My kayak is sky blue.
Can I let you in on a little secret? I’ve only actually kayaked once in my life. Another secret? I have one of those obsessive compulsive personalities. Like not medical OCD, but definitely obsessive, fixated, single-minded, somewhat compulsive, and often impulsive. If I get an idea in my head I tend to fixate on it, and if it stays there and I mull over it long enough I’m liable to make a compulsive and largely impulsive decision to act on it.
My most recent obsession is boats.
And by recent I don’t actually mean recent. The love and fascination I have for boats and water has been a part of me for forever. I grew up taking annual lake trips out on my grandpa’s ski boat in the Ozarks. I loved sitting on my dad’s lap and holding the steering wheel as he drove. My favorite seat in the boat was the bow, where I could feel the wind on my face and in my hair, and take the full force of every wave as we skipped across the water, and feel the spray when we slowed. (Who am I kidding, using past tense? This is all still true. Except the part about sitting on Dad’s lap; I’m a little too big for that now.) As far as I’m concerned, Kenneth Graham hit the nail completely on the head when he wrote in The Wind in the Willows, “There is nothing—absolutely nothing—half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.”
Boats and water have made it into most of my wandering imaginations, especially in my writing. Most writers have a pet project, commonly referred to by said writers as “my baby.” It’s that manuscript or idea that they hold dearest, even if they work on a thousand projects over a thousand years, this is their favorite. It’s a most treasured, most intimate part of themselves that they love more than life, guard fiercely, and are terrified of sharing lest someone reject it. It’s what they hang all their writerly hopes and dreams on; the defining work of their writer’s career. If the story is going well, the world is rosy and full of hope. If not, a writer can quickly fall into despair and question whether they have any right to call themselves a writer. Sad but true.
My “baby” is a story involving—you guessed it—boats. To be more specific, pirates. And I’ve treasured this story for over ten years. It began as the product of a pre-teen drama queen writer’s lovesick imagination, but has grown with me and matured by my side for the past decade. I can look back on drafts and track my own personal growth through the dialogue and development of my characters, for good or ill. This story has cultivated in me this love of the sea and seafaring, of tall ships, nautical jargon, the Age of Sail, anchors, maritime history, ocean science, marine life, you name it. Nautical influences have creeped into my wardrobe, home décor, bookshelves, and desktop wallpaper. I’ve spent years of my life researching life at sea, reading all the classic nautical accounts, trying to imagine up exact descriptions of how the wind sounds on the water or what it’s really like to chase the horizon. It’s hard to imagine my life separate from this story. And by consequence, it’s hard to imagine my life separate from ships and sailing.
Have I mentioned I live in a completely landlocked state?
That’s beside the point. You work with what you’ve got. And what I’ve got is a kayak. One of those impulsive purchases that I don’t regret in the slightest. Of course, between weather, availability, and other logistics, my kayak and I have only had one excursion out on the water to date. But the fact remains: I have a boat. I refer to myself as the captain, and if anyone objects, I can trump their argument with the line, “Of the two of us, which of us actually owns a boat?” There’s something to it, something more than just the fact that I got on Craigslist and made an impulse buy. It’s almost a coming of age of my imagination: look, you’ve been longing for and dreaming about the water for so long, now you’ve got the resources to make it real. Go for it.
Moana speaks to my heart in a very real way, y’all.
The other thing I’ve got is plane ticket to Houston and a registration with the American Sailing Association’s Bay Area Sailing School off Galveston. I’ve read the textbook. I’ve practiced tying sailor knots till I could do it with my eyes closed. I bought boat shoes. Yes, ladies and gents, I’m going to be a sailor (with real sails, sorry kayak) if only for a weekend.
I suppose the moral of the story is this: dreams are good and fine, but it won’t do to let them be dreams forever. You can collect all the nautical lingo and anchor-shaped jewelry you want, but until you get on a boat, you’re just a landlocked daydreamer. Don’t just dream. Take steps. Even very small, kayak-shaped ones.
My kayak’s name is the Ellie Sparrow. She’s named for two Disney characters, both of whom share her spirit: for Pixar’s Ellie Fredrickson, who taught me that “Adventure is out there!” And for Captain Jack Sparrow, who taught me the all-important lesson that it’s not the size of your boat that matters, it’s whether or not you have one. That’s what makes you a captain.