into the wind

In middle school, just as I was starting to do my bangs, go to country club dances, shave my legs and shower daily, my parents got a new hobby. They could not just play golf or redecorate like some of the other parents I knew. Instead, they bought a boat.
A really big boat.
The kind that slept six, had a full kitchen, bathroom and even a decent sized shower.
Most tweens would probably be thrilled that for all practical purposes their family owned a yacht, but unless it came with it’s own personal hot tub I was not impressed.

 This is also a good time to mention that my parents knew almost nothing about sailing and that I really did not like the weekend jaunts down to Kemah that kept me away from my very own phone line that boys were so not calling me on…(but a girl could dream).

Almost every weekend as long as the weather was nice and there was decent wind we would head south.  I’d go down below while my parents checked lines and sails and located the winch.  I read books or the latest YM while they navigated us out of the ship channel and into the Gulf of Mexico.  If I was a little less moody that day I’d climb up on the mast and nestle myself on top of the main sail and wave coolly at all the people sipping beers and eating oysters on the boardwalk.

My parents subscribed to sailing magazines, read books got tips from friends and probably spend my inheritance at Boat US. All I wanted was a cute pair of deck shoes and to work on my tan. The learned the lingo and somehow managed to navigate the boat back into the slip at the marina week after week with very few major mishaps. Occasionally we’d lose a hat (and once even my retainer) overboard or break a line but there were never any crashes or shipwrecks. There were the occasionally storms and close calls…but we all got our sea legs and despite my best intentions I occasionally didn’t hate it.  I love the sea and the salt and watching the boat cut swiftly through the water.  I especially liked the quiet of a sailboat. Just the wind and the waves and my parents in the background cussing at each other to clean up their lines.

Most of the lingo was lost on me and to this day I couldn’t tell you the difference between port and starboard. With a few tries I can tie a decent cleathitch. But a few words I learned fast were jibe and tack. Jibing and tacking are maneuvers to help you turn the boat either into or away from the wind. It is a quick 45 degree turn that I don’t know the first thing about. I do know this, before you do it the crew (read—my parents) must announce “ready to jibe” then to be followed up by “jibing” or my personal favorite “jibe ho” because then the boom (mainsail) would slam (and I do mean slam) across the boat …taking out anyone in its way. At the age of 12 I was an expert at turning out my parents and getting lost in my magazine or cranking up my discman ….but after learning the hard way once or twice I always heard these commands.

My parents don’t sail anymore. Instead with a slew of grandchildren they traded in their mainsails for a lakehouse with a much smaller more manageable party boat. I’ve tried to take that boat out a few times without my parents or husband around to help and I’m sure anyone watching has gotten a good laugh. Usually it is with friends who are even more clueless than me. We almost always have to ask for help and there is usually a few panicked phone calls made.  Trying to get the boat back in the slip or even worse into the pier at Starbucks is a really good show for anyone watching.  I can barely park my car without backing into things (ok, I can’t) so a boat is like me trying to back an 18 wheeler into a compact space. Some of my friends have seen this first hand and still talk about it.
If there is even the teensiest wind….I won’t even consider it. I tell my friends or kids to make do with the kayak. Or hit the pool.

It has not escape my notice that some of the sailboats my parents have owned were significantly larger than this little boat that I refuse to drive or park or fill up with gas if anyone is so much as breathing heavy in my presence. Their much larger sailboats with a much smaller engines were designed for windy days. For the sails to fill up and to cut through the water faster than I can cruise the lake in a pontoon boat.

Funny thing about a sailboat, you can not actually sail directly into the wind.
If your destination is into the wind you must criss-cross back and forth tacking and jibing across the water. Modern sailboats can only sail into the wind at best in 45 degree angles and it takes several tacks to keep your boat on course. To get where you want to go you have to keep turning and to keep enough wind in your sails.
And like anything in life the wind is liable to change at any moment.

 I am not a huge planner, but occasionally try to be a grown up and map out some goals. Places I’d like to see myself in a few years. Things I want for my family. Things I want to accomplish. Dreams I want to stop talking about and pursue.
And as I set out along that path what I am hoping will be a nice easy straight line course.
But so often I get distracted.
Or something gets in the way.
Or the wind changes.

