A Fisherman Writer’s Winter of Intentional Living

21 10 2011

One of the great myths about commercial fishing for a living is this:

“Oh, you guys only work half the year! Must be nice, having all that time off.”

Cap’n J and I usually just smile. With him trekking through the wilderness to shoot gorgeous photos, me available to go for weekday walks on a moment’s notice, and our friends never certain what state we’re in, it’s hard to say we don’t enjoy winters of indulgence.

The last few years, though, our “off” season was anything but. The Nerka needed an onslaught of very expensive, very time-consuming TLC. We became residents of the Port Townsend Boat Yard  – squatting on friends’ boats when our own became uninhabitable, washing dishes in the public restroom, slapping clouds of fiberglass dust from our clothes, and constantly declining invitations. “Sorry, we’re working on the boat.”

With projects like this: 3 days battling 5200, to take out our leaky helm windows.

Hard as it was to leave Alaska, we were both excited to wave goodbye to the Nerka. Leaving her under watchful local guardianship, safely tethered in her stall, and putting 1000 miles between us seemed an excellent way to re-visit this notion of a “free” winter.

We fantasized about the luxury of a season without boat projects, imagined the ways we’d fill our time. Cap’n J would hone his photography skills, doing the hiking/backpacking that he loves. I’d devote myself to writing: I’d take renowned author Laura Kalpakian’s memoir course, finish my book proposal, shop it around, find a publisher and agent, and fully commit myself to telling the story I’ve spent the past decade dreaming about. On the side, I’d write the Hooked posts still in my head. And some new columns for Alaska Waypoints. And go to the gym. And catch up on house maintenance. And re-unite with friends and family. And enjoy non-fishing time with my sweetheart.

And then I was crumpled on the floor, sobbing at Joel’s feet.

My most loathed physical trait is that my tear ducts live on standby, ready to leak into action at the slightest emotional tilt. Anger, frustration, feeling hurt, inspired, joyful, touched…They’re all fair game. (Physical tilts do it, too: they often overflow when I lie on my side. Joel reacts with alarm – “What’s wrong!” – then reminds himself, “Oh, you’re just leaking.”)

So tears are familiar territory for us.

But last Saturday night was different. Cap’n J sat editing photos, in the middle of a chatty sentence, when I burst into tears. I erupted, geyser-like, into snot-ridden sobbing, an iron fist of panic pummeling my sternum. Through ugly gasps, I released a flood of fear that there was too much to keep up with, an Everest of requirements for a new writer beyond actual writing, time-devouring tasks of platform building and social media engagement. More events to cancel, friends to disappoint. That I didn’t know how to do it all.

That I couldn’t do it all.

Shocked by my abrupt meltdown, Joel made a fast recovery. He stroked my shoulders and said that I was putting too much pressure on myself, and it didn’t have to happen all at once. That this is the time to dedicate to my dream – “That’s your job this winter” – and the people who love me will understand the absences, unreturned phone calls, and delayed visits. That I’m not alone, that he’ll be there along the way – taking care of the house, feeding me fish (brain food, you know), being my emissary with friends and family. “I’ll tell them, ‘I’m here representing Tele.’ They’ll understand.”

That this is a story I need to tell, and even if nothing else comes of it, I’ll have succeeded by writing it. “And I don’t believe that nothing’s gonna come of this,” he added. “I know you’re going to get published.”

That I could do it.

Every writer in crisis should be so lucky to have a Cap’n J.

Several days later, I was in another class, this one on “outing” ourselves as writers. Teacher Brooke Warner urged us to boldly proclaim ourselves as writers, proudly declaring to loved ones and strangers alike, “I’m a writer, this is what I’m doing.”

Then she asked, “Where in your life do you need permission to say no?”

(Cap’n J laughed when I told him this. “That class covered everything you’ve been going through!” Absolutely. I take comfort in realizing how common my anxieties must be, that all across the globe, other writers are having meltdowns just like mine – and are taking deep breaths, finding their way, and getting their stories out there. Me, too.)

