Monday, August 2, 2010

On Getting Away

JAN: I've been rewriting a novel that I first wrote at a time when I was doing a lot of sailing and it has a lot of sailing scenes that bring me back to that time in my life. I was never very mechanical and had no natural instincts for sailing. And I sure as hell couldn't find my way home in a storm, as they say. But I loved sailing anyway, and I loved it for this reason.

On a sailboat, you have to be both spare and neat. You only bring the things you really need, and everything, from the winch to the corkscrew, to the pots and pans, has to go back in its place immediately after use.

That I found this so appealing is odd because I'm not a put-it-back-in-its-place kind of gal. I'm much more likely to get distracted halfway through any task and leave all important tools on the counter. I make big messes and clean them up afterward.

But NEVER on a sailboat.

So I've come to think, what I like most about travel -- whether its on a sailboat in Buzzards Bay, an apartment in Aix-En-Provence or a hotel room in Manhattan -- getting away from my stuff. I'm not sure whether it's the stuff itself, or the excess of stuff- but I'm pretty sure that's part of the appeal.

So that's what I think I'm getting away from, but I'm curious, about the rest of you going off on vacation; What is at the heart of your "getting away?"

HANK: Oh, first let me just say. Sailing. I really wanted to do it, so I took lessons in Boston Harbor.
Okay, the instructor said. Point the bow of the boat into the wind.
How do I know which way that is?I asked.
The guy looked a little baffled. You don't know how to tell which way the wind is blowing?

Hank: Well, if it's from the north, say, does that mean its blowing FROM the north? Which to me would mean it's blowing south. Or does it mean it's blowing TO the north? Like, from the south?
Guy: Huh?
Hank: Besides, the wind is all around us, right?

My lessons did not last long.
Getting away? Ah. Very difficult for me.

ROBERTA: Ha, ha Hank you're hysterical. That may have been the last lesson that guy ever taught! I don't mind riding on a sail boat, but don't put me in charge. And only in good weather, which I think kind of defeats the purpose for real sailors, right?

This is not what you asked, but Jan, I have to speak to the luggage/stuff question. I recently bought a new suitcase because the carry-on luggage rules are getting so strict. Nothing worse than trying to jam a too-large suitcase into the overhead compartment with the whole airplane watching. And I'm short so I have to be sure I can hoist the weight overhead--you simply can't (and shouldn't) count on some other passenger to do it for you. Anyway, this new bag is small enough to fit any regulations. I tried it out when I went to visit my family in Florida recently--oh I felt so smug in comparison to the travelers with too much baggage. I don't know how it will work on our real vacation, which is coming up in September. Maybe if I adhered to the "six items of clothing" rule that we've been reading about recently.

And I'm looking forward to getting away--it's very hard to have a real break in this day and age of super-connectedness!

RHYS: Sailing--love it in good weather. I'd never make a round-the-world race. I like being dry and warm. I had crewed on and off but never taken a bota out alone. I did that in Cancun once. Ah, the feeling of power and accomplishment knowing that I was in charge of tis boat, I could go where I wanted and I brought it back safely to the harbor. It was a huge confidence booster.

But what am I getting away from? I'm afraid it nearly always comes with me. I'd like to take a break from writing but on my current schedule there is never time so the computer is on my desk in Nice today and I have to find time to do my five pages. And I can't seem to get away from email either. And have you noticed--whenever you're away the most importnat, compelling emails start arriving. The kind that says, "We must know today whether you'd like to speak at this incredicbily prestigious event and what your topic will be!" When I'm home it's days of boring emails. Vacation and it's stress filled emails every day! I think they just wait and hold them up for my vacations.

HALLIE: As someone who learned the meaning of "Coming about!" the hard way, I am so not into boats. Terra firma, all the way for me. But what an interesting question - do we like to go on vacation to get away from our stuff. Uh...I like to get away from everyone else's stuff (which they leave ALL OVER THE HOUSE except where it belongs), but not mine (which is always in perfect order). It's an "eye of the beholder" thing.

We just got back from Greece and I have to say I loved getting away from the all things telephone and Internet because day to day I am so addicted.

JAN: Hank and Hallie, it doesn't sound as if you got to the part of sailing when you reach the next harbor at sunset and have cocktails in the cockpit and fresh lobster boiled in seawater after. That makes it easier to put up with all that hauling up lines and coming about.

And although I've sailed a Sunfishes by myself, Rhys, it sounds like you have superior sailing skills.

ROSEMARY: I'm so used to my telephone not working that staying connected is not really an issue for me. I do love to check emails though. It's as if I think Russell Crowe is suddenly going to get in touch. "In town for the weekend..fancy a pint?"

On driving vacations I throw as much stuff in the car as I can. Think Thelma and Louise ("but we might need a gun...") Driving from one place to another it's comforting to have that box of cereal or extra jacket in the car. On most other trips I pride myself on packing light. Anyone who's ever met me at a show can attest I don't mind wearing the same outfit a few times. If I change my shoes or earrings I can convince myself it's different.

When I go to Africa I bring very little since I'll be hauling my bag all over the back of beyond. That's liberating. Interestingly enough the Blackberry works in the hut where I usually stay. No electricity, no running water, but if Russell emails, I'm ready.

