AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry:
From "Solitary Confinement"
to a New Lease on Life

I was on a racing yacht off the coast of Dana Point, California with my new bride in my arms when my defining moment washed over me like a tsunami wave. In an instant I knew my life was about to change dramatically.

Here’s how it came all about …

I’d been working the same graphic designer/editor job for 23 years. During that time, I had experienced the sting of divorce, and the heartbreak of watching my daughters (who’d grown up way too fast) move away to college.

By 2008, I’d lived alone for over a decade. I battled daily to keep my spirits up … a battle I often lost. I wasn’t thrilled with my job, but that was the least of my problems.

In August of 2008 everything began to change when I met Sue.

Sue’s husband had passed away a couple of years earlier from Lou Gehrig’s Disease. For nearly a decade, she had sacrificed her own life to be a caregiver for his constantly increasing needs.

As our friendship grew, my outlook on life slowly began to change. We spent hours talking, sharing our past hurts and frustrations, as well as our hopes and dreams for the future. She was exactly what I needed.

I was thrilled to learn she loved riding motorcycles, so we spent many hours pounding the open road on my Harley.

But there was an irony. The more this new-found life began swirling around me, the more I started resenting being forced to sit alone in a tiny office 5 days a week, 49 weeks a year.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t the work. I love the creativity of graphic design, and I enjoy writing … and the thrill of moving people to action with words.

But I wanted to experience more of life. Yes, I desired more free time to do fun things, but I also craved more flexibility and fulfillment in my work life … like the freedom to work from different locations, and on different types of projects. Rather than being told when to work and how many minutes I was allowed for lunch, I longed for the freedom to create my own schedule.

As the months passed, I noticed that because of Sue the process of “coming back to life” intensified. I started feeling emotions I hadn’t felt in years, and I began caring about things I thought had died years earlier.

Soon, we were in love. (Actually, she figured out where this was going long before I did.)

After about a year, I felt like I had been given a fresh start in every area of my life … well, every area except my job. That still hadn’t changed a bit. But moving on …

On a cold and rainy Christmas Eve, 2009, I surprised Sue (I think) with a ring. She said yes.

One of our goals is to experience new things. We both felt like POW’s who’d been set free and could finally do whatever they wanted. So we decided our wedding should include a new experience as well.

Our idea? Get married at sea.

Our Wedding Day

June 12th, 2010 finally arrived. As we pulled into Dana Point, the sun was beginning to pierce through the cool morning haze.

We had reserved the Curlew, a sleek 82-foot wooden racing yacht built in 1926 that was reportedly sailed by John F. Kennedy.

Once we and 36 of our closest family and friends were onboard, we shoved off.

Our first stop was a romantic cove, where we dropped anchor behind some huge stone breakers. There, in the calm waters, with multi million dollar mansions dotting the shoreline, Sue and I exchanged our vows. A Hollywood script writer couldn’t have planned it any better.

After a celebratory toast, the anchor was hoisted, and we were off to the open ocean for our first sailing adventure.

What an experience it was. The long sailboat dipping and bobbing as it carved its way through the waves. The water splashing … and slapping against the wooden slats. The refreshing sea breeze in our face. The warm smiles from everyone onboard … and the joy of holding my new bride in my arms.

As I stood there soaking in this profound sense of freedom, I realized that life was getting better and better. And that was part of the problem.

The more “alive” I felt as a person, the more my 9 to 5 job made me feel like a prisoner locked away in solitary confinement. Now my wedding day was pushing me to my limits. Something was about to snap.

The Moment Finally Hit

I can’t really describe it, but it was like a simmering volcano erupted inside of me. The pressure that had been building for years finally blew … kabooooom!

I had gone from wanting a change … to REALLY wanting a change … to DESPERATELY wanting a change … to this explosion inside of me that made it crystal clear … solitary confinement was no longer an option. I had to bust out.

Yes, at that unforgettable moment in the Pacific ocean, I knew I had to make the writer’s life work, whatever it took. At that moment everything changed. There was no turning back.

My intensity skyrocketed. I had owned two AWAI courses for months, but hadn’t touched them. After the “explosion,” I devoured the first one, and immediately started the second, which I am now pouring through.

Each of the last two years, I knew I should have gone to Bootcamp but instead I made excuses. But after my “explosion,” there was no question. I signed up, and can’t wait to get there.

As I look back, I’m now thankful for all those hard times because they helped drive me to the place where the writer’s life has become my only option … and that’s exactly what I want.

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Published: September 30, 2010

5 Responses to “AWAI Writing Challenge Winning Entry: From "Solitary Confinement" to a New Lease on Life”

  1. Congratulations on your marriage,your new-found commitment to your writing, and to winning this contest.
    Thanks for this entertaining and inspiring essay- All the best to you and Sue!


  2. Rick, first off, Congratulations! Not only on submitting the winning entry, but starting a new chapter in your life as well! Your essay hit home with me. I, too, am about to burst! Every day, I sit at my desk just watching the clock. You words have inspired me and I'm signing up for Bootcamp! See you in Delray!

    Cheryl D

  3. Rick, what a wonderful defining moment! Congratulations on your new life and may you and your bride have many exciting experiences together - Donna

    Donna Kaluzniak

  4. Congratulations Rick on winning the challenge, and on your new marriage and life. Your story was so romantic and inspirational. Being new to AWAI, stories like yours, as well as the overwhelming abundance of information that comes with being an AWAI member, has truly lifted my spirits; as well as a new boost to my self-esteem, confidence, and drive. Damaris A.


  5. Congrats Rick - what a powerful experience and so beautifully written. I was there in that cove as you exchanged vows, and sailing out on the ocean with you and your guests.
    Ever thought of travel writing?
    Look forward to meeting you at Bootcamp -it's one month today!

    Ann Jordan-Mills

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