Dear Mayim

WTF? Women have so internalized our own oppression that we are tearing one of our own apart for making her own choices? I stand with you on this article, Mayim. This is not a perfect world, and as this article proves, it’s a minefield. No matter what choices we make, we will be vilified by some. The proud nail gets hammered down. I need not agree with everything you have said in print to recognize and understand what you say now in my own life.

I get these choices. No, it shouldn’t be about clothes. But it is, for both genders. I, too, have been harassed in nondescript clothes. My first bad memory was at the age of seven when a guy at the flea market tried to entice me into his van. I wore shapeless jeans and shirts at that age. I felt dirty and weird and I never told anyone. But I didn’t get into that van. At 15 or so I was followed home on the bus. A guy rubbed his crotch against my shoulder as I sat still, petrified. He whispered filthy, frightening things as he stood there and nobody noticed, or helped. He followed me off the bus and I did the only thing I could think of. I knew better than to let him know where I lived. I went into a store where we kids were known and told the adults. They got rid of him.

Clothes won’t stop harassment, but they will cut it down considerably. For good or ill, clothes send a message. That is a fact. I make completely different choices in different situations. At the East Coast OBOD gathering, I was deliciously free. I wore a tank top, an Irish dress and a long black skirt with a tartan brat and was relaxed, happy to be myself again at last. It was safe there. At work I wear a uniform. I hate it, but it allows me to do my job effectively. It is a requirement that allows me to make a living and it goes with a persona because yes, men harass me at work. I let it slide off that skin of conformity because I know that those guys see that uniform, my white hair, and my older face. They aren’t looking at me. Old men think they’re being gallant and I need to keep my job so I hold my tongue and move them along. If you think those choices are easy or cowardly, I will likewise let your words slide off those clothes that are not my choice and dedicate myself to the resources I protect. You have not earned the right to judge me.

On my commute, I make different choices. I get it, Mayim, I really do. I don’t wear that uniform to and from work, generally. It attracts unwanted attention. People think they know who I am, and I am expected to do my job when I’m in it, so I leave it in my locker. I love big, bold t-shirts, but I no longer wear them to commute either. I have plain ones now, and a plain jacket. I’m tired of the stupid comments and unwanted attention. The transit system in my area is overloaded and unpleasant and I just want to get home. I walk most of my morning commute to avoid it, and I just want to be invisible so I can be alone with my thoughts. Plain clothes give me space.

I’m creating the life I want. I’m old enough to know what I want. I live as I please on the weekends and I won’t have to be at the beck and call of others forever. I didn’t choose the work I do right now, but I did choose the workplace and I still work for the Ladies in their Sanctuary. I will do what is needful until the day I can lay that uniform aside, and I will do what I need to to remain myself and serve the other paths that I choose to walk.

All of us do the same, male, female, and genderless, as I am. Mayim, I honor and salute your choices.  I don’t agree with all of them, but I think we all have a right to voice our opinions. I don’t think it is wise or fair to dismiss anyone completely because we don’t agree with everything they have said in the past.

The Daily Dot article is worth reading, as is the New York Times editorial that has generated so much heat, noise, and light.  #metoo

Looking For The Stars In Their Eyes

The sun setting through the rigging of a tall ship
Sunset Aboard the Lady Washington

I’m looking for the stars in their eyes at the sight of tall masts and white sails.

I’m looking for the woman I once was, eyes on the horizon, feet on the topgallant footropes and hands on rough canvas. She’s out there, I’m hoping that she will still be out there a century hence doing the work I once did. Now that I can no longer do it, I’m looking for the next set of hands who will take joy in making ships brave with paint, bright with varnish and black with tar.

Woman helping to rerig sailing ship
The next generation, bending on sail as the season begins.