I'm packing now for a hiking/camping trip to Montana next week. I've managed to convince my husband that we don't need to pack the water purification kit or the campstove. That's getting away - although Leslie W., one of my NE sisters in Crime will be in a cabin not far away so we'll try to connect. What are the odds, right?

JAN: So it sounds a little like Rosemary might be getting away from her stuff, too. How about the rest of you out there, when you are getting away, what are you getting away FROM?


  1. Hank, I can’t believe you asked the same question that I did just a month ago to my husband, who reacted in the same manner. But it is an essential question. Men take things at face value. Woman, who are categorized as not being mechanical, are less cock-sure of themselves so they go through the logic. We don’t make assumptions, proving we’re more Zen then men. The label, “northeast” wind could mean that the wind is coming from the northeast, which would push water to the southwest or going to the northeast, pushing water in the same direction. It’s not a dumb question because we are just defining our terms, and when sailing the answer is important. We could understand everything, but get the entire thing backward. We also understand that it’s a fundamental concept to understanding the rest of it, like what leeward means. What men don’t understand is that we have to dance backwards if we want to dance at all. In sailing we just happen to be dancing in the same direction.
    What I get away from: Northern Virginia.

  2. I learned to sail at the Jersey shore, a long time ago, which may explain why I was brave (or stupid) enough to sail halfway across Lake Champlain in a Sunfish with a friend when we were sixteen. Whoever patrols the lake pulled up to us to check if we were all right, but we must have convinced them that we knew what we were doing (questionable!) and let us go on our way. We got back to shore without mishap, with sunburned knees.

    When I thing of "away" I think of Ireland. The whole pace of life there is different. I'm trying to find a way to work in a couple of weeks there in the spring--as soon as I find out where they have wi-fi. I hear there are Starbucks now...

  3. Sheila,
    I'm impressed. Across Lake Champlain in a SUNFISH?? Wow.

    E.B. I never thought of equating ballroom dancing (which I'm learning now with my husband) with sailing, but I love your point. YES, we are the ONES who have to dance backwards. At least most of the time.


  4. I don't think of it as "getting away from" as "going to" so I guess that means getting away from the routine and familiar.

  5. My hub and the girls and I just returned from a vacation in KY (which sounds incredibly un-exotic compared to those of you doing Africa, Nice and Greece). I like getting away from routines--work, exercise, kid schedules. We had ice cream for breakfast one day, watched our first polo match (our next door neighbor was a professional polo player and invited us), and had views of grazing Thoroughbreds from every window in the old stone farmhouse. Relaxing!

  6. Roberta, I also got a very cool little carry-on suitcase before the trip to Morroco, that I can also hoist up there (being a scant 5'1"). It's of a lightweight unrippable (so they say) fabric. I managed to get everything in it, too. Like Rosemary, though, when I drive somewhere, I always overpack.

    I think a change of scenery, literally and figuratively, is restorative. Of course there're also old friends/family to visit and new things to learn. But just the business of breathing different air is a good thing.

    (And yes, Hank, that was a Very Funny story!)


  7. I love sailing. I grew up near the Chesapeake Bay. My dad loves it too, but my mom HATES sailing. She and my sisters would go shopping while my dad and I would sail.

    We usually sailed small boats, but one time my dad and I "sailed" a Catamaran, dumbest idea for a boat. Let's strap a piece of tarp between two floats, stick a sail on top, and call it a boat. Dad flipped it (he was so embarrassed) and we could never get it righted again. A guy had to come and rescue us. I can't remember how he got the boat back.

    Mom couldn't stop laughing.

  8. I'm jealous of all you old salts. The only time I'm on the water I'm in a kayak. That's when you really pack light.

  9. OH, so funny!(And E.B., that's pretty interesting.) What's more--if the sailing teacher had said: Point the bow in the direction that blows your hair back and out of your face--the same thing you do when you're on camera doing a live shot--that would have been NO PROBLEM.

  10. Melissa, your story reminds me of my brother's hobycat. He took me out in Chesapeake Bay and wanted to show his stuff by getting the boat up on one pontoon. of course I was terrified and then mad as hops when he tipped us over into the drink...

  11. I don't know Laura, Kentucky and all those horses grazing sounds pretty good to me. Also exotic for an Easterner like me.

    Melissa - I started sailing on big boats -- which required too much strength for me to hoist sales or feel like I had any control -- and was thrilled to get a chance to sail a smaller boat, where you could really feel the wind, and control the rudder and sails. We gave up our sailboat when we had kids and my husband eventually boat a motor boat, which I hated.

    Gene - I think for me getting away from the familiar, is a little bit like getting away from who I am in those routines and surroundings.

  12. Oh, Jan, ballroom dancing is so much fun! My husband gave me (and him) lessons as a birthday present - he learned to lead and I learned to follow. It was very enlightening for us both.

    The last 3 times I was on a sailboat, the 'skipper' assured us that it 'couldn't capsize' - twice it did, the third time it got stuck in shallows and we had to walk out.

  13. ..I don't think I'm going sailing with Hallie..

  14. Okay, I love to go sailing. The problem is this: when I get into that rocking motion, that drifting on the sea thing, my mind starts doing the same thing. Pretty soon, I'm in the Twilight Zone but have no idea where I am--as in, where I am in relation to the shore. So I HAVE to keep within sight of a land marker, otherwise, I'd be writing this from somewhere in the Somoan Islands.