Sebastian Junger’s Focused RetreatJune 4th, 2021 · 6 comments
In 1991, Sebastian Junger suddenly found himself with time to think. He had wounded himself with a chainsaw at his day job as a climber for a tree pruning company in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and was laid up recovering.
Morbidly inspired by the experience, Junger became interested in the idea of writing a book about dangerous jobs. In a tragic sense, his timing was good. That same year, a commercial fishing boat out of Gloucester named the Andrea Gail sunk off the coast of Nova Scotia in a historic storm. All six of her crew were lost.
Junger wrote a sample chapter about the Andrea Gail to include in a proposal for his dangerous jobs idea. It soon became clear, however, that the story of the lost fishing boat was rich enough to support an entire book on its own. The result was The Perfect Storm, which became an international bestseller after its release in 1997, and was subsequently adapted into a blockbuster movie staring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. Junger was credited with reviving the adventure non-fiction genre. Some even called him a new Hemingway.
The twist of this story that perhaps interests me most, however, is what Junger did next: he bought a dilapidated house in the woods. To be more specific, in 2000, Junger purchased a rundown residence, built in the early 1800s, and hidden at the end of a winding, unpaved lane in Truro, a small town in upper Cape Cod known as a refuge for writers and artists.
As Junger explains in a 2019 interview with CapeCod.com, he spends as much time there throughout the year as possible: “It’s a very good place to to work. It’s old and removed from humanity.”
As he elaborates:
“It helps to be in a place mentally and physically where you can focus. Some people can do that in New York [where Junger has an apartment], and I can do that, too. But on the Cape, it’s easier to achieve that focus. The property that I have is really tucked away from other people and I can go for days without seeing or hearing another human being.”
This commitment to focus seems to have paid off, as Junger went on to win a National Magazine Award and an Oscar Nomination, become a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, and publish five more acclaimed books, including his most recent, Freedom (which I recently read and quite enjoyed).
I couldn’t help but think about Junger’s hidden Cape Cod retreat when I browsed his Twitter feed earlier today. As might be expected, his timeline is thick with tweets from the past few months, promoting his new book. But if you scroll on it suddenly starts to bounce across long expanses of digital radio silence: a tweet on July 2019, then nothing until two tweets in April 2020, then silence again until February of this year.
Instagram is even sparser. Junger didn’t have an account on the platform until just a few months ago, and his feed contains only a collection of promotional images from the book, likely dumped en masse by a publicity assistant.
This online modesty isn’t really surprising. It’s hard, I imagine, to get lost in the superficial din of that glowing screen in your hand when outside your window is a quiet woods, only partially muffling the sound of crashing waves beyond. That’s the type of space that inspires one to instead orient their attention toward the deep and the slow.