Let Your Jitters Lead The Way
By Peter Lourie
No matter how many times I teach my favorite college course, the first day of the new semester makes me uneasy. Perhaps it’s because there’s so much potential for something amazing but also no roadmap for how to achieve it. I have knowledge from past experiences and a loose structure but the biggest component is completely unpredictable: the students themselves. Every semester is an entirely new adventure and that sense of possibility is both electrifying and unsettling. I get those same jitters at the beginning of an upcoming journey, and I think they’re a vital part of the process.
When I set out on a trip, I don’t just get the how-do-you-get-through-security-with-all-that-gear nervousness. It’s something more, like feeling that I might be hiking into a box canyon with no way out. Beautiful sights to behold but no guarantee that I’ll find them. As if I could never collect all the information I need for a book, or find the right people to interview. That’s the risk of “proceeding as the way opens,” but it’s also the reward.
Once I break the routine, leave town, and get to a place–once I start to take it one step at a time–those worries melt into action. I slide into a version of travel heaven where I’m alone with new people, poking around, asking a ton of questions. One person mentions something to explore or introduces me to another knowledgeable person. That next person does the same and so does the person after, until paths begin to appear where before there were only obstacles.
It’s always a messy sort of process. Messy but miraculous. Once, when my daughter was learning to scuba dive on Andros Island (First Dive to Shark Dive), we threw our fins, masks, tanks and regulators in the back of a van. From there, we drove to the interior of the island to a blue hole where she would do her open-water dives with Skeebo, her instructor. The sea was too rough that day, but the blue hole would be calm.
I remember the tanks banging loudly in the back as we bounced seatbelt-less over the dirt track. I said, “Suz, you said you sometimes wonder what I’m doing when I’m away from home. This is what I’m doing.”
I meant the van, the wonderful and happy-go-lucky Skeebo at the steering wheel. The tanks rattling in the back; the dirt road weaving through the magic pine forest; us exploring the place where the Chickcharnie, that mythical half-bird, half-human Androsian creature, lives. It was all part of the many splendored thing that is adventure writing—a thing that can’t be planned because part of the magic stems from going with the flow. Like doing an open water dive in a blue hole instead of the ocean because of choppy waves. We didn’t postpone until better weather, we took a new path and were all the better for it.
Suzanna was only half listening. She was thirteen and nervous about diving into a blue hole. I too was nervous about diving into the hole. Blue holes are mysterious entrances to the intricate cave systems which run underneath the island and sea floor. There are 178 inland blue holes on Andros and maybe 50 of them at sea. A little nervousness was entirely appropriate.
But at that moment, heading toward one of those bizarre openings into the underground world, Suzanna may have understood for the first time a little more about what her dad did for a living. In fact, she was engaged in the same exploration of the island, understanding its people and the local lore. Skeebo was teaching her a new skill in a new place. She was about to jump into a blue hole and experience the incredible world of scuba diving. And a few days later she’d be swimming with sharks. One step after the other, off the beach and into the unknown.
I might not know where a trip will take me, or a book, or one of my classes, but I know that once I’m in it, that the way forward will reveal itself. If anything, those early jitters are a sign that I’m onto something with fantastic potential. After thirty years of adventure writing, they let me know I’m still on the right track.
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