Saturday, January 8, 2011

Getting to Know You--and Me

      I spend nights and weekends beginning the rough draft of my book with my university advisor's words echoing in my head in her quiet, faded German accent. Ursula Hegi was my instructor as well as my faculty advisor. She said once in class: "I typically edit each chapter of my books at least fifty times." The next time class met it was noticeably smaller, only ten of us. Her declaration cleared out dozens of students with grandiose ideas about the easy nature of writing which left a handful of students driven to the process of writing by our personal natures. 
      On one hand I wonder if I am up to this; on the other hand I feel I have no choice. I've survived a trial and there are others out there who might have need of what I know. Every week and month I don't work on the book draft I feel guilt. Friends, and the loved ones of friends, are diagnosed with cancer and some die as a result of the disease or the treatments.
     Often cancer is also disease of the emotions as well as the physical body. Many cancer patients find they must face their deepest emotional issues in order to get better.  
     I look back at my personal cancer blog exactly a year ago: It has been one of the most difficult years of my life. I thought facing cancer and death and pain was tough. I thought having found a treatment that works for me would mean my life would be okay. I never reckoned on having to face a year of "checking out" while a starving nine year old drove my bus. And boy was she pissed. She didn't like the Gerson therapy diet and like many abused children she was angry all the time, and mean when food plans were thwarted.     
      I finally wrestled this broken part of my psyche to the ground three weekends ago...something I read...clicked into place and the starving nine year finally listened when I said, "If we keep this up we will die, and sooner not later." She finally heard me. She only fought for her food as a means of staying alive and staying in control. Amazing what happens when we finally get it that our survival mechanisms are actually outmoded and they are backfiring—on all cylinders--bringing us closer to death instead of life.
     Now I think I can follow the Gerson diet, and even allow myself to feel hunger without her rage rising up in me and obliterating my consciousness. I go to bed feeling happy and at peace, and I get up the same way.
     I am making plans for future endeavors. Most of all I am filled with a peace and certainty about myself and my life that has been missing for most of it.
     I don’t want to go back into therapy. I don’t want to endlessly discuss and dissect my childhood. I don’t want to go back there. It fills me with so much dread and anxiety to consider it, my chest hurts.
     My life now is a very good place to be. That I made it from there to here is a miracle. That I did so while raising two children who are amazing people, and fairly well functioning, loving, smart, funny women is nothing short of amazing. I didn’t become an alcoholic. I didn’t become a child abuser. I didn’t recycle my pain into endless relationships with men, looking for someone to save me from myself. I am broken, but I am not non-functioning. I am always going to be broken in places but in others I am beginning to heal. The realization of all of this fills me with a crazy kind of joy; Snoopy dancing joy! I exist. I am alive. I did my work and I continue to do my work although it probably seems like a snail’s pace to those who do therapy for a living.
     On the narrow boat front I subscribe to Canal Boat Magazine and Waterways World. I also donate a modest sum to the Inland Waterways Association and subscribe to their electronic newsletter. The IWA is a national charity run by volunteers which works to ensure the maintenance and restoration of U.K. waterways. I find Narrow Boat World--Voice of the Waterways, and Towpath Talk, the free waterways newspaper. 
     Waterways World or "WW" has a handy feature under the Advice section of their website: a boat planner! Over a period of months I create no less than 26 iterations of my narrow boat plans. The length of my boat goes from 62 feet to 58 feet on the advice of Dear Sir on NB Valerie. The layout changes with suggestions from Mo on NB Balmaha.
      I settle finally on a square trad stern, reverse layout (galley at the rear near the stern--cabin or bedroom at the front near the bow); engine/wet room with cassette toilet in a thunder box for visitor's use only; galley with a Heritage Uno diesel cook stove with boiler attached on a timer to produce heat for the radiators; solid fuel stove in the saloon (living room); walk through bathroom with a composting toilet and washer/dryer; 8 foot bow. After trying on many names to fit, I choose NB Spellbound.
     Meanwhile Dear Sir and I send dozens of emails back and forth, discussing the unusually brutal European winter weather which has locked boats tight in the iced-in canals, and slowly we begin getting to know one another. 
From: Jaqueline Almdale
To: Les Biggs
Subject: Happy New Year
Date: Thursday, 7 Jan 2010
 Hello Les, 
     I've been following the BBC coverage of the worst winter storm to hit the U.K. in thirty years. I haven't seen any activity on your blog so I wanted to check in, to see how you are doing. I hope you are warm and well. How is your back holding up? I hope your holiday was jolly.
Trad stern
     I've made some basic choices regarding my boat. Trad stern, reverse layout, hospital silencer on the engine, and a bow thruster, which I know isn't necessary but since I will be single handing it I thought it might provide me with a bit of ease, especially for long reverses. Pine interior. 
     I spent time reading a marine engine manual the other night to learn about keel cooled engines, wet exhaust vs. dry exhaust, and engine mounted vs. remote heat exchangers.  If you have any thoughts on these items I'd be delighted to hear them. Stay warm!
Happy New Year, 
Cloudhouse USA
"Dear Sir"
From: Les Biggs
To: Jaqueline Almdale
Subject: RE: Happy New Year
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 2010
Hi Jaqueline,
     First wishing you a happy new year and hoping you achieve all you desire in 2010.  My back troubles are now thankfully in the past and have been replaced by a slight sore throat but I'm a boater so I'll survive. Must get back to blogging although being frozen in with no chance of a move for as least a week if the forecasts are to be believed there is not a lot to blog. 
     Looking at your boats specs it seems you are getting serious about boating. Good luck and go for it. NB Valerie is a semi-trad stern but design is a matter of choice and each has its benefits.
TRAD (stern), not much room to stand on back when cruising (2 people) but more of boat is enclosed giving dry storage. 
semi-trad stern
     SEMI, opposite of above with room for at lease 4 guests to keep me company while cruising and only storage is 2 outside lockers.
   CRUISER, very large back deck with lots of room for guests plus lockers but downside is that there will be less inside cabin space. I think mine is a good compromise as i don't want to lose living space but still want guests to be able to come out back when cruising.
    Modern boat engines are dry exhaust mostly as the muck in the canals can block the filter on the water inlet to the engine so being keel cooled eliminates this problem.
     The Mitsubishi engine i have is usually fitted with a heat exchanger and wet exhaust when used in seagoing vessels but mine is adapted for canal use and the hot engine water is pumped through the calorifier (hot water tank) so providing domestic hot water and boy does it get hot The main cooling for the engine is water passing through the keel tank cooled by the outside canal water and returning to the engine.
     Bow thrusters are boy's toys; ok they are very handy to have but to be honest the expense is not in my opinion worth it and i can honestly say that in 4yrs it would have been used a dozen times but as i'm still here it wasn't critical.
     Well i might just do a blog the next day or so to let folks know all is well but it will be difficult to keep it up while stuck in one place as people won't want to read boring details of what i did all day.  Well if they do then i don't want to write it. 
All the best
    After reading through his blog posts and comments from friends and family I begin to develop a sense of Dear Sir's character. The fact he is held in high esteem by Sue on NB No Problem is an invaluable inference regarding his kindhearted and fun loving nature. His children and grandchildren obviously adore him to bits judging from their comments on his blog.
     We share bits and pieces about our grandchildren, and what we've done for a living over the years. He was self-employed as a courier. Before earning my university degree I worked as a licensed hair stylist and make-up artist, tended bar, waitressed as a Harvey Girl, cleaned fish in a cold storage processing plant, delivered newspapers, cleaned hotel rooms and airplanes, and searched for bombs aboard planes at Anchorage International Airport in the 70's.
From: Jaqueline Almdale
To: Les Biggs
Subject: RE: Happy New Year
Date: Tue, 12 Jan 2010
     Thanks for your reply. You’ve helped me begin to figure out what to pay attention to and what not to waste my time with. The only thing about bows that ever jumps up at me is “the Josher bow.” Have you any other bow configurations I might investigate? I’ve been told that the Josher bow takes room away from the interior. 

