Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Si No Te Hubieras Ido

I've been getting a lot of negative feedback about blogging lately. Not about my blog in particular, but about the genre as a whole, about its uses and drawbacks. Basically: about how everyone in the world (except me, evidently) thinks that they are useless. My site meant something when I was adventuring, traveling--but now that I'm stationary, now that my goals are more quotidian--it is boring and meaningless.

One comment, when I mentioned I was feeling pressure to post on a certain day, "That's just a goal that you put on yourself." As opposed to what? Goals that come from external sources, from editors? Goals that come from other people are somehow more important than goals I set for myself?

Another comment was, "Why are you even bothering blogging after Lent? Don't you need to focus on your other writing projects?"

And another was, "I wouldn't call yourself a blogger. Everyone has a perception of bloggers as being whiny complainers who just talk about themselves."

I don't know how to deal with this feedback. Or I do. I deal with it by not writing. Which is exactly why posting is so important for me. Nor does anyone actually bother to read my defense of blogging post. Or read the things that I'm saying at all. It's just another example of people writing things off because they don't want to deal with them, because they don't understand them. It shouldn't change how I feel, but it does.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

John A Hobson was a good man

A towering cumulus cloud
Bahamian cumulus cloud

I had fun finding that forecast applet yesterday, although the flash may crash your computer. One of the advantages of having internet while you blog is squandering time trolling for toys. Distracting me from the actual work of crafting my experience into compelling mini-stories. My cultural stream of consciousness. Although maybe all of our streams of consciousness are made up of applets now.

Anyway. My stream of consciousness is made up of weather. Or it used to be. The one phrase written in my little notebook that used to break me into tears every time I read it, every single time, was:
whole conversations about clouds
That alone. I used to have whole conversations about clouds. That’s what sailors do. I used to sit in the cockpit of Secret, watching them flow over, and discuss what they meant. Watch the looming cumulus, tracking the course of summer thunderstoms across the landscape. Watch the strung-out cirrus, the arrows they pointed in the sky following the frost in the upper atmosphere. Watch the feathered clouds for the angle of winter squalls.

I can’t do that anymore. As much as I love my new career, it involves sitting at a desk for the majority of the day. A desk where I can’t see the sky, let alone clouds. I can watch the wind breathing through the oaks and peach trees, see the moths that settle on my screen, hear the crickets swooning through the greenery--but no clouds. When I do see them, they’re meaningless. They don’t speak to me the way they used to. I used to be able to read them, like a book, like a script written in the sky.

That makes me weep. As much as I believe that the decision I made was a good one, the right one, the loss still hits me sometimes, a blow to the solar plexus.

As you can tell, I’ve been rereading my little notebook from Secret. So I find things like this:

Fri- S5-10kts <2ft
Sat- W5kts, SE, SW5-10 kts <2ft
Sun- Nassau: frontal trough, shifted E near Haiti- clouds & showers in SE- strong low N of Bahamas move to GA, swells subsiding NW- SCA extreme caution NE swell S-SW 15-20 kts 5-8 ft swell

I remember how I used to wake up at six every morning to hear the weather, to copy it down. How weather used to be such a presence in my life, the third personality on the boat, its spirit always in my mind.

Every decision, every choice, means loss. I’ve gained something, but I’ve lost things, too.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Wrapped around your finger

Karl watching for coral
That day--sailing

“Cutter-rigged ketch bruising along at six knots under power, no sail out—beam wind of 5-10 kts.” --Melissa Jenks

A note I wrote in my little notebook as I was sailing through the Bahamas, from Paradise Island to the Exumas… My point, perhaps obscure to non-sailors, was very much the same as the point that Edifice Rex makes here, in an excellent post that I can’t recommend highly enough. It blew my mind that these people could have a boat, so beautiful—my dream boat, a cutter-rigged ketch, with boatloads (ha!) of sail—and be using it like a motorboat. Not even a sail out, with a beam wind, the best kind of wind God breathes.

