My new mantra of “Those who can’t create, recreate,” has me feeling a bit like Doug Forcett.
In the TV show “The Good Place,” the creator of the afterlife has in his office a framed portrait of a young man named Doug Forcett. The creator reveres Doug because in 1972, after consuming magic mushrooms, Doug came the closest to guessing the point system that determines if people go to the Good Place or the Bad Place. He was 92% correct. In general, do a good thing and you get points added, do a bad thing and you get points taken off. Anyone who dies with a number above a certain threshold goes to the Good Place forever.
But when the creators sneak to Earth to visit Mr. Forcett at his home in Canada, he is a miserable person to be around. All he eats are radishes and lentils. All he drinks is water distilled from his own urine. Walking through his garden, he accidentally steps on a snail, begins bawling, and prepares to bury the snail next to a half a dozen other snails with named grave markers. Then prepares for another trip to donate to a snail charity, on foot of course, saying that the last trip took him six weeks. The visitors are relieved to end their visit. And when they get back to the Good Place and look up Mr. Forcett’s point total, he isn’t even good enough to qualify for the Good Place. Mr. Forcett had been too focused on compensating for his bad actions to accomplish any good.
I only play with my kids, and I even feel a tinge of guilt for that. For not making it seem funner for them to help me stack firewood or teach them to bike and ski on our way to town for groceries or to deliver salmon. For not taking them berry picking and hunting and fishing instead of just walking laps around our neighborhood. There are times when I am a miserable person to be around because of my obsession with meaningful adventure. Mariah tells me so, but I feel it myself, too.
Still, kids seem driven to be useful. I took the kids on a walk to kill some time in town, and my three-year-old son stood in a half-frozen creek for 45 minutes, hitting the water with a stick, saying, “Tractor’s fishin’,” over and over. He often answers to Tractor better than his legal name. He seems to want nothing more than to grow up to be heavy machinery, and to do real work. He’ll even abandon his pile of toy tractors to “help” me cook or do the dishes. Making him feel useful is the surest way to get him to stop screaming and swearing and throwing things. Same goes for me.
Maybe it’s never too early to take the kids fishing. A friend who started commercial fishing at 12 with his dad in Bristol Bay disagrees. It wasn’t much fun when my friend was 12, but his dad is famously impatient. Now my friend says he thinks it would be hard to fish effectively with young kids onboard. That depends on your definition of effective. I won’t teach them catch and release fly fishing, that’s for sure. And not just because I don’t know how, but because it seems pointless and cruel. But if my 1 1/2 and 3 1/2 year-olds can come out on our gillnetter and be halfway comfortable and the 3 1/2 year old can bleed a few fish and learn a knot or two, and I can feel less rushed to get home to them, and Mariah can get her fishing fix without the guilt of leaving the kids behind, then that will be a meaningful adventure. Maybe we’ll go up earlier and I’ll have more time for boat maintenance without weighing it against time away from family. Breakdowns certainly cost us a lot of fish last season, then our exit felt rushed. Maybe we’ll stay later, when the price gets better and there are fewer other boats to compete with. Maybe bringing the kids will even out with staying out of the worst weather and the other safety concerns of having kids on board. Buying a bigger life raft, finding miniature survival suits, the likelihood of tools and parts being dwopped/fwone overboard.
This is Mariah’s idea, after all, and she’s already fished a season pregnant. In the Nush’ no less. This will be harder for the rest of the crew, since we won’t be able to keep the kids a secret this time. But Mariah owns half of the boat, and she’s already taken three seasons off. She loves Bristol Bay and being away for so long has drained a part of her. She’s never suggested that I quit fishing, because she knows that if that part of my life drained out of me then there might not be enough left to keep me going. She sees that better than I do, since I’ve considered a job closer to home multiple times in the four years we’ve been married. Every time she reminds me that I love fishing. Every time I’m surprised that I could forget. Every time I’m surprised that I can love Mariah more than I thought possible.
What would Doug Forcett do? He wouldn’t kill a fish to save his own life, but he never found a woman who could stand him and he didn’t have kids. His final tally revealed that he did slightly less than no good at all. Gotta break some eggs to make an omelet, so Doug only ate radishes and lentils, then died alone.
Let’s take the kids fishing.