IMG_3558I won’t be a snob about seasickness anymore.  They told us we might get seasick while the boat was tied up.  I only get seasick when I ride the Star Wars ride at Disney World more than two times in a row, so I figured I was fine. (For the record, I rode four times in a row in defiance of my nausea.)

First we had to board the little raft to ride out to the boat.  We were bundled up, me in my new heavy chocolate-colored sweater, ugly but serviceable hat, red mittens with removable mittenness.  It was mostly grey, and we were at the East River.  The George Washington Bridge was upriver, and downriver was the Freedom Tower.

These sailboats, where we were supposed to bond as colleagues, were small.  The other sailboats I’ve been on were both big enough to live on, albeit cozily.  This boat had enough space down inside it for six people to have a very uncomfortable cocktail party while sitting Indian style and not have anywhere to pee.

Rather than be taught, one of our crew was to read directions from a book about sailing, and the rest of us tried to follow them.  She was good at translating the book into action.  When I took a turn, I got stuck on the first direction I read.  I couldn’t find that thing, or figure what we should do with it when we found it.

When I took a turn trying to read How To Sail, I started to feel seasick.  Trouble was, as we had been told, when tied up, the boat bobs a lot, can’t go with any current or any wave of passing barge.  “Look at the GWB,” our teacher said.  “It happens to me all the time.”  I looked at the Freedom Tower.  That was the way I was facing.  I started to feel less like puking.

IMG_3556Eventually we got the sails up.  Once untethered, we moved out into the water, praying that our East Riversickness would lessen by being able to watch the horizon continuously and go with the flow.  And we learned the four jobs.  Two people tighten (trim) and loosen the front sail, one person trims and loosens the main sail, and one person steers.

I was excited by the word “trim,” and I got to think back to my period of obsession with Herman Melville, and reading Moby Dick on the beach in Galveston, Texas, and thinking about what a bad, great book it was, and thinking of Melville living and working in New York in this sad, sad job after his youth of adventure, and feeling like a failure and not knowing how much I, hundreds of years later, would prefer him to Hawthorne, I mean, I would love to have dinner with Melville, and I would wear a beautiful dress.

When the sail starts flapping, and there is another word for this I’ve already forgotten, you trim it.  After lunch, I learned that when your boat snags the anchor line of another boat, you yell and pull down the sails as fast as possible so no gust of wind can push your boat over.

I wasn’t too alarmed.  I was like a ten-year-old boy.  When I am in danger, but there is nothing I can do, i.e., I am the passenger of someone driving fast and crazy, I am actually comfortable.  I surrender to fate, and I’m amused or frozen or both.

Our teacher was running around the boat, people were grabbing the anchor line and other pieces of equipment, clearly it was an emergency, and then our teacher, standing on the front of the boat with his hands clenched, released the line that held the anchor and it dove into the river like a lemming and he said, “Fuck.”

Since he had such a bad day, I’m going to add here that he was just as cute as I remember our rafting guides were, all those years we were girls in Colorado and pretended they were our boyfriends although for those boys to even look at us was illegal.

Suffice it to say that there had been, on our boat, patting of shoulders and silence and people trying to joke in a kind way even though they felt like shit.  It had already been a challenging day.

Our teacher sat for a while looking at his hands, which I imagined to have at least red and maybe bloody lines torn across them from the rope.  He blew on them to warm them.

We sailed back to the dock.  Once more, before we were actually back, the boat unexpectedly (to me) leaned way over so we could have fallen in.  That actually did scare me for some reason.

IMG_3560Our teacher read the wind the way I read the Bible, that is, with all my life history, all the times I’ve heard all those stories since I was born, and actually, in the womb, too, and all the sermons I’ve heard about them, the ancient Greek I remember a little and all the background I’ve read and everything I know about how it has formed the caves of other pieces of literature and the rest of history with its water trickling through the rest of our limestone, and I don’t even think about it.  He read the current, the tide, the wind, which in this funny place, this wind tunnel between Manhattan and the towns of Jersey is especially capricious.  He read barges and other sailboats and ferries and their wakes and the weight of our boat and the kind of sails we had and the skill level we had.

