Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Spreading the Sailing Bug

Jeffe Kennedy and her SO, David, came to stay aboard the boat this past weekend. They wanted to see what this living aboard thing was all about. Maybe I'd failed to mention the word 'cramped'.  After David banged his head a few times on the cabin top (tall person aboard a boat = perpetually bruised forehead) I suspect they'd worked it out. Or maybe it after they'd spent a night in the barely a double, aft cabin. The trade off is that the photo at left is the view from our foredeck.

Jeffe swore to me she brought sun with her whenever she vacationed. She did not lie. For three days, the sun shown and the skies stayed blue. Neither Jeffe nor David had sailed before, so we cast off, raised sail and took them across the Sound to Poulsbo. The moment the sails were up, Keith turned the helm over to Jeffe, who eventually relinquished it to David. We wandered Front Street, which is lined with art galleries, shops, restaurants and bakeries. Poulsbo's heritage is Nordic. The first settlers chose Liberty Bay because it reminded them of the fjords where they'd once lived. We poked through shops, found a restaurant with a deck in the sun and sat baking ourselves while we ate too much. We spent the night and woke to find the wind had risen in the night. We cast off after breakfast and headed back to Seattle. Keith handed the wheel over to David the moment we cleared the boats at anchor. We never got to raise sail on the return trip. The wind had turned from the north and was blowing out of the south east. Had we been on a monohull, we could have sailed, but the catamaran needed a better angle off the wind than we had. So it was a quick motor across the Sound.

Yes. Two cats were seasick. One on the way to Poulsbo, one on the way back from Poulsbo. This is an improvement over both being sick both ways.

A boat set up for people to live on is always more cramped than a boat with no liveaboards. Take all of our stuff, add cats, two litterboxes, a suitcase, four adults and shake. All in something short of three hundred square feet. Did I mention the head had kind of stopped working? Yeah. That was special. Once we'd docked and tied up, Jeffe and David packed up, anxious, I think, to get to their hotel where they'd have a bed the could sit up in without risking a concussion. Or maybe it was to find a toilet that flushed. Which ever.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend. I got to hang with friends and Keith got to infect someone else with the sailing bug. Oh yes. A successful weekend on all counts. David and Jeffe departed discussing the merits of purchasing their own sailing craft. Keith and I count our twisted way of life validated.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Fishing for Story

The Great Blue Herons who fish from our docks are a study in faith, patience, and persistence. Okay. Crankiness when you need to pass them on the dock, too, but that's another story. It's fun watching these huge birds fish. They stand stock still, eyeing the water. Ever so slowly, they bend their knees (backwards, I might add) and ease their faces closer to the surface of the water. You don't know who to root for - the poor fish about to be eaten or the hungry heron looking for supper. The bird waits. Waits. Then strikes. I don't know if the pressure of the audience enhances performance, but the birds I watch rarely miss.

I'm studying the local wildlife because I have the time on my hands. The stories that usually play nonstop in my head are quiet. Funny how panicky I get when I sit down at a blank page and hear nothing. Rather than get maudelin and self-absorbed over the creative ebb, I watch the herons. Sure. I could wrap this up all neatly with some observation about how the herons teach me to wait for precisely the right moment to strike, or how standing still is a big part of getting what they're after. All of which would be great if I wanted fish rather than another completed novel. Okay. I *am* joking about the fish thing. I'm not that dense. Most days.

Regardless, I love watching these distant relatives of dinosaurs hunting and flying and walking around on their spindly, backwards-bending legs. They're querelous birds when they're disturbed and fierce about protecting their nests. When they leave wet prints on the concrete dock, the spread of their toes is the size of my hand. I'm trying for a photo of that...so far, herons score; Marcella shoots digital camera and misses.

Friday, August 20, 2010

The High School Science Teacher Threat

When I was in tenth grade, I took my high school science classes out of order. Apparently, sophmores were supposed to take chemistry first, then biology as juniors. What can I say. Didn't get the memo. I ended up in biology, sans the school's prerequisite of chemisty and did just fine, thank you. 99% of the credit for that fact goes to Mr. Peter Wiles, my biology teacher that year. He'd been involved in loads of early nuclear research for the Navy. He'd mention it in passing during one lesson or another and the entire class knew there were some hair-raising, compelling stories Mr. Wiles could tell. He wouldn't. Instead, he spent his entire day motivating a school full of moody, angsty, sometimes surly teenagers. And he made it look easy. He was one of those people you want to think well of you - someone you didn't want to disappoint. He had no problem being friends with his students. I was full of pride the day his wife came to class and when Mr. Wiles introduced me, she brightened and said "Oh! Pete's talked about you!"

