About 15 years ago, I leaned into my fear of controlling everything in my life, and bought a sailboat for $12,500. I’d never touched a sailboat before, and it returned my (intended) caress with the ferocity of a baseball bat to the face. I’d adopted its rhythms as my own, and five years later that little 27’ boat (Jolly Mon) was still my home. Before or since, I never felt so integrated into the natural world.
Then I met a girl who supported my dream to adventure beyond horizons, so we bought a 38’ sailboat with good bones. For the next 2.5 yeares, we spent every extra moment and dollar making Lost Adventurer into an ocean crossing storm skewering marvel. Longer shakedown cruises brought uncertainty, with “I thought this would be more fun” repeatedly coming to mind.Six months later we’d sold the boat, quit our jobs, and left North America. A month later in Borneo, I watched with sadness (for Lost Adventurer) and pride (in how much I’d learned) as the emailed pictures loaded from top to bottom — the rich new buyer had sunk the boat.
People I barely knew told me how selling the boat was the worst decision I would ever make…You had the dream, and you walked away. Yes I did, and I was well-aware of the sunk costs. Seven years of my life….10% of my expected lifetime… was spent on a dream that didn’t work. That couldn’t ever happen again. I had a cryptic message carved into in my shoulder so I could never forget where creativity and adventure cost me — I’d take the ‘classic’ path to success and happiness now.
Two awesome kids and a supportive wife… and the creative adventurer waited.
The number of cracks on my classic path was accelerating though.
A tiny un-heated room in our rental almost converted itelf into a glass workshop
To supplement my Harvard postdoc salary, I converted our rented garage into a woodlot two summers ago, ‘buying in Western Maryland and selling in Boston for 5-times more’. It was exhausting, but it taught me a great deal about wood species, cuts, and the desires of wood buyers. It also put shoes and winter coats on the boys.
I held back some of the most beautiful wood that passed through my hands, converted our attic into a woodshop, and started making. I juried into the local Harvard Artist’s Cooperative, but was told my work was too large and expensive. Could I make something small and cheap? I held my tongue, swallowed my aspirations, and made some stacked glass trees for Christmas money.
My Dad (amazingly supportive financier and partner in all this) started fielding calls for increasingly unique wood around his home in Maryland. We bought and sold the typical live edge slabs and reinvested in the wood outliers… spalted curly maple, custom sawn walnut burl, sapwood striped walnut blanks, monster-sized cherry and oak and hickory burl cookies… the beauty of this wood takes my breath away.
I’m proud of the boldness of that younger Lee who bought those sailboats. I’m also proud of walking away.
The memories and the tattoo have faded. Our boys are blossoming with our quirks and mannerisms as well as some of their own. The world is a different place than it was when the internet and social media was young. That ‘classic recipe’ of getting some degrees and a lifetime job and a family for a happy life hasn’t worked out perfectly for me. This seems like a recipe of doom for my young boys.
Each of us has a forward path aligned from our history, but we can alter it at any moment.
Fear of failure has restrained my creativity for decades. I’m thankful for the grit that time buried inside of me. I’m thankful for the incredible artists posting their work online. I’m thankful for my wife and Dad’s support to plunge into a tunnel when there quite possibly isn’t a light at the end.
We are all struggling to be our full authentic selves, and for me, the first step beyond the classic path came by ‘owning’ and then embracing all these public and private facets of myself.
Much like the sync that happens to a sailor after weeks in the ocean, wood and glass requires a slowness and focus that isn’t apparent to the observer.
Our pieces will make you smile at the beauty of past stories (yours and theirs) and compel you to re-think your boundaries and your future.
…off to sand some wood… until next time, Be the change you want to see in the world.