I don’t quit things easily and I am a distance runner, but when it is personal I often get discouraged or disheartened or wonder if I am even aiming in the right place.
I haven’t been sailing in probably 15 years, but I have been trying to remember some of the things I learned on those boats.
Keep turning.
Not many things in life are straight lines.
It is hard and not so healthy to go directly into the wind. Into the struggle.
Occasionally I might need to jump ship, but more often than not I just need to make a hard tack.

Just watch out for the boom.


I am an Olympic junkie.
Every two years I catch myself watching hours of sporting events I could care less about (curling, is just really cold bowling and you would never catch me watching that on TV) and cheering on athletes I have never heard of. Sometimes they aren’t even from my own country. For example, my favorite this year is the 44 year old brick layer from Nepal that took off 4 months to train in cross country skiing. The guy predicts he will come in last place.  The guy doesn't even care because he is there. He makes me want to pull a Tonya Harding and take out all the other cross country skiers without day jobs so he can at least come in 16th or something.  Regardless, I will be right there on my couch cheering for him.  The Olympics with their heartache and story pull me in. And I just can’t help but watch….even ice dancing. Before last night I didn’t even know that “twizzle” was a thing.  Now I’m pretty sure I’ll be dropping that word next time I see someone make a spin move in the hall. I’m even rooting for Bob Costas’s eye to get better.
For the last few nights I have sat on my couch, eaten carrot cake, poured myself a single glass of wine, graded a few papers and watched the best athletes in the world fly down mountains, skate a million times around a track (this event put me to sleep a little…if you want me to watch speed skating…Apollo Ono and his hot little soul patch is going to have to get back in that spandex suit), and about a million twizzles too many. I’ve learned what a “holy crail” is and that Andorra is actually a country and not a sweater. There is something magical about the world’s most elite athletes all in one tiny little place sharing bathrooms without stall doors and giving all they have got for things they have trained for since they were tiny. Even the commercials seem to inspire me to be more than I am.
Yet. I. still. Just. Sit. There. On. My. Couch.
Watching other people do amazing things, and I consider having another piece of cake. Or pouring another glass of wine. and grading those papers tomorrow. Or never.
Thinking to myself that I could win a gold medal in procrastination.

When I was young I remember just wanting to be really good at one thing. Something to make me stand out. Something that was just mine. My brother was an impressive trumpet player. My sister was graduating early on her way to her doctorate in things I can barely pronounce. They were just a few years behind each other in high school and mostly did the same things. Had the same teachers and a few of the same friends and went to the same college. I was many years down the road. A “surprise” my mom called it. I have always been a black sheep. But mostly it was that I didn’t want to compete with them. I wanted to be different.
I remember very early on, trying to find my thing.
When I was little my mom put me in dance.  I quit because it was too hard. (read –even at five I knew I danced like Eleine from Seinfeld and to this day HATE wearing anything that resembles pantyhose.)  I insisted that gymnastics was my thing. But. I am not all that flexible and the floor routines seemed an awful lot like the dance classes I pulled out of. My brother could draw pretty well, but my pictures required captions.  So I read, and went to tennis lessons and practiced my violin and did my homework. Feeling horribly ordinary.

I was a smart kid. But not the smartest kid.
I was a good musician. But not the best.
I was a below average athlete that had somehow been let on the team.

Looking back, I was near the very top of my very large high school class.
Musically, I sat at the front and made regionals every year even when I quit trying.
I was actually a below average athlete, but I worked hard, and not only made the team but started. (this had more to do with the fact that we stunk and that I tried really hard than possessed any actual skill. Occasionally hustle wins out to actual talent or will make do when you are short an outside midfielder or need a tennis player that isn’t afraid to rip her windsuit digging for a ball that should be out of her reach).
I have a box in my parent’s attic full of trophies, medals, Varsity letters, award certificates, straight A report cards, SAT scores to be jealous of and handfuls of scholarship offers to disprove this lie of ordinary. I believed it anyways.
Somehow. I let myself think that I was average simply because I wasn’t the best.
It is a lie that doesn’t die easily.

When I went off to college, as far away as I possibly could with my parents permission. I continued to try a million different things. I guess still hoping to find my talent.
I bought a guitar.
I tried out for the club soccer team.
I joined a sorority.
I changed majors.
I joined clubs and organizations and made friends with as many different kinds of people that I could.
And occasionally I even went to class.
Sometimes a little work ethic would kick in and I’d practice hard. Getting calluses on my fingers, higher test scores and make it through a game without getting winded.
But. then I’d get distracted.
My bag cell phone would ring and that was the end of my devotion to being the best at anything. Or getting a 4.0.
At 20 I’d always drop what I was doing to meet someone for coffee, or a beer, or get a new tattoo. And I can say pretty much the exact same thing today.

