Like a hammer on nail I have pounded myself with the questions, “What are you going to do with your life? Where are you going to be?”
For years. Career-wise, of course. Because I view work, not as a method of income, but as a manifestation of my values and my vehicle for contributing to humanity. A privileged mindset, I am well aware. And the answer to what I should be doing was forging the path towards the greatest career euphoria that would every day reflect and strengthen my values and make the world a more compassionate, wondrous place.
Like all ideals, that day hung in the future like a star that I was to follow, guiding my path, every action’s greater worth residing not in its present moment but in its role in driving me closer to that grandeur.
And I had it all planned. Decades of my life written in ink on lined paper. It went something like: Work as a theatre director at the best regional theatres in the United States and at the best national theatres around the world. Earn an M.F.A. Maybe a Ph.D. Write and direct my own scripts with the best, most passionate, innovative theatre individuals around the globe. Teach theatre at a private, liberal arts college. Create something new.
Then, one day, a spark caught the corner of that paper and swallowed it in flame. And all the visions of how my life was going to play out swirled in a pile of ash. I still don’t know where that spark came from. I just know the ember tore away the scroll of my life’s narrative, and I stood on the edge, clenching palmfuls of what was supposed to be. I didn’t need to look up to see the star had gone out. The light had turned off.
But like a body when it burns, I found, picking through the ash, the densest pieces of my foundation remained: an overwhelming need to tell stories—true stories—with people who expand the edges of the universe.
After much anger and confusion and deep grief, I threw the ash in the air, and looking up, I saw another star, this one in a place I never knew stars could glow. It shone with a light I did not recognize but instantly trusted without cause or explanation or any cerebral capacity. The light resonated viscerally, hooking the spinning compass in my gut, pointing it North to KNOM in Alaska. That was March 2013.
Months later in August, I arrived in Nome. Touching ground I felt my body reuniting with my spirit. It was as though I had arrived long before I landed and had been waiting for my physical being to rejoin me, to encapsulate me once again and add sensation to the essence, to let flesh feel the tundra that the psyche had long rolled in.
Perhaps that is why I felt like half a soul the year leading up to KNOM. Pieces of me had been slipping away, heading North.
And in these past few months, for the first time in long memory, I feel gravity.
What are you supposed to be doing?
Where are you supposed to be?
But I am also learning that those questions are useless. Language fails. Words are the product and transmitters of reason, and fate rarely acknowledges such rationale. It prefers to communicate either by a slap in the face or subtle currents sensed by sitting still and feeling what tugs. The question is not, “What should I be pushing myself towards?” but rather the awareness of what is pulling me. And go do that.
Right now that force is grounded.
For how long? Well, the earth’s magnetic field exists in flux. North is an ever shifting orientation. For now, the compass is at rest. And I am grateful for the respite.