Are We There Yet? Blog

Going Up The Creek With A Paddle

December 2, 2016
Light saber battle in Star Wars

As a novelist, anger and despair — and we might as well throw in angst, drama and life itself — all of that stuff bumps me into storytelling mode. When I read the newspaper these days, or Facebook and Twitter, it’s evident. I get the sense we are dealing with the Dark Side, the Forces of Evil, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Pick your villain; there are a lot of life-sized role models out there from which to choose.

going up the creek with a paddle

Villains set a story in place. They establish a reason for why heroes are necessary. And villains crop up where we least expect them. Darth Vader, Star Wars and The Power of Costume, Denver Art Museum.

One of the best methods of understanding and defining the forces of good and evil is by looking at the writings of Joseph Campbell, author of the iconic The Hero With a Thousand Faces. We are all heroes, in some way, and we all find ourselves at some point going up the creek without a paddle. That’s also called, the struggle.

A successful hero needs resilience, because there are a number of steps to wade through on any journey to achieve the ultimate goal, whether it be saving the world or buying a friend a bag of Hershey’s kisses to console a bruised heart. A hero is someone whose actions are beyond the normal range of everyday experience; the hero gives something of herself in the process. We can all be everyday heroes, once we are willing to become empowered with the knowledge of life and all its permutations. And life, the mirror of myth, is made up of elements both comic and tragic.

Han Solo and Chewbacca

Heroes appear in all shapes and sizes. Han Solo and his faithful Wookie sidekick, Chewbacca, are classic representations of partners who defeat evil.  Star Wars and The Power of Costume, Denver Art Museum.

But I’ve decided I’m not going up the creek unless I bring a paddle with me.

You may be thinking, “Hey, Emily. You’re not understanding the metaphor. You’re supposed to be up the creek without the paddle, because that’s why you’re in the mess you’re in at the moment.”

As with the ultimate goal — or prize —, messes come in all shapes and sizes. There are political messes, there are financial messes, and then there are the intensely painful personal messes, the ones that pull your innards out through your esophagus, leaving you drained, gasping for air and wondering if tomorrow is worth living for.

But we all have a paddle. It’s hidden inside each and every person.

The paddle is laughter: the ability to find humor in a situation, the ability to turn the putrid into a pun and most importantly, the ability to laugh loudest at yourself.


There’s always a bigger fish. And it always eats the fish in its way.

Case in point: a friend and I were waxing philosophical about the results of the — I almost hate to type the word lest it jinx this post, but what the hell — the election. Yes. That.

We were, as are thousands of others right now, comparing certain politicians and outcomes to Adolph Hitler (another potential post jinxed, but I’m on a roll now). I told him I’d noticed my iPhone autocorrect refused to capitalize the name “Hitler.” Clearly, there were evil forces afoot.

The potential for calculating odds was too great a lure for my friend. Instead of sinking further into a reverie of loamy gloom, the where are we going? what will we do next? how will the world ever survive — shortly, all the stuff we’re responding to on social media with throw-up faces (squinty-eyed, sickly green, barfing, you know which emoticon I mean) — as a mathematician, he put my hypothesis to the test. He entered a few queries on Microsoft Word to see what automatically capitalized, and what didn’t. To whit:

What is hitler’s first name? when did adolf hitler die? Who is orval fauns? When did jack benny die? What is George patton famous for? Who shot hitler? who shot mary? How did lee Harvey Oswald die? What did roy rogers name his horse?

The answer is “Trigger,” of course, to that last one, and probably the only one most of you out there in Internet land would know off the top of your head. And while it proved that hitler was never capitalized, neither were a lot of other formal names.

Even so, that bunch of questions, and the only pop culture answer I could contribute triggered a solution for my current angst.

We need to take things a whole lot less seriously. And get this: it’s possible there is no ulterior motive.

This doesn’t mean I’ll sit idly by, floating up to the ceiling with laughter à la Uncle Albert. But it does mean that I won’t engage in behavior and activities which are futile, those which only make me angrier. It’s futile to banter back-and-forth on Facebook with trolls who hop onto threads with my friends, their only purpose to stoke the fire, their only purpose to insult me with comments I now prize for their comedic value. Like the one where they suggested I “go back to reading Astrology and let the adults run the world.” It was particularly inventive since I didn’t know these people from Adam and wondered how they knew I can’t begin the day without reading the horoscopes in the daily newspaper. Their insight was astonishing. But they neglected to mention that I’ve also read The Federalist Papers cover to cover six times, too.

Queen Amidala

I’ll admit I read the horoscopes. I also read history. There’s something to be learned from it. Queen Amidala, Star Wars and The Power of Costume, Denver Art Museum.

That’s the sort of balance we need. We need the people who read both palms and respectable history — a history that has, over the last 240 years (and still counting) been proven to work.

I will also not sit idly by and let bigotry, racism and infringement on personal rights protected by our country’s constitution and laws undermine the social tenets that form the bedrock of this country, whether that infringement is by people I know acting out towards people I consider family or friends, or whether they are the acts of strangers upon strangers.

There’s something that feels good about doing what’s right. There’s also something about holding others accountable for their actions and words. There is no free pass to hurt another being. I hope there will be others of you who agree with this and take a stand.

Light saber battle in Star Wars

Good and evil always do battle. That’s how the story goes, for a thousand heroes. Star Wars and The Power of Costume, Denver Art Museum.

We also need to get a grip: the world is not going to end tomorrow. There is no Death Star pointed at Earth, guided by a clinically depressed man masked and dressed in black with a chronic case of the grudges, one who always saw the glass as half empty. There are no flying monkeys in the sky, (spoiler alert) the Wicked Witch is dead (she melted, remember?) and Voldemort (oops, the name just slipped out) is dead because of wand operator error. If these aren’t evildoers with whom you’re familiar, plug in your own in the comments. It never hurts to add to the watch list.

And while you’re at it, add a list of heroes alongside. We might find the heroes outweigh the bad guys in the long run. The world can only handle a certain number of evildoers.

I may run this by my mathematician friend and see what the odds are. And then we can all laugh at the silliness of it.

Did you enjoy reading this? If so, please share! And thank you!

Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.

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  • Reply Lynne Hugo December 4, 2016 at 5:42 am

    I don’t think the world is going to end tomorrow, but I do think that a lot of damage can be done. I’m bothered by a great deal: this whole notion of “post truth” and fake news, the practice of demonizing groups as well as journalists, the introduction of the alt right into mainstream consciousness and even the possibility of “normalizing” some of these behaviors because we plain get used to them. I admit, I’m scared and uncomfortable. I hope my paddle is strong enough.

  • Reply Robert Kahn December 3, 2016 at 11:21 am

    Very good article. So often many of us have doubts about the presence or absence of a paddle and have to substitute our hands and arms, but eventually with work find our paddle, and seems you are in the process or already there.

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