There’s so much to read.


I had a boyfriend who refused to read “Bartleby the Scrivener.”  Over and over again he refused.  Some people get that.  Some people don’t.  I’m in a Melville mood lately.  Forgive me.

I was at Silver Dollar City last weekend.  The weather was perfect, and people were making things with their hands.  If I were to be relied upon to make things, the whole world would look like Bedrock.  I appreciate manual skills.

We stopped to visit the knife-maker, and the bead-stringer, both of whom are very familiar to my family. As we picked through the dangling tresses of her wares, the jewelry maker told us her dream was to travel to Lascaux, France, and see the ancient cave paintings.  Wouldn’t that be amazing?  Then I watched the knife guy hammer red-hot metal, casually stab a steel drum by way of demonstration, and lightheartedly insult Oklahomans.

Either because I had taken this neurological medication, or because I’ve had these mysterious chronic headaches messing with my brain, I would occasionally drift into thoughts of doom.  Like when I was watching cheerful people tromping through a song and dance number, I thought, Why do they bother?  Don’t they know how death makes everything meaningless? I have encountered these types of thoughts before, since I have a moody temperament, and knew that they were just thoughts, not directives.  The next day, this particular type of madness seemed to have passed.

I hadn’t seen the glass blowing since I was a kid, and I didn’t really see it this time, either.  I sat down on the floor because my feet hurt, and so I only caught a glimpse of the molten glob on the end of the lance, only for a second saw the man turning it to whirl it into a bowl.

I wasn’t sure, suddenly, how it all worked.  Was there sand in there?  They dumped a vat of sand inside there, and then pulled out glass?  Really?  After the demonstration ended, I walked up and looked into the furnace.  It’s just like when the Nazis take the lid off the Ark.  It was wonderful and terrible.

In the adjacent shop, I found a cobalt blue whale.  The chemical cobalt is the basis for vitamin B 12, which humans and whales, all mammals, require, and which the nurse injected me with last week, in the hopes of making me slightly healthier.  Adding cobalt, the glassblower explained, makes the glass blue.  My whale is cool and from the depths of the ocean, heavy and calm as eternity, and straight from the firey furnace.

South Seas

The neurology PA is not much of a negotiator.  “No coffee, dairy, or alcohol,” she says.

“All my life I have worried that some doctor, somewhere, was going to tell me I couldn’t drink coffee or red wine, and this is that time,” I said.  My third round of weeklong headache.

“There are all kinds of fabulous teas out there,” she said.

Tea is for sissies.  And I am a writer.  I’m already not an alcoholic, so how can I compete with say, Ernest Hemingway?  Not with tea!

“And would you mind a B-12 injection?”

I would not.  After paying a $50 copay, I feel a little let down if they don’t stick me.  Let’s go.

Afterwards, I went to Whole Foods and bought an outrageously expensive vat of something that is supposed to make me feel better by putting it in the healthy smoothies that I don’t want to make.  This vat, with its somber, copious scrawlings, practically screams, “Cures mysterious illness!”

It was the product intended for every shopper at Whole Foods with mysterious symptoms or diagnoses.  It was something you could buy to make yourself feel better.  You could buy.  You could consume.  You would be okay.  Glug glug.

“Ooh, how many carbs are in that?” a woman behind me in line asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  And I didn’t care.  I might be being scammed, but then again, I didn’t really mind.  When a crazy drunk in a bar tells me a great story, which is probably a terrific lie,  I’m happy because it was so entertaining.  I don’t give a damn if it’s true.  Likewise,  if the protein powder made me feel like I was fixing myself, then I guess it was worth as much as a very nice bottle of wine.  Truth is in value, in the moment, not literalism.

The world of migraine is a world of fear.  My morning juice is too sugary!  My coffee is poison, further polluted with half and half!  My house could be crawling with mold!  Walking around the grocery store, everything looked delicious and forbidden.  Glorious, thick cow’s milk!  Aisles of red wine, each bottle’s heart beating fondly for me!  I popped a cute champagne-blonde cheese sample in my mouth, even though I’m not so fond of cheese, just to show my doctor who was boss.

