Five O'Clock Somewhere

Welcome to Five O'Clock Somewhere, where it doesn't matter what time zone you're in; it's five o'clock somewhere. We'll look at rural life, especially as it happens in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico, cats, sailing (particularly Etchells racing yachts), and bits of grammar and Victorian poetry.

Monday, January 30, 2006

The stick-shift sailboat-retrieving what-if blues

Did I sell myself short while doing a friend a disfavor?

Rich has been really helpful with the whole Adams Cup sailing thing – in fact, he’s the one who petitioned US Sail to have the Rio Grande Sailing Club host the first round at Elephant Butte Lake. And he and Sue have been heavy-duty supporters of our whole team effort.

Sue was out with the flu this weekend, so Rich was here solo. Those of us who were training for the Adams Cup knew he wanted to take Kachina out of the water this weekend, and before we left, people assured us that they would be available to assist him.

As it turned out, when I went back to get the J/World videos he had said he wanted to lend me, I found him all alone, without assistance. I asked if he needed help, and he said what he really needed was a truck driver to drive the towing vehicle. I have driven towing vehicles on boat ramps, but his truck’s a stick shift, and I haven’t driven a manual in about 15 years, so I made an apology, which he accepted.

Then I got home, and WCMIK was doing his Driver’s Ed homework. He read to me the passages from his textbook about manual transmissions, and it seemed to me that the book got it all wrong – according to the book, you follow the numbers and shift from second to third when the vehicle speed is at least something but not less than something else. But what really matters is that you have a feel for the engine and the speed of the vehicle, and a whole lot of other factors like that. I used to have that feel, a long time ago, and I spent a good long while explaining what that feeling was like.

And then I realized, what I was telling WCMIK about manual transmissions was also what I had been writing but not doing in sailing until just a few weeks ago. I know these things. Maybe I would have been a bit more awkward on the boat ramp than Rich would have been (Sue drives the boat, not the truck). But really, I probably could have driven that truck. I just didn’t realize it at the time. Rich, I hope you forgive me, and next time I’m down there, will you let me drive the truck to launch a boat?

Ooh, feeling some pain

This whole sailing racing thing isn’t just fun and games

Oh, man. What isn’t aching is bruised, and what isn’t bruised is aching, and there’s a lot of me that’s both. Actually, most of the damage wasn’t done in Saturday’s race, in which the winds were light, but in Sunday’s Adams Cup practice session, in which the winds were variable from nothing to gale strength and at variable directions – such are conditions on a lake in the middle of the desert in the middle of winter.

The sailing club had a board meeting, but those of us who weren’t board members but only spouses of board members took JoAnn’s new J/24 (she only just got it and hasn’t figured out a good name for it, nor where all the lines go) out for a training session. We had Vicky on foredeck, Kari at mid, Margaret on trim, me at the helm, and Ken for a coach. JoAnn’s on the board, so she couldn’t join us because she had to be at the meeting.

We got in a lot of good work. It was also hard work for me as helmswoman, as the winds kept shifting and kept me busy. We got in some good upwind sailing, and we did some work with flying the spinnaker without a pole, although I had to cut that short when we got headed toward some nasty shallows. Then sailing out of that, there were some rocks to sail around. I hope that the reason we had to deal with the obstacles was that Ken planned that I would have to make command decisions – he never made any suggestions about course changes or anything like that. I spotted the danger and made the decisions about how to deal with it.

Coming back to the marina, I told Ken that I was getting tired. He asked the other crew members who would like to take over the helm. Margaret and Vicky both declined, but Kari did volunteer – she’s a real trouper. Unfortunately, conditions were dicey, and Kari’s own boat has a steering wheel rather than a tiller. She was game, but she also had difficulty adjusting to the concept of steering in the opposite direction to where one wants the boat to go. She was beginning to get the hang of it, but this wasn’t really the day for that kind of training – the wind swatted the boat down hard with a sudden sideways gust, and she kept up her game face, but she was at a loss what to do.

Sometime in the next two weeks, I want to get Kari out on the lake, in light air, with a tiller-steered boat. I know she can learn helm, because I saw the beginning of understanding this afternoon. There’s some undeveloped talent there; when the wind remained relatively steady, she could adjust nicely. She may not become part of the racing team, but I know she can learn basic helm. To a certain extent, I consider it essential that she learn this, to overcome whatever fear she may have picked up today.

Meanwhile, Rich loaned me some J/World videos. I’ve watched one, and I found it very informative. It covered some of the topics Ken covered with us Sunday, especially the issue of sail curvature that he spent a lot of time talking about with Vicky and Margaret. I’d really like to have as many of the prospective Adams Cup sailors as possible come together to watch these videos. I will have to warn people – my idea of housekeeping is worse than most bachelors’. Bring your own beer; Gerald will pop up some popcorn.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

My First Race

Gee, maybe Larry was right after all

When we gathered at the skippers’ meeting for the Frostbite Race, a distance-racing event, there were six women Adams Cup trainees, so we had enough to run two boats, each with three women and one coach. I signed the registration sheet as skipper of the J/24 Kachina, working hard to dispel feelings that I had no business taking on that sort of responsibility. For crew, I had Kari trimming, Margaret on foredeck, and Dan as middle and coach. Kari had never run a spinnaker before, and Margaret hadn’t done foredeck in years, so it looked like we were going to be on a steep learning curve once again, except this time it would be in a real race.

“Let’s just concentrate on learning things and being conservative, rather than on winning the race,” Dan said. “Let’s just think of this as a practice session with other boats around.”

We were late getting into the starting area, so we didn’t have much of a chance to plan our start. We had, however, discussed tactics before the race and came up with a plan based on the weather forecasts and on Dan’s experience as both a sailor and meteorologist, so we knew we wanted to take the left of the course on the first windward leg. The rest of the fleet didn’t, or at least they didn’t go as far left as we did. However, when we got to the windward mark, in spite of having a less than stellar start, we were right in the middle of the fleet, and I managed to establish a leeward overlap that let me cut under a couple of the other boats as we rounded.

We rounded the mark and worked on setting the spinnaker, although we had difficulty because the air was light and dodgy, and we were in dirty air from a couple of the larger boats behind us. Several other boats also tried to set a spinnaker, but all but one, the Ranger 32 Shonto, gave up. Finally, we got into clear air and got our chute flying; the wind shifted so that we were on a reach, and Kari found the sweet spot to fly the sail. We were to the right of the rest of the fleet, but only we and Shonto used a spinnaker on that reach, and we were holding our own.

As we approached the leeward mark, the wind died down to nearly nothing. We kept the spinnaker up as long as we could, but we had to avoid some rocks, so we had to head up higher than the spinnaker would let us, so we went back to the regular jib.

There was somewhat of a traffic jam around the leeward mark, with the C&C 30 (whose name I can’t remember at the moment) closest to the mark, then Kachina, then Shonto. The C&C kept pushing us, so none of us could round, which allowed the S2 34 Cultural infidel to duck in behind us and round the mark first.

For the final leg to the finish, the wind was variable, but very, very light. It had shifted, so we weren’t going upwind any more. Much of the time we were on a beam reach, and sometimes we were on a run. We got a lot of practice in watching the surface of the water to see when a puff of wind would head our way, and gauging the direction of the puff. When the wind clocked around to the rear, some of the other boats attempted to set spinnakers, but that looked pretty pointless, since most of the patches of wind were too small to really take advantage of.

In the end, we were third across the line. Larry in the Etchells 22 Constellation was across way the heck ahead of everybody else, and second across was Cultural Infidel, with Kachina not too far behind. Behind us was another Etchells, another J/24, a C&C 30, a Ranger 32, and a few other boats.

It was interesting to find out later that several of our opponents had thought they were racing against Sue – I was on Sue’s boat, wearing Sue’s PFD and gloves (I had forgotten mine, and she’s the same size I am), and sailing as aggressively as Sue does. (But Sue doesn’t wear MY lucky Aussie hat!)

