Life Randomized

I’ve just finished the day thinking about randomness. I’ve often thought and sometimes said that we deceive ourselves when we plan the minutiae of our lives, as though we’re really in control, and thus set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration.

So I began an atypical paragraph, a rare stream of consciousness late in my book, The Dying Fish.

Randomness really is important to me and I was thrilled earlier today to find a website (

that allows me to generate random points on a map. Oh the possibilities for someone who’s life centers around maps, exploration and the unplanned! I can throw virtual darts at virtual maps to my heart’s content! I immediately tested it and popped up a set of coordinates for a point in the Ohio countryside that could only have been completely random. I’m going to visit some strange new places in the months ahead, I feel sure.

I’ve been able to generate random numbers for quite a while and I use this for several things including planning, or non-planning, my workouts. Nowadays, ideas such as “muscle confusion” have entered the popular lexicon and most athletes affirm the benefits of deviating from strict daily regimens. I never know when I wake up what I’m doing for a workout in the day ahead until I sit at the computer and pull up a set of numbers that correspond to particular exercises. I think that most people would find this too risky. I find that my training couldn’t be more well rounded.

Exercise is one example of the value of randomness but the applications and implications may be broader. Thinkers from Plato to Thoreau and beyond have noted how easily we fall into patterns in life, comfort zones that hold us back from experiencing life in all its fullness. Randomizing things, for me, is one way to break this subconscious adherence to familiarity. When I think of going somewhere new on the map, it’s easy to imagine what’s going to be waiting there for me, based on all I’ve seen before, but the truth is that the natural world is just too diverse and dynamic a place to know it all in advance. And if I could know it all, I’d never really need to leave home at all. The trees will be taller than a decade ago, the stream course may have shifted over the last couple of years, trout may be migrating through that weren’t last month and the light will change second-by-second as I focus with the camera.

How many of us complain of the redundancy of the commute, the job and our favorite recreations and places to eat? How many of us follow the same well-trod paths of our friends and neighbors when we vacation as though the things they experience and value will be the same for us? Why not throw in a little randomness this year and fill your backpack with less certainty, more Stoic optimism, and an open mind?

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