reading it tonight I immediately began rearranging sentences, changing adjectives and deleting superfluous words. On about the second page I stopped working and realized, quite suddenly, that this was no longer a piece I was proud of. It didn't even sound like something I'd written. Some of the sentences were redundant, the imagery was poor and the explanation of what happened that day wasn't very good at all. I'd let a few people read it once it was completed and I remember them telling me they liked it. I even remember thinking it wasn't half bad. But looking at it now I'm nowhere near happy with it. I don't even want to finish reading it and am tempted to simply trash the whole file.
But that old, annoying, flatulent piece of writing isn't a complete wash. It shows that I have in fact improved as a writer. I'm not saying that what I write now if fabulous, and I do know that I have plenty of room for improvement, but seeing the change from them to now is at the very least reassuring.
So Jeff, thank you for sending me down that strange little memory lane; I hadn't realized just how much improvement I had to be thankful for.