Friday, June 04, 2010

June 2, 2010 - Scaredycat

For the past few weeks, really, ever since we returned to the Caribbean, I've been banging out mundane blog posts about anchorages and sailing and cocktails. I wrote the post about completing our circumnavigation several times, but scrapped every draft that dealt with anything other than the barest facts. I even roped my friend Deb into writing a few posts for me. All because I didn't want to address the issues surrounding the end of our adventure. The fact is that I'm scared and I didn't want to talk about it.

All the time people ask us what the scariest moment of the trip has been. It is the number one question we get (followed closely by "do you carry guns" and "what about pirates? - I'm sensing a theme here). I always found people's fear-based reactions to our adventure interesting, but I couldn't relate. Now, now I get it.

I'm filled with anxiety about the end of our adventure. I'm more scared of going home and trying to resume some semblance of a normal life than I have ever been about any leg of this trip.

Even before we left Boston four years ago I was concerned about how we would deal with our re-entry to the civilized world. I expected (no, hoped) that sailing around the world would change us, but I was apprehensive about how those changes would effect us when we tried to fit back in with a land-based lifestyle. Would we be square pegs trying to wedge ourselves into round holes?

Before we set off I posted a message on a cruising bulletin board soliciting others' experiences with moving back ashore. Back then my questions focused on how our potential future employers would view us. Would we become damaged goods by taking ourselves out of the job market for almost four years? These days whether anyone wants to hire us or not is the least of my concerns.

I'm afraid of not being able to relate to our old friends. It has been 18 months since we've seen any of our friends from home (other than those who came out to visit us in South Africa and the Caribbean). How much will they have changed? How much will we?

I'm afraid that desk jobs will bore us senseless.

I'm afraid of letting the internet suck up days, weeks, months of my life. I used to self-medicate at work with regular visits to celebrity gossip sites. I was reading Perez Hilton long before he became a household name. Seriously, what a waste of time. Sten's little vice was the New York Times. Any time either of us needed to destress or escape, we'd immerse ourselves in news about Things That Don't Matter. Getting all caught up with dramas on the other side of the world or that impact people we don't know and are not likely to meet was how we avoided dealing with the stuff that does matter.

On this trip I have learned to entertain myself in ways that benefit me and those around me. I can now name just about any reef fish you put in front of me, bake a mean batard, boule or baguette, and whip up any number of cocktails. But any time we have access to the internet for more than an hour at a time I find myself sliding into old habits. I need to find something to do with myself that does not require me to sit in front of a computer all day.

I'm afraid of becoming less frugal and more influenced by consumer culture. During the years leading up to our departure we learned to live relatively frugally. It is what made this trip possible.

When people ask us how we could afford to quit our jobs and travel I usually joke, "well, our other option was buying a plasma." We had one car, which Sten inherited. Our housing payments cost us way less than what we could afford (at least according the mortgage industry). I kicked a $9 a day Starbucks habit. For two years (from the moment we decided to sail around the world until we left) we only bought clothing if we absolutely needed it (like when Sten's cuffs and collars frayed or my pants wore out at that pesky spot between the thighs). Any time we wanted to buy something the analysis was "will this get us to the Tuamotus?" If it didn't, it went back on the shelf.

Our frugality only intensified after we left. At the beginning of our trip we managed to put ourselves in dire financial straits. We had been relying on the sale of our house to pay off our boat loan and fill our cruising kitty. However, our house had been on the market for several months and we hadn't had an offer. There were only a couple thousand dollars in our bank account. But it was early November and we had to leave Newport then or wait until the Spring. So we left, trusting that our house would sell in the new year.