At some point in the class, he assigned a project wherein he gave us a multistep experiment to perform. We were to write up the hypothesis, the experimental protocol, document the actual experiment and then write our conclusions. It took us weeks to wade through, but we finally turned in our papers. Some days later, he returned our papers. Typically, he handed out tests and papers in ranked order - highest scores to lowest scores. I assume he did the same thing that day. He gave back papers and had something good to say about each one he gave back. With each paper he returned, my heart sank and my alarm grew. Never before had my test or paper not been returned within the top five. High school wasn't a good time for me. I had very little to cling to. My academic performance was about it. Here it was. I'd screwed up so badly, I'd gotten the lowest score in the class. Worse. I'd disappointed my friend.

Mr. Wiles, with one paper left in his hands, came to stand beside my desk. He stared at the paper a moment, then looked at me. I must have looked terrified. I was. "I saved your paper for last, because it needs some explaining. Highest score. Not just in this class. Out of all of my classes. It's brilliant," he said. I blinked. "The writing is clear. Concise, but detailed. Specific. If you don't become a writer, I'll haunt you until the day you die."

A few weeks later, the substitute teachers started. Shortly after, we knew. Mr. Wiles had lung cancer. He didn't finish the school year, opting for treatment instead. By early in my junior year (when I had to take the chemistry I'd missed the year before), he was gone. But his threat to haunt me and his legacy of faith in my ability lived.

Took a few detours, but I'm a writer, Mr. Wiles. Do I get extra credit because I'm writing science fiction??

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Earth Shattering Kaboom

Yesterday, this lovely lady thought her world had ended.

Let me start at the beginning. I write slowly. Some days are slower than others. I made ten + pages yesterday, but it took more than twelve hours to do so. It's one of those things. I'm not happy with how things are going in the story, but the only way to resolve that is to keep going with the story even when every instinct is screaming 'Wow! This sucks rocks through a cocktail straw!'

I'd been toiling away for a few hours when KABOOM! A compression wave hit and I felt that explosion in my chest. The entire boat dipped and reverberated with the sound. KABOOM! By this point, Cuillean was on full alert staring at me as if expecting me to explain. "Darlin'," I said, getting up to see whether or not Seattle was still there, "I got nothing." The cat decided that hiding the bedclothes was her best option. She beat a hasty retreat.

I sat back down and realized I'd been writing in silence until whatever had just happened had...well...happened. Huh. My heroine in this book is deaf. No wonder I'm writing without music. How interesting that out of the blue, I should get such a graphic demonstration of what it's like to *feel* sound. I went back to work with the inkling that the rocks getting sucked through the cocktail straw of my writing were getting a little smaller. Maybe. (Problem solved after calling it a day and whilst washing the dishes - If you don't like the scene, maybe you should change the POV character, silly. Duh.)

The earthshattering kabooms? President Obama had come to Seattle for a brief visit.  A private float plane pilot failed to check air space restriction bulletins before taking off that day. He violated Air Force One's air space. The Secret Service scrambled a pair of National Guard F-15s out of Portland and gave them 'get there yesterday' clearance. They took off and hit their afterburners. The cat and I had nearly wet ourselves over a pair of sonic booms. I'm an Air Force brat. I grew up with sonic booms. You'd think I'd remember - at least enough to trust my city was still standing.  I'm so ashamed.

But not as ashamed, I bet, as that float plane pilot.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Same Words, Different Language

Years ago, we won't discuss how many, I mentioned to a college professor that air and water move in the same way. She looked aghast and said, "They do not!"

Who was right?

Turns out, we both were. Using the same words, we were talking about two very different things. I was talking macrocosm. Water and air as mirrored oceans. The motion of the mediums reflect one another, in that both air and water move in currents and tides, swirling and twisting. My professor was thinking microcosm. She'd focused on how objects affected by air move as opposed to how objects affected by water move.

I had a deja vu miscommunication yesterday during a sail back from Liberty Bay. I had the helm. The beloved husband went forward to raise the sails. "You're stuck!" I hollared. "Untangle the lines beneath the boom, then you'll be able to finish raising the main." He looked down, confusion in his face. "I don't understand how lines beneath the boom mean I can't raise the sail!" he said. I blinked. Understanding had no bearing on the fact that the reefing lines had tangled and bound the sail, preventing him from lifting the sail all the way. We got it figured out with no blood shed. It wasn't until we'd gotten back to dock and put everything away that it occurred to me we'd had a language malfunction similar to the one I'd had in college. 

I'd said 'lines under the boom' and meant the reefing lines that run through the boom. He'd looked under the boom and saw the coiled halyards at his feet. No wonder he hadn't understood how those lines were impeding the sail (because they had nothing to do with that sail and *weren't* involved at all). I hadn't been specific enough. Had I said, "the reefing lines are tangled," he'd have known where to look and would have instantly understood the problem. Mental note: saying the word 'lines' on a boat that has several such critters is not sufficiently descriptive.

