Posted in writing

The 2020 Sailor’s “Gam”

As a kid I often imagined my bedroom into a boat. I planned to sail away in solitude and self-sufficiency…

I would stockpile “important” things in my room—often things I wasn’t allowed to have in my room (food!)—in preparation for my imaginary cast-off, and I would invest quite a lot of thought into (and derive quite a lot of pleasure from) this made-up scenario of having everything I wanted within reach at once. Before the word “Prepper” was even invented, I was practicing it with my play.

Fast-forward some decades, and I get to play “Boat” for real. Setting aside for a moment the horrifying reason why FOUR BILLION people are Playing Boat, I’m kind of acting out a kid-fantasy here. And—Bonus!—the invention of the Internet in the interim makes it even easier to “nest” contentedly in my home.

I feel that same sense of harbored hideaway–though the “important” items have shifted in form.

Forty years ago I was curating a different set of belongings, a different perspective of priorities–though with some definite overlaps. Back then I gathered up my teddy bear Toots, my blanket Pinky, my Nancy Drew collection, my diary, “Mr. Sketch” scented markers, flashlight and sleeping bag, Fisher-Price medical kit, a Triple-A “triptic” flip-book of maps, the contraband snacks… The Lutheran hymnal (filched from my parents’ shelf under the misapprehension that this was the “holy-and-important” church-book)…

My Kodak Instamatic camera and our Fisher Price tape-recorder (because even though I didn’t yet know the word “journalist,” I wanted to document my expedition)…

And stationery. I intended to write home.

Why am I reminiscing about this? Because suddenly we are living in the 2020 Pandemic, and we are SUPPOSED to Play Boat, all of us. Stock up with whatever you consider “essentials” and stay self-sufficient while hunkering down at home. We “go ashore” to provision (properly masked, gloved, wiped, and sanitized) and then we stay aboard our own boats. With only our own shipmates.

Toilet-paper jokes abound: this has been THE “panic purchase.” Inexplicably.

(By the way, that plaque was in my bathroom before the Great TP Privation of 2020. Just think: we can tell our awe-struck grandkids how toilet paper used to be so expendable we’d festoon teachers’ whole yards with it!)

Fortunately, I do have TP. And coffee. And laundry soap, eggs, deodorant, coffee creamer, kitty litter, prescription meds. Mini “Cutie” oranges. We haven’t been to the grocery store for more than two weeks, so the bananas are gone. And I’m out of Diet Dr. Pepper.

But we do have a new electric teapot, and we’re trying different teas. We have two-player games. I walk, in increments of time measured by “Outlander” episodes (I promised I’d ONLY watch when I’m on the treadmill!—Yes, I bribe myself). I have a “puzzle mat” to roll up an in-progress jigsaw and preserve its pieces from our cats. I’m working my way through archives of New York Times crosswords and a cache of logic puzzles on my iPad.

And hey, Toots is still aboard!–>

And LOTS of books.

No stationery, perhaps, but still an urge to write.

I’ve been posting blurbs on FaceBook every day, jokingly labeling them as entries in a “Captain’s Log”— carrying on my game of imagining my home into a boat. (An anchored boat, to be sure; my Google Maps cheerfully reported I traveled six miles in March.) It’s a string of the little goofy observations about Isolation Life (Day Twenty-Seven, by the way)….

Like trying to swipe open my grocery list at the store but my phone’s “facial recognition” doesn’t work with the mask. Or that our 2020 Home Projects list is unexpectedly done—so now what? Or how my mom & I exchanged pics of our propped-up feet and TV screens, watching the same Netflix show “together.” Or that my daily social life consists of greeting the mailman and UPS guy through my glass door. Or which is the more important protective gear when we took the motorcycle to the store: the helmet, or the mask? Or the difficulty of conveying an emotion with the “masked” emoticon. Or What the hell DAY is it? (With the follow-up: why would it matter?)

On the high seas of the nineteenth century, a cry of “Sail ho!” on a whaleship often augured a GAM–a social ritual of pulling alongside another ship to exchange news and mail.

But what is a gam? You might wear out your index-finger running up and down the columns of dictionaries, and never find the word. Dr. Johnson never attained to that erudition; Noah Webster’s ark does not hold it. Nevertheless, this same expressive word has now for many years been in constant use among some fifteen thousand true born Yankees. Certainly, it needs a definition, and should be incorporated into the Lexicon.

