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.”
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.