Define stability

I live on a boat. Not a houseboat, a sailboat. It’s 29 feet long, 9’4″ at the widest point (outside measurement), and has overhead clearance of just barely 6′ in the main cabin.

Since I’m less than 9′ wide and 6′ tall, this works for me.

A small boat is an unstable surface, shifting with every step and wiggle. You keep your balance by toning your abdominal muscles – as soon as you tighten your midsection, the wobbly feeling disappears, and even if the boat’s surface is 30 degrees from horizontal, you can still keep your feet under you.

I have the strongest core of anyone I know who doesn’t either live on a small boat or teach Iyengar yoga, because that’s just how it works.

A friend of mine moved away and couldn’t get rid of his even smaller boat (25′ with rather less overhead clearance), so he sold it to me cheap. The main difference between his and mine is that the smaller boat has a larger engine and a thicker hull. It was designed to sail across the Pacific.

Now I have two boats. (That’s COMMODORE Idiot, thank you very much.)

For various reasons, it’s time to leave the Bay Area. I’ll be returning part-time to rural Massachusetts, but I can’t hack the cold season. It would be far cheaper and less painful to gnaw bits off me with a blunt and rusty saw. So I have to come up with some way to live and somewhere to be during the off-season.

Did I mention that I have a boat? … In fact, two?

I’m discussing a boat-partnership with a friend of mine who is capable of the work, but hasn’t found out if he really likes it yet. We’re going to work on the boats this winter, getting them ready to sell; in the fullness of time, we’ll know if we’re cashing them in for an upgrade to sail towards the Equator in, or flogging them and splitting the money then going our separate ways.

The second option is easy, sensible, and well within my expectations and experience of life. Our friendship could easily continue intact.

The first is not necessarily any of those things. But the long-term benefit of it is that it would probably give me a second home to go to, somewhere warmer, with the comfort of a friendly face to greet me.

Some think that coming away with a sack of cash is more like stability. Having money reassures me in a way known only to those who’ve done without. It feels solid.

But what’s the value of solidity? I’m used to ground that moves under my feet. Snug up your core, and it’s easy to handle. And there’s nothing like casting off and taking off, nothing over you but open sky, and your own home flying through the water with such poise that it makes even the cormorants faint with envy.

[IMG cormorant superflock on my birthday sail]

Stability might mean solidity. Or it could mean being able to balance different forces well. Which of these sounds more interesting? Even – or perhaps especially – when you aim to make each day as sparkly and intriguing as a handful of jewels?

[Just wait till I get the pictures up :)]

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Reverse culture shock, transcontinental style

Dear Reader … I’m a Yank. It’s true. I may have sparkly blonde hair, find it easy to talk to strangers, and not assume that anyone who smiles at me has an agenda, but that’s because I’ve been living in Central Coast California for 1/3 of my life.

Here in California, when you tell an acquaintance that they’re particularly clever or sweet, they grin pinkly and do a little riff on, “aw shucks, stop it again, quit it some more,” and like you the better for it. In New England, they’re liable to lift their chins — apparently avoiding a slobbery little dog — and take it as their due … while wondering what your agenda is, and bracing to resist it.

I know this because, after living in each place for a few years and watching the expressions and asking why, I found myself doing these exact same things. (I’m not immune, but I try to be aware.)

I’m also planning to go between the mid-Atlantic seaboard and the Northeast, which I’ve done before, and that has a charming set of subtle cultural potholes of its own.

For instance, if you call a stranger “ma’am” or “sir” in Alexandria, they figure you have nice manners and relax a little.

If you do that in New York, they raise their chins (ever so slightly) and figure you’ve taken a lower peg than themselves in the pecking order; then they’re either magnanimous or obstructive, but usually magnanimous.

If you do that in Massachusetts, they look around in a flustered manner and can’t quite figure out if you’re making fun of them or are putting them on a pedestal they aren’t sure they should occupy. … Which is in interesting contrast to the reaction to compliments.

Mind you, those who know me well have it figured out: compliments are taken pleasantly and “ma’am/sir” lightens the mood. So I’m not worried.

But I am glad that California has the cultural weight that it does, because — as I learned long ago — saying in an explanatory tone, “I’m from California,” smooths out any number of cultural faux pas. And there are sooo many pas to faux up.

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How moving

I’m working on clearing out all the needless stuff from my boat. This includes unfinished projects, equipment for work I can no longer do, things I’ve kept only because they’re too cute to get rid of, and so on. It’s been sufficiently, um, absorbing that I have neglected the blogs, but I’m playing catch-up online as I take an hour or two this morning to step back and breathe.

One realization that has helped me tremendously is the insight that NOTHING IS WASTED. I realized this when I held up a shirt that I had worn for a sweaty project: it was too smelly to use as a rag, but I couldn’t bring myself to wash it (laundry costs), and I realized it ought to go in the bin.

In a century or three, it will make very nice dirt for something to grow in. And isn’t it possible, I found myself thinking, that holding relentlessly to individual human scales of usefulness and time is a little … well, ethnocentric isn’t even the word. Speciecentric? … We are, after all, part of a greater reality which none of us will see the end of.

This expands on an idea I had long ago: that I don’t have to hold everything inside my skin. I was meditating to escape pain one day, and it followed me in, the jerk. So I took the idea that I’m just one drop in the ocean of humanity, and as my sense of awareness grew and expanded, the pain did not — it dissipated, being spread so wide over the whole world, and went away.

It was waiting for me when I got back, of course, but for one thing there was less of it; for another, the break did me a lot of good.

So I’m working on expanding my awareness. It makes it easier to detach from Things — objects whose main purpose is to take up space, use up mental energy, and carry some emotional trigger that, in fact, I probably don’t need. Life is quite emotional enough without the needless triggers, thanks.

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