Gone Fishing by Mark Usyk

One day you’re fishing five to six days a week, and the next thing you realize is you haven’t made a cast in two weeks. You tell yourself it’s life, this is the way it is. But then you keep running that old and cliché saying across your thoughts, tearing them up like a monster truck over a field of tulips, “Life is what you make it.” You can’t get it out of your head anymore, you can’t help but realize that life is short. Too short in fact to spend it chained to a job that gives you nothing but a paycheck, and takes everything else away. And then one day sitting on the portaging bar of the canoe after releasing a good smallmouth, a 7wt fly rod at your side with a big meaty streamer trailing in the current next to the boat, you realize that this is your first fish in two weeks because of a job that takes all your personal time and flushes it down the toilet by either closing you up in a nasty factory or keeping you so tired from messed up shift work that you seem to do nothing but sleep. Not even good sleep, just a couple hours here and there, and about every week and a half you crash and sleep all day long. The second thing you realize is that you’re fishing, floating down a gorgeous stretch of river in complete silence, catching great fish, and thinking about how much you hate your job. You shouldn’t be thinking about anything, now work is even taking that away from you.

At home you’ve got two lap tops opened up at the desk, and notebooks piled four high with still more pocket note pads, scraps of paper with notes scribbled, and a thesaurus opened to the page containing the word “meandering”, trying to describe a stream for a story that should’ve been done three days ago. You’ve sent out stories to some magazines, supposedly one has been accepted but no checks have arrived yet and it’s been bumped to the next issue once so far. You can’t help but think that you could push harder and make things happen if you only had more time. But that’s a poor excuse. It’s always more something. More time, more money, a few more casts. But then you see people with even less time than you making it happen and you realize maybe you just need to buckle down and push harder. You wake up an hour later, the computer screen gone to sleep just like you, and it’s time to go do something else. On your way out the door you tell yourself that the other day in the canoe you decided you should just quit your job. There’s always another job somewhere else. You were looking for another job when you found this one after all. But the fish don’t wait for you. They move around, they get caught by other fisherman, the seasons end. Life is to short. So what are you waiting for? Well, another job dummy.

Then it happens. You finish another chapter for a book about an Adirondack trout stream. You push out another story that you’re really happy with, better late than never, and you send another one out hoping that someone at the magazine actually opens it and reads it. You fish two days in a row and feel good about getting skunked the first day and great about catching a single Smallmouth on the second. It was a nice fish after all. You have a positive outlook on life for a change. Maybe it’s the support that your wife has been giving you with this whole writing thing, maybe it’s listening to an 11 year old every morning on the ride to drop him off at baseball camp, rambling on about how great of a time he’s having there, and maybe, just maybe, it’s the fact that your buddy just found you a Monday through Friday day shift job and you know this Friday will be different. At 11:30 Friday night you drop your last time sheet in the slot of the maintenance office. You load all your tools into the back of the jeep. You throw away a pair of steel toe boots caked with grease, oil, and chemicals that most likely have been proven to cause cancer in California, and you leave your hard hat in the top of an empty locker. You’re not retiring, you’re just moving on to another job where you’ll have time to live. In the morning when your last time sheet is removed from the box, there’ll be no description of your hours and what you did on your last night. The message to the management will be loud and clear. Two words grace the time sheet. Gone Fishing.