We had sailed three-quarters of the way across the Atlantic in my 33-foot sailboat, when my first mate said to me, “Mathias, this is a fantastic voyage you are on. You don’t know how your life will unfold from now on. Once you’re on a voyage, you don’t know where it will take you or how long it will last.”
I politely acknowledged his attempt to glorify the trip my wife and I had begun, but inside I dismissed his comments as naive. I had planned this voyage carefully. I knew our route, perhaps not the specific ports, but more or less the order of countries. I knew we would return in two years. I knew we would settle back into my house which I was renting out in the meantime, and we would pursue the job prospects we had lined up for our return.
Our boat burned and sank. The tragedy turned our two-year trip to three. Our marriage ended. The income prospects have not panned out. I haven’t returned to my house. And I am still voyaging.
As much as I have always encouraged people to take the risk of casting off, my experiences would make anyone think twice.
While my heart still holds look-out in the crow’s nest for home and hearth, my mind has gotten used to standing watch on this journey deeper and deeper into myself. The year of 2014 has been one of the most significant of my life. I returned to land and began wandering through my old assumptions of self and life.
I flew to Germany mid-December to visit with my three siblings. I was accompanied by my daughter who is choosing to spend the next phase of her life here. The eve before returning to America, I postponed and found a one-room flat to rent. I don’t know exactly what prompted me to take this sudden turn. At some point, you navigate by instinct. I rented a Spartan room and began writing. Every day I wrote. I had already written a non-fiction book about my voyage, but this writing was the beginning of a novel.
Writing a novel is hard work. I dare say it’s harder than being on a sailing voyage. But both are similar in that the greatest challenges and richest rewards are inside your head.
But here’s a difference between crossing the ocean and writing a novel: When I cast off for my transatlantic passage, I was confident that I would accomplish the feat. In fact, I can say that of every major achievement in my life, I was sure beforehand that I would accomplish it. I knew I could run a weekly newspaper. I knew I could run a factory well.
What I didn’t know -- and still don’t -- is if I can produce a good novel. I find myself, of late, oddly motivated by attempting something I am unsure I can achieve to my own satisfaction.
That is a whole new type of voyage.
Yes, there is a boat in the book. The book is about one man’s relationship to a boat, and, by association, an examination of humans’ relationships to the things we create. I attempt to write only about the former in such a way that the latter will be inferred.
But there is a corresponding voyage I have been undertaking since the decision to postpone my return to America: That one is into myself.
I have never lived as
(I am excluding periods of time where I lived by myself, but I was constantly on the search for gratification or affirmation from women.) I have always depended on the love of a woman. Without going into too much confessional diatribe, this dependency has led to all manner of problems.
What is love? What is expectation? Can one engage in one without the other? What is self? To what extent does my “self” depend on the expectation of love from another?
Can I live without that expectation?
Can I live for, and love, just my ... self?
It is a fascinating voyage to be on while writing a book about a man who makes a promise to dedicate his life to his boat.
In the meantime, I am working on starting a maritime appreciation program. I am on the search for a traditional sailing vessel that I can get certified for passengers and then impart my love of ship and sea to others.
I will keep you posted.
In the meantime, here are some photos from my stay here in Leipzig and Germany in general.
|I live on the third floor of this building in the Erdmannstrasse.|
|The owners bought it from the Communist city government and did a nice job of restoring it.|
|My one-room flat with a twin bed. Just enough room for me and my imagination.|
|Just about every day, I go for walks in the endless parks. I think of my novel. I think of letting go. I think of embracing.|
|This river through Leipzig reminds me of the Charles in Boston. I walk across it every time I walk to downtown.|
|Since this is, after all, a sailing blog, lest you think I have been neglecting boats, I visited the Rhodes Chesapeake 33, which my brother (shown) has owned for close to two decades and which he is currently renovating in Köln.|
|It's worth clicking on this one to enlarge it. I also visited my old friend, the Rhein and watched barges plow through its formidable current.|
|During a visit to Hamburg, my brother-in-law and I took our beloved walk to one of the largest harbors in the world.|
|Leipzig: I cannot yet articulate all that I have learned from you but I know I will be contemplating your lessons for a long, long time to come.|