These days I run. And like everything in life it goes in phases. Right now is too cold, but when the weather warms up I’ll log a lot more miles and hopefully fit back into my pants again.  I like to sign up for races because clearly, I have made the point that I am not intrinsically motivated. I need a goal. A push. A hefty half marathon fee to keep me training. If I have someone to beat or keep up with I do even better. Some of the longer races give out medals to finishers at the end. I bring these home and my kids always ask me if I won. I tell them I finished…and that plenty of people don’t do that. It isn’t winning but it is still an accomplishment. I do not race to win. I race to finish. And to eat whatever I want afterwards.
But still sometimes I think it would be nice to win.
To be really good at something.
To have my 15 minutes or turn on the podium.
I may not be all that driven, but I am at least competitive.
Usually in a race I pick out someone I want to try and keep up with or beat. Like an 80 year old man, or an 8 month pregnant woman or anyone with a good 60 lbs on me.  What can I say, I like to push myself.
But last fall, I picked out a girl that was super in shape and decided to see if I could keep up with her. She was a cross fit junkie and I’m sure could do burpies around me but at the beginning of the race I wasn’t too far behind her. So despite the heat, and despite the fact that she was going way faster than my normal 9-10 minute mile I kept up. (well, if by keeping up you mean I could see her somewhere along the horizon).  Somewhere after the first mile I wished that I had eaten more than a bowl of special K for breakfast and had hydrated better than a cup of coffee. But I kept going because it was only a few miles. And this cross fit girl was going down. (and by going down I mean I would only finish a few minutes behind her). I rarely have the drive and commitment of a real athlete and am certainly not enough in tune with my body to know its limits.  Despite the fact that I ran 4X that far the weekend before, I could not have been happier to see the finish line.  I should mention that this race was at the school I teach at and sponsored by the cross country team (kids and coaches I see EVERY. SINGLE. DAY). Cross fit girl won out, but for the heat I clocked a pretty decent time.  Kids and coaches were high fiving me and I tried desperately to not act like I felt like I might die right then if I didn’t get some water in me stat.  Without any kind of warning I felt the flood gates open.  Hot warm pee was running down my leg as my students congratulated me for what they pretty much consider a warm up run.  I have heard real racers say that it isn’t a good race if you don’t wet your pants but I have never understood that. There is no time I need to beat that would stop me from peeing in a proper bathroom or at least a port a potty. But it turns out that there is no choice. When you push your body to the point of overheating and exertion there are not enough kegals in the world to stop the puddle from pooling in my ankle socks.
A real athlete would have been proud.
This girl, who was exhausted and was afraid she could not move one more step, did an all out sprint to the car.
Confirming in my heart of hearts that some of us were made to push ourselves to the point of gold.
Others watching on the couch.

My husband has tried to teach me a few of “his” things.
How to ski, how to play golf, and how to fly fish.
I imagined these would be bonding moments and things we could do together as we grew old.
Instead they mostly turned into big crazy fights.
I don’t give a crap about keeping my knees together or going around moguls. I just wanted to make it down the mountain in one piece without blowing out my other knee. I love to ski, but I don’t care how clean my lines are.  Golf is ok. I really like driving the carts and there is something incredibly satisfying about smacking the crap out of a tiny ball, but our golf lessons never went well. Apparently teachers do not like to be taught.  And even though I am a city girl, I know how to bait my own hook and my brother at least tried to teach me how to properly filet a fish with an electric knife. But I’ll take a worm, a book and a nice folding chair any day over all those complicated flies. And whipping back and forth.
My husband likes to do things well. The right way. Part of the fun for him is getting better at it. Getting it right.
The fun for me is in the doing. And I don’t mind doing them wrong as long as I get to play. I don’t need to come in first place. I just really don’t like coming in last. And I’d rather not wet my pants in public ever again. Not even for a gold medal.
And I’m pretty sure that no Olympian has ever said that.
Except maybe the brick layer from Nepal who doesn't mind coming in last place.