Reflections on ‘Wanderer’

One of my motivations for starting this website was to share information I’ve found useful as I discussed in my first blog post. With that disclaimer in mind, I’ve tried my hardest to stay away from the ‘influencer/click bait’ style self-help preacher person with the following discussion about a piece of text from Wanderer by Sterling Hayden.

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea... "cruising" it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in. If you are contemplating a voyage and you have the means, abandon the venture until your fortunes change. Only then will you know what the sea is all about.

"I've always wanted to sail to the south seas, but I can't afford it." What these men can't afford is not to go. They are enmeshed in the cancerous discipline of "security." And in the worship of security we fling our lives beneath the wheels of routine - and before we know it our lives are gone.

What does a man need - really need? A few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in - and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment. That's all - in the material sense, and we know it. But we are brainwashed by our economic system until we end up in a tomb beneath a pyramid of time payments, mortgages, preposterous gadgetry, playthings that divert our attention for the sheer idiocy of the charade.

The years thunder by, The dreams of youth grow dim where they lie caked in dust on the shelves of patience. Before we know it, the tomb is sealed.

Where, then, lies the answer? In choice. Which shall it be: bankruptcy of purse or bankruptcy of life? ”
Wanderer, by Sterling Hayden

I read a lot. And I watch a lot of movies and sport. And I listen to music. Why bother with all this fictional mumbo jumbo when I could go for a run, make some food or do something else with a bit more substance to it? Because I value the stories and inspiration I receive from partaking in these activities. A perfect example of the benefit of what I described as ‘fictional activities’ is occasionally I stumble across gems such as the piece above.

Originally I heard an excerpt of this piece in a whitewater kayaking movie about Steve Fisher called Black Book. The movie was an hour and a half of high-octane paddling from a South African kayaker which focused on his journey from being nothing to being a mega-star of the sport. Good movie, but of course he went from nothing to mega-star, no-one starts out as a legend, everyone has to work their way there… I digress, anyway, the little inclusion of this quote led to me tracking down the whole thing and I was impressed when I read it all.

Kayaking on a river in Africa
Steve Fisher took the advice from Wanderer to the remote rivers of Africa

The passage comes from the book,Wanderer, which is the autobiography of Sterling Hayden. Sterling was a jack of all trades American superstar throughout the 60’s and 70’s. Through having a life full of different experience, he was probably able to write an exciting autobiography full of cool stories. But in this section, he identifies that all we really need is

a few pounds of food each day, heat and shelter, six feet to lie down in – and some form of working activity that will yield a sense of accomplishment.

Everything else we put on top of life just complicates it. I reflect on this part of the message as a bit of reminder to follow the KISS principle. Keep It Simple Stupid. There’s no mention of chasing money here, that will come later. Another favourite quote I lean on to hammer this concept home is from Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run and even references the money aspect directly.

There are two goddesses in your heart. The Goddess of Wisdom and the Goddess of Wealth. Everyone thinks they need to get wealth first, and wisdom will come. So they concern themselves with chasing money. But they have it backwards. You have to give your heart to the Goddess of Wisdom, giver her all your love and attention, and the Goddess of Wealth will become jealous, and follow you.”

Joe Vigil, Running Coach

Sterling’s other main message in the quote in my opinion is essentially you have to risk it to get the biscuit. You can not expect to have an exciting and adventurous life if you continue following the path of least resistance. At times, a crossroads will emerge and if the choice of an exciting move, new job, cool travel destination is in one direction and the other direction is what you’ve always been doing, well then every so often you’d be wise to saddle up and head down the adventure path. I say every so often because if you applied Sterling’s message ad infinitum you’d probably become so ‘bankrupt of purse’ you may not be able to buy your food and shelter and then that’d be the end of you pretty quick smart. So, treat this message of Mr.Hayden, and my takings from it, as like a drink of your favourite alcoholic beverage. Drink/listen to it every so often and you’ll get that nice buzzed feeling and have a really enjoyable time. Too much and you’ll be spending Sunday morning lying on the street/couch/toilet wondering what you’ve done to deserve this cruel fate.

Thought I’d share my two cents on this piece because I’ve benefited from it a lot myself and I’d like to think others would too if they knew it existed!

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