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!