November 10th, 2016 § 2 comments § permalink

My personal mission is to heal the divide between me and the environment. Sometimes that looks like community and land use planning, but more recently that looks like sailing up and down the East Coast. I would like to try explaining what I get from this life on a sailboat. You know that What People Think I Do/What I Really Do meme? I should probably just make one of those sometime.

On land, I had developed an out-sized stress response*. It is something that sort of sat on top of me for most of my twenties, then sat politely beside me in my thirties as I gained some perspective, “invited it in for tea”, and other hipster nonsense. I think many have this to some degree – a full fight-or-flight response to something that is decidedly NOT a predator in the wild.

Over time, my adrenal system was trained to treat every risk of even small failure as a life-or-death situation. It’s a long line of fallen dominoes that I can follow right up to where I am today, through the tough decision to change my life and career, the unlikely events of becoming an Italian psychologist/sailor’s bride, and ultimately leaving land full time.


When I am offshore for a few days, after the watch routine settles in and the discomfort of transition wanes, I have the following experience. I feel cold, rain, waves and wind. I see stars, moon, sun, birds and bioluminescent plankton. I steer the boat, and check instruments while I maintain my own personal safety and support that of my husband and boat cat. We work as a team, we have to communicate clearly but efficiently because there is not much surplus time or energy. When a threat arises, like a squall or too-high winds, or too-cold weather or too-hot sun…then I feel fight-or-flight in the appropriate context. The crisis passes because the response works (!), we complete the leg, we come to shore, and I can walk back arm-in-arm with my stress response all the way to “normal”.

Its like therapy in reverse – instead of trying to bring the mind into context with the body, sailing brings my body into context with the mind.

Here is where this swerves from the personal to national politics, as every damn thing does now, apparently**. I want to challenge you, dear reader, to consider a deeply-rooted pattern of your own. Maybe one that doesn’t often see the light of day. Is it based in fear? What would happen if this fear was removed, even for one moment?

Relief from fear offers me moments of clear purpose, compassion and love for others, and enough mental space to act on that. With practice, maybe I can live this way “full time”.

*If you worked with me, you may or may not have noticed it (I say that winkingly to my friend-colleagues, who totally saw this, and whom often helped me along or were caught up in my stress by proximity. Ps. still thx and sorry). My best friends for sure know what I am talking about, because I grappled with it as it progressed. Before any big deadline, meeting, presentation, whatever cumulative professional moment, no matter how prepared I could be, my body would physically go through the same process – insomnia, anxiety, and tunnel vision on the work until the moment of the thing. Then, after the thing, during which I would typically appear pretty calm and capable, there would be a second cascade – reviewing the thing over and over to evaluate my part, waves of self doubt and beating back negative thoughts of shame, guilt and remorse. People, I am talking about all this over a half-hour talk on water quality monitoring – to a room full of nerds like me.

**I hear from some NYC friends that they feel like they have lived in a bubble, couldn’t imagine the turnout that turned out for Trump. Inside of NYC, my life, work and relationships challenged me daily to (imperfectly) develop my own ability to serve as an ally for peace and justice. I owe this refrain to Alexie Torres Flemming, and the still-unfolding slow knowledge I gained from working with her. Today, I have to be grateful that my last few years as a nomad expanded my worldview to include more political diversity, especially among people who look just like me. While I will never be silenced by racism, sexism or the idea that anyone is more or less “legal” than me, I can see how each of us arrives at our own worldview through authentic lived experience, and how each of us can be so deeply affected by our fears that we might be moved to behave against our own best interests.

lost cat

May 2nd, 2016 § 3 comments § permalink

This is going to be a post about my cat/s, and it will be quite long. [TRIGGER WARNING]

I met Beta around the same time I met my husband. He (the cat) was born in Greenpoint, USA, near the home of my friend Jane, who sort of tricked me into adopting him. Which is to say, she invited me over and plopped him into my lap. He was one-handful old.

At that time I already had a calico cat named Kitten, who was more needy than I ever imagined any cat could be. I was constantly harassed by Kitten every time I left the apartment, and her punishment would resume as soon as she heard my returning footsteps in the building. My stern landlord, who lived on the ground floor, maintained silence in the building. As the top-floor tenant who worked irregular hours and had to clip-clop up and down the linoleum central stair a million times a day, schlepping Godknowswhat and with the cat howling… our relationship was tense. So I would sneak in like a ninja, scaling the walls, to stave off Kitten’s racket out of fear that she would get us kicked out of this below-market-rate apartment – aka the holy grail. I know that’s a lot to put on a cat.

So Beta came home at 8 weeks old, to be my second cat – hence the name – as playmate for Kitten. This is how it starts with cats and cat ladies.

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Beta fit in perfectly. Kitten stopped guilt tripping me, and bossed the new guy around instead. But Beta didn’t pay no mind, because this dude was CHILL. If he wanted food, he headbutted you. If he wanted to play, there was some string. No drama. One time he got really and suddenly sick, the way cats like to do right before you are about to leave for vacation. Nursing him back to health was the only time I think he really made eye contact with me. “Thanks”, he said, with his big golden eyeballs. He put his paw on my paw.

