BRENT STOLLER

Writer. Advice giver. Peanut butter and chocolate enthusiast.

Zihuatanejo

Shawshank Redemption

“I find I’m so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it’s the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.”

–Red; “The Shawshank Redemption”

Some people sing in the shower; I recite movie lines. And the quote above has always been at the top of my rotation. (You know how your voice sounds better in the shower? Turns out it also sounds more like Morgan Freeman.) I memorized it long ago, sandbagging its YouTube clip’s view count when I probably should’ve been doing something more productive. It never gets old, and not just because “The Shawshank Redemption” is one of my favorite movies, but because the quote itself touches all levels of emotion inside me. It inspires me by demonstrating what is possible. It depresses me by revealing what is present. And more than anything, it galvanizes me, if only for a moment, to locate the guts to do something as courageous as Red—to give up the security of a job at the local market, violate my parole, and buy my own bus ticket to Ft. Hancock, TX.

Here are the facts: I’m 35 years old. I love golf, and I love to write (or, more commonly, I love having written something). I have a family that’s always there for me, and a beautiful girlfriend who wants to spend the rest of her life with me. I have goals, I have dreams, and buried somewhere beneath all of my insecurities, I have an unshakable sense that I’m capable of achieving every last one of them.

And yet here I remain—stuck, standing in place, unable to move.

It’s not that I haven’t tried to break free of this inertia; there have been occasional flashes of progress. I’ve dabbled in different career fields, explored multiple corners of the country, and bravely (stupidly?) lived with complete strangers in shared houses I found on Craigslist. I even spent two years chasing my childhood dream of playing competitive golf. But the biggest risks I’ve taken—the ones that have been the most in harmony with what I’ve wanted my life to be about—have inevitably resulted in the biggest fallouts.

So like a kid who won’t go near a hot stove once his hand’s been burned, I’ve learned to take a safety-first approach to things, constructing an existence that maximizes security while minimizing the chances I end up flat on my face. With an unhealthy fear of the unknown, I remain chained to my comfort zone, never venturing too far, never taking on anything I know I can’t manage or that I can’t walk through all the way to completion beforehand in my mind’s eye.

Simply put: The less I try, the more I can’t fail.

What this risk-averse strategy has done more than anything is perpetuate the “someday” quality that’s engulfed my life since I was a kid: “Someday, I’ll do this,” or “Someday, it’ll be like that.” It’s as if the present moment is prologue to the real thing, and the real thing’s departure time is in perpetual delay.

When you think about it, the word “someday” is the English language’s incarnation of the double-edged sword, in that it cuts both ways. When I was younger, and my situation wasn’t as I wanted it to be, this was a good thing. “Someday” represented hope, providing a vision of how my fortunes could one day change. It gave me a reason to never give up.

The problem, though, is that it’s easy to get lulled into the stagnant comfort that “someday” carries. It allows you the freedom to hope and dream, and it gives you the ability to experience in your imagination the feelings that are associated with each—while simultaneously issuing you a hall pass to do absolutely none of it. After all, the doing is for another day.

And that’s when the sword starts to cut against the grain. The stagnancy transforms into restlessness, because the world never stops turning, even if you’re not turning with it. You wake up, and you look around, and you realize that all you’ve gotten is a day older. And eventually, you can’t help wondering:

When will “someday” become today?

For me, I thought the two were set to intersect back in 2006. That’s when my father first told me about Bandon Dunes, a world-class golf mecca built along a stunning stretch of rugged coastline in southern Oregon. Home to four 18-hole courses (along with a 13-hole par 3 track)—all of which rank in Golf Digest’s current America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses list—it’s slowly but surely joined the likes of Pebble Beach and St. Andrews as an entry on every serious golfer’s bucket list. The idea behind the place was to create an experience as close as possible to Scotland (the game’s birthplace), where the winds are up and your ball flight has to be kept down, where you have to approach the course from the same vantage point as the first guy who ever put a tee in the ground—titanium drivers and distance irons be damned. There are no surrounding cul-de-sac communities, and there are no carts; everybody walks. The resort aptly sums up their vision with possibly the most succinct yet on-the-nose mission statement ever crafted: Golf as it was meant to be.

Pacific Dunes No. 11
The more I learned about Bandon Dunes, the more enthralled with it I became. Obviously, the ridiculously good golf courses were the starting point, but it was more than that. There was this mystical quality about the place. It was out in the middle of nowhere, in this postcard-worthy setting, with the Pacific Ocean as its backdrop. You didn’t take a trip there; you took a pilgrimage. If the golfing gods spend their spring in Amen Corner at Augusta National, you have to figure they’ve begun summering in Bandon Dunes (that is, when they’re not returning home to visit their parents at St. Andrews).

And so it came to me: What if I could work there as a caddy and write about my experiences? Could there be a more perfect way to meld together my two passions, to create a world where my life could finally be about what I actually wanted it to be about? I could spend my days on some of the best golf courses on the planet, my nights writing about whatever I wanted, and absolutely none of my time worrying about Swingline staplers and TPS reports. I’d be like a modern-day version of Henry David Thoreau (though I would need cable and Wi-Fi), and this could be my “Walden.”