Admittedly, we were sailing that day at around three knots. Not fast. (Actually, I can check my logbook! Our average that day, 6 May 2007, was 3.5 knots, and we achieved a maximum speed under sail of 4.1 knots. So not that slow after all!) A five-knot beam wind has a harder time moving a heavy boat. But still.

That boat was heading the opposite direction. The other way. Bruising back to the States, over the banks, probably trying to make it to Nassau in time for dinner. They were forcing their way forward, on the backs of the dinosaurs and the whales, burning up that diesel as fast as they could, instead of being willing to take the slow way, the difficult way, the harder and truer path.

I understand Edifice Rex’s reluctance to toot her own horn in her subsequent post. It’s difficult to say: I’m doing it right, and you all are doing it wrong. On the other hand: if we didn’t believe we were doing it right, we wouldn't be doing it this way.

When something breaks, the fast solution that most of us turn to is to go to Walmart and buy something new. The easy way is to buy something made of petroleum in China. The slow solution is learning to fix it. The slow way is learning to build something new that won’t break, that’ll be worth fixing. Americans take the easy way a lot. Because it’s easier. It’s more comfortable.

I haven’t used air-conditioning all summer. Here’s the forecast for Chattanooga:

Chattanooga, TN (37421) Weather Forecast

And I’m so comfortable. I spend most of the time in my basement, where it’s ten degrees colder anyway, but I wear almost no clothing all the time. I drape a sarong around myself first thing in the morning, and I live in it as much as possible. I have a fan that I cart around from room to room. Really, that’s all one needs to deal with hot weather: minimal clothing, and air flow. Something I learned, very well, from the Thais.

The point is that taking the difficult way generally isn’t all that hard. It requires swimming upstream, yes, or sailing in a beam wind—but it’s generally cheaper, better for the earth, better for my body, and better for my mind.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Underneath the covers

Best time for salads is summer (beans are from our garden, tomatoes from someone else's)

Wednesdays I am supposed to post, and Wednesday I wrote this horrible, horrible post, where all of my darkness exploded, as it likes to do. I wasn’t brave enough to make it public. But I keep thinking about it. I’ve always believed that once I write something it doesn't belong to me anymore. It belongs to its intended audience. In this case, the ether.

That’s basically what I wrote about on Wednesday. How useless I’m beginning to feel like this exercise is. How I’m developing all of these carefully wrought arguments, crafting and shaping them into essays that make compelling points about the issues that are the most important to me, and how no one on earth gives a flying miracle.

I’ve been rereading my posts from the boat, and they were brilliant. Brilliant. I’m stunned I even wrote them. How could I have tapped into such depths? I felt like what I was doing then was nothing. When what I’m doing now is nothing. Nothing.

My blog’s title is “Casting Off,” which used to be a cute double entendre—cast off earthly things, and cast off the bow lines! Now it just feels farther and farther from what I’m doing. I wanted to name the site “Ultralight Life,” because I felt like whatever happened my commitment to living the purest, simplest life possible would never change. It hasn’t changed, but I do feel a bit like I’ve lost my way.

I miss my home. I miss Secret. I miss the clarity that I felt in those days. Now, so aware of my audience, or of my lack thereof, I’m too afraid to tell the truth in this space. The truth is that I am a writer. I’ve always been a writer. No matter what hat I put on--adventurer, backpacker, bicyclist, pilgrim, sailor, traveler—all I ever will be is a writer.

I cast off Secret partly because things fell apart, but mainly because I couldn’t figure out how to be both a writer and a sailor. That dream wasn’t working, or wasn’t working in a way that helped me follow my true calling. Adventuring is a dream for me, but it’s only secondary.