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick

These days, of course, you can find the word in twenty seconds on Dictionary.com or practically any glossary short of UrbanDictionary’s. And if you pause there with your hand on that mouse… You are, in fact, possessed of the mechanism of the modern gam. (Possessed by it, perhaps—but that’s a whole different conversation.) That’s right, let’s hear it for Zoom gams, because my boat-ride could feel a lot more isolated than it does.

Posted in IdahoAuthors, writing

Setting Sail: the Launch of a Serial Novel

I’ve been writing “creative nonfiction” for years–-my Master’s thesis in poetry, essays (for introspection), freelance articles (for pay), and  this blog (for joy)… But I haven’t touched fiction-writing since I was a schoolkid.

Until last summer, when I did.

Not sure exactly why, but this person called Gayla wanted to go whaling, so I let her. And she turned out pretty stubbornly not to fit in to the century in which I’d placed her, so I threw in a little time travel to explain her. She’s a whaler wearing a sports bra instead of a corset—an anomaly in more ways than one.

Time & Tide by Kana Smith
She’s still growing, and I’m still writing her journey. I’ve been releasing one chapter at a time to a small circle of friends and family who have been reading along (and keeping me writing!) and I got to thinking that it’s the READERS who really make this art form work. If I’m writing in a “black hole” by myself, I’m not going to last for long–and that would be a bummer, because I’d never find out what happens with Gayla.

So I took it into my head to publish as I go, rather than waiting (for what?) to finish this whole tale. Charles Dickens published many of his works as serial stories in the newspapers of his day… I’m no Charles Dickens, but I do have this great medium we call the internet. So here we are.

And I have an idea that blogging about the book as I write it (and as readers receive it) might provide some interesting introspection into my own writing process–so I’m hoping this becomes bigger than just the book.

All that said… I’m launching this book. Before it’s anywhere close to finished. As of this writing I’m at 67,636 words–and I’m not posting all of those today. But I’ll start with Book One and a teaser to Book Two, and I’ll invite you along for the ride. Along for the read.

And none of this is set in stone (I go back to edit as I get to know Gayla and her story) so I very much welcome critique and feedback. In fact, I’m more interested in what doesn’t work than what does–because that’s what’s useful to a writer. I’d love to see my online community function like a larger version of the “workshop” classes I took for my Creative Writing degree. I’d love to grow in my craft and become a better writer. I’d love to see where this story takes me. Will you sail with me? It’s a free book… if you have patience to wait for an ending!

Time & Tide

whale tail

Posted in Lists

Drawing up a gratitude list 

November is a popular month for gratitude, given the holiday that’s named for the emotion, but my motivation this year is a little different. I’m grateful that October is over! “Isn’t that the same thing as being-in-November?” you ask reasonably. Well, not precisely. 

The thing is, almost every major Drama, Trauma, and Tragedy in my life has happened in an October–leaving me with a superstitious fear of a “cursed” month. Add in the fact that those events (ranging from loss of a job to loss of a spouse, from severe complications of childbirth to last year’s vacation in a psych ward) have left me with a lot of unpleasant “anniversaries” in October–and it’s just a rough month. 

I literally spent the month praying that I could get to November 1 without anything awful happening–aware that if I did, it would be the first time in about a decade.

It happened! I broke the streak and got all the way through October without an Awful Event of any kind. I’m very nearly giddy over it. And helping with that reaction is the fact that I got my mental-health meds adjusted a couple weeks ago, after realizing I was on a downward slide toward Depression. I’m emerging from the haze of lethargy and indifference and feeling increasingly like ME again. (Witness the fact that I’m back here writing again–a silent blog is a danger sign with me.)

All that said… I’ve been on a sketching-kick, specifically a gratitude list. So although I’m usually one to express myself with words, today I’m offering my “gratitude album.”


I’m grateful for the man who married me. His voice puts a smile on my face, and his laugh lights my world. He has loved me (and prayed me) through some of my worst. It’s a joy and an honor to be “Mrs. Smith.”


I’m grateful for a job that keeps me challenged and interested, and where there’s room for growth.


I love RV-living, and our cozy little home. I’m grateful to live so comfortably!


I’m grateful for Vertical Church, and my church-family.


