Monday, September 14, 2009

Writer's High

People often refer to ‘Runner’s High’ to describe that euphoric feeling they get after doing a run. I’ve experienced it myself. And now, thanks to my participation in the 3-Day Novel Contest (, I’ve experienced ‘Writer’s High’. Who’d have thought you can get the same energy, excitement, and endorphins out of sitting in a chair for 3 days straight as you can running a marathon? Alright, I’ve only ever actually ran a half-marathon but this was a marathon of writing!

With a mixture of fear and excitement, I approached the contest weekend. Labour Day. Every year, I’d thought about entering the contest, just to see if I could do it, write an entire novel in 3 days. But every year, the dying summer called out to me, whispering of warm, sunny days filled with friends, outdoor adventure, playing, and reveling in the weather before the chill of fall made me put away the shorts and bathing suits and dig my long underwear out of storage. So every year I thought, “next year” and made my getaway plans. This year though, I have dedicated myself, more than ever, to my creative writing so I did it – sent in my registration and the entry fee. No turning back now because I’m too well-trained to pay the money and not do the work. I told friends, family, and my classmates at SFU’s Writer’s Studio I was doing the contest. I announced it online. I left myself no way to save face if I chickened out. I was eager and excited!

I was also obsessive-compulsive, surpassing even the limits I, in my detail-oriented Virgo brain, knew I was capable of. I painstakingly planned my story, using an idea I’d worked up at a novel-writing intensive course last summer at UBC but had never written. I pulled out the storyboard I use to plan some of my short stories. Not able to find my notes from the course, I started from scratch again. I was on a mission. I wrote character worksheets, created an index card for each major scene, made notes about setting and the plot.

I created a food list, knowing no one else would be around to feed me and I put in comfort foods and ones that needed, at most, a quick few minutes in the microwave to be edible. I bought protein powder with greens in it, for energy. I added chocolate and chips to the list to feed my sweet and salt cravings and even managed to pile in some fruits, vegetables, herbal teas, and sparking mineral waters to keep myself hydrated and thinking clearly. (Later on in the contest, I would realize that thinking clearly is a relative thing, but it sounded good at the time).

I made up a schedule of meals and an overall schedule for the weekend, including writing, eating, sleeping, and yes, even a short exercise break for each day. (Those of you who have done the contest will realize how naively optimistic I was being.) A writing friend gave me some great advice and I took the schedule and superimposed it on my scene cards, adding different colored notes to show where in the story I should be at the end of Day 1, at 6 pm on Day 2 (when the contest website says you should be halfway), at the end of Day 2 and, of course, when I should finish on Day 3. (Knowing this helped me see I was on target and relax and enjoy the writing.)

Then, the first challenge arose, even before the contest started. A friend of mine was going away for the long weekend and needed someone to look after the cats in her house. I’d planned on sequestering myself in my apartment and taking occasional view breaks from the balcony, but she really needed someone. And her house is lovely and comfortable and I’d be able to write in several spots inside it and on her deck, just by moving my laptop around. But I’d be interrupted midday on the Monday to make my way home and finish, once she returned. I weighed the options. I added in packup and move time into my Monday schedule, thinking I should just about be finished my first draft when she got back and I secured her promise to transport me and my car back to my apartment if I was too sleep-deprived or too lost in my story-world to be able to drive safely. And my friend took my shopping list and stocked her cupboards and fridge for me. So, it was settled.

I arrived at her house Friday night. I set up my storyboard and my laptop, turning her dining room into my work area. I had brought a bouquet of sunflowers, a ‘Power Card’ to boost my self-esteem in moments of writing despair and a couple of ‘Angel Cards’ that I picked from my deck – love and adventure (fitting for both my own endeavour and, it turned out for my protagonist too). I found her CD player and moved it within easy reach and stacked the CDs I’d brought with me on the table. I put snacks (raw almonds and a banana) within easy reach. I ensured the lighting was good, the ergonomic keyboard was plugged into my laptop, and I could access my friend’s internet. All good. I cleared a space in the living room and spread my yoga mat on the floor, thinking I’d need to stretch and pry my body out of ‘computing posture’ from time to time. I was ready to start writing. I just needed to wait for the weekend to start.

I took a picture of my computer with the word processing program open – to the infamous blank page. Then I figured out how to set my friend’s alarm clock, climbed into her bed about 11 pm, and fell asleep. I woke about 2:30 am Saturday morning, got up with my brain buzzing, and wrote some more notes on the characters, then went back to bed just after 3. At 3:30, I realized I’d finished sleeping for the time being and got up to have breakfast and make coffee. I put a load of laundry I’d brought into the washing machine. I’m not sure whether I was thinking I had time to multitask or if I was just stalling, afraid to start.

About 4, I began writing. It took me 3 hours to write 5 pages. I told myself the beginning is always hard and it’s important to get it right to set the scene and ‘hook’ the reader. At 7 am I realized I was just too tired and went back to bed, getting up again at 8, feeling better. I wrote, taking many more short breaks than scheduled as I felt my body cramping – behind my right shoulder blade, my neck, my shoulders, my lower back. At various times I stretched out on my mat, relaxed into the child pose, did my morning salutation, a few downward-facing dogs and some cat stretches. I paced around the room, turned the music up full blast and danced around the room, breaking a sweat and breathing hard. I put my hand against the wall at the doorways and stepped through, stretching my shoulders back. I had short naps. I drank litres of coffee, tea, water, and ate lunch and dinner and snacks. I even allowed myself a 25 minute walk outside when it had nearly stopped raining. I posted status updates on my profile online about what I was going through and where in the story I was, to encourage myself and let my friends encourage me as well. It was an amazing support. I narrowly missed letting two furry black and white critters into the house that evening, instead of one - the one who did get in was my friend's cat; the other was a striped skunk who happened to be wandering through the backyard at the same time.

