The Ambivalence of “Left or Right?”

Yikes! From a writing perspective, I’m seeing that we’re a quarter of the way into 2022 and I’ve only done two hjsailing posts for this year—way off my pace of other years. However (and in my defense), while Rhett, Sunny, Hazel James, and I were on our Bahamian voyage earlier this year I was relatively prolific with micro-blog posts (I count 15 for the year on the PredictWind satellite tracker). Since I can compose and upload them via satellite, I can do them from anywhere and that’s freeing to me because we blissfully chose to not have daily internet access while in The Bahamas. Also in my defense, my work on the Heeling is Healing manuscript has continued (the nature of the work has shifted, but the work continues)…more on that later in this post.

Currently, Hazel is comfortably moored in Cooley’s Landing Marina on the New River in Fort Lauderdale. It’s a municipal marina with a broad spectrum of boats in all states of repair and disrepair. Those boats are occupied (and sometimes not occupied) by a broad spectrum of mariners and dreamers of all skill levels. For added entertainment, Hazel’s slip is next to one of the marina’s several public ramps used by day-boaters trailering their small craft. The weekends are a constant stream of families and fisherman dunking and retrieving their rides. From observation, I’ve learned that on the way into the water, sometimes the outboard starts, and sometimes it doesn’t. At the other end of the voyage—on the way out of the water, sometimes the captain remembers to tilt the outboard up prior to pulling the boat and trailer up the boat ramp, and sometimes he is reminded to do so by the sound of the engine’s skeg raking along the boat ramp. With all that being said, the marina is perfect for me with a bath and laundry facility as I’m living aboard Hazel. Rhett and Rear Admiral Sunny split their time between the marina and Rhett’s house in Delray Beach (25 statute miles north) where Rhett is attending to some land-based things. In addition, the yachting district of Fort Lauderdale is a 10 minute drive from the marina. It’s a section of town that occupies several blocks and has most any marine service a sailor could want.

Port Everglades, Fort Lauderdale, Cooley’s Landing Marina, and Hazel
Hazel in her slip. If you look carefully, you’ll see Lil’ Dinghy in pieces on Hazel’s deck (I’m doing some work on Lil’ Dinghy as well). Small-boat ramp in the background.
Another view of Hazel with the morning sun behind her. The towels hung on the life lines give her that ever-so-perfect Beverly Hillbillies look when juxtaposed with the big power yachts in the background. All I need now is Granny on deck in a rocking chair.

We checked Hazel into the marina on March 16 and paid upfront for a month of transient dockage (about $1,600 if anyone is curious). We got lucky finding a slip here because, as far as I can tell, the majority of boats that occupy the 30 or so slips in the marina are long-timers. Hey—if you’ve got a boat, given the price of housing in South Florida, I’m sure it’s cheaper to live on the boat at the marina than rent an apartment or try to buy a house in this crazy-inflated housing market. Consequently, the whole vibe of the place almost…just almost…inspired me to get a P.I. license and hang out my shingle (“P.I.” as in Private Investigator). I grew up watching 1970s television and all I learned from all those hours of sitting too close to our black & white in the basement was that in order to be a legit PI you had to live on a boat, or in a mobile home, or some similarly sketchy situation—to wit: James Rockford, Joe Mannix, Peter Columbo, Frank Cannon, and Shaggy, Scooby and the gang. Alas though—the only two cases that I’m really interested in solving at the moment are: how do we get everything done on The Mystery Machine (i.e., Hazel) in the next couple weeks and—once we’re done with our projects—do we go left or do we go right?

