Awkward and Beautiful, in a Yellow Kayak


photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc
photo credit: leg0fenris via photopin cc

Awkward is the easy part.

It’s the beautiful I have a problem with.

This Beautifully Awkward Project isn’t easy. I have a great list of ideas from you all, from yoga class to community service to block parties. I will choose another for the next of three installments on this endeavor I’ve taken on with fellow blogger Melissa Bond.

(Read what Melissa did, here.)

For round 1, I took to the seas. And by seas, I mean a flat-water lake as part of the U.S. National Whitewater Center in Charlotte.

# # #

As I mentioned a week ago, I gravitate toward the easy. Who doesn’t?

We talk with people like us. Or who we wish we were like. I’ve felt a strangely bi lately. By that I mean both extroverted and introverted. So to accept a simple invitation to a work-sponsored event seemed awkward enough.

But beautiful?

kayaking
photo credit: Let Ideas Compete via photopin cc

Here’s what I thought: Me, pushing 43, hanging with the millennial crowd at work. I’d blend in with all the kayaking and rock-climbing and zip-lining they do.

Then I’d nosh (is that what they call it?) with them and maybe even wash it down with some obscure micro-brew and cap it off on a blanket listening to the unique sound of a local band called Rhetorical Delicate or Grandpa of Gap.

I’d contribute to conversations I never have before.

I’d entreat them to tales of times I vanquished class 4 rapids just like I did way back during the Bush administration. The FIRST Bush administration.

I’d listen, and add to the conversation, and my age and bum ankle and pair of jeans manufactured when they were in junior high wouldn’t even matter.

Instead?

That’s me. I’m the guy in the soaked jeans, in the yellow kayak. The one stuck in a tangle of driftwood.

photo credit: mfajardo via photopin cc
photo credit: mfajardo via photopin cc

That’s also me. The guy at the corner of the outdoor dinner table, unable to muster a word to contribute to any conversation, let alone find a moment to edge one in. Not that I’d know which microbrew to order if I could ever find a waitress.

I mean … a server.

So all of this raced through my mind as I guestimate my glucose levels, given that when I first got stuck in the driftwood, I felt like I was bombing. At least 30 minutes ago. “No one has ever fallen out of a kayak in the flat waters,” the girl also younger than my jeans said authoritatively. I might make history.

So I escaped my gnarly lot the only way I knew how – the land of make-believe.

For enough moments, I was no longer the Generation X holdover stuck in a kayak with his feet planted firmly in the slots just past the kiddo size.

I was the hero battling the odds, fighting off a simultaneous octopus-and-shark attack, with several poison laced darts being fired at me.

I backed up against the current, and with several ounces of water rushing into my plastic casket, angled my kayak back toward the storm surge and powered my vessel out of harm’s way.

I paddled furiously to rescue my female antagonist, played by Jennifer Lawrence, perhaps, or Naomi Watts or more probably the mom from Malcolm in the Middle.

I had to reach her before Kevin Bacon happened upon me, insulted my heritage, and shot me right there in my boat, like in The River Wild.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc
photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

That hero state never lasts, though. Just ask Walter Mitty.

Instead, I found myself paddling like mad, but going nowhere still, even out of the grasp of the dastardly driftwood. It’s like when you’re a kid, and you think you’re playing Pac-man and really killing it, just to realize it’s not you, it’s a demo, and … please enter quarter.

This is all OK, because I went.

I geared up with my mediocre kayak (I expected one that covered my legs like in the Olympics. Or at least had tricked out colors. I got banana yellow). I donned a life vest doused with SOSOG (Sweat of Some Other Guy) and I confidently ordered a Cowboy Burger when my server got around to me.

Eventually.

I showed up and nodded and smiled and even said goodbye to a co-worker or two on my way out, and I don’t even think anyone was offended I didn’t stick around to hear Wumpus Pelvis or Soiled Camelot or whoever would grace that stage any minute now.

Probably.

I tugged my National Whitewater Center cap tightly on my brow, and strutted as well as a Gen X warrior with sore abs and mild lower-back pain could, paying no mind to the grizzled outdoor vets who actually bring their own life vest doused with their own sweat.

I limped, really, until I heard the familiar chords.

I could fill your cup

You know my river won’t evaporate

This world we still appreciate …

Yep.

