One crazy year ago, I came down here for the job I’d been pursuing forever. I couldn’t believe I had snagged it at last; I was scared and excited. It still wasn’t totally mine. I would start as a casual, my main point of contact ostensibly being the union hall, and I would have to work hard and wait for the company to hire me on full-time. Things have generally gone as well as they could have gone. The year has been everything I hoped for, and more or less what I expected. Some days I’m frustrated and I feel like I will surely be a deck hand forever, but I remind myself constantly that I am living my dream, and literally nothing is lacking. I’m where I want to be and I just need to stay focused.
I’ve been living like a bohemian, doing absolutely anything I want to do on my off weeks. I spent many days up at the lake this summer, and September and October are filled to bursting with travel plans. When the whirlwind quiets down, my idea of heaven is spending the morning after I get off the boat in the cloud of down and snow-white linen that is my bed, editing and writing for SeaSisters.org and drinking bottomless black coffee. I am in the place between making a lot of money (and saving a lot of money) like I used to, and making less than I used to but still quite enough to live very comfortably. With few strings to tie me down as yet in life, I’m lucky to maintain a low cost of living. I’m far from my old chief mate wage by a long shot, and money is much tighter at the moment, but old habits die hard. I love clothes, shoes, jewelry, and camping gear (my two favorite stores in the world are Nordstrom… and REI), and any extra treat money I happen to have on hand usually goes toward one or more of those things. I love – and need – colorful objects around me. They brighten my mind. I’m a ribbon and textiles junkie, and I’m all for having some of these lower-cost color options on hand for emergencies. When I sailed on the offshore tugs in Alaska, I had a ribbon and jewelry stash in my backpack, usually including the pearl earrings my father gave me when I was thirteen, and a necklace with an Australian opal pendant given to me by his best friend (I also had the strange fear of losing these items if the boat were ever to go down… so I kept them in my ditch bag). In the lonely privacy of my stateroom I would pull the ribbons out, tie them into my hair, hang them from the coat hooks, tie them to my backpack and sea bag. On the three-month stint I did on the Aquatrain run, I got sick of staring at the boogery, scarred plywood of the top bunk inches from my face every time I lay down to sleep. I had some Vogue magazines with me, and I stapled the glossy pages to the bunk. I gazed up at those pages, at the couture gowns and flowing hair on actresses and models of all ethnicities, and cut and pieced dream clothes in my head as I drifted to sleep.
Years ago – what feels like a lifetime ago – I spent time with an old college friend in the Columbia River Gorge; the same gorge which has been tragically burning for weeks now. At the time it was still very much intact, and it was November – damp, cold, grey and beautiful. I was on my way from Seattle back to the Bay Area after taking a basic safety course. We were hiking a trail to Punch Bowl Falls, and I was telling him about the crazy new adventure I was about to attempt. In two months I would take off on a boat for the first time! I was so broke, and things would only get tougher. My life was uncertain, but there was one thing I didn’t doubt: that I could take care of myself. And my silly devotion to creature comforts would live through every up and down along the way. When my friend asked me what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted for myself, I thought for a moment, and then I said “as long as I have a warm bed and pretty things, I think I’ll be fine”. Of course relationships with loved ones take precedence, and good health and intellectual stimulation are beneficial, too. But this was the way I approached the simple things: every woman should allow herself a warm bed and pretty things, and every human should be afforded the space and opportunities to find safety and comfort, perhaps even a small luxury now and then. I can think of nothing more wonderful. So even though work can be a grind; though my hands are rough and the crows’ feet around my eyes are deepening and the sun bakes the back of my neck until it is dark brown; I am in love with life and the delicious luxuries I am so privileged to afford for myself. I have everything I need and want, and more.