‘Cause when you’re done with this world,
You know the next is up to you.
— John Mayer, “Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967″
I’m easily inspired. Especially by songs, movies, and quotes. I joke that I’m probably the worst person to solicit for movie advice because almost every movie seems to move me, if only in a silly and minuscule way. Maybe I’m just easily entertained; not necessarily because I’m simple-minded, but because I have an easy time cutting through whatever medium and finding some message or value I can hold onto. At least that’s what I tell myself.
Well, it happened again. Last night, I was doing work while listening to John Mayer’s newest album Paradise Valley on Spotify. Lost in flow, I drifted into his earlier albums unnoticeably until a lyric sunk into my eardrum:
"Walt Grace, desperately hating his old place Dreamed to discover a new space and buried himself alive Inside his basement The tongue on the side of his face meant He's working away on displacement And what it would take to survive."
The song was Walt Grace’s Submarine Test, January 1967. I put the song on repeat and listened to it again. And again. And again. Until I figured out why it tapped my shoulder so.
The song tells a story of Walt Grace, a seemingly agreeable guy who one day looked around at his life, his “old place,” and realized he didn’t like it any longer. Actually, he hated it. He had dreams of greener pastures, of big dreams and lofty goals. His old place reflected a life that ignored those goals.
In that moment, Walt resolved to change his life situation. Not by waiting patiently for someone to change his life for him or counting on heavenly grace from above. Nope. Walt had a crazy dream, a half-baked idea, and realized he needed to put himself to work.
"With the will to work hard and a library card, He took a homemade, fan blade, one-man submarine ride."
Everyone thought he was crazy. His wife. His kids. His friends. No one really believed in him. Well, except himself. He believed in himself.
And why wouldn’t everyone think he was crazy? His goal was to travel across the Pacific Ocean in a homemade one-man submarine. The whole way. The odds were stacked against him and his silly dream.
"That morning the sea was mad and I mean it Waves as big as he'd seen it deep in his dreams at home."
Despite the odds though, he made it all the way to Tokyo. Sure, it took him a long time — he was propelling himself by a measly fan blade. But he made it.
When he came up for air on the other side of the ocean, he was surrounded by a huge, satisfying stillness that echoed back to him the glory of his remarkable feat. For a moment, and for perhaps the first time in his life, he appreciated himself and relished in his own accomplishment. He had taken his life by the pedals, literally, and took himself across the largest ocean in the world.
"And for once in his life, it was quiet As he learned how to turn in the tide."
Walt wanted something bigger out of life. And he knew in his heart of hearts what he had to do. The next step, he finally admitted to himself, was up to him.
"'Cause when you're done with this world You know the next is up to you."
Let this be a friendly nudge to keep going on whatever homemade, crazy-ass thing you’re working to build. It’s easier to quit. It’s easier to ignore your ambitions. But deep down, you know what you need to do. The next step is up to you.
From one Walt Grace to another, I wish you all the best.
To all of you who keep supporting me on my homemade, fan blade, submarine ride: Thank You. Because of you, it doesn’t feel like a one-man ride at all.
Tell me, how’s your submarine ride coming along?