Category Archives: the ocean

Recent Interview about Living on Boats and my Shipwreck

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I was interviewed recently about my experiences living on sailboats from 2009-2011, and the shipwreck I experienced with my partner in 2011 that changed our life and moved us into the woods for a while.

Please feel free to check it out HERE.

And Happy coming Solstice and other holidays!

magic, deafness, being divided, and dogs

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(what else happens in my life, besides the intersection of these things?)

I was speaking with a close friend and cousin today about magic: Not the witchcraft kind (not exactly), nor the sorcerer either.  How sometimes, things just all come together magically.  It’s not just the big things that do this, but the little things, too.  Like when I get just enough writing done to go for a run and then cook dinner, and the baby sleeps for just long enough for me to get everything done that I want to get done.  Days occasionally go perfectly.  And there’s so many beautiful accidents that happen in the world.

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I believe this happens when we are feeling particularly positive, flexible, and open.

When we have nothing against the Universe, and the Universe doesn’t seem to have anything against us.

I think this happens for everyone, though I’m sure there are exceptions.  But THIS—this exact feeling of:

Positivity.  Gentleness.  Awareness.  Friendliness.  Kindness.  Hopefulness.

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THIS is a GOAL for me.  This is something I try and wake up every day to feel, but of course, I might start days like this sometimes, and other times, I’ll feel an entire aversion to everything having to do with the morning (having to get up, make coffee, walk the puppy, feed the toddler, start working) from the first second I open my eyes (and those days usually go badly, from those first seconds).  Life happens in between these two opposite situations: the positive and negative things that revolve around us throughout our days.  And I think it’s hardest in the middle, divided between opposing reactions, opposing feelings, essentially stuck with a love/hate feeling for the whole world.

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Deafness does this.

Though more specifically, the kind of deafness I mean is, having spent the first decade or so of life hearing mostly-everything, and then within a decade, hearing a lot of noise, but no words, not anymore.

I hear a lot, but it’s a lot of “nothing”—groaning, yelling, car engines, boat engines, toilet flushes, crying, rushing wind, and my own voice.

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I wonder if that’s why I still do LOVE the sound of my own voice, and I love to give public readings or tell stories to my child in spoken English, even though I also sign stories to him in ASL.  I love the poetry slams and cafe poetry readings, even though, unless the poet gives me a copy of their reading beforehand, I can’t hear them.

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I love all these things, but I hate them, too.  I hate them because of the words I can’t hear anymore, and I hate them because they make me feel selfish, they make me feel disabled, and they make me feel divided (between hearing and deaf cultures, two vastly different entities that I didn’t even realize existed before I crossed from one of them to the other, and back, and forth, and back).

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So what do I do here in this middle ground—this place between the positive and the negative, the two cultures, the love and hate?  I’m not calling hearing positive or better, I’m calling it different than deaf, equally positive and negative on its own.  Just like Deafness.  There’s no path that is better, but being deaf in a group of hearing people feels exactly lovely and awful at the same time.

Lovely, because they are my friends or my family, and awful because they are speaking a language I can’t hear anymore—so it’s not like the English I can speak myself, it’s like they’re speaking Arabic or Mandarin.

I love all the new things I notice because I can’t hear anymore: like new outfits, the look of guilt or sorrow someone’s trying desperately to hide, new hairstyles or the way someone’s standing and what it might be showing of their deeper feelings, or the way the wind is moving over the water or through the leaves.

Some people might think it’s romantic and dreamy to be deaf, and sometimes on t.v., we are shown as this: a dreaming angel, eyes noticing everything and mind constantly thinking about “romantic” things.

And some people think its the most horrible thing in the world: “Oh, my God, you can’t HEAR ANYTHING?  I don’t know what I’d DO without my HEARING!  Oh my, can you actually drive a CAR?!  How do you go to a RESTAURANT?!”

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But really, my deafness often feels like, every day, I wake up and people have decided to speak a new language, and everyone knows it except ME, and by the end of every day, I think, “Maybe by tomorrow, I’ll understand more of it,” but then tomorrow comes, and it’s a whole NEW language all over again.

And honestly, some days I’m too tired to even TRY lip reading.  Or being in a group of people speaking this “new language.”