That's when I had a horrifying epiphany. I'm committing the sin in my day to day life that I've learned I'd better not commit in my writing life: failing to put what's in my head on the paper. Somewhere along the way, I learned in writing not to say 'the trees' when I want you to envision 'the aspens' or 'the maples' or 'the stand of fir, hemlock and cedar'. I suppose it's long past time to learn to be equally specific when I speak. Why does that seem so much harder?

Monday, August 9, 2010

A Weekend Sail

My husband and I live aboard a sailboat with our feline companions. The orange guy in the portal is Autolycus, an eleven year old bobtail male. Cute, ain't he? Great purr. Big personality. Likes to sleep on my head. Very endearing. The down side is that Mr. Congeniality gets sea sick. Really sea sick. Saturday dawned cool and rainy just to piss off all the people tied to the log boom on Lake Washington to watch the Seafair hydro races and the Blue Angels. We got up, went to breakfast, came back, and cleaned up the boat in preparation for guests. This tipped off the cats that something unusual was happening. And by their definition, unusual = bad. Our guests arrived, we showed them around a bit to familiarize them with the boat, then we cast off. The moment the diesel engine started, the hearing cats hid. The deaf girl got up and came out to the cockpit. She *loves* going for a sail. The other cats shun her. We had 12 knots of wind out of the south and increasing rain. I bundled up in my foul weather jacket and my life vest (no going on deck without a PFD). Cleared the deck and then invited our guests forward so I could show them the sail workings. We set the main and then trooped back to the cockpit (and inside the dry, warm enclosure). Keith killed the engine. I helped set the head sail. We fell off and were sailing. Good speed. Easy beam reach and the while there was a little bit of chop, it really was a pleasant sail. Until I went below.

Hatshepsut had deposited her breakfast on one of the sleeping bags - the bag the deaf gal uses as her bed. Erie, our deaf matriarch, was not impressed. It's okay. Really. The bag is washable.

Then a line caught on a hatch. It scared Autolycus, which translates into the cat yakking up his guts. Great. Which set off Hatshepsut. Again. How can she have anything left to throw up?? Then the terror poop began. It isn't like cats poop roses to begin with, but there's no mistaking terror poop. Nose hairs curl in protest. Eyes water. Our youngest guest desperately wanted OFF the boat at that point...except that we were in the middle of Puget Sound. I opened all the windows. I cleaned up. I sat our guests out on the transom where they had fresh air. By the time the rain really began falling, we'd made it most of the way back to the marina, Autolycus had yarfed on both dry-clean only bed covers, and the smell from the terror poop had dissipated.

I shudder to think what sort of impression sailing with us left on our guests. They bundled up and went back to a house with central heating. Keith helped me get the dry cleaning up the dock to the car. We dropped it off then went to grab a burger. (You cannot live with children or animals and remain squeamish.) He brought me back to the boat where I did the washable laundry while he went to a Rush concert. Yeah. Laundry covered in cat barf versus Rush. I got the better end of that deal.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Bad Influence

I'm being a terrible influence. My eleven year old niece wants so badly to be a digital kid. Her mother and my mother (her mom and grandmother) aren't comfortable with computers or with internet safety, so they won't allow her access to Facebook or to chat programs. I'm a geek. My niece shows signs of wanting to become a geek. It is incumbant upon me to encourage that tendency in the child. As a result, I've shown her World of Warcraft. She wants an account. I'd get her one and bring her into the server I play on so she could be 'shepherded' by a group of adults, but the internet connectivity where she lives bites. Hard. So, no WoW. She wants a Facebook page. Her mom and grandma flat refused. The smart girl came to me. We discussed the dangers of Facebook and I told her why her mom was afraid to let her have an account. Silly adults. We think kids are innocent - that they aren't aware of the dangers in the world. We're wrong. (Which isn't to say that kids don't need help and guidance navigating the internet and the perils of social networking - they do because there's a huge gap between what is *known* and what is *understood*.) The girl knew that people predate other people and that some people hunt via the web. So I offered to talk to her mom and see if we couldn't set up a Facebook page without a photo, an address or email info. The kid just wants to play one of the zoo games with her friends from school. We're still negotiating that one. But my win? IM. My niece wanted to be able to instant message people and have an actual conversation. So I showed her Windows Live Messenger (it's installed already and I'm the only contact on the list). Tonight, she IM'd me. I was so proud. Her spelling and her typing skills post fifth grade are far better than mine were at that age. And, no. The conversation wasn't all that scintillating, but that's not the point, is it? The point is that I'm successfully corrupting my sister's only child. I sent her a YouTube video link to watch. I did this before I realized the kid would think it was so hilarious that she's want to show it to grandma and grandpa...Yeah. YOU explain what ROFLMAO means to an eleven year old whose mother wants to go on believing the kid has never heard a 'bad' word. She IM'd me that grandma was laughing and I was in trouble. Great.