#likeagirl is how we do it

Three weeks ago I drove to Maine, on a whim, to see about a sternwoman position on a lobster boat. It made sense, but it didn’t. I’d fallen in love with Maine last year, but wasn’t sure how to go about living there. I was torn between my desire and the part of me that has a PhD in overthinking, overanalyzing, overquestioning. I wasn’t sure if it made sense, if it was worth pursuing, if Maine and I were even a good fit for each other.

I had a conversation with my mother on the beach that led to my options opening up just moments before I saw the sternwoman position on craigslist. I hadn’t considered commercial fishing an option, because who would want a woman on a lobster boat?

The situation was rife with unknowns—a state of being I gravitate toward—though there was one big question that couldn’t be answered until I was on the boat: could I swing eighty-five pound lobsters traps over the rail? I dug my heavy-duty, rubber boots out of storage, and pointed my car north to go find out.

This wasn’t a one-time thing—not like ringing the bell at a carnival strongman game for a Made in China prize—but something I’d need to sustain all day long, day after day, for several months. I first wondered if I could do it at all—the traps are not only heavy, but also a cumbersome four feet long—and then I wondered if I could do it then would I do it #likeagirl. I’m asking myself now, especially in light of the recent release of this awesome video, why anyone ever decided it was okay to slap a negative spin on doing something #likeagirl.

Not that I think what the boys do is bad or less-than what girls do, but I do some badass shit like a girl and I know some boys who also do some badass, loving, caring shit #likeagirl. Even as I wrote those words I feel silly. Can only girls be caring? Can only boys be strong? Answer: no.

I’m not exactly striving to do things the way boys do because that’s just silly. I am a girl, so everything I do is done #likeagirl whether I want to or not. As the video states, “That is not something that I should be ashamed of.”

Commercial fishing is one of the toughest, dirtiest, most dangerous jobs, and not an industry where women are commonly found. I had abundant support from friends on Facebook and in real-time as I headed up to Maine to do something slightly out of character (I enjoy manicures) and nothing I could even have predicted for myself (I don’t even flyfish). The draw wasn’t the fishing so much as spending a summer on the water, being out there in the elements where the only place to be is in the present. I fell in love with the idea of living on the eastern edge of America and being one of the first in this country to witness the sunrise.

It wasn’t until I was driving home that I saw a few Facebook comments asking questions I’d barely sideswiped in my thinking process because I was so myopic in my desire to go to Maine that I refused to let a few pesky details get in my way. A couple of those details were: why does this guy specifically want a woman on his boat? And if he’s any good why is he hiring via craigslist.

These were good questions, but not ones that would’ve made much of a difference if I’d asked them as I headed north. I was in trouble anyway, because I drove up to Maine with the decked stacked slightly for one reason that trumps all others: I had something to prove. The thing was, I didn’t seem to know exactly what I was proving.

The expectation I had for myself was physical—could I swing eighty-five pound lobster traps over the rail?—and as it turned out: I could. But my physical ability wasn’t my biggest problem, and it was actually the last thing I should have been worried about. What I needed to worry about more, and what I’d completely forgotten to consider, was pretty much every other thing about lobstering that had nothing to do with me.

The Lobsterman (TL) wasn’t terrible, but he managed to throw a few red flags into the mix before I’d even arrived. He was all business before my departure, but started flirting when I was slightly farther than halfway. I interpreted the first couple of passes as kindness (e.g., taking me for to dinner when I arrived), and didn’t acknowledge them as sleazy for one reason that’s both simple and complicated: I didn’t want to.

When I was a toddler I started telling my mother “I can’t want to.” She’d ask me to clean my playroom or put my books back on the shelves, and I’d very seriously tell her, “I would if I wanted to, Mommy, but I just can’t want to.” I get it. I totally get it. It can really be hard to do things we don’t want to do especially when they involve that which happens on an internal level. It’s hard to fake feelings. It’s hard to fake want.

