The Maintenance Race (and me)

A couple of days ago, Dave Rupert shared an excellent article that I’ve been thinking about for, like, a whole year: Steward Brand’s The Maintenance Race.

The article is about a round-the-world solo sailboat race held in 1968, and you should go read it before you read any of this.

After Dave shared it, I sarcastically quipped back:

@davatron5000 me, looking at a sink full of unwashed dishes and piles of unsorted mail on the counter, before retiring to the couch: “every day a new boat”

…who responded in earnest

@eeeps Yeah. Looking at my desk I felt the shame. I like the attitude tho and aspire to get there.

…and made me realize that:

  1. My pithy reply was cheap and insufficient.
  2. My year-of-mulling-this-thing-over has left me with some thoughts that are too big for toots.

First: the whole premise of a solo around-the-world race represents something I am both deeply drawn to, and increasingly wary of.

Men sailing alone

Austin Kleon quoted James Hollis the other day:

I have suggested that women look at men this way: if they took away their own network of intimate friends, […] concluded that they were almost wholly alone in the world, and understood that they would be defined only by standards of productivity external to them, they would then know the inner state of the average man. They are horrified at this notion.

Through this lens, the Golden Globe Race was the ideal man scenario: each competitor was completely alone, in complete control of themselves and their tools, and placed in complete opposition to the vast and unforgiving world around them. They were in a competition where “success” and “failure” were externally defined and objectively measured.

I feel the appeal of all of this in my bones. But, like Austin, I am trying to fight it. I can see the person that this stance towards the world would lead (and, in some ways, has already led) me to become – and I don’t like him! I want to make more of my own meaning, and find – and share! – that meaning in community.

Moitessier, the hero of the story, does end up finding his own meaning: both in the journey (love this) and in being alone (oh no). It’s beautiful, but it’s not who I want to be.

The old ways are best

So, toxic/solitary masculinity is the setting for our story. Within it, three protagonists attempt to build and maintain systems in order to achieve their goals. And hey, aren’t we all just out here, attempting to build and maintain systems in order to achieve our goals, in one way or another? Here’s how they fared:

Clearly, there are value systems at play here that I am deeply attracted and attached to. I love seeing my mindful-minimalist guy become the transcendent hero. I love (the idea of) prepared, focused discipline. Less is more! Choose boring technology! Perhaps most of all I love a story that richly illustrates the superiority of my technological sensibilities using historical boats.


Inbox zero for boats

Back to me in the kitchen. Here’s the passage I referenced in my quip to Dave, and often reflect on, when I find myself half-assing maintenance of various sorts:

One time, when I remarked on how fit [Moitessier’s] boat looked, he said, ‘My rule is, a new boat every day’. His years at sea had taught him that if you don’t fix something when you first see it beginning to fail, it is very likely to finish failing just when it is the most dangerous and the hardest to deal with, such as in the midst of a storm.

I look at my life, and “a new boat every day,” applied broadly, is untenable. There are too many systems; there isn’t enough time to maintain everything to 100% every single day. Some days I look around and all I see are undone tasks; aspirations half-met, things in various states of disrepair. So why don’t I ruthlessly simplify, like Moitessier?

I guess it’s because Moitessier was living a life that had been maximally-scoped-down: it was just him, his boat, and the sailing.

I’ve got, like, more than that going on? And my life is richer for it. My life has other people in it, and I’m doing all sorts of stuff – changing my mind, trying new things, negotiating, compromising – and there’s a variety and opportunity to the resulting, sometimes messy, push-and-pull that I wouldn’t trade for the serenity of a deep-cleaned kitchen every morning.

Like Marie Kondo herself said, not too long ago:

My home is messy, but the way I am spending my time is the right way for me at this time at this stage of my life.

There have been (and still are!) spaces, places, and seasons in my life for reduction; for focus; for discipline. You gotta pick your boats, though. Maybe your inbox is one; maybe your backlog is one; maybe your kitchen is a boat.

But a whole entire life lived so rigidly? Not for me. Too limiting. Gotta find a balance.