captain’s orders

Some made their ascent screamingly fast; others partied and rested along the way, hanging from the face in makeshift hammocks. All achieved the same goal, even though they bickered among themselves over whose method was purer, more efficient or more skillful.

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I drew a single tarot card to help me sort out my thoughts today. Strength came up, reversed.  In this position, the Strength card indicates insecurity and vulnerability.  It means that something has happened to make you doubt yourself.  And that’s definitely true.  I’ve started following all of these wonderful people on Twitter, people who are working in jobs that I would love to have someday.  They’re all so intelligent and witty and knowledgeable.  I feel like I could never catch up to them, especially since I am starting so late.  I’m hardly a fresh-faced college grad springing through the industry doors with stardust in my eyes and self-confidence in my heart.  The mountain of grammar and usage rules that I don’t know is as steep and sheer as the seemingly unassailable face of El Capitan in Yosemite.

Full disclosure: one of my fiancé’s favorite documentaries is Valley Uprising, about the various groups of mountain climbers who have made Yosemite National Park their home over the years.  I’ve seen it several times, hence the climbing references. What is of particular relevance to me, though, is the fact that while El Cap has been ascended many times, each climber has had his or her own method (and madness).

cap
El Capitan

Some made their ascent screamingly fast; others partied and rested along the way, hanging from the face in makeshift hammocks.  All achieved the same goal, even though they bickered among themselves over whose method was purer, more efficient or more skillful.  And no one has ever conquered the beast. All these years later, climbers still view it with awe and respect, as something that can never fully be understood.

My own career path has been raucous and sloppy, veering from track to track over the 15 years I’ve been loose in the world.  I’ve made a point of following things I love and, when love went sour, of rocketing out on the path of least resistance.  My paths, however, have always meandered back toward one thing: language. Since I was a kid, I have loved language and literature, sharing new words and new (to me) books with anyone who would listen.  I have a BA in English and an MAT in teaching secondary English, but I found that teaching high school was not the calling I’d been listening for.

Now, I work at a community college.  I tutor students in English, help students in all disciplines revise papers and essays and support ESOL students both with their assignments and in conversation groups.  My job, in essence, centers around the refinement of language, on making expression more understandable.  I love it.  I love that feeling when we hit on a construction that preserves voice AND makes good sense.  Our eyes light up and, usually, I go for the high-five.  That passion for coherence has made me wonder if a related career might not be the answer I’ve been searching for. I know that copy-editing, for example, is dramatically different from editing student work (having done a short stint in magazine publishing I’ve a shred of an idea of how editorial works) and that lexicography is not just skipping through the halls singing about some neologism that’s gaining momentum.

I know that, but I’ve always admired a firm grasp on grammar and usage and envied a deep, broad vocabulary. But there has also been, on what felt like a cellular level, a certainty that I wasn’t smart enough or dedicated enough to be one of those people I looked up to.  Not to be arrogant, but I am pretty smart. It’s true, though, that until my thirties began I was far from dedicated.  I couldn’t stay focused on any subject for long, resulting in a wide but shallow scope of knowledge. Still, maybe that’s just my way. The documentary (which I realize has its problems) describes, from the very beginning, the wildly different approaches of various climbers, from studied, transcendentalist attempts and crazy, drug-fueled scrambles to the seemingly suicidal efforts of later free soloists. All of those climbers (well, aside from those who died trying) made it to the apex. They are all still called “climbers.” So maybe now, knowing all that I know, I can make my own meandering, curious ascent into…whatever’s up there waiting for me.

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