This time will pass slowly not because I have mastered my perceptions of it. But precisely because I have not, I surrender. This time I will be intentionally accepting as not to be regrettably forgiving. This time demands no confession or persuasion. The story is not to be written before its telling.
It’s been four months living aboard Onyx. Most days pass as they did before. The hours lost in thought gazing at my garden or meticulously arranging my belongings still have a place. This time they are spent organizing for efficiency, with nautical whimsy and in reflection of the sky and water. Even here, laundry piles up without care and the kettle whistles blowing off steam. Somehow still, all is simpler, calmer, slower, lighter.
Jake appreciates the extended outdoor living as well. Lounging in the cockpit in the sunshine, we keep good company. In the evenings, we go for walks around the docks. Rather, he meanders and I follow making sure he stays off other boats. When we have taken the boat out for a sail, he is more alert than usual but not at all displaced or concerned. He is one cool cat and all the neighbors agree.
Yes, there is a community at the marina complete with neighbors whose names I can never remember despite engaging chats about their recent hikes or ex wives. There are impromptu invites for drinks and standing offers to crew or lend a hand. The older ones love to recant stories or give advice and I am just as content taking it in. Occasionally, and more frequently than I have before, I find myself stepping out with my own invitations.
A friend had asked what I found surprising living on a boat. It’s the still half-empty shelves and drawers despite having more of everything than I need. It’s the asymmetries of the boat’s design. It’s forgetting to pick up my mail for weeks at a time. It’s the reminders of how much further I still have to go in pursuit of simply living.
Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War—Paul Simon
Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War--Paul Simon - Paul Simon
The stars suggest patience may be enough
to forget the gravity of want
to hear you speak again of high seas
and weather without fancy
holding your gaze steady
on the horizon
against my softened outline.
knowing more than the stars
of distance and time,
made of mortal light,
cast my own shadow
heavy on the water
craving to tell you now
of all my desires.
I must have wished all this in another life to wake up with the dream of it in this. I must have lit a candle with all my intentions and set it afloat on a paper boat to sea so that it may find this other me.
How else can I explain the design unfolding itself with every step?
Eleven years ago, on a whim I bought sailing lessons as a birthday gift for my husband. B. and I enjoyed four weekends of instruction on the Hudson River and received our basic keel boat certification. Before that, I had only been on a sailboat twice—a couple of sunset sails off the coasts of Maine and Hawaii as any diligent tourist is apt to do. For months after our class, B. scoured the classifieds looking to buy a small boat that we could trailer and take out for day sails. I wasn’t on board and couldn’t see sailing in our life chalking up his interest as another fleeting hobby that would add more clutter and complexity to an already fully loaded life we were struggling to manage. I bought him a canoe for his next birthday as consolation instead.
I didn’t sail again until six years ago and many turns in life later. As an adventure vacation I chartered a sailboat and a captain/instructor in the Virgin Islands with Allison. For a week we spent our days island hopping and enjoying the beautiful scenery, warm weather, and clear waters and our evenings anchored in charming little bays taking the dinghy ashore for dinner or a night cap with locals and cruisers. I returned with more certifications and an imagination, enamored with the bliss of easy living on the water and the grace of full sails in the sunshine.
Back to work and carrying on with the busyness of life, thoughts of sailing would drift in and out only in passing. Even with masts in the marina and sailboats on the bay as my landscape, most days they served as no more than just a beautiful backdrop to my life. Every now and then, I would get a burger and sit for hours watching the boats come and go and in the calm of it all sort out my troubles and thoughts. In all that time, the dream must have been building silently and without much ado because I remember a day four years ago when naturally and without any predetermination I spoke of it aloud—amidst turmoil at work declaring to my boss that at the next career decision point I was likely to leave it all and go sailing. I’m certain he dismissed it as another one of my bursts of hyperbole. For me, it served as a promise made, as an alternative vision to the seemingly endless pursuit of making a living that felt like more of the same no matter how you sliced it.
Last year this time, the fork in the road appeared as did renewed thoughts of a life at sea. I was tired, tapped out, and restless looking for a change of pace. With nothing biting after a few months of putting in a good faith effort (albeit half hearted) to either find a new job or resettle carrying on with things as they were, I figured this may be the time to call my own bluff. Cancelling a trip to New Orleans, I sequestered myself for two weeks drawing out the vision, researching, plotting. Ultimately emerging with a plan for change of lifestyle complete with the requisite goals, lists and spreadsheets, financial plans, phases, milestones, activities, modeled into scenarios A through D, the dream was articulated, designed and made tangible. I was convinced and committed and the leap of faith simplified to a state of mind.
