visible repair

January 8th, 2020 § 0 comments § permalink

“Ring the bells that still can ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack, a crack in everything

That’s how the light gets in.”

Leonard Cohen

Two posts ago, I had just left the boat and had just arrived home. Home was Pittsburgh, New York and Georgia, which is to say that arriving home was no simple feat, and is still, in a way, happening.

In an attempt to think things through and hear some type of inner voice (and also, quite frankly, to absorb a portion of the sudden homelessness I was experiencing), I did a work-stay at a retreat center in upstate NY. The first snow of the winter came the day after I arrived, and I spent my time there shoveling snow as an “active meditation”. Between shoveling shifts, us workers could attend the meditation and mealtime activities, and co-mingle with the visitors, staff and full-time devotees. I was an interloper, just blending in, and I sat my cafeteria tray down in the rustic dining hall to a new group of stranger-comrades every day.

If there is one thing I can do, it is strike up a conversation with a stranger. It’s really just as easy as asking a question and then letting the other person answer for awhile. One evening I asked a dinner companion about his jacket – it was a heavily embroidered denim coat, tidy but also heavily worked, practically rendered. My hands drifted to my knees, feeling the satin patches on my jeans, stitched and re-stiched over the years with golden thread.

He appreciated my noticing the coat – “It’s visible repair!”, we said in unison. I showed him my jeans.

Visible repair is what you do when you are too stingy or nostalgic to let your belongings die of natural causes. On the boat, we were both. In Japan, sashiko embroidery in the style of high-contrast “little stabs” is used for boro, the patching up of tattered but valued material. On the Indian subcontinent, saris are recycled into blankets and cushions through kantha. Closer to home, industrious folx convert favorite scraps into quilts. His jacket was a calico denim blazer, in the sashiko-boro style. I remember the texture, as I ran my hand down the sleeve.

Your favorite soup bowl, accidentally dropped, may be repaired with gold powder, the walls around you with mosaic, colorful plastic blocks, or a lovely hunk of nature within reach. Accidents and erosion become the opportunity for artful care-taking.

So much of me right now is under repair. Sometimes I don’t know if there is enough textile for the stitches to bite. How much of me is me vs. the repair? Will I come out rough or smooth? In the groggy meanwhile I float above the operating table, hoping for this extended surgical procedure to take. If there is any lesson from my time under fiberglass, it is that everything is fixable.

ciao bacalao

December 6th, 2018 § 2 comments § permalink

I started this blog in the summer of 2013, when I was making the transition from land to water, coming undone and floating away. It has been awhile because these past months have been consumed by thoughts of return, rooting and rebuilding. On land. Not so planktonic.

I left the boat in October, left Panama, started a new plan. Since then I have been in Florida, Georgia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New York. I spent a week in a Buddhist temple, I participated in a 5-week writing workshop, raked leaves, and shoveled snow. I am seeking out friends and family for conversations, meeting the whole entire children that have been created since the last time we met. Catching up but also remembering who I am in their reflection.

Temple offerings, Kadampa.

Something happened out there on the boat where I lost myself, somehow ran out of me. It is hard to nail down what thats like with a tidy anecdote, I know it is still unfolding.

Neighborhood Print Shop, Braddock PA.

Right now I am in New York City, walking around, researching, writing, archiving, and working. In the next season, I will start on some new path which is still emerging. From the outside looking in, I should probably be freaking out, worried, stressed. But I am somehow feeling very calm, moving slowly but moving forward. I am held and cared for by friends and family – even getting a bit fat.

Wonton Soup.

One thought, a radical outcome from my time on the boat, my one message to you, dear reader, is to consider needing much LESS. When your needs are simple, they can be more simply met. Having your needs met offers freedom from fear. Imagine a version of your life with no fear.

Shell collection, NYC.

Like anyone, I have moments of late night rumination, I go on social media and immediately feel sick with envy. But for some reason – I wish I could see it more clearly, and maybe in time I will – for today, the sense of nourishment and gratitude is just MORE.

Documenting art collection, NYC.

Right now F is out on the boat alone with Beta the cat.  I am watching his dot, and getting to know the experience my parents have had, waiting for news, watching the weather. Shore team.

I am taking a beat and looking back on my time as a planktoneer. I have savored these posts, working on them, sharing them, and returning every once and awhile to remember. But after five years adrift, I am taking root…or becoming sessile? Like a barnacle?

up and over

March 29th, 2018 § 5 comments § permalink

There is traveling and then there is pilgrimage. I just wanted to write something down in this moment before the whole feeling escapes me. It is a combination of physical exertion, mental openness, and receiving coincidence after coincidence.

The night before last, my husband and I were sitting on the edge of a termite-infested bench in the tropical highlands at the frontier between the comarca Guna Yala and the valley of Mamoní. Surrounded by our wet socks, bandanas, and muddy boots, the sounds of howler monkeys and every type of frog, bird and insect singing, we spoke to each other quietly, and had the type of conversation that you have when the everyday scales of resentment, irritation, bookkeeping etc. have fallen away. To get into that mindset, we went on and up-and-over pilgrimage.


Our new machete.

Since we have been anchored near the mouth of Rio Mandinga, we have started making trips up on tierra firme, knowing the pueblos there and slowly building relationships as we went. It is an area that has a past of thwarted exploitation by extranjeros, first by the early banana industry, a company that preceded the now-global giant Dole. Then came the tourism-minded gringos of the mid 20th century: the good, the bad and the downright ugly. Today, in this region there are no more bananeros, and no more foreign-built hotels. The two local airstrips no longer have set service, a sharp contrast to past times when there were regular commercial flights to Porvenir and US Army use at Mandinga. Its an area subject to countless schemes and incursions, which have been held at bay by the iterative and adaptable Guna congreso.


Congreso house for the Mandi Yala pueblo.

Way back when, this route was considered the first choice for what would ultimately become the Panama Canal, but the Gunas, back when they were Cunas, had scuttled that plan post haste.So when we went out by foot, up the river and over the continental divide and down the “other side”, we did so step-by-step, requesting permiso for every leg of the journey. The trail became not just a series of steps, but a continuum of relationships.


Coconut water to-go.


Critters and communities along the path.

In my mind I was having a running conversation with my family and friends, which happens out on the boat as well. I even sent a mental thank you note to my high school cross country coach, for instilling in us the mantra of mental toughness. He smoked his pipe as we ran through the woods, shouting after us, “running is 99% mental toughness!”


Leaf litter.

Today I have work projects that need my full attention, I have laundry to fold, and all these workaday things – like applying aspercreme to my tender knees – have a a renewed purpose and shine. Maybe its just endorphins, but it feels like everything fits.

Tonight I meet up with my “first friend” in Panama, Mara – the one who taught me how to make ceviche on a sailboat. We are going to take her mom out for the start of Holy Week processions. This morning she told me she was surprised I was interested in going, because “gringas are usually Lutheran, no?”. Denominations aside, I am just glad to be in the fold, and to keep moving forward.


One of many rivers and creeks to cross.

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