Sunday, February 17, 2008

Was born with roses in her eyes

I’m beginning to feel like a hothouse flower, trying to flourish in the dead of a Northern winter. It’s as if someone took an orchid and transplanted it into the woods of Marion and wondered, “Hmm, why isn’t this orchid doing so well?” What orchids need are greenhouses, and greenhouses cost a lot of exactly the things we don’t have enough of and shouldn’t be using anyway: money and fossil fuels. Heat? Big, bright incandescent sun lamps? Long, scalding hot showers? Warm, dry socks hot from the dryer? All of these things that the the hardy scrub pines and snow drops of New England have learned to survive without. (Okay, so maybe orchids don’t need socks. But they need those fabric cover things.)

I always forget that I’m predisposed to warmth both by genetics and by upbringing. My mother’s Greek, and I read recently in Mother Earth News that darker-skinned people absorb even less Vitamin D from the sun than lighter-skinned people. Almost all Americans are Vitamin D deficient anyway, from too much time indoors and too few fresh fruits and vegetables, so people inclined towards warmer climates genetically (like Mediterranean islanders) are even worse off than all of you Scandinavian types. Combine that with a childhood spent in the hottest place on earth, and I’m in a pretty bad way.

Bangkok really was judged the hottest place on earth while I grew up there, when they averaged for winter and summer temperatures and day and night-time temperatures. It got down into the seventies at night one week a year. Now I fantasize about weather like that--always sunny, always hot, with a sun that goes up every morning at six and sets every night at six like clockwork. With humidity that hits you like a brick wall every time you go outside. Actually, I don’t even know if I could deal with weather like that anymore. I’m too much of a wimp after spending time in the cold.

The real problem with Vitamin D deficiency is that it causes exacerbates the symptoms of depression, something I’m prone to anyway in the winter. I’m trying to cultivate myself as I would a hard-to-grow plant, to keep myself happy and content even in the bitterest of chills. My new attempt on that front is the $10 down jacket I finally bought for myself last night at the L.L. Bean Outlet. I had been making do with a vest for the last two winters. I had forgotten how cozy it is to go outside in the cold when you actually have your arms covered--Karl and I even went for a little beach walk today. Still, even though it’s ten bucks, I feel guilty for allowing myself to spend that much money on something that was for my own comfort in the cold and not for the boat. It paints the difficulty of this choice in brutal colors: do I invest my time and money in staying in Marion, or do I invest my time and money on going to the Bahamas.

The anguish of that choice gets worse by the day. I can buy a one-way ticket from Boston to Nassau on February 26 for $145. I can buy that ticket right now, this minute. The ticket’s ready to purchase in another browser window as I type. I found the price last week, and I haven’t been brave enough to close the window yet. I refresh the page every day, just to make sure the fare’s still there. Our Canadian friends called on Thursday, letting me know that they’re in Georgetown and when they leave they’ll be heading to Crooked Island. Everyone who sails knows how tough it is to coordinate time on sailboats, but I bet they arrive just about on the 26th, and if anyone can help me rerig the forestay, it’s Marcel. But you know when that is? Nine days from now. How ready am I to face the boat alone?

Obviously I’m having a tough time being honest on here about that decision-making process after some of the comments I got with my last post. I love that people care about our journey and my decision, but it can’t be solved with a simple go or don’t go. Am I ready to leave Karl for an indefinite period of time? What does that mean for our relationship? But what does it mean for us if I stay?

In all of this, I need to nurture myself and keep myself from the depression that sneaks up on me like cold frost. I drift through days in a daze, trying to make my way from one hour to the next. I’m working on it. I have my tools, my weapons to keep the demons at bay. If I let them win, I won’t be able to help anyone: neither Karl nor Secret.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The only girl I’ve ever loved

Well, no one believes that I should fly to the Bahamas. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, I am just a girl. Girls can’t do anything by themselves, let alone fix engines and hank on sails and install forestays.

