A lot of enlightenment has been flying my way these days, which is good, but I sure could use a break. Maybe a bit of ignorance for a while, just to take a breath? Alas, it doesn’t work that way; we can only do what we can to cope with what is revealed.
Tracy and I went off for a few days of sailing through well-worn nautical paths in the Gulf islands. The sailing has been great, the weather idyllic, but it feels quite different to me compared to past cruises. So much has changed for us, for me, over this spring, and my perspective has altered. I tried to think about why this should be, and I may have learned why Tracy and I have such very different views on our lifestyle.
For the last few months I’ve been working full time restoring Volkswagen campers. I enjoy the work and feel good about saving these wonderful vehicles from the wreckers. Everyone I’ve met that has experience with them always speak of such joyous memories, and although there’s a downside (greenhouse gas emissions) I still believe that keeping them on the road is a good thing. Simply put, there are no other vehicles that offer that kind of utility coupled with decent gas mileage and affordable price.
They take a lot of work and pretty much most of my life’s energy. I haven’t written and haven’t blogged. I haven’t kept up maintenance on my sailboat and haven’t been sailing until now. This has been the longest sailing hiatus I’ve had since we bought Fainleog 4 years ago. Given that sailing and the “liveaboard life” has consumed a great part of my energy and interest over this time, this is certainly unusual.
When I think about it, my lifestyle was a large part of my identity. I worked primarily as a writer, with stints here and there as a renovation carpenter and a writer/researcher/illustrator for a series of government marine training manuals. The lifestyle was slow and contemplative, and deeply introspective. In many ways it was a small life, but a profound and thoughtful one. I would even go as far as describing it as monastic at times.
Yet it’s paradoxical how my gaze was directed inwards, while at the same time I travelled further and further afield exploring BC’s coast. Somehow the two are irrevocably related, and the experience would have been vastly different if I had simply tied to the dock and sat there. One necessarily followed the other.
For those who really adopt sailing as a lifestyle, the notion of it as a spiritual practice no doubt rings true. I’ve thought long on what about it that seems to reach so deeply, but the conclusions I’ve come to are incomplete at best, and a subject for a different blog post. But the take away message for me is that living aboard, practicing my art, and sailing became a complete way of being, and part of how I saw myself. Like I said, it became part of my identity.
Tracy’s experience was vastly different. She chose to maintain her regular career ashore, and most of her life’s energy was directed outwards, at working with the elderly. The boat was her home, with all that implies to a woman, albeit a small and cramped one. Sailing to her was a little vacation, like going on a camping trip with one of my Volkswagens, although fraught with a great deal more anxiety. It had little to do with who she is and sailing was far from a spiritual experience. The marine environment is beautiful around here, but has little to recommend it beyond that.
I’ve gained this perspective because my own has changed. My life’s energy is no longer directed inward but outward; my focus much more material than spiritual. The consequence of that has several dimensions. One way it has changed is the experience of sailing has altered for me. No doubt it could regress pretty fast to that earlier mysticism, but so far on this trip it feels pretty superficial, like a vacation. Fun, lovely view, good sailing, but beyond that, neither here nor there. It’s just sailing. And it feels much less like a part of me and more like a thing a guy does. Like lawn bowling or golf.
From this much more detached perspective I can now see how for Tracy it’s not such a big deal. Nice to do, but expensive, and with a number of pitfalls. As a hobby or a sport, or even as a way of vacationing, it doesn’t make much sense; there are much cheaper and safer ways of experiencing something equally as charming.
Perhaps this is why sailing is such a middle-class indulgence: you have to be quite well off in order to justify the costs when statistically, most sailboat owners use their vessels two weeks a year.
I believe that If Tracy quit her job and we both abandoned our lives ashore for one at sea, she would undoubtedly come to know what so moved me about this lifestyle. She is a deep, sensitive person and in her eyes I see some recognition of what so moves me about sailing when we’ve been cruising together for a few weeks. But I don’t think that’s in the cards.
I sense we are at a crossroads. If my focus will be ashore, there is little reason to keep Fainleog. We have her for sale now, but there is little interest as the market is quite poor. But everything has a price at which it will sell, and if we dropped the price even further she would move on to another owner. Right now I toy with the idea of making money ashore during the “season” for camper vans, while in the winter return to my quiet life afloat. The problem is that sailing off season in these parts can be quite limited as system after system howls across the coast and like I said before, it’s more than sitting at the dock; the inward journey and the outward are linked and they go together.
I need to find out if Tracy would be willing to cut loose from shore and journey with me afloat. She has already let me know that she won’t entertain blue water sailing, but there are other options. My identity is somewhat fluid but hers is fixed and involves a certain way of life. I’m not sure how much she is willing to challenge that. In this regard I don’t see it working as a part time effort; it’s one or the other because so much is at stake, and I’ll never own a sailboat just for the privilege of nice holidays.
I wonder, is it just men who so define themselves by what they do? Or is it irrespective of gender? I’ve had so many different careers and so many different identities, and it gets exhausting after a while. While there is a core identity that stays with me always, a big part is defined by what I do and how I live my life, and that’s always changing. The liveaboard muse identity is slipping away and another has yet to take it’s place. Businessman? Volkswagen Mechanic? Neither of these are appealing to me, so they are simply stopovers to God knows where. Somehow I don’t see myself going back to where I was aboard Fainleog; after all these years, I’ve never found myself back where I was after a change like this; the road only goes one direction, and I’ve never known where it leads until I arrive.