catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 3 :: 2013.02.01 — 2013.02.14


Of no state at all

Before I begin, I have to set this up a little. You see, for all the (not professional) preaching I do about the necessity of change as a way of growth, when the slightest of transitions comes around the bend I usually can’t help but head toward it with fisticuffs at the ready. So for the time being, I am deferring to others when it comes to things like changing jobs or homes or foolproof plans. I want to see how, as a people, we deal with these shifts, the great and small, the planned and unexpected, and if I’m honest, I want to get a little better at it myself.

First, I decide to talk with someone who is well practiced in being boundless, borderless, and in transition: my cousin, Allison. Her qualifications? Last year she circumnavigated the world via cargo ship.

Yes, that’s correct. Circumnavigated the world. Cargo ship.

If you’re wondering what kind of person would do this, the answer is a very daring kind, one who is willing to trade in any sense of security for a plan as solid as a route tentatively penciled-in on a world map.

I talk with Allison via Skype to get a small taste of what this nomadic year was all about.

The foundation of her plans was simple: she knew what she wanted to do — travel with different cargo crews to learn more about the international trade industry — and she knew it was possible. I assumed her trip would be thoroughly calculated down to the hours of boarding various ships but was surprised to learn (as I followed her travel blog) that this was more of a wing-and-a-prayer kind of deal. Of course, by “winging it,” I mean to say she clocked countless hours talking with captains and trade organizations and locals at port along the way. Thanks to her continual efforts, Allison did just what she set out to do.

Now, at this point, I’m not so sure my dear cousin is the person I should be talking to. She is a little too courageous and trusting. My worries about having to move in a year or two seem ridiculous in comparison to her having to find a way home from China! I know the ending of the story: everything turns out okay despite the lack of a thorough plan from the get-go.

Allison is the only person I know who has literally lived the phrase “go with the flow.”

This alone disproves almost everything I believe.

I hold out hope. We’re related so I have to have some of this blood in my veins, too. Instead of promptly hanging up our call (citing pure heresy!), I continue to listen.

Though she was traveling as a documentary journalist, the nature of Allison’s work lent itself to being in community with a ship’s crew rather than acting as a detached researcher. She shares that the people she met onboard offered her a personal connection to countries she had never visited.  She remembers a man who gave her a more genuine feel for Polish culture than a vacation to the country ever would. As she puts it, the people on board “carried home with them” and yet it sounds like there was a startling lack of territorialism for people living in such close quarters. On the water, in these below deck conversations, something is lifted, some veneer of our social niceties, some protective boundary, something that keeps us from showing each other who we really are. 

She talks about being back on land, in her home state of North Carolina, and says that things can feel more “scattered,” a word that so completely paints the picture and yet feels backwards. Logic would assume that we should be more grounded on land with our familiar routes and patterns and safe borders. Instead, we are all over the place trying to find what we need at school or work, in the gym or Starbucks. On a journey, on an adventure around the world, you only carry and even share the essentials: what is most important? Most necessary? Most highly valued? Whatever it is, that’s all you bring.

Is this the key to change? To identify what grounds you wherever you are?

And is this why I’m so scattered?

Am I trying to hold on to everything — my clothes, my home, my way — in an effort to keep my feet on land and change at bay?

Change is real and as we know, so is love. I try to hold the two together, I imagine a “Home Is Where The Heart Is” cross-stitch. I’m disappointed that this cliché is the moral of the story so I try to see it this way: to change, to bud, to grow, to get on the boat, to get off the boat, to attempt to walk on water we must be deeply rooted in something that makes us light and free, that doesn’t tie us to one place or possession and doesn’t threaten us if something inside says it’s time to go.

Thank you, Allison, for sharing your story and for helping me learn a little bit more about going with the flow, trusting the tide, and other nautical-themed change metaphors. If you are interested in learning more about Allison’s trip check out A Year at Sea.

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