No one’s ever believed that I could do anything like that alone, including myself. I still don’t, which is probably the reason I don’t have a ticket in hand right now. Sure, I know it’s ambitious, but isn’t that the whole point? To strive, to seek, to find, not to yield, and all that crap?

In National Geographic, a couple of months back, there was an ad for an unnamed giant software company who was sponsoring some crazy female solo adventurer. She was a real professional adventurer, unlike me, the poser. She was kayaking down the major rivers in Africa solo, and there were pictures of her, pushing off from some unknown village, countless black children staring after her dumbfounded as she paddled her brightly colored over-loaded kayak away through the muddy water. She’s also biked the length of Alaska, hiked the perimeter of Madagascar, and done countless other things I can’t quite recall. I want to aspire to at least that level of bravery.

Still, though, do you think her family’s in favor of her adventures? Do you think when she was eighteen and said, “Hey, Mom, do you think it’s a good idea if I go kayak through the heart of the African wilderness by myself?” her mom was like, “Sure, honey, whatever you want”? Do you think her college boyfriend said to her, “Run off to Madagascar for six months, sweetie. I’ll be right here when you get back”? Do you think her high school guidance counselor thought it was a great idea? No. In fact, what they probably all said was, “Maybe you should think about a nice safe job with some security. Something like chemical engineering, perhaps.” So did she listen to them? Hell no.

So what do I do? Am I brave, and foodhardy, and stupid enough, to be like that unnamed girl, or am I too cowardly, too much a creature of public opinion and home and hearth? I just can’t figure out if this is yet another example of me demanding too much of myself, asking for unrealistic superhuman feats. Should I just bow to the tide of public opinion, surrender Secret to her flooded fate, and go get one of those nice, safe jobs? Maybe as a waitress, or at the local West Marine, or as a management trainee at the new Borders in the next town over. Yes, I too could be one more person chewed up by the cogs of capitalism, one more person with dreams sacrificed on the altar of pragmatism and fiscal responsibility, one more person living one of Thoreau’s lives of quiet desperation.

Obviously, I know what I should do. I believe I know what God wants me to do. I don’t believe decisions should be made based on fear, ever, and if I decide to huddle safely under my electric blanket, with my computer, and my music, and the detritus of American consumerism beginning to gather around me in huge heaps, fear will be the basis of my decision. It should be me and Secret against the world, baby. If I decide to fly down and I did manage to repair Secret by myself, with what help I could cobble together from Crooked Islanders and fellow cruisers and sympathetic visitors, if I did manage to sail her back to her home port single-handed, it would be something I could be proud of for the rest of my life. When I was thirty, this, THIS, is what I accomplished, this huge, gargantuan thing.

Sure, I could die. But I’d be one of the ones who thumbed my nose at conventional wisdom and lived bravely, fearlessly, and foolishly. Is it worth it? More than that, do I have the sheer audacity to simply tell my family and friends, “I’m doing this no matter what. You can either support me or get out of my way.” Am I one of those people who can resist the tide of public opinion to accomplish great things, as all great people do?

Honestly, I don’t think so. I think you, humble reader, are going to get a whole slew of agonized posts about how much I hate my new job. And I will hate my new job. Because I know it’s not what I’m meant to be doing, not the Herculean task to which I have been called. I did hike the Appalachian Trail by myself, at least for a while, before I hitched my wagon to Karl’s star. But how much else have I ever accomplished? I graduated from college and got a degree at an insurance company, of all places, rather than pursue my dream of writing. I worked in Chicago for five years, all the while putting off what I thought of as my real life. Here I sit again, at the crux of another of these decisions. How often had I had the courage to pursue what I truly want? Not often. I don’t even have enough courage to submit an article for publication.

It comes down to belief in myself. Great artists, great adventurers, great people all have a fundamental belief in themselves, whatever happens. I don’t know where they get that. I don’t know what kind of reserves of internal strength they manage to find, or where they manage to find them. But they do. I don’t have that belief in myself, despite all my bluster. At the core of me, it’s simply not there. How do I find it?