For years I only went forward and if I wanted to get out of something I had to go through, which was usually not the most direct route but it was as if the path of my life was lined with spike strips that would puncture my tires if I changed direction. I’ve recently upgraded my gears and now have a reverse position, though at this point it’s reserved only for emergencies.

I spent the majority of the drive to Maine gabbing to girlfriends and sharing the bulk of what TL was texting me {Disclaimer: I read most of them while stopped for coffee, gas and walking Lucky.} I read the messages aloud to my friends, and as the words hit the air I started feeling more like I was going on a blind date and less like I was going to see about a job.

I got an uneasy feeling when TL asked me if he should shower and shave before dinner. I didn’t know how to respond, but after some deliberation I just told him the truth, which was that I’d just driven seven hours and had been wearing the same clothes for two days. That’s what I said, but what I was thinking was, “I don’t give a crap what you look like, but I’m starting to think we don’t share this point of view.”

TL’s stock had already plummeted and I had little remaining faith in his understanding of boundaries or social mores when he said, “Maybe we’ll go for a swim in the lake later….” In an effort to diffuse the situation I asked TL if the lake was heated, and he said “It’ll be hot if I’m in there with you.” Ew, right? I mean…beyond ew.

I was on the phone with a good friend who I can say pretty much anything to, but I didn’t tell her this because 1) I didn’t want her to worry, and 2) I didn’t want her to insist I turn around.

I can be a very rational person, but not when I can’t want to, and at that moment I couldn’t want to. I knew that most people would have bailed at that point and gone to have a laugh with one of half a dozen friends within spitting distance. But I didn’t want to turn around; I really wanted to find out if I could swing eighty-five pounds over the rail. My determination was absurd.

After some consideration I wrote back to TL, and told him to, “Keep it classy.” He apologized, but it felt obligatory more than it felt sincere.

I’ll be honest: when I arrived it felt like meeting someone for a date, but I made it extremely clear that I wasn’t there for that. I considered leaving a few times that first night, but wanted to locate the fine line between bailing prematurely and staying too long at the fair.

I stuck around long enough to learn that TL has lost his lobstering license twice, which (for him) included jail time and several years probation before he could put a boat back in the water. I learned that his legal troubles were a result of molesting gear and though that seems to be an activity that many (if not most) lobsterman take part in, TL seemed to be the one pushing limits, the one taking the retaliation too far.

TL bragged about the Harbor Master having it out for him and that he loves a foggy day because “they can’t see you and you can’t see them.” I wasn’t impressed. I told him he reminded me a lot of guys I dated in my twenties and thirties and that I wasn’t interested in working for someone whose emotionally fractured self is permanently stuck at twenty-seven. TL told me he needed someone like me to keep him in line, and I told him that’s what they all say, but I’m seeking full retirement from playing mommy to grown men.

I felt tested. I felt like the universe was playing a damn good joke on me. I felt like I was talking to someone who wasn’t hearing me and i knew that regardless of my desire to live in Maine, playing sternwoman for a goofball wasn’t my ticket.

There’s a lot more to lobstering that being about to swing some weight, stomach the smell of bait, and stay upright in rough water. A lot more. There’s a downright turf war going on out there, and the pirates are playing dirty. I told TL I wasn’t going to break the law, I wasn’t going to mess with anyone’s traps, and if he pulled that shit with me on the boat I’d hand in my oilskins as soon as we hit land.

He thought I was messing, playing hard to get, but I told him I wasn’t going to Maine to keep a grown man in line, and I certainly wasn’t going there for drama.

Despite it all, TL took a quick liking to me, and said that if I stayed a year my percentage of the catch would go up 30%. I told him I really had no interest in lobstering past the summer, but he didn’t hear me and said we could get an engine for his bigger boat and take it down to Puerto Rico for the winter. I told him there was no “we,” and that I was getting really tired of the fact that he hadn’t heard me when I’d told him very clearly, over and over, “There will be no romance between us.”

