Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Sink, Swim or Drain the Pool: Nourishing Failure

"Well, we didn't do, and we didn't quite die,"-Dr. Seuss

Sailors tell stories.  Sudden, violent gales, knockdown swells, equipment failures, groundings, comical bungling; this is the stuff of nautical talk. Who wants to hear about the time you went out and it was really nice?

I'm reminded of a story told to me by a captain about his first watch as mate on a new boat. Each time he went below to report to the captain on what were rapidly deteriorating weather conditions, the captain would reply, "wake me when it gets worse." Finally, with winds gusting to fifty knots (a knot is 1.15 m/h), spars splintering, lines parting, and cargo swept from the decks, the mate went below to wake the captain. "Wake me when it gets better," was the response.

By sailorly standards, then, our first day out was a perfectly uneventful bit of cruising. From a lubber's perspective (or any other sane person), however, it was miserable. Lacking wind to sail, we motored through six-foot swells under gray October skies. Lysander spent the day wailing "I want to go home!" or passed out in my arms, I donated what little I had eaten in the previous twenty-four hours to the marine environment, and Wallace lay on his back in the cockpit with his eyes closed. Toward the end of the day it drizzled. We dropped anchor in the Saco River, in the exact spot where we had moored old Ruby four years earlier.
During the night I assessed the situation. How did it compare to our vision? What were our objectives? Had we already gained useful experience cruising, found our limits and where to focus our growth? Was I at ease, or was I scared? Was it productive, motivating tension, or destructive anxiety?

The next day dawned like an advertisement for New England in the fall; we decided to head for our next scheduled destination and then modify our plans. We motored out into light seas and favorable winds, raised the sails and headed south.
Looks auspicious, right?
The wind immediately began gusting to thirty knots; it was all we could do to strike the sails and motor back in. Over our shoulders we could see the Coast Guard going out while the fishing boats came back and a thirty foot sail boat headed in on a tow line. We motored back up to Portland, managing to scuff the only rock in Casco Bay on the way up. When John called a friend to meet us at the dock, he said, "You didn't try to sail today, did you?"

This was a successful voyage. It was some of the most instructive time we have spent on the water this season, and we have a clear vision of what needs to happen next. I've had a few days to unravel the psychic buildup to this adventure, to marvel again at how life always falls into place, and to enjoy an electrical system with sufficient amperage to power the Vita-Mix and a toilet that flushes easily.

When in over your head, you can sink or swim. But sometimes it's wisest to drain the pool.
Sailing is fun when you don't feel like death

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fear Factor

You know the first part of the story: I was young and strong and I got cancer and it is one of the best things that ever happened to me.

You might not know the next part, and the reason it has been silent on the blog for so long: Right after I was confirmed as being in full remission, we bought a thirty-seven foot sailboat.
She's exactly the boat we dreamed about as we sat in the sun on Saturday mornings and spilled coffee on the map of where we now live. We've been quietly preparing her to carry us from Maine to North Carolina to live aboard for the winter. What comes next is uncertain, but it is unlikely to be conventional. (Since I couldn't talk about it publicly, and I can't be insincere about what is important in my life, I couldn't write for a while).

I'm excited. I'm ecstatic. And I'm definitely scared.

I used to think I could rationalize my fears away; I would confront my anxiety with a host of reasons for its cosmic insignificance. Then it would continue to sit and smirk in a corner of my mind, enlarged and empowered by my efforts to banish it. Then one day I sat down across from my own mortality, and I looked at my hand, and I had nothing to bid. I was scared. I was really fucking scared. I was so scared that I had to admit it, admit that I was afraid to die and without any argument for why I wasn't going to.

Then a strange thing happened: the anxiety went away, and my course of action was clear. The unknown was still there, the source of the fear, but the fear itself had no power. I didn't feel afraid anymore.

Sometimes I leave the kitchen a mess all day. I know that it has to get cleaned, and so it will. But that letter might not get written, or that call not get made, or that game not get played. I'm going to wake up in the morning and take breaths, one after another, all day, no matter what happens. Sometimes I'm going to be scared, and that's just one of many things that might happen. Security is illusory. So I'm getting on that boat, and charging into the unknown, because the fear wins only when I pretend it's not there. In adventure, the payoff is proportional to the risks.

Of course, I'll have to eat. Two of my favorite recipes are adapted very closely from these links, both grain- and nut-free: Fluffy Coconut Blueberry Pancakes, (I substitute maple syrup for honey and add a cup of blueberries. If you increase this recipe, increase the eggs by a factor of at least 1.5x, so in doubling it you will need ten eggs, rather than eight) and Sweet Potato Fish Chowder (I omit the bacon because my husband doesn't eat pork, and instead of using broth I add a T of tomato paste to the water. I only find it necessary to use a cup, rather than a pint, of cream).