Monday, April 15, 2013

The Message in Once Upon a Gypsy Moon by Michael Hurley + Giveaway!

Once Upon a Gypsy Moon
Michael Hurley

Genre: Memoir, Non-fiction, Literary
Page Count: 272
Release Date: 16 April 2013
Center Street (Hachette Book Group)

Michael Hurley watched his world unravel in the wake of infidelity, divorce and failure. In August 2009, he was short of money, out of a job, and seeking to salvage a life that had foundered. Deeply in need of perspective, he took to the open seas in a 32-foot sailboat, Gypsy Moon. The story of his 2-year outward odyssey, deterred by rough weather and mechanical troubles, combines keen observation, poignant thoughts, and deeper introspection with glorious prose.

Once Upon a Gypsy Moon also presents a rare and much-needed point of view on the familiar spiritual-journey narrative. It offers a star-crossed love story wrapped inside a rollicking good sea tale, but it also has something important to say to the reader about relationships, faith and disbelief, life and death, love and marriage, and what really matters.

The Message I Want Readers to Grasp in Once Upon a Gypsy Moon

I didn’t write the book especially for men, but I expect that my experience and what I have to say about it may resonate particularly with men who, like me, have made mistakes that have irrevocably changed their lives. We men are hard on ourselves and are prone to guilt and self-loathing. We hold on to the criticism about ourselves much longer than the praise, and we often refuse to accept that every guy around is just as imperfect as we are. On this voyage, I learned to face the fact that while I can’t undo the harm I caused my family, there is nothing to be gained by wallowing in it. Like a ship at sea, life will move on from your mistakes with or without you. It is better to be aboard and going somewhere—anywhere—than to be adrift in your regrets and going nowhere.

From Chapter 4:

The idea—now so prevalent in law and politics—that there are ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people and that ‘good’ people always do the right thing is a fiction of the childish mind. The wisdom of country songs notwithstanding, every one of us, since the Fall of Man, has been ‘the cheating kind’ in whatever area of life that holds for him or her the greatest temptation. Humility requires that we understand this, but it is more important to know that we are not defined by our mistakes. A ship’s wake tells you where she has been, not where she is going.

Chapter 1 

To Sail

In this day and age, which is to say a time well removed from the Age of Exploration, an era when there is less urgent need for travel and more efficient means to do so when one must, it would seem at the very least a mistake of judgment to point the bow of a small sailing vessel seaward and let slip her lines. One could offer clinical evidence that it is indeed an act of insanity, but that would risk missing the poetry of such a thing. Poetry or not, it is an odd habit, peering over the rail of a seagoing ship in a fifteen-knot breeze. Alone. And late in the day.

I know this pathology and have wrestled with this same impulse many times, usually regaining my heading and my senses and returning to port. Sailing alone or in company offshore, all night in a small boat, is a thing that passes for mere eccentricity or even dashing adventure in polite company. But however benign, it remains nonetheless a disorder, a departure from the mean and median of human life, and a path that many regard with admiration or envy but that few decide to follow. There are, I am told, more men alive today who have flown in outer space than who have sailed alone around the world by no power save what wind and water might sup- ply. I am not surprised by this, nor would you be if you sailed with me.

What appeals to me about voyaging in a small boat under sail is what first appealed to me as a young boy about camping in the wilderness. Both are simple systems—or, more accurately, systems for achieving simplicity. Aboard a boat, life is reduced to its essential elements. Life as we live it in the modern world, by contrast, has become a very complicated thing. We take the first steps toward school, career, and marriage, and before we know it, we are swept up into a self-perpetuating cyclone of consumption and production, to be carried aloft on those busy winds until we are thrown back to Earth some seventy-five years later, wondering where all the time and money have gone. We consume, and so we produce; we produce, and so we consume.

In a boat at sea, the processes of consumption and production are conjoined. That’s the beauty of it. The wind and water are at once both spectacle and vehicle, means and medium. The steady breeze on our face enthralls us as it propels us. The sea bears us up and feeds us dinner. There is no Walmart there. There is nothing to buy. There is only to be.

In the city of Miami, the sky burns with electric light and the streets boil with the perpetual motion of cars and trucks and people, but just three miles off that coast, there is no traffic, no noise, and no light at night save the moon and the stars. The open ocean is the only place on Earth where the hand of man has taken no lasting hold.