The ambivalence of my feelings about the left or right decision is driving me a bit nuts, but I’m trying to embrace the positive aspects of it. As I say this, I’m reminded of my visits to my therapist shortly after Colleen’s death. I had started seeing my therapist a several years before (when we were in the trough of addiction) and I had found her questions to me and her reframing of situations most helpful. With that said, I hadn’t seen her in the year immediately prior to Colleen’s death. However, one of the first things I did after being interviewed by the police and medical examiner was to get on my therapist’s calendar as I knew I’d need help piecing my life back together. Several sessions later, my therapist asked the question, “With a little distance between you and Colleen’s death, how are you feeling about it all?” I sheepishly replied that I felt ambivalent—it sounded so terrible to hear myself say that word. When she asked me to expand on my thoughts, I began by saying how much I missed Colleen, how sad I was that although Colleen had worked to hard to achieve the year of sobriety immediately before her death, she didn’t have the chance to enjoy the fruits of her labor—I added the remorse I was feeling about how I could have been a better partner, and how my last goodbye to her was not under the best circumstances. I then went on to confess that—on the other hand—I didn’t miss the chaos around the house that addiction brings, I didn’t miss the unknown about what “Colleen” I would find when I came through the front door. I also said that Colleen had become terribly fearful of aging and that while her demise was horrible, at least she wouldn’t have to go through the inevitable process of the living. I initially felt like such a bad person for sharing those feelings, and sharing them so soon after her death. However, after hearing me out, my therapist reframed my mixed emotions to help me see the positive of them. Yes, it was bad—very bad—what had happened. However, it wasn’t all bad. By combing through the smoldering rubble of my life at the time, I could find a few things to feel good about.

Similarly, I’m trying my best to see the positives of my current ambivalence about the left or right decision that will need to be made in a couple weeks. To the left (or “to port” for the aficionado of nautical parlance) lies Bermuda, The Azores, and Spain or Portugal, and the Mediterranean. To the right (that is, south) lies the Caribbean. As earlier reported, I was (and am still) contemplating a transatlantic sail (the left turn out of the Port Everglades inlet), however the tragic and terrible invasion of Ukraine has given me some pause. I’d rather not be in the middle of the North Atlantic, halfway between Bermuda and The Azores, and hear that the war has spilled into my intended destination of Western Europe. A second option we are now considering is to depart around the same time (late-April or early-May) but instead sail south, deep into the Caribbean or South America, with the goal of getting south of the hurricane belt prior to the June start of the Atlantic hurricane season. Either way, and the same as our most recent Bahamian voyage, I’ll most likely start the sailing single-handed with Rhett and Sunny joining later.

Regardless of the decision, I know myself well enough to know that I need to go somewhere and go soon. A couple weekends ago my family gathered in Pittsburgh to celebrate the wedding of my eldest nephew Ben to his now-wife Sara. While it was a perfect wedding, punctuated by dancing late into the night, it was hard to be there and hard to see it without thinking about the absence of my sister Amy and of Colleen—they both would have loved the affair. During the reception, as my melancholy thoughts drifted to the future, I couldn’t help envisioning my kids’ upcoming weddings. I’m sure those days will be similar bittersweet cocktails of joy and sadness. Through it all, I remain obsessed with the brevity of life and voyaging while I can.

I try to journal on most mornings and each journal entry begins with the day, date, and time of the entry. During our voyage last summer up the US East Coast, I started adding the latitude and longitude of the journal entry. As I journal in these quiet mornings at Cooley’s Landing Marina and my pen writes the coordinates of 26-07, 080-09 (twenty-six degrees and seven minutes north, and eighty degrees and nine minutes west), I’m reminded that I’m not physically moving. Still, I tell myself that the physical voyage across the face of the earth is just that: the physical voyage. Even through I’m in one place for a month or so, my emotions are still voyaging, still surfing the crests and riding the troughs of my thoughts and moods. It’s all part of the same voyage.

From the Heeling is Healing perspective, in December 2021 and January 2022 I had worked the manuscript into good-enough shape to begin sharing it, and also developed a five-page manuscript proposal that outlined the book’s “elevator pitch,” how the work came to be, its target audience, a comparison to well-known books, and an author’s bio. I wrote what I thought was an engaging proposal and sent it out to 20-30 agents and publishers. The one best word to describe the response is… “crickets.” The taciturn agents and publishers didn’t reply at all, the loquacious ones send me a “Dear John” form letter (and then signed me up for their mailing lists).