When I half-moved onto the boat, the cats stayed put with my cat-friendly friend and subletter – lets call her Joski. When it later became clear that I was going all in, I struggled to find new homes for both cats. I always feel a twinge of something about this part of the story, that I couldn’t be a “furever home” for Beta and Kitten, and that I leaned so much on Joski to place them. Bad human.

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Come to think of it, I’ve never written about what it was like to leave New York. This part with the apartment and the cats was something quite difficult. When you chip out a little secret sanctuary for yourself over the course of many years, pulling the nest apart makes an utter mess.

Beta and Kitten were ultimately separated, and Joski took over the lease. My last towhold in the city was a storage locker with a duffle bag of journals in it overlooking Newtown Creek.

But wait, there’s more!

Just when I thought the dust had settled, Beta was returned by his new humans because they were getting evicted! Drama! That was it, I couldn’t bear this catragedy any longer. By this time, we had sailed all the way down the coast. So I got on what we call “the Midnight Train From Georgia”, which is actually the Amtrak leaving from Jesup at 7pm, arriving Penn Station at 11am. Who takes an overnight train from the rural Deep South to NYC? Ponder that one awhile, but at least one answer is: Cat Ladies.

I collected my bag of journals and my Beta, and we road tripped down I-95 back to the boat. Imagine Thelma and Louise, except his paw was on my paw and no one died or was hurt in any way.

The Little Island is a book by Margaret Wise Brown, which tells the tale of a little black cat that goes on a sail with his humans and explores a small island and the sea around it. I imagined Beta’s life aboard would be like this, and I sometimes tried to see our adventures through his eyes. We attempted to give him enough freedom to still be an animal, but keep him reliant enough on us that he would always come home for dinner and let us protect him.

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When he hopped off the boat one week ago, I expected him to walk the dock and be right back for string time. We have replayed it so many times.

Right now we are in a boatyard on the GA/FL border, doing heavy work in some major swamp heat. Looking for Beta has brought us into contact with a growing spiral of neighbors, as the days pass and we widen our search. In a certain part of Camden County, Beta has better name recognition than most presidential candidates. Let’s just say clipboards are involved.

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We have moments of deep missing, despair for all the potential dangers Beta may have already encountered, and also regret for what we failed to do.

But I also try to imagine this adventure through his eyes, the one where he ditches out on this rough patch of yard time and opts for some squirrel hunting in the moss-draped oaks of Point Peter instead. I imagine him grazing on pond frogs and tuning his satellite dish-ears on barred owl calls. Further down the bluff there is a stalled subdivision with an expanse of forest symmetrically fragmented with pristine asphalt roads. Perhaps he’s doing some survey work down there and will report back to me soon with some land use recommendations.

Is this is The Revenge of Kitten, wherein Beta is her Manchurian Candidate, performing the ultimate manipulation of human hearts?

We will need to leave this place in a week or maybe two, and Beta will either saunter back onto the boat like NBD, or we will need to accept that he’s really gone all in. Wish us all luck.

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self-order in a new place

December 5th, 2014 § 0 comments § permalink

I used to live in a town where I could walk out my door and step right into a protest on environmental, social or economic injustice any day of the week. Granted, we were just being led into NYPD corrals and getting our bikes confiscated, but I could move my feet and see others moving theirs.  Now, I live in the coastal south – the Lowcountry.  There is currently a deep divide between my online community (in uproar), and my face-to-face community, where I am largely segregated and unfamiliar. I don’t know what to say or not say. I don’t have access to Discourse or guidance on “allyship”. In this sense I am feeling alone.

Its not right, what’s happening. Its not enough to summarize #Ferguson, this is a mandate to burn the myth of “post-racial America”.  My guru Chris Rock says racism is a disease, and, “you’ve got to get it at a lab, and study it, and see its origins, and see what it’s immune to and what breaks it down.” Its plain that its not going to get better without more pain. I don’t know what I can do, and am keenly aware of the privilege implied in seeking involvement in the movement.

I am not a cop, I do not have black children, I am not institutionally oppressed. Well, there is that pesky equal pay for equal work thing…Nonetheless, I am on a side. And everyone is taking sides on Facebook. I took a “check your privilege” quiz there, and it told me I am not at the top of the stack.  If this sounds flip, its because it is. My experience right now is through a screen and so much remains undigested.

I am compelled to support the meek, whom I wish would inherent the earth already.  Selfishly, my seed saving and composting skills will finally come in handy. I want to heal myself and support the many people I have met who feel discarded and damaged. I want to bear witness to change, and find those opportunities to hasten it. I don’t see a place for me otherwise.

Tonight I saw a Congressman from my new home state perform a rather powerful bit of spoken word in one of those hallowed halls of government that he only gained access to within the last century. This guy is making moves.

I am exhausted where I should be energized. Overwhelmed without a clear step forward that I am capable of taking.  I imagine so much for my lifetime that I will most likely never affect. For today I think the best I can do is write this here, and not on Facebook, and hope that someone in realtime, in the place I live now, will feel a kinship and want to talk. In person.  Maybe tomorrow I can do more.

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