Sometimes…say yes

Life can get crazy enough without looking for trouble, right? “Take chances! Make mistakes!” may be a great mantra for The Magic School Bus, but we’re adults now, and besides, Miss Frizzle has the benefit of living in a kids’ book where consequences can be safely ignored.

But then again, we’re writers. There’s a difference between staying safe and staying within your comfort zone. You can step outside the box now and then without taking unhealthy chances. Stretch your boundaries a little now and then and expand your repository of experiences to draw from.

I got the chance to do just that last week. We had our spring break all planned out. We weren’t going to do anything too weird or strenuous. And then along came an opportunity. My wife volunteers at an animal sanctuary, and we all joined her one morning to help out. Word got around that someone had a calf they wanted sent to the sanctuary if there was a way to transport it the 240 miles.

Well, one volunteer offered to pick up the calf and transport it in the back of his compact hatch-back. This is a 200-pound calf we’re talking about. My wife and I looked at one another. We have a van. I decided, “What the heck? Sometimes you just gotta step up and do something.” Do we know anything about cattle? No. Did we know how calves handle car-rides? No. Did we have any clue what we were getting in for? Not really. Hang it all, let’s do it!

Sven the Calf makes himself at home in the back of our van.
Sven the Calf makes himself at home in the back of our van.

We canceled our plans for the next day, and drove four hours to pick up the calf, then turned around and drove four hours back to deliver the calf to the sanctuary. With three kids from thirteen to eight who normally have two separate benches in the mini-van to spread out in, but were now condensed into one. We were clearly out of our minds.

Oddly enough, it went fairly well. The kids (mostly) got along. The calf fit in the back of the van just fine. After the first fifteen minutes it lay down, and didn’t get up again until we were about forty minutes from home.

Then it stood up and produced a calf-pie. We drove the last forty minutes with the windows down.

The damage was minimal; I had lined the back of the van with a couple of tarps before we left, and though a little spattered on the vinyl side of the van, the majority remained on the tarp. Both washed up fairly easily.

My kids get acquainted with Sven at his new home.
My kids get acquainted with Sven at his new home.

We could have gone hiking that day. We might have had a really good time. But how many people can claim to have hauled a calf in the back of their mini-van for 240 miles? Which would make the better story when the kids went back to school this week and got to tell about what they did on their break?

And I’ve already got several story ideas out of this. I’m almost a little disappointed the experience wasn’t crazier. Almost.

My wife and I are not generally spontaneous people. But every now and then an opportunity comes along that you probably shouldn’t decline. Don’t be a writer who only writes about interesting things, but never does them.

Live a little. Take chances. Make mistakes.

Thom Stratton

About Thom Stratton

Thom is a Utah transplant, works for a regional bank, and spends his lunch hours working on his latest novel. His wife, three kids, and four pets find him amusing and somewhat useful, so they keep him around.


My personal favorite version of the saying is "It's better to aim for the stars and miss than aim for a pile of manure and hit." In this context it seems especially appropriate. :-) I'm glad you decided to go for it! Best of luck!

Aften Brook Szymanski
Aften Brook Szymanski

I love this post- just what I needed right ow. I had decided to try the NBC sitcom pitch in May, got an idea- scripted out a short 4 scene opener-- then decided I was crap, it would never be any good- why bother taking the chance when I knew nothing would come of it. But, wait. So what if nothing comes of it? Why not live through the experience of trying- even failing and have that in my writer's arsenal? So, I've been doing whatever I can to follow through- today was my do or die moment on follow through. I'm swinging. And, it's okay if I fail. I'm proud of myself for trying- Thanks for sharing your calf-pie story. I'm not sure how crazy my experience is either- when you think about it's not really a big messy risk to try. Hopefully it will make a great story to retell someday. Trying something outside my comfort zone because I had an idea and thought it was worth the effort to finish-- Priceless How does that saying go? The only real failure is never trying.