Business Casual

“Giants have been slumbering within us throughout our life.” – Elizabeth Lesser

I’ve spent the last year wearing too many heels, and not enough hiking boots. It’s a fact of my life that heels generally mean money and boots generally mean soul, and each shoe makes it possible for me to wear the other. But due to chance and, I don’t know, the beat pattern of the wings of some butterfly in Killjoy, Arkansas, the last year has contained far less adventuring and free-spirited wandering than I am accustomed to or happy about.

In fact, it hasn’t just been remunerative work that’s done me in – on some level I’ve been tending to the needs of others almost constantly, from my co-parent, who ended up spending a quarter of the year in another hemisphere, right down to the family dog, who was chronically outraged because the neighbors got a St. Bernard puppy and two kittens to invade what he regards as his entire space. Paid work isn’t the only thing I have to carefully balance with my creativity in my life – relationships can overwhelm me, too, if I’m not careful. I don’t blame the relationships for this problem; it’s mostly on my end. I’m an attaching type, and a woman in a culture that has trained me for that sort of thing from birth. It’s been an overwhelming year in every respect.

But now things have settled down.  Work is quiet again. (Perhaps quieter than is ideal.) My son’s father is once again stateside and I am no longer the only parental game in town. The dog has learned the command “No Kitties” and only occasionally needs me to peel him off the ceiling when the neighbor cats, Doug and Manny, show up on our deck and stare placidly through the window at him. And in non-animal news, my partner, after a period of soul searching and job hunting, has returned to his first calling: family therapy. He’s about to embark on difficult and rewarding work, and he’s itching to get started.

Where did this leave me? Exactly where it should, in a silent place, where I could hear the giants stirring again. What should I do? I wondered for about two weeks.  The heels are off. The boots are waiting.

So I’ve decided to turn the notion of business on its head. Boots are now my business shoes. Cameras and keyboards are my supplies, and nature is my office. I’m going to go on a business trip. I’m headed to a conference on my life, attended by me alone, and perhaps an alligator or two, and maybe an anhinga. I’m going to get in my car and go somewhere to ask myself questions, like “Why is it so hard to detach myself from the hooks of my relationships and strike out on my own “? (Hint: I already have a partial answer for this and I bet you do too.) Other questions press, like whether my suspicion that men and women’s experience with nature is different, and if so, what the contours of that are. I will “science myself,” as my son would say, and interrogate my own feelings on these questions.

I’m headed to Florida, of course. Not to Disney, and not to crowded beaches and tiki bars, although those are very nice things, but rather to the wild parts of Florida that people mostly overlook.

There’s a whiff of anxiety to this. I do a lot of exploring with companions, but not a great deal solo. But I’ve learned enough about myself to know that when there’s just that whiff of fear, just enough unease to make me wary of doing it, that I’m where I ought to be. Fear is, as writer Jon Katz has noted, a geography, a space to be crossed.

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7 thoughts on “A conference of one

  1. Congratulations. I’m selfishly excited about this because I know it will energize your writing too. Can wait to see the underwater photography here.

    Killjoy, Arkansas? Must be in the vicinity of Dogsbutt, Alberta.

    And that “No kitties” command? My dog knows that one too. Just be prepared for the concerned looks from strangers when you use it in application to skwerls, ducks, and onther small fun-to-chase animals. It has many applications, most of which will make you look deranged.

  2. Thanks. There’s a lot of material here for me.

    I can successfully call Thomas off a lot of animals, and have — deer, bears, skunks. But skwerls are non-negotiable. Where there is a skwerl, there will be a chase. However, I have trained him to stop before he gets to the road.

    And interestingly, he seems to interpret “No Kitties” as “Stay out of the neighbor’s yard, dork.”

  3. Everything you write makes me cry, because there are things that resonate so deeply for me. And in less tragic news, I love that spelling of skwerl. Our dogs have to bark at things. Not everything deserves a full-on chase, but if it is seen, it must be barked at. Continuously. Until it is no longer seen. I am also curious about the St. Bernard puppy. Have he and Thomas become pals, or do they just not see each other very much?

    1. Kristy is the one who hipped me to the proper spelling of the name of the bushy-tailed mammal in question. Skwerl. It has panache.

      Thomas can be kind of a dick to other dogs, except if he falls in love with them, like the three Brittany Spaniels our other neighbors have. They generally have to be smaller than he is for that to happen, though, and Butch hasn’t been smaller than Thomas since he exited the womb. And Thomas isn’t a small dog. Thomas was all ready to be confrontational until the other day when he approached the neighbor’s yard and heard Butch’s bark. He woosed out and ran back up our deck stairs. He’s content to be hysterical when he spots Butch or the kitties outside the window, especially if I’m petting any one of them. This is a shame, because Butch and Thomas are at approximately the same point on the goofball spectrum. I think they’d get along if Thomas would give it a shot.

  4. I found the bit about detaching from relationships particularly interesting. Definitely worth exploring. I used to be on that side of the spectrum, but now I’m on the opposite. I remember when I met my husband I told him I had 3 absolute dealbreakers for dating anyone – one of them being that the man had to have something other than me going on in his life that he was passionate about. I didn’t want to be the sun for anyone but me. Still that way, though I’m pretty passionate about investing in my marriage too. I’m pretty certain about how I got from point A to point B, so I’m curious as to where your analysis will take you.

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