Sailing into a New Harbor

A few years ago, I delivered an address to an august audience of children’s book colleagues. I titled the talk “Sailing Away From the Safe Harbor” for the reason that over the past few years, I have been learning how to sail, and in the course of learning the techniques and vocabulary of sailing, I have discovered not only a great deal about myself, but I have come to realize that so much of the basic techniques of sailing can be likened to techniques we bring to our methods of writing, illustrating, editing, teaching, publishing and, indeed, reading stories.

Why does one sail? To explore, to journey, to see new places, to have fun, to relax, to allay fears in some instances. Some sailors say they feel most themselves on a boat, on the water. There is no hiding of the truth when one realizes we do not have dominion over the world, but that we are at the mercy of things that are basic and very much more than ourselves—the wind, the water, the weather. And if we don’t adjust our sails, change course, become one with the wind, our sails will luff, we will stop in irons, we will lose our compass bearings, we will lose sight of the horizon. We will be in trouble and our exploration will cease.

And why does one write, read and share stories? To explore, to journey, to see new places, to have fun, to relax, to allay fears in some instances. We seek to find ourselves in stories—and so often, we can and do. And we seek the truth in stories—we use story (or myth or song or poem) to tell our own stories and to assure ourselves we’re not alone. By reading and sharing stories with one another, we find a safe place in which to adjust ourselves, change course, become one with things that are at once basic and very much more than ourselves—the imagination, the light, a community. If we don’t experience story in some way, we will be in trouble; our exploration will cease. In fact, I think we will cease if we don’t explore our world and ourselves through stories.

And so it is as we live our lives and live our stories—forging our relationships, raising our families, doing our work, growing up and growing older, loving and losing—that we are as vessels on an ebbing and flowing tide. The earth’s very survival relies on the wax and wane of the moon, the ebb and flow of the oceans; so too does our own self-evolution rely on our embracing the inevitability of change, our willingness to balance the comfort of the familiar with the surprise of the new, and our staying open to the messages we may not at first understand, but which, somehow, usually fit perfectly into a space in ourselves we didn’t even know we had.

The past ten months since my layoff from a job at which I worked for 19 years and which I had come to let define me, have been, by turns, turbulent, thrilling, rocky, steady, cacophonous, and still. In one moment, you can be comfortably close to a familiar shore and in the next, you are flung out to sea, forced to question whether that shore had indeed been one of safety at all, forced to question your own expertise, forced to question who you really are. And then, there comes a moment when you realize that you’re still who you always were, you haven’t lost what you know and what you believe; you’ve just been blown onto a new course. And in whatever ways we decide to handle ourselves finding a new harbor, that’s how we become better navigators than we’ve ever been before. From that moment on, how we conduct ourselves moving towards – and away from – new harbors for the rest of our lives confirms who we really are.

drydenbks boat
by katherine tillotson

Today I've set coordinates for a new venture—a new adventure. drydenbks. The waters on which I launch this vessel are, without doubt, uneasy—this is a rough economy with no clear picture on how my family will be able to afford health care, this is a digital landscape for book publishing which requires much learning of new vocabularies and acquiring new skill sets, this is a country that ranks somewhere around 17th in literacy and doesn’t place enough cultural or societal value on books, this is a time of extreme corporate greed and so many systems broken. These same waters, however, feel buoyant to me, and the smell of the ocean has always given me strength and clarity. drydenbks comes directly from what I know so well, what I do so well, what I believe so deeply—there’s enough strength and stability in that to enable whatever flexibility, commitment, conviction, and hope are needed to stay afloat. Today I begin a new story, and by doing so, find my way towards new harbors. And I'm convinced new harbors find us when we need them most.

(c) emma d dryden, drydenbks llc


  1. Tracy Clark3/11/2010

    Such a great post, Emma. Here's to smooth sailing and a steady wind in your sails!

  2. drydenbks! What a great idea. I want to be a fan but can't seem to connect to the fan page. I'll try again later. So happy for you, Emma!
    Betsy Franco

  3. "...forced to question whether that shore had indeed been one of safety at all, forced to question your own expertise, forced to question who you really are." This resonates!

    Safe steering in the waters to the new harbors!

  4. Sailing is the perfect metaphor for you and your recent life. I will imagine a craft well-equipped, hull solid and mast and sails in mint condition. You've taken the helm and set a course. Remember you have a support system that will be your ballast and rudder. Red skies at night!

  5. Fair winds and following seas. Best wishes to you and yours.

  6. Thanks for your inspiring words! I'm facing the impending loss of my job as a children's librarian (due to budget cuts), as well as divorce, and your words are helpful to strengthen my resolution to see it as an exciting new opportunity!

  7. I was fortunate to be in the SCBWI audience when you gave that memorable address. Thank you for sharing your internal discourse on reframing a sea change. I've had one or two of those opportunities myself, and am beginning to understand how I leveraged challenge into achievement. I wish you every success on your new course, Ms. Dryden. Keep us posted!

  8. Congratulations, just read about your venture on an SCBWI email. I hope to join in the journey! Leslie

  9. Blessings on your journey! Your site is gorgeous! I have also launched out in these choppy seas, knowing that this storm won't last and the books have to go on.

  10. Anonymous3/13/2010

    I remember that speech, Emma-- that's when I first met you. Congratulations on your new venture. So exciting!

  11. This is one of the few truly thought-provoking and inspiring blogs I've read. May the waves no longer pound you, and let sail into your own snug harbor! As a former sailor, and present writer, and struggling blogger, it said it all.

  12. Hi, Emma. So glad to find you here. I have no doubt that the winds are at your back :)