I had an analogy. I lost it when I fell down. But it returned to me this morning when my iPod was out of power. Too tired to panic, I shrugged and put my puppy on her leash to complete my stroll around the neighborhood without it.
I had a professor in undergrad who hated seeing people run with music on. Said it distracted you from your own thoughts, some of which could only be found in the silence that allows for the noise of the world. Hearing your breath come faster with exercise, listening to the air move around you. Whatever, I’ve often thought. I like the music and I’m listening to it. So there.
But this morning did find my thoughts coming a bit easier. Likely due to the fact that I slept last night – not in a hotel room that smelled vaguely of smoke, not on a daybed tucked in the back bedroom of my parents’ house. I also had all my stuff around me – the right noises, scents, textures. I’m also making progress on my grant, allowing for thoughts other than “I’m never going to finish! Can’t do it! Freaking out!” Granted, those thoughts still happen, but as I edit and write and see the endpoint, they’re less intense.
So, OK, let’s see how this goes.
I live on a hill near a lake. If you’re viewing the image above and thinking “Holy cow, it’s a suburban nightmare!” Well, thanks. I’m content here for now, but know I’m not staying permanently. There are a few streets that go somewhere, but mostly little cul-de-sacs that house lots of little families and dogs and small swimming pools. This lake I'm going to keep talking about? It's on the far left of the image.
I take walks nearly every morning. It helps me think, gives the dog something to anticipate (And she does. Every single morning. She’ll bounce around, nudge my shoes, whine at the door. I vary between thinking it’s sweet and irritating.) I find it interesting that while I have about 3 different general paths I follow 90% of the time, I always head toward the lake.
I exit my house, wander out to the street and decide whether to go left or right – parallel to the lake, or straight toward it right away. If I do turn immediately, I always find myself drawn in the lake direction shortly thereafter. I like looking at it. Sometimes it’s bright blue and happy, other times it’s gray and mopey. But I’ve always liked water, so toward water I head.
Upon starting my walk, about 2 miles from the lake, I can see it quite clearly. Can note the colors, see any boats or fishermen, note the cars that might be crossing the bridge in the distance. Within a minute of leaving the house, I have to go down a hill though. And not 20 steps into the descent, I lose sight of the lake. I know it’s there, realize I’m heading toward it, but can’t assure myself of the fact by checking by sight. It just makes sense that if I follow these certain paths, I’m headed in the correct general direction. If I kept walking on certain streets, found a way through the meager section of wooded land, then I’d get to see the water up close.
I’ve never walked all the way there though. Four miles (round trip) seems like a lot to me – even on weekends where not much else is going on. I think my 2 miles or so is adequate – down the hill, around some corners, then back up the hill to home. But I got curious one day – put the dog in the car and drove down.
I was disappointed. There wasn’t any sand – just these huge pieces of rock. You can’t walk on them very easily, I noted with a frown. It'd really hurt to fall down too. And there were birds – lots of seagulls, ducks and geese. Pretty from a distance, rather gross up close. And the water was rather dirty. I decided to take Chienne for a walk through the woods, wanting to salvage at least part of this adventure. But it was too hard – there were no clear paths and her dashes to explore left the leash tangled around trees and prickly bushes. Disappointed and a bit disturbed, I returned to the car, shrugged at my dog and returned home.
It was around this time I decided to give up on the animal work. My long-term lake at the time - what I thought I wanted to walk toward - required it, but having just been disappointed in my neighborhood lake, I realized that something that glimmers hopefully in the distance can be wrong once you get too close. And once you realize the lake isn’t all that great, it’s a bit silly to torture yourself trying to reach it, right?
But this grant requires some idea of the lake, so I just pretended that drive to the shoreline hadn’t occurred. The lake would now represent my future goal in some abstract way. So the lake is good again, if you’re keeping track. We all like the lake.
These grants, if you’ve never had the pleasure of completing one, are actually relatively cool. While I’m typically quite decisive, if I can push big decisions off on someone else, I’ll try to do that. Since I don’t really know what my ideal lake looks like, it’d be nice to tell someone all about myself, describe the path I think leads to the lake, then give some information about how I think the lake might be. Then someone else - a committee of people - can tell me that I'm not prepared to reach the lake, that my map is all wrong, or that the lake may not be what I want after all. Or they can give me a large amount of money to encourage my journey. Excellent.
Within the grant, I’ve made it past describing my house – the stuff I moved with me from other places, things I bought since I arrived, plans I have for improvements and future purchases within the next 2 years. On a personal level - where I came from, what I know, where I might be going in the short term.
Then I talk extensively about these roads to the lake. In my case, there are three. Lots of people to walk with and learn from. Roads that will, at times, be painful and cause my legs to cramp. Paths that will undoubtedly fork and leave me standing, befuddled, wondering why I didn’t predict this outcome, factor this problem into my map. Scared to pick the wrong direction, but eager to make progress in reaching the lake. Journeys that at times will seem effortless – days where I think I could walk forever, might even consider breaking into a light jog. Then there will be times where I’ll want to just sit and rest, smiling at other people as they make their way toward the lake, glaring at others who dare irritate me as I settle in at the side of the path, gathering my resources, thinking about the ground I covered so far, what’s left to be done, and considering yet again if I think the lake is worthwhile in some profound way.
Then, at the end of the grant, I get to discuss the lake a bit. What I hope is there. The kinds of people I’ll need to find to fully enjoy the lake. Sandy shores, no big or gross birds, clear water, softly lapping waves. Then someone might say, “Oh! I see! You’re walking toward the lake because that’s all you see right now, but you really want the ocean! You should get out of the middle of the country and head east, west or south. You want to make your way toward ocean, silly, not lake!”
That part of peer review isn’t so bad. I hate having papers rejected – work you’ve already completed that is somehow deemed inadequate. There’s not a lot you can do – you thought you could play in the water at the lake, and it turns out that you have to head home and start over. But with grants? You’re still at home, perhaps just starting to map out your paths to the lake. There’s plenty of time to take advantage of advice and change your map – perhaps even turn around and find a different body of water altogether.
Oh, and there is a lake in some form. There has to be. If Dryden takes away lake like he took away the idea of cake, we’re going to have to schedule some sort of fight to the death. Because I’m not letting this one go.