Tuesday, June 12, 2007


I have always had fantasies about being shipwrecked on a desert island. Perhaps I was overly influenced by "Robinson Crusoe" because I always imagined and even planned on it.

"Lord of the Flies" would be a less favorable outcome, of course.

It is not lost on me that some people endure their entire lives without ever being shipwrecked, but still, I have hopes.

I have devoted much thought to what I would take with me, made lists, even. Gloated over the fact that my appendix would never burst in the middle of nowhere because it already has. Asked myself endlessly what one book I would choose if I had to read it over and over.

Many folks would choose the Bible. I would not. I would want something that is easier to read and has no ambiguity. Hel-lo, I'm on a desert island here. I need things simple.

In fact, any book I read that many times would soon be memorized, so I think I would opt for a thick pad of blank lined paper. And many pens. I would write my own book on that island, and maybe reach enlightenment.

You never know.

At least there wouldn't be so many distractions.

My ex-husband once locked me in a room to force me to write after learning that Colette's husband had done so to her. (He also stole her writings and put his own name on them, the dirty scoundrel.)

I did not take kindly to being locked in a room for any reason. Since I have a photographic memory, I reproduced the first page of "Ulysses," complete with the giant "S" that in most editions is several lines high.

"Stately plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed."

"I'm ready to come out now," I called sweetly.

He eagerly ran to unlock the door, ecstatic that his wonderful plan had worked.

I handed him my James Joyce simulation and flounced away.

We never discussed the incident again.

It is possible that on my desert island, I would merely reproduce other famous works while worrying about high tide. How ironic if I actually wrote the Great American Novel and then got swept off the island in a storm before any publishers could get there.

Life is uncertain.

I have always found geography exciting despite my teachers' best efforts to make it dreary. My soul expands when I hear intriguing place names like Madagascar, Timbuktoo, Casablanca, Pago Pago, Katmandu, and Poontang, which I saw in a book but got smacked when I asked my father where it was. Nobody told me why.

The Amazon River Basin is perennially a luscious dark green in my mind. Rio de Janeiro is golden. Machu Pichu is shades of pink and purple and the Aegean Sea is always a shimmering turquoise.

My first Gauguin painting at the Metropolitan Museum ("Femmes Aux Mangoes") changed me forever. Tahiti was my Promised Land, the place I was meant to be but for a tragic geographical mishap. Or perhaps it was my real home from which I was kidnapped as an infant. I found a Tahitian-English dictionary and set about memorizing words in my former native tongue.

When I was 22, I sailed to Europe on a student ship out of Montreal. Ron Silvers, the actor, was a stowaway. He had no luggage, just the wide-striped t-shirt and pants he was wearing. He was a complete ass. I couldn't stand him. He gets a lot of work on TV now, and every time I see him, I wonder if he is still an ass. (Probably.)

The idea of someone stowing away on a ship enchanted me, though I never had the courage to try it. Such limitations in my adventurous spirit have always disappointed me.

The ship was German, and Werner the bartender, pronounced Verner, vatered my drinks every night.

I confronted him, and he said that he was doing it to protect me. Needless to say, this infuriated me. I wanted as much chance as the next girl to be taken advantage of.

It was the story of my life. I looked so innocent that even my assurances to the contrary made guys want to protect me from themselves.

"I don't want to hurt you."

"Hurt me. Hurt me."

For years I had to live like this. The whole thing was depressing.

Now I watch ships steam out to sea through the Golden Gate Bridge, laden with cargo and passengers. I think about latitude and longitude, words that conjure unbearably romantic reveries. I taste the salt air and feel the waves under me.

The possibility of shipwreck is tantalizing.

And then it dawns on me that I would no longer relish being shipwrecked on a desert island. I have a family. It would be unthinkable to never see them again. I am addicted to my computer, and there is also the matter of chocolate.

We outgrow our fondest dreams because we have changed. Life changes us, for that was the plan all along. Our priorities change, and somehow, the whole world changes as well.

The solution is to grow new dreams that reflect who we have become. The shipwreck mentality can still serve us to make new choices, to retain only the things that are truly essential to our lives and our sanity.