     I absolutely am serious about this venture. I’ve begun the research for my book and rough draft writing begins this weekend. Waterways World has a design feature at their website and I’ve made use of it...I’ve also begin a subscription to Canal Boat Magazine. I’m logged into the Canal World Forums and I am learning tons from the forum discussions.  
     I downloaded Google Earth to my computer and I can actually zoom down and see the NB’s on the canals and follow each canal route! My boat has a name now, and my life has a passion that was lacking until I discovered narrow boats and the canals of England. 
     I appreciate the time you’ve spent answering my emails, and posting your blogs. Each NB blog has its own flavor. I did mean what I said in my previous email Les, you are quite a good writer; your writing style is natural—warm, unpretentious, and it brings the reader along as if they were right there on the stern of your boat with you. I agree with you: hold out until you feel you have something worthwhile to say. 
     I am not in the habit of offering invitations to men I haven’t met, to drop in for a visit, but I feel you are a safe person. I have a huge place: three bedrooms, two baths, a master wing at one end and two bedrooms and a guest bath at the other end. I have visitors come to stay as they pass through on their way to and from Seattle, Montana, and back East.  
     Should you find yourself in this neck of the woods via Las Vegas, before I find myself on the are welcome here any time. I just wanted to reassure you I am not 1) a wack job; 2) looking for a husband, or 3) an immigration marriage!  
     I am unconventional, happily single for twenty five years and planning to stay that way, and a fiercely independent spirit. I’ve found all three to be an advantage. 
Kind regards, 
Cloudhouse USA

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