It had the makings of a solid rom-com, which might have been fine except that 1) I’ve never been a fan of comedies with plots that are either predictable, preposterous, or the odd combination of both, and 2) I decided a few weeks prior that romantic comedies aren’t a genre my life should aim to mimic at this point.

I’m old enough to know that romance isn’t really as light and goofy as those movies depict it, and I think that naivete in a storyline is best reserved for millenials. But the truth is that rom-com has never really been for me. I’ve always preferred a saga or an epic. I like a healthy dose of mystery, satire, and suspense with my romance. Rom-com is just so predictable, but even as I stood on the edges of my own I couldn’t see where it was headed until suddenly i was desperate to get off that boat.

It happened in a way that should be familiar to me by now—fast and innocent—but I missed the familiar cues. I could say my brain was muddy from a month following my heart around Europe’s Iberian peninsula, but that’s not true; I was simply moving too fast to have any perspective on what I was actually doing.

What exactly was I doing?

When author Ray Bradbury died last month I spent a bunch of time reading obits and essays about him and his impressive (eight million copies in 35 languages!) writing career that spanned seventy years. Despite the fact that I prefer reality over science fiction or fantasy, I appreciated Bradbury’s commitment to craft and willingness to push mainstream literary boundaries.

Right before I left for Maine I read something that couldn’t have been more carefully cherry-picked for my circumstances:

“I’m a Zen Buddhist if I would describe myself. I don’t think about what I do. I do it. That’s Buddhism. I jump off the cliff and build my wings on the way down.”

Yep, that’s me; I’m always ready to build my wings on the way down.

I didn’t fail—or fall—when I went to Maine, but I had a hard time digesting the experience. I proved to myself that I was physically able to handle the work, but after gathering additional information I did something major: I made a well-informed adult decision to not do the thing I’d just a few days earlier wanted more than anything. In short: I turned myself around.

I wasn’t afraid to use my brand-new reverse gear, and I didn’t equate backing out with failing. I was disappointed that I (still) had to go so deep to get the answers I could see clearly from the edge looking in, but we’re all works in progress.

The aftermath was the hard part. I had to dig deeper and ask: What (the heck) is it I want to do?

New York is one of the hardest places to get a massage license, and transferring my license from Montana would be a cumbersome process that might not even work. And it would take time. I thought about getting a job-job, and spent countless hours scouring ads until I had an aha! moment and remembered that there was a good reason I abandoned desk jobs well over a decade ago.

I found out that MOFGA (The Maine Organic Farmers and Growers Association) has apprenticeships and then I found out that it wasn’t too late to apply. I got excited again. I spent a day on my application, a day researching farms, and another day contacting farms. I read about the County of Waldo that is mostly agrarian and that has towns named Liberty, Unity and Freedom. An adjacent county has towns named Friendship and Hope. It just seemed so welcoming. The farms up there have equally incredible names: New Leaf, Old Crow. Fail Better. Laughing Stock. New Beat, Black Kettle, Good Karma, Rebel Hill.

Apprenticing on a farm started to seem far better than lobstering because I’d have more flexibility. I’d told myself that if the lobstering opportunity was good enough I’d sacrifice spending the summer with Lucky (because he and his grandmother have grown so close), but it clearly wasn’t. I decided only to consider farms that allow dogs. I felt like I was getting closer.

I patiently waited for the farms to get back to me, but the news wasn’t great. One farmer wrote to tell me that he actually lost the lease for his farm and was gypsy farming this summer. Another said they couldn’t take any more dogs. Another said I sounded great but they’re in a rebuilding stage and only looking for people with construction experience.

Although I really enjoy all that New York has to offer, and know it’s one of the top places on the planet for diversity and stimulation, it wears me down especially when I don’t feel like I have a purpose here. If I had to pick one or the other, it’s nature I crave far more than culture, though if you stuck me in the boonies for too long I have no doubt I’d be singing a different tune. I suppose, like a lot of people, I’m shooting for balance.

