Four Years At Sea, No Sign of Shore

As of this week, it has been four years since I was shoved ignominiously, bloody and already scarred, into the deep waters that constitute writing and editing books full-time. That the leviathans that live here haven’t devoured me yet is perhaps due to certain abilities of camouflage and mimicry, along with an equal propensity for flight and for fight.

At first, you are drowning in the dark water, lungs shrieking at you to rise prematurely to the surface, all of your senses oddly muted and mutable…but before the panic at water in your throat can end you, you discover with no little surprise that you have gills and although the landscape is strange you navigate through it without constantly gulping for air. Over time, you become used to the denizens of these places, some illumined with light and others shrouded in shadow. You look up toward the faded gold glimmering that is the sun shining down to you, but at first you have no desire to surface. You acclimate yourself to what is beneath.

When finally you rise, it is not a breach or a lunge, but a stealthy quick surveillance, eyes barely above the water, almost as if a mudpuppy in a trough upon a mudflat. When no harpoon nor other instrument of disaster pierces your skull, you become bolder. You float upon the surface and welcome the warmth you find there. Your senses are no longer muted, and you are no longer focused just on survival. You can appreciate the silhouette of the frigate bird, ignore the albatross, breathe in the scent of the sea and sleep to the sound of currents expressed as waves.

From pieces of wood and vines that float past, you build a raft over time. You begin to fish for your supper rather than subsist on seaweed. The raft becomes a boat. The boat becomes a ship. It’s a ramshackle ship, yes, with pieces not properly lashed together that break off, and it needs bailing—sometimes weekly, sometimes it holds water longer. But you’re able to make a crude stove and eat cooked meat and even find a violin in the water and teach yourself to play.
You encounter other rafts and boats and ships. You salvage from the waters not just a violin but a telescope, a desk, chairs, a sofa. The bounty of the sea, from your position at the ship’s wheel is uncertain only in its quantity and type, for it is always there, moving past you. Opportunity for the taking.

That your days are more certain than before is clear—and you are in no fear of drowning or of starving now. But some weeks are leaner than others, and each new sail encountered elicits the thought friend or foe? It’s a stop-start rhythm, an uncertain and treacherous current, that you must steel yourself over time to accept. You’re weather-beaten by now, skin toughened by the sun, and you are forever looking to the horizon with one eye and into the waters beneath the bow with the other. Each offers opportunity and each is treacherous.

You’re not really in a ship you built. You’re not really at sea. You’re surrounded by friends and family and colleagues. But still, after a time, you recognize there’s no far shore in sight, and may never be. And you have to be at peace with that.

3 comments on “Four Years At Sea, No Sign of Shore

  1. Really insightful post, Jeff. I’m looking forward to where those winds will take you (and I’m sure you’ll continue to find hospitable climes along the way!)…

  2. Nadine says:

    Worse things happen at sea, they say. Is it really a matter of deciding if you’re the worse thing, or the thing it happens to?

  3. Shawna says:

    Egad, Jeff, I am So glad you didn’t tell me this when you were in Richmond at the Conf. in October. ;) I would have been convinced there was still need to wait for the big safe ship. Even tho’ I am too far along in wisdom .. okay years perhaps ;) – to believe in such a thing. But it is nice to know that through it all it still sounds like you have no regrets.
    I wish you balmy winds and not safe seas, but continued productive seas.

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