Got a family to love, coupla teams to coach, and a blog to write. That’s Safe and Sound.

And that’s beautiful enough for me.

Do you have ideas for challenges for me to take on that could be awkwardly beautiful? Leave them in comments!

waters quote

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89 Replies to “Awkward and Beautiful, in a Yellow Kayak”

  1. Good for you for trying…I think for a first attempt that was a pretty grand one. It also sounds like I would last five minutes at your company. I am so introverted, it would be exhausting to keep up the social energy.

    1. Thanks. At work, I’m able to put on some headphones and turn up the Naked Eyes and do my thing. Events like this are good to bring us together, but I don’t always soar like an eagle. We take company trips, and I just eat alone, but I pretend I’m Ernest Hemingway on another far-flung trip to someplace tropical.

      Maybe my age is bringing out the introverted traits from my extroverted personality.

  2. That is just too funny. Work functions do tend to be a bit awkward. I used to go to most as I felt as a manager it was the right thing to do. I love being free from the corporate side of things these days. Sole trading is a little isolated but while things are slow to kick off, I feel more like I’m on an extended holiday. No awkward conversations with people who’s only common interest is our place of work. Kayaking is fun though… At least when my husband paddles and I enjoy the scenery 😉

    1. Thanks Holly. They were generous and clever to think of a place like this. I definitely wanted to push my boundaries a bit. And … free food.

      So you’re doing well in the new role?

      See, I paddled my whole family around a lake for four hours recently and didn’t feel a bit. This time? I feel like I swam the Rio Grande like my ancestors.

      1. At least there was free food 😉 my last work function just involved visiting cute animals at a wildlife sanctuary.

        New role is good but slow to start. Freedom is good. Referrals take time. But the new challenges are fun.

    1. i did kind of master it because I didn’t fall out of the boat or die. And when I got to the field, I got to watch my team wrap up a win in a scrimmage. it was great to be back on dry land.

    1. I don’t even try to pretend, Janine. The boys I play disc golf talked about the year they graduated high school, and how old I was then … and how many years before they were born I graduated high school.

      Like Matlock, though, it might not be pretty, but I still got it.

  3. The joys of kayaking are manyfold Mate, as are work functions, bad bands and suspicious cups of trendy coffee. Kayaking does give you the chance to become a Walter Mitty, until you hit the rapids or the tangle of dead trees. Did you get to submerge yourself and flip back up?

    1. You live only once, right mate? I feel like I’m Walter Mitty without trying to be Walter Mitty sometimes. Not a bad bloke to be.

      No, I stayed above water, mostly, just got my trousers soaked. And I omitted that awkward moment I changed clothes in my car completely with dry items I had in there randomly from changing in my car for soccer practice.

      1. Well you usually only remember the one. Old Walter certainly lived a full life, even if it was in his mind. It would look very suspicious getting changed in your car Mate. Hilarious and suspicious.

      2. It’s like putting together a shelf with the Son of God and hitting my thumb with a hammer and exclaiming, “Jesus Christ!” and him turning around and saying, “you called?”

  4. Beautifully done, dear friend. If we don’t continue to open new doors in our lives, the rooms can start to get very small. Love it.

    Love that you were feeling bi and still went.

    Love the retreat into the imagination when driftwood had you by your man parts!

    My the Beautifully Awkward go on!

  5. Way to hang in there, despite the awkward. Sometimes those end up being amazing moments – or at least great stories for later. I’ve found that sometimes, the stories end up being just as much, if not more, fun than if I’d had the best time of my life.

  6. I loved this post…a LOT! I’m a sucker for honesty and truth (the superhero parts rocked!)
    The whole wrestle with the intro vs extroversion thing hit me right upside the head (I’ll be sending you a bill for the stitches!). I love people–co-workers included. BUT, I’d rather just sit back and listen or hole up in my hotel room during out of town events. I chuckled at your Ernest Hemingway comment, too.
    It seems that work events bring out the insecurities that keep us a bit quiet…despite that fact that we are completely competent. The best part of your adventure was your wisdom in knowing that the important people were waiting for you once you got off the bank…it’s often why I opt for room service instead of the 3-4 hour event that my co-workers call “team dinner.” Besides, I can’t face time and do algebra problems with the kiddo if I’m stuck at the end of a long table leaned forward trying to participate without hot flashing.
    I’m eager to read the more in the awkward and beautiful series. Love it!