No, not fear: adventure.  I spent 33 years in the dull realm of ibuprofin and Excedrin, and near-perfect health, but now my body is an exotic pharmacological playground.  It’s like I’ve moved from Kansas to the Caribbean.  Wild new sensations, vocabulary, landscapes, characters.  I may have moved there permanently– hard to say– so await further dispatches.  There is a giant whale of occasional head pain that swims by, and I am attempting to kill or capture it.  With greater success, I hope, than the protagonist of my dear hero, Mr. Melville, but with all that vim and vigor, and enthusiastic wordplay.

Things Other People Said: Long Ago or Far Away

“‘Don’t go, Peter,’ [Wendy] entreated, ‘I know lots of stories.’  Those were her precise words, so there can be no denying that it was she who first tempted him.” — Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie

They have everything in Neverland: hideouts, pirates, mermaids, caves, treehouses, wild animals, natives.  Everything except stories.  Neverland is only in the present.  Stories are all in the past.  Wendy is going to travel to Neverland to be maternal, which includes storykeeping.  Although all the wild characters in Neverland care nothing about the future, they still appreciate a bedtime story.  It’s the only thing they don’t have.  Wendy’s flirtiness here is a cute sideline.  I want to go/no I can’t possibly/well, all right.  No means maybe.  And exotic, in Neverland, means connected and clear.

“And the youngest daughter, Felicia, wrote a novel called Carpathia, about a headstrong, high-born young woman in the Mohiga Valley who fell in love with a half-Indian lock-tender on that same canal.” — Hocus Pocus, Kurt Vonnegut

This is a long, curly sentence for Vonnegut.  He often doesn’t want to give us so many petals on the flower, but right here he couldn’t help it.  It’s a sentence I remember from the first time I read it…in 1994.  It has little to do with the plot, as I recall– it just makes everything classier, with its cold music. Like high heels.  Vonnegut is so plain that he’s classy.  Quite a feat.  No pun intended.

“And to the question asked by Ecclesiastes 3000 years ago, ‘That which is far off and exceeding deep, who can find it out?’ two men alone of all now living have the right to give an answer– CAPTAIN NEMO AND MYSELF.” — 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

You would think Jules Verne was writing the goddamn Bible, not merely alluding to it.  Writers of unrespected genres, and writers of early novels (this is 1869) weren’t afraid to set off the fireworks.  Verne was writing about going to the moon, and to the center of the earth, and down in a nuclear submarine, so he’s gotta be comfortable with flash and drama.  Still, seriously, this is the cannon shot in the 1812 overture.  “Two men alone of all now living.”  I couldn’t find who translated my Wordsworth classic edition, or the original sentence in French, but I would guess it sounds more ass-kicking in English.  “Myself” instead of “moi” or “me.”  There are other translation issues with this novel, because of Nemo’s sorta pacificistic politics.  Like a lot of science fiction, Verne’s work is burning with political messages.

“Best, therefore, withhold any amazement at the strangely gallied whales before us, for there is no folly of the beasts of the earth which is not infinitely outdone by the madness of men.” —Moby Dick, Herman Melville

Melville loves alliteration, inside and outside words, and I love that, too, so much I have to rein it in with revisions.  (Although not here, see?)  English prose likes to go rah-rah-ruh and la-luh-vull.  Play in and out with consonants.  I’ve never been a fan of rhyme, outside of lyrics for hymns and songs.  Emily Dickinson’s rhymes are as as far as I can go.  Too rhymey gets too yellow and Kool-Aid.  The g’s in “strangely gallied.”  (“Gallied” means worried or frightened.  While the mouthfeel of Melville’s words is great, needing to use a dictionary while you’re reading a book is annoying.  Maybe that’s the only word you know to express that idea, but if it’s not in my vocabulary, as a regular reader of literature, it interrupts and distracts.)  The relationship between the t’s in “beasts,” “earth,” and “not,” all close together, and all slightly different, but still tapping to the t’s, a bit.