I don’t know what compelled me to follow the seaward path again, that August day in Annapolis. Perhaps it was a desire to retake the helm of my own destiny, however briefly. I must say I felt in that moment no small affinity with the author of the autobiography Papillon, played by Steve McQueen in the film, who upon leaping into the sea and climbing onto a floating raft of coconuts—finally escaping Devil’s Island in his old age—yells to unseen listeners, “I’m still here, you bastards.”

I wish to take a moment to reassure any readers who, perhaps not familiar with me and my station in life, may be laboring under the mistaken impression that sailing is nothing but an idle pastime of the very rich. It is that in some circles, to be sure, but in general that sort of sailor loves racing, not cruising. He goes screaming about the bay with a gang of like-minded friends, ties up his expensive boat at the yacht club pier at the end of the day, savors his victory or plots his revenge in the yacht club bar, and drives back to his expensive home to await the next contest. For this man, sailing is a sport, not a frame of mind or a philosophy of life. It is, to him, very much like a game of golf played on the water. In stark contrast to this fellow, there is an entirely different breed of peasant sailors who are not more than sea gypsies, and while I cannot claim truly to be one of them, I have admired them from afar. 
In fact, the rich and powerful make up the decided minority of the sailors I meet at sea. Many manage to stay just a boat length or two ahead of their bankers’ worst fears, and all their fragile dreams depend heavily on the continued beneficence of a favorable wind, a half inch of duct tape, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average—hardly bulwarks of constancy. Whereas it has been famously written that the rich are different from you and me, real sailors are very different from the rich. They are an addicted bunch (insufferable cheapskates, the lot of them), and not for nothing are they regarded contemptuously in posh marinas the world around as “ragbaggers.” You are likely to find more impressive balance sheets at the tailgate party of any college football game—that seemingly most egalitarian of pastimes—than among the skinned-knuckled old men in well-stained khakis and sockless Top-Siders, eyeing pots of varnish at your local ship chandlery.

I am not speaking of “yachtsmen” here—those well-fed denizens of resort marinas, marking time from one gin and tonic to the next along the inland waterways, who dream mostly of time-shares in Miami, not of Magellan, and whose dreams are born aloft by diesel fumes, not wind and imagination. Nor am I speaking of those who rent sailboats on Caribbean vacations and (mostly) motor them nervously from one anchorage to the next.

To me, sailing is a way of looking at life, or it is nothing. It is a philosophy, not a space on one’s calendar between the Friday board meeting and Sunday brunch. The kind of adventure of which I speak cannot be rented any more than true love can be rented, nor is it merely an “experience” to be had, like a game of bowling or a good cigar. Voyaging under sail is a marriage of man and vessel, and as in any healthy marriage, the bond grows stronger even as the excitement of new love mellows. The things that strengthen that bond are the patience to endure and the commitment to overcome hardship. Patience and commitment are the heart of a sailor. In life, in love, and in boats, you’re either all in or you’re out.

This book is partly an effort to work out the navigational problems of the heart—to find true north; to account for set, drift, variation, and deviation and measure the time and distance run, that I might better know my position within what Tolkien called “some larger way,” and that others might better find the lights to guide their own voyages. Every ocean voyage forges both inward and sea- ward. The challenges of the seaward course that can be met are met easily enough by simple implements and routines of planning and preparation. The inward journey is not so well charted, and “there be dragons” along that way. So, with these thoughts in mind, let us cast off.

About the Author

Mike Hurley is a husband, father, attorney and writer living in Raleigh, North Carolina. Born in Baltimore in 1958, he received his undergraduate degree in English Education in 1981 from the University of Maryland at College Park. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Law, he began a career in private practice in Houston in 1984. At age 34, he moved to North Carolina, where he took a year off to work as a professional sailboat-charter captain. Since entering private practice in North Carolina in 1993, he has earned success and notoriety as a defense lawyer in medical malpractice litigation. He is listed in North Carolina Super Lawyers.

Mike began writing magazine articles about the outdoors at age 17. In 1995, he began writing and photographing a travelogue of wilderness canoe-expeditions with his children. This homespun journal grew into a commercially printed, quarterly gazette known as Hurley’s Journal (later Paddle & Portage) that was well-loved by more than 10,000 subscribers in 48 states. A collection of Mike’s essays from eight years of the journal became his first book, Letters from the Woods.

In 2006, Mike’s life was turned upside down by the end of his first marriage. Three years later, in seeking to understand these events and find a way forward, he took to the open ocean in a 32-foot sailboat, the Gypsy Moon, on a voyage that spanned two years. In his latest book, Letters from the Sea, Mike tells the unlikely, true story of how this remarkable voyage changed his life, and he offers hope to others who have had to pick up the pieces after personal failure and loss.


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