    1. Thanks Michelle! It didn’t feel too pretty, the honesty. I wish I had just rocked the kayak. I did not.

      i also didn’t rock the social interaction.

      I feel like a friendly hermit sometimes. I’d love that corner table to myself, but won’t scowl at anyone for stopping by.

      I don’t mind eating alone away from home, either, because then I have time to find somewhere to walk or sit and write or read or even a disc golf course.

      Those are worthy companions.

      And I just don’t speak much of the language anymore. I’m kind of a relic around here. Or, classic, on a good day.

      Hope to give you another good story for the series here!

      1. Ahhh….I’m totally a friendly hermit, too 🙂
        We are completely harmless, right??

        Actually, I used to feel really bad about being awkward and just didn’t understand why the huge sales meetings completely drained me. It was until a dear friend told me, “Don’t feel bad. You’re just an introvert trapped inside a friendly, outgoing personality.”
        Extroverts use lots of people to recharge and introverts use alone time to do the same. Nothing right or wrong with either…just different wiring 🙂

        BTW: Classic=Classy!!

      2. We’re harmless to all but ourselves, Michelle.

        I get most charged by writing, playing disc golf; coaching soccer, and being with my girls. So yeah, I can see that. The random crowd doesn’t fuel me, but my teams do.

  7. Sounds like you definitely pushed outside of your comfort zone!!
    I vote for a small flask next time in the kayak!!!
    Can’t wait to see what your next experience will be.

  8. I always admire people for trying new things. I am one who is not sure I will ever get back into a kayak again. I loved canoeing and row-boating, sailing and boating! I like you trying to stay current, changing your waitress to server. I read your details and absorb them, enjoying the way you tell your story here.

    1. Well, as long as it doesn’t result in long-term rehab, anyway. Why the aversion to the kayak? The canoe was more fun for me. I must be getting old, because I still say waitress, fireman, and stewardess.

      Thanks for the kind words … if you knew how sleepy I was when I wrote that! I’m glad it came out OK.

      1. We all need reminders to be politically correct and stay current with the language. My kids love correcting me, sometimes even my grandkids do! I am afraid of my legs getting stuck in the kayak, isn’t that silly? Probably had a nightmare about it, but not sure where this came from, thanks for asking, Eli! Your ‘sleepily written’post was great!

      2. I think political correctness is overrated, actually. And I’ll remain delightfully tacky in my old-school lingo. It’s not silly at all to be afraid of getting your legs stuck in a kayak.

        I used to be afraid I’d get locked in the school overnight. On a Friday. And have to eat school lunch to survive.

        Maybe I do my best work when I’m not really all there!

  9. This post made me feel so old. Thanks for that, but I’m glad you stepped out of your comfort zone, Eli. Maybe next time you could hang with some octogenarians…

    1. I know, right? Pass the Doans pills. Remember those?

      I need to find a step out of the comfort zone that gives something back, other than a good laugh to my readers.

      Isn’t Kate Gosselin an octodegenerous?

  10. Octopus-and-shark attacks, OMG, you went all the way! Oh, wait, that’s the part you invented?

    I give you gold stars for going there! Mission “leaving your comfort zone” accomplished, plus you got stuff to write about 🙂

    Reminds me of the day I thought I could totally find something to wear in that fancy 20 something clothes store. The LOOK that sales girl gave me!!!

    1. No halfway with me when it comes to awkward, TGS. My gold stars are awfully soggy. Awkwardidity always leads to at least a decent post.

      She should have known to play you up! Fashion is about as far from me as personal hygiene is to raiders fans.

  11. A few years ago, I went kayaking in Florida as I was accompanying my husband on a business trip. I am not even a proficient swimmer, so to say it was out of my comfort zone was an understatement. Fortunately, we had a double kayak and he did most of the work. I was certainly awkward, but there was beauty in the experience.

    1. Did you kayak in murky water? I’m not exactly Michael Phelps, so it’s a little disconcerting, yeah. You could have brought a book or a sandwich with him doing all the work!

      There’s also beauty in *not* finding yourself upside down in a kayak in lake water, right Lisa?

