No dead ends in sight

Have you ever seen a sign for a dead end? I'm sure you have. Well, guess what? There's no such thing. Sure, the dictionary defines "dead end" as having no exit or permitting no opportunity for advancement. But what does the dictionary know? It's ...

Have you ever seen a sign for a dead end? I'm sure you have. Well, guess what? There's no such thing.

Sure, the dictionary defines "dead end" as having no exit or permitting no opportunity for advancement. But what does the dictionary know? It's just a book that was created in 1604 by Englishman Robert Cawdry under the title of "Table Alphabetical of Hard Usual English Words" that relied heavily on plagiarism, since it robbed information from three sources. So how can you trust it?

Of course, in 1806 American Noah Webster came out with a much better dictionary, putting the British to shame with a version that went on to become a best seller and prompted the British Philological Society to begin compiling a comprehensive dictionary, which would later become the Oxford English Dictionary.

But even that version, like a cathedral, a health bill in Congress, growing a forest or getting a professional football stadium built in Minneapolis took more than a century to finish, so it was probably outdated before it was ever used, proving that, you can't trust everything you read.

Sunday we were once again riding horses in a Badlands pasture and because of last year's record moisture levels, trails were overgrown, landslides had changed the terrain and water rapids had gouged out the earth in so many areas that it made for an endless number of barriers and dead ends.


After investigating multiple routes and running short of daylight, we began to get a little concerned about making it back to the horse trailer before the moon smiled down upon us, eventually relying on the horses to jump over a deep ravine to get us out.

For a while it looked as though the "dead ends" were going to get the best of us, kind of like how special interest groups derail logical congressional action. But, of course, dead ends don't really exist, so we made it out just fine.

Anish Kapoor, the Indian-born British sculptor once said, "I used to empty the studio out and throw stuff away. Now I don't. There will be a whole series of dead ends that a year or two down the line I'll come back to."

In other words, life and work is like a running brook. It'll always find its route down a hill.

Dean Kamen, the American entrepreneur and inventor from New Hampshire said, "People take the longest possible paths, digress to numerous dead ends and make all kinds of mistakes. Then historians come along and write summaries of this messy, nonlinear process and make it appear like a simple, straight line."

In other words, we tend to overcomplicate things. We stop just before success. We get bogged down because we want to do one thing when we should be doing another.

When I was in high school, I had a friend who drove away from a dance after having taken a few too many slurps from a bottle of whiskey. We eventually found him walking down a gravel road with blood trickling down his face from an open wound on his nose where it had collided with his steering wheel.

Further down the road his car sat submerged in one of those big North Dakota sloughs, its roof just sticking out of the water after he'd failed to notice that he'd come upon a "T" intersection or a dead end. The next day, some other friends with a tractor nearby pulled the car out and he went on to go to college, get married and become mayor of my little hometown. You see, it wasn't a dead end at all. It was just a learning experience.


Relationships are a little like that aren't they? They fizzle, fail, dead end and derail. Then one day someone walks into your life and makes you realize why it never worked out with anyone else.

We all are faced with moments of concern, despair, depression and what appears to be a dead end, sometimes prompted by events and other times prompted by people in our lives.

For example, Thomas Edison was told by a teacher he was "too stupid to learn anything." Winston Churchill failed the sixth grade. The book "Chicken Soup for the Soul" was rejected 140 times and now has 65 titles and has sold more than 80 million copies all over the world. Walt Disney was fired from a newspaper because he "lacked imagination and had no original ideas."

Beethoven was told by a music teacher that as a composer he was hopeless. Stephen King's bestselling book "Carrie" received 30 rejections, he threw it in the trash and his wife fished it out again and encouraged him to resubmit it. Even the Beatles were turned down by a recording company who said, "We don't like their sound and guitar music is on the way out."

So the moral of the story is this: If you think you're looking at a dead end, forget it. It doesn't exist.

Holten is a freelance columnist and cartoonist from Dickinson.

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