The Horseshoe

Let’s make this crystal clear: I’m no fan of nostalgia.Horseshoe1

It’s a terrible cheat—like inviting people to a dinner party where the only “food” they’re offered is the aroma.

You see, these weekly deep-dives into my journals (somewhat loosely following a timeline, which means we’re currently stuck in the mid-1980s) are less about “Hey-wasn’t-that-a-great-decade?” bullshit than a peek into what’s made me who I am over the years.

You know, what I’ve learned—or failed to learn.

So, in an entry written on Sunday, Aug. 18, 1985, two and a half months into a new proofreader job at a direct mail marketing corporation, I was already wondering if “putting in overtime at the office” was all that life had to offer me.

And I was only 25 years old.

That day I worked four hours, then took off in my Datsun GX coupe, bought some beers, and went for a long drive “out past Mayer, then back into Mound, then out to Casco Point”—the old neighborhood where the Family Project lived for nearly a decade.

The journal fills in the details:

Memories of living on the Point flooded in—the wonderful smell of lake breezes, water, gasoline from the boats … it was magical just watching the clouds roll overhead, or the inflatable raft tethered out past Strom’s dock flapping up out of the water in a strong gust of wind… The place had changed so much, the trees that had been cut down, it was sad. I popped my head into the Rogers’ old boathouse (still standing!) and stole an old horseshoe that I recognized was theirs. I still feel doing that has brought me good luck.”

It suddenly comes back.

That’s right! A horseshoe! In a boathouse where we used to play as kids in the early 1970s! After feeling adrift and wandering back country roads, there it was. Everything at that moment seemed to focus on that one object.

But that horseshoe was no mere relic from the Hallowed Tomb of Nostalgia.

I recognize it now as a powerful totem, an emblem.

And while it has long since disappeared, it connected to something I desperately needed then—and maybe need to rediscover now.


“…it’s for if you lose your keys.”

That August of 1985, I was smitten with a keyliner in the Art department at work named Susan. Yeah, like the Sue I’d left in Iowa City.

It was lunch break and we were all sitting outside around the employee picnic table, playing with a key-finder gadget that beeped when you clapped your hands. Everyone was laughing and clapping their hands.

I wanted to impress Susan and make her laugh, so I said, “What if you’re here but you left your keys in St. Paul?

“Or,” I asked, “what if your dog swallows the keys? At least you’ll be able to find the dog.”

“It was a nice, temperate day. Susan, behind her sunglasses. I saw her [in] rare form, playful—close by, clapping her hands. Us, chuckling. Some things, simple as they may be, are more satisfying than The Big Time.

That journal entry is actually quite instructive: I was writing about being present, in the moment, and declaring, “Some things, simple as they may be, are more satisfying than…”

—The Big Time: Where you can find all the shame, regret, sorrow, and low self-esteem you want. It yawns backward all the way to the cellular level of everything that continues to make you feel less alive. Then you can bend it forward, as far as you like, into a future that’s a sticky morass of wishful thinking and further inaction.

—The Big Time: the heavy, long-view backward and forward. The La Brea Tar Pits of Nostalgia, and the Hazy Five-Year Plan of a Rose-Colored Future.

On Aug. 25, 1985, I was stuck in The Big Time, Big Time.

“A nice weekend, but nothing accomplished,” the journal admits. “The only thing I can do ‘to punish’ myself is move my September quota up to three stories, though God knows it should be four.”

I’d set a goal that year of completing a collection of short stories, and felt I was falling behind. “I pined nearly all weekend.”

Still get a wave of “nostalgia neuralgia” washing over me as I read that. But when I realize the journal has become my totem—a reminder that life doesn’t always have to be this way—that’s when it’s morphed into a lucky horseshoe.


Do I believe in luck?

Yes… yes, I think I do.

But it doesn’t come from a place of worry or fear, or apprehension and expectation, a depressive episode, or even giving too much credence to how others think you should live your life. Everyone’s free to their own beliefs—saintly afterlives, spiritual callings, heck, even Flying Spaghetti Monsters or self-flagellating, near-death experiences. Hey whatever floats yer boat, man.

But tell me how to live?

Get the hell off my turf, Murph.

I make my own luck when I choose to heed my heart.

And on that Sunday drive in August 1985, I instinctively did that. I needed more than just working for somebody else.

So I went and got myself lost.

Getting lost is the first step toward finding your totem. Once you’re lost, you’re not sure where you are or what anything really means.

And that’s a good thing: you’re out of your head and ready for the next step.

Because if you’re quiet enough and you listen carefully, you can hear your heart.

My heart said, “Let’s go home.”

That day it led me to the old boathouse—where I was completely surrounded by sense memory, not nostalgia, mind you—to discover the one thing I’d come there for—my lucky horseshoe.

And now here it is again, rediscovered.

Just the thing to remind me to be here, now.

~ by completelyinthedark on June 10, 2016.

One Response to “The Horseshoe”

  1. Reblogged this on Completely in the Dark and commented:

    It seemed like a good time to republish this post: to fight against “The Big Time,” go get lost … literally! “I make my own luck when I choose to heed my heart.” All-new post next Friday!


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