For the better part of last week I was down in Olympia participating in a member mobilization training through my union, the American Federation of Teachers. A significant chunk of the training was spent out and about, knocking on the doors of other community college faculty in an attempt to persuade them to join the union.
It turns out that community college faculty live all over the damn place, especially when you’re knocking doors on behalf of union locals based in three different cities. I drove to Tacoma, to Puyallup. I drove to Maple Valley, where I tracked people up and down the Cedar River, wishing I had more time to sit on the banks and wondering how anyone who has the same job I do can afford to live in a mansion nestled on such a pristine and sparkling waterway. I got quizzed by neighbors and got to run my hands along the lavender of garden beds, got to watch the sun set behind a hilly stand of fireweed and see Mount Rainier standing guard on the not-so-distant horizon.
And in all that driving and in all those places, I didn’t manage to get a single person to sign up for the union. In fact, I barely even talked to anyone I was looking for, and of the four people I did find one chewed me the hell out for bothering him about school stuff during summer vacation and one said he’d never go back to the union after the way he’d been treated. (It transpired later in our conversation that he’d crossed his own school’s picket line and held his classes during a strike. Hard to fathom why he might be unpopular there.)
You can see, then, how it is that I found such resonance in an essay by Marni Jackson that I lately came across, titled “What I Learned From A Summer of Not Catching a Single Fish.” Sometimes things come across your path at just the right time, you know?
Jackson’s fishing instructor, Roberto, said something that I feel like is appropriate advice for a lot of different situations: “I think if you put the worm where the fish wants to eat, and you’re lucky, you will catch a fish.” I’m working on considering the week’s adventures to be matters of luck and misplaced worms rather than as a referendum on my own skills as an organizer.
So I’m learning that you don’t always find what you’re looking for, even if you spend a whole lot of time looking for it. But that doesn’t mean you don’t find anything. Take the following video, which is ostensibly an examination of California pitcher plants by the most painfully Chicago guy of all time, but which almost immediately pivots into a discovery of another kind. I won’t spoil it because you should really watch it yourself. (I probably won’t be able to help posting a shot from my favorite part later on in this newsletter, though, so.)
Or consider Austin Kleon’s idea that sometimes it’s better not to climb mountains. Which is not to say that you shouldn’t go to them, just that the view at the top is often far more crowded than those you can get lower down. I have not, historically, subscribed to that point of view. (You may recall a previous edition of this newsletter detailing my waiting a whole year to try for the summit of a mountain I had previously failed at.) But it’s good to see other people considering what good can come of not finding the thing you went out looking for in the first place.
Pardon the interruption, I just saw myself in that tweet.
Facing the fish problem or the union problem in a different setting are the elk antler hunters of Wyoming. Searchers queue up for miles, for hours, waiting for the calendar to hit May 1 so they can scour the dark wooded hills looking for castoff antlers, which can be sold or collected or sculpted. The journalist who embedded himself with them for this piece, it turns out, had to settle for the memories, just like me.
(Alright I’m caving, here’s a still shot from the pitcher plant video. Look at this little guy.)
Our last piece for today has no real bearing on any of this but I’ve been wanting to share it with you for some time and frankly it’s a lot of work trying to shoehorn these things into a coherent theme each week. This is Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, who is somehow just 20 years old and already shredding and belting like a much more experienced musician. If you’re not sold, skip to the 2:19 mark and get a taste of his peak powers. Incredible stuff.
That’ll do it for this week. If you liked what you read here, feel free to subscribe. Or don’t, it’s your life and we all get too many emails as is. Either way, I appreciate you being here.