But mostly, I wrote. I allowed myself only 15 minutes of editing, between 5:45 pm and 6, tired of hearing the editor in my brain yelling. “How do you know it’s any good? What about the sentence structure? Do you even remember what you wrote this morning? How about that character development, hey – how do you think that’s going?” I think she was just feeling left out, since I usually give her free rein to jump in any time and overrule my writer. This time though, my writer was in her glory, flying down one track, unsure if it would take her where she needed to go but knowing she just had to go there and see. There wasn’t time to think about it too much. Her fingers flew across the keyboard and she felt great. At times, she didn’t stop typing to think, just leapt and waited to see where she’d land. The story took on a life of its own. The characters did as they damn well pleased. My writer was playing and running and laughing. She was free.

I love being in ‘the zone’ like that when I’m writing and I realized I don’t often enough give myself the freedom to get there. This time though, the thought of the deadline and my schedule kept me from overanalyzing and second-guessing. At one point (on Day 2), I got back from a break and sat down, surprised the story had stopped when I stopped writing. I’d been like a child listening to someone else tell me a story and I thought I’d be able to just read from where I’d left off. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before and I was thrilled because it meant my story was a living thing and that its own momentum would help me carry it forward. At 10 pm, I stopped writing for the day, having finished Day 1 with Chapter 4 and 40 pages.

The next day was much the same. The cat woke me to get out at 3:30 and I chose to sleep some more after I played cat doorman. I woke and started at 6:30 am but, from the start, it felt harder. The weather was on my side though. All weekend it rained, alternating between a light mist and pouring, the water falling with such force from the sky that it bounced a foot back up in the air, coming down in sheets and drumming on the house. I was grateful for the lack of tempting sunshine, feeling safe and cocooned inside (once I turned on the fireplace and the heat to take the chill off). The rain even found its way into my story, drenching my protagonist and helping to make her adventure more challenging.

My friend’s downstairs tenant and his friend came home Sunday afternoon. They left me alone to write except for an hour in the evening, for which I will be forever grateful. For that hour, they came upstairs, poured me a glass of wine, massaged my tired arms, and cooked me a lovely BBQ steak dinner. We ate and talked and I had a break that refreshed both my brain and body. They were wonderful. I wrote until 11:30 and finished Day 2 with 63 pages.

On Day 3, I finally needed the alarm clock to wake up. It went off at 6:19 and I shut it off, noticing the cat was still snoring softly and had no intention of going outside. I woke again just before 8 am in a panic, the way you do when you realize you went back to sleep after the alarm and are now late for work. I jumped up, put breakfast beside the computer and was typing by 8. The adrenaline coursing through me made me an effective writer and I had just reached the beginning of the novel’s climax when my friend and her companions arrived home. It was noon, perfect timing.

From 12 to 1:30 I packed everything up, came home, ate lunch, set up, and was back at my computer by 1:30, about to bring my story to its most exciting point. I wrote for an hour, took a half hour nap, then got up and finished the first draft. Just after 4:30 on Monday I was done the writing!

I cleaned myself up and went for a walk down by the beach. The rain had finally stopped and the sun was out. A walk that usually takes about an hour was done in 35 minutes. I was so high on the experience that I couldn’t slow down. A man jumped down onto the seawall in front of me and started slowly jogging. Despite having to stop and tie my shoe, I stayed the same distance behind him the whole way, him jogging, me walking. He kept looking back at me and was wondering, I’m sure, why I was walking so fast but I couldn’t help it. I also couldn’t help the huge smile on my face. People looked at me and smiled and said hello. Their eyes followed me as I went by. Later I would check myself in the mirror to make sure I didn’t look completely outlandish somehow to attract so much attention. But I looked normal, except for the fact that I was grinning from ear-to-ear and floating about 6 inches above the ground. I was feeling happy and amazed, powerful and beautiful, and incredibly wound up.

After my walk, I came back and sat down to edit. I did a spell check, and a cursory edit to ensure my character’s eyes didn’t change color and no one came back from the dead. I filled in a few blanks for my reader, realized it needed a thorough edit that wouldn’t be part of this initial process and, just after 11 pm Monday, I saved the file.

89 pages and 10 chapters. I opened the bottle of champagne I’d put in the fridge before all this started, toasted the origin of my writing, my friends and family (for supporting me), my characters, and myself. I don’t often drink alone but somehow this time it seemed appropriate. I had given a life to my story and added an incredible story to my own life. I had written a novel!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Riding in the Dark

Two nights ago I joined friends for a movie in Vancouver. Loath to sit in the lineup for the Lions Gate Bridge for a half hour, I instead rode my bike across from West Van, through the craziness of downtown and over the Burrard Bridge, using the new bike lane. It was great! In the past, I've ridden the Burrard Bridge, stuck between the speeding traffic and the pedestrians I was sharing the sidewalk with. There was nothing there to keep me from falling into the car lanes, not a guardrail, not even a raised edge to the sidewalk. I was always worried that, as I passed a pedestrian from behind, yelling, "On your left!", they'd turn to look and bump me into traffic. But with the new bike lane, the pedestrians and I have a new, happier relationship. They aren't scared of being run down and I'm not scared of dying under the wheels of a bus. It's all good.

On the ride back home, which I shared with my friend and ardent bike commuter, David, we cut through Stanley Park. It was dark and there were few cars. And luckily, David's lights were much more efficient than my little 'emergency' ones. (I don't usually ride at night.) As we rode along the park roads in the darkness, I felt the adrenaline rise inside me. I became the child at play, the girl on an adventure. The night was warm and clear and beautiful and flying along the pavement felt good. The night closed in on us, our lights creating a tunnel we traveled through.

At night on a bike, you concentrate on what lies ahead, in your line of vision, and not on all the peripheral stuff. It's fun and your way is clear. It struck me that this is another way of living in the moment, this temporary cleaving of the darkness as you pass through it. It closes up again behind you and your world is defined by the reach of a beam of light. It feels good to be able to let everything else go and concentrate on just your small bit of time and space. It's freeing somehow.

