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?


Anonymous said...


I have never replied to any of your posts, but have followed you from almost the start of your journey with Secret. I found your blog searching for information on Ranger sailboats, as I own a Ranger 29. I live on the eastern seaboard and have followed your posts as you progressed south down the ICW in 2006.

Your post today seems like you are searching for belief in yourself. Let me ask you this. Do you think all of those great people that you where thinking about had belief in themselves or did they have faith. The answer to that can not be answered because only they know the answer. One can question their own beliefs, which may change, but their faith is a different matter. It may be weakened if they let it, due to circumstances, but it can not be changed. They may chose to ignore it, therefore it loses it's influence. I do believe that you have faith in yourself due to the fact that you did get on Secret and travel with Karl to your pitstop at Crooked Island. You had several times while you were still in the states where things didn't work out as planned (dingy sinking and swimming for the boat, then losing the bag with the laptop). Did you believe that you should have stopped at that, or in hindsight did you have strength (or faith?) to keep pursuing your dream? Did you give up and head back home to safety?

You have experienced much more so far than most ever will, both with Secret and with Karl. I have but a sample of what your trip on Secret entailed as I have been the navigator on several boats from northern VA to Southern FL both southbound and northbound, ICW and out in the Atlantic to deliver other peoples boats. This was only for a short time each trip as I am stuck to my current job and can't get away for more than a week at a time. It was not the luxury cruise most would think of, but I would not have missed it for the world! I will always cherish the memories good and not so good and may always wish I could have done it more. It also seems that you have found in Karl what some never do. Not only that someone special but the realization of what you have. Some never find it, and some never appreciate what they have until it's gone. It appears that you have realized it and have come to appreciate it before it's gone.

This leads to the purpose of my post. I can't recommend answers to your questions, only questions to you to answer yours. Did you not put everything on the line to pursue what you wanted when you set out on Secret? Is the "fear" of going back to Secret based on known facts that you don't have the ability to handle Secret by yourself or is it of the "unknown"? What does Karl think of you going back to Secret by yourself? Could you go there, be with Secret and work on getting her fixed, and get a temp job in the islands while waiting for Karl to join you? Would Karl accept the risk of you getting back by yourself?

Your friends/family may be urging you to stay, and I understand where they may be coming from, but YOU must live with your decisions. I am only about 10 years older than you but, far too many people regret what they didn't do later in life than regret what they did do. Your experience on Secret with writing entries to be entered later gives you so much more of an advantage to be a freelance writer than a "blogger" because you must think about what you are writing before you put it "pen to paper" than someone at a keyboard with a word processor. You aren't simply someone who is spouting opinions, rather someone telling a story, which people would be much more apt to listen to. Keep with it, and submit some of them. "It never hurts to ask." "What's the worst that could happen?" You have the ablility to submit something and get it in print, you just have to have faith in yourself.

I wish the best to you and Karl and a quick return to Secret and both of your dreams.


Anonymous said...

I seen you guys in Oriental NC on your way south.I have been watching this site to follow your trip , thinking just how lucky you are. Im going to lay this on you right up. You need to quit crying and writing. You talk in round holes, with no where to go with it. Your boy friend is sick. That is the only thing that counts. Both of you left your boat down south. then you stayed at home crying about what i have not been able to figure out yet. You talk as if god touched you with a special gift. the only special gift is your life. Use it by all means. We are so sorry to hear about Carl. I also know how hard it is to do big things. But quit making half assed plans, and then running home when they fall apart in your face.

Ellen, John & Sophia said...

go! go! go do it! you have people there, you have the nerve. starting is the hardest part.

Anonymous said...

are you ever going to just shut up and go for it.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, It's not a girl thing. Nor is foolhardiness, bravery. If you really want to do this, more power to you, but use your brain first. Reading your blog I recall somewhere in the islands you stated that "you would help sail if Karl fixed something or other." My thought was why wait for Karl, do it yourself but you didn't. So before you take off on a emotional desaster march yourself down to the local sailing school and learn how to sail. Yes it costs money and you may have work a while first, but it would be money well spent if it means survival as opposed to death. Adventurers use tools and the main tool is the knowledge to know what they are doing not winging it.

Anonymous said...

Melissa, I had writen earlier this evening and began my comment by stating it is not a girl thing. I did not intend to imply that a girl can not do what you are thinking. My intention was to say don't let others convince you it's just a girl thing. Women have circumnavigated the globe solo but they were prepared to do so by possesing a knowledge sailing and having some experence before doing so. Stupidity is not bravery. Bravery is knowing what the perils are and having the knowledge to face the beast, confident in your ability to handle whatever it throws at you. You made it there not knowing what you were doing. Think of what you can acomplish with some know how.

Fair Winds

A Friend

PS. Hope Karl's doing better

Melissa said...

Obviously, I was really angry when I wrote that last post, and I poked some nerves. I haven't even had the nerve to check for comments until now. I am questioning my belief in myself--that is true. I am also questioning whether or not I have the courage to leave Karl alone, sick, recovering, for an indefinite amount of time.

In our last in-depth conversation, Karl said, "If you want to go spend four months in the Bahamas by yourself, then go ahead." In many ways, I do. In many ways, I think that's the right thing to do. In other ways, I don't believe it's right to run away from the situation I'm in.

The Good Friend, Still said...


Remember The Eagle's hit, "Get Over It"? Please do. You have a consensus wondering why you just don't shut up, stop using Karl as an
excuse and follow through with the Secret plans. It won't take four
months and you know it. That's one
more excuse.

Have you always dodged the road abead so coyly, so easily, so reasonably?

Like Robert Frost said, that
makes all the difference. Get true
to yourself and stop boring your smarter friends. As you read, they
see through you.

Stop this mental mush and
buy a ticket. It's a short life.
A Good Friend-me!

Anonymous said... write so beautifully babe !.Send away those articles.