Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why "Kon-Tiki!" is My New Battle Cry

I love books that are beautiful without meaning to be. Books that make you sit up and examine your own life when the author was only attempting to record a story, a moment in time and pass it on to the reader.
Okay, so Kon-Tiki, the true and infamous book about a Norwegian who built a raft and sailed from Peru to Polynesia just to prove that it could be done, is not just an everyday story. And no, it did not inspire me to go build a raft out of sticks and hop in the ocean. I live five miles from the beach. I like to watch sea life documentaries. That’s about as far as I want to take it when it comes to the seafaring lifestyle.
No, Thor Heyerdahl’s wild adventures on the Pacific and candid writing style inspired me in another way- the “shut up and just do it” kind of way. Heyerdahl was no Shackleton or Amundsen; he was not out to discover a new land or become rich and famous or get girls. So why did he set out to attempt the impossible? Because no one would read his manuscript! He had written a book on his theory that people from South America had sailed across the Pacific Ocean and colonized the islands of the South Seas. Everyone thought the idea was absurd and publishers refused to even read the manuscript. So he decided to prove that it could be done. This is what I find so inspiring: when I get a manuscript rejection, I eat a pint of ice cream and go outside to kick a tree. Thor Heyerdahl built a raft out of balsa wood and successfully sailed across the Pacific Ocean. Talk about sticking it to the man….
And then there is Heyerdahl’s breathtaking ability to kindle the spark of the sublime among chapters filled with sharks, whales and flying fish. In describing a night on the raft he writes:
            Coal-black seas towered up on all sides, and a glittering myriad of tropical stars drew a faint reflection from plankton in the water. The world was simple—stars in the darkness. Whether it was 1947 B.C. or A.D. suddenly became of no significance.
When I read those lines, “The world was simple—stars in the darkness,” so many things made sense for me. The world can be simple, is simple, if you look at it the right way. People don’t like your book? Build a boat. People say you’re going to drown when you sail it? Prove them wrong and end up on a tropical island drinking coconut milk and dancing the hula. Feel the weight of the world, of deadlines, rejections, failures and complicated relationships pressing down on you? Take a deep breath and look up at the sky. In the end, Thor Heyerdahl reminds us, we control our destiny and that is all that really matters.

1 comment:

  1. A wonderful revival of a long ago read book. I remember how Heyerdahl made me think of his courage at undertaking this journey as well as his skill at writing the story of it and making me feel the journey with him.
    His ideas were vindicated when the journey was over, just like Schliemann and his theories on Troy, but living the journey from theory to fruition was itself great.


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