Today, I am sitting on my beautiful blue water cruising boat, Onyx, exactly six months after my last day of work and the beginning of this new venture. Having just completed an amazing 900-mile maiden voyage from Seattle to San Francisco, I am flush with confidence, feeling validated, empowered, and blessed. Incredulously, I ponder what I have accomplished, learned, and experienced in this short time and how it unfolded as if part of a fully elaborated design that my grandest imagination or plans could have only made out as a fading outline on the horizon. Mostly, I am amazed and truly humbled by the good fortune of having arrived here without much resistance and how the world having heard of my wishes and intentions has been with me, accommodating and affirming every step along the way.
The next six to nine months will be busy with preparations for getting underway for long term cruising and the full realization of the dream of living a life at sea. Between here and there, it is mostly logistics, more learning, and more doing without much extraordinary intervention needed. Good news is I am committed, have a craving and aptitude for learning, and excel at logistics. Break it down, figure it out, line it up, and get it done.
What may not be as straight forward is keeping the anticipation of the dream and the expectations from surging into anxious energy or spiraling into inertia. I catch myself in the restlessness and waiting between one step and next when my mind wanders. I wonder and sometimes worry. A thousand questions, each a thousand presumed outcomes, distracting my focus and eroding my resolve. I am learning this too—to trust a reality made only of my wishes.
How much simpler it would be instead to count and recount blessings and confluences like sheep before sleeping. So that I may always remember the dream upon waking. So that I may know the world is mine and with me. So that I may be at peace in anticipation of the dreams realized.
I have always fancied myself a minimalist, declaring it proudly and liberally any chance I get. After all, I have occupied less than 400 square feet for years and much of that without living room furniture. Half of my kitchen cabinets are unused and the closet is still manageable. I consume less than the average bear and I only own one set of…yadi, yadi, yada. Yes, I am capable of living light and blessed enough to still always have what I need and even a little more.
Now, there is a new level of minimal to master and a test to prove myself worthy of such proclamations and fortunes. It’s time to purge my belongings.
Logically, I am convinced why. Practically, I understand. Emotionally, I know I need to trend toward ambivalence. But however confident I may be, the task is still daunting. This is no ordinary purge like when moving, or inspired by the change in the season, or a particularly productive bout of insomnia. The scale demands its own attention.
Mentally, I am working up to the how. I have already started with donation piles, sticky notes of what to gift to whom, a tier system for contents of drawers…all knowing full well these are just ice breakers more for my amusement than much substance. The warm up exercises to test the tactics have been fun, but this will ultimately need to be object, mathematical, exponential. Limited room for play.
To get this done, I have to picture the goal. I have to imagine purging everything by half, half again, another half, and again, and as many halves as it takes to get to 150 cubic feet, maybe even much less. That’s the factor of this game, volume the absolute constraint. All else is left to my judgment and remembering that the space is finite and must fit everything. Every thing. Every thing that I will need and, if cleverly arranged, a few of the things I want.
I can only claim mastery if I can do this without storage space for the remainder.
During a particularly crazed phase of work and the subsequent happy hours of drinking my cares away, I remember a good friend telling me to “let random in.” It sounded amusing but I was too busy and focused for all that at the time.
Meetings already planned, conversations plotted, presentations packaged, decisions to influence, events to set in motion. There was work to be done. Get things moving and if you could manage it, preferably, in a straight line. If you were really on it, you could keep it headed towards an objective. All that energy directed to create and shape momentum into productivity and exponentially more into progress had it’s own magnetism.
Efficiency was my game, control my poison, deliberative my super strength, and people, well, they were just themselves. Random was disruptive and an antithesis, but still calculated and expected.
I was addicted to work and all its puzzles. I can say that now without reserve. I would say it then too though smirking, half yielding, half doubtful. Eventually and thankfully, the game slowed and I finally called it. Being stubborn and loyal, it took nearly a year to accept this was the balance of this work, give or take a few accomplishments or unexplored dimensions. I could not move the system to any more progress without it taking all of me and to a side darker than necessary. Once I could feel the curves of the wall, it was easy to let it all go. It was the logical and only play left. Exerting influence had become counterproductive.
I am too human to cope with all random, all the time and too wanting to allow all things to come and go as chance may fancy. I am a dreamer of ecosystems, balanced, correlated, at equilibrium to an end. An optimizer. I know this. I have practiced it. This time, I am designing the dream, the balance of it simply a vision floating at sea but where I must abdicate control over the space between.