At the awards ceremony this evening, I learned that I had finished second on adjusted time – I beat everybody but Larry. And, really, nobody beats Larry. The Etchells skipper that I beat even said he knew of an Etchells for sale cheap that I could get – not his, but he and Larry want to get an Etchells fleet going in New Mexico. Hmmm ….

A house full of (macho) sailors

Rather a different atmosphere than last week

WCMIK has an important event with the Youth Orchestra today, so I headed down solo to the Butte to join the sailing club for the Frostbite Regatta. The original plan was for the women to fill three boats, but we have had a lot of no-shows, due to illness and other conflicts. So when I got here, I found I was the only female sailor here. Also, whereas usually the women bring dishes to contribute to supper, all I had was a 12-pack 0f beer.

Sue has the flu, so the bachelors went out to supper at the Big Food Express. That allowed me to email Pat so he can bring the stuff I forgot yesterday. The music this time was classical, an Andrea Bocelli concert. Larry, being Italian, liked that.

After supper, those of us who were staying the night returned to the house; there were four of us, Larry, Braxton, Rich, and myself. The conversation was rather more testosterone-laden than last weekend. For one thing, the guys are still celebrating how well they did in San Diego – remember that photo I posted earlier? Then, there was a whole lot of discussion of racing tactics, much of it for my benefit. Larry also had some strong ideas about how the women’s racing teams ought to be run – as a world-class athlete, he’s very driven.

This morning somehow the conversation turned toward what I might do with a boat in heavy air, and Larry made some comment about running the boat under spinnaker alone with no mainsail. “I could just see Carol Anne driving that boat, flying that chute, with her hair flying,” Larry said. Oh, no. Wh0, me?

Friday, January 27, 2006

A Writing Exercise

Essay writing and creative writing have more in common than you thought.

I have often had people tell me that there is nothing in common between writing fiction and writing non-fiction. Most often, the people who make such announcements don’t really know about writing at all; they just think they do.

In reality, all writing, to be successful, must engage the reader’s attention. An essay should be just as entertaining as a short story. A biography should hold the reader’s attention in the same way as a novel.

In an essay, the writer is presenting a point of view, a main idea that the writer wishes to get the reader to agree with. The writer has several ways of doing this. The most obvious is for the writer to present a whole lot of facts and statistics. But the statistics alone usually aren’t enough to make a convincing argument. The writer needs emotional appeals as well.

So, how should a writer make the emotional appeals effective?

The big rule that English teachers have been proclaiming for decades is “Show, don’t tell.” That’s good advice, as far as it goes. You don’t want to tell your readers that they ought to feel angry; instead, you want to show a situation in a way that they will get angry about it.

The challenge I give my students is this: Think about some occasion when you had a strong emotional experience. Now write about it. Tell everything that happened, and tell about all of your senses – sight, sound, touch, taste, smell. But do NOT name any emotion. Don’t mention anything about what you were thinking. Keep it to just the sensory information. You can include your body’s physical responses (your heart was beating rapidly, or your palms were sweating, for example), but you must NOT mention anything you thought or any emotions.

Next, exchange papers with another student, who will read what you wrote and try to define what emotions you were feeling. If you’ve done a good job, your reader will understand even if he or she has never experienced what you have.

This sort of skill is widely promoted as being in the realm of creative writing. But it’s also good in non-fiction. A good essay engages the reader’s emotions in order to get its message across. An exercise like this helps the writer to learn how to engage those emotions.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 16

Seeking Safe Haven

If a magically protected condo isn’t safe enough, it’s time to move to someplace safer. The question is … is anyplace going to be safe enough?

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 16

I showed Mrs. Bullfinch to the guest closet, and then to the bathroom, and then returned to the bedroom to get myself dressed. Pierre was buttoning up a fresh polo shirt as I entered. The room was a mess, broken glass covered everything, the curtains were in shreds, the carpet and the bed and all of the other furniture was drenched – except the slave bed. Through some strange force, a panel of the heavy drapes had blown on top of it, and the water-repellent fabric had kept it completely clean and dry. “Dora’s with us,” Pierre said, drawing me into a hug. “She’s watching over us.”

As I was finishing getting dressed, Mrs. Bullfinch came out of the bathroom wearing an outfit of a pink blouse and navy slacks and blazer that took about 20 years off her appearance. “I must say, Sarah, looking better does help one to feel better. Your father’s closet is … well, I guess he works hard to make any woman feel like a queen.” Little did she know, I thought. I kept mum about the magic part.

Runyon came to the door. “The van’s in the garage, in the fire lane. We need to get going now.” We headed down the service stairs rather than waiting for the elevator. The van was blue, with faded, peeling paint and rust in the wheel wells. A twisted coat hanger stood in for a radio antenna. The seats were vinyl, and cracked with age; bits of crumbling foam floated in the air. As we climbed in, I noticed a smell, sort of a combination of rotting fish and wet dog. After we shut all the doors, Runyon said, “I’ve put a quickie protection on the van. It’s not completely safe, but it’s better than nothing. We can talk safely.” He started the engine and pulled out of the garage.

Mrs. Bullfinch’s eyes popped wide open. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’re talking about magic or something.”

“We are,” Pierre said. “By the way, Runyon, when you put the protection on the van, do you think you might have been able to do some odor control? This thing smells like a sofa I used to know.”

“We need to tell you the truth,” Runyon said to Mrs. Bullfinch. “There is such a thing as magic, and Sylvia, Pierre, and I are all wizards. Sarah will be one, too, if we can keep her alive long enough to get her through the training. She’s already using powers beyond what most accomplished wizards have, which is why we think the Others are trying so hard to eliminate her. With the training, she’s likely to be the most powerful one of us.”

“But aside from lending you my van, what am I supposed to do to help you out? I’m no magician.”

“Actually, Mrs. Bullfinch,” Runyon said, “you are. You just didn’t know it. You’ve been able to sense the Others’ magic in the atmosphere, and that has contributed to protecting Sarah. And I’m going to ask you to contribute further. When a person starts the training program, that person’s parents participate in the ceremony. I’m going to ask that you be allowed to stand in for Sarah’s mother.”

“It’s perfect,” Pierre said. “You really have been standing in for her mother for several years now – she told me so herself.”

“I – I’m honored, I guess. This is rather a lot to take in. And please, call me Edna. If all of the rest of you are on a first-name basis, you don’t have to treat me like your old English teacher.”

“So, Edna,” I said, “will you be my mother?”

“It will be nice to make it official, won’t it? Who would have ever thought that in two days, a career ladies’ man would turn out to be both a wizard and a family man, and my tenant would become my daughter, who’s also his daughter? But don’t I have to become an official wizard first, before I can be a wizard-in-training’s mother?”

“Not for this purpose,” Pierre said. “You just have to be willing to take the responsibility of being a parent. Lots of students at the school have parents who aren’t wizards and don’t even have the magical power to become one.”

We traveled up the coast for about an hour, and Runyon turned off the main highway onto a barely visible dirt road that wound down toward the ocean. We descended toward a small cove, alongside of which sat a deserted building. The upper floor of the building looked like it might have been a pretty nice place, with walls of windows overlooking the water and wrap-around decks, but now it was boarded up. The lower floor was partially open with what looked like garage doors covering the face toward the cove. A decaying boat dock extended out into the water from the base of the building. “This used to be a yacht club, but it went out of business,” Runyon said. “Now it’s our training center.”

“It’s awfully small, isn’t it?” I asked.

“Small is in the eye of the beholder,” Pierre said. He got out of the van and pressed a hand to the wall next to one of the garage doors, which rolled open. Runyon drove the van through the door, Pierre rejoined us in the van, and the door closed behind us. We drove down a long, sloping ramp and ended up in a parking garage, but it was like no parking garage that I had ever seen before. The walls, and the pillars holding up the roof, were not concrete but rather carved out of golden-brown stone, and the lighting was torchlight rather than the conventional sodium-arc lighting of a typical parking garage. Also, in addition to about a half-dozen motor vehicles, there were dozens of boats of all sizes, on trailers. “This is our academic fleet,” Pierre said as we got out of the van and headed to a door in the wall. “You’re already accomplished enough that you probably won’t be spending much time on them – unless they make you an instructor!”

