Even in the most exotic of situations, we can find ourselves caught up in the familiar. The pressures of the day-to-day push us onto the path of least resistance and put blinders on our awareness of the world around us. Today’s guest has experienced this phenomenon first hand and reminds us that–sometimes–we need to rock the boat. Nathan Lowell presents…
For the last three years I’ve had the great fortune of living on my sailboat and traveling the Pacific. In that time I’ve lived in twelve countries, picked up a few words in five languages (not counting American and kiwi English) and written five novels.
All my life I’ve had a yen to travel. When I was a teenager and trying to figure out what I wanted to do as a career, my mom asked me instead to think of what I’d like to do for fun, then find a career that let me do that. I realized then that I wanted most to travel, which let to a brief flirtation with the foreign service, resulting in a degree in political science, an intimate knowledge of the Canadian political system of the early 90s and a strong aversion to foreign policy.
My plans for the diplomatic corps sputtered and died, but my love of travel certainly didn’t. I’ve often wondered if my wanderlust is perhaps because I’m an avid reader. To me, the impulse to travel is very similar to what drives me to devour books – both take you to new worlds, introduce you to new people, allow you to share different ways of living.
In my travels I’ve had the incomparable experiences of climbing the steps of ancient Mayan temples, swimming with sealions, stingrays, sharks and whales, and seeing the sun sink beneath an endless plate of blue ocean, myself and my partner the only human beings within view. I’ve been in a shipwreck (not my ship!) and been the first European-decended person ever encountered by a young child. On the other hand, through books I’ve ridden along on missions into deep space, hunted for spies and been a fly on the wall in families as singular and extraordinary as real people.
The experiences are different, of course. Certainly, travel is more immediate than reading fiction: when the wind is howling, the spars are creaking and salt water is smashing onto the hull like Poseidon’s mighty fist, if it’s happening in a Horatio Hornblower story, I can always just put the book down. When it’s happening while hanging on to the wheel while crossing an ocean in real life, taking a break is less easy.
But, then, fiction can take you to places even a sailboat can’t. One of the reasons I chose the nautical gypsy life was because of a lifelong desire to take to the stars. Sadly, space travel still is the purview of only a few. So, I chose the next best thing – a life at sea. Luckily, I can still visit the vastness between the stars in stories that span the galaxies of imagined universes.
However, one of the surprising things I’ve discovered in my travels is that regardless of how far a person roams, it is still possible to get stuck in a rut. Those of us who travel on our own boats tend to congregate in anchorages and marinas, and we often see the same folks from one port to another. This is a wonderful situation in many ways, being a part of what is functionally a small community that splits up, moves and reforms in a slightly different configuration every few months.
It is fantastic to run into friends we’ve known for years in all kinds of places, and the security which comes from this sense of community can’t be overestimated, particularly when something breaks in a remote place (and those are the only places where things ever break). But having a built-in community wherever we go has its pitfalls – it’s easier to stay with the friends you already have, rather than go exploring or meet new people. And, more dangerous, it’s easy to forget the wondrousness of where we are when the immediate view is of the same boats we’ve seen for years.
This kind of ad-hoc community has often reminded me of fandom – fans of a particular author or genre can find great camaraderie with other enthusiasts, and it’s wonderful to be able to talk about my favourite books and authors with like-minded readers. Indeed, I’ve found lots of other great reads from fellow fans that way. But I’ve also found that when I spend a long time reading in just one genre, I tend to forget the rest of the fiction world and can easily miss out on all the other great stories the world of fiction has to offer.
With ebooks and audiobooks just a click away, each of us with a decent internet connection has a inexhaustible supply of stories in any genre or style to choose from. Like for travellers, it’s easier to stick to the familiar mother ships rather than venturing out in the jolly boat and landing on unfamiliar shores. But the rewards for venturing beyond our comfort zones are the very reason we seek adventures in the first place.
Stories introduce us to new people and places and allow us live in those worlds for a short time. As we do, we learn about ourselves in the process, and maybe even have a fun time doing it. In order to make the most of those experiences, sometimes we all have to get off the boat, go ashore and take a look at what’s behind that weird-looking old tree. Because it is the variety in the world – and in fiction – that makes the magnificent stories of life.
M. Darusha Wehm is the two-time Parsec Award shortlisted author of the novels Beautiful Red, Self Made and Act of Will. The third book in her Andersson Dexter series of SF detective novels, The Beauty of Our Weapons, will be released in early 2012. You can get pre-release copies of the ebook and paperback or limited edition signed hardcovers by supporting her release fundraising campaign at IndieGoGo.
Since 2008, she has lived on her sailboat Scream, sailing from the west coast of Canada to the US, Mexico, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Ecuador, across the Pacific via French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Fiji. She is currently at anchor back in New Zealand.