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What sometimes causes the most resistance can yield astonishing results. On the day I was scheduled to leave for a vacation, we had the worst snowstorm of the season. I was greatly looking forward to it – the vacation, not the blizzard — even though I had just lost a major stream of income, and the replacement stream, while promised, had yet to materialize. And some eight inches of the nasty white stuff with a nice varnish of ice added suspense to the possibility of reaching my final destination, although perhaps not the one I was hoping for.
The trip seemed doomed even before I left my driveway, which is where my car got stuck. So I did the only sensible thing. I stood in the middle of the street in my sneakers and jogging suit – I was going to Florida, after all – and yelled for help until a neighbor gave me a much needed push so I could slide from my suburb to the next to my son Alex’s house where he was to take me to the airport. Not our main one, which of course was much closer, but a smaller, mostly cargo military base from which my cut-rate airline was scheduled to leave, arguably the only departure out of Columbus not cancelled due to weather. Fortunately Alex has a four-wheel drive Jeep because my car got immobilized– again – in the middle of his cul-de-sac.
After what could understatedly be described as harrowing run to the airport and a zig-zag takeoff that involved periodic clenching of every bodily orifice to prevent possible evacuation of same, I was on my way. Thinking that this was probably more trouble than it was worth and I should have stayed put, despite the misery of the worst winter in recent history. Which was further cemented by the fact that, on the way to Miami, my rental car narrowly missed being mangled by a chainsaw that had bounced off the truck in front of me. But there’s something to be said for assured clear distance and I can now say I truly survived I-95.
Yet it was a wonderful trip. I stayed with friends in Naples, Miami and then went on a seven-day cruise with a singles group. Our ship, the Norwegian Epic, had a 4000-person capacity but our faction, consisting of 45 intrepid souls, had a personality footprint that far exceeded the average passenger, long married 50-50s (50+ years old/50+ pounds overweight) or consumers of the unlimited booze package aka it’s 5 o’clock 24/7.
On the next to the last day of the cruise, four of us went on a dune buggy ride in Cozumel. The outskirts of city were amazing – the shoreline was wild, untamed, like California before the 1960s population explosion. Part of the trip included snorkeling, something I rarely got to do but enjoyed immensely, once I overcame my fear of never being able to breathe again. After about 15 minutes of sheer terror, I could immerse myself in the exquisite world of underwater beauty and shimmering fish.
But when we dropped off our buggies, our tour guides said it was time for lunch. But what about snorkeling, we said. Well, if you really want to go, they said. Yes, our adventuresome group of four did. So they shepherded us to a nearby hotel, supplied us with fins, masks and breathing apparatus and indicated a mossy, slippery, concrete ledge to dive off of.
Um, I don’t think so…I took one look the crumbling sharp protuberance and indicated to my companions to go ahead without me. No way was I going to leap into the choppy ocean and hit myself in the head. I may be foolhardy but I wasn’t suicidal nor did I wish to partake of long-term disability which I couldn’t afford anyway.
But boy, was it beautiful and boy did I want to snorkel. But it obviously wasn’t meant to be, so I turned to walk away. Then a voice said, “I’ll help you get in the water if you want to.”
I looked up, and a slim woman of indeterminate age stood before me. “I will hand you the mask and fins while you use the ladder to get into the water.”
I hesitated. “Really? It looks dangerous.”
“Well, it’s fine if you are careful and use the ladder,” the woman insisted. “Swim alongside the wall and you can catch up with your group. But only if you want to.”
Of course I wanted to. But I was also scared to death. But then, who knew when I’d get another opportunity to snorkel? And I was a strong swimmer and in pretty good shape. And being a self-proclaimed weenie can get tiresome after a while. So, heart pounding in fear, I slid down the ladder while the woman patiently handed me my equipment. And soon enough I was splashing my way towards my group telling myself to pace my breathing so I wouldn’t hyperventilate and pass out. And sure enough 15 minutes later I was having the time of my life.
Here’s the thing. Sometimes life kicks the crap out of you and then takes unexpected detours. But sometimes if you jump in – well, in my case, ease in at your own speed – it works out. But the path you were supposed to take and the things you had planned never happen. So you have to improvise. And if that seems foolhardy to someone else, so be it.
But I needed that vacation. It was the first real one I’d had in years and when I returned, I was able to finish a book close to deadline, launch a crowdfunding campaign for my newest project, CLOSE ENOUGH FOR GOVERNMENT WORK: A GUIDE TO AMERICA’S PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARIES (Loconeal, 2016), and acquire new clients and contracts, hopefully stabilizing my income stream.
I call it living your best life. It’s unforeseen, unpredictable and at times, really frightening, because even though I am a creative person, a little security is always nice. But an unplanned-for divorce (is there any other kind?), a child’s illness (ditto on the unexpected), and a decision in my 20s to pursue a career as a freelance writer and hence avoid anything as mundane as having my own personal pension plan wreaked havoc with any savings I might have acquired. And no one preached financial literacy to girls growing up in middle-class Dayton, Ohio in the 1960s. But it’s never too late to learn, and I have…somewhat.
Looking at it another way, life could stop us dead in our tracks at any time. And few will probably spend their last moments thinking of their IRAs and bank balances. But you will remember the snorkeling.