Saturday, August 21, 2010

You Are(n't) What You Do

A few years ago, visiting Hadrian's Wall Country in northern England, I was talking with the landlord at the local pub.
(Twice Brewed Inn -- a must-visit if you're in the area, especially for Tuesday Quiz Nights.) Something he said stuck with me - when Americans first meet at the pub, invariably they ask, "So, what do you do?" He said, "Whereas we Brits, we don't care!" And it's true. You can sit at a table full of Englishmen and women, share pints, tell stories, build memories, have a blast -- and never have a clue what half the people's day jobs are.

What "I do" to earn a living is copyedit college-level computer science texts. A new graphic design suite, the new version of Office, or of Windows itself -- the textbooks that teach these things to students, I make sure the words are right.

It's good work, and often interesting, though I've been at it for years. It's nice to be a fly on the wall, to get a sneak-peek at new software, to learn a little bit better how my own computer works.

But I am not a copyeditor. If someone asks me "What do you do?" the answer won't get them much closer to who I am.

Which is why the past few months of The Flotsam Diaries have been so eye-opening. Because I'm finding, this is who I am. Wherever I wander, I see bits & bobs lying in the gutter or the side of the road or a sand dune. Today our family visited a few state parks in Mid-Coast Maine. I couldn't leave Reid State Park without collecting all the jagged pieces of someone's water gun lying near our beach towel.
Before going to bed I noodle ideas for the Diaries, new posts I want to make, ways to try to make a difference. I want to learn how stuff gets on the beach, how long it will stay, what kind of damage it's doing -- both in my lifetime and in my daughter's and her descendants'.

Friends and family now always ask what I've found, what the most interesting piece was, something Flotsam Diaries-related. I'm awful at answering; whatever eloquence (or even basic literacy) I muster on the page evaporates when I open my mouth. But I'm working on it.

Like I've mentioned, I'm an archaeologist at heart. It's my first love. And a surprising lot of the Flotsam Diaries is still the archaeologist that courses through me. Archaeology is the study of the physical remains of human activity. Well, what else is flotsam?

But it's funny how life happens. How it pulls you.

When I first held my little newborn girl now almost 3 1/2 years ago, I was just a scared guy with a kid. Now I'm a dad. I don't know how or when it happened -- it just did. In the same way, when I picked up my first bag of flotsam at Ocean Park in March this year, I was just a guy with a trash bag. Now I'm a Flotsam Diarist. I still have no idea what that actually means in the long-run. But I know that I'm viewing the world now in a completely different way than I once did.

And I like it.


  1. Harry - Put up a post today from a person who found my blog because of yours. I live in Ocean Park CA. cool coincidence :D Liked your last paragraph wold view has changed completely too!

  2. OK, that is a cool coincidence! Our Ocean Park's my first love around here. Great old-time seaside community - general stores, clapboard houses, soft sand. But I found in early June that the big cleanup trucks there were making a hash of my attempts to find out what was showing up! So, a mile south down to Bay View it was.