Saturday, April 6, 2019

Seven at Sea

Seven at Sea: Why a New York City Family Cast Off Convention for a Life-Changing Year on a Sailboat, by Eric Orton & Emily Orton
Three ARCs have languished on my shelf over summer until they've degraded to simply RC's.  And boxes of books keep arriving.  So when three people I love said they'd finished a book not on my trade list and would I like to read it, I thought, "I'll get to it when I can."  But yesterday I was guided by a sudden exigent need for their rec to jump the queue.  I read all afternoon.

For the sake of transparency, it must be said I'd already heard of the Ortons.  The aforementioned recommending trio has lovingly spoken of this family for years; I even have Karina Orton on my Spotify playlist -- and not just because the recommendations of people I love matter, but because I really like Karina's music.  But I've never met the Orton family or communicated with them.  It's possible my awareness of a single degree of separation between us heightened my connection with their story, but I don't know that I could read Erik and Emily's writing and not connect with their tender honesty, under any circumstance.

Their story is an interweaving of recounted experiences and family philosophy, both of which I found compelling and resonant.

I began reading with a degree of disconnect founded on my certainty I'd struggle to relate to these people who had done something I couldn't fathom even considering.  I'm open to risks and adventure, but braving the beautiful and terrifying ocean?  With my kids?  I surely would find these sea people, other; I'd be just fine viewing them like fascinating specimens with whom I didn't consociate.

I was so wrong.  I felt their family meetings, mulled on their marital growth, nodded at their mantras, and reflected with gratitude on my own spouse's unfailing support of my "day jobs" (home-schooling and writing) and unconventional pursuits (like opening an art gallery at a very inexperienced 21).  I felt alive reading the Ortons' story. 

They weren't this other, Sailing Sort I'd assumed they were.  They were instead dreamers who consciously set goals and became sailors in spite of not inherently being that.  The well-selected opening chapter lays excellent exposition, clarifying the Ortons' exceptional experiences were something they bravely claimed instead of a privilege they were born to.  I was shedding weak suppositions left and right as I learned Emily once feared deep water, that they all experience motion sickness, and how their sailing experience came by way of inventive frugality.  Suppositions shed, I was primed to project all over the place, which for me, makes for seriously emotional reading.  And it was!

The prose itself is nice to read; I pursed my lips with amusement at Erik's love for puns (and corniness generally) and caught my breath at Emily's sudden bursts of contemplation in amidst surface retelling.  Then there's the honesty.  Holy crap the honesty is good.  These people got mad sometimes.  They got stuck in funks.  They had doubts.

I collected little gems as I read -- turns of phrase and imagery I want to hold onto -- sloths on deck, dinghy dates, and friends willing to suck diesel / be electrocuted for you.  There are quotes I've recorded to keep for rereading because I don't want to forget what I felt when I read them.

I'm so glad I read this book and think anyone with a dream (or even the tickle of one forming) would be glad to read it too.
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