A reporter recently asked, “I’ve read some of your lessons-learned from your Year by the Water, but I can’t find anything on WHY you did it. What prompted you to give away 95% of what you owned and set off on this adventure?”
Good point. Here’s the backstory …
In 2015, I was driving along the Pacific Coast, about a half hour south of Santa Barbara. All of a sudden my mind was filled with an idea that wanted to be born.
If you’re like me, you know how important it is to ink it when you think it. So, I pulled over, and here’s what poured out. (Really. You can’t make this stuff up.)
“Some people are drawn to fire. I am drawn to water. After all, we are 65 percent water. It is our essence, our lifeblood. All of us are bodies of water.
Yet, as Maslow pointed out, water is a fulfilled need. And fulfilled needs tend to get overlooked and taken for granted.
So it is that I set out on my Year by the Water on October 1.
I will spend a week by a different body of water — oceans, estuaries, mountain streams. Each week will have a theme. Can we really not step in the same river twice? Does salt water — sea, tears and sweat — cure what ails us? Why can’t we collect all the shells on the beach?
So, Chesapeake Bay, Marina Del Rey… here I come. I will interview people along the way — surfers, swimmers, sailors. I will swim with dolphins, houseboat on Lake Tahoe, snuba in Maui, sail off the coast of California.
I am clear that I am supposed to set this in motion and be open to suggestions. Instead of planning or controlling it, I am supposed to do the opposite of my always and partner and cooperate with what wants to happen.
And so it is.”
I realized how fortunate I was to have a “calling” downloaded to me – with a name and a start date no less – and I answered the call.
In retrospect, I think I was so ready and willing to make this major change because of something my son said a few months before when he had had called to check in. Andrew sensed a weariness in my voice and asked, “Whazzup?”
I told him, “I’m exhausted. I’ve been in an all-day consult. I need to take the red-eye and then fly back for a convention in two days. I’m so tired, I don’t even know how I’m going to get on this plane tonight.”
He said, “Mom, I don’t understand this. You’ve created a life where you can do pretty much anything you want, and you’re not taking advantage of it. Why don’t I book you a hotel? You can run your business from the road the next few days.”
An hour later, I went to sleep in the Laguna Beach Hotel with the sound of the ocean outside my window. The next day, I played hooky. I strolled the streets and found an independent bookstore with a whole shelf of books on writing.
As I immersed myself in the pages, a voice welled up in me, “I am a writer. That’s what I am.” But I’ve been too busy consulting, speaking, raising a family and paying the bills to write. Yes, I’ve authored several books that have done well, but months go by when I want to write and don’t have time to write.
Andrew nailed it. I have an open nest. Why am I still working 24/7, filling my calendar with commitments?
Paulo Coelho says, “One day you’re going to wake up and there won’t be any time left to do the things you’ve always wanted to do.”
What have I always wanted to do? Write full time. Be in and around water. Explore the world.
So I set off to do, as Anne Sexton says, some of the things that when I’m doing them, I don’t want to be doing anything else — while I still have the time, health, autonomy and freedom to do so.
A friend asked, “Is this a year-long vacation?” No.
James Taylor was asked in a recent CBS Sunday Morning interview why it’s been 13 years since his last album. He said, “I’ve been touring non-stop. I need empty space for songs to come to me and through me. Writing isn’t taking time off work, it’s doing a different kind of work.”
I was eager to do a different kind of work. To have “empty space” instead of a jam-packed calendar, to wake up every morning, free to explore and write about my experiences and insights, using water in its many forms as a metaphorical palette.
Fast-forward eighteen months.
The irony is, my Year (and a half) by the Water ended up not being about the water.
Yes, I had fabulous experience. I did swim with dolphins, sail the Chesapeake Bay, stroll Monet’s famous lily pond in France, watch whales breach in Maui, and make waves and catch rays on mountain lakes.
But, to my surprise, my travels ended up being more about epiphanies than places. (More about that here.)
I have – for the moment – wrapped up my Year by the Water. I share what prompted that decision here.
Here’s what I know for sure. After I spend time with my sons and their new families, I will hit the road again.
I still haven’t seen Helen Keller’s lake where she said her first word … water. I still haven’t seen Walden Pond, the Great Lakes and the Hudson Valley in fall.
I have, as they say, wanderlust and wonderlust.
I plan to be a sun-bird. (My version of a snow-bird.) I will spend part of the year with my sons and their families and the other part of the year I will explore, seek new adventures, welcome new experiences and insights. Who says you can’t have the best of both worlds?
Colette said, “What a wonderful life I’ve had. I only wish I had realized it sooner.”
I realize what a wonderful life I have and I’m appreciating and making the most of it now … not someday.