I was 27 years old when I lost my job (budget cuts) and my roommate (mold allergy) in the same day. I cried and sulked around my soon-to-be-unaffordable apartment for about an hour, wondering what I was going to do with my less-than-ideal situation when it hit me: this was an opportunity, not a setback. I wanted to travel. This was the perfect time to see the world before I settled into my next job, whatever it would be. I sold my car, the only object I owned worth something, and bought myself a one-way ticket to Newfoundland, Canada. From there I went on to Ireland, France, Germany, Portugal, and Spain. I traveled for 7 months before I returned to Michigan for my brother’s wedding and used my tax return to fund one last excursion back to Spain.
It was spontaneous; some say it was brave. Ultimately, it was an escape.
I’m a partial subscriber to the following phrase: How you do anything is how you do everything. I use the word “partial” in honor of my 11th grade English teacher who taught us to “avoid generalizations and sweeping statements” at all costs. Still, I believe this statement to be mostly true. When I choose a book, I’m occasionally spontaneous in my selection—sometimes swayed, dare I say it, by the design on the cover (gasp!) or by the synopsis inside the book jacket.
I had never heard of Newfoundland before I chose to visit. I simply enjoyed the fact that it was surrounded by water, and that it was the last stop off point on my way to Europe. Plus, the Google images were stunning, and I’d have the chance to see whales, puffins, and icebergs.
When I choose a book, I occasionally operate by word of mouth (so and so said this was a must read), or by acclamations (which books are dominating the press and garnering the awards).
While in Newfoundland, I stumbled upon the most beautiful boat I’d ever seen—a Kelly-green schooner anchored in Trinity Bay. I learned, by word of mouth, that the boat was called the Leah Caroline, and that it was made by one of Newfoundland’s very last and most highly acclaimed Master Boat Builders, Henry Vokey, a man well into his 80s.
I’m occasionally brave, opting for memoirs about trauma and loss that force me to confront my own trauma, or venturing into a genre I typically avoid (horror, at all costs). A few hours after I first laid eyes on the Leah Caroline, I was on the phone with Henry Vokey asking for a visit. I can’t recall another time in my life when I felt the need to seek out a stranger just to say thank you! Thanks for following your dream and inspiring me with your story; thanks for not giving up, for bringing this beautiful creation to life.
In the end, the books I choose (and the places I visit) are most always an escape.
I stood in Henry Vokey’s cavernous shed looking at his latest project—an even longer, 57-foot schooner. Smooth bands of blonde wood curled out and flanked upwards from the keel like a broad set of ribs. The hull was supported on all sides by wooden planks, and big metal clamps held everything in place. I felt certain I was witnessing the beginning of something great—even legendary.
The wood was as smooth as satin when I skimmed my hand slowly over the port side. Specs of sawdust hung in the air, glimmering in beams of sunlight sneaking through the cracks in the old shed; a bed of thin, supple wood shavings curled at my feet, and the faint sound of FM radio hummed in the background.
And if I’m lucky, the books I read will be memorable, just like my experience with Henry.
Henry was 3,000 nails and two years into his final project when I met him, and although he never did get to finishing it before he passed away earlier this year, he’ll forever remind me of the importance of working at the things I love, the things worth creating.
I often think how this experience would not have been possible if I hadn’t lost my job and my roommate in the same day, or taken a chance and bought that one-way ticket, but I’m forever grateful that I did. So it is with books. How you do anything is how you do everything. Mostly.
You never know what adventures await or what stories might bless you for a lifetime, until you pick up that book (or buy that ticket) and begin.