Saturday, June 16, 2012

I Struggle Even When Doing Things I Enjoy

Those following these posts know Jennifer and I have been struggling a fair amount these last six months.

I have appreciated the process of the struggle and learned from it. I know I have grown as a result of the struggles.

At times like these, we sometimes take inspiration from others who have struggled and captured the essence of struggle eloquently. It is with greater import when such inspirational words come from a young soul who is just beginning to recognize the value of struggle.

What a delightful surprise today to receive an email from my closest friend Joel, whose son Owen, 14, has just graduated from eighth grade.

Owen Gardner, giving a speech to his eighth grade graduating peers. 
The short graduation message he delivered to his peers impressed me so much with its poignancy, personal admissions and universality, I am reprinting it here.

I received it untitled:

“It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times.”

That quote is from Charles Dickens' story A Tale of Two Cities, a novel about the French Revolution. I could not think of a better quote with which to describe these past three years. I got to know people that I never expected to know, and I drifted from some whom I thought I would never drift from. I faced many struggles over the past three years, some of which I have overcome, and some of which I am only beginning to recognize. However, all of my struggles, past and current, I have learned from, and will continue to learn from until the day I die.

     A struggle with which I have dealt for as long as I can remember, is organization. Ever since I was a toddler I have had a particular knack for losing things. I have had credit reduced from many an assignment due to my poor organizational skills. However, schoolwork is not the limit of my challenge. Outside of school I have managed to lose many a toy, though I don't lose them so much now. I have tried to improve, and I think that I'm a bit better about my organization now, as opposed to when I was a child, however I know that I still have quite a ways to go.

     I have always been quite the procrastinator. When given a long-term assignment, I have always managed to rationalize pushing it off until the last day. Especially long writing assignments, and oral presentations, something like a speech that one would write when leaving a school, talking about the various struggles they encountered and overcame while there. Hypothetically, if I had to write something like that, I'm absolutely sure that I wouldn't be done with it until the day it's due. Hypothetically. Whether it be video games, television, or just plain lack of volition; I always manage to put things that require time and thought off until I have neither of those things in any kind of excess.

     Over the past three years I have actually overcome some struggles as well. One of which being my homework habits. Though I do admit that it does sound contradictory to some of the above things, I do believe that I have better habits than I did in elementary school. Back in my days attending elementary school, I never really did my homework, but still managed to get reasonable grades. Through my years here at Bigelow, I have learned that homework counts for much more than it used to. Hence in my past three years here, I have managed to actually do my homework, and losing it, as opposed to just blatantly ignoring it.

     Everyone struggles, it's just a part of life. I struggle even when doing things I enjoy. The struggle, surprisingly enough, is often what makes it all the more fun and I get more out of the experience. There are many times that I feel accomplished not because I got something, but because I did it myself. Solving your problems by yourself gives this proud sense of accomplishment that cannot be found anywhere else.

     “If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle.”
     -Frederick Douglass
     I have learned here at Bigelow, that no matter how much you may hate struggles, and try as you may to be rid of them, you need them, as they shape you. You cannot change them, you can only conquer them, or be conquered by them.

“In the end, you are exactly--what you are.
Put on a wig with a million curls,
put the highest heeled boots on your feet,
yet you remain in the end just what you are.”

* * *

Perhaps my favorite line of Owen’s is this:

“I struggle even when doing things I enjoy.”

His words certainly capture my feelings about working on Phoenix for the last few months. I will try to remember them the next time I am hot, sweaty, in a contorted position, with ribs aching because they are holding my body weight while I try to drive a screw, which has fallen several times during failed attempts.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Summer Breeze

As I walk down the dock toward my sailboat, I feel the warm breeze blown up from the Chesapeake and into the ports and streets of Baltimore.

It makes me want to write. I am saddened because I don’t think I can capture how the breeze is warm but not hot. How the breeze is summer’s breath, a bit too warm, almost but not quite threatening. Now, because the sun has set, because it is night’s first hour, the threatening heat has abated.

I want to enter the boat and sit and write and be unencumbered by threat or the deadline of needing to get this boat somewhere other than where it is now. Even though where it is now is not necessarily pretty. Baltimore has its charm, but its harbor waters are dirty and smelly. I don’t mind the grittiness of it all. I don’t mind having my horizon limited by huge, gigantic battleship-grey freighters. I can appreciate how they represent the raw commercial economics of trade. But I can’t call this pretty.

I want to sit here in my salon and wish it were a library. Wish my computer were a typewriter. Wish my typewriter were quill and ink. Wish the lighting wasn’t LED but candles. I wish I had the energy to at least light candles, because that one single factor I can control. But I don’t. I’m too lazy. I’m still reeling from the heat of the day. I’m still reeling from focusing all my energy and attention and efforts on repairing this boat, instead of writing. Instead of creating. Instead of paying attention to life. Though I suppose deciding on a brass or stainless steel screw in a location of the boat (where it will not matter one iota) is also life.

I want to have a good boat, and so I am doing that. I want to finally sail, and so I am wanting that. I want to be writing, and so I am bemoaning that, even while I sit here and write.

It is so hard to let go of want and just be with the task and the situation at hand. Decide on the screw. Don’t see that as an obstacle to installing the tab of wood ...

 which will hold the turnbuckle ... which will secure the board ... which supports a screen ... attached to a grate in the floor of boat.