“You know, Pierre, that isn’t such a bad idea,” Sylvia said. “We have plenty of people to teach the magic skills, but not so many sailors.”

We passed through the door into what at first glance might have been the reception area of any school, except for being underground, carved out of stone, and lit by torches. The receptionist looked up, startled. “Runyon! Sylvia! We weren’t expecting you! Does this have to do with the disturbances in the aura that we’ve been feeling?”

“Yes, it does. We need to see Dr. Jackson immediately.”

“Come on back.” The receptionist led us through the office to another office in back. We entered, and Runyon introduced us to Dr. James Jackson, head of the school, a tall black man with close-cropped snow-white hair.

“We need to get Sarah into the program immediately,” Runyon said. “We can’t wait until the next group ceremony. She’s in far too much danger. The Others killed her this morning.”

“She’s looking pretty alive for a dead girl.”

“I came back,” I said. “I had to.”

“She hasn’t had any magic training, and already she can do what most of us have always heard is impossible,” Pierre said. He then recounted the events of the past night.

“Quite a story,” Jackson said. “All right, first, we’ll have to install the surrogate parents. I assume Pierre is one – is Edna the other?”

“Edna’s a surrogate,” Pierre said. “I’m real.”

Jackson looked at Pierre, then at me, then back at Pierre. “So Sarah isn’t an orphan?”

“She’s the daughter my second wife kidnapped twenty years ago.”

“Ah, that explains that note of pride I hear every time you open your mouth. Well, that reduces the amount of work to be done.” Jackson shuffled some papers on his desk. “We need time to prepare, so we’ll set the surrogate ceremony for three o’clock this afternoon, in the small ceremonial room, with the matriculation immediately following. Meantime, Rhonda can show you to the guest quarters so you can all rest – it sounds like you have all had a hard night.”

The guest quarters consisted of several bedrooms clustered around a central sitting room, and they were the most comfortable caves I’d ever seen – not that I’d seen many caves in my life. The sitting room was furnished with overstuffed armchairs and sofas, tables, lamps, a dining table and chairs, and dozens of bookshelves, all well stocked. The bedrooms each had a large bed, a couple of chairs, a desk, and a bookshelf. It was funny, I thought, that this space, designed for temporary occupants, looked far more homey than Pierre’s condo with its top-end luxury-hotel-suite feel.

Pierre and I went into one of the bedrooms, where I settled down on the bed and he parked himself in an armchair next to the bed. “I know we’re in the most protected place on the planet, but I’m still not letting you out of my sight,” he said. “I’ve come too close to losing you too many times, even when you were in protected places.” He reached over and took my hand.

“I love you,” I heard myself whispering as I dropped off to sleep.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Grammar Moment: British vs. American Spelling, and Sailing

OK, which side of the pond are we on?

I have noticed, as I travel through the blogosphere, that a whole lot of the sailing blogs that I frequent use British spelling – gybe vs. jibe, manoeuvre vs. maneuver, and so forth. I attributed that partly to the fact that some of these people are British, and to the fact that much of American sailing and sailors wish to keep a tie to Britain, where sailing has been a major part of the culture.

Because the American Sailing Association courses I have taken in basic keelboat and coastal cruising and navigation have used the American spellings, so have I. However, as part of my homework for my Adams Cup training, I am studying the US Sailing racing rules, and they use the British spelling.

I am hereby declaring that henceforth, I will be using situational spelling. When I am writing about racing, I will use the British spelling, and when I am writing about cruising, I will use American. The Wizards will continue to use American spelling, whether they are cruising or racing, because I’m not about to go through all of the 47 chapters I have written so far to make changes.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Visitor Number 2000

And how better to finish up this glorious weekend than to find out that my 2000th visitor was Tillerman, whose blog got me to thinking bigger and led me to do this Adams cup thing. Oh, and the World's Cutest and Most Intelligent Kid just presented me with a report card that shows his current grade in chemistry is 111.20%. Sweet.

My first major practice sessions

Man, this learning curve is steep!

So I’m learning how to drive a J/24. Yes, the first sailing lessons I ever took were on a J/24, but that was many years ago, and those lessons were just about the basics of sailing, and now I’m learning a whole lot of the finer points. For one thing, there are a whole lot more things to fiddle with to get the best performance out of the boat. The MacGregor that I’ve been sailing for the past six years has a boom vang, which we haven’t even really figured out, and it doesn’t have a traveler, or jib or spinnaker tracks, or an adjustable backstay. We actually do have a spinnaker, but it’s sitting pristine in its bag; we have never used it, and as best I can tell, none of the boat’s previous owners ever used it either.

So yesterday I got to learn a lot about all of these things. We were in light air, between 5 and 10 knots, and so something I had to add to the routine of tacking was also taking the traveler across for more efficient shaping of the mainsail. But probably the biggest part of the learning curve involved the spinnaker – maintaining the course of the boat in light and shifty winds in order to help the trimmer keep the sail flying. It’s harder than it looks.

I’m also having to learn a new script to add to what I already know. I already have the basic “Ready about. Ready. Helm Alee” and “Ready to jibe. Ready. Jibe Ho.” Now I have to learn additional dialogue, such as “Set pole,” “Trip,” and “Douse.”

Still, it was a glorious day. We were three trainees – me at the helm, a trimmer, Maureen, who had not done much sailing at all, and a foredeck person, Vicky, who was a fairly experienced sailor but who hadn’t done anything with a spinnaker before. We had two good coaches, Sue, the best female racing skipper in New Mexico, and Dan, the avid, experienced sailor boyfriend of Maureen. Between the two of them, we got a whole lot of great instruction, although it’s going to take some time to absorb it all. And we managed to operate that spinnaker without any major problems – we never got it twisted up or dragging in the water or some of the other things I’ve seen while on the committee boat.

After the sailing, there was the fellowship of sailors. We had dinner together, with talk and laughter, telling tales and swapping jokes, about sailing, but also about life in general, and weather and physics and electrocution and how Sue and Maureen had grown up in the same village and graduated from the same high school one year apart but didn’t know each other, and about what a weird place Los Alamos is, where I came from and where Dan and Maureen live.

I had intended to make a post to the blog immediately that night, but Rich and Sue don’t have a telephone. But we planned to have breakfast this morning at a place that has wireless Internet access. It turns out, that would have cost $5, but since I couldn’t get this computer connected, they didn’t charge me.

Then today, out on the water, oh, what a day! Sue and Dan were coaching Maureen and Vicky on Kachina (Rich and Sue’s boat), working on foredeck and trim issues involving the spinnaker, while Rich and I were on Alter Ego working on helm and tactics. We were working in extremely light air, between 3 and 5 knots, but both boats were doing nicely. We simulated match races on a short upwind-downwind course between two channel marker buoys. Alter Ego is a really sweet boat, if in need of a bit of cleaning and refurbishing (she’s been idle for the past year or so due to the serious illness of her owner, and Rich is now working on getting her ready to sell); in the light air today, all I needed on the tiller was one thumb and one finger. I could just make a slight twitch to keep her on course, even as the wind shifted, and rounding marks was oh so graceful. It was also especially satisfying to duck under Sue – known as the RGSC’s most aggressive racing skipper – and slip past when rounding the leeward mark, or to out-tack her getting to the upwind mark. We weren’t flying a spinnaker on Alter Ego, while Sue and crew were flying one on Kachina, but even downwind, Alter Ego was going faster.

As the day progressed, I discovered that I was seeing things more clearly. I was spotting wind shifts even before Rich did, and I was keeping better track of the marks. I actually felt like I knew what I was doing.

Today, the concept of me at the helm of a racing boat moved from the realm of “what if” to the realm of “possible.” I do have some homework – studying the rule book’s chapters on starts and windward mark roundings, and refreshing my knot-tying, especially the bowline. Next weekend comes the first really big challenge – the Frostbite Regatta. There will be three J/24s with crews of women training for the Adams Cup, and a whole bunch of other boats. I will be at the helm of one of the J/24s – I wouldn’t mind getting Alter Ego again.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Two Bulls

A truly unique character

I mentioned in an earlier post that, while it’s fairly easy to find people who support my goal of writing, it’s harder to find people who understand. Two Bulls, perhaps, comes close.

