I Must Go Down to the Seas Again

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking,

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

                   – John Masefield, “Sea Fever”

So, in addition to National Novel Writing Month, I’ve landed regular work. I’m now working in a slaughterhouse to keep debts paid, food on the table, and gas in the car. It’s interesting work, as I’m sure you can imagine – the culture shock of being one of two middle-class boys in a company of working-class men is almost as profound as being an American in China.

I’ve run into complications with my Peace Corps application. It keeps getting delayed, waylaid, and betrayed. Keeps moving into the future, becoming more uncertain. I don’t have quite enough for the medical tests they want and I don’t have the time to call the Corps office during the work day and I don’t have the energy to really put together my appeal. Other futures keep intruding. I’m busy with the book and with work and with keeping all my creditors paid.

The Peace Corps seems more and more like a vaporous dream, like my memories of China.

Then a friend said to me “The Man In The Fedora is the Man In The Mirror.”

I started to realize what was going on inside me. I mean, I’ve always known that complacency is the enemy of a sense of adventure. Self-satisfaction and satisfaction with the circumstances around you. But I am definitely not complacent. I’m working hard, learning new things, doing something that scares the hell out of me – making a go of living and working in America. After all, if you look at it the right way, this is a sort of adventure, right?

So why doesn’t it feel like it?

And really, what is adventure to me as I near thirty? It was a young man’s fancy and a young man’s game – ultimately not a hollow pursuit, but unsatisfying by its nature. The whole ethos of “go on adventures and confront your fears and grow as a person and have great stories to tell later” was looking incomplete and threadbare – even to me. While I write Ian Brown, I feel my face contorting into a sardonic grin. Where was the money going to come from? Where was the time? What was wrong with complacency? It was for another time, when finding a job and keeping a roof over your head weren’t quite so difficult.

The grind is just as much an enemy of adventure as complacency is. The line of thought that says “I’ve worked hard all week and I’ve got the rent paid, I deserve to relax a bit.” Lachlan Atcliffe calls it “the Shitty Stability meme.” “Then the bit lasts for five years,” he notes darkly. And I could see what he meant – I saw a future of striving extending before me, where this is all there is. The job and the commute and a beer at the end of the week and a Real Life starting sometime later, the date always reeling off into the misty distance…

So I’m going back down to the sea again. I decided it when my boss asked me about stories from the tall ship this week. I’ve contacted the Lady Washington about stepping back aboard in late April or early May with a friend who’s never sailed her before. If I alert work soon enough, they’ll be willing to grant the (unpaid) time off. I can save money to cover the unavoidable expenses. It’s just close enough that I can taste the salt water and breathe the sea air, and just far enough to prepare for.

350,00 pounds of wood. 32,000 feet of line. 4,500 square feet of sail. ONE CREW.

350,00 pounds of wood. 32,000 feet of line. 4,500 square feet of sail. ONE CREW.

And, today, I became thrifty at the store. I compared prices and bought the cheaper potatoes, and yellow onions because they’re on sale at a quarter an onion. I didn’t buy the nice cheese at Trader Joe’s. Because a second helping of shephard’s pie in the Lady’s galley will taste richer and fuller than even the nicest brie.

Today, I found second wind to march forward on my National Novel Writing Month project, sitting halfway to where it should be by now, and enough left over to write a blog update.

Today, I started my appeal. And I don’t feel anemic and enervated thinking about the Peace Corps any more.

I feel my boots and my hat, I feel my body, I feel more alive having decided to go down to the sea again. I feel infused with glamour. And, as if to be sure I understood, the divine sent a fan of No Time to discuss the ideas therein over tea in a corner of the café and an invitation to a swing-dance social tonight. As if to remind me who I am. What I’m about.

The man in the fedora is the man in the mirror. And this is how I remember who he is – and how to keep him.

The grind is flat and bitter like shipboard coffee, but the spirit of adventure, the salt tang of sea air, is the savor that makes it edible. I look forward to putting in hours, to working hard, to saving my money. Each cent is another cent towards the tall ship, and even planning it has given me vigor to advance my long-term plans.

I am not saving for something vulgar and material like a new car or the latest iGadget. No! I am saving, scrimping, working towards the bite of salted line and the burn of going aloft, of full meals with my crew and chanty-sings that linger until the dawn. I am saving for an experience, an adventure that will remind me what it is to feel my boots, to feel my body’s aches and glories, to feel my fedora. To feel alive. Glorious in itself and paying dividends in the vigor to do what is  truly important to me.

I am saving to express what I am, who I am, and what I stand for.

This adventure is the antidote to the grind wearing me, and my sense of adventure, away. It may win, in the end, but not until I’ve given it one hell of a fight.

What about you?

What salt hath savor for you? What adventures can you undertake, what confrontations with the strenuous, glorious Real Life can you do? To plan a mad, beautiful experience to reaffirm what you hold dear, whether it be stepping aboard a tall ship or volunteering with your local soup-kitchen or even to take up social nudism is the surest antidote to the weekly grind slowly wearing you away to a grey remnant of who you were.

So what sort of adventure can you go on?


About R. Jean Mathieu

They say he speaks five languages, was conceived on a chess board, and once seduced a tong boss' daughter and lived to tell the tale. All we know is, he's called Roscoe. You can find more scurrilous lies at rjeanmathieu.com and buy his books at fedoraarts.com. View all posts by R. Jean Mathieu

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