The next adventure I have planned is building a sustainable homestead and farming my own land. It’s in keeping with my primary values—purity, simplicity—but my main reason for it is that it’s the only way I know how to survive on the $6000 a year I can earn as a writer. That makes me feel disingenuous, like somehow I’m lying when I say I want to build my own house. No. I don’t. Not really. I want to build my own house so I can have space to write and don’t have to pay rent. That’s why I’d be fine in a tent or in a camper, at least for a while, until I write that best-selling novel. Ha. Anywhere I can put up a desk and have a place to dispose of my own waste.

That’s what Casting Off means to me. Read the verse. Cast off everything that so easily entangles. So easily entangles from what? From that bright shining goal, that truth I’ve known about myself since I was three years old. All I do, every moment I spend, is simply to help me find the clarity to become the person I’ve always been. Even if no one cares.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

And I’m a stickman

My cousin sent me this clip a while ago, and I’ve only just got around to watching it. I feel like she’s given me a gift in introducing me to Sister Wendy, who evidently is something of a BBC celebrity, but new to me. I had the same reaction that many people do upon seeing her—a vague discomfort at listening, seriously, to a nun with a lisp talk about art. Then I slowly realized how intelligent she was, how true what she was saying was, and then I began to see the glow about her, the glow of someone passionately engaged with God, and art, and life. Someone who knows exactly what she was put on earth to do, who has made conscious choices about the life she wanted to live. By the end, I didn’t see her habit. I didn’t see her overbite, or hear her lisp. I saw the beautiful face of someone who had discovered her path.

The first moment I had of epiphany I had was when she said, “We moderns are called upon to make a practical and informed choice of the pure as opposed to the comforting.”

Bill Moyers then asks what the difference between comforting and pure art is, and she says:
“There’s quite a lot of art, you see, that gives that instant satisfaction of feeling that I know I can judge this without having to look, without having to take trouble. I just know because it’s so obvious. That’s comforting. Whereas, you see, the real art makes demands.”

I love that line: real art makes demands. I also love her saying that we’re called upon to make a choice for the pure, as opposed to the comforting. It’s so true in so many aspects of modern life. All we want is comfort—in our art, our food, our homes. When what God calls us to, all of us, is purity. Not that purity means discomfort, because when we follow the path of the pure, what we find, as Sister Wendy has, is joy. Which brings us to sex.

Sister Wendy:
“Why did [that critic] think that anybody should not delight in the created work of God? I mean, it’s to me very illogical. God made the body. And this suggests that God made mistakes about certain parts of the body. You know, that unfortunately, He’s done these shameful things and we must do our best to cover them up. This is not the faith. The faith is that God looked at His creation and thought it was good. Thought it was beautiful. We’re made in the image of God. There is nothing—nothing--amiss in any part of the human body. There is something far more salacious about these sniggers and criticisms, than in just a Christian delight in God’s skill.

“None of the sisters are cramped by the false idea that sexuality is something wrong. It’s something we have sacrificed. The vow of chastity doesn’t mean we just don’t get married. It means that sexuality is something you give to God, because you want to be free for something else. It’s a wonderful gift, and I delight that people have it, though it’s not a gift for me.”

These words are so beautiful to me. I’ve always loved the monastic vows. I love Thomas Merton’s writing about the monastic life, and Kathleen Norris’s exploration of the vow of stability. If I had several more lives to live, in one of them, I’d be a nun. Right after I finish my career as a Bob Dylan impersonator. The idea of sacrifice, that one chooses to give something to God, freely, as a gift—it gets right to the heart of what this blog is about. We have to Cast Off—cast off the things that easily entangle us. Leave them behind. Whether they be a mortgage, a boat, children, health insurance, sex, marriage, indoor plumbing, running water, a cubicle, or the bottom half of a toothbrush.

That’s what Sister Wendy is saying. We don’t give these things away because they’re bad, because they’re evil. We give them away because they belong to God. We give them away when they do us no good. They don’t make us happy. What makes us happy is faith. Faith that God gives us the desire of our heart, and that if we follow that desire—whether for art, or literature, or politics, or cattle farming—we’ll end up with that same glow that she has. We’ll end up exactly as beautiful as Sister Wendy.