He’s the patriarch of the Big Food Express, and he’s an artist who creates sculptures and paintings. The rest of what he says about himself, it’s hard to evaluate, because he’s also a storyteller, and it could well be that all of what he says is metaphorically true even if not factually so.

His ancestry is Lakota, or Inuit, or a mix of the two. He has a 25-foot sailboat, Sea Hawk, that he lived on in the Pacific Northwest for a decade or two and sailed from Hawaii to Seattle, but the boat has been sitting on a trailer in New Mexico for many years now. He was active in the AIM and participated in the 1970s Wounded Knee incident. Once a year, he invites drummers from all tribes to come together for a peace ceremony (this one, I know to be true in the objective sense, because we went to the Big Food Express one time and all the drummers were there).

He’s a scrawny little guy, not much over five feet, with a weather-beaten face and long salt-and-pepper hair, and he’s missing a tooth here and there. In age, I’d put him, oh, say, somewhere between 60 and 100.

Even more enigmatic is the Big Food Express itself, also known as Club Bossa Mundo on weekend nights when the music is playing. The menu is Asian-seafood-deli-American-Mexican. It carries the best selection of imported and microbrew beers in Sierra County, at bargain prices. The music is blues and jazz, live most weekends. And even if there isn’t live music, Two Bulls himself will tell a story that is at least as entertaining.

My Writing Goals for 2006

Or, Where do I go from here?

At this moment, there are two areas of my life in which I am working, sailing and writing. While Tillerman has provided me with encouragement and – dare I say it? – inspiration in the sailing arena, I am also getting inspired in the writing department by my brother Jerry, whose life you can observe over at Muddled Ramblings. For about two years now, he has been pursuing writing as a potential career, and just recently he made his first sale. Up until recently, writing has been just a hobby for me, a “wouldn’t it be nice if …” sort of thing. But over the past year or so, it, like the sailing, has led me to a more serious focus. Thus, I need to set goals that I can work toward.

  1. Overcome fear. All my life, people have told me that what I write is good, and that I ought to submit things to get published. But mostly, I’ve been chicken; the fear of rejection has led me not to even try, except in relatively “safe” places, like guest editorials and feature articles in a small-town newspaper. I have to get over that.

  1. Write at least 1000 words every day. This goal I know I can accomplish. For the past two years, I have successfully participated in National Novel Writing Month, in which participants try to write 50,000 words in 30 days. Especially this past year, I found keeping up the word count to be fairly easy. And I know that the best way to get better at writing is to write, regularly, every day.

  1. Associate with people who both understand and support my writing. I find that there are a lot of people out there who, at least in principle, support what I’m doing, and they make great cheerleaders. Pat is supportive; my colleagues at the community college are supportive; the manager of the motel I wish I had been at this weekend is supportive; the owner and waiter at the Big Food Express were super-duper supportive – they graciously left me alone while I was working, and then after I shut the computer down, they took a genuine interest in what I was doing, and they even delayed closing the place – they made me feel like I was doing them a disservice by leaving, not by lingering. But actual understanding is harder to come by, and I really need to seek out a writer’s group for that.

My Sailing Goals for 2006

The challenge has been issued …

Tillerman has laid down the gauntlet, challenging all of us sailors to set forth what our goals are for the coming year. While I don’t ordinarily get into the whole New Year’s Resolution thing, it does make more sense when dealing with a specific small area of my life, such as sailing or writing. So I’ll start with sailing.

  1. Learn more about racing. Up until now, my participation in racing has been fairly casual, being crew on someone else’s boat, or being on the committee boat. But now, with the Adams Cup team, I’m going to be learning more, especially if I end up at the helm.

  1. Overcome fear. I’m an experienced enough sailor that I don’t worry about the boat tipping over, something some less-experienced crew members have a problem with. But I do worry an awful lot about doing something really stupid and making a fool of myself, and that worry keeps me from stretching my limits. I have to keep reminding myself that only some people are fortunate enough to learn from others’ mistakes; the rest of us have to BE the others.

  1. Get into shape. Or at least into better shape than I am in now. I can’t afford the luxury of a health club membership or a personal trainer, but I can do more exercise and less unhealthful eating. And I’m sure I’ll be getting tips from one of our sailing coaches, who is also a college track coach.

  1. Come in first or second in the first round of the Adams Cup (the top two teams will move up to the next level). That’s going to be difficult; I’ll probably be on the New Mexico B team, and there are some pretty tough competitors in Colorado. At least being this far south gives us a chance to get in more practice than people get further north, but at least one of the Colorado teams goes to Texas to train, to get a jump on everyone else.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Battery Critical?

I get a feeling something’s wrong…

Once again, I just fired up the computer after it was on it docking station, and again I’m getting the warning that the battery is critically low. So I’ll just keep typing, save often, and see whether the battery is really low, or whether the software is confused and just thinks the battery is low even when it isn’t. Or maybe the battery is kaput – but that seems weird to me, since it’s only a bit over a year old. Or maybe the good battery got swapped with the old one, which really was kaput.

Meanwhile, I’m in Elephant Butte, parked outside the Strasias’ house, where I’m planning to spend the night. The problem is, I don’t know when they’re supposed to get here. I had meant to check my email before leaving Albuquerque, but it slipped my mind. Actually, though, I would have expected the Strasias to telephone, as both of their computers are out of order at the moment. But then, maybe someone else emailed. I got here a little after five, and no one was home, so I went into town and got some groceries. When I came back about quarter of six, there still wasn’t anyone around, so I went back to town and got some fast food for supper. Now it’s quarter of seven, and there still isn’t any sign of life. I think I will wait around until seven, and then maybe go off in search of other people who might be around. Or I might head to one of the restaurants that has Internet access, to see if there was an important email I missed.

So far, so good on the battery. It’s looking more and more like a software problem now – the computer needs to calibrate its battery-management programming once in a while, or it loses track of exactly how much battery life it has. The problem now is that, if the battery does still have its full charge, it will take more than four hours to discharge. Well, I guess I could spend a long time at the Internet place, or I could spend a long time parked in front of the house. Now I’m beginning to wish I hadn’t gone for the fast food. I don’t want to use a café’s Wi-Fi, unless I’m buying something there. Maybe dessert will count.

Later … Enjoying coffee, key lime pie, and old-time blues at the Big Food Express. I’m still getting the battery alert, but the computer just keeps on going. Just in case, however, there’s an electric outlet right under this table. I have everything right now: good coffee, excellent pie, great music (it’s on video rather than live, circa 1950), and a very strong Internet connection. The computer is now telling me that the battery has a 0% charge, which is clearly not the case. I’ll keep working here for a while, and then I’ll make another search for my hosts. If they still haven’t appeared, I’ll be hunting for a motel to stay at. Oh, well.

My Grandmother's Shoes

Legacies work in mysterious ways.

This all started with a plea from a co-worker looking for a ride home. He has become fed up with Albuquerque traffic, and so he takes the bus to work instead of driving. The problem is that he now works at the South Valley campus, and the Isleta Boulevard bus stops running at 6 p.m. So he sent out an email to the entire department, asking if someone could at least get him to the transit center downtown so he could catch a bus home.

Turns out, I’m going his way. He doesn’t live all that far from where I do, so it’s actually more convenient for me to drop him off at his home than at the transit center. Then the coincidences pile up. He has spent most of the past 20 years living in Alaska and now lives on a particular stretch of road. I have an old high-school friend who is currently living in Alaska, who owns a house that he rents out, on the same stretch of road.

But that coincidence, while interesting, isn’t the main point. On the drive, we got to talking, and one of the topics that came up was our backgrounds. He talked about how his mother was a strong, independent person who defied conventions, and that led to how my grandmother also stood up for what she believed.