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And through all my changes, I’ve learned the language of deafness, which in this country is called ASL or American Sign Language, and I’ve learned that I feel closer to dogs than humans.  The language of dogs, their whining, their barks and groans, the way they roll on the floor or wag their tails, has not changed!  Dogs have always spoke this way to me, and they always will. It’s the sort of “constant” that’s a blessing in my life, something that helps me on the path towards being more positive (which is one reason I have Hearing Dogs).

I’ve also learned that some humans have a strong sense of community and generosity, and some do not.  (Or in another words: Not all humans are as sweet as dogs.)

The language of the wind has remained the same, too, though that dialect is the most exciting when you live on a sailboat.

And humans are the most interesting to me when I wake up in an “actually different country,” not America, and have difficulty hearing Hindi or Thai or Tibetan.  (I feel less disabled in India or Kenya, than I feel in my hometown.  Could this be WHY I’d rather be in India?!)

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It’s strange, what the body can remember of our history. (Read: Body, Remember, a fantastic memoir by Kenny Fries)

Or is it, when something dramatic happens that changes how everyone must relate to us and causes us to be a little more difficult to communicate with, it’s then that we see who our true friends and family are, and what they each will do to meet us in the middle ground, in this divided, blessed space?

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This blog post is partly inspired by my dear friend and previous advisor: Bhanu Kapil (read her blog), who I will see in two short weeks, on Ghost Ranch, in New Mexico for AROHO’s 2013 Women’s Writing Retreat!  If I am ever out of ideas for a blog post, I will read her blog.  It’s filled with “Prose Incubation.  Social Theory.  Dogs.” and so much more, from the everyday to the sublime.

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To those caught in the middle, however you might be divided: good luck to you.

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my shipwreck, May 16th, 2011…

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I’ve been thinking a lot about the shipwreck my family and I experienced two years ago yesterday, and I found the first email I sent to a fellow multihull sailor, on May 17, 2011.  I suppose it’s fitting that the email itself was written two years ago today, and I’d like to post it here.  For a matter of recording it publicly, for other people who have gone through shipwrecks, for all people who love living on boats and understand what it’s like, and lastly, for myself, to help me let go a little more, because I totally have NOT let go completely yet.  I’m still uncomfortable living on land, and I miss our boat every day.  I miss the sea every day.

I miss it so much, I ended up writing about the sea again in a YA novel I just finished, but this time I wrote about sailing, too, which has brought up the memories more vividly than usual.

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Here’s my email recollection of the shipwreck (the name of the friend I wrote to is omitted for privacy):

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…It’s really really bad.  Both her AMA keels were ripped out, one AMA has a whole chunk missing. The middle hull walls were moving as her floor flooded up to the seats we straddled as we pulled together the most important parts of our stuff.  Shes really broken apart.  Rob is pretty convinced she can’t be repaired.

Her whole structure collapsed under the waves pounding her and spinning her on the beach.  Our stuff was scattered along the shore like the remains of a too real shipwreck.  4 miles out on a shoal where the gps thought it should be 11 feet of water.  There were a thousand forewarnings and a thousand horrible and good reasons seemed to come together to make this happen.

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We are so in shock.

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We really didn’t mean to dream of a new boat and then NEED it so suddenly.  I know it wasn’t like no smoking just offed herself, though.  Inside, I feel she knew we loved her. She wanted to be ours.  But those waves just smashed her around us while we stood inside clenched and holding her while feeling each pound of That Great Mother shattering the world we made our home, where we planned to begin raising our son.

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I was doubtful a little about building a catamaran or even living on a boat forever, but this has shown me by that first step onto the cold hard beach, down from that butterfly of a boat that was broken, that maybe I am a sailor after all.

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But shipwrecks seemed so much more romantic before.  When I saw her keels laying hundreds of feet down that sandy beach, I saw them as body parts and no smoking was a person.  A creature that was broken partly because of our fears of a coming storm and our overlooking of our instincts.  Deep down, I knew that inlet couldn’t be trusted, but my fears of the storm and false thinking that we might reach it before dark made me say, let’s go.  We both had navigated Atlantic city twice, in fog and in rough waves, but WE also didn’t want to turn around, even just 10 miles or so…so hard to think of all the tiny things that made such loss happen.

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I’m wishing right now for a canal boat, ANY boat, to begin the baby raising. I can’t wait for years to float again…God, land is so hard.  So still it feels unnatural. Unfeeling. Uncradling.

