It started with the unlikely monotony of a toothbrush, a nalgene full of irony pump-water, a tube of toothpaste on its last leg, and an entire ocean. My obsession with routines— supported by the anti-routine nature of living on a boat that’s shape is entirely decided by a formation of tides, winds, and forces completely foreign and incomprehensible to me— with the simple act of brushing my teeth. Brushing my teeth over the side of the boat; carefully spitting far enough into the sea so captain wouldn’t notice those white stains on the hull of his black ship, is one of the first routines that had some aspect of spirituality that I can remember. Something like not knowing where in the world you’d sail to that day but knowing that a foamy spitting contest would always occur at dawn and dusk made me realize those little routines could ground me.
So I’m living and working on an island in Maine I’d never been to before and I have this hour-long lunch break. And every day I found myself sitting in the sandy and bumpy trunk of my Toyota Yaris eating the exact same lunch. Small sandwich, two hard boiled eggs, a handful of spinach, a fruit cup, some chips, and three gluten free Oreos lasted me the full 8 weeks.
And once I’d gotten to that last bag of Oreos I’d walk down the driveway of Back Beach and walk to the water’s edge. Every day the tide would be slightly different and so more or less of the beach’s rocks would be exposed. Some days it seemed like the waves were non-existent and I could walk out past the big rocky points. Other days the beach was so wavy and inland, those rocky points would be completely covered by the gray blanket.
But that was the point. I’d pair such a routine activity, eating the same food at the same time every day, and I’d juxtapose it against the inherent fluidity of nature. Some people seek irregularity in the artificial— never knowing when they’ll wake up the next day and how they’ll get to work. But I found that I like that jaggedness in nature. You see I can accept that we can’t control nature, but our socially-constructed life is oftentimes easier to manipulate.
So this is what I do. I control the small things. Because, then, when big things like the ever-changing tide of Back Beach surprise you with a new look every day you won’t mind. In fact, you’ll relish that change, because at least your sandwich will be the same. And that makes the difference not so scary.
Not only would I learn when I was working at the museum with my head deep into the records and my nose grazing a Ruth Moore novel. But I’d learn lessons like these just by taking a lunch break. And that’s what happens when we realize that life is always teaching us things— just embrace it.