When we left the pavement and turned up onto the gravel trail through the trees, the darkness became more intense and we had to slow to follow the curves, not seeing where the trail went except for a few feet ahead. A small, dark, shadow animal ran across the path between our wheels and startled me but it was probably no less startled by our presence. (David's reassurance that it was probably a rat didn't actually help.) When we finally emerged from the trail out onto the pavement by the bridge, my adrenaline was high. The pedaling back across the bridge to West Vancouver was easy and I was almost disappointed when we made it to our destination and I climbed off my bike. Just like that, playtime was over and the world expanded back to its usual self but it felt smaller now somehow, more friendly. Perhaps it's just a matter of how brightly you let your light shine.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Whose voice is it, anyway?

In taking my writing courses and in my writing practice, the question of voice seems to recur, over and over and over again.

There's the traditional idea of voice in literature, regardless of in what genre it belongs. Who's the narrator, do they tell you the story in first, second, or third person? Are they a character in the story, or one outside of it, telling you what's happening?

In a travel writing course I just took (an excellent one, by the way), the use of voice kept coming up - other people's voices, the voices of the people you meet, the characters inhabiting your tales and the places you journey to, making them real and interesting for your readers. Readers want to hear their voices, know the people you come across, care about them, learn their stories, and you, the writer, are only the conduit. Your own voice is only important in as far as you, the author, represent them, the readers.

In writing nonfiction we all find different voices and, because some of it is autobiography of a sort, the voice we choose to use is often our own. Funny how we have to struggle to understand what our own voices should sound like, instead of just having them flow organically out. It's as if we're strangers to ourselves, just learning how to talk. But then, talking to ourselves is not the point, is it? So we must define and hone our voices to ones that others can hear, are willing to listen to, want to listen to, even. And for so many of us writers, as perhaps is also the case with nonwriters, we are constantly discovering new facets to our own voices, experimenting, trying things on for size, discarding what doesn't serve us, doesn't fit our narrative or our own self-image.

For some of us, having so long suppressed our natural voices,trying to silence them or make them like everyone else's, we aren't even sure what we really sound like anymore. It becomes a process of discovering ourselves and our own voice. So now, just as I am learning to hear my own voice, I'm also learning that it's the voice of others I need to write. And my own voice once again becomes a background whisper, informing the 'othervoice' of my writing.

For such a long time though (an eternity it seems), my voice was silent - through the nonwriting years, those times when physical activity became my means of expression. When 'sweating it out', pushing myself until I could barely breathe, let alone speak, was the point. My body did the talking then. So now, when I write, my own voice refuses to be silenced; to take a back seat to the voices of my characters, even if they are real people in real places, with so much more to say than I could ever hope for.

It becomes louder, more insistent, the more I try to downplay it, like a child shushed too often, rebelling. But, like a child, when given free rein, it says things I can never have imagined - embarrassing, if honest, things. No one wants to talk about that, I tell it. "BUT I DO," it insists and there is no way to quiet it without making a scene. Perhaps that's the gift of being a writer, as well as the curse. That your voice, once acknowledged and encouraged, is unable to be silenced.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Pleasures of Insomnia

I lay awake very early this morning, as often happens, my mind a whirling, restless creature full of thoughts that will not be silenced or made the least bit quieter, even temporarily, so I can sleep. I lay on my right side, my back; then threw myself over onto my left side, wrapping my arm around my pillow and drawing it more tightly beneath my head and neck. I clamped my eyes more firmly shut against the faint light filtering in through my lashes. Finally, after what seemed an interminable time, I looked at the clock, having avoided it till then so I would not have the additional insomniac pleasure of knowing how many hours I counted down tossing and turning before dragging myself, exhausted, from my bed. It was 4:47 a.m.

I got up and walked around the apartment, gazing out the window at the lights of downtown and the gently brightening sky. I logged into my computer and sat on the couch, reading messages and replying to them, aware that whoever I was writing to would see the time stamp and realize my predawn sleeplessness, but it was better than lying awake in my bed. Finally, urged by the beautiful morning shining outside my window, I decided to try something new. I hurriedly dressed, threw a baseball cap over my sleep-tousled hair and drove down to the beach and the seawall. Only a few other cars were parked in the lot as I started my trek by the water.

I walked through the delicate morning light; the blue, white, and pink hues of the lightening sky reflecting onto the water beside me. Everywhere the birds were busy making their living. Seagulls trying to swallow too-large, flat, silver, disc-shaped fish that minutes earlier, had been swimming among the rocks on the bottom of the ocean, crows dropping white-grey oysters upon the rocks in an effort to break open their shells and get at the tender bodies inside, white-crowned sparrows flitting and pecking among the dried grass stems and calling to one another, and stilt-legged herons stalking their breakfast along the shoreline.

At first, I saw few people and reveled in the solitude and the glory of the morning. I felt virtuous and clever to be out so early. But there was something more. I felt immensely grateful – for the sea, the light, the birds, the dew on the plants, the very air I felt filling my lungs. It seemed to me, as I walked, that my life was like the day – sitting there open and waiting and full of possibility. There was a clarity and brilliance to the day. Then I began to meet others, coming and going, making their morning journeys as I was. And I noticed, in their faces, a certain optimism and openness that was missing when I take this walk in the late afternoons. People look you in the eyes in the morning and smile easily and say hello. Later in the day, these same people, or perhaps other people on the same route, their minds full of the day's problems, avoid meeting your gaze and, if they do look at you, keep a carefully neutral expression lest you are tempted to begin a conversation with them. For these new, fresh, smiling, morning people, I was also grateful.

