I am writing this to you in the rain.
I am writing this to a new Bush Fellow. I am writing this to my 2022 cohort. I am writing this to myself.
You are on a side-quest now. You have decided, at whatever moment in your career or life, to step out of the ordinary and to do something extraordinary with your time, which you already didn’t have much of.
That might find you, like it does me, in a city you don’t know, sitting under scaffolding in front of a hotel bistro, letting sparrows peck at your leftover breakfast while you write in the rain. The world back home is going on without you as you study some random academic theory and will your mind to expand. As you plunge into the mysteries of language and culture and how your past has shaped your values. As you challenge yourself to think bigger and then to think bigger again.
You, by this time, have been confronted with the frustrating smallness of your own thinking, the restraints yoked upon you by your own community, your own family, your own workplace. You have asked yourself, dozens of times, am I being arrogant? Am I playing it safe? Am I wrong about all of this? What have I gotten myself into?
Listen. You have gotten yourself into something wonderful. It’s okay if you cannot explain it yet. It’s better that way. When people ask you how your fellowship is going, you will feel Iike a senior in college might, having invested your lifeblood into something you can’t articulate on the cusp of the exact moment when you don’t know if your investment will so much as get you a job.
Enjoy those moments. Delight in the discomfort when certain people ask you how your fellowship is going and you have to admit you aren’t really sure. The complicated truth is some parts are going better than you could have imagined. Other goals you have silently abandoned because they no longer fit the person you have already become. I know you think those people are wondering specifically how you are spending your time and money and what you have to show for it. I know you think those people are waiting for you to do not-so-much-really with your Bush Fellowship because perceived mediocrity confirms something they believe about the world and their place in it.
You’re not wrong. Some people really are like that.
I am asking you to delight in the not-knowing. To stick your head out that window of curiosity that demands you sit in silence in a city you don’t know and decide it’s too complicated to get a cab in the rain and Hemingway wrote in hotels, so you might as well too.
I promise you. That will end up being a very good day.
This is what I know for sure about the Bush Fellowship experience. It doesn’t “fit” into the “real world” many of us have created for ourselves or watched others create for us. That’s why I consider it my side-quest. In television, when a character peels off and has some kind of alternate adventure away from the core plot with the “main characters” no one asks much about what they were doing when they return to the original storyline. But the audience knows how everything has shifted irrevocably. How Merry and Pippin have become pacifist warriors in their own right. How Klaus (Number Four) has sought love and redemption, death and resurrection. How Templeton has finally satiated his hedonistic self at the state fair.
Do I sound dramatic? That’s okay. I’ve been told that a lot. I’m a writer. I like spilling drama on the page.
My side-quest is shifting how I think about my work and how I think about myself. It is allowing me opportunities I could only imagine before. I have taken side streams and tributaries and I have returned, again and again, to my original plan and felt deep appreciation for the person who clarified those desires in writing for me to return to when I fear I am lost in the woods.
One more thing: In this journey, you are never lost in the woods.
Listen. The woods have something to tell you.