There are two activities that calm me.
No, more than calm me. They make me feel alive, and In control of a life where control is so often not to be found.
They are, in many ways, opposite. On the surface, one seems to be a purest act of creation, the other a simulacrum of an act of destruction, of chaotic and cacophonic violence. But it is when one goes deeper that one seems not so peaceful, and the other not so destructive.
The first helps when I feel like everything in life has more power over me than I have power over it, allows me an escape into a world entirely my own.
The second allows me to cast my problems into the light, allows me to pretend for just the merest moment that these problems are tangible, and that I can dispatch them, denounce them, and destroy them.
The first allows me to create entire histories, whole epochs only lived in my head and in the medium I chose to transcribe my thoughts. It allows me to focus only on making things work, making them make sense according to laws and rules that only I choose, not those of any other or of my problems.
The Second allows me to reduce all my fears, all my worries, all my anxieties and pent-up anger and adversity that it sometimes feels like the world takes pleasure in heaping on me, and make them nothing but targets, nothing but things to be put down.
I am talking about two things, two things that have not been associated with each other in the popular mindset since the days of Tolkien or Hemingway, who proved masters at both.
I am speaking of writing, the act of creating entire realms and universes, bound only by one’s imagination and its dizzying potential to reach heights undreamed of, dwarfing the proudest peaks of the greatest ranges.
I am talking about shooting, that mimicry of the hunt that sees cans and bottles and other assorted targets stand in for my problems and the problems of the world, and that instant in which I make myself believe that by shattering glass at a distance, it is my demons that I'm shattering.
When I sit down in front of the monitor, or flip open my trusty but battered notebook, it is because I want to inspire, I want to share, and I want to entertain. During that creative process, a perfect wall forms around me, where the story becomes the only focus of my soul and the pains of my past give way to the paths of heroes, to the triumph of light, and to the merriment of all. Only getting to the ending, and making it a good ending, matters.
When I feed a steel pellet into my Red Ryder, it banishes the worries I feel for the future, if only for a while. I am in control. All that matters is the distance between the tip of my air rifle and whatever object serves as today’s receptacle of troubles. The only person I have to trust is myself. The only person I can rely on, or blame, is myself. And suddenly the backyard becomes an oasis of wonderful solitude even if true friends are standing two feet from me.
When my story begins to flow and the proverbial creative juices start flowing, it reminds me that I have worth. I am able to do things, and my being is not a waste. Even if no one reads them, even if they are erased, edited, re-written, and deleted in an endless cycle of chasing fleeting perfection, they represent a good part of me. They represent the me that is willing to give, to illuminate, to share my mind with the world and leave it better. In many a dark place that I fell into, it is such a creative process that saved me from despair.
When my shots are on target and the BB hits its mark, it also reminds me of my worth. Not a worth measured by creation as with Writing, but also not a worth measured by pure destruction. It makes me think that I am willing to fight, to stand. For myself, for others, for a nation, for an ideal, or merely for the sake of standing. The vanquishing of imaginary foes lets me believe that I would not flee before real ones, and that I would defend that which I hold dear. My aim lets me believe that I can be precise, that I can isolate the problem, and that I can find the solution. It reminds me that in life as well as in plinking, one sometimes has to adjust his shot.
When my story is finished, and my friends and loved ones read it, and smile, I smile back. I feel as though I have accomplished something. For that day, I feel secure. Secure with myself, secure with my worth, able to access that true happiness that has otherwise been many years gone for me, because I’ve made someone else happy, or proud, or moved, or merely interested. I gave something purely of myself and they enjoyed it. That stills even the fiercest doubt.
When the shooting match is done, the empties picked up, and scores tallied, I also smile. Whether a win or a loss, whether my aim was true that day or if I'd been out-shot, I was still able to escape. I was able to find a flow that otherwise eludes me, able to find and fine-tune a focus that I would give dearly to have every hour of every day. If I win, I am satisfied with victory, happy not to have bested a friend but to have not failed myself. If I lost, while human, and preferring to win, I am still happy, because it gives me something else to strive for on the morrow. If reading stills doubts about my worth, shooting stills my frustration with the days, and with myself.
My life isn’t great. I’ve been hurt in love, I've hurt others, and I've let opportunities go that I feel like I should damn myself over. My soul may be broken, and my worth is fleeting even to me.
But I write, and I shoot.
One helps me escape the troubles of my past and launch into a frenzy of creation.
The other helps me gain the ability to destroy my fears.
Both bring me a peace so perfect that its only flaw is its impermanence.