A Conversation with Janna

Questions 1-7 are included in the book. Questions 8-11 are bonus.

1. You present your depression in a very straightforward manner in this memoir. Was that deliberate? Have you always struggled with depression and do you continue to struggle with it? What would you recommend to readers who see parallels in their experiences of depression?

I wanted to be frank about my experience with depression because when we keep things hush-hush, we endow them with more power than they already have. Dangerous. My depression has visited me since high school, dropping in now and then like an uninvited houseguest, but it doesn’t define me. My strategy is to talk about it to a friend or loved one, or—if it keeps banging on the door—a professional. And, yes, I still deal with it. In fact, one of the many factors in our decision to come home was a bout of pre-baby blues in Hong Kong, which made me worry I might later have post-partum depression (thankfully, I didn’t). I didn’t mention this in the epilogue because it felt like a can of worms. But, since you ask, there go the worms.

2. You explored the question of what can and cannot be fulfilled by one’s partner and determined that it’s best to diversify how one’s needs are met. Has your thinking about this changed the longer you’ve been married?

Core needs must be met within the partnership; otherwise it’s not a partnership. With the chaos of kids, though, connecting with Graeme can go by the wayside. But one of the best gifts I can give my girls is to stay deeply in love with their dad. Often this is accomplished by spending more time with him. Sometimes it’s friend-time or alone-time. Being my best mom self means taking regular time away from my children. Paradoxical but true.

3. What were the challenges you encountered as you strove to tell your story? What did you leave out that you wished you could have included in the memoir?

In terms of writing, the biggest challenge was the insane schedule—drafting a chapter a week—while piecing together childcare for a toddler. There’s a reason juggle rhymes with struggle. Also, I got the green-light to write this book literally the same week I conceived my second daughter, so I wrote my memoir while pregnant, which is a small miracle considering how a pregnant woman’s brain shrinks in inverse proportion to her belly growing (at least it feels that way). I delivered my book-baby just a few weeks before I delivered my real baby, and then I was typing edits in between—and sometimes even during—nursing sessions. In fact, my youngest is sitting on my lap, mauling a monkey rattle as I type this.

In terms of story, I found it very difficult to edit my life down to a single storyline. I mean, just think of the myriad things you do, think, feel, say, hear, and see on any given day. Your day is like a quilt square with a very busy pattern. And if you sew that together with another seven-hundred-some-odd crazy quilt squares, you’ve got the fabric from two years of life. So I had to extract a single, solitary thread, stretching diagonally from one corner of my quilt to the other, to have a story that was short and coherent enough for anyone besides my mom to read. Think of all that left-over fabric—days and months, ports and storms, best friends and entire countries—undulating out beyond that thread. It almost gives me a yucky-stomach feeling thinking of everything I had to leave out (e.g., Sorry, Central America, you didn’t make the cut). But I feel better when I remind myself that my book is a single thread from my life. It’s not my actual life.

4. You introduced us to a whole community of cruisers, particularly women. Do you still maintain contact with the women you met on your voyage? What can you tell us about these sailing women and their approach to living such a unique life?

We keep in touch with cruising friends mostly via email. Some are still cruising. Most are not. That’s the thing about big adventures; they don’t have to last forever, and when you return to your old life it’s with renewed vigor. My best girlfriend from cruising (who doesn’t even appear in the book) is the perfect example. She was a high-powered, burning-out businesswoman. One night, while watching Dawson’s Creek reruns, she saw that episode where Pacey and Joey sail into the sunset. My friend thought, Hey! if they can do it, so can I. The next day she googled “sailboat crew” and signed on for a voyage across the Pacific. She ended up having a wonderful romance with the captain of the sailboat she was on. When my girlfriend returned, she easily found another job, which totally disproves the idea that stepping off the treadmill for a year or two means you won’t be able to get back on. In fact, I think she’d say that sabbaticalism makes for happier, more productive people. Makes me wonder what her next adventure will be…

5. In your role as a writer, you seem to have zeroed in on the complexities of women’s lives as they strive to balance love, family, work, friends, and self. What continue to be the prevailing concerns for the women you encounter and the unique strategies they employ to stay grounded in their lives?

Now isn’t this the question? I mean, who doesn’t struggle with balance when we have so many competing priorities? And just when I think I have a semblance of balance, life goes and changes on me!

One of my girlfriends says the problem is we women think we can have it all—since that’s what we’ve been told—when really we can’t. So women try to be the perfect worker, wife, mother, daughter, sibling, neighbor, housekeeper, cook, hostess, friend, and lover—all while looking fabulous. In trying to do everything, and to perfection, we drive ourselves nuts and/or end up feeling like we’re doing nothing well enough. Men, in contrast, (according to my friend) cherry-pick a few roles and don’t throw their backs/psyches out trying to do them perfectly. I’d be curious to know what others think about this theory.