I’m sharing all this, sweet reader, to explain that Hooked will be a quiet harbor for a bit. My goal is to have a finished memoir proposal by November 1st, so you won’t be seeing any long, evocative essays drawn so deeply from my heart. (Photos and videos okay instead?) I may not respond to individual comments, or as quickly as I’d like. And I won’t have time to write horrified posts on news like this.

I hope Cap’n J’s assurances are right, that folks will understand my unavailability, and Hooked’s readers will still be here when we return to a regular posting schedule. I can’t send you all fish – my usual expression of gratitude. Instead, I promise to post sneak peeks from the book-that-will-be, a first-read special just for you. You’ve encouraged me to make this great leap, friends – it’s only right that you be the first to see what comes of it! I’ll welcome your thoughts and suggestions.

I started writing this post on October 19 – Hooked’s 7 month birthday. Turned out to also be the day we crossed 10,000 views. Pretty thrilling – I’d hoped to reach that goal by October 31st. I’m indebted to each of you for joining this journey, and being such a joyful, supportive community. From my heart – from the very tips of my Xtra-Tuffed toes – I thank you.

Until next time, friends - in the words of our fishing hero and friend - "I'll be standing by."

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29 responses

21 10 2011
Tracey

You are such an amazing writer… Doing without some of your blog posts is well worth it to your readers if we’ll end up with more words later! Your description of your struggles to juggle this writing thing were moving and oh so relatable. Great things are no doubt ahead for you!

21 10 2011
Capn' J

So proud of you sweetie for taking this leap, I think you are doing an amazing job and I support you 120%. Coho samiches again tonight?

21 10 2011
wendy

He’s right, Tele! You’ll do fine. But we write for the same reason we sing in the shower-because we need/want/have to, and because it’s fun. Good for you on your goal and I look forward to hearing what happens!

21 10 2011
Pam

Ah, Tele. Having just recently discovered your blog I will miss it, but so excited to be with you on the memoir journey in Laura’s class!

Cap’n J is a peach :)

21 10 2011
Anne K. Albert

Almost every writer I know, including myself, is going through the same emotions, fears, and struggles. It’s not just about writing any more. It’s about being online, promoting, marketing, creating a recognizable ‘brand’, blah, blah, blah.

Being a writer isn’t for wimps, but having a Capn’J by our side makes the journey that much more tolerable and doable.

Kudos to you both, and happy writing!

21 10 2011
Ashley

So good, so from your heartstrings. And fantastic pic of you writing.

21 10 2011
Nancy

Ah, Tele – I share your pain! You go for it – do what you have to do – and the rest will fall into place. That Cap’n J sounds like a keeper for sure ~

I, for one, am waiting with eager anticipation for your memoir ~

21 10 2011
Greg J.

Tele,
Thanks for the stories. After my many years of working in the processing plant, it is good to hear about your life on the boats and your “down time” ashore.

21 10 2011
nagoonberry

Hooked is parked in my Google Reader, awaiting your return. Best wishes for an intentional winter, meeting challenges & joys as they come your way.

21 10 2011
keneumey

I’m a lucky one then, to get to read your work in progress in class! And I got some fish out of the deal too! Have faith. You’re very talented and your story is special. Cap’n J is right. You will be published.

21 10 2011
keneumey

Um. Not to put any pressure on you.

21 10 2011
Kim Kircher

I’m visiting here from SheWrites, and I’m glad I found you. You sound like a kindred soul. I admire your adventurous spirit and hope the book proposal goes well. I met Brooke Warner at a writer’s conference, and she’s great. Sounds like a good class (and you have supportive classmates here!). I just published my memoir, and I, too, had thought writing would be a welcome change from my very physical job as a professional ski patroller. Boy was I wrong. Writing, editing, blogging, building a platform and then selling the a book is much more difficult. But I wouldn’t change my path. It’s a special journey, and one I’m honored to be on.

21 10 2011
Jenny

I laughed out loud at the picture of the windows and the finger. Says it all, no?

21 10 2011
judi bixby

And we’ll all be here waiting for you—-follow your heart little sister—we too will be Standing By….

