In the upper Midwest there are lots of jokes about our two seasons: Winter and Detour. Recently it’s been a horror show where I live on Milwaukee’s East Side. One main street torn up for more than a year – sewer project. Other lateral streets were also closed for months as part of the larger sewer project. No snickers here. It’s nothing to do with Milwaukee’s bratwursts. It’s part of combining rain sewers with the other. There were major problems with flooding and untreated rain water overflow ending up in Lake Michigan. Combined that with road maintenance which doesn’t appear to have been coordinated with any of the other projects and you have a maze poorly defined by orange barrels and barricades with arrows pointing in all directions. One detour leads into another detour.
There’s a University that sits in the middle of all this and I joke with my neighbors that this is all part of a psych department study first modelled with mice in a maze and now upgraded to people in cars navigating the same patterns aid out on city streets as they used in the lab. I get lots of courtesy laughs and weird looks – but no one is willing to storm the barricades with me.
OK. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest – remember I did suggest writing as one way to chip away at frustration, and trust me the intro paragraphs could have gone on for pages but I’ll spare you – I gave the idea of detour some serious thought. For one, detours imply I need to go out of my way, waste time and effort just to get to point B from where I’m starting at point A. A ten minute trip now is twenty minutes or more and it’s ugly: torn streets, potholes, loose sand and gravel, other frustrated drivers, etc.
I’m like most people, I dislike being stymied, and detours would appear to do just that. Unless…unless I could some how embrace the idea of a detour as part of life, a redirection that I wouldn’t have taken otherwise. I thought, why wait for that magic moment in time to smell the roses. Perhaps they’re growing wild along the new path on which I’m led? If I take the time for a big breath and look around as I travel the detour perhaps I’d find it’s not such a detour after all.
I trained as a mathematician and spent years in grad school. I enjoyed teaching and research as a Professor. I was fired, wasn’t quite what the University wanted. Detour – had to find another kind of work, learn new skills, realize that I don’t have all the answers. It was a real kick in the ass. I realized after many years that the road I was forced to take because of that detour was probably one of the best things that ever happened to me. I may still be pissed, but starting over again and having my ego taken down many notches was ultimately a good thing.
And since after 20+ years in the next job I was downsized and out on the street, I was better prepared to roll with the punches and scramble this time with less panic and eyes open.
I know this is child’s play to the major detours that many of you have experienced whether you enlisted in the military or were drafted. For years you had to detour down roads not of your choosing. And in combat, you ran into major barricades or better put – had those barricades thrown at you.
But it’s still possible to learn from this, to step back and breathe – look around. You’re here, there’s family and friends, and others professionally trained to help you through those barriers and along the path of life. No kidding! You are you and the detours are all part of the journey called life. Dealing with the challenges will only make you stronger.
And if you need help, reach out. I have and just reaching out has helped.
Ken was a Professor of Mathematics, a ceramicist, a welder, and an IBMer until downsized in 2000. He taught yoga until COVID-19 decided otherwise. He continues writing, living with his wife and beagle in Shorewood, Wisconsin. He enjoys chamber music and mysteries. He’s a homebrewer and runs whitewater rivers. Ken is a writer and his literary works can be found at https://www.kmkbooks.com/
He welcomes feedback on his articles and can be reached at email@example.com.
As the Voice of the Veteran Community, The Havok Journal seeks to publish a variety of perspectives on a number of sensitive subjects. Unless specifically noted otherwise, nothing we publish is an official point of view of The Havok Journal or any part of the U.S. government.