hard workI remembered to pick up a Valentine’s Day card for Mike in the first week of February, when we were back in Boston for a visit. As I picked out a card at my favorite party store (I couldn’t resist picking up some heart doilies and toothpicks too) I felt a little guilty, because I knew that there was no way Mike would ever think of buying a card ahead of time.

On the morning of February 14, I got out the doilies and toothpicks and card, and wished my love a happy V Day. His face said, “you’ve got to be kidding me”. It’s been a long time since he screwed up Valentine’s Day completely, and also a long time since I have cared.

“Oh shit,” he said, “I forgot it was Valentine’s Day…I’ll just run out to CVS and get a card.” And we both cracked up at that, because we were out in the middle of an anchorage off the coast of a little town in Martinique, where there is nary a CVS.

We say those kinds of things to each other in jest all the time: I’ll just run out to the market and get some half and half for the coffee tomorrow… I’ll just pick that up that new motor we desperately need on my way home… I’ll just have a bunch of AAA batteries delivered by Amazon. Not.

Life is decidedly not convenient on a boat. You don’t just run out to the market and expect to find what you want. You don’t pick up a latte at Starbucks. You don’t Google the answer to every question. You don’t have access to Amazon, and you don’t “call a guy” to fix stuff. You often do your wash by hand and hang it up on a line to dry. Life is very physical. Often, you have no choice but to do it yourself the hard and long way, or it doesn’t get done.

So it was with great interest that a few days after Valentine’s day, I read (conveniently, I admit, on my iPhone) Tim Wu’s New York Times article, The Tyranny of Convenience) in which he states that in developed nations, convenience– which he describes as “more efficient and easier ways of doing personal tasks”- has emerged as perhaps the most powerful force shaping our lives, making other options (the harder ones) seem unthinkable.

Wu explains that while our lives may be getting easier, there is a dark side to convenience- that it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that give meaning to life. “Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us.” He reminds us that the dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work, but he asks, “Is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it?”

Mike and I talk a lot about this on the boat. Life is often harder, and sometimes it is very hard, even uncomfortable, and always very physical…so why do we like it so much? It’s not that the good days outnumber the bad. It’s not that the one day of perfect winds and bright skies makes it all worthwhile. It’s not that it is hot and sunny in February (though that helps, of course).

Wu points out, “Convenience is all destination and no journey…climbing a mountain is different than taking a tram to the top, even if you end up at the same place.” He tells us that inconvenience rewards us with character because it involves encounters with meaningful resistance- with nature’s laws, with the limits of our own bodies…”they expose us to the risk of frustration and failure, but they also teach us something about the world and our place in it.”

We love this life because there is such satisfaction in getting stuff done by ourselves; overcoming difficulty is very rewarding. We are climbing our mountain every day, if not every hour (and then we have a drink to celebrate a day well lived…)

This morning after breakfast, Mike and I will spend hours diving beneath the bottom of the boat, hanging on with one hand while the current tries to sweep us downwind, scraping off about a million barnacles and other little sea creatures that have made their home there. We did it yesterday too, and we will probably not finish the job today either. I will find little sea creatures in my hair, and barnacles in my swim suit when I emerge from the water, and I will have weebie jeebies for days.

Man, am I building character.


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