I realize now that I have been missing out on one of the best parts of the day when I sometimes lie in bed staring at the ceiling above me, tossing my body from side to side in an effort to get comfortable enough to drift off again. This morning, my mind, instead of being full of thoughts that torment me, raced with inspiration, plans, empowerment, and joy. Perhaps my body is wiser than I give it credit for and perhaps, next time it wakes me in the fragile dawn hours, I will listen more closely instead of trying to silence it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Page in the Life of a Writer

I am blessed in so many ways.

I get to write for a living, not always on the subjects of my choosing but, whatever the subject, I am guaranteed to learn something, about myself or the world or both. Often, the things I write help people - they can do their jobs more efficiently or safely, they can find something to take away to think about, to imagine, and perhaps even to make their own life happier or better. How great is that?!

Then too, I am lucky to work where I live. My commute is most often a short cruise from bedroom, to kitchen (for coffee), to desk. Or, better yet, to balcony. When weather (and sun) conditions permit, I sit out on my balcony, looking at the view featured at the top of this blog, listening to the sound of the small, homemade water feature on my balcony. I see the boats go by on the water, sails high, or power wakes white on the blue water. I see cruise ships leaving, their occupants ripe for adventure. Tankers filled with goods, coming and going, or anchoring in the waters in front. Planes and helicopters arrive and go, shining in the air. Seagulls soar by, crows congregate noisily on the building across the way, their jet black feathers sleek and glittering. Sometimes the blue glass surface of the water changes and is frothed with white and sparkles in the sun, like shards broken up by the wind.

All around me, my veggies and herbs grow, my flowers bloom, and nature, at her fragrant, colorful best keeps me company. Today I took a break from the manual I'm writing to stop typing and watch a big fuzzy bumblebee land on my lobelia. His black and yellow was a beautiful contrast to the bright blue and white flowers. As he landed for a moment on each blossom, his weight pulled the stem down. He gathered his pollen and then moved up to another stem, which descended as the previous one bobbed back up into place. Soon, the whole plant was bobbing up and down with his ministrations and with the gentle breeze that played around us both. As well, today I have seen 3 different butterflies here to visit my garden: a plain, whitish-yellow one, a brighter white one, almost transparent, with blue-black markings on the tips of its wings, and a bright yellow and black striped one. Who says the life of a writer is lonely?

I have a resident rufous sided towhee who gives his shrieking call and comes to scratch in the pots on my balcony. When I'm outside and he arrives, he's rather more shy and sits on the railing, hopping a bit, and cocking his head to one side to study me. "What," he seems to be saying, "are you doing here on my balcony?" He waits, a bit impatiently, for me to finish what I'm doing and go back inside before he goes about his business here.

Then there is the hummingbird who lives in the shrubs below. At the beginning of the season, he does his territorial display, soaring high straight up in the air, hanging still for a second, and then dive-bombing straight down at ridiculous speed. Over and over, in front of my balcony and my window, he shoots up and down and up and down until I am dizzy watching him and don't know how he cannot be dizzy himself. Sometimes he flies up, level with my balcony, a beautiful green jewel shining in the sun, suspended, his wings moving so quickly they're invisible. Best of all though, is when he comes to visit my flowers, as he is just now, pushing his tiny beak into the openings of my petunias and checking out the bright red snapdragons.

My little home, and its balcony in particular, is paradise on days like these.

Monday, May 18, 2009

The view from the other side

The other side of the water, that is. Yesterday I spent a good portion of the day in and around Vancouver's Stanley Park and English Bay. I biked across the bridge from West Vancouver and did 2 circuits of the park and then back across the bridge towards home. While I was there, I met a friend from my creative writing program, saw my home from across the water, and took lots of pictures of it and the park scenery in the brilliance of the Vancouver sun. It was a day to be thankful for living in such a beautiful place.

Then, later on that day, after a last minute cancellation of a meeting with a friend in Vancouver's West End, I picked up an ice cream cone and wandered on foot, among the hundreds of tourists and sun worshipers, along the seawall near English Bay and back into the edges of the park.

I visited the place where my grandmother's memory lies warm in the ebbing surf, took off my shoes and wandered, barefoot across the wet sand, letting the ocean lap at my toes and push my footprints down into the beach. I saw small children laughing and building fortresses in the sand, their imaginations creating impenetrable sanctuaries full of adventurers, villians, and heroes where my eyes saw only piles of sand and bits of driftwood and rock. And I marveled, as always, at the human imagination. It is so free and natural in children. And sometimes, when the creativity is flowing, and 'life' isn't rudely imposing itself on me, I catch glimpses of that childlike imagination within myself. If I am lucky, it will stay with me long enough for me to write my story, that passage of dialogue, that description that will have you seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, feeling the same things as my characters do. And then you, too, will experience the joy of an unleashed imagination, however fleeting it is for us 'grownups'.

I met some lovely, interesting people. Peter, an artist who draws in pencil, the thin etched lines building and building to create a picture, perhaps a local scene from Vancouver, so clear and life-like it resembles a photograph. Or, with the eye of a true 'wet coast' city dweller, he draws the scene complete with the slick distortion of the rain, washing down the city as it often does, especially in spring and fall.

While I was admiring the artist's work, an older gentleman struck up a conversation with me, asking me where I was from and, eventually, if I had a husband. When I replied in the negative, he invited me to go over to the bar across the street and have a drink with him so we could get to know one another. I looked at him, smiling mutely, unable at first to believe this man, who was easily at least 20 years older than me, was actually asking me out. And I wondered, for one insecure moment, what this said about me. Then I realized that what was more important was what it said about him. His charming confidence was endearing and it made me realize something about the way I go through my own life. If you don't ask, you never know. And what harm was there done? No, I didn't go with him. But I smiled and thanked him politely, impressed despite myself.