I work in a museum of ships. I came there with stars in my eyes. I was so taken with them, their beauty and the adventures that could be had aboard them, that I took the hands of the sailors that came before me and volunteered to help care for them. My weekends were filled with the lessons that only an historic vessel and living sailors can teach. I learned the precise language required, the names of things and tasks that allow specific instructions to be passed in few words. By doing the various jobs that must be done if the boat is to make it to the future, I forged relationships with every vessel I worked in. I couldn’t help it—I came there in love with adventure and the sea, and it wasn’t long before I fell for the ships too.

Crew members in the rigging of a tall ship
Modern tallship crew

There is nothing like being part of a crew. I’d wanted this since my teens, when I was a Sea Scout. A wooden whaleboat wasn’t enough, but being female, there was no way at the time that I could find to take the adventure farther. By the time I returned, in my late thirties, tall ships had become, if not common, far more numerous and it wasn’t long before I made my first trip as a volunteer. Times have changed. Women are an accepted part of this world now. I came to it too late to do it for long, but I have been out of sight of land in both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans now, furling sail high above deck, the sky close enough to touch. It has changed me in ways I couldn’t have foreseen and wouldn’t trade for anything. The adventure has been mine for long enough to know how to share it.

Looking down on the deck of a tall ship from high in the rigging
Standing on the fore topmast cap

I don’t sail in these ships any more. I can no longer do the work, and I won’t inflict myself on a crew if I can’t do my share. But I can still be useful ashore. I know how to do the work and can teach others. I can transmit that DTI—that Deckhand Transmitted Infection of love for the vessel and joy in being part of a crew. Working where I do I can be there when those people walk in with stars in their eyes and I can tell them the things that no one was there to tell me. I can tell the stories of the ships and help everyone who wants one to find their connection to them. So many people come in with a fantasy. Pirates are a starting point, but adventure is a shared experience and sailors are far more interesting. My treasure chest is full of memories, tools, and skills. Sunrises shared as the watch was gathered around the tiller, the ship plunging and rising as the wind carried us along. I went aboard my first ship with a duffle bag full of books. I was afraid I’d run out of things to read in three whole weeks at sea. I’ve never been aboard a ship where there wasn’t an active and varied bookshelf. My canvas ditty bag is on the shelf in the next room, filled with everything I need to repair a sail or for that matter, fix anything else made of heavy fabric or leather. That is something I can still do. The knots I know are just as useful for tying down a load on a bicycle or a truck because these skills are not all limited to ships and sailing.

I’m looking for the next pair of hands now. The tasks and the ships are passed from hand to hand, sailor to sailor. The language of ships is an oral tradition. You can read about it, but what seems incomprehensible on the page is perfectly plain when the tools are in your hand and a living person is showing you how it’s done. When I tell you that the ship will also tell you how to do the job, you’ll probably think me fanciful—or insane—but it’s true. You just have to speak her language. You probably know part of it already. Flaking paint or bare wood or metal is easy enough to spot. Knowing how to prepare and paint the surface is not hard to learn. Is something broken? If the vessel is well cared for, the same equipment on the other side is probably fine and can serve as a guide for repair. Experience will tell you what is dangerous, what is annoying, and what is just unkempt.

A vessel forges a group of people into a crew, by the simple act of caring for her. A vessel without a crew will soon be gone. It’s expensive to take care of a boat. They truly are holes in the water into which you pour money. This is why a boat without a job is destined for the breaker’s yard. The time and effort her survival demands requires a purpose for her existence. The next pair of hands must be sustained by the work. So a vessel and a crew live in symbiosis, we both need to earn our keep.

Remains of a metal sailing ship lying on an Oregon beach
Wreck of the PETER IREDALE

My museum is that purpose, on both sides. When I talk of the vessels, I count their existences as museum ships as careers, as legitimate as their time carrying cargo, fishing, or any other purpose they served. Their cargo now is memory, education, and to serve as our living memory. I learned the beginnings of a trade in them and would be learning still if injury had not cut my days as a hands-on member of the crew short. I earned a living aboard then, and I do so still. In my own personal symbiosis I, too, carry memory and knowledge. A museum is a place where Muses dwell. Those vessels are nothing less. The people of my nation, and visitors of all nations are willing to pay to maintain these ships, and so they go on living. They grow ever more precious as the years pass because there are fewer of them every year. The sheer amount of work that is necessary to maintain them, and the lack of an obvious economic return for that labor means that many are lost. FALLS OF CLYDE is fighting for her life even as I write. WAPAMA was cut up in 2013, and WAWONA in 2009. Those three are just some of the latest casualties on the West Coast of North America.

