Pilgrim’s Progress

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It has been a little more than a year, now. I remember well the day. It was filled with the kind of eruptions seemingly about nothing in particular that, in a marriage, are too often the harbingers of something very particular. Such arguments always seem random and senseless at the time. Only in hindsight do we recognize them as volcanic, arising from deep, unseen fissures that open slowly as a relationship comes apart. They may lie dormant for a while, but eventually they widen and explode. A critical eruption in my life came at ten o’clock in the evening of July 17, 2015, when my wife of five years asked for a divorce. I lacked the will to fight. The truth be told, I felt a strange mixture of fear and relief that she had spoken out loud what we’d both been thinking.
It was not the first time. There had been tremors before. We had separated the previous May, then had a change of heart in June. Now, the pendulum had swung back. I felt a sense of defeat, of inevitability.
Divorce, that always inopportune change of life, happened at an especially inopportune time for me. Six weeks earlier, I had been rescued five hundred miles south of Nova Scotia in the Atlantic Ocean after my thirty-foot ketch started taking on water from structural damage. Offered rescue by a passing ship, I made the decision to abandon my boat and my quest to sail solo to Ireland, where my wife and I had planned to reunite and, however naïvely, renew our vows. A week later I returned to Charleston amid some modest fanfare from an AP story about the rescue, but deep down I was […]

September 4th, 2016|

Au Revoir

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The French have a wonderful way of saying goodbye that seems appropriate for the start of a sailing voyage. It’s not goodbye at all but rather, “until we meet again.”
I write these words late at night in a café in Calais whose lovely and charming wait staff have suffered gladly the use of their facilities and Internet connection long after my moules mariniere were a happy memory. (To be fair, all French girls seem lovely and charming to me.) The Nevermore lies contentedly in the well-protected Calais marina, where the showers are hot and the bathrooms cleaner than those in any home I have ever owned. The harbormaster, Etienne, made sure I was looked after and insisted there was no rush to leave. But leave I must, tomorrow morning, with the tide. The weather and the wind are too perfect not to go. Everything is ready, and so am I. Once again, I recite the words of the classic Richard Hovey poem, “The Sea Gipsy”:
I am fevered with the sunset,
I am fretful with the bay,
For the wander-thirst is on me
And my soul is in Cathay.

There’s a schooner in the offing,
With her topsails shot with fire,
And my heart has gone aboard her
For the Islands of Desire.

I must forth again tomorrow!
With the sunset I must be
Hull down on the trail of rapture
In the wonder of the sea.
The island of my desire is a tiny volcanic eruption named La Palma, in the Canary Islands, exactly 1660 nautical miles from the end of the pier at Calais. From that starting point, I will execute the first of three complicated navigational maneuvers to make my landfall: two lefts and a right.
So it is goodbye at last to Paris, and […]

May 4th, 2016|

Down the Rabbit Hole with Border Control

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Well, it’s official. Queen Elizabeth and I have finally come to a parting of the ways. And so it seems only fitting at this time to say farewell and look back at my six-month sojourn in that “green and pleasant land” of my grandfather’s birth. An essay about what I learned of life in England and Wales during my time there is soon to follow. But first, a bit of background and some well-earned grousing about the manner of my leaving:
 
Those who have followed my Tale of Woe are aware that, after coming to England last fall on a winter sabbatical to complete my third novel (which I happily did), I got the wild hare to buy yet another yacht and sail it around the world. This plan was all well and good, the only problem being that the six months of leave expressly granted to me as a tourist to remain in the UK (as clearly stamped on my passport) was due to expire on April 12, whereas some very necessary repair and refurbishing of the vessel by a British boatyard was not due to be completed until the end of April. Moreover, the season during which it is considered safe to cross the often treacherous Bay of Biscay on the way to the Canary Islands—my first port of call—does not begin, in the eyes of sailors much more seasoned and expert in matters of weather than I, until May 1.
So, being a lawyer charged with the duty to obey, not flout the law, I did what no normal person in his right mind would do: I dutifully left the UK on March 31 to come to France for a one-week holiday, then […]

