Yesterday, I told Elias that I want to buy something expensive. “Something expensive” is an eighty dollar pair of shoes. I already own these shoes. I purchased them, four years ago, and had them mailed to my Washington, DC apartment.
They walked with me to work; the best city commute imaginable, five blocks by foot, into the heart of your nation’s capitol.
I wore them back to Maine, they rested on the floor of a rental car as I drove, with a cat and public radio for company, back home.
I was wearing them the day I fell off and iceberg into the sea, and, backless though they were, they stayed on my frozen feet. I wore them that whole summer of cooking to and from the Arctic. I wore them the winter I worked in the discount department store, I wore them last winter with pressed slacks to jobs at bookstores and galleries.
Those shoes have stepped from wharf to rail countless times as I have transitioned from city living to the funny existence of one who lives aboard.
They’re tired and scuffed, and it’s time for a new pair, the same kind, but purchased with money I earned a different way. I earned it by molding my words into something that made people care about this funny world I live in, where eighty dollar shoes are something you discuss at length with a man who lived, for a while at least, in a shed.
“Of course,” said Elias. “Buy the shoes.”
I’m giddy today, wondering—
Where those shoes and I might go next.
In Washington, people sit around and talk about how the most-often utilized small talk question in D.C. is “What do you do,” and in New York it is “where do you live?” This is something of a defining difference between the two cities, the way we sort ourselves into familiar and meaningful groups. I lived in a “what do you do” culture, defined by my employer, for a long time.
And I don’t anymore.
A big part of my last year has been a commitment to nurturing and developing a passion of mine- to write. This has meant being comfortable living a different sort of financial bracket, which has not been nearly as difficult for me as the awkward moment when someone asks me what I do for work.
I do a lot of things. I work part-time for three different small business, all of which I believe are important to my community, add value to my days, and allow me to contribute financially to this lifestyle project I’ve tackled. They are businesses I support, employers I respect, and places where I have a voice as well as a wage. This spring, I’ve also undertaken the boaty project of refinishing brightwork on a friend’s fancy new wooden sailboat. It’s a far cry from DC paralegal, the job that taught me how to wear high heels and make exceptionally complex tables in Microsoft Word.
But still I reserve a little time each day to meet the written word in my simple, teeny office space. When I examine my day in the evening, before I turn grouchy and demand sleep in a comic overtired stupor, it is the writing I measure.
But when someone asks you what you do, you can’t say “writer” because then the person asking will say “what do you write?” and then you will have to give them a disappointing answer. They want to hear “I write novels,” or “poetry for greeting cards,” or “text on the back of cereal boxes.”
People do not want to hear “I read a lot and then I write a lot. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad, sometimes it’s stories, or a poem, or a song, and sometimes it’s essays.” If you say “I am at a very early stage of being a writer, so mostly, I am just making sure I write, whatever and whenever I can,” the question-asker thinks “oh, you are a BOGUS writer!” And then I have to hurry to say “Maybe, but really, REALLY I work at a bookstore and an art gallery and a restaurant, and I’ve been breathing varnish fumes all day, too.”
What we are really talking about is money. People want to know what I do for money, which is different from my career.
I work for me in a little office space with a water view. I lose money on it most months, the rent for the space exceeding what I earn stringing words together. But it’s my work, it’s my craft. All the other jobs exist so that I can continue to partition off my mornings to be a writer. To sit in front of the scary blank screen, make my scary blank mind focus on any miniscule thing it can, and write. And if I do it all long enough, I’ll get better. I might not get earn-a-living-wage better, but I’ll get better. That’s my job.
When I worked on a larger boat, it was not uncommon for crew to regularly dream about the boat we’d given large portions of our lives to doing strange things. For me, the ship was usually converted into a tree house, and whatever aspect of boat life I was struggling with (the head, the schedule, the lack of personal space) was exemplified in the boat tree house. I attribute much of this to the fact that I missed trees, specifically woods, a lot while living at sea.
All of us, however, dreamed of driving our boat down a conventional street at one time or another. It was a strange dream to occur in the subconscious of everyone, but it was a delightful dream. The boat moved forward, but instead of pitching side to side or forward and back, it simply glided, like a car, down the interstate at six knots.
Last weekend, I lived the dream; our new boat, which still lives nameless and lonely in Portland, was launched, and in the process, Elias and I stood in the cockpit while she was hauled around on a hydraulic trailer. Immediately afterward, the boat was launched and we got to drive her, the way we will for many years, I suspect, through the water and into a slip.
She floats; there’s no water where there shouldn’t be and we were both impressed with what a delight she was to operate.
This is the beginning of a new relationship with a new vessel, and it’s fitting to me that this time we start with a journey, rather than a winter aboard. Then she’ll start working her way into my dreams.
On Monday of this week, when I met Elias for lunch on Mama Tried, as per usual, he was jittery.
“I’m really nervous,” he said.
