All My Friends Went to Other Countries

The boat ride was so terrible passengers were falsifying evidence.

Rather than stand in the rain, under the clouds, on the bow of the boat, they were sitting inside sipping hot chocolate and taking pictures of the animals in the brochures.

“We’ll tell the grandkids we saw a pod of orcas,” a grandma told her husband. “They’ll be so happy for us.”

“The sea lions were so beautiful playing along the rocks,” someone at another little formica table said, practicing summoning the strength to tell the story.

My family was sopping wet.

We’d been out on the bow the whole time, laughing every time the captain announced he was turning the huge boat around one more time because he saw another puffin off of starboard.

“Get your cameras out, kids,” my mom would say cracking up.

“A puffin!”

This was in Seward, Alaska, a place that thrives on stories.

When it's a beautiful day, supposedly no place in the world can beat it. Fjords, whales, sun, mountains, everything attractive about the best of Alaska. You should see the pictures in the brochures. 

This is their story. It's what they tell people. 

And the other 340 days each year that look like it did when I was there, those are our stories. They’re ours and we don’t even want them. We want the one we were sold.

We're not just buying experiences.

We're buying the ability to talk about them afterwards.

One of the biggest pains of founding a company or a nonprofit or being a human is that you have to tell your story, and it's supposed to look a certain way. And when you tell your story and it doesn't match the expectation and people seem disappointed, all you want is the typical story.

The other day on a podcast I got asked why I founded an organization and wrote a book on a certain topic and I said that I knew there was some subconscious driving force but I actually don't know what possessed me to do that. That was the truth but it makes for a horrible story. I wanted some obvious story but I didn't have it. 

The disconnect between everyone else's stories and your own will suck you in. You will want all of their details, to the detriment of your own. And, in the worst cases, everything you wanted in your story in the past will become the reasons why you don't make a move today. The disconnect becomes a story that stifles. 

Your story will never fit in the mold of somebody else's.

When I came back to my hometown after travelling all over the US when I was 19, I felt like a hero. I felt like I’d done it, gone as far as you could go, and seen and done things people would never get to.

I felt cool because I'd gotten lost in an Iowa cornfield and ran out of money in fucking Phoenix. 

Years later, when I met people who’d always flown over the middle of the country and felt like states were pase and other countries were it, I began to feel like I had the wrong story.

Why didn't I go to Europe and make out with a beautiful French person and learn what gazpacho was and drink tiny cups of coffee and be able to start stories with When I went to Europe...

Everybody had gone to other countries. Everybody had London in common and the Eurorail and whatever. 

All of my stories were about Greyhound busses, or about Montana, or kind strangers in places like St. Louis and Oregon. I didn't know what to do with stories like that, so I stopped sharing them. 

Everybody on the boat chose the glossy photos of whales, and went home with the same picture.

And everybody seems to nod knowingly about the Louvre and real biscotti. 

For better or worse, I chose the cold, rainy afternoon laughing on the bow with the puffins. 

And I've probably been through your hometown. 

And I've always been proud of that. 


photo credit: my brother

I start things and help people.