I had watched the seal catch two waves. Now his head popped up beside me where I sat on my board. I almost fell off in surprise. “Hi,” I stammered. He blinked, unafraid and curious. Oh man, I thought, he wants to be my friend. “Right?” I proffered. The seal didn’t seem to be into conversation. He turned his head toward the open ocean, just like a surfer looking for a set. Wow. These are the kind of moments we dream about. He had position on me. I mean that, technically, he was closer to the peak where the waves broke and so the next wave belonged to him. But no rule of surf etiquette said I had to yield to a pinniped. I’m going, I thought. Next good wave is mine. You can catch waves all day long.
He turned his sleek head and looked at me with such frank and kindly condescension that I winced. What on earth are you doing in my house? He seemed to say. You are such a kook.
Kook means “beginning surfer.” It is not a neutral term; it carries a slug of derision, a brand for the clueless, for those without hope, without grace, without rhythm. To be a kook is to be consigned to a kind of beginner’s hell. The seal disappeared in a swirl of green water. Good. I always messed up when someone was watching. I needed a little alone time.
Peter Heller, “Kook”
I just finished this book this morning, and it hit me hard. It seems to be something I needed to read at this particular moment in my life. It was so beautifully written in places that it made my heart ache deep within me.
I’ve been down the last few months. Under a dark cloud. Clueless, without hope, without grace, without rhythm. That’s me. That’s me to a T.
I’m hard on myself. I tend to see the bad things and none of the good. Stupid, cruel, thoughtless things I say to people I love. My cowardice in relationships, social settings, my work. Feeling like I’m a waste of space, that I’ve lived a wasted life.
Don’t worry. I’m not about to eat the end of a shotgun or anything. I’m just frustrated with myself. In the book Heller also says:
How does one make a life? I had done a Big Thing. Now what was I supposed to do? Was I supposed to do another Big Thing? Or could I do some small things for a while? Was it enough to string together things of any size until I died? Did it matter, as long as I had friends, family, a community?
I’ve never known what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve been plagued by doubts from elementary school until today. I thought I had to have a Big Thing. I have no Big Thing, and I’m pushing 40 years old. Panic is setting in, closely followed by depression. Is it ok that I have no money? That I spent years in a job I hated? That I gave it up when my dad died to help my family on the ranch? That I love the ranch but that I’ve drifted away from my friends and deeper into my solitude?
I don’t know the answer to any of these questions for sure, but my hero was without question my dad. He was a humble, quiet man that came back to the ranch when he was 18 years old when his dad died suddenly. He didn’t complain, he just lived his life the best he knew how. He worked hard, he loved me and my mom, and he took pleasure in the simple things of life. To me that was a Big Thing. The Biggest Thing.
When I look at the things that make me unhappy they are not that bad. There are things I need to change, for my peace of mind if nothing else, but I can change them. I don’t want to be a kook anymore. Clueless, without hope, without grace, without rhythm.
Last Friday was my 37th birthday. It’s a new year, and it’s the year that I stop being a kook. I’m not going to take up surfing, but I am going to change my life. There will be no broad, over-reaching goals. No “I’m going to lose 35 pounds, I’m going to get a black belt in judo, I’m going to make a lot of money,” promises. Dead ends, those. All I’m going to do each day is be a better person than I was the day before. In doing that, I hope to make peace with myself.