  12. I’d say you did just fine. You know my favorite part? Strutting off to Safe and Sound (a very cool song) to your family to love, teams to coach, and your (awesome) blog to write.

    You did good, friend. You did good.

  13. I hated work events. Thankfully, most of them were only dinners (casual) but even they usually turned into “bitch-fests” I don’t do social events very often, but floating down a river or on a lake sounds nice. Love your descriptions… the maybe I’d listen, and add to the conversation, and my age and bum ankle and pair of jeans manufactured when they were in junior high wouldn’t even matter and the reality “No one has ever fallen out of a kayak in the flat waters,” the girl also younger than my jeans said authoritatively. I might make history.
    You never fail to make me laugh Eli 🙂

    1. Where there’s free food, I’ll give it a chance. I’m sure my millennial counterparts had a great time, so that’s good. They just had to get home to let the dog out and watch Bill Maher.

      I felt like the writing of this felt awkward! I could feel my awkwardness in every sentence. I’m glad you found the humor in it, because that’s what I intended!

  14. That is incredible, that you did it. Yes, you might not have struck up a conversation but you put yourself there and took the chance. It’s not all on you, did any of the just 21 age approach you? Conversation is a two-way street. You made yourself available and that is the first step in this cool process you are undertaking.

    Although I so want a picture of you in the kayak 🙂

    1. Thanks Kerri. I did take my place at the table and listen, even if I didn’t have much to contribute. They just sort of took of their own direction … it was kind of awkward but not awful.

      You can put yourself out there, but at some point its up to the universe to do something with you, right?

      Oh, and about that picture …

  15. My response was going to be quite simply, “….” (without the quotes)
    That’s all I could muster, really.
    I’ll do better to tell you that I went kayaking once in whale and seal-infested waters in British Columbia and it was glorious. I wasn’t like.. good at it. But it was glorious.
    I once canoed in alligator-infested waters and that went very poorly. That’s a whole story.
    It was beyond awkward.

    1. If you’d typed that in, I would have thought, “Tamara thought this was so boring … ”

      Seal-infested waters would be one thing – stick infested waters was another.

      You’ll write about the gators, right? I mean, you’re here to tell about it, and I think you have all your extremities.

  16. So proud of you!! I am awkward and I just own it. It’s so much easier that way. so much less anxiety. I just realized with all the noise my brain makes all on it’s own…. I don’t need to add other peoples’ noise to the din as well. so just ”sssssshhhh…” brain and let’s do this.
    How about doing a reading in a public place? either an excerpt from a favourite book….or *gasp* an original piece? And yes, I just cringed a thousand fold on your behalf.

    1. I lived! I have an awkward situation to share on Tuesday. Monday, Melissa will tell her next chapter. Stay tuned.

      How would one do that? Just go and read? Is this done up there regularly? (I always bring the Canada thing in).

      1. absolutely! we have coffee shops or pubs that will have poetry readings and such (or some colourful limericks if your pub is of the Irish sort). Also, book clubs. I write my own poems and post them… but still too chicken to get up and actually read one in front of people. panic. attack. now.

      2. “I once new a blogger named Rory
        Who always told a very good story
        She cranked out a blog …

        (see? this is tough. Dog, fog, frog, snog … )

        Maybe you should go first and show me how it’s done.

  17. Well…..this is my day today:

    there was an ole lass from The Prior
    whose hair got grayer by the hour
    she plucked out just one
    but them devils kept comin
    till she took her damned crown to the dyer!

  18. Ever considered running in the mud? Trust me – the battle against the shirtless wonders is worse than the obstacles and while I’ve seen photos of me balancing like an old lady on the top of a car or going under the mud at the bottom of an inflatable slide (how embarrassing), I still felt like Laura Croft in Tombraider…and no amount of humiliating photos can ever take that away! 🙂

    1. I ran in the mud once, by accident. I fell in a hole while jogging. What did you do? Was it like a spartan run or something? I think my next foray will be Zumba, which might be messy as mud running.

      1. I ran in Mud Hero last year (less intense than Spartan or Tough Mudder) with my oldest son. We didn’t make it this year but I’m seriously considering doing it again. Show the bikini babes how NOT to do it! lol

      2. Oh good. I’ve seen those, and the people who go ape over all the perils, and I just couldn’t see you getting ramped up for something like that! (Or me, for sure).

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