How many opportunities have I missed by not asking, not just in romance but in life in general? How many doors needed me just to nudge them so that they could fling themselves open and reveal the possibilities that lay behind? I'll probably never know but I do know that, in future, it doesn't hurt to ask for what you want. The already myriad possibilities I saw for my life before yesterday just expanded even further and now have become almost limitless. If I ask for what I want, I might get a polite, or even less than polite, no. But.... What if I get a yes? What if you do? What can it hurt to dream, to reach, to strive for your dreams? Surely it will be much less hurt than to let the potential for those dreams fade away, never pursued but only ardently wished for.

Friday, May 15, 2009

They never talk about the nausea

Hello all. In talking to friends about my trip, I've had to take some criticism. How, they ask, can sailing be all sunshine, swimming, snorkeling, and smiles? Surely, there's a downside. Actually, they've pretty much demanded the downside, threatening me with responsibility for their financial and social ruin when they decide to spend huge amounts of money and time sailing, based on the glowing reports and the beautiful pictures in previous posts. So, here goes.... Note: If you'd rather maintain your untarnished view of cruising the Caribbean, read this post at your own risk. ;o)

So, the downside...

There are days, beautiful warm sunny days, where the wind blows fiercely, stirring the sea up into whitecaps, peaks as stiff and white and frothy as well-beaten egg whites. The water tosses the boat and you around, crashing over the bow and sometimes over you, depending how fast you're going and from which direction the wave strikes. Water crests in all directions, waves sometimes hitting you from the front, the back, and the side all at the same time. Big waves sometimes, ones that have you holding on, averting your face from the soaking you know is coming. You can't go below, for fear of the nausea taking hold as it tends to do when you can no longer see the horizon. You can't walk around, because the boat is heeled over sideways and bouncing back and forth. And so, you hang on. Sometimes for hours, while the sun beats down on you.

Of course, the sun is beating down on you, but you have sunscreen, clothes, a hat, and sunglasses to keep you safe. And the waves sparkle more than ever, because of the movement and the many surfaces off which the sun glints, reminding you of diamonds, stars, and flashes of insight you've had along the way. And, when a wave does hit you, it's relatively warm but cool enough to be refreshing. And you find yourself laughing and enjoying the wild adrenaline ride anyway. Staying upright becomes a challenge, like riding a wild horse, and you know you can do it and the wind blows through your hair as you hang on and grin your defiance and you feel so alive....

Oh, the downside. Right.

Well I know I told you, in a previous post, about being drug-groggy and there were times - the first after 5 hours or so of riding a wild sea - that I had to resort to pharmaceuticals in order not to share more with my sailing companions than they could have appreciated. One of my companions did share this way but I was, mercifully, already drowsing on the other side of the cockpit and missed most of the action. When it happens, you feel alright at first. Sure, it's a bit of a bumpy ride, but you've had bumpy before. So, you decide to 'just say no' and not do the anti-nausea tablet that you've stowed nearby, just in case. You sip your water, gaze out at the horizon, marvel at the color of the sea - is it really such a clear, bright blue? Can you really see so far down? But slowly,it creeps up on you. Ignoring it doesn't make it go away. It nudges you, deep inside your belly, gently at first. A small fluttering, a certain lightness of head. And you shift your position, have some more water, lose track of the conversation around you. You can feel your eyes becoming a bit glazed, your mouth getting drier. Your companions notice these changes,and the silence beginning to come from your corner of the boat. They ask you if you're feeling quite alright. And you say, yes, you're fine. But then the creature inside you becomes impatient, tired of being ignored. It elbows you, hard, in the gut. You cringe. At this point, you make a decision. And you put it in your mouth - the quick dissolve orange flavored tablet. It melts quickly and your mouth suddenly tastes much better than it did a moment ago. You settle in, waiting, hoping you took it in time and now it's a race between the drug and the nausea. Waiting to see who will be stronger, you hunker down, bracing yourself, hooking your arm around something to keep you stable. Eventually, you feel yourself getting drowsy and you know the drug won - this time.

And you lie there, half asleep, with the suddenly benevolent waves rocking you, like you are a child in your mother's arms. And you hear the others talking around you and it reminds you, again, of childhood. When you were older this time, lying on the grass outside while the adults drank their coffee on the porch and visited, your eyes shut but you're not quite asleep, lulled by the voices around you, the laughter and the warm comfort of the sun. And when you wake, on the boat again, stirring slowly and sitting up, the ocean is still blue, the sky is still brilliant with sun, and the nasty creature, nausea, has crawled back into its dark cave. You are free!

Writing this, I wonder if I have deterred any of you from wanting to sail, here or in the Caribbean. I know I can't wait to get out again. Perhaps I could talk about being on a 45 foot boat with 4 other people for 2 weeks, how you get in each others' way, on each others' nerves sometimes. How I accidentally, to my horror, elbowed a shipmate in the face when pulling in a sheet or was stepped on, hard, by someone stumbling by as the waves tossed the boat. But then I could also tell you about the times when, anchored in some secluded bay, we all watched a beautiful sunset with glasses of good red wine in our hands, toasting each other, laughing, telling stories, and settling down to enjoy another amazing meal, prepared with ingenuity and strokes of brilliance. Our appetites honed to a fine edge with the wind and work of getting there. Exchanging stories, we learned a bit about each others' lives, celebrated a birthday, a retirement, an anniversary. And we learned to be happy together.

No, I can't do it! If you want someone to tell you that it's not worth it, that you should save your money and stay home with your family and friends forever, you'll have to find someone else. Because I loved it. And I'm going out again, just as soon as I am able. Somehow, being adrift for all that time grounded me, made me remember what was important. And that, to use a cliche, is priceless!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Home, Sweet Home

Well, I'm writing this entry from the comfort of my bed in Vancouver, having gotten home just after 3 a.m. this morning. I looked outside first thing when I woke up about about 8 and was greeted by a different view than the last couple weeks, but still by the sun on the water and a feeling of how fortunate I am to be in the place I am. It is good to be home. And, as I poured water into my kettle in my nice, comfy apartment, I realized again just how fortunate I am, period. So much we take for granted here, not necessarily because we don't appreciate it, but just because that is our life (for the fortunate ones) here in this part of the world.

