This letter, written by Thompson to his friend Hume Logan when he was twenty years old, has been an open tab in my browser since I stumbled upon it earlier this summer. The tab sits on the far left, among the myriad tabbed burrows of the latest internet-induced rabbit hole into which I've fallen. The tab reads: "Letters of Note: A man has...". I complete the sentence subconsciously - every day, many times a day ... It simultaneously challenges and comforts. A man has to BE something. So simple.
At some point over the last 19 or so months, I stopped taking pictures. The available time and head space had quietly left the person I was before I even noticed they were gone. It was only because someone would ask, "Are you still taking pictures?" that I became a little flummoxed when I realized the answer was no. Like when someone asks how old you are and you really have to stop to think about it, surprised that the number is higher than you expected. That stunned sense grew even more when I made the pointed effort to grab the camera and ... Nothing. The creativity, the joy, the imagination - shunted instead towards an audacious goal to help ostensibly healthy people live longer, fuller lives by linking data from their DNA with other clinical test information. Genomics and precision medicine: allowing individuals to potentially predict and prevent disease. It has rolled off my tongue in the way that viral soundbites are intended. This goal was meaningful. Bigger than me, impactful to others, and maybe to the world. No one can argue that this is meaningful.
The goal was indeed meaningful.
Turns out, I was missing something. As Thompson writes, "The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important." It is about choosing a way of life that you know you will enjoy. My way of life was 16 hour working days, coming home late, hemorrhaging the contents of my harried day to Jim over take-out, then re-assuming my gargoyle-like position in front of the laptop until I could no longer concentrate or keep my eyes open. Outside of work & home, friendly conversation became distracted by the constant inner monologue that was thinking about The Goal. How to make it better, more structured, more efficient, successful. Because its success would dictate mine. In the context of this goal, I mattered. And the work was meaningful. Except ... the goal wasn't mine. What was mine was my desire to give, create, satisfy, share. The contorted end result was that this goal was getting the best I had to give - time, energy, self - while the sacred parts of life ... partnership, love, joy ... sat idly by. Along with the camera, gathering dust.
"Let's assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let's assume that you can't see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN - and here is the essence of all I've said - you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH ... a man who procrastinates in his choosing will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance."
On June 13, 2016, I resigned from my position - effective immediately. On June 14th, I signed up for my first art show in over a year. On June 22nd, I registered the URL for my own health care consulting business. By late July, I had my first consulting client. Predictably, the creativity for new images has come at a slower, more measured pace. As my brain has settled and quieted, I've remembered how to be present, how to listen. And how to let go. Inso doing, I have found my Ninth Path.
This past Tuesday, I delivered a new image to a client's home - something that is always an honor. I enjoy seeing where the images will live and learning more about the people who love an image enough to make it part of their everyday life. Taken on July 7th, "RightLine" is the first new image I've shared - a soft breaking right, you can see the shadow of the corner that leads out of the curl. In actuality, the wave itself was small - too small perhaps to anyone who considers herself a real surfer. For me, it was just right - most importantly, for the first time in a long while, I was able to capture what my mind saw. When I delivered the image, I told its new owner a little about why it was special; we talked more about art and about his spirited one year old puppy, Neala. We shook hands, and I went on my way. The next day, I received a text:
I hung the piece and it looks fantastic. So glad to be the owner of #1 ( of 50), especially with the back story. On first glance it looks like the perfect wave, but on further consideration you can see that it will close out in a split second. I like that. A life lesson there.
You do extraordinary work!
I am an artist and a professional. I love to create and to feel that what I do makes a difference - no matter how small. I love science, medicine, and contributing to a world where healthcare is smarter, more effective, and more efficient. I am a life-partner, a friend, and a dog-mom. In all of these ways, I am something.
Most importantly, in all of these things, there is meaning.