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I’ve definitely learned that the ocean can be so fucking scary, but a boat was built for it, built to float…of course land is the hazard, not really the waves or the sea.  It’s the places where they meet that both protect and threaten our boats.  Like any place where two worlds meet, it should be approached with respect and caution, or left alone (especially if you cannot SEE it for what it IS).  We could never have avoided that beach…the fog left, the channel had markers that were not on the charts, and then as soon as we were past the breakers, going 8 knots just to maintain control, the fog came back and Rob shouted at me to go to the bow but our lights wouldn’t have shown us that shoal in time.

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I think you must understand how tragically awful this feels.  It was our home so briefly but a home we made right as we married, our first home together as husband and wife…so many dreams were in those hulls and now we are homeless, and I don’t think we can possibly go to Block Island without living on a boat there…so we’re stuck.  Literally shipwrecked on land…no idea where to go and piles of debts just following along like chains and anchors we can’t use any longer. What can we anchor now?  How do we find peace?

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Sorry I’m going on a bit, somehow I can only say all this to you right now…too devastated to talk to anyone who doesn’t really comprehend living inside a boat like this.  What it does to you and how it strips you of all you thought you were and shows you who you really ARE.

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I’m so sorry for your sickness, yuck and I do understand!  I grew to love vomiting on the boat cause I just lean over the side of the deck and the sea swallows it for me.  I guess she has finally gotten me back for all that vomit during my first trimester, huh? Ohhhhh.

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Every other thought in our heads is a broken dream and broken home right now. The moon shining overhead, just watching.  Illuminating the edges of these memories so they glow, but not in glory.

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Okay.  Must sleep. My stomach is flipping in circles and the baby either completely understands or doesn’t have a clue as to what is making mommy so completely freaked out and hurting so deeply.

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Wishing all sailors right now fair winds…and I’ll see you soon upon the waves.

the boat I am haunted by

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The 38′ wooden Piver trimaran that I bought and lived on for almost a year was called No Smoking.  She happened to be docked at the same marina where my partner and I lived aboard our first sailboat, Serenity, a 36′ wooden monohull.

We fell in love with the idea of living on a boat with more than one hull.

“Trimaran” and “catamaran” just sound so much grander than “monohull.”  They sound like promises, dreams, or flying carpets.

My partner, Rob, and I got married in September of 2010, just one month after we bought No Smoking.  A month later, in October, we left our current home (Block Island, RI) and sailed south, aiming for Florida and then the Bahamas.

Sailing, like writing, is a blind journey.  You can start off with an “outline” or a “plan,” but the ocean and the creative flow of the human mind, often throw the wildest obstacles into our paths.

I kept a blog of our sailing trip south HERE.

Read it with kindness, and I regret to inform you that as of now, it is still unfinished.  The end of that fateful journey was our beloved No Smoking shipwrecking onto a peninsula beach along the coast of New Jersey.  We were hurrying back to Block Island, and I was pregnant.  We took risks, but with sailing, like writing, there are always risks.  Our GPS and nautical charts weren’t up to date enough to show us that beach.

There’s a lot of reasons why we shipwrecked.  And the blame?  Was it the ocean?  The wind?  The shoaling?  Wrong information?  Rash decisions?  Yes to everything.  It was our fault as much as it was the fault of the sea, because sailing, like writing, is it’s own force, but we have to be responsible for ourselves, too.  Responsible for our mistakes.

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We now live in the bottom floor of a log cabin in the woods, which would have been my greatest fantasy as recently as five years ago.  But five years ago, I had not yet known what it was like to sleep in the cradle of the sea itself, feeling the sound the waves made as they slapped against our hulls.  I had not yet watched sunset after sunset (and a few sunrises) reflected in the shining waters around me.

The woods are still magical to me, but they’re not the same as the ocean.  When I am on the water, I miss trees, but they don’t haunt me.  The sea haunts me even when I’m cruising, because it just goes on seemingly forever, and inside the sea are creatures larger than our boat.  And they are always there – floating through the abyss, devouring plants or each other.  We sailed through the Gulf Stream for a while, where the bottom of the sea was thousands of feet below us.  My writer brain was perpetually, deliciously haunted by the animals I imagined (and often, too, by the possibility of the mythological—mermaids and selchies, gods and goddesses, sea dragons).

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Now, I sit by a window with a view of tall pines and maple trees, but inside my mind, I am remembering scenes like this:

NC-AlligatorAnchorage