Have you ever purposefully got yourself lost? Stepped onto a road you’ve never stepped before? Drove aimlessly without a GPS? Walked into the woods without a compass?
I was reckless. In high school, I’d get up in the middle of class and leave to walk home eight miles away. Not because I was bullied or ostracized. I had friends who understood me, good grades, and a teacher who made a difference. I left because I couldn’t sit in that same chair anymore doing the same predictable questions and answers and structured reading exercises while the same subtle meanness and flirtations darted around us. My choice was to leave or explode. So I left.
The first time I wasn’t sure how to get home. I knew the general direction, and was confident if I headed that way I’d eventually find a familiar street. I didn’t worry. I sang songs out loud. I made up poetry about flowers and weeds. I saw houses I’d never seen, shops I’d never noticed, interesting people, and I made stories from them. I skipped. I ran. I leaped across puddles and challenged myself to jump bigger ones. And I did find my way—even though it was cold and dark when I walked up our driveway. This wandering became addictive. Whenever I was too comfortable with my route, I’d change it.
Sometimes I’d get lost. Once I found myself in a giant dirt pit, and a man in a hard hat yelled at me until he realized I was really lost, and he pointed the easiest way out. I had to crawl out on my hands and knees, clinging to fistfuls of earth. I was filthy and my pants were torn when I got home, but I got home. At church camp, I’d walk away from the organized activities into the woods until I didn’t recognize anything, then I’d sit against a tree and watch life happen—from tiny insects to the enormous sky. When I learned to drive, I explored greater distances, and took bigger chances to the extent my car once burst into flames.
I haven’t wandered in a while. Not like that.
Instead, I get lost in first drafts. From experience, the only way to keep myself excited and interested is to walk away from what I think I know. The woods might be dark with strange creatures hiding, but I want to go there. The path ahead might not be one path—it might be infinite, ridiculous paths crisscrossing each other, but I’m going to step out on one. The people I see may be those I’ve never encountered, but I’m going to talk to them. If I’m dirty and torn at the end, if I’ve made mistakes, so be it. However I head out, I know I’ll make my way to an end.
Revision is when I turn on the GPS, take out my phone or my compass. But not until that point. Because what sort of fun would that be if I already knew the way? I choose to stay reckless.
Janel Kolby is a January 2015 graduate of the Hamline MFAC program. She lives in Washington state.