Munzy had a strong sense of right and wrong, and she didn’t back down when she believed she was right. I didn’t even know until her funeral how strongly she stuck to her principles. In the late 1950s, Arkansas was rocked with racial tension, when the Supreme Court ordered the school system to allow black students to enroll in Little Rock Central High School. Governor Orville Faubus called out the National Guard to prevent that from happening, and in 1959, he had the school shut down rather than allow black students to attend.

Because of the shutdown, one of my mother’s cousins, who would otherwise have graduated from Central, came to Arkadelphia for his senior year of high school. My mother was away at college at the time, but when I was a teenager, I found the diary of my aunt, her younger sister, who was still at home. At the time I read the diary, I didn’t understand everything, but it became clear after I heard what people said at Munzy’s funeral. My grandmother refused to sign an oath of loyalty to the governor, and so she was fired.

Munzy was a dedicated teacher, and even after she retired, she continued to volunteer to help children from disadvantaged backgrounds to succeed. Up until just a few days before she died, she spent much of her time in educational programs for children from “the other side of the tracks.” After the funeral, wherever we went in town, we were approached by families who wanted us to know how very much Munzy had done for them.

Munzy’s legacy is a tough one to carry out. She set such a high standard. Literally, I wear her shoes – after the funeral, we discovered that I was the only grandchild who had the same size of feet. What’s really weird is that after those shoes became threadbare, I got new shoes, but the new shoes disappeared, so I’m still wearing the old loafers. Those size six and a half narrows are really big shoes to fill. I hope that if I’m ever faced with the sorts of choices Munzy had, I will take the right course.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 15


Poll results are inconclusive, with one vote each for continuing and discontinuing the Wizards. So I’m keeping them for now. In this week’s episode, our heroes are recovering from the Others’ severe attack.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 15

“They did hurt her,” Pierre said. “They tried to kill her.”

“Oh, you poor girl!” Mrs. Bullfinch exclaimed. “Well, at least you’re not alone in the world since you found – ” she stopped suddenly, looking up at Runyon and Sylvia. “Oops, I mean …”

“It’s OK,” Pierre said. “They know, too.”

The kettle came to a boil, and Sylvia went back to the kitchen, returning with a tray full of tea things. “I see Sarah works fast,” she said. “You now have a fully stocked kitchen.”

“You let a woman in your life …” Pierre said, kissing me on the cheek.

“Well, I couldn’t very well live on fine wine and diet soda,” I said. The shivering was beginning to go away. Outside, the storm was easing up, and the sky was just beginning to lighten ever so slightly as dawn approached. Sylvia poured the tea and passed the cups around. I took a sip; it was Earl Grey, with its extra flowery aroma that added to its warming effect.

Mrs. Bullfinch was clearly warming up, too. “I just don’t know what I’m going to do now,” she said. “That building was all I had, and I’d let the insurance lapse – I just couldn’t afford it. I should have raised the rent, but I didn’t want to force out all those poor kids who could barely pay what I was charging. Ha. Some landlord I am. Now they’re all homeless anyway.”

The doorbell rang again, and again Runyon answered it, letting in two police officers in rain gear. “What happened here?” one of them asked, seeing Pierre and me huddled and wet under blankets together on the sofa.

“The storm blew the bedroom window in,” Pierre said. “It’s been rather a tough night.”

“Mind if we take a look?” the officer asked. “Since we don’t think the fire was accidental, maybe the broken window wasn’t either.”

“Go ahead,” Pierre said.

The officers went into the bedroom to survey the damage, and then they returned to the living room. “Well, that window was definitely broken from outside,” the officer said. “But I couldn’t tell what did it. I didn’t find any sort of object that might have been thrown at it. Maybe it was just the storm.” The officer turned toward me while Runyon brought chairs from the dining room for the cops to sit on. “Meanwhile, we need to ask you a few questions, since it looks like the fire started in your apartment.”

“My former apartment, you mean,” I said. “I moved in here two days ago.”

“I see,” the officer said, looking at Pierre. “I guess I can guess why. But it is odd that – well – you have a reputation that doesn’t involve any serious relationships …”

“We’re in love,” Pierre said, kissing my cheek. “Things change.” It was better not to let outsiders, even cops, know the true nature of things – neither about the wizards nor about what the relationship really was between Pierre and me.

The other cop spoke up. “Talk about being struck by thunder,” he said. “The ladies are going to be disappointed to hear you’re not on the market anymore.”

“Still, it’s a coincidence,” the first cop said. “For the first time in recent memory, you get into a serious relationship, and two days after she moves in, her apartment burns down. It’s almost like she knew it was going to happen.”

“I suppose it looks especially bad that Mrs. Bullfinch helped her to move out,” Pierre said. “But Mrs. B just told us she didn’t have insurance, so she wouldn’t have any motive to torch the building.”

“Mrs. Bullfinch did tell us that she’d seen some suspicious people around the place,” the cop said. “But she says she didn’t get a good look at them. Did you see them, or might you know who they could be?”

“I’m afraid I don’t, really,” I said. “I’ve had some bad feelings, like premonitions, that something’s out there, but I haven’t actually seen anybody.”

“Do you know of anybody who might want to hurt either one of you?” the cop asked.

“I can’t think of anybody,” I said.

“I always made sure not to do anything with women who might have husbands or boyfriends,” Pierre said. “I wouldn’t want to get into trouble that way. And as far as I know, I never had any obsessed fans either – they all knew up front that all I was after was a no-commitment fling.”

“Still,” the cop said, “maybe there was one who would get upset to know you were getting serious about someone else. Someone you thought was okay about having just a fling, but who secretly fancied she’d get more.”

“Honestly, I don’t think there was anyone like that,” Pierre said.

“You’re divorced,” the cop said. “How are things with your ex-wife?”

“She disappeared with my daughter from my first marriage twenty years ago,” Pierre said. “I haven’t seen her since, and neither has anybody else, including the private detective I hired to find her.”

“We’ll have to look into that,” the cop said. “Maybe she’s come back to haunt you.”

I realized that the cop was speaking figuratively, but if he only knew! Since my supposed mother had been killed several years ago, the only way she could come back would be as a ghost. “I doubt she would be behind this,” Pierre said. “But if you can find out anything about her whereabouts after all these years, more power to you.”

“Well, thank you for your time,” the cop said, as both officers stood to leave. “You will, of course, let us know if you think of anything else we should know?”

“Of course,” Pierre said.

After the door was shut behind the cops, Mrs. Bullfinch broke down. “Oh, this is so awful. I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”

“Now, Mrs. B,” I said, “you know we’ll help you in any way we can. It was my fault that those – those people torched your building. Pierre and I owe it to you to make good.”

“I have an idea,” Runyon said. “You’ll be helping us, and we’ll be helping you. Obviously, Sarah’s not safe here even with the protections we had put in. We have to get her to a much safer place, and right away, and as secretly as possible. What kind of car do you have?”

“It’s a minivan. It’s old, but it still runs fine.”

“Perfect. Pierre’s convertible won’t hold all of us, and my truck is way too obvious. We need to take a drive up the coast. Do you have your keys?”

“Yes, here they are.” Mrs. Bullfinch handed them over.

“Great. I’ll go get the van while you soggy ones clean up and get dressed.”

Monday, January 16, 2006

Grammar Moment: “Y’all”

There are times when only the colloquial will do.

Oh, no, I hear some of you exclaiming. The English teacher is about to descend upon one of our colloquialisms and blast its existence.

Quite the contrary. I consider y’all to be one of the more useful constructions around. Certainly, it is informal, and so you don’t want to use it in formal writing, but it serves an excellent purpose nonetheless. What I want to do is to make sure that when you use y’all, you use it correctly.

One of the shortcomings of English as compared to many other languages is that it doesn’t make a clear distinction between the singular second person and the plural second person pronouns. Whether you’re talking to a single person or to a group, the same word, you, is used. On the other hand, French, for example, makes a clear distinction between the singular tu and the plural vous.

In the American South, people have solved the problem by using the contraction y’all to stand for the plural form. Now there is clarity: When someone says, “Y’all come and see us some time,” it’s an invitation to a whole group of people, not just to one individual.