21 10 2011
Annie

Tele, you don’t know how common the meltdown is becoming. I’ve been talking with a number of writers who are feeling the pressure. I am so glad that you have set your sites on a deadline for the book. When you finish your goals and wish to come back to your followers at Hooked, we will certainly be here to greet you! I, like many others, will miss your writing, but I look forward to that book in print. It WILL happen.

21 10 2011
cedar

That meltdown happens with artists, too. We all keep doing what we love because it has an important place in the world, and the story needs to be told. I don’t know you, but from what I have read so far, you have an amazing voice, can reach many audiences, and your writing is just friggin’ awesome. Don’t believe me, though, look for the evidence in the responses here and in the over 100, 00 hits on the blog, and all those other points of recognition for your story-telling abilities. Kudos to Capt’ J for his support!

21 10 2011
rosseliot

Hey, nice going there. As you know, tears also have lubricated some of my creative process as well…

21 10 2011
Scott Coughlin (@BeringFisherman)

Tele, I know you will get just how twisted my nephew Kellan, the seine skipper (F/V Halcyon) is when I tell you that he once told me he is going to name his firstborn 5200.

-(One of) Your Biggest Fan(s)

21 10 2011
Angela

Blessed Be!

22 10 2011
pierrmorgan

Go Go Go! How exciting. How could we not support you? Your love for – and willingness to – your gift, inspires the rest of us to our own. Bon Voyage!!

22 10 2011
Cami Ostman

I go in fits – sometimes feeling like I’ve got all the random details under control and sometimes feeling like my life is spinning off the surface of the earth as it rotates. A message on your voicemail that says, “I’ll be unavailable between 8am and 5pm,” can help, too. Other people who work at regular jobs have to say no to all kinds of things. Writers have to learn how to do it when our peeps have no idea what we do all day. Hugs.

22 10 2011
Peg

I think that it is fabulous that you are carving out time to write. A memoirist that I admire is Jennifer Lauck she lives, writes and teaches in Portland. I was very inspired when I heard her speak. I look forward to reading your memoir!

22 10 2011
Tele

Oh, sweeties… See, this is exactly what I was talking about – you guys are so damn wonderful! Thanks so much for all of the support; means the world to me.

(Incidentally, today was a very good writing day – chapter summaries all done! Feeling like my brain is mush and my back is cement, but invigorated all the same.)

24 10 2011
Becky Green Aaronson

Congrats, Tele on doing what feels right! I’m in the midst of trying to juggle it all too–navigating the insane waters of all this “platform building” stuff. It’s wonderful to build a dazzling platform (or even a mediocre one), but if you don’t have time to finish the book, then what’s the point? Hope your time goes swimmingly. Looking forward to reading your book!

24 10 2011
Vicky Wood

You go girl……………..

Good luck on your journey………..

Be Well,

24 10 2011
More great reading « east.bay.writer

[...] This story of a moment of writer’s crisis from a woman whose life looks so different than anyone I know is a great read.  I’m hooked. [...]

29 11 2011
Jessie

A very late comment, but I fucking love that picture – writing in a real notebook on the water at sunset (in your gear no less)! Maybe I get on track and finish mine and we can have a Ship & Shore tour. :D
Tears, wine & good luck.
Oh and a quote you may already know…
“The cure for anything is salt water: sweat, tears or the sea.” – Karen Blixen/Isak Dinesen, “Out of Africa”

30 11 2011
Tele

Ha! About that quote, Jessie… It’s inked on the inside of my left arm, below a troller and inside a run of salmon. Yeah, it’s one I live by these days. The photo’s from this September, anchored in Shelikof. And I love the Ship & Shore tour! I’d love to hear about your work one of these days. So, okay… tears, wine, and good luck to both of us, friend.

18 03 2012
Happy Birthday, Hooked! « Hooked

[...] Cap’n J’s birthday, and you imagined the taste of traditional Tlingit foods. When I shared my writer’s panic last fall, you offered support and encouragement. You learned the interdependent relationship [...]




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