April 25th, 2016|

Women’s Work: The American Cathedral in Paris

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It was a glorious morning today at the American Cathedral in Paris, where the choral service at eleven brought back fond memories of my home church, Grace Cathedral, in Charleston. I had the distinct pleasure to hear the homily given by the dean of the cathedral, Lucinda Laird. Dean Laird is one of that rare breed of Episcopal priests in the vein of Nancy Allison and John Zahl who have a Calvinistic zeal for good preaching, and that was certainly in evidence this morning. Elaborating on the story in The Book of Acts, chapter 11, verses one through eighteen, she explained how revolutionary the idea was in the first century that the gospel should be given to non-Jews. In comparison, she noted her own astonishment as a member of the Episcopal Church at a time some decades ago, when women priests were still unknown, at seeing trailblazer Bea Blair raise the Eucharist during mass. Upon hearing a female priest say the words of the liturgy, “this is my body,” a young Lucinda Laird understood fully for the first time that that sacrifice was indeed meant for her and her own flesh instead of as something one step removed in the body of a man.
It pains me somewhat to think that we are still in a place and time theologically in which female priests must so often speak of being female as black politicians speak of being black. No one, I am quite sure, is interested in my thoughts on being male. But lest we forget, not far from the altar of the American Cathedral in Paris where the Eucharist was celebrated today by two women priests of outstanding caliber, competence and holiness, stands another altar in the […]

April 24th, 2016|

The French Law of Pastry and Women

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Somehow, I always knew it would be the French—that they would have the answers to the burning questions about life and love. And, of course, they do. As I sit alone here in Paris, that liveliest and loveliest of cities, this wisdom came to me in an unexpected, artistic, nuanced, metaphorical and, therefore, quintessentially French sort of way. I learned it through pastries.

Women and pastries are about choices. There are lots of them. They are rich and lovely and, taken in quantity, potentially very bad for you—fatal, to be sure, even if you do go in a rather pleasant, somnolent, and satisfied condition, rising on dust clouds of powdered sugar to heaven. But if you don’t wish to die or become disabled and no longer able to function you cannot have them all. You must choose.

The thing about pastries and women is that you cannot try before you buy—at least not without a lot of shouting and unhappiness and recrimination and demands for payment of damages. You must choose before you try and damn well not complain about your choice after you do, because there won’t be another. Herein enters the need for a method of choosing. Some criteria. On this score, French pastry chefs make your job as difficult as possible.

First of all, the selections are behind a glass case, where they cannot be touched or smelled but rather only admired from afar. You look. You lust. You dream of what lies within that glistening, creamy exterior. But you do not know. Not really. And the pastry chef, who is conspiring with the pastries to deceive you and who in any event is French and does not speak your language, has no interest […]

April 21st, 2016|

A Few Thoughts Before The Voyage

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And so it begins. Another vessel. Another voyage. Another harbor. Another long-awaited, dreamed-of, hoped-for landfall. The old gnawing fear, once more. The old intelligence that always listens to fear for what counsel it may offer, met by the same understanding that fear is a junior officer not well suited for command. There is no help, no life, no answer, no hope but to make way, to forge ahead, to go at last to sea again.
Those who have never faced the ocean alone for days upon weeks in a small boat—faced the darkness, the mystery, the violence, the sheer power, the utter vastness, its pitiless yet beautiful indifference—have no clue. Giddy and well-meaning offers to “come along for the ride” are met with knowing and protective smiles. You do not want to be with me, friend, when the place we now know as “there” finally, chillingly, unalterably, becomes “here.” Here, there be dragons. Here, there be demons. Here, there be places within yourself to which you have never travelled and where you do not wish to go. Trust me. Rest peaceably in your easy chair, by the warm fire and the glow of the television set, dry and safe and filled with sweet foods and comforted by the purring of your cat and the loyalty of your dog and the caress of your lover. I do not take this way because I will. I take it because I must.
I have stepped up to safety from two vessels left battered and crippled at sea. There will not be a third. Not for nothing is the one on which I now sail named Nevermore. On this boat I will go around or I will go down, but […]