The key to proper usage of y’all is to remember that it is a contraction, a shortened form of you all. This means that y’all is always plural, never singular. Also, remembering that it is a contraction will help you to spell it correctly – the apostrophe goes where the letters have been left out. This means that you should NEVER spell it “ya’ll.”

By the way, if you ever do need to emphasize the plural in formal writing, it is perfectly acceptable to use the fully spelled out form, you all.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

The next great chick flick

It’s got all of the usual elements, plus an ethnic twist

OK, yes, I just got through with a post about how women need to be strong and not depend on men, and all of that. So what am I doing now recommending a plot for a chick flick?

Part of the answer lies in the previous post. Yes, women should be strong. A woman should not be dependent on someone else to provide her life with meaning. But I’m also a romantic. I do believe that someone can have a complete life without depending on someone else. But I also believe that sharing life with a soul mate makes life much more rich than it would be otherwise.

Dan’s story is also different from most. Yes, it’s a heart-breaking tale about a beautiful young woman, struck down by cancer tragically far to soon. That’s a tale that has been told far too many times. But usually, the point of view has been female – a mother or sister or female friend of the woman. As far as I know, this tale has never been told from the point of view of the man who loved her. There’s also the Korean twist – the specific family values and cultural outlook of Koreans who have come to America.

There’s another thing I love about this story, although in real life it isn’t complete yet. Dan’s building a sailboat in her memory, in which he plans great voyages. I love endings that involve sailboats. For me, there just isn’t any more poignant way to end a movie than to have somebody sailing off in a sailboat.

In the hands of the right screenwriter and director, this could be an extremely moving romantic film, a movie I would love to see, and which many other women would love. It would show Dan and Gee, and how the relationship developed, and the humor and humanity and all.

OK, so this is really just my silly and sentimental take on everything, but still, I thank Dan for sharing with us online. I really appreciated getting to know about Gee on his website, because he helped me to see what was special about her.

As we say in New Mexico, Vaya con Dios, Dan.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Men – What Are They Good For?

According to some women, not much!

Pat has been providing me with a bunch of books, especially lately, that he seems to think might inspire me in my sailing endeavors. One of the major sub-genres seems to be “Women Sailing Around the World Without Men” – which includes such writers as Tanya Aebi, Dawn Riley, and most recently, Pat Henry’s By the Grace of the Sea.

An underlying subtext of many of these books is the question, “Who needs men?” This seems especially true in Henry’s book; I have read only about a third of it so far, but the recurring theme seems to be that she, and just about every other woman she knows, is much better off without men. Her family seems to consist of a line of women who continue to have disastrous relationships – her grandmother, her mother, herself, her sister, her daughters. Even on her round-the-world journey, when she meets a man, the results aren’t pretty. Given her experiences, I might well conclude that men aren’t worth the trouble.

But most women, such as Dawn Riley, do find that men have a place in their lives. I’ve been married to one for … let’s see … 22 years and counting, and clearly, I don’t find him useless, or I would have ditched him a long time ago.

It’s not that women need men to be their servants, or to rescue them, although I have seen plenty of women who believe that to be men’s purpose, and enough men willing to play along, for at least a while, to create a lot of emotional train-wrecks later on. Women need to have their own strength, so that they don’t have to depend on some man to rescue them.

This has been a challenge for me in my writing. I want my female characters to be strong, so they aren’t dependent on a man to save the day. However, I’m also a romantic at heart, in that I believe that everyone should have a soul mate with whom to share life (BTW, the soul mate does not necessarily have to be the opposite gender). So I need to write female characters who are strong enough to rescue themselves if need be – and maybe sometimes, they even rescue their partners. But I also don’t want to reduce my male characters to helpless idiots; they have to be strong enough to be worthy of my female characters.

But the one thing that I can never, ever do is to have a universe in which men are useless. Because, darn it, they aren’t.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 14

The Storm

The quiet interlude ends just about as loudly as possible.

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 14

I awoke in the darkness, to a feeling of immense terror. Something was on me, holding me down, pressing on me with such force that I could not breathe. The force was cold, flat, like an immense slab of steel, crushing me with tons of force. There was a ringing in my ears, and beyond that ringing a shrieking, whooping sound like a siren. I tried to scream, but I couldn’t draw a breath, and I couldn’t move. I gagged, and felt hot, bitter fluid coming up my throat, burning the back of my mouth. I couldn’t see anything in the absolute darkness, not even the glow of the alarm clock I knew was on the nightstand, and then big, purple blotches began to fill my field of vision. My head began to grow dizzy; now, in spite of being held immobile, I felt as if I were spinning around, faster and faster. I knew I was about to pass out from lack of oxygen, and I knew that if I did pass out, I would probably never come to; the great force was killing me. I felt myself slipping into unconsciousness.

Then I became aware of a feeling of floating. I was free of the great weight, and of the cold, and of all sound. I was in the dark, but it was a neutral dark, not an evil dark like the one that had crushed me. In fact, I felt nothing at all touching my body, saw nothing at all, heard nothing at all, smelled nothing at all, tasted nothing at all. All my senses were registering no input at all. So this is being dead, I thought. I wondered whether this would be all there was, whether I would now, forever, be completely deprived of all senses. Or was this just a transitory state, on the way to some other condition?

Gradually, I felt as if I was in motion, although with no senses, I didn’t know whether this was really motion, or whether I was just imagining things. I tried moving my arms and legs, and I could almost imagine I was turning somersaults. Now I was pretty sure that I was moving as I straightened out, drifting forward headfirst. The movement began to accelerate, and I became aware of a tiny pinpoint of white light ahead. Slowly, and then faster and faster, the light grew as I approached it. How odd, I thought, for death to be, really, just like it was portrayed in the tabloids, traveling in a dark tunnel toward a beam of light. I wondered what the light held. I needed to go there.

Poor Pierre, I thought. He’s only just found his daughter, and now he’s losing her again, without even getting a chance to really know her. It would be devastating to him.

No! I couldn’t go! “Pierre!” I screamed out loud. “Pierre!

Suddenly, I was in chaos, going in an instant from nearly total sensory deprivation to sensory overload. A siren was shrieking, so loud it hurt my ears, and I could also hear wind howling and thunder crashing. Even though my eyes were closed, I was aware of intense blue-white lightning flashes, and I could smell rain and ozone. I was wrapped in cold, wet sheets, but around those sheets was warmth, pressure, holding me tight and radiating heat into the cold at my core. There was that comforting smell of sweat and Old Spice, and a voice murmuring intensely by my ear, “Kayveeyeeyeff, kayveeyeeyeff, kayveeyeeyeff…” As I collected my thoughts, I became aware that I was in the bed, and that Pierre was beside me, holding me tight, murmuring an alphabet code spell that I hadn’t heard before. The burglar alarm was shrieking, and a fierce storm was pounding into the bedroom through the broken window.

“Pierre,” I moaned, gripping him with what little strength I had, shivering fiercely. He pressed his cheek to my face, and I became aware that it was wet; I tasted hot, salty tears.

Pierre squeezed me more tightly. “Sarah,” he sobbed. “Sarah … Sarah, you … you were … dead!” The last word came out as little more than a squeaky whisper.

I opened my eyes and looked up at him; his face was pale, and the creases left by many years in the sun and wind had become far deeper. I curled into him, soaking as much warmth as I could from those strong arms, and I realized I was crying, too. “Oh, Pierre.”

A flash of lightning lit the room, blinding me, while at nearly the same instant I heard the loud crack of the thunder, indicating that the strike was nearly on top of us. When my vision cleared, Runyon and Sylvia were in the room, dripping wet in their foul-weather gear. “Pierre, what’s happened?” Runyon shouted above the noise of the storm and the alarm.

“Sarah … died …”

“We could feel that in the aura. I’m so sorry you had to lose her so soon after …”

Pierre lifted me up against his shoulder. “She came back,” he croaked, barely audible in the surrounding din, and then he buried his face between my neck and shoulder in a fresh burst of sobs. I put an arm around his neck and kissed his cheek.

