My significant other, C, has been friends with D for decades. They hung out together, they rode bikes together, and they used to sail together on Lough Ree (a huge lake in the West Midlands). Ripe old salts by age eleven, C and D apparently tore up the water in their boats and won many races.
A few years ago during my first trip to Ireland, the three of us went sailing together in the middle of October on Lough Ree. Even though C’s sisters expressed concern about me going out with the two sailing maniacs, I had a very nice afternoon out on the water. Okay, it was blood-freezing cold, but once I borrowed a skull cap from D, I was warm.
To see these two guys on the boat together is to watch two guys totally in sync with a sailboat and what it can do. They moved around the boat steady and relaxed. They were in their happy place. They reminded me a lot of my grandfather who moved around a boat the same way.
I knew D built and repaired boats for a living, but it was just a concept in my mind. I figured it just meant he was around boats. It’s like when I say I write. It’s just something you do. Might as well be doing something with your time.
Since we traveled to Ireland in December this trip, we didn’t go out sailing, but we did visit D at his workshop. He had just finished building a boat, and for the first time, I saw his work. And my mind was blown---in a good way.
D builds boats called Shannon One Design. They are hand-made, all wood, and 18 feet long. They were designed in 1920 by Morgan Giles an English naval architect for the Shannon River, and they sailed on Lough Ree and Lough Derg. The one design means all the boats are the same giving fair competition between sailors when they raced. D told me it took six months to build one.
As I looked at how the wood planks curved and matched up exactly, I thought there was something kind of graceful in the boat. There was no brass or rigging on it yet. Heck, the wood wasn’t even varnished. Still, I liked the boat. It was human size---not over the top and super luxurious. It had a simple clean line to it. A single person could easily sail it. I probably could sail it. It was definitely a boat for a boat person. Was I a boat person?
I couldn’t take my eye off the boat as I walked over to it. D had made this, and something felt very right. It wasn’t a clichéd big moment for me. Beams of white energy were not radiating off the boat. The wood wasn’t singing out to me like a choir of angels. I don’t think I even gasped. Yet, I felt like I was having a moment of clarity. I took a picture with my digital camera. I helped C, D, and the furniture maker from upstairs lift and move the boat to the other end of the workshop. It wasn’t that heavy.
It was a good day. Sure, there were low hanging clouds, and the air was cold. Sure, I was bundled up in so many layers that some of the layers felt like a second skin. Sure, I had eaten too much breakfast or dinner the night before. Sure, I wasn’t sure of anything except that I was standing somewhere on the planet earth. I tried to turn my moment of clarity into coherent thoughts.
D made the boat. It felt so right that he made the boat. He makes something. Have we moved so much away from making things that he’s unique rather than the norm? Where do the things we have come from? D is a very nice person. It must be nice to be able to go to him with some cash and ask him to build you a boat.
As I thought about the care and precision, D put into his work, I started thinking about my own time and efforts. I write stuff. I try to put the time into it, but often stuff is rushed without thought. Sometimes, I feel like I’m wasting time or fighting time or there’s no time or one has to make time. Sometimes I question what the hell I’m doing with my time here on earth. Why do I give up so much time to bullshit? Then again, what is adulthood without a little bullshit?
Still maybe the thing to do with our time here on earth is to make things. Might as well. I haven’t found a better alternative. I’ll just keep putting the words down, cutting my sentences like wood, to make them fit.
This piece was actually a hard piece to write. I had a hard time finding the right tone and saying what I wanted to say with it, so I kept changing it.
Also, as I was working on this piece, I was in rehearsal for a staged reading for one of my plays at a little theatre up in Hollywood. I had to do some rewrites on the fly and deal with various things that kept coming up. The reading happened this past Monday. My brilliant director overcame some crazy ass obstacles and logistics to stage a comic epic with light and sound cues, and the awesome actors brought it (I love smart imaginative actors), and it went well.
Afterwards, several friends, who knew I wrote but didn’t know what I wrote, came up to me shocked and impressed. It was as if something had shifted about me in their minds. What I did became tangible and real to them. Yep, I had blown their minds in a good way. As I thought about the Irish Boat Builder piece, I realized two things. First, I was long overdue in an email to D. Second, I knew how to end the Irish Boat Builder story.