The purpose of installing a screen is so things which inevitably will drop don’t disappear into the bilge; an event that is equivalent to losing something into the second or third circle of hell. So the screen is important. And not seeing the screen is even better. So if I do a good job on this installation, I will always appreciate that when I look down at the grate and don’t see what I otherwise could have seen, I will be satisfied I did a good job.

Why do I obsess about details no one will ever see? Except, of course, Jennifer and I, but then only in a state of agitation since we will have dropped something.

Silly, you agree? You don’t know the half of it. I ordered these turnbuckles from an outfit in England! Yes, I had them shipped from England to this brackish marina to install on the underside of my grate where they will be rarely seen. And then only in frustration.

To top it off, I spend time and effort and mental anguish on whether to install these disproportionately valued items with a brass screw or a stainless steel one.

And yet, I ask, why not?

My boat is not a Fabergé egg. Yet why not spend the time and effort and money on exactly these kinds of decisions? Especially when these decisions do, in fact, give me satisfaction. Why not treat Phoenix with the same investment as I would working on a poem or a short story? Why not try to get the details right?

Why not try to spend a whole evening trying to describe the smell of summer’s heat? The feeling after showering on a hot evening and walking out into the night. Trying to find the words to convey how my skin is finally dry and maybe not cool, but at least neutral. And the breeze is no longer anger, but more like the soothing warm breath of my mother blowing on my swollen, bruised and injured finger.

That’s what it felt like walking down the docks tonight. Warm breeze blowing on me, soothing all my frustrations and hurt. Making me realize that all this, all this work and effort and time and money and delay and sweat and arguments and discomfort, all this, is okay. It’s not so bad. See? A little blowing and it’s better already. It’s all life. Just be with the moment. It’s all good.

P.S. For those so inclined, you can take another look at the photos and see a mistake I made. After all that work, it didn't come out the way I wanted.

Oh, by the way, the whole project is just temporary. Dolphins had a nice teak frame that held brass or bronze screen. But that is one more item that is no longer carried by stores. So I had to be satisfied with plastic screen, held in by a modified cutting board.  Eventually I will find some bronze screen and span it into a teak frame. When I do, I will correct the mistake I made in this installation.

Spoiler Alert: The next paragraph reveals my mistake.

P.P.S. The mistake was not accounting for the swing of turnbuckle. You can see that if it is fully perpendicular, it blocks the "seating." You can see where the grate seats by the whitenend wood. In the second photo, you can see how I have to keep the turnbuckle aslant for the grate to fit.

So: no FabergĂ© by a long shot.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Weltanschauung of Voyagers

Today is a special day. It is May 31. But before I get to why, let me catch you up.

We launched the boat several days ago. It was not the exciting moment that sometimes accompanies such events. Rather, we felt it was another disjointed procedure in our stumbling run towards a self-imposed deadline.

The engine was (and still is) in pieces. The rudder was not (nor is  yet) full reassembled and so I tried to tie it in place so it wouldn’t slam against its hinges during the maneuvers of getting Phoenix into a slip.

Now we are at a dock. It is a step forward but not one that signifies any significant advance toward our departure.

Why this rush, then, to launch a disassembled boat? Because our lease at our apartment runs out. We are actually now forced to live aboard.

Or perhaps I should say “camp” aboard.

The fridge is still not connected.

We pulled the head (toilet) out for cleaning and for painting in the head well. So we will have to walk to the marina facilities.

Our water tanks are still not reassembled because they still need parts and repairs. (Again, walks to the bathrooms for doing dishes and such.)

We don’t have shore power because I am in the final stages of connecting a transformer which we will need for the higher European voltage.

And with the need to get to every nook, cranny, corner, and crevice of the ship, we can’t yet put in our cushions and make it look homey. We sit on hard boards.

Bins of parts are lying about as are baggies of screws, various tools, varnishing supplies, parts of hose, partially assembled doodads, and power tools. We are forever tripping over the extension cord or plugging and unplugging drill, sander, vacuum cleaner.

And all of this in humid, near-100-degree days.

But despite all that, today is a special day. And a beautiful geometry is created by the necessity to move onto our ship today and live aboard. Because it was exactly one year ago today, on May 31, 2011 that we moved aboard Dolphins and cast off on this Grand Voyage.

It has been (to employ British understatement) quite a year.

We bade farewell to home, family and friends. We committed ourselves to becoming liveaboards. We crossed an ocean. We sailed to foreign countries. Our boat burned. We lived in Turkey for four months. We struggled with the fundamental reconciliations of willpower and purpose in the context of the classic hero’s journey. We found a new boat. And now we are on the verge of continuing our Grand Voyage.

Heraclitus said, “You cannot step into the same river twice.”

Never was a proverb more aptly remembered than now.

It is not that it has become a different voyage. Nor that we have become different voyagers. It’s more that the voyage has evolved. And so have we.

Yes, we are more confident because we have gained some significant skills. Jennifer completed her first ocean passage, along with solo watches in gale conditions. I have learned more about being a captain of motely crews and now about fitting-out a boat mostly on my own.

Jennifer and I have experienced a more fundamental evolution: We have become voyagers.

And that has taken me by surprise.

We don’t talk so much anymore about when we are going to come back. It’s not that we don’t expect to; it’s just that now, being committed to this voyage, it’s hard to predict exactly when.

We also talk less about which countries we will see in which order. The concept of itinerary became jetsam somewhere along the way.

This change of outlook has been instigated by the voyage, but has far deeper implications than just our attitudes about itineraries. It has become a Weltanschauung.

We hope to be on our way back to the Mediterranean in a few weeks with a new boat, new skills and a new Weltanschauung.

Bring me that horizon.