Sylvia came forward and touched my face. “She’s alive,” she said. “Cold, but definitely alive!”

Runyon came forward, too. “My God, she is alive! Pierre, how did you …”

“She came back,” Pierre said again. “I woke up when the window broke, and she was lying there, and she was dead, and I didn’t want her to be …”

“The stories,” Sylvia said. “It’s in the stories, but nobody’s ever seen it for real; I don’t think people even believe it’s possible.”

“Stories?” I squeaked.

“Love is the most powerful spell, more powerful than anything the Others can use against us. If it’s strong enough, and if the people involved are powerful enough, it can bring someone back from the dead. Or so the stories say.”

“I had to come back. I couldn’t just … go …”

Another close lightning flash and thunderclap accompanied a fresh burst of wind-driven rain through the window. “Let’s get out of this rain,” Runyon said.

Pierre picked me up. “There’s extra blankets on the shelf in that closet,” he said, as he carried me to the living room. He settled with me on the couch while Sylvia wrapped warm, dry blankets around us. I was beginning to thaw out, although I still couldn’t stop shaking. Runyon went to the alarm keypad and entered the code to shut off the alarm. He and Sylvia shed their foulies and hung them on the coat rack by the front door.

“I’ll make some tea,” Sylvia said, heading for the kitchen.

The doorbell rang. Runyon went to open the door, and Mrs. Bullfinch came in. She was thoroughly soaked, wearing an old housecoat but no rain gear, and in spite of having been totally drenched walking to Pierre’s condo, her hair, skin, and clothes were heavily streaked with greasy soot.

“My building’s gone,” she said. “Burned down. Nothing left.” She staggered to the couch and sat down heavily, while Runyon got another blanket to put around her. “They said it started in your apartment, Sarah. They said you’d left the coffeemaker turned on, and it overheated, and it set the place on fire. I told them you didn’t even own an electric coffeemaker, and you hadn’t been home in days, but they didn’t believe me. It’s those shady types that have been hanging around, isn’t it? They want to hurt you.”

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Why we didn't practice last weekend

Our coaches were busy ... elsewhere

I'll just quote the caption that Larry sent along with this photo: "Larry, Braxton and Rich lead America's Cup Champion Dennis Conner on his 3 milllion dollar 50 ft. Q Boat at the San Diego New Years Day Regatta."

The First Day of School

Out in the country, far from town …

While I have been teaching at TVI for more than eight years now, this is the first term I have taught at the South Valley campus. It’s an interesting place, in part because it is so small. Its location is also interesting.

The South Valley is a lower-income area, and much of the rest of Albuquerque dismisses it as a wasteland full of teenage gangs. It’s not. The further south one goes, the more rural the surroundings; TVI’s South Valley campus is on a winding country road lined with ancient cottonwood trees and small farms. One of the security guards’ duties is to shoo stray chickens out of the parking lot.

Because the campus is so small, there is one faculty lounge that serves as lounge, workroom, and office space for faculty from several departments. There aren’t even any cubicles. There is a row of computers along one wall, which, unfortunately, gets the brunt of the late-afternoon sun, I discovered yesterday. So today I brought the laptop, with the idea that I could set it up on the shady side of the room, hook into TVI’s wireless network, and get to work.

I turned the computer on, and immediately got a low-battery warning. Not good. I had just taken it out of its docking station a half-hour before, at which point it supposedly had a full battery. Oh, well, time to look for an electrical outlet. Yes, there were electrical outlets, but, sigh, they’re all along the sunny wall. So much for the idea of working in the shade.

Now to hook into the network. I’d tried the week before without success, but I changed some settings, tried two different browsers, fiddled a bunch of stuff. I could get the computer and the network to communicate briefly, and then the computer would freeze up. The computer also seemed to be having trouble whenever TVI went to a secure screen to ask for a password; it wouldn’t read the Java correctly. So much for that.

So I put the laptop away and checked my email on a computer at the shady end of the row.

I’m teaching two classes at South Valley, a section of Practical Writing (ENG 099) from 5:30 to 7:20, and a section of Essay Writing (ENG 100) from 7:30 to 9:20. For both classes, I presented and explained the syllabus, and then I had the students write a diagnostic essay, which serves as an assessment of their skills and which I can also use to recommend that a student move up or down a level. When I looked at the essays from the 99 class, I was struck with how good many of them were. I could step most of them up to 100, and whatever instructor they got wouldn’t think I’d been too easy on them … and then I realized, I knew what instructor they would get. There are only two sections of 100 at South Valley, and the other one is in the middle of the day, when night students can’t attend. I’d just be stepping the students up to myself.

Of course, there’s another slight hitch – if I step too many students up out of 99, that class doesn’t have enough students for TVI to keep it and I end up stepping myself out of a job. But then, that’s the only section of 99 at South Valley, and surely the powers that be would be wise enough not to cancel it … OK, so I shouldn’t kid myself. Well, I thought, maybe the 100 class would have enough students who should be stepped down to make up for some of the step-ups. When those essays came in, I found I had no such luck. I have a lot of talent to work with this term.

So I’ll step a few 99ers up to 100 and keep my fingers crossed that the 99 will still make. I’ll have a talented 100 class and a 99 class that will be very small and therefore get lots of individual attention from the instructor. Works for me.

Tomorrow, I’ll meet the other class I have this term, a 100 that meets for four straight hours on Wednesdays at Main Campus. It may take some endurance, but, hey, it allows me to have a four-day weekend every week.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A “Seasoned” Woman

Life is more satisfying now.

This week’s Parade magazine had a feature article about the “seasoned” woman – one who isn’t old, except by the standards of yesteryear in which the number of years lived is all that matters, who has seen enough of life and learned enough from experience to be self-assured, or at least more self-assured than she was when she was younger. I may be at the tail-end of the baby boom, but I’m approaching that sort of feeling now.

The key thing about the seasoned woman is that she feels empowered. She’s no longer so uncertain about whether she’s doing things right, or what the rest of the world may think of her. Sexually, she’s more able to be passionate and expressive, since, as time goes by, she no longer has to worry about pregnancy, so she can concentrate on the enjoyment of both her partner and herself. She also feels more free to pursue dreams that, before, seemed silly, hobbies or goals that she was afraid to even think of.

I’m not all the way to that point, but I’m getting there. Up until recently, I thought the idea of writing novels was unrealistic – I mean, who would ever want to read anything I wrote? Now I have three in progress, and at least one of them actually looks marketable. Up until recently, I would never have imagined that I might be able to take the helm of a racing sailboat – how could I possibly do anything right? Now, I’m training to be on an Adams Cup racing team. I’m not so optimistic as to think that I might end up in the finals, but before, I wouldn’t have even dreamed of trying.

There are some external signs of being seasoned. For example, last time I went in to have my hair colored at the local barber college, the stylist-in-training commented, “You have such wonderful pale streaks in your underlying color; we don’t need to add highlights.” What an optimistic way to look at going gray! OK, maybe I’m supposed to accept those gray hairs, but, hey, I’m a redhead by choice, and that’s just the way I want to be. So there.

There’s a rock song from the ’70s; I don’t remember who sang it or exactly what the lyrics are, but I remember the general spirit: “Learning to Fly.” That’s what it feels like I’m doing now.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Poetry Corner: John Masefield

Sailing poetry, written by a sailor

I was surprised to find, when I looked up this poem, that Masefield lived well into the 20th century, so much of his work wouldn’t really count as Victorian in the literal sense. However, his themes and style do keep to the romantic era. He was the son of a lawyer with a well-ordered life ahead of him, but he ran off to sea on a merchantman. His verse is both realistic and moving; you can hear the ship crashing through the waves in the rhythm of his words, and the splashing of the water in the flowing consonants. There’s also a wisp of nostalgia here and there, as steam power is replacing the sail as the means to get from one place to another.

Interestingly, Masefield died in 1967, about the time Captain Kirk quoted from his poetry in an episode of Star Trek. I don’t know whether that quote was inserted as a tribute upon Masefield’s death, or just a coincidence.

