One of the more liberating and enlightening things that have happened to me as I grow more experienced in life (euphemism for “older”) is discovering how damn true some trite sayings are. I’ve always loved, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” or any of the numerous paraphrases of that truism. Just google it, and there are dozens of attributions and alternative ways to say it.
As a firm believer in the value of planning, I also have learned to not place much trust in anything actually happening the way it was planned. I generously call this “maturity.” Such is the case with the Life At Sea Cruise. My apologies to everyone for me being so silent on this blog site for over a month, but life threw me a curve ball and I’m still figuring out how to best integrate that reality into my game plan.
The short description of what happened is that my ability to go on this cruise at all is in question, and much of the answer is not up to me. What is up to me is how to deal with whatever realities come out of this situation when the process of testing, questioning, and alternative planning has run its course—hopefully by the end of August. I’m not deliberately trying to be obtuse—well maybe I am, a bit. It is a health-related issue that, until I know more, I want to keep a bit close to my vest. My friends know I am incurably open and there is a fair chance I’ll get into more detail at some point when I figure out how to make sense of it all and come up with a workable plan. I can tell you now that the remaining alternatives are ALL exciting, and I have never felt better about life. Until things “settle in”, practice your tolerance for ambiguity. Sorry about that. Besides, the specifics don’t really impact the point of this blog. Part of that point is to just get this post “out there” and be back in touch with you all after a prolonged absence.
I don’t participate, much, in commenting anywhere on the Internet. This includes the “Portal” a resident-only website that Miray runs for those of us who have (1) committed to making the trip, (2) paid at least a significant part of the initial financial requirements, and (3) signed a contract. I do, however, read much of what’s there and have derived a gut sense of some of the residents’ personalities. On rare occasions, I’ve jumped in by responding to some comment or another as I dip my toe in the vast oceans of personalities and opinions that make up the community I hope and plan to spend three years with while wandering around on actual oceans. Most of them seem to be in it largely for the excitement of doing something new and untried with a bunch of similar souls. Happily (for me) I don’t sense that many of them are in it for the “cruise” aspect of it. Life on a regular cruise ship is bizarre. Just ask anyone that’s been on the crew of a cruise ship. If that was what I anticipate this to be, I wouldn’t go. Maybe I’ll be wrong and it turns out to be much more of a usual “cruise ship experience” than I anticipate. I don’t think so, and that’s why I’m going. I don’t know that it’s possible to experience something extraordinary if you aren’t willing to take a risk and give up the security of what is known. There are no guarantees.
I’ll just say that in thinking through what originally attracted me to this trip, it was the prospect of spending three years being able to concentrate on something personal and doing it in the midst of ample opportunities to step outside of my cabin and interact with like-minded souls. As much as I’ve come to love my Namibian home and town, there aren’t a lot of people here I identify with. Over time, I’ve developed relationships, here, who have become intimately valued friends. They have enriched my life, and that means so much more than having good acquaintances.
The anticipated shipboard community that could form, the unexpected events, and the personal stories of the residents were (and are) what drive me to make this journey the next part of my life. And being able to do that for three years with regular changes in scenery and available distractions by walking only a few moments outside of my cabin was, and is, enticing.
Sure, I want to see places and interesting stuff. But the conversations and getting to know other peoples’ stories, and how they feel about those stores, underlies my passion for this trip. That, and the opportunity to spend three concentrated years working to do something I’ve always wanted to do but never been able to accomplish. I most sincerely want to become a decent writer. The way I define that word, it requires the same thing I loved so much about acting: recognizing the value of the depths and emotions of my life and expressing those tenuous essentials such that other people can relate to my efforts and find value in the words and stories.
Yet, all of a sudden, my ability to join this cruise, at least for the first year, maybe ever, has been threatened by something I have little control over. That sucks. But it does afford me the “opportunity” to figure out how to get what I really wanted, anyway. If it turns out that I can’t go on 1 Nov, there is a good chance I can go after one year. That might mean being able to join the trip one year after the initial embarkation in Istanbul. I would spend the first year doing the same things on my personal list that I’d planned on, just doing them here in my home in sub-Saharan Africa or back in the U.S.A. Then, maybe, I could join the trip off the west coast of North America in a year or so. That would have to be OK with Miray, of course, and I’m pretty sure I’d have to keep the three-year contract, but perhaps I might be able to sell my space to someone for the first year? This is a question I have begun to explore, but can’t yet answer. It is just one of a dozen maybes and choices, one of which is that I depart on time! I’m hoping for that one, although it does seem to be creeping toward “unlikely.”
Of more importance is my attitude. “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” (Credited to Epictetus about 130 CE, so it’s hardly an original thought.)
In a way, this unexpected bump in the road is an opportunity to live what I have said to others, and have advised, for years. Make the best of what you have, always, and don’t waste time moaning about what you don’t have, or had and then lost. Let’s see—what’s really changed? The negatives: I need to do some minorly irritating and majorly expensive self-care for about a year. I (probably) won’t be able to leave on the MV Lara on 1 Nov. Those are the only really objective negatives I can think of. Lots of stuff won’t be the way I planned/wanted it to be, of course. But nine years ago I didn’t think I would move to Africa and be very happy with a group of wonderful friends from entirely new cultures to me, and own a comfortable home, here. That worked out OK for sure.
On the plus side, there is a long list of stuff that can be really great if I simply decide to do something about it and make it good. I’ll learn to become a decent writer. I’ll experience new friendships and support from lifelong friends. That last part touches my soul, and it’s already started (details in a future post). I’ll join the MV Lara in a year and get to meet and converse with the residents for “only” two years instead of the preferred three, and that’s a seriously cool thing to even be able to do it for two years. I’ll have taken care of a significant health issue before I board so it won’t sneak up on me while I’m on board. And the list goes on. And by far most of the things are, or can be, positive. They just aren’t what I planned on.
When I was an actor, I studied with Cliff Osmond who also became a friend and mentor over the years. When I was considering moving to Los Angeles from San Francisco, and told him how it scared me because LA could be such a tough, unforgiving, place for actors, he said to me, “All of the best and worst of life is around you all the time. Your life will be what you choose to pay attention to.” Cliff was one of the most human and expressive teachers I’ve ever had, and I never forgot that bit of—wisdom? And it is so very true.
I love my life, and I feel enormously grateful every day for the opportunities I’ve had, and for the failures I’ve experienced because I tried and it didn’t work out. My yardstick for measuring success evolved over the years into the following question: “When I look in a mirror, do I like and respect who I see?” No reference to what others think or to the “prevailing wisdom” but increasing self-reliance and honesty in self-acceptance. There were times I had to be honest with myself and say “Nope, don’t respect that guy very much.” And when I realized that was my response, I’d try to do something about it. I’m still very far from where I’d like to be on some of those issues, but I’m so very far ahead of where I was. Life is good.
I hope you can relate to some of what I’ve tried to express here. And I’m back to blogging. My intention is to continue to work on this “LifeAtSea.Blog” as I originally intended, and to use it as a way to stay in touch with the resident community on board the MV Lara, and to allow you (and maybe me) to virtually be part of the journey, whether or not I am physically on board. My goals haven’t changed. The only thing that has changed is my ability to work on the goals in one place vs. another.
Ya’ know, that really isn’t so bad. “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.” No kidding—make the best of it, and move on.