So many people in the Caribbean have so little and their lifestyle is very basic. But the thing that struck me most about these people is that they are proud, hard working, generous, and open. Their tiny little homes, which would definitely not suit our western sensibilities, are always tidy and well-kept. They sweep their yards with brooms made of leaves from the trees. They keep themselves presentable, despite any lack. They are smiling and open and willing to share what they have. Our tour guide for the rain forest in Dominica said, "Just because you're poor, doesn't mean you have to be nasty." Everywhere, people were generally happy and grateful for the "food that is everywhere" - the mangoes, papayas, breadfruit, bananas, dasheen, etc. that grow.

Of course, I did meet people who wanted to leave for a better life but I really didn't meet people who were ungrateful for the little they had or who openly resented what others have. We had the privilege of talking to some of the people and finding out what their lives were like and they seemed very open with us. Always, they dealt with things with good humor and a positive outlook. Everywhere there are smiles and laughter, not just for the tourist's sake. They greet each other constantly as they drive down the road, honking and waving and calling out. Maybe that is part of the island lifestyle, as it is on our gulf islands to a certain extent, but it felt like more than that - kind of a 'we're all in it together, and we might as well enjoy it' feeling. I have the utmost respect for the people I met - they are enterprising, optimistic, and hardworking.

And maybe, following their example, I'll be just a little more grateful than I already was, for the blessings I have and the abundance I enjoy in my everyday life. There is nothing like traveling to put your own existence into perspective and that is a great gift. Have a wonderful day, everyone!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Deep Bay

Yesterday we sailed around the corner to Deep Bay. We anchored there and snorkled the wreck of a ship that lies just below the surface. (Thanks again, Dave, for the loan of your gear!)

The story is that the boat was loaded with a cargo of pitch, which ignited with the friction of the journey, smoldering. They weren't allowed to go into the big port of St John's because of their dangerous cargo, so they anchored in nearby Deep Bay. As soon as they opened the hatches to deal with the problem, the oxygen ignited the flames and the crew had to abandon ship and watch it burn and sink.

You can see the ribs of the ship, the crows nest, etc. Coral and all kinds of fish make it their home. The top of the mast stump sticks up above the surface of the water. It was amazing!

Today we're relaxing, packing, shopping, and tomorrow we head home. I'm looking forward to my own bed and, no matter how awesome my shipmates, a bit of privacy, but I have the feeling I'll be back here again someday. This has been an experience of a lifetime!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Boat details

Hi Brian, and everyone else, the boat we're on is a 45.2 Jeanneau. It heels right over, dipping the rail in the water, flies pretty well and is a lot of fun. It's got 2 separate cabins in the back (which house Dan and then Yvon and Carolyn together) and Hayley and I are in the v-berth cabin, with a divider wall down the middle. 2 bathrooms, pretty comfortable. And I can lie on my bed and see the stars through the overhead vent. What more can you ask for? Will have lots of pictures later but it takes forever to load them here so that'll have to wait!


Hi folks. It's been a while since I told you where we were and since then, we've sailed the Isles des Saintes and Dominica.

At Bourg de Saintes, we anchored out and went for dinner and shopping (food, etc.) The next day we had fresh croissant and baguette from the boulangerie in town for breakfast and then rented 3 scooters. Yvon, Hayley, and Dan drove, while Carolyn rode with Yvon and I changed back and forth between the other 2. We went up the very steep hill to tour Fort Napolean and the cactus garden there and then drove along the small island, touring all the beautiful beaches. We walked and swam in the crashing surf and picked up shells and broken bits of coral to study.

As the stores were closing (1/2 an hour earlier than posted - island time, apparently), we had a 'military' shopping mission, spreading out through the stores, finding our assigned items with an impressive focus and barely getting out as the sliding door at the front went down. Later, back at the boat, we watched the seabirds swoop down, scooping fish up from the water in their feet and beaks. After another beautiful sunset, I lay on back on the bench in the cockpit, staring up at a sky full of stars, being very happy and relaxed.

After the Saintes, we sailed to Dominica, my favorite place so far. We were met 2 miles out from port by a tour guide in a small wooden boat who said, "Welcome to paradise!" And he was right. That afternoon, we went on a river tour and two of them paddled us upriver while pointing out the plants and animals and birds and telling us all about what it is like to live there, to grow up in the rain forest environment. We learned about 'mountain chickens' (big frogs), and river crabs and mountain crabs (actual crabs), and stopped in the middle of the rain forest where the river narrowed too much to go forward. There was a small, outdoor bar with a thatched roof, where they served rum punch of every description - the coconut was especially delicious. There was dancing and beautiful flowers, and hummingbirds and lots of smiles. On the way out, Hayley tried her hand at rowing - a bit back and forth, but not such a bad job!

The next day, the same tour guide arranged for us to have a driving tour to the other (east) side of the island and the true rainforest. It was so beautiful and lush and green and you could feel the clean air fill your lungs. It was one of the most moving places I've ever been and I never wanted to leave. There were flowers and birds and plants everywhere, the air is thick with birdsong. We stopped at 2 different pools and swam under waterfalls - it was magical!

On the way there, we stopped at a local roadside stand and bought some authentic Carib (native)handicrafts and fruit, which the woman's son went and picked fresh for us - baby bananas, a papaya and a bunch of mangos. We stopped at a restaurant for an amazing fresh lunch of fish (or chicken, but I think we all had fish) and local vegetables and fruits. It was the best meal any of us have had here and we told the chef and waitress that and they gave us a list of everything we'd eaten, plus 2 of the ingredients - 2 dasheen roots (kind of like potato, though it looks more like a scratchy turnip), and 4 plantains. They were so happy and friendly and generous.