Sea Fever

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a gray mist on the sea’s face and a gray dawn breaking.

I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume, and the sea-gulls crying.

I must go down to the seas again to the vagrant gypsy life.
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Wizards of Winds and Waves, chapter 13


Things look peaceful now … but for how long?

Wizards of Winds and Waves
Chapter 13

The next morning, Mrs. Bullfinch arrived with my mail. There wasn’t much exciting, just a couple of advertising flyers and a telephone bill. I knew it was past due by a month or so, but at least from now on it looked like I wouldn’t have to worry about having money to pay bills any more. She also brought in a box of books and papers from my apartment that she thought looked important. I invited her in for coffee.

“Why, thank you, Sarah,” she said. “I always liked your coffee even if you didn’t have one of those fancy coffee makers. I’m glad I thought to send yours here.”

Pierre came in. “Should we tell Mrs. B the good news?” he asked.

“Do you really want to do that?” I asked. “I mean, we don’t even know for sure.”

“Oh, no,” Mrs. Bullfinch gasped. “She’s not – you’re not – Good Heavens, you move fast!”

“No, nothing like that,” Pierre said. “And there’s a good reason – we haven’t been together in that way.”

“Ah, I was wondering about that when I saw that couch had been cleaned up for someone to sleep on. But I thought you young people weren’t too big on abstinence – if you love someone, you go for the action.”

Pierre smiled at being considered a “young person.” “Well … we do love each other. But not in that way. Do you remember I once told you I used to have a daughter?”

“Oh, yes. So sad that you lost her. Even sadder when you quit looking.” Suddenly, Mrs. B’s eyebrows rose. “You found her! Pierre! Sarah! I’m so glad for the both of you!” She jumped up and grabbed us both in a big bear hug.

“Thanks, Mrs. B,” I said. “But can you do us a really big favor? Can you keep this all a secret for now?”

“You have my word. But it’s going to be awfully hard to keep it under wraps for long.”

“For now, it’s safest to keep the world thinking we’re lovers,” Pierre said. “I have a reputation to keep. And there are dangers we need to watch out for.”

“That reminds me, I’ve been keeping an eye on Sarah’s place, and there’s always at least two odd fellows in the neighborhood who also seem to be keeping an eye on it. They’re always in the shadows, so I can’t see their faces, but they really give me the willies. They just seem to give off these evil vibrations, and they make the whole neighborhood feel dangerous. That’s why I decided to bring these papers over here, things you had in your filing cabinet in the drawer labeled ‘Important Stuff.’ I didn’t want those types to get it. Pierre, I hope there isn’t something shady in your past that’s putting Sarah in danger – although come to think of it, I did suddenly feel safer when I came in the door here.”

“I know it sounds clichéd, but I’d give my life if I had to, to keep Sarah safe.”

“Oh, I know you would. And by the way, I apologize for all of those nasty things I said about you and your, um, activities.”

“No need. I really have been a cad, tomcat, gigolo, whatever you want to call me.”

“But you’re a family man now. And you have a lot of time to make up for, don’t you?”

After Mrs. Bullfinch left, Pierre opened up the box and started to look through its contents. “Let’s see … photo albums … all of your report cards from kindergarten on up – I thought your mother didn’t care?”

“She didn’t, but I did.”

“School papers, high-school diploma, birth certificate – bet that’s not genuine, but it will do for now – passport … it’s about to expire, better renew it soon.”

“You think I’m likely to be leaving the country?”

“You never know. Fighting against the Others could take us anywhere.”

Pierre took the box into the bedroom closet, where he put the most important documents into a small safe. “We really need to tell Runyon and the rest about our good news,” he said. “Let’s go to the tavern for lunch.”

“Isn’t it dangerous for me to be out and about?”

“It’s a risk we’ll have to take. Besides, part of why you were in danger was specifically that you didn’t have parents to protect you. You have one now.”

So we set out for the tavern. As we stepped out the door, I could feel the vibrations Mrs. B had been talking about. The air just seemed to hum, and I could feel goose-bumps rising on my arms. By the time we reached the tavern, I was hanging onto Pierre’s arm to keep from shaking, and I could feel cold sweat down my spine. Getting to the tavern and taking places at the big table in back was an immense relief. I realized I had been holding my breath. Runyon and Sylvia were already there, and shortly after Pierre and I arrived, several of the other sailing wizards came in. As our table slowly receded into the protection of the cave, I could feel waves of relief from all around me.

“I have good news,” Pierre said. “Sarah now has a parent to sponsor her at the school entrance ceremony.”

“I had always planned for you to step in,” Runyon said. “That’s part of why I put her into your care. We’ll need to plan the rite to set you up as surrogate as soon as possible.”

“No, I don’t mean as surrogate, the way you and Sylvia were when I was inducted – which seemed a bit silly, since she’s younger than me and not exactly a mother figure. …”

“Well, you are a more appropriate age, that’s true.”

“But I don’t need to stand in as a surrogate. She’s really my daughter.”

Runyon looked closely into my face. “I see. In particular, I see Dora.”

“How can you see Dora?” Pierre asked. “You never met her, and I lost her long before I arrived at this bay.”

“I see the image of her that you have in your head, not just the physical image, but the spiritual one, too. I’ve seen it since the day we went through that ritual. It was a side effect of becoming your parent. There’s so much of Dora in this girl that it’s no wonder you were attracted to her.”

“You’ve been inside my head all this time?”

“Not really. But I get flashes of your thoughts every so often, especially if you’re having strong emotions.”

“By the way,” I asked, “when am I supposed to start attending this school?”

“We have entrance ceremonies about once a month,” Runyon said, “although the really big one is in the fall. You’re an unusual case, since most of us enter school as children. But there are always a few like you – and like Pierre – whose talents weren’t discovered until adulthood. The next ceremony is in about two weeks, and we’ll need to prepare for it, as well as keeping you safe until then.”

“You know I’ll always protect her,” Pierre said.

“Yes, I know that. And being her father gives you more power to protect her than the rest of us have.”

“Does this mean I can get out of the apartment if I have him with me?” I asked.

“To play it safe, I’d say only for a short time. You can certainly go between protected places. But no sailing, unless you’re on a protected boat.”

Conversation shifted to plans for the school entrance ceremony, and then to more mundane matters as lunch wound down. Pierre and I returned to the condo, and I wrote out a detailed shopping list. Since I was essentially stocking the kitchen from scratch, the list was a long one, and since Pierre’s experiences with food were solely on the consuming end, I had to give a lot of details about the items on the list. I didn’t want him bringing home salted butter or artificial vanilla, for instance.

Pierre was gone for more than two hours, both because of the length of the list and also, I guessed, because he probably wasn’t familiar with the layout of a supermarket – other than the beverage aisles. Eventually, he returned, and it took him several trips down to the parking garage to bring everything up from the car. We spent the rest of the afternoon organizing the kitchen and putting the groceries away.

“I haven’t had a kitchen this full since Dora …” Pierre’s voice trailed off.

“I never had a kitchen stocked like this before – couldn’t afford it. I hope you don’t mind my taking advantage of your money.”

“Oh, please do. It doesn’t do me any good to just sit on it. It was Dora’s money anyway, which makes it more yours than mine.”

For dinner, I prepared a prime roast, garlic mashed potatoes, a mix of sautéed vegetables, and crème brulée for dessert. I had to finish that in the broiler, but I figured if I was moving into this apartment, I could have Pierre get me a blowtorch so I could scorch the sugar on top of the custard properly next time. After dinner, we cleaned up the kitchen, loaded up the dishwasher – at least Pierre knew how to operate that appliance – and went into the living room. Pierre brought out a chessboard and challenged me to a match.

I’d always been good at chess; I seemed to have a gift for anticipating my opponent’s next move, or even many moves ahead. I tended to win matches so quickly, I often found the game boring. But not this time. Unlike any opponent I had faced before, Pierre, too, was good at seeing ahead. By the time we had played to a draw, it was well past midnight.