I’m grateful that I grew a pair of bright, vibrant, good-hearted people. (Readers, too.)


I’m grateful for modern medicine, and my mental-health meds!


I’m grateful for COFFEE!


I’m grateful to live in Idaho.


I’m grateful for my Ma, who has continued to love me no matter what.


I’m grateful for my teddy bear, Toots, who has been a comfort for more than four decades. (Here with Jon, who sewed Toots an Army outfit.)


I’m grateful for Open Adoption, and that the boy-I-grew has such a fabulous family.


I’m grateful for BOOKS!


I’m grateful to have my driver’s license back, and for the car Jon bought me when I got it back. I so appreciate being able to drive myself to appointments and work rather than hiking everywhere.


I’m grateful for open roads and motorcycles.


I’m grateful to be Sober! This is my owl-sticky-note marking my favorite page of the Big Book. “If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway through.”


I’m grateful for my health. Crohn’s Disease has been in remission for 16 years, and I’m healthier than I deserve to be, given my alcoholism. God is good.


I’m grateful for my great Sis, who shares many of my memories (and quite a few of my quirks). And a grand welcome this week to her new daughter!


I admit it–I’m grateful for my iPhone. 


I’m grateful for challenges–like learning to ride.


I’m grateful for seaside vacations!


I’m grateful for a guy who fixes things… and builds things, and COOKS things!


I’m grateful for FUN!


The back of Jon’s helmet is a reminder for the road-of-life… I’m grateful that God has ALWAYS had my back.

Posted in travel

Eels on the Highway and Other Adventures

Sunrise fishing… no hagfish please
Yesterday we took the motorcycle in the opposite direction up the Coastal Highway, heading north through Depoe Bay and Lincoln City, enjoying long stretches of beach views and cliffside oceanfront. And we’re glad we did it yesterday instead of today, because a friend just sent us a video posted by the Depoe Bay Fire Department—the aftermath this afternoon of an overturned truck full of eels! (Hagfish, actually—alternatively and accurately known as “slime eels.”) I’m pretty sure slime eels would be a traction-hazard on a motorcycle… Fortunately it’s all cleaned up now, because we’re planning one last jaunt to Depoe Bay tomorrow for another bowl of the world’s best clam chowder at Gracie’s Sea Hag… No hagfish-interference, we hope.

Crab pots at the stern
Today’s adventure didn’t involve any eels… And though it also didn’t end up involving the elusive salmon for which we had licenses, this sailboat-skipper was SO happy to be out on the water! I didn’t care at all that the boat had no sails, or that we had no salmon—I was just purely joyful with the motion of the water under us, the waves and the wake and the wind…

We gathered with a half-dozen other fishermen at the dock of Reel Deep Charters at 5:30 this morning, and motored out through barely-lit mist under the bay’s iconic bridge and past the jetties. 

And though the salmon didn’t cooperate, the crabs did. We dropped crab pots on the way out, and Jon hauled in our pair on the way back—hundred-pound pots with about 20 dungeness crabs each! We limited at twelve apiece, which is a LOT of fresh crab. 

We got our catch cooked and cleaned at the dock (our cast iron Dutch oven doesn’t begin to have the capacity for 24 crabs!) and we spent a couple hours this afternoon at our campsite picnic table, cracking crab claws (and taking “tastes”)… Crab dipped in garlic-butter for lunch, and crab-salad sandwiches for dinner!

We rounded out the day with a shell-collecting walk on the beach, and here I am, blogging again at the campfire. Feeling utterly Blessed to be enjoying the week we’re having.

Posted in People

Reasons

We ended up holding an impromptu Scuba-demo last night at our campsite… The same gaggle of youngsters who had gathered around our motorcycle a couple days earlier returned, drawn this time by our clothesline full of wetsuits and dive gear.

They were brimming with questions—what things we’ve seen diving, how we breathe underwater… So Jon pulled one of the air tanks back out of the truck, scooped up his regulator set, and hooked it all up to show the kids how it works. As they took wide-eyed turns breathing from the tank, I chatted with their mom, who had just as many questions as her kids.

img_4401In the course of conversation, I shared with her the comment from her son that made me grin the other day—that the reason he has to grow up is so he can get a motorcycle. Her answer gave me great pause. With an uplifted smile, she told me that he’s terminally ill, so she’s grateful for every reason he finds to fight.

