I believe in the power of the blank page to remind me to stay tuned. A blank page is an untracked slope in the Chugach Mountains, glittering with fresh powder on a March morning; a deep, blue bay in Prince William Sound in early July, undulating like liquid glass and veiled by a thin shimmer of fog — or my favorite Anchorage bike path, slick with last night’s rain and rife with moose, as I pedal into town on a workday commute. What will be written today?
Thirteen years ago, after college and a series of less-than-inspiring jobs, I thought I was out of blank pages. I left urban New England and headed north. I floated a thousand miles down the Yukon River in a 17-foot kayak. I learned to drive teams of sled dogs in the wilderness west of Denali National Park. I worked at a wilderness lodge and did an astronomical amount of dishes. Years later — one graduate degree, one divorce and myriad blank pages enjoyably and painfully filled — I look back on them and see that their lessons for living boil down to this: you don’t know where you will end up, so you might as well enjoy the ride.
“What if.” This is the lesson of the blank page. It’s taken a lifetime to accept that this process of filling in each page always trumps its final appearance. I can control everything except how the story ends. What if I fall trying to ski that fresh snow? What if a wind comes up as I kayak across the middle of that blue bay? What if the snow is deep and glorious and the wind is manageable and I notice that moose blocking my way on the bike path is sheltering a newborn calf? What if I believe my life is better spent enjoying the skiing and the falling, the smooth paddle and the wind-driven chop, the pedaling efficiently to work or the waiting for the little calf to wobble across the path?
Older now, and a tiny bit wiser, I also know that one doesn’t have to travel to the other end of the continent to learn that acceptance is the footnote added to every page I believe that each page is likely to be dog-eared, frayed on its edges, creased from folding and re-folding, smeared with erased words and crossed-out sentences, with a coffee-cup ring in the upper left corner. It will never come out the way I think it will. But it’ll be a great read.