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A Beginner's Guide to Paradise


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A Beginner's Guide to Paradise


9 Steps to Giving Up Everything So You Too Can:

Move to the South Pacific
Wear a Loincloth
Read a Hundred Books
Diaper a Baby Monkey
Build a Bungalow &
Maybe, Just Maybe, Fall in Love! *

 

* Individual results may vary.

 

 

 

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Step 1: Pick an Island


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Step 1: Pick an Island


 
 

Ten days aboard the Microspirit, a freighter not so much threatened by rust as held together by it, convinced me that it was time to pick an island, any island. So I picked Pig. Part travel-agent calendar and part Far-Side cartoon, the island of Pig, itself an outer island of Yap, already seemed from the pictures like a destination so familiar that I wondered why I’d even bothered showing up.

 

 
 
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Step 2: Ask Some Questions


(But Not Too Many)

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Step 2: Ask Some Questions


(But Not Too Many)

I’d come in search of capital-P, Paradise. Not a unique mission, but I needed to know if Paul Gauguin’s Paradise still existed – the one with the flowering trees glistening with recent rain, the beautiful women carrying baskets of fruit, the smiling tigers. And if it did still exist, why didn’t people just move there? Was it lack of ambition or too much ambition that kept them away? Or was life simply too hard – or too easy – on a place like Pig? I didn’t know. But I had a hunch that an ideal life is not something you just back into. An ideal life would require making some arrangements.

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Step 3: Adjust Loincloth


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Step 3: Adjust Loincloth


For me, those arrangements finished here, in a small cabin of the aptly named Microspirit, with me trying to tie on a thu. According to custom, I was supposed to wrap eight feet of blue cloth in such a way that it covered the right places without making me look like a prom-night carnation. I failed in both respects. Flamboyant hoops of extra material draped off my hips, yet I could feel cool air in increasingly funny places. Unsure what else to do, I crammed the extra bits inside an inner loop - sufficiently loosening the outer loop to send the cottony contraption sliding down to my ankles.

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Step 4: Find a Safety Pin...


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Step 4: Find a Safety Pin...


Then genius struck: a safety pin. In a humbling moment of desperation akin to looking for a misplaced wallet in the freezer, I scoured under my cabin’s metal bed: perhaps a safety pin had just fallen down there. I was in luck. Sort of. Along with a few Raman noodles, some dust, and a Pop-Tart wrapper, I found a paperclip. Not perfect, but with hope and a little pluck, I managed to bend the paperclip in such a way that it nicely accessorized, if not actually fastened, my loincloth.

...And Some Lucky Strikes


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...And Some Lucky Strikes


I grabbed a Ziploc bag of Lucky Strikes and headed to the deck. My plan: present the cigarettes to the island’s chiefs, take a look around, and – assuming it was the Paradise I pretty much expected it to be – ask if I could stay.

Given the Microspirit’s tight schedule, I’d have only an hour to make a good impression, ask for permission to stay, and rush back to the boat to get my bag of clothes and books. But I was too focused on my slipping thu to notice the absurdity of the plan. I’m pretty sure what my answer would have been had a guy from Yap showed up at my door and said, “Do you mind if I stay here? I have this idea of Paradise, and it looks almost exactly like your apartment.”

To actually get the last quarter mile to Pig I had to take the Microspirit’s dinghy, a sort of Nanospirit, which rocked in the waves 35 feet below the deck. I hesitated.

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Step 5: Study The Art of The Rope Ladder


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Step 5: Study The Art of The Rope Ladder


Getting into a small boat is always a tricky proposition. Getting into a rocking boat in the open ocean: even harder.

Doing so on a rope ladder in a thu seemed…unwise, at best. Even if I somehow made it down, I worried there would hardly be room: the Nanospirit was loaded to the rim with elderly, topless women, and a wooden coffin. Baskets of fish and clothes and toothpaste filled the remaining pockets of space.

But this was my Pacific coming-out party. I wanted to wow them.

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Step 7: Do As Chief Chuck Does


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Step 7: Do As Chief Chuck Does


Thu and carton of smokes in hand, I stepped towards the ladder – but, seeing the boat so far below, hesitated again.

“Use the ladder,” a man said behind me. His tone was helpful, not sarcastic, as though I’d been considering making a leap. I turned. It was Chief Chuck from Chuuk. An enormous man, even by Pacific standards, Chief Chuck had a preference for snug, white thus.

“Watch,” he said and, just as a wave raised the dingy closer, Chief Chuck stepped in front of me and slid down the ladder, skipping every single rung. He landed on his side, rolled across a half-a-dozen baskets, and came to heavy stop against the side of the coffin. He waved for me to follow.

With one hand holding both the cigarettes and the other firmly holding my thu, I took a few steps down the ladder that now swung across the side of the ship. Then a few more steps down.

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Step 8: Reflect, Briefly


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Step 8: Reflect, Briefly


With twenty-five feet still to go, I discovered why the inventor of the paperclip, Walter Hunt, later built America’s first sewing machine: paperclips bend. My thu covered me in the same way that holding up a pair of jeans in front of a mirror covers you - it worked well enough, but not all angles were created equal.

While in the Pacific, I’d hoped to reduce the number of variables in my life to find out which were the most important – take away electricity and friends and see which I miss the most – but clothes were never supposed to be on the list. On my way down, I found myself fixating on the physicality of things: the handles on a woven basket, the sun reflecting off the dinghy’s small outboard engine, the scar on a woman’s ankle.

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Step 9: And Hope For The Best.


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Step 9: And Hope For The Best.


Before I slipped into a thu-induced stupor, gravity took over. That, frothing fear, and the basic instinct not to dangle nearly naked in front of twenty elderly women. I slid down the ladder. Effectively naked, I tumbled into the dingy, managing to hold on…only to my Lucky Strikes. Not exactly Fred Astaire, but Chief Chuck from Chuuk was hardly Ginger Rogers.

I had arrived.  And I was pretty sure I'd wowed them.

 

 

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Let Me Know


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Let Me Know


For reasons I don't fully understand, Random House Penguin | NAL bought this book and even agreed to publish it!  Right now it exists only as a Word document on my computer, but it should be available in ebook form and actual paper in early fall, 2015. 

If you fill out this form, I'll send you a dollar (for reals) and a little email reminder when the book comes out.