I’ve mentioned before my penchant for doing things that scare me.
It’s really not ideal. What it means is that I get a wild hair to do something new, something that deep down I desperately want to do and at the same time wish I would never have to face. It leads to some misery and upset stomach and me muttering wildly at myself in the car, “What am I doing? WHY am I doing this? I hate this idea so much! I want to go home!”
Then I do the scary thing and most of the time, I love it (not always, truly–I will regret my one day of Krav Maga for the rest of my life).
I don’t always do things quickly (this is more surprising to me than anyone else). I got a yen to learn to sail 5 years ago, as proven in this post. I planned to learn to sail during my fortieth year, and now I’m forty-four, and I only learned this last weekend.
I grew up in and around boats. We were always near the water. Dad always had small sailboats, the kind you could strap to the roof of a car. I distinctly remember one made of styrofoam which I would pick away at with my fingers, unable to resist the lure of the snap-crunch of the foam crumbling away. I also distinctly remember the time that boat sank off the Marin coast. Mom and my sisters watched as three burly youths barreled into the water to save him—all four came in laughing, dragging pieces of the boat with them. My poor water-phobic mother was not pleased. I tried not to think about all the styrofoam I’d pulled off.
But even though I spent time in his hand-hewn boats (bailing, or watching for rocks), I never caught the bug. I was content to sit on the side of the bigger sailboats I’ve been on as an adult. I steered a sailboat under the Golden Gate Bridge once because the captain dared me to (and it was cool, I’ll admit that). But apart from that mild yearning, I ignored the pull to the water.
This last trip to Venice cemented this in me: I am happy when on the water. My sister Bethany (who is on her trip, by the way!) is happy driving. I just want to be bobbing up and down. My brain loves the feeling.
This past weekend, I spent the weekend on the water at Lake Merritt in Oakland, a great place to learn to sail because the winds are strong and capricious. I took a cheap 3-day class through Oakland Parks and Rec and while I’m only 2 days into it, I’ve finally caught the bug, my father will be happy to know.
First we learned in a classroom setting. Nothing (not one thing) made sense to me. I was concerned about the outhaul and the boomvang and cunningham because if a boat was outfitted with such important yet silly-sounding things, how could I be trusted to remember to install/tighten/hitch them properly? My hands, so clever with string and yarn, rebelled at learning to make a bowline (pronounced BOW-lun because these people don’t talk right. Leeward is pronounced loo-erd. I’m capsizing is pronounced holy-fucking-shit-help).
But then we got out on the 8-foot one-person El Toros. We rigged them and sailed on the lake on a long line so that when we got into trouble, the instructor could tow us back. I was NOT the first person to capsize.
The second day, yesterday, we rigged our 14-foot Catalinas. They seemed huge compared to the El Toros, but the thing was: everything was the same.
The mainsail worked the same way.
The tiller worked the same way.
The principles were all the same.
I realized I’d learned the basics of sailing in a day and a half, and this was brought home to me when I saw a Moana GIF—I understood what she was doing on the boat.
Boats, with all their lines and rigging and flappety-flaps and eccentric wobbles, had always been mysterious to me.
But after breaking it into bite-sized, manageable pieces of knowledge, I get how it works.
I’m by no means good at it. In winds of 30mph (28 knots, officially small-craft advisory weather), I sailed the boat into a place I couldn’t come back from and the instructor had to tow me out (tow of shame). I fell off the boat leaping for the dock, catching myself on the edge of the dock with a yoga-like barrel roll that kept me out of the water but has me covered in livid purple bruises today. I still don’t have any idea what to do when I’m stuck in irons (it’s called patience, and I’m not sure where to buy more of that).
I know the basics, though. And those don’t change. Practice and lessons and more practice will help me become better and more accomplished and less anxious. But I know the how and the why and I know I can do the thing to make the boat fly (it is flying, with lift and drag and all – I had no idea!).
It’s the same with writing.
It’s terrifying. You want to do it, but you’re afraid you’ll capsize, or get lost, or hurt yourself.
But you keep getting drawn back to it.
Your whole life, you’ve been drawn to blank notebooks and new pens, looking for the way in.
Here’s the thing: You already have the way in.
- In sailing, you steer with a rudder while you manipulate the shape of the mainsail. Those are the basics of sailing.
- In knitting, you knit and you purl. Those are the basics for garments.
- In writing, you think of words and set them on paper/screen. Those are the basics for books.
You think of words.
You set them down.
Sure, that’s easy. And yes, it’s also incredible complicated and so much more than that. But you, my friend, have cracked the basic code. SO many people look at writers longingly and say, “I have a story. I wish I could do that.”
It comes down to this: It’s simple. It’s not rocket science. Boats sail by catching wind. Words are written one at a time, as the author thinks of them.
It takes bravery, though, I know that.
And you have that.
Encouragement, once a week. Free.
Do this for yourself, for the writer you want to be.
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