The Way Forward

Last year's lengthy Thorp holiday letter opened with a Chinese verse from Ching An:


The laugh's on me:
this year's man
is last year's man


A year ago, I read this as a variation on the old dog/new trick theme, but this year it resonates more deeply. This New Year's Day, I read it as a humorous expression of self-awareness: "Y'know what? This is what I'm given to work with—no more and no less. Might as well make the best of it."

I've struggled with this idea for years now. When Jodi and I got married, my Yale classmates were politely supportive and quietly incredulous—like, Why the hell would he tie himself down? And why would she commit to a guy without a job, a house, or a bank account?

When we left South Dakota for Michigan, some of my friends back home talked about their expectations for me as an Ivy League alumnus. When we left Michigan for Minnesota, I was so frustrated with the state of the world, I very publicly said I was headed back to class a degree in public policy and shot at changing some small part of the world. We managed the latter: instead of grad school, we welcomed another baby into our home.

In my mind, however, grad school was still the next step, so when I left corporate marketing for University Relations, I made a point of telling my colleague I was hitting the books. And I have: in my current job, I read more than I have in years ... just not for credit.

This past year has been a revelation. First off, I'm not sure I ever intended to go to grad school—I mean, it's been 11 years now. Second, nobody who matters to me cares whether I do or not, as long as I keep reading, writing, and learning.

Finally, I like the Jim I am right now. A lot. And I like the direction I'm headed since I quit thinking about classes. I've got a screenplay and a book to work on. I'm doing kung fu with the kids and hunting with new friends. I'm getting more involved in our church, and talking to our priests has restored my confidence that my head's on straight—as a result, I'm not scared to show my Catholicism to non-Catholic friends, or talk Buddhism and evolutionary theory and hip-hop with the church-goers.

It feels good to feel good in your own skin.

So here's what I aspire to this year—the way forward, I hope:

1. Daily tai chi with the young masters. We warms up with crunches, push-ups, etc., and cool off on the stationary bikes, and in the middle, we sink our chi, raise our pulse rates, break a sweat, and learn a little something. Plus weekly classes with Shih-fu Figueroa—what more do you need? They love it, I need it, and we could all use the time together.

2. Daily public writing. Gotta be done. Blogging twice a week, plus fiction and non-fiction. Journals and notebooks are great, but they don't count toward the public stuff.

3. Biodiesel or waste veggie oil in the Deezledub. We're recycling more, converting to fluorescents, and putting in a bigger garden this year—but a grease car in this fast-food car culture? That's almost poetic!

4. Continue investing in the Old Ways: hunting, fishing and camping. Kids need that, not to mention dads ...

5. Focus on the people in front of me. You know: quit typing and come out from behind my desk. Answer that, "How was your weekend?" briefly, then ask, "How 'bout yours?" And listen.

I've also got a long-running goal of telling people I care about that I love them. Some folks aren't comfortable with that, but every year I try to expand the list a bit more. So if you're on the receiving end, and it doesn't feel right, don't worry. I get all I need from saying it; you don't owe me a thing in return.

And if this doesn't get us where we're going, hey—there's always next year. No doubt I'll be the same guy.

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