That night, there was a BBQ and dancing on the beach and we all attended. Lots of other 'yachties' from around the world were there, as well as the locals and we had a wonderful time. At the end of the evening, they made an announcement about Yvon's 65th birthday and Yvon and Caroline's anniversary and the two had a special dance. It was lovely! We've since sailed back to Jolly Harbour at Antigua, seeing lots of flying fish, a turtle, and even a couple whales very close to our boat, spouting and diving, and waving their tales at us. I'll fill in the blanks later, but for now, want to get back outside for another amazing caribbean sunset. Tomorrow, we go north on Antigua, to snorkel the wreck of a boat at Deep Bay. I love this!!! And love to all of you at home!

It's in the details

Sailors are always aware of the details. Every small thing counts - where a line lies across the deck, especially in relation to other lines, the shrouds, etc. They are aware of the depth of the water they travel over, and of the currents, and the details of the bottoms they float above. They watch the wind, the slapping of the tell-tales along the sail, the weather, and the roughening of the water ahead of them that signifies wind, puffs that last an instant, but move them forward or to the side. They seek out tiny details and markers on the distant shores they parallel or head towards.

When heading out for the day, they are careful to close every vent, every drain, to put things in their place in the cupboards. To lock cupboard doors and close up cabins. Things move of their own accord when you're sailing. They topple off shelves and countertops if they're not put away and go clattering across the floor.

If water can find its way in, whether sea or rain, it will. If you leave clothes on the lifelines to dry outside overnight, or even during a lull in the day, Nature may turn jokester and pour the rain down, making them even wetter than before. (This isn't always a bad thing if it washes the salt spray off.)

Sailing, you become aware of every inch of exposed skin. Miss a centimeter of flesh when you put on the sunscreen and that centimeter will redden and burn. Keep your fingers around a rope seconds too long when releasing a sail and that same rope carves blisters into the surface of your hand. When one of your boatmates walks past you in the cockpit when you're underway and the boat is well-heeled (tilted), you watch where your toes are, lifting them from the deck so you don't get stepped on.

And as the boat tips to accommodate and use the wind, you keep yourself upright, using the always mobile horizon and the surface of the sea as your guides. Your body works in subtle and not so subtle ways, adjusting its position, flexing through your core and riding the swells like a well-seasoned cowboy on his favorite horse.

You learn to brace yourself against things - a rail, a lifeline, the bottom of the table, rather than always holding on. Your toes become appendages almost as useful as your fingers for keeping you upright, splayed out against the surface gravity is pushing you towards. You quickly know which surfaces are solid and safe and which are not. Eventually, you even learn to sleep sitting up, propped against something, staying upright, the inside of your elbow hooked around something to keep you where you are.

And then, at some point, it happens. For an instant, a few minutes, or longer if the winds and seas and your boatmates permit it, you forget everything but the very instant you are in.

You feel the wind against your body, the deck rising and falling predictably beneath your feet, the sun on your face. You find yourself smiling. There is only you and the skies, and the oceans, and you become one with them and the boat. There is no effort, no concern, only the pure, exhilarating joy of being in that moment, in that place. You exist within Nature and she lifts you up, her favored child, for just that brief, shining second. This is what brings you back, again and again. This is what makes you smile. This is sailing!

Friday, April 17, 2009


We left port early the day before yesterday, heading out for the crossing to Guadaloupe and Deshaise. The water was capped in white and choppy as we motored and then sailed. The winds got up to an average of 20 knots and actually hit 28, with the boat travelling up to 8 knots, and we flew across in record time – 6 hours, although not without casualties. Once before, Caroline had gotten seasick but yesterday it was, unfortunately, my turn. So I spent much of the time drowsy with Gravol and lying on one of the benches in the cockpit. There wasn’t much to see, since we were out in the open ocean for much of it, but I did manage to pull myself together and help pull some of the sheets as we neared Guadaloupe.

We saw flying fish, small silver jewels, leaping out of the water into the air and gleaming there for a second in the sunlight before they fell again into the bright blue waters. There were tales of them jumping into boats or into the sides of boats and speculation on what might be chasing them underneath the waves to make them leap that way.

Once we anchored and ate a quick lunch, we took the dingy into the town of Deshaise, a picturesque little place with an old church, whose spire you can see from the water. A woman waved to us from one of the other boats, telling us the Customs office was closed, since it was only open from 1-2 and it was nearly 3. We went anyway, with Yvon and Caroline walking up the hill to the office while the rest of us looked around the tiny town.

People’s voices had a different music here, a different accent, French instead of strictly Caribbean. A lot of the shops were closed for ‘siesta’ so Dan, Hayley, and I couldn’t do a lot of shopping – probably just as well. We did, however, find the all-important grocery store and get some ice creams to eat while we walked around the rest of the town. After meeting with the others, we got provisions and took them back to the boat with the dingy. We had a lovely dinner sitting on the deck of the boat and watching an amazing Caribbean sunset. This is the life!

That night, while we all lay warm in our beds, the winds blew, and the ship rocked back and forth. Suddenly it was raining – big heavy drops coming in the vents above our heads. I popped up out of the hatchway to pull my roof closed, naked in the darkness. The cool rain sluiced along my warm skin and it felt wonderful. For a split second, I considered jumping up onto the deck and letting the rain wash me down. No one probably would have cared – people are showering naked or topless here on the backs of their boats – but everyone was up on the surrounding boats, battening down against the rain.

Yesterday we came into Basse Terre and tried to get to the marina. It was full and the depth gauge went to zero before we decided to leave and anchor at a nearby beach with other sailboats. On the way here, though, we stopped at Pigeon Island and Carolyn, Hayley , and I went snorkeling. There were brain coral, tubular coral, sea fans, and lots of beautiful fish, including parrot fish and other fish of various shapes, sizes, and colors. It was amazing! I was smart enough to wear a long sleeved shirt so I didn’t burn my back while in the water but apparently didn’t have enough sunscreen on the backs of my upper thighs so am having a ‘no sun’ zone there for a day or two.

