We’ve been eating well. Very well. Dez cooks like a champ and Tate and I put as much fish on the table as we can eat (and more). In fact, we are so successful so consistently that it’s become tradition for us to get fresh fish for our friends in the anchorage. Often, before we even leave to go freedive/spearfish, we take fish orders. Our friends on Meridian (heya Dom, tell the fam we miss y’all) went as far as to give us a fish-order which we promptly filled. Other boats that anchor near us have stopped their attempts to fish altogether (now that they realize we are giving away fresh fish fillets, cleaned and bagged). Our free fish ordering and delivery service is a running joke that we enjoy participating in.
Dez and Ana have become addicted to spearfishing, and as new addicts do – they have more of a drive to spearfish than I often do. The days became somewhat predictable, in the best possible way. I would stumble upstairs to fresh French-pressed Colombian coffee and a great breakfast. We would listen to the net at 08:30. Then around 10:00 Tate or Dani and I would decide who would play who in our morning chess ritual. During this chess game we would discuss plans for the day, boat gear, and cooking ideas. The plans for the day were based around how much fish we had, what the weather looked like, and how we felt. Some days were diving days and others were cooking days and others were chilling days.
One thing I’ve always appreciated about this lifestyle is that under normal (whatever that means) circumstances we have the time to celebrate almost any occasion. Thanksgiving was no exception, and even our foreign friends (who don’t celebrate Thanksgiving) came and celebrated their first Thanksgiving with us Americans. We hosted Swiss and Brazilian and Spanish friends on NOMAD. Tate showed us his gumbo skills (I learned about rue). Dom showed us her cheesecake skills. Dani showed us her bread skills. Ana and Dez cooked too. Then we all gorged on a feast on par with any 5 star restaurant (and with better company and views).
My friends in this community, and myself, have taken to calling the inconveniences and interruptions from home (see legal, banking, travel, and family concerns) “real-life.” The words “real-life” are muttered in a tone that conveys a bit of frustration, and we all know what the other is talking about. But, over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about that. I’m not convinced that is “real-life.” In fact, I’m convinced that the life I (and those lucky enough to be doing something similar) live is remarkably more “real.” Legal, business, money, and other “back-home” concerns aren’t very real. Those are the things that we must do, and those are the things that take away from “real-life.” Interest rates and worries about paperwork and entanglements that we are unable to shed are anything but real. They’re constructs of society that are forced upon us, infringing upon our days and trying oh-so-hard to bring us back into the fold. When we call that “real-life” – we’re doing everyone a disservice, as what our modern culture accepts as “real” is – in fact – the least real way of living that I have ever encountered. If not immersed in the ratrace, one can’t help to look at it as some dystopian nightmare. It’s a facade that keeps us from seeing and living real life.
With all of that said, no matter how much one tries to distance themselves from these issues and concerns – they do pop up from time to time. Crew leaves. Friends move on. Family makes requests. Things break. Relationships crumble. Plans must be made. And with that, our real-lives here (living well, having good conversations, eating well, drinking well, exploring and traveling, owning our time) are halted while we deal with the consequences of our societal constructs we (dangerously) label “real-life.”
There is very little real about it. But it snuck up on us and suddenly things in our utopian lives were, again, changing.
At the end of a year we all look back. It’s natural. Inevitable. It’s not a bad thing.
Looking back, it’s been a long road, though I’m remarkably close to the very place all of this started. But physical proximity to the start of one’s journey can hardly be a metric. The metrics should be growth and learning and time well-spent. After all, if one is to indeed circumnavigate, one will end up back where one started – but with a host of experiences that cannot be bought, only earned. And earn them we do.
Two years ago I was a very different person. Unhappy in my moments of honest reflection, with the realization that the life many expected me to lead would be hollow. I couldn’t fix things. I’d never owned a boat. I couldn’t cook nor did I appreciate food. I took for granted many important relationships. I was fat, stressed, and always planning my great escape. Everyone owned my time.
On the surface I had an enviable position – I lived in a great city, I made good money, I was productively employed somewhere that gave me the illusion I was making an impact. I had great friends, a strong relationship, an awesome dog and more vehicles than I could drive. There were motorcycles and vacations and parties. I was on sound financial footing (much moreso than now) and I didn’t need to rely on anyone else for any of that.
But. The great understanding is that the only thing that we truly posses is our time. And I didn’t really own that.
It’s hard for anyone who can really think to put too much value on these things modernity has put on a pedestal. Are they important? Sure. And it’s often hard to be happy without food and shelter. But I’m of the opinion that thinking men (and women) inevitably come to the same conclusion, if they are honest with themselves (that’s a big if): the daily grind is mundane, and the art of getting by is mostly the art of distraction. Busyness is mistaken for productivity. What is called productivity is busyness. The metric of a day well-spent is this mislabeled “productivity.” And if you just stay busy enough, if you can stay on the path to the white-picket fence – you may be lucky enough to survive a divorce and heart failure and the stress that comes with a grownup career and kids.
You may have a spawning event in which you bring forth more humans into a world that is unsustainably populated and unquestionably being vandalized by our species. Stay the course, though, and you may get a chance to retire (if the stock market or Enron or a frivolous lawsuit or Bernie Madoff don’t wipe you out). In which case your ego will likely be tied up in your job or your education, the cessation of which may kill you. Of course, you’ll then have a mortgage or two and car notes and you’ll have to have made a fair amount of money to sustain that (or continue working until you drop dead). You’ll be up to your eyeballs in commitment that sneaked in. And if you manage to get free from those things – you’ll be at an age that makes enjoying your newfound freedom (?) difficult.
So. Looking back – I’ve made choices that freed me from much of that. I’ve had experiences that can’t be bought or recreated. My travel hasn’t been restricted to two weeks a year and I’ve strayed from the path more traveled. My destinations aren’t resorts nor are they in The Lonely Planet.
What’s different now? I’m a bigger and better person with a more satisfying life. Cocktail party conversations aren’t limited to the mundane: interest rates, caring for newborns, workplace politics, or even geo-politics. We have stories that involve real-life and real living. We have real struggles. And, most satisfying of all: I built this house. There were a million ways to live my life, a million choices, a million forks in the road. Challenges that seemed insurmountable. Knowledge that seemed unlearnable. Conflicts that seemed unwinnable. Steps that seemed too large to take. Chasms too wide to cross. Risks that seemed too great. Bills that seemed too large to pay and checks that seemed too large to cash. Relationships that have crumbled, mistakes that have cost me dearly.
With all of that, I’m here.
Here’s me wishing you a truly New Year in which you take big leaps. I hope you defy convention. I hope you tell the nay-sayers where to shove it – not with wanna-be pipe dreams, but with actions. I hope you think of your life as a tapestry and not a series of steps along a path that was predetermined by other’s expectations. That in this New Year you decide your journey is too important to leave to fate. That your time is too precious to give away, or even sell.
On this New Year – blaze your own trail. It’s infinitely more rewarding than mediocrity, and the challenges you’ll face as you try to break free are merely tolls along the route that leads to a life that’s actually worth living. Pay the tolls, take the leap, face all of the fears – and live.
Happy New Year from a semi-notorious, self-proclaimed captain of an always-broken sailing vessel.