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Updated: Jul 10, 2020

My home office has got some hellafied built-in bookshelves. As a matter of fact, those bookshelves and the barn were the two things that sold me on the house when we first looked at it. The reason for my bookshelf love is that I’ve got a hellafied collection of books and sundry life-artifacts that fill them like bookshelves should be filled. It’s a hand-in-glove thing. Feng shui meets the Delta Blues meets Fight Club. If this is your first time on fishingpoet, you have to fish.

My bookshelves pretty much embody my life. They are a wildly eclectic timeline of decades spent running around the world–some with an actual purpose. Medals, photos and training manuals from my time in Service. A knot of black walnut from Island 69 in the Mississippi River, not far from Clarksdale. An ace of diamonds I found under a car tire in Ruleville, Mississippi, where Robert Johnson supposedly died after one of his riders (who was also another man’s wife) poisoned him. Hand scrawled roadtrip maps and AAA map-books on dozens of roadtrip states. So many journals. Fly boxes, reels, line and tying materials. Pictures of the kids, the arc of their full-speed childhood growing in stop-motion. Poetry broadsides. Fest mugs from my time stationed in Germany. Old collections of Field & Stream, Poets & Writers, Living Blues, Life, Lacrosse and Gray’s Sporting Journal. New collections of Gray’s, Fly Fishing Journal and The Drake. Every rejection letter I’ve ever received in response to writing I’ve submitted for publication. Advertising awards. A couple field-found fox and deer skulls. Virginia brook trout plates from my old truck…

Oh yea…then there’s the books.

The gamut runs from cheap, dog-eared paperbacks to signed hard-cover first editions with their dust-jackets. They’ve joined the fracas as Christmas, birthday and attaboy presents, from cramped one-room used book stores, garage and estate sales, the premium-priced shelves of college book stores in NY, VA and TX, trash-day boxes on the side of the road and from the interweb. Walt, Bukowski, Frost and Tupac. Lord of the Rings, Nick Adams, Clockwork Orange and A River Runs Through it. Calvin and Hobbes, Batman, Superman and Outland (*ack*cough*). Walden, A Sand County Almanac, Trout Bum and Stories of the Old Duck Hunters Club. The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Contemporary American Poetry, The Magical Realist Fiction Anthology and Modern Genetics.

They were once in alphabetical order and organized by genre–poetry here, fiction here, non-fiction here, text-books here. But they have lived with each other in sin for long enough now that I fear even a weekend locked in my office with beer and my OCD would probably not cut it.

But that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Life is blessedly messy. It’s a mashup of the valuable and the worthless, the gaudy and the precious, the good the bad and the ugly. It’s as much about frozen guides, blown out rivers, flies and fish gone, gone, gone in the thick brush on the other side of the pool, as it is the hook-up, god-I-promise-I’ll-be-a-better-man-if-you-let-me-land-this-toad prayer and glorious photo op.

There’s no straight line. No gimme’s. We’ve all got flaws and faults and make mistakes. At best, we gather it all into our arms and keep on toward the always-open horizon. At worst, we gather it all in our arms and keep on toward the always-open horizon. The fact is, we’re all learning as we go along. If somebody tells you they’ve got it figured out – they’re full of shit…and probably couldn’t find their ass with a GPS.

In the 9 months since I went out on my own as a freelance writer, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate my bookshelves – my life. I’ve come to the realization that I don’t read near enough–I don’t take near enough time to step back from my flaws and faults and mistakes, pick my head up and see the field. Life is busy – kids, committees, work, home projects. Excuses are easier and easier to come by. That said, the days are not getting any longer, it’s getting harder to keep my washboard abs, and my kids are not getting any smaller.

I made the jump because I realized that I needed to be more deliberate about life, and the past 9 months have been a pretty good start toward that wide-open horizon. The view from my bookshelves just keeps getting better. Even if they are a mess.

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