I had to pick at him in a couple different ways, but eventually he admitted that he’d seen a boat he really liked on Craigslist, and he’d sent the owner an email.
“Why are you nervous?” I asked, because even for someone as gifted at anxiety as I am, this doesn’t really make the cut for sweaty armpits and jittery feet.
“Because, what if someone else emailed him first? What if it’s gone?”
This is how paramount the search for the next boat; one we want but not one we really need, has become to my dear, rational partner.
No one got there first, and the following day we were aboard the boat, a tough little Allied Seawind 30 in South Portland, and the next morning we committed to buying her.
So may I introduce the newest addition to the Mama Tried tribe:
All details are yet to be determined, but we are, at this moment, full of the usual daydreams that accompany possibility.
And you know what? She has RADAR!
Today marked an important milestone in the slow march to spring; Elias and I enjoyed lunch outdoors. We sat on the dock, our backs against Pitchin’ Woo, our tender, and scarfed mac-n-cheese loaf sandwiches and pickles.
We spent the half hour building our list of spring time projects, and I found myself excited for repairs in the coming weeks, and the eventual first weekend sail.
Hopefully we’ll be hauling out for a paint job, installing a new stove, and working on a small deck repair*. The water at the yard will be back on soon, too, and when I’m not working on Mama Tried or Pitchin’ Woo or writing, I’ll be working on some varnish for a friend.
Today, the world is as light as it dark, but the first day of spring always seem more hopeful than that. It’s starting, the new season is starting, and despite an easy winter, I’m feeling terribly ready.
*A few weeks ago we were quietly watching Trailer Park Boys as the wind howled around us, and awoke to the sound of crunching fiberglass. the wind on our plastic cover was too much for one of the forward stanchions, and drove it down into the deck.
Hi, all! Welcome to the new home of Woman Enough!
The real secret to the move, the sneaky underhanded motivation for such a cruel disruption, is that the price of hosting my own domain sky-rocketed and I was opposed to paying the new charges. I figured you all would be okay with a change of address, and the good news is that having to pour over all the previous blog content has gotten me kind of jazzed about writing some new stuff.
So that’s the scoop. It’s pretty fitting with the whole financial make up of my lifestyle, which is keeping things cheap so I can do more stuff I want to do and less stuff I don’t.
I’ll be uploading more and more of the old posts in the next few days. Thanks for coming along.
I love a new year. And I realize you have every right to be furrowing your brow because we are, actually, a week and a half into 2012 and I am just now getting around to acknowledging that beastly season of winter holidays. Fair enough.
I took a little time to run myself ragged over the holidays and then retreat into the solitary quiet of winter immediately afterward. Maine seems to be glistening with early morning ice these days, and I am enjoying that brief period when winter feels comforting and relaxing as I hunker down for the long wait for mud season.
Elias and his sister took Mama Tried for her final 2011 sail on December 20, which is pretty good for these parts. An eight month sailing season in Maine is more the stuff of wishful thinking than anything else. I keep marveling at what a change it is for Mama Tried, who spent years on the hard, her sailing life looking mostly done, before she became out home.
We covered the boat with her shrink wrap bubble on January 6, and have thoroughly enjoyed cabin temperatures in the fifties when we wake up and a condensation-free living space.
Like mother nature, we’re retreating to a certain extent. Less time and energy is being spent outdoors, and boat projects seem to be waiting for spring. we’re focused on life below, tidying the cabin we find ourselves spending more and more time in. We’ve thrown ourselves headfirst into the business of learning to cook with a pressure cooker, which is comfortingly domestic and delicious.
So a new year starts quietly, with household projects and longing looks out to sea. The focus is internal as we calm ourselves before the springtime begins its burst.
“I want a huge kitchen! With drawers and cabinets and shiny appliances!”
I am whining. Every once in a while, I give way to the urge to pout about the space constraints of living aboard.
Right now, the table is littered with the ingredients for the meal I’m about the cook. There is a wet camp stove on the sole of the galley. Clothing is piled everywhere in th cabin, and I am starving. I cannot imagine pulling things together enough to cook the extremely simple meal I’ve planned for the evening. I feel like a Cathy cartoon abandoned in a Popeye scene (“I yam what I yam, ACK!”
Last week, our Origo alcohol stove ignited its third and final invisible and odorless fire inside the stove compartment. It scared us both a good bit, and we decided we were safer without it.
So out went the Origo and in came the Coleman dual fuel camp stove that came with the boat. It’s not perfect, but we can see and smell the flame and the ways that it seems dangerous are new, which right now seems better. It is, however, too large for the space in our galley, so it lives on deck. We bring it in for meal preparation, setting it up on the only available counter space.
Today, it is raining, and we are not yet covered under the shrink wrap canopy that will keep us warm and dry this winter, so the stove is wet, and, I have just realized, out of fuel.