Of course, all of this would come at a price. It would require me to stretch a little, to not just step outside of my comfort zone, but to leave it behind in a galaxy far, far away. I’d have to pick up and move to a foreign part of the country, where I knew nobody and where it’s 55 degrees in June, find a place to live, integrate into a new work/social environment, adjust to a time zone where NFL games start at 10am, sacrifice the long-term security (and health insurance) that comes with a traditional job, and block out the “When are you going to grow up?” barbs I’d assume everyone else was thinking, along with a million other obstacles—both real and imagined. And I’d have to do it all without allowing my fears and anxieties to cripple me into a catatonic stupor.

So…yeah.

And that’s how this idea ended up on my Someday Shelf (which, not surprisingly, had gotten pretty crowded over the years) and there it stayed for a while, mainly serving as my Screw It Scenario—a defense mechanism that helped me deal with any heartache or frustration whenever things weren’t going my way. Work sucks? Screw it, I’ll go to Bandon Dunes. That girl doesn’t want to go out with me? Screw it, I’ll go to Bandon Dunes. My Texas Longhorns get blown out (again) by their archrival Oklahoma, causing me to question what it is I’m doing with my life? Screw OU, and screw everything else, I’m going to Bandon Dunes. It provided the emotional freedom that comes with feeling as if you have options. It was my “Get Out of Jail, Free” card, my ace in the hole—even though it didn’t appear that I had the emotional wherewithal to play it.

Still, regardless of the reasons, there was no denying that it kept coming up, again and again, and that had to mean something, right? Things don’t typically resurface repeatedly unless there’s a lesson to be learned, good or bad, and a part of me began to wonder if there was a deeper message there that just wasn’t getting through. Was this my version of the voice from “Field of Dreams”?

If it was, it’s disappointing that it didn’t speak in a soothing whisper and use cryptic-yet-iconic phrases. Regardless, like Ray Kinsella, I couldn’t seem to shake it. And the more I heard it, the more I began building the strength to listen to it—though I have no idea where that strength was coming from. Maybe it was coming from the terrifying awareness that I’m now halfway to 70. Maybe it was coming from finally convincing myself that what I’ve been doing isn’t working, and if my SOP didn’t change, how could I expect anything else to? Maybe it was coming from finally realizing that if you say you want to be something (in my case: a writer, an adult), at some point, you have to actually start being it. Maybe it was coming from looking around and seeing all of my friends progressing with their lives, getting married and becoming parents and going to Home Depot on Saturday—and being happy about it. Maybe it was coming from knowing that the girl I love isn’t going to wait for me forever. Maybe it was coming from being sick and tired of living in fear, or maybe it was coming from recognizing the absurdity of letting my life be controlled by that little kid who once burned his hand on a hot stove.

It may have been all of that, and it may have been so much more, but whatever it was, it ultimately led me to the point where I could finally just say, “Screw it,”—and mean it.

And so it’s come to this: for the rest of the 2013 high season (through the end of September), I will be working as a caddy at Bandon Dunes, and my goal is to write as much as possible about my experiences—or whatever my experiences may inspire.

Some may view this as some sort of sabbatical, as an escape from the real world. I do not see it this way. Though it may have looked good and appeared acceptable from the outside, the manner in which I’ve been living—timidly, sheltered, attempting to control my intake of life—that was an escape from the real world. This is me getting in the game, pushing all of my chips into the middle. I’m not running away from responsibility or the reality of growing up or even getting married—I’m running towards it.

And now more than ever, those words from “The Shawshank Redemption” are at the top of the rotation every time I turn on the shower. Unlike Red, though, I’m absolutely petrified. He couldn’t hold a thought in his head out of excitement; I can’t hold one out of sheer terror overload. This whole thing is so far beyond my comfort zone, and given my track record, I can’t imagine Vegas setting the odds of me ending up in the fetal position at any worse than even money. I also realize that I’m part idiot for doing something like this, for giving up a secure job in this unemployed world for something that will end in less than four months. And I have no idea what happens next. I don’t know where this leads, and I acknowledge there’s a strong possibility that I will meet the undesirable fate of Costanza—living with my parents and hoarding a private bottle of ketchup.

But channeling the spirit of Red, I hope. I hope I can whitewash my mind of the inescapable truths of the previous paragraph. I hope I can personify my father’s definition of courage—being scared s***less and saddling up anyway. I hope I’m strong enough—to both write consistently and carry two golf bags at the same time. I hope I can stay present in the process without getting too wrapped up in future results, and I hope that I can remain open to possibilities that I don’t even know yet exist. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams, I hope my Target long sleeve tees are enough to rebuff the ocean breezes, and I hope that this experience is the catalyst for putting me on the path to my own personal Zihuatanejo.

Get busy livin’, or get busy dyin’.

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