What I had taken for a humorous kid-ism was in this case a literal truth. This little guy, all of five, is collecting reasons to grow up, because “growing up” isn’t a given. It’s a poignant reminder that really nothing is a given, even though we make assumptions about our futures… It’s a reminder to pay attention to all the reasons to enjoy today.

Posted in Motorcycle, travel

Enthusiasms

I love little kids’ enthusiasm for motorcycles, maybe because it so closely mirrors my own. Yesterday we were walking along Newport’s waterfront district, each of us with a helmet in one hand and a mocha from the Surf Shop in the other, when a little guy grabbed his mother’s hand and piped loudly, “Look, Mommy! Motorcycle-guys!” Back at camp a gaggle of youngsters approached our site to ask if they could look at the bike, and the youngest informed us gravely that the reason he has to grow up is so he can get a motorcycle.

Yesterday afternoon we took the bike for a long run down Coastal Highway 101—a wonderfully winding road weaving along the ocean’s edge with spectacular views of waves, cliffs, beaches, bridges… it’s the kind of road for which motorcycles are made

We stopped at the Sea Lion caves to stretch our legs and use the facilities, but declined to pay the exorbitant price tag to go gape at the animals. We’ve been doing pretty well with wildlife sightings on our own. Not long after we pulled out of that stop, a shadow caught my eye and I looked straight up (another advantage of bikes—the unimpeded view) at the underside of an eagle winging right over us with an auk in its talons!

Earlier in the morning we clambered out on the rocks below the lighthouse cliffs, poking around in the tide pools and admiring the low-tide look at marine life. It’s not the high season for whale migration past this coastline, so imagine our delighted surprise when a pair of gray whales surfaced just off our rocks, spouted, flicked their tails at us, and sank again… and three more times. (And I’m laughing to think that our excitement at spotting whales sounded an awful lot like that waterfront tyke’s excitement at spotting us… I guess “motorcycle guys” are a wildlife category in our own way.)

There’s something so much more satisfying about finding the critters in their actual habitat—I do enjoy the Oregon Coast Aquarium, but the real ocean is exponentially more amazing. And along those lines… Today was DIVE day!

Jon and I each have a lot of diving under our belts, but (thanks in part to my horrendous head-cold during last year’s visit to the coast) we hadn’t yet been diving together. “We’ll see how tough you really are,” he grinned at me this morning, over my pile of thick neoprene wetsuit, gloves, booties, and hood stacked on the dive-shop counter. As everyone seems to feel obliged to point out to us when we mention our dive plans, the water here on the Oregon Coast is cold

But oh so worth it. Our camp clothesline is festioned tonight with wetsuits and dive gear, and I’ve added a new memory of gliding hand-in-hand with Jon under the green water, fish darting away from us as we swam.

The South Beach fish market beckoned just before the turnout to our campground, luring us in for  fresh-caught fish and chips… and now we’re decompressing (literally, if you know diving) by the campfire. That’s a lot of enthusiasms indulged in the space of a couple days. My body is exhausted from surf and current—we’ll sleep well tonight!

Posted in travel

Reframing

The first glimpse of ocean is a spiritual moment, every time.

We made it as far as Bend, Oregon, last night before calling it quits and settling into a motel that was unquestionably clean, but quite questionably decorated… We walked this morning to a small diner for COFFEE (and ok, breakfast) and then hit the mountain roads to the coast and arrived at our Newport campground around lunchtime.

After offloading the motorcycle from its trailer, we got camp set up with semi-military precision (Jon being the “military ” half of that equation, and me being the “semi”)… And then we took out the bike!

Newport’s bridge is iconic to this area like the Golden Gate is to San Francisco, and I’ve always loved driving across it. But oh my gosh! It’s amazing how different the crossing is on a bike!

In a car or truck your view is constricted and framed, but on the bike you have the full 360 view at once—not to mention the unimpeded soundtrack and the full smell of ocean air. The marina of sailboats, the channel out to sea, the gulls, the returning fishing boats, the overarching green bridge structure—its all so much “closer” when you’re on a motorcycle. I tried to take a photo, but realized the photo has the same limitations as a windshield—only a fraction fits in the frame. So I have to leave this one to words.

I love experiencing something familiar in an entirely new way. Reframing an experience by losing the frame.

Dinner, fresh-caught!