My Own True North

Over the winter holiday, I went Christmas shopping with my son and found and bought for myself a compass key ring. I love the compass rose. I love the beautiful symmetry, how the needle always guides me north. I love the circular geometry, the triangular points within the smooth roundness.

And it helps that my Trail name is Compass Rose. Ironically because I am one of the only people who can actually get lost on the Appalachian Trail. Long story. Silly story. For another day.

So. I bought this cheap compass key ring that actually worked. The needle pointed north even though I really didn’t care because I’m not going north nor am I about to get lost. It helps that I’m not hiking on the Appalachian Trail and that when I have been hiking recently, I have been hiking with my partner, Owl Singer, who doesn’t get lost. Because she’s not me.

Today was the first day back from winter holiday. The new semester and nine weeks will begin on Thursday. Because my county is on the four-by-four schedule, we will have new classes and new students. New everything. I didn’t sleep well last night, having shifted my sleep patterns, and going into the building was an in-my-face reminder that Covid isn’t over and that we are still very isolated from everyone and everything. The old weariness saddled itself across my shoulders. The feeling of constantly being overwhelmed became suffocating. No matter how hard I could work, it would never be enough.

About halfway through the day, I went to the bathroom, and on the walk back to my classroom, I realized that half of the hard plasticky lens covering my compass had broken. I was a bit unhappy, but, well….the key chain was cheap and I figured it was going to break eventually. And, besides, the needle still worked. I could still find my northern journey.

As the day continued, the lens broke again. As I walked down the hall, I was fiddling with the compass and the entire lens slid out of the grooves and the needle, no longer having anything holding it in, slipped to the ground with a quiet plink. I snagged the arrow, put it back on, and it immediately fell off. All I have for a compass is a sharp nail in the center of my rose with no direction.

Even when I know where I am, I am still lost.

One of my covid reckonings has been dealing with my own sense of inadequacy, the fact that I will never be good enough. A couple of months ago, I submitted a poem to what I thought was going to be the perfect literary magazine. I was absolutely confident that I was going to be a shoe in. And then, a month ago, I got my rejection.

Wait a minute. But…I was good enough. My poem matched what has been published by other writers. I’m not bad. I’ve been published before.

How I can be rejected over 120 times with my novel and still feel okay about myself while being rejected once. Just once for a poem broke me. I cried. I sat in my office and thought about retiring from writing only…I don’t have a career in writing. Being published once doesn’t exactly count for much of anything.

So I have been shuffling through my life feeling never good enough. Never good enough. And then, as the winter holidays passed, several friends gave me gifts dedicated to my writing. A coffee mug telling people to f*** off, I’m writing. A charm bracelet with writing charms and the admonishment to be “careful or you’ll end up in my novel.” Little moments in which God spoke to me that He isn’t done with me or my fingers or my moments in which I just can’t stop breathing in syllables and loving phonemes.

I threw away the arrow. I kept the compass. It’s on my desk and will be pinned to my bulletin board. I have my direction. I have 360 degrees worth of roads and dreams and directions to follow. For much of my life, I never thought I was as good as ___. I have so many names I could fill into that hollow space. But today, a colleague and dear friend of mine told me that I am good enough. That I do have something to give the world, a book. A story. A string of words that I wear like beads around my neck.

I keep on following other people’s paths when I need to create my own. But with my needle in the trash and an open lens compass, I am free now to be my own true north.

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