Listen to Pilot Light

Friday, December 11, 2015

Starting the Adventure

The first step in starting down a new path isn't necessarily dramatic from the outside, even if it is emotionally significant. And so it is with our new adventure. In this case, the first thing that we needed was money. So we put the house on the market. The realtor, Patrick, came over and we did the paperwork. Not much can happen until it sells, but a lot of things need to be put into motion. We can't control whether the house sells, or how soon, but we can put it on the market. And we did.

The paperwork is done, the commitment made, and we have started talking to people about selling off the power tools, furniture, Dagny's art (contact me if you are interested) and whatever won't fit in the van. It's a great van, but not a tardis, and will have less room than we have in our ultimate boat. But it has to be done.

Onward and upward.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

An Unquenchable Lust for Sailing

It was fifteen years ago that we moved off our boat, HDML 1001, aka Float Street. She was a warship and a lovely, but decaying boat home. Before living on her, we lived on a junk, called Gambic, in Hong Kong. We loved boat life, but for a number of reasons that were true enough back then, when we left Float Street behind, we thought we were through with sailing. 

Float Street in Venezuela

Life changes. We (I, in particular) aren't good at routine. When we sink into routines, we feel ourselves ossify. We don't like feeling ossification as it diminishes us. I, in particular, don't thrive well in an existence of routine. I've never tolerated an office-hour life well. I've done it, and found it painful. That doesn't mean I'm good at avoiding routine, just that I suffer considerably from falling into them.

We moved back to Silver City from Cambodia about three years ago with the idea that we had finally settled on a place. We wouldn't move again. We'd travel, but not uproot ourselves. After all, we knew why we'd come back. We knew the place well. We knew both its limits and its benefits to us. And we were right. About the place. Not about settling.

But life changes. Goals change. Four days ago, over breakfast, Dagny looked at me with a somewhat puzzled expression and told me she'd ben thinking about living on a boat. We talked about the change of heart, her motivations and such, but mostly we talked about the possibilities (and difficulties) of living on a boat. During the next three days we tried to find good reasons to write that off as a bad, impractical idea. Well, boats are impractical, and we are pragmatic people. But our lives are not practical things to be managed and desire is a power of its own. As a result, the more we worked to convince ourselves what a bad idea it was, the more excited we became about doing it. We discovered that we had suppressed our love of living on a boat, but that the love for the life, the lust for the feeling of living at anchor (we were seldom in marinas) hadn't been quenched. We found ourselves physically craving it.

Over the next three days following Dagny's epiphany, we formed a strategy and an intention. In the process, the specifics of reaching our goal changed several times but the rather simple, and somewhat open-ended intention of moving from a fixed abode on shore to living full time on a boat sharpened into a workable, or at least an exciting, strategy. First, we are going to sell our house. This morning I'll call a broker or two and have them give us an estimate of what we can get for it as is. We don't intend to fix it up or do much to it. That's for the buyer to do. It's an old adobe, nearly 100 years old, and it has character. That will have to do. We will price it to sell.

We have our white Nissan van that Dagny christened Moby, and fixed up for camping. While we sell the house, she'll finish off Moby's cabinetry. When the house sells we will head off to visit family and friends, and then turn south, driving to Central America, where we will buy a boat, fix it up, move aboard and sell the van.

Simple, right?

Of course, intentions and reality often collide. The veneer of simplicity will crumble as it always does. We can't afford a fancy boat, but we have skills. We also have time, because hunting for the right boat will be part two of the adventure. Once we are on board, a new adventure begins.

This time our moving will be irreversible. For our last moves we had a property manager rent out our house, and it was there, welcoming, when we wanted to return from an adventure. Now we are cutting that tie and moving on to... something else.

So the inexorable change officially begins now. I intend to chronicle the adventures, posting as things happen, as we move from one phase to the next. Like many of the best things in life, the outcome is uncertain; like all good quests, only the intention can be controlled. It should prove interesting. 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Arguing with Einstein

Years ago I had a friend who was not a well-known figure, but a great man in the sense that his visions, and some of his actions, were larger than life. Life can be far too small for some people and I like people like that.

Erwin was much older than I, and we met through work. I was writing about technology and he worked in the research laboratory of a large corporation. It was a highly innovative company at the time, and his job was ideas—to come up with them. I had co-written a magazine article with Arno Penzias, who had recently won the Nobel Prize for his work with light-beam architecture. A few days after the article appears, this strange man called me, told me his name, and asked what he thought was an obvious question: “Why didn't you write an article with me?”

I answered honestly: “Because I've never heard of you.”

“You should.” Immediately I knew we'd be fast friends.

He introduced himself and that started an exchange of ideas that evolved to a collaboration on a voice-recognition system, funded by the corporation he worked for and intended for use at EPCOT at DisneyWorld. My good friend and next-door neighbor, Gary Gonnella, joined in (doing the heavy lifting on the actual design) and we had great fun. Gary and I co-authored a book on the project (VOICE TECHNOLOGY for Reston Publishing), and when the project was finished, I crossed the country to work with Erwin at the lab, installing the prototype.

Working with Erwin was slightly weird. Hell, talking with Erwin was weird and I loved him for his eccentricity as much as the fact that he was a good-hearted person. (I've known lots of good-hearted people and not enough of them are entertaining.) Even in the creative environment of a research lab, my friend was well enough known as a loose cannon that if you called the switchboard of this huge company and asked to speak to the Mad Hatter, you'd be put through to his extension without question. That's saying something, considering that the company, although innovative, was, like most big companies, rather staid and conservative.

And it was true that my friend was slightly mad, but then all my close friends are slightly mad. I've never figured out if that's because I like (slightly) mad people or if it's a simple matter of like attracting like. I don't suppose it matters. And, while he was mad, Erwin was a mover and a shaker. So much so that, over the years, he had met and worked with a variety of interesting people during his life. Then one day he mentioned that when he was an undergrad at Princeton, he met Albert Einstein. He didn't study with him, or work with him... he simply ran into him on campus. A casual encounter. “We talked,” he said.

I tried to imagine such a meeting. What an opportunity! But what would a person would say to Albert Einstein on meeting him face-to-face? “I really dig your theories, dude,” wouldn't make it. I figured I'd just embarrass myself.
“What did you talk about?” I asked him.

He smiled. “We argued about whose mother made the best onion soup.”
And to think I was concerned he might've wasted the opportunity. He hadn't.