The crossing yesterday was amazing with the gusts getting up over 40 knots and the rail dipping into the water as we heeled well over. Very exciting! Everyone is getting more familiar with the boat and the way she works. For much of the time, I stood on the foredeck beside the sails, moving my body to adjust to the movements of the boat. I stood feeling the wind against my body and the sun through my clothes, in panting ecstasy, like a dog with its head out the car window. When I am in the moment like that, I am perfectly happy.

At anchor, Dan and I raised a huge Canadian flag, along with a smaller (but not small) Danish flag below it. The flags are Dan’s but, since we share a Danish heritage, I have adopted them as well. The night before last, we were in a Scandinavian contingent, anchored amongst boats with Swedish, Norwegian, and Swiss flags. Last night, when we raised the flags, our neighbors started cheering, “Yeah, Canada!” There are lots of Canadian flags in evidence here.
Next stop, Iles de Saintes and then on Dominica!

Monday, April 13, 2009

I wake each morning to the sunlight streaming down through the vent above my head. It's warm, and the Caribbean breeze caresses my cheek, coaxing my eyes open. I take in the blue skies with a few fluffy white clouds bobbing around the mast. Everywhere there is light, and color, and music. Most of the landscape here is brown where it’s not cultivated, because it is so dry this time of year but there is color in the water, the buildings, the plants, and on all the boats we see and dock amongst. Often there is music, the sound of steel drums, of people laughing and singing.

And on the water, there is the singing of the wind through the sails, the rhythmic tapping of the lines against the mast, the crescendo of the water cresting over the front of the boat, and the song of joy within me. Yesterday morning, when we started out and got clear of the marina, I had a moment of being overwhelmed – by the beauty and feel of this place. A feeling of happiness of such strength that is reserved for rare moments like climbing the Duomo in Italy and coming out of the darkness to see the city spread beneath me like a shining treasure, or like feeling the lifting of a great weight when you finally know you are free of something you were not meant to take on in the first place. This place makes my heart sing, in a wild, carefree voice full of the feeling of being where I need to be.

In the marina yesterday, there was something I heard a few times – that people come here for a couple weeks and never go back. I can see why although, don’t worry, I do plan on returning. But I can see wanting to come back. :o)

We had our first experience of Caribbean rain yesterday morning before we left. The clouds came in quickly and the air took on the scent of rain. Suddenly, it was pouring, the water hitting the roofs and ground with such force it bounced back up again. Everything stopped. People stood under shelter, or sat, waiting for it to stop. And it did, after about 15 minutes or so. Then the sun was back and everything continued as normal. The rhythm of life here includes the steady, fierce beat of the rain to perfectly offset the warm fluid songs of the sun.

This morning Hayley and I stayed on the boat while the others went ashore for a bit. We dove into the water, straight off the boat and swam around. luxuriating in the warmth and the bouyancy of the salt water. Then we showered off the back of the boat (wearing our bikinis, don't worry). Since we're not in French waters yet, not taking any chances. ;o)

Then most of us toured English Harbour, where there's an old fort and lots of interesting spots. Now, it's off to the beach and the pool for me. Have so far not burned badly so am moving from shady spot to shady spot. I apparently had a tan line after 5 minutes in the sun after my shower this morning....

Adding some new pictures today, but, since I'm new to this blogging thing, you may have to scroll. Enjoy! And feel free to comment, it's great to hear from you all.


Sunday, April 12, 2009

Hello from Antigua

Hi everyone! We made it safely to Jolly Harbour marina in Antigua and I found my first pirate! Luckily, he's the friendly wooden sort.... The road from the airport is lined with mahogany trees, and flowering bouganvilla is everywhere, filling the landscape with color. The houses too are colorful - pink, blue, green, yellow, coral - small wooden buildings faded by the hot Caribbean sun. It's very dry and hot here.

The boat is beautiful and roomy. Last night I went to sleep gazing up at unfamiliar stars and this morning woke to blue skies and the sounds of strange new birds. We had a sprinkle of warm rain this morning but it didn't last. We leave shortly for English Harbour where, hopefully, I'll have more time but, for now, here are some pictures....

Friday, April 10, 2009

On the Way!

Well, here we are overnighting with some very nice friends in Barrie, Ontario. Tomorrow morning we fly to Antigua and the tropical times begin! We met up with our boatmates at the airport and it looks like we should all be able to get along - no mutinies to come, I hope!

Today I was working on the plane, revamping a website I've been hired to help with. I was sitting by the window, high above the clouds, the sun streaming in, and illuminating my page. Hard not to be inspired. Hmmm, if this is working, it's not so bad, I thought. It remains to be seen if I can actually get things accomplished on a boat in the Caribbean, but I'm going to give it a try. Being a writer is wonderful because you can do it anywhere!

Not much really to report for today, especially since I got about 2.5 hours sleep last night and am drinking my second glass of wine.... Bed soon, and then the adventure truly begins. Stay tuned!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Day One

Well, I've finally done it. I've taken friends' advice and started a blog. I'm not sure what this place of mine will come to look like but, for now, I imagine it'll be used mostly to chronicle my journeys. Travels within my consciousness as well as within the big, wide world, and it'll probably only be of interest to my friends, at least at first. So.... here goes nothing!

Friday morning I leave for an epic adventure. 2 weeks sailing in the Caribbean on a boat with 4 other people. I'll be slathering on the SPF (did I mention I'm a fair skinned, fair haired kind of girl?), wearing big floppy hats, and loving the warmth. Quiet moments may find me sprawled, like a cat in the sun, on the warmth of the foredeck, listening to the waves, contemplating the horizon, being rocked gently back and forth, and being quietly, intensely grateful for that exact, perfect moment. Of course, I'm trying not to think about the possibility of rainstorms, big winds, and pirates who, my friend assures me, will 'probably' not bother us. No, I'm determined it will be paradise afloat. But we shall see....