San Francisco Bay from the deck
The view from the fo’c’sle head

Discovery is sexy, maintenance is not, except for the few insane individuals like myself who find meaning in scraping paint and tarring down. Those next sets of hands who will take these vessels into the future are a rare breed, and so my job, essentially, is being paid to be that crusty old sailor who used to haunt the dockside. Being able to make a living doing it is a relatively new development. The maintaining of ships simply to serve as repositories for memory and the teaching of skills is a product of prosperity. It is difficult, when money is the yardstick, to see the sense in it, but how precious is the maintaining of skills in the human database? What price can we put on living memory? If we value it enough to continue doing it, then we as a species will still be able to go to sea under sail, and the bodies and minds of those who choose to do so will still have the option of being shaped by that knowledge. We will retain something rare,  a very special way of life and a hard and rewarding school for those who choose to enroll in it. The skills will possibly become very useful if the oil runs out before we find another means of powering our civilization. Wind will always be free, if fickle, and it is up to us whether or not we will still remember how to harness it.

A rainbow created by the washdown water in the sun
Rainbows in the wash water

Between Ages

I dream of training the next generation of Valkyries. 
I, who was not allowed to go to Japan,
A girl of sixteen alone in a crew of forty men.
The guy who canned me never met me.

I met others who were on that crew years later. 
When age was beginning to touch me
Those guys had had chances I didn’t,
Simply because of what swung between their legs.
They saw my tits first and my mind later
If they bothered to look for that long.

In Sea Scouts I’d dealt with this early,
Learning to fit myself in as part of a crew. 
Being one of us, the boat is what is important,
Not the shape of her crew. 

I was born too early
Or just at the right time. 
I straddle that line,
Between women being other,
And women being part of the crew. 
I knew both states, not allowed and one of the boys 
Simultaneously and separated by time.

I came at last to the ships in autumn,
Thinking the leaves would cling forever
Brown turned to gray, and my moment was over
Remembering what was, and what might have been, 
Had I not done as my mother said.
Sent the ship off with a basket of shore food 
And preserved the status quo.

What would they have done had they found me,
Four or ten days out,
Hidden in the hold of the Hinde? 

Blood Red Roses

Amazing just how tiring standing in front of a mic laying down tracks can be. No, it’s not an album yet, but it will be soon. Blood Red Roses is the title track, and it kind of encapsulates the album. You know who your mother was, and your grandmother, but how about your great-grandmother? How about female ancestors from farther back? Why is this? Why does the line of blood go through the father alone? These are things we don’t often think about, let alone talk about, and when we do, the conversations usually generate more heat and noise than light.

This song takes the long view. It goes all the way from the Paleolithic to the present. It just struck me one day that the earliest sculptures of humans yet found are of women–and they are faceless. When we finally saw our planet–the organism we are all part of, it, too, is of course faceless. We will never truly know what those first artists were thinking, but for me, living at the time when we first saw our planet as a whole, those two images are linked. Were the carvers thinking of deity? Of all women? Or something else entirely? Those images are all found in Eurasia, another fact the significance of which we don’t know and may never know. The mystery is a gift in and of itself. We are not all-knowing, and right now, I think we can use a reminder of that fact. It might make us think before we act, and see what we can learn in the process. That’s what humans do, after all, when we’re at our best.

This song started life as a sea chantey, also called Blood Red Roses.

The next track on the album is also a pan-European story, that comes to us by way of Wales. It’s the tale of Blodeuedd, and I posted it here.

Next time: Moving forward in time our next stop is the ballad of Tam Lin.