Dead Reckoning

“So how’s the writing going?”

An innocent question asked out of genuine care and interest pierces my heart. As any writer probably knows, any writer who hasn’t been writing, because… because.

This simple question shines an unwelcome light into the darkest recesses of my cringing soul, through the secret back entrance that was foolishly left unguarded, to that deepest shame:

I. Haven’t. Really. Been. Writing. (At all).

This summer I took a sea kayaking course, during which we learned and practiced “dead reckoning.” Dead reckoning is how you find your way if it’s foggy and/or dark and you can’t see your course or destination. Rather than keeping on course by sight, you plot your course with a chart and compass, calculate your time and distance from your destination, and then… you paddle.

Writing has always been how I’ve found my way. It’s the One Thing I know I should be doing. Instead, I’ve been doing literally anything else: Working to pay the bills and crawl out of my pandemic-induced debt. Wondering how I’ll ever break out of this basement suite life. Drowning in social media- and news-induced despair. Saving the world in video games because it’s the only way I know how. Living in a state of perpetual existential crisis, bombarded by unknowns about my career, finances, relationships, imagined or imposed expectations, whether I’ll ever manage to do what I’m supposed to do with my life, and what is that exactly.

It’s no wonder I’m so lost and weary.

The trouble with dead reckoning is, if you stop paddling, even for a few moments, you drift. And then you have no way of knowing if your course is still correct, or you’ll miss land entirely and end up in the middle of the ocean.

Sometimes I wonder if that’s what’s happened to me: I drifted. I stopped paddling. I stopped writing, and now I don’t know where I’m going, and if I’ll ever get there, or will be lost in the fog forever in the middle of the ocean.

But all hope is not lost, it never is. Course corrections are possible, I just have to hope it’s not too little, too late, to paddle – or write – my way back on course. And pray the fog will eventually clear, and a light will eventually appear, and I will eventually find myself back on dry, solid ground.

Header image by Noah Rosenfield via Unsplash

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