Originally, I was kind of down about the situation. However, and most-fortunately, when I was in the midst of the thundering chorus of crickets, I happened to be reading Ahab’s Rolling SeaA Natural History of Moby-Dick by Richard King (I highly recommend it by the way). In the early chapters, King describes Melville’s struggle with writing what he wanted to write versus having his name on a book that would sell. King writes, “…Melville was thirty-one years old, overwrought with debt, and now a father to young children. He assessed himself as a failure as a writer. He’d moved out of the city [New York City] to try to raise corn and potatoes on a small farm as he tried to complete Moby-Dick. He wrote to [Nathaniel] Hawthorne: ‘What I feel most moved to write, that is banned,—it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches.'”

Perhaps I’m in good company.

Also, I remind myself daily about how therapeutic the writing process has been for me and—agent or no agent, and publisher or no publisher—the process of telling myself the story of how my sister’s and my wife’s demises have indelibly changed me, is something that I will always have.

In the midst of the pandemic and leading up to the Jewish high-holidays, I had heard an interview with a rabbi about what his message to his congregation would be. The rabbi said that the most important thing he had learned in rabbinical school was to, “…give the sermon that you need to hear.” That’s what makes it authentic. Heeling is Healing is the sermon that I needed to hear (and I still have a lot of hope it can help others).

With that in mind—and similar to the navigational question of left or right—with the manuscript I feel like I’ve sailed it far offshore, have encountered some mechanical issues, and now need to bring it home safely. When I embarked, I had a clear plan: write, edit, get a publisher or agent, then publish the work—just that simple. Now, with no land in sight (and no agent or publisher in sight) I need to alter my plans, I need to improvise, I need to get it done—somehow. When sailing in this situation, the question isn’t, “if I get back to land”—it’s “how I get back to land.” The question on Heeling is Healing isn’t if I publish, but rather how I publish.

Also, when the chips are down on a long passage, it’s always comforting for me to think about the support that I have back home and from others. With Heeling is Healing I also know that all of you who are kind enough to follow my writing and are interested in reading the story its long format.

Bottom-line and with your support, I will publish it. I have an idea of how to do it and also how to do some financial good with its publishing as well. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with the 30-second elevator pitch from the manuscript proposal:

Heeling is Healing is a modern-day hero’s journey, precipitated by the deaths of my sister from cancer and my wife from mental illness and addiction. Its themes—of love and loss, of charting a new course forward in my life, and of rediscovering romance—are set against the backdrops of a challenging 2,500-mile single-handed sailing voyage and the global pandemic. Heeling is Healing has multiple goals: to tell the painful story of substance abuse and addiction, and the powerful, relentless grip of this disease on relationships and on family; to offer a hopeful path forward to those who are grieving loss, from any cause; and to educate and entertain readers about the rigors and splendor of long-distance solo sailing and voyaging (the nautical term “Heeling” describes a sailboat’s leaning due to the pressure of wind on its sails).

Fair winds and following seas!

9 thoughts on “The Ambivalence of “Left or Right?”

  1. Dan, your writing has been fantastic and I am one of many who have been consuming episodes like something from HBO. Sometimes I binge read many in one sitting and sometimes just catch up.
    It’s really something powerful and interesting and entertaining at various points. Don’t stop… but please be safe-I am not yet a fan of the trans Atlantic crossing but I could be convinced.
    Hang in there… you can take the boy off of Southern Highlands, but … we will always be here for you

    1. Paul, Thanks so much for the note and the positive comments. Yeah, a transat is a big undertaking. I’m mulling it over as we speak. It’s comforting to have options and, as I tried to expand upon in my post, recognize the good side of the ambivalence around the decision. Hope you and yours are well!

  2. My favorite part: “…and rediscovering romance.” Fair winds. Dana and I are on the west coast boat shopping, but against all odds the one calling me is in my back yard—Homer, Alaska. Wish us well! Or Luck! Or fun…

    Sent from Mail for Windows

  3. Dan…appreciate you continuing to share such thoughtful perspectives. Best wishes as your prepare your next journey.

  4. Dan,
    So much honesty and feeling.
    I enjoyed the wedding. Especially watching Ben and Lisa during the mother/groom dance. It struck a heartfelt chord with me.

  5. Ambivalence is a good thing to explore, it is always a part of change. Whenever my clients admit that they are ambivalent about letting go of their addiction, I am happy, because they are getting honest.

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