As for me, I’m loathe to admit I can’t have it all. But I have come to realize that I can’t have it all at the same time. So I suppose my strategy—and that of my girlfriends—is to prioritize what matters most to each of us right now, and then let a whole mess of stuff slide. For me this means: I don’t shower much; our oh-shit drawer is now an oh-shit room; I don’t read my mail as often as I should; and our neighbors are usually the ones to wheel in our recycling bins, for which I hereby publicly thank them.

What keeps the women in my life grounded? That’s easy. Each other.

6. What advice would you offer those inspired by The Motion of the Ocean to tackle their own big, hairy, audacious goals?

Take good notes! And share your B-HAG on my website. If you’re blogging about it—which by all means you should—leave a link so others can follow you on your journey.

7. What is on deck for you and your family’s next B-HAG?

My personal B-HAG is to finish that novel I’m so scared to write. Our family B-HAG is to cruise again—with kids this time. And Graeme’s and my B-HAG is to make love last. Forever.

Bonus questions:

8. You pay close attention to how our own particular lenses give us a biased view of the world. How do you think this memoir would have been different had Graeme written it? What do you think would have been some of his central questions or concerns?

If Graeme had written this book, it would have been about the weather and the sea and anchoring and sailing tactics and the ninety-nine uses of 5200 (his favorite marine epoxy). He would have included insightful anecdotes about the places we visited—he’s a very good writer—and maybe a charming tale or two about love. But nothing about our relationship’s doldrums. Nada about sex. That said, Graeme did have veto power, so this is a certified, Graeme-approved book, even if it is nothing like the one he would have written.

9. You discovered your purpose as a writer on this honeymoon voyage. How do you think your life would have been different had you not discovered your love for writing? Do you think your finding a purpose in life is in any way related to your notion of finding the One in love? Why or why not?

Several years before our trip, I told one of my oldest friends that I thought I might want to be a writer. I was really embarrassed telling her this because I thought it was such a ridiculous, impossible dream. My friend rolled her eyes and said, “Sheesh, Janna, you’ve always wanted to be a writer. Don’t you see that?” Of course, I had no idea. So I guess I feel like I was bound to discover and rediscover and ultimately pursue my love for writing eventually. It just took the right timing—sort of like Graeme and me. Thank goodness I rediscovered writing on the boat, though, because otherwise I think I would have struggled even more with my role afloat.

But your question implies something more significant, more fascinating, too—namely, is there some One calling out there for each of us? I don’t know. I’d like to think that everyone has something, many things actually, that makes them feel alive and useful and challenged and fulfilled. Writing does this for me in an intense, daily way, but other things ignite me too (teaching, making my daughters laugh, annual road trips with my mom). When it comes down to it, I think Graeme is right. We have to make our life the One we want every day, whether by pursuing a capital-P Purpose or by cultivating a certain attitude toward the little-p purposes that pepper our days. What’s that wonderful Annie Dillard saying?—“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.”

10. One of the most dramatic moments in the story is when you and Graeme choose to continue with the wedding and the honeymoon in spite of his mother’s cancer. Did you continue to struggle with this choice on the trip? What did it mean to you and Graeme for his mother to give you her blessing? What would you like your readers to understand about that choice?

First of all, my mother-in-law’s support meant the world to us—literally, because we got to go explore it. But she’ll probably laugh at the idea that she provided drama in our tale; she is the most undramatic, down-to-earth person I know. At the same time, she’s a huge dreamer and doer (like moving to Taiwan to teach English after her kids had flown the coop). For her—and, therefore, for us—abandoning big dreams was not an option. For one, she would have felt horribly if we’d changed our plans. And for two, she was looking forward to visiting us in Mexico just as much as we were looking forward to sailing there. Vickie’s cancer was a palpable reminder to live our dreams relentlessly.

11. You have a pretty active life online as a blogger on “Happily Even After” for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer (http://blog.seattlepi.com/happilyevenafter). What have you gained from writing in such an environment where feedback is often immediate and potentially strident? What have been some of its challenges and benefits?

It’s no fun when people tell me how stupid and lame I am. That happens, and it stinks. Blogging is a also challenge for me because it’s supposed to be quick and short and off-the-cuff. I’m slow and long-winded and perfectionistic. And so blogging is good for me. It pushes me and my writing, and it definitely helped hone my voice for this book. But my favorite thing about blogging is how an authentic conversation can develop. I have readers who leave comments that are way more articulate—sometimes even longer—than the posts they’re responding to. These people have become virtual buddies, online think-mates, a web of people striving for balance and connection. I love and appreciate that.


Curious how to pronounce my name? It’s easy. 
JAN-nuh Course ES-uh-ree
Rhymes with banana of course yesiree

copyright © 2009 janna cawrse esarey
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