It takes a while to get started setting things right. First, Elias and I decide to argue about politics, which we do about once a year and then agree not to do ever again.
We grow tired of arguing before we can change each other’s minds, and Elias refills the fuel canister on the stove while I half heartedly chop some vegetables, dig the beans out of a locker underneath a bunch buried in outerwear, and wash our one pot, still dirty from lunch, for its next tour of duty.
We don’t eat until after eight pm, after all the whining, politics, and cooking are done. There isn’t room to set my plate on the table because I have stubbornly refused to clean up anything as I’ve cooked. We eat, Elias does the dishes, and everything is better. The camp stove is back outside, the table is cleared and the galley is tidy.
I have the restless discontent feeling of someone who has completed all the tasks of her day but none of them as well as she would like. I decide that writing in the present tense is interesting, but still not right for me, and with heavy eyelids, I deem it the end of a day afloat.
I spotted it on Friday afternoon; a newly delivered pile of wood in my parents’ front yard. A wave of enthusiasm washed over me, and some part of my body ached to stack a little wood. I woke up still thinking about it on Saturday, and by the time I actually made it up to their house, my father had most of the pile stacked into neat little rows. There was still a good third remaining, though, and I got my back, arms and legs into the familiar process; end, reach, lift, carry, stack, repeat. The pile grew.
When I was a kid, we relied heavily on wood heat, and there wasn’t much financial leeway, and thus most fall weekends were spent on the project of wood. It must be cut, split, and stacked, and generally this required the transfer of a large woodpile a couple times. transferring a wood pile is not like transferring twenty bucks from account A to account B. Each piece gets picked up, thrown into trailer or wheelbarrow, and emptied on the other end.
Wood is a process. It is methodical and tactile and your body remembers everything about it for a very long time. When I lived in city apartments, fall felt incomplete without the process of putting up wood.
I had a grandfather for whom wood was close to religion; he didn’t regard it as omnipotent, but the process of preparing the wood, building the fire, it was all steeped in ancient wisdom for him. The art of fires and firewood was lofty and he granted it reverence. It makes sense to me, to be in proper awe of this thing that grows free and wild and keeps us warm and turns chickens into something delicious.
Mama Tried also heats with wood, but ours is mostly scavenged building scraps that Elias splits with a rigging knife and a ninja impersonation on top of the battery box. Recently, I tried my hand at splitting it myself, and it’s the most amazingly therapeutic experience imaginable. I felt extraordinarily capable and productive, and maybe it’s because of my current career path, but that combination felt rare and special.
The wood we gather today is different from the wood pile of my youth, but it’s still part of that conflicted celebration Mainers engage in; the preparation for winter. We pretend that we hate the battle each year, but there’s palpable joy as we gather our weapons, log upon log, black the stove, and wait for winter to fall.
The most often asked inquiry into the well-being of Mama Tried’s crew these days is “are you staying warm?” which I suppose is something of a form of small talk around these parts, but I think we get it more often than others. We do, after all, live in a piece of plastic, and the temperature of both air and water are dropping.
But I can assure you that yes, we are plenty warm enough.
Mostly because Mama Tried is insulated. The decision to insulate was made after we spent our first night aboard last November. The next day, I went to work and Elias lined the interior hull with inch and a half thick foam insulation. And then, because pink isn’t really my color, we covered the insulation with a wood tongue and groove ceiling. It’s actually quite fancy looking.
So we keep most of the heat we make.
On top of that, it’s a very, very small space, and it doesn’t take much to heat it. So we have this tiny, football-sized wood stove that does and darn good job keeping us toasty, as long as we do a good job keeping it fed.
Gathering wood is yet to be a problem; last winter we scavenged building scraps, and this year it looks like we’ll be able to do the same. Lots of manufacturers around here sell their hardwood scraps for $10 a truckload, and we’re thinking about this option, too (although storage is a tough consideration, and it’s actually easier for us to collect a week’s worth of wood than a winter’s worth).
Of course, a wood fire doesn’t last long when no one’s tending it, and so we run an electric heater when we’re not on board. It keeps the plumbing from freezing up and it means things aren’t quite so frigid when the people arrive home.
About this time last year, Elias suggested an electric blanket might be cozy. I’m not sure what I was trying to prove in terms of heartiness, but I refused to bow to such luxury. That was pretty stupid. We spent $40 on an electric blanket this month and it is worth twice that. If this is what getting soft looks like, I’ll take it.
Granted, it has been an exceptionally mild fall. I don’t recall being cold last winter, however, and we’re in much better shape for it this year. In fact, last year at this time Mama Tried was just being launched for the first time in years, and we were checking the bilge obsessively and shaking our heads in shear disbelief that the thing actually floated. Today, I take the wonders of buoyancy for granted and manage to whine that it’s really too warm in the cabin once you have the fire going and a couple of stove burners chugging to boot.
The problems aboard are really great problems to have.