Then, two days before we left Newport for Bermuda we did something very stupid. Through the wonders of electronic banking, we mistakenly double paid a very large credit card bill (containing some major expenditures from our Newport refit). We went from black to red with one click of the "enter" key. You would think it would be easy to unwind such a mistake, but apparently any bank transaction over $10,000 triggers the Patriot Act. And so it was weeks, and many expensive phone calls from Bermuda and St. Martin, before the credit card company returned the money to our bank account. In the meantime, Suzy stepped in and floated us, for which we still are very grateful. But we didn't want to be too much of a burden and so we learned to live on just a few dollars a day. Those lessons in frugality have served us well. Even after the house sold and we were once again on sound financial footing, we were still very careful about what we spent money on.

These days we'll splurge on things that matter to us - our health, communicating with friends and family, keeping the boat seaworthy and comfortable, travel, and good food and drink. But we'll always take public transportation if it is an option. We'll negotiate for anything. We never accept the first price offered. If a place has a low-cost of living, that makes it attractive to us. And so when we are asked what our favorite destinations were, we find ourselves saying things like "Indonesia - you could live really well for very little." Which we realize is not what most people look for in a vacation destination. Which only reinforces how out of sync we've become with society's values.

I'm afraid that we will lose our grasp on the frugality that set us free from the mundane and has allowed us to continue to live a different life. If we don't have another adventure to save up for, if we don't have a need to live cheaply, will we be susceptible to media and community messages that we need to buy this, that and the other thing? I know that material stuff won't make us nearly as happy as snorkeling over a pristine reef or catching a bull mahi on the fly, but we both have our weaknesses. But I'll say this now: the day we buy a wii is the day we have to head back to sea.

I'm afraid of becoming trapped by possessions. Being debt-free is so liberating. I don't want the burden of having to service a mortgage or a car loan. But how does one function on land without shelter and transportation? Maybe the answer is to only take jobs that one can reach by dinghy.

I'm afraid of losing my new found sense of self-esteem. I think I'm gorgeous (I didn't always). So does my husband. Why should I care what anyone else thinks? Why should I hold myself up against the images in magazines and on television? I know I shouldn't. But I do. Oh, I do.

Just a week with the magazines that Kate and Deb brought us on their recent visit has had a negative impact on my body image. All those lovely curves and that positive buoyancy are apparently "muffin tops," "bat wings," and "squidgy bits" that must be banished through a rigorous regime of 250 calorie meals and daily 60 minute work-outs. One magazine even suggested a lower calorie alternative to a mint julep. Is nothing sacred?

I'm afraid of losing the intimacy that I've found with my husband by spending day in and day out with him in a small space for oh, the last 1305 days or so. In three years the longest we've been apart is 15 hours. We used to do that daily. And the practice practically made us strangers. I don't want to be a stranger to my spouse.

I'm afraid of losing the happiness that we've found.

I'm afraid of losing touch with the things we've come to value.

I'm afraid of not finding another community as welcoming and supportive as the cruising community.

I'm afraid of not finding a lifestyle that we enjoy as much as this one.

I'm afraid that we'll freeze to death if we have to live through a New England winter.

I'm afraid that someone is going to let slip and reveal the ending of Lost before we have the chance to watch the last two seasons.


Marci and Joe said...

I can understand your trepidation for becoming landlubbers again. Heck, I didn't even live on a boat and I felt the same with repatriation. And still do at times! Your blog has provided me with an education, escape, laughs, and wishful dreaming over the years, and I will miss that as part of my weekly internet time. Your post today was incredibly honest, and just think, you will always have the memories and can take part of your lifestyle that you had as part of your new chapter. There will always be new things to see, do, and learn, and I am sure you will gravitate to these things and people. I am sure you have one happy kitty waiting to be with you again, too.

I do hope you continue to share your life through writing as you settle back ashore. You have an amazing way with words.

Fair winds and following seas to bring you back to your homeport!

Jay said...

Danika - you probably aren't expecting a comment from me, but everyone once in a while I check in on your journey. This entry really struck a cord with me, and is beautifully written in its honesty. Congrats on a wonderful journey and the courage it must have taken. I think what you've learned over the past 4 years will overcome any fears you have returning to your new (not old) lives on the mainland.

Jay Calhoun