I left the city last weekend for Connecticut, where I spent forty-eight hours with an old friend literally talking nonstop. We talked about hopes, dreams, disappointments, and frustrations but never stopped laughing our asses off. A seagull pooped on me at the beach while I was there, a sign (if you’re a believer) that good things are on the way. It wasn’t like I’ve had the worst luck, but life has been one brick wall after another since I flew back from Barcelona a month ago. It was if the air deflated from my sails upon repatriation. When asked about my trip, my standard response became, “I’d have stayed if it wasn’t for Lucky.”

While waiting on the platform for the train back to Grand Central, I checked in with Facebook and saw that one of the women who worked at the yoga retreat I attended on Ibiza was looking for a ticket to Burning Man. I immediate wrote to ask if her volunteer position (work in exchange for room, board and some yoga) was available, and she said she thought they were covered but I should email. I emailed and found out that not only was the retreat needing for a volunteer for a few weeks, but they also need a chef for the majority of the season.

A few email exchanges later, The folks at Ibiza Yoga invited me to join them at Benirras Beach for the summer and early fall. First I got really excited about this new, unexpected adventure, and then I choked up over leaving Lucky. I begged him to give me an answer, and I realized that in a lot of ways he’s been telling me it’s okay to go.

Lucky has his grandmother wrapped around his finger. They got along perfectly for the month I was gone, and in our everyday lives around here he actually spends more time with her than he does with me. “Grandma’s bed” has become his absolute favorite spot in the house. She lets him up on the pillows, and she lets him hog more than his fair share of the space. She never stays out late, and gets up at the same time every morning. She’s incredibly reliable, which is what an old dog needs.

I was twenty-eight when I fell in love with Lucky after he picked me out at a party. We’ve been on many amazing adventures together, both close to and far from home, and when things have gone south he’s always been there while I picked up the pieces. My dog has been one of the most patient, reliable people I’ve ever known.

Twelve years ago I gave little (to no) thought to what our life might be like when I was forty and Luck had white whiskers and paws. Over the years I’ve declined so many things (overnight river trips, National Park visits, travel abroad, biking) because I prioritized Lucky over anything else. That level of attachment might not have been the healthiest, but it’s how we lived. I never could have imagined I’d have the opportunity to travel like this while Lucky is still alive. But here’s the thing: I’m not the only one who loves him.

I’ll go so far as to say that I think my mother and Lucky need each other right now, and what they definitely don’t need is me moping around the house wondering what to do with myself. Even though I pursued the opportunity to go back to Spain, I hesitated when I reached the threshold. I worried my leaving was selfish, wrong or irresponsible.

I wondered if my wings would open on the way down.

When I told my mother she immediately encouraged me to go without any hesitation. She assured me that Lucky wasn’t any inconvenience for her, which was my biggest concern, and she said, “I want to see you happy, and you’re not happy here.”

In less than two weeks I’ll be off to live and work on Ibiza’s piney north shore that smells better than any place I’ve ever smelled before. I’m looking forward to all of the people I’m going to meet, and to doing simple, important work so that others can have a lovely yoga retreat.

I felt connected to Benirras Beach as soon as I arrived, and about 90 seconds after I arrived I announced to one of the owners that he was going to have a hard time getting rid of me. It’s an absolute dream that I have this opportunity to return as a volunteer and that I’ll have lots of free time to swim in the clear bay, run among the fruit trees, inhale the pines, read, write, and revise whatever isn’t working.

I took this picture the day I left, and hashtagged it #lastday #benirrasbeach #fornow

cap bernat

It’s as if I knew I’d be back, and I suppose I did. Don’t we always know?

 

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6 thoughts on “#likeagirl is how we do it

  1. I absolutely love the post! Every morsel!!!
    Your relationship with Lucky totally made me tear up! I have that with Lewis. He is almost 13!
    You are spectacular!!! I love your writing! Seriously gave me the kick start I needed this morning!:)

    • Thanks, Christy! If you want to read a fantastic book about women loving dogs, check out SIGHTHOUND by Pam Houston. I guarantee it will make you cry. xoxo

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