April 20th, 2016|

The Passage to Come

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News from London, 4 February 2016 . . . It is finished! At exactly 2:20 p.m. today, I typed the last keystroke of my latest novel, The Passage. It is 94,626 words and 378 pages in all. For the sake of comparison, that’s roughly as long as The Hobbit (95,022 words) and twice as long as The Great Gatsby (47,094 words). Of course, if literary greatness were measured in ink, the Code of Federal Regulations would be in the New York Times top 10. The Passage is not a letter longer or shorter than it needed to be to tell the curious tale of Jay Danforth Fitzgerald and his stowaway . . .

Needless to say, I am well past my deadline for the planned January 2016 release of this book. This delay I blame squarely on the intoxicating beauty of Wales. The manuscript now goes into the meat grinder of editing and production. It will be released through Ingram in hardcover in the Spring and available wherever books are sold. Stay tuned for details about the date, etc.

In other news, after rolling around Europe for the past six months, licking my wounds from the loss of the Prodigal, I have decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and get back on the horse that threw me. I have acquired a stout sailing vessel and named her the Nevermore, after Poe’s famous poem, for she is my last ship, my last hope for glory, and my last chance to achieve the dream of sailing alone around the world. There will never be another time, and there will never be another boat. She is a 1967 Camper Nicholson 32, built to Lloyds standards in England by […]

February 4th, 2016|

Atlantic Circle: a review

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Kathryn Lasky is well known as a prolific author of award-winning and popular children’s books. Her Guardians of Ga’Hoole series became a major motion picture (Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole) released by Warner Brothers in 2010.  She is not as well-known—but by golly she ought to be—for her sailing memoir, Atlantic Circle, published by Norton in 1985 under her married name, Lasky Knight, and recently released on Kindle. 
I bought the hardcover copy of Atlantic Circle the year it came out, when I was a newly minted lawyer looking for ways to dissolve the extra money I was bringing home from my first real job.  I found the most efficient money-solvent on Earth in a sailboat shop not far from my first apartment. I shudder to think of all the dollars washed down the wakes of various sailboats I have owned since then (four sloops, one cutter, two catboats, and one ketch), thanks in part to Ms. Lasky’s little book.
Atlantic Circle is a wonderfully conversational and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny look at the macho business of crossing an ocean in a small boat, told by the self-confessed “Jewish American Princess” shanghaied aboard a thirty-foot ketch given to her and her husband Chris as a wedding present.  Lasky objects at first to the princess label but concedes that if it means having “money and privilege,” she and her sister fit the term growing up. “We were indulged but not spoiled,” she says. “There is a difference, I think.” In reading Lasky’s story, the difference couldn’t be more apparent. Clearly, Christopher Knight found himself a longsuffering pearl of a girl. In fact, after reading about her seventy-year-old mother Hortense, green with seasickness but soldiering on after joining her daughter for a rough European leg of the voyage, one can […]

January 26th, 2015|

Back to Happy: a review

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And now for something totally different . . .

Actress Connie Bowman has written a wonderful new book. Flowing from the unfathomable grief of the loss of her first child, Meghan, to a congenital heart and lung condition at age six, it is a story filled with insight, advice and inspiration for women and mothers, especially, on how to navigate the tragedies that affect us all and find the way “Back to Happy.” The book as you might guess came to me in an unusual way.

Connie, her future husband Rob, and I attended a sleepy, small liberal arts college in the hills of Western Maryland in the seventies. Although I cannot recall a single intelligible word I ever said to her, I remember her well as the impossibly beautiful brunette whose photograph could have appeared in the dictionary beside the definition of the term, “out of my league.” For thirty years, I had no idea nor any reason to wