“All of life drums and beats, at once, sustaining a rhythm audible only to the spirit. I can drum my heartbeat back into the Earth, beating, hearts beating, my hands on the Earth—like a ruffed grouse on a log, beating, hearts beating—like a bittern in the marsh, beating, hearts beating. My hands on the Earth, beating, hearts beating. I drum back my return.” –Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge
The drive invigorated me. Within minutes I was far enough away from Boulder that I slowly forgot my grad program—which had been weighing on me.
There were a lot of absolutes thrown around the week before that made me nervous. Journalism is this, and only this. Journalism is god and any other writing is lesser.
The program, like any college program, began professing its holy status in the world and students were either reluctantly bowing down or resisting. Some students talked about dropping the program. Some talked about switching degree tracks. I wasn’t the only one feeling lost.
I sat in the passenger’s seat feeling exhausted. I sat in the passenger’s seat wondering why the hell I was here. I pressed my skull into the leather headrest and tried to recall my initial desire to come to Boulder and be a part of the University’s journalism program. My hands started to shake when I couldn’t bring up that memory from the bottom of the muddied pond that was my mental state. It was too murky and scummy and suffocating. Everything that sat on the bottom was dead.
We passed a young a woman in a Subaru Outback stalled in the middle of the road. As we drove up to her car I asked if she was okay. She smiled, her face entirely composed and, almost laughing, said her dad was coming to help. I wondered what I must have looked like to her—car running fine, packed full of camping gear for a few days of adventure—and my face drawn into a hard granite line, on the verge of completely breaking down.
I squirmed in my seat for a while as we plowed our way through Friday traffic. My own agitation was making me uncomfortable. I felt ready to argue, ready to fight. I shifted my legs around constantly, crossing and uncrossing, flipping the sun visor down and back up over and over again, pushing my hair out of my face, then pulling it back over.
It wasn’t until we climbed the mountain into Winter Park that the tension began to ease up. The cars thinned, the land opened, and the muddy water I was breathing in cleared.
We set up camp on soft ground, squishy with pine needles. The air began to cool as the sun set below the mountains. A creek hurried by, a clear dull ambiance that returned me to the present.
Between the lodge poles, stars filled the sky. The wind was soft but icy, offset by the warmth of the fire, which we huddled close to.
The Earth breathed with me as the wind through the trees. We inhaled and exhaled. Dry pine needles moved with our breath across the dirt. The creek offered a steady sigh, beckoning the breath to continue.
It was a subtle meditation.
It was a subtle recollection of my reasoning to move.
Later in the week, a student asked a journalist what she hoped readers would gain by reading her first published book. The journalist said she hoped readers gained space. Space to think, space to move away from suffocating facts and figures, space to form their own ideas.
I moved out here to gain that same space. I didn’t remember until I heard it in words. I didn’t remember because my program generally speaks in confinement. My program creates walls and hard lines, boxes you can’t exist outside of and still be taken seriously. My program makes harsh demands and blanket statements.
People tend to exist this way when they are struggling–scrambling to create something concrete when everything else is crumbling beneath them. Clawing for a handhold, for some sort of consistency.
But I exist outside of my program. I exist outside of journalism, as does every other person here for that reason. Your career does not define you. Your major does not define you. Whether or not you go to college does not define you.
We have to believe in the possibility that we can occasionally exist outside of statistics and probability. That sometimes we are the outliers. That sometimes science and hard facts do not serve us. That definitions are only words created by someone else and you can create those definitions too. These things are shackles.
“When Emily Dickinson writes, ‘Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul,’ she reminds us, as the birds do, of the liberation and pragmatism of belief.” –Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge