Mozart was composing music at the age of 3. By 3, Tiger Woods shot a 48 over 9 holes. At age 3, I was trying to cut my own hair all the way at the scalp with craft scissors and ate a spoonful of dirt because the neighbor kid told me to.
It was evident that I was lacking the composition of a “future child sensation.”
To this day, none of my underlying or undiscovered marvelous skills or talents have surfaced. Two weeks shy of my 40th birthday, I have embraced the notion that it’s not just that I’m simply a late bloomer. I have recognized my achievements in life will not change the course of history. I am a good person, a great friend, I have integrity, I am generous, I possess a lot of great qualities (says my mother) … but a remarkable skillset? Sadly, no.
I wracked my brain on a 9 hour drive from Tennessee to Chicago in an effort to think of something I was really good at. What I came up with… was parallel parking. This is the one thing I do really well.
I can navigate a car into a parking spot so well that it’s a wonder I’ve not been appointed as the foremost expert on advancements in precision-guided missile targeting.
I don’t have to crane my neck or do the exaggerated arm behind the passenger seat business. I’m a natural. My spatial awareness assures me where unseen bumpers are within millimeters. If I were to play the game Operation with my car, I’d be the head surgeon of Milton Bradley Hospital and Cavity Sam’s red light bulb would never light up to my surgical precision-like parallel parking ability. Most people would say, “someone who brags about what an excellent parallel parker they are must have very little else going for them.” To this I say … well, yes that’s true. However, since this is where my greatness ends, allow me to have my moment.
I have very few crippling fears. Of course I have the usual, run-of-the-mill fear of dying alone, fear of bird flu, fear of a surprise Zumba flash mob in which I’m forced to participate, fear I’m being secretly taped for What Not to Wear and I’m wearing the ill-fitting outfit in public which my mother had given me before trying it on, but fear of failure isn’t one of them.
We all know people who will not try something new for fear of looking foolish. They can’t be bothered if they are not going to be the best, coming out of the gate looking like an accomplished and seasoned veteran. Meanwhile, we pester our children with sage morsels such as “how do you know you aren’t any good unless you try” and “you can’t expect to get any better unless you practice.” While these things are true, the reality exists that many of us just won’t develop very far in every (or any) discipline. Being a Midwestern girl raised as a Roman Catholic, I fight pangs of guilt when it comes to investing time and money in anything which has no tangible purpose, no profit and is something at which I am not particularly skilled. Collectively we’ve become conditioned to believe it’s unreasonable to expect to be virtuosos; and yes, we must practice to become better … but then we convince ourselves it’s only really worth pursuing if we’re the very best (or pretty darn close). How do we justify that sometimes we just want it, don’t need it, and furthermore, aren’t very good at it, and may never be? Let me back up. I said, “how do we justify,” but really, why do we feel the need to justify?
Why do we feel the need to justify?
As fly anglers, we become reconciled, to a degree, that there is some futility in what we do. We tie up little bits of feathers, thread and fuzz to make something which resembles an insect. We coordinate these elaborate (read: expensive) trips, traveling dozens, hundreds, sometimes even thousands of miles to remote locations. We get up early, we stay out late, wearing funny rubber pants, humping through cold water and hot sun to con these fish into feasting upon our feathery hook of lies; then what do we do with a fish once our plan has succeeded? We put it back and go home.
Our devotion is not for sustenance. It is not for trophy.
All of this just for what it does for us mentally, emotionally, spiritually, sometimes socially, or none of that at all, but just because it’s a good time.
My flies are not the most expertly tied. I don’t cast with loops so tight that they could lasso a cricket … or an elephant for that matter.
There are times I am standing in a puddle of fly line which has taken to my shoes and up my legs as if it were ivy.
I often hesitate before setting the hook and probably miss more than I land. I’ve been so enamored with my own casting that I didn’t realize I’ve lost my fly, God only knows how long ago. If I had an application for a reality television survival show, they’d bill me as the fisherwoman, yet the entire cast would need to be airlifted from the island at the risk of starvation. There is a balance I try to strike between being self-actualized enough to know that my abilities may not warrant spending gratuitous amounts of money and conversely knowing that new toys are fun and better equipment often equates to better performance.
We owe it to ourselves to just enjoy, experiment and experience all of it; without guilt, without reservation, without justification. Giving ourselves permission to pursue things just because, and the “because” does not need to have a qualifier. ‘Just because’ is qualifier enough. ‘Just because’ we are alive and can embrace the day and whatever comes along with it. Sometimes we’ll just not be very good, sometimes it won’t be very enjoyable after all, and sometimes it’s not what you expected.
Sometimes you end up in a boxing class and haven’t jumped rope in so long that you end up faking it, since the only other option is to hang yourself in shame. Sometimes you end up in rubber pants with new friends on a stream enjoying the longest day of the year and haven’t seen a fish in the numerous hours you’ve been there.
As for myself, I want to taste, see, hear and feel the magnificent and the hideous.
My 40th year on this earth will have a whole lot more “that sounds like a terrible idea - what time should I be ready?” and less “I really shouldn’t, there is so much that needs to get done.” Perhaps my greatness is still waiting to be revealed. Thomas Edison failed 1,000 times before inventing the light bulb. Beethoven lost his hearing and went on to compose many of his most admired works. I have no excuse for not simply putting my shoes on and enjoying the day, trying something new or doing something old. Our experiences should be rich, even if not productive. I will continue to “do it anyways,” even if I suck at it, look like a fool or end up with a horribly hysterical story to share.
My greatness might just be that I know how to have one hell of a time being somewhere in the middle.