When we examine our values and clean house, we become more fully ourselves. Thinning the herds of ideas and objects that no longer express who we are is empowering.

It can feel nearly as free as being on a desert island in the middle of the ocean, without the sunstroke.


The CEO said...

So we decide what we would like to do with our life next within the reach of our ability, or so we think, and then we set goals in that direction. It's that original decision that I find so difficult. I must not be cleaning house well enough or I'm missing something in the present.

The CEO said...

This is a great post though. I will think about it for quite a while.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


You are probably reading more depth into my post than it has.

I just mean that we change and hopefully, grow in self-knowledge as well as in general knowledge and ideally, kindness. We adapt our dreams to accommodate those changes because the old ones no longer work for us.

We are all works in progress, but too often, we try to hang onto vestiges of our former selves and in so doing, we can miss out on fully experiencing who we have become.

EsLocura said...

I onced dreamed of being a mermaid, would lay in my bath tub figuring out how given my mermaid tail I would get in and out of the tub without bashing my head. of course that dream also included luring sailors off ships, no wait that was a fantasy, ah, whatever.

Sienna said...


A work in progress, and that can be the fun of discovery in itself....I love this Hearts, very cool.

Besides, you can always do the Great Barrier Reef...all of us can!

A natural, beautiful wonder of the world...you don't have to be shipwrecked you can be simply blown away with beauty.

Pam (I have a little fantasy myself, George Clooney and I.......)

Ryane said...

Great post. I have thought about this shipwrecked idea a lot, too. Only for me, it was always being 'shipwrecked' in another time--mostly 17th Century Scotland. Of course, when I really, really consider getting stuck in 17th century Scotland--me, a woman and a stranger to boot--I realize the romance would wear off quickly. As you said--there is the matter of chocolate and how about A/C? I admit to being a creature of comfort...

Wanderlust Scarlett said...


What a wonderful post! I love it!
Wouldn't being shipwrecked for a while be great? Yes... but being rescued by some dashing hero would have to be tied in... it's the law of hopeless romanticism... I think.
That's usually where my feminism crops in, ruins the romantic fantasy and I think, well HAH I'll just build my own raft and sail right on out of here myself. After a year or so of vacation time.

And yes, chocolate is a very serious matter. Serious indeed. And Earl Grey tea. Hmmm.

You are right about changing dreams, but... it's important to keep some of them around, floating along in the back of our minds, to keep us sane, inspired and hopeful.

I absolutely love the way you see the world. It's beautiful. And, I know what you mean about being geographically misplaced... I belong in Italy... but for some strange reason I wound up elsewhere. I have endeavored to correct this.

And I love Gauguin, that's a great painting. Thanks for posting it.

See you soon!

Scarlett & Viaggiatore

Lee said...

Life is so very complicated for me right now. I think about the Australian idea of walkabout all the time. To check out of reality sometimes is a very enticing dream.

Another beautifully written, thought-provoking post. Thanks, Susan.

P.S. I'm completely intrigued by the photographic memory.

CS said...

Ooh, locked you in a room - I would have been steaming, too. I like the house-cleaning metaphor. But the herd thinning thing reminded me of Nee Yorker cartoon cover - It shouwed a couple of deer wacthing a hunter from behind some trees and one was saying to the other, "Why don't they thin their own goddamned herds?"

furiousBall said...

Now that's a great post amiga. I've been contemplating the same thing lately, being forced to scale back with the impending divorce. What do we all really absolutely need? What do we have to have to continue to fog our mirrors and live?

Stephen said...

Back in the 60's there was a show on TV called "Adventures in Paradise" loosely based on Michener's storeis of the same name. It introduced me to Tahiti and the South Pacific. I was enchanted. 20 years or so later I went to Tahiti and other islands in the neighborhood. It did not disappoint.

I'd like to return there, but when I do I'm not certain I could bring myself to leave.

la cubana gringa said...

Hmmm...maybe a shipwreck could be good for me. I couldn't be tempted by cheese anymore.

I shall look into this...

The CEO said...

It was better written philosophy than most of the existentialism I read over the years, without the forced stories of angst. Or maybe I'm biased.

Liz said...

I think instead of being shipwrecked, you should do your own novel.

QT said...

Oh I love this post! My dream was always to hike the Appalachian Trail all the way through in one go. Unfortunately, I think my time has passed - I don't know that I could get 4 months off work for it - but I still dream about it.

Bob said...

There are several shipwrecked films I like: one I cannot think of the title, but is about an american and a japanese being stranded on the same island. another is Cast Away. With your fascination, what did you think of Tom Hank's film? did it color your desire for being shipwrecked?

I used to fantasize about traveling on a tramp steamer, island hopping. I still have a bit of wanderlust in me.

I just wrote about this from a different direction - would I go back to a previous self or not.

Ian Lidster said...

I think, like you, I would have to have pad and paper on my desert island. That, and the complete works of Shakespeare, since he covered virtually every theme that any human would want to ponder -- including being shipwrecked on a remote island.
A few years ago we went to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The place is paradisical. And, as we looked across the pristine lagoon in front of our condo on that first morning we noticed these wonderful little islets with white sand beaches, bountiful coconut palms and ever feature a stereotypical desert island would offer.
We took kayaks over later and I said to Wendy, as I literally caught by breath at the splendor of it all, "It does not get better than this." Then we ventured a few yards up from the pristine azure shore and towards the few acres of jungle, whence we were almost black with mosquitos, and the mozzies down there can carry dengue fever. So, thwarted, we decided to walk right around the island but down by the shore where there were no mosquitos. It was heavenly until we got to the seaward side where the open Pacific pounded in -- and dumped every manner of shit from plastic bags, to disposable cigarette lighters, to milk cartons, to even old condoms. It was disheartening.
Anyway, excuse the lengthy ramble but I loved your piece and it filled my mind with many thoughts.
Your faithful admirer,

By the way, I must confess I've only read the dirty bits of Ulysses. They were fun. Ever afterwards I wanted to find my own Molly Bloom.

Dumdad said...

I'd love to be on a desert island for a year or two except I'd miss my children too much (oh, and the wife just in case she reads this comment) and good cuisine (her again) and wine and beer and my bicycle and the computer and DVDs and books and writing and friends and conversation and laughing with others...

... anyway, paradise turned nasty in Lord of the Flies and The Beach.

Molly said...

I was clueless and skittish and nervous when I was younger. Growing older frees you from all that. I thought I wanted to roam the world before being tied down to one person, one place. But fate intervened. And as you say, your dreams evolve. Like this island we just visited, the shore line gets re-drawn, rearranged by the storms, and the winds and the crashing waves of life.... I got to see plenty of the world anyway with the intervener......With you on the one book ---a nice big, fat, lined notebook would do nicely!

heartinsanfrancisco said...


One of my life's ambitions was to be a mermaid, but I couldn't figure out how to turn my legs into a tail.


The Great Barrier Reef is a destination I very much hope to see. It looks incomparably beautiful in pictures, even w/o George Clooney. Although he certainly doesn't hurt.


I do like bagpipes, but I would prefer to be shipwrecked in the tropics. Air conditioning leaves me cold :) and I could do without mosquitoes.

Scarlett & Viaggatore,

I think it remains important to have dreams, even if life forces us to update them. Maybe realizing them isn't even so important (sigh) and it's really just about keeping our souls afloat in a sea of mundane necessities.

Italy is one of my favorite places, too, including its people.


Walkabout has always sounded quite wonderful to me, even though it is always presented as an education problem. The Australian Aborigines also have an instrument called the dijeridoo which can take them to other dimensions.

I want that, too.

A photographic memory can be quite helpful in school if you're lazy.


That's a great cartoon. New Yorker has always had the best ones, and I totally sympathize with the deer.

He thought he was nurturing what he perceived as talent, but it was an unfortunate tack to take with the likes of me.


Life has a way of making us prioritize because on our own, we would probably just keep everything. It is not always pleasant, however.

I hope that you and your kids (and their mom) are getting through the upheaval somehow.


Michener's books about the South Pacific were among my favorite reading as a child. Margaret Mead's "Coming of Age in Samoa" was another.

I knew you had been to Tahiti, but I have never held it against you.

La Cubana,

You would probably figure out a way to manufacture cheese out of seaweed.


I have many forced stories of angst. Just ask me.


That's my other dream.:) It has been with me since childhood and never gets replaced. Or realized.:(


What a wonderful dream! The length of it and the change in topography fascinate me, too. I don't think you should give this one up because it would be the trip of a lifetime, and doesn't require a boat.


Tramp steamer travel has always appealed to me.

I wasn't crazy about the Tom Hanks movie. The other one sounds familiar, but I can't remember what it is.

I don't think that we ever go back to our former selves after any kind of voyage of discovery, even those that take place in our heads. I'm ok with that.


Ooh, I know of Raratonga. Any place name with "tonga" in it makes my heart leap, as does the word "lagoon."

Shakespeare would be a serious consideration for the reason you stated as well as the lush beauty of his prose.

It angers me greatly when I encounter the effects of human selfishness like garbage in paradise. It could be argued that the whole world was paradise before it was crapped up with the detritus of uncaring boors.

I regularly see used tampons, condoms, cigarettes, beer cans and Pampers along the shore. It's shocking that people can have so little regard for the natural world.

You read the best parts of "Ulysses." The rest is filler.


It looks as if you'll be taking quite a lot of stuff and people to your shipwreck. Enjoy it!

It's good that you know what you can't do without. Some of us are less certain.


Your trip sounds lovely. I'm glad you were able to go.

I used to live near a beach that was rearranged by winter storms every year. Since I walked on it every day, I noted the changes, some of which were drastic. It was quite exciting, and I felt totally invested in that beach.

It was also a gathering place of seaglass and Indian paint pots, which I collected in all my pockets.

Open Grove Claudia said...

In my experience, we all are a little ship wrecked. We live in islands surrounded, thus protected, by the little stories we tell ourselves. When the wind of reality blows a hurricane through our life, we create new stories to keep us safe.

Of course, then there's Joyce.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


I love your comment. It made me think and also laugh, neither of which comes naturally before I've had my coffee.

Have you read Joan Didion's "We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live?"

And then, there's Joyce.

Anonymous said...

I am not sure I have had thoughts of grandeur of being shipwrecked but I have (always had) fantasies of living alone in a cottage in Sicily -- one little room, just a handful of books, my memories, my dreams and thoughts. I guess that dream told more about me (and who I am now) than I thought.

I guess now, though, I would include my laptop. To write, to write.

The ex-husband used a very unkind method but I admire what he tried to achieve in getting you to write.

thailandchani said...

We apparently had many of the same fantasies. :) I used to think about being marooned on some tropical island with lots of green and a pretty beach. (Sounds like parts of Th. LOL)

I would have been happy there alone. Truly.

And I'm with you... I'd have to write my own book. I can't think of a single book to read again and again.

Maybe Joseph Campbell. Even that's iffy.

Here's another fantasy: Suppose you had been deserted on an island.. alone.. from a very young age. What do you think you'd be like without socialization?




heartinsanfrancisco said...


That is a lovely dream, I think. Sicily is surely one of the most beautiful spots on earth.

I adore the word "cottage." It makes me think of fairy tales, and woodlands with deer and owls. My faithful owl is singing outside my open window now. He is also the stuff of fairy tales.


It doesn't surprise me that we share many fantasies.

That's an interesting question you raise. I wonder how deeply my "socialization" goes, really.

I would surely have bigger muscles and unshaven legs, a smaller vocabulary, and I would know nothing of chamber music.

I think that I would create art out of found objects, even temporary ones like seaweed, and would have no concept of art not being transitory.

This could easily be the subject of another overlong post.

meno said...

I spent many an hour thinking about being stranded on a desert island. This fantasy has never really left me, despite my advanced years. It was fed by Robinson Crusoe and the OZ books, and recently by The Life of Pi.

I made those lists too. When my mom found one she thought i was preparing to run away and i was grounded.

heartinsanfrancisco said...


Ah, grounded. I spent so much time in my room that I wore it like a turtle's shell.

When I'm on a beach, I still reflexively look around for raft-building materials. You can't be too careful.