Sterling Hayden. A good actor. Who can forget his mad air force general muttering about precious bodily fluids while orchestrating the end of the world in Dr. Strangelove?
Hayden was a sailor. Perhaps the quintessential American Twentieth Century sailor. He provided the model so many have aspired to. A creative spirit, he was wild and untamed. He did what he had to do to pay the bills and then ran off to sea every chance he got. He was easy to admire; strong, handsome, a warrior. He was the kind of “star” we could relate to. In our own fantasies we might have wished,
“If fame falls to me… Oh, to handle it like Sterling Hayden did!”
The dream he came to represent grew increasingly creaky over the years. From the 1960s to the 1980s the face of adventure sailing morphed from the likes of Sterling Hayden into Jimmy Buffett. The dream, like every other dream in this culture had been thoroughly co-opted. It became a “lifestyle.” It was a “brand” surrounded by other brands. One could buy it piecemeal or get it wholesale, a package deal with an endorsement from a rum company and franchise outlets everywhere that Romanticism had found an impression of the remote, the fantastic, the other.
We are in a hangover from this period. This is an important fact of these difficult times. Difficult times begin to put the recent – and not so recent – past into a new perspective. They challenge us to do more with less.
Doing more with less. This is a particular kind of challenge. It matters how we approach it. If we remain within the chaotic mash-up of assumptions and expectations we’ve been led to believe within a culture that looks at us the way a predator looks at its prey, then we push on, doubling-down, chasing “efficiencies,” and staying mired in a frustration that all of these efforts cannot touch.
What if we look at this challenge, doing more with less, as an opportunity to discover what matters and bend our efforts, modify our habits of desire, to bring the discovery and articulation of meaning into the center of our lives?
No matter how “cool” the icons of the Twentieth Century might have been, their lives were a chronicle of failure and despair. If we give it a little thought, it’s not at all surprising. Even someone with the courage and aplomb of a Sterling Hayden split his life into despised career and desired avocation. No matter how well we might handle each part, when every effort is split and broken, the whole does not cohere. Our efforts degrade into an insistence to impose our will on reality. We strive to conquer balance, when balance can only emerge from coherence. It cannot be manufactured out of fragments.
There’s an ambivalence at the heart of my relationship with yachting. On many levels it celebrates everything divisive and destructive within our culture of accumulation. But at the same time, yachting has sheltered great value and meaning right at the heart of its showroom-lit darkness. Without this haven for fundamental knowledge and a community of practice these avenues for wisdom would have disappeared from memory. This apparent contradiction is just one of many paradoxical situations we find ourselves in today.
We shy away from ambivalence. We forget that it provides access to paradox. It’s an open door, a refusal to accept that whatever seems broken will always remain that way. I find myself looking for a transition, for a way out of disintegration and imbalance. Boats are pivotal for me and I’m discovering they are for others, as well. I have a seasoned conviction of the value of boats. They are conduits of meaning. Their value to us so much more than mere vessels of escape.
We can benefit from examining the pitfalls of our expectations. We can wrinkle something important out of challenging the habits of mind we’ve inherited. We can learn from how these paths have closed and been co-opted.
No wonder the Jimmy Buffett craze sailed on a tequila sea! How else could we continue to believe there was anything left to find that way? Chasing manufactured dreams across barren seas on vessels designed to take advantage of us. The business of escape is a trap. Sterling Hayden recognized this. The day-job he longed to escape was at the heart of the escape industry! He strove to sail away from the veritable belly of the beast!
As “jobs” sink out from under us, we have no choice but to look elsewhere. There are other ways to build meaningful, integrated lives. Boats – totems we’ve been conditioned to see merely as vessels of escape – can reintroduce us to purposefulness. Tugging on our imaginations, they may carry us there. We are poised to unravel the paradox of “pleasure” boats leading us beyond “happiness” to the enduring satisfactions of an integrated life.
There will be more here soon on a specific project that might shed light on one notion of how this might look. In the meantime, let’s examine how we might integrate boats into life. In rejecting the worn-out expectation that boats only offer escape, we might find that they can truly be vessels of transformation.
The first step is to let go of the primacy-of-desire. We are accustomed to believe that what we wish for is more important than what is essential. The prison of false security is barred by our insistence to follow ill-considered desires. Bending to meet this challenge requires discipline. The glimmers of value and hints at meaning we catch in glimpses in our every interaction with our boats, brings us the courage to adapt how we might respond.
Let’s leave these hangovers of “Margarita-ville” behind! Let us strengthen our powers of imagination. Life is too valuable to surrender to hollow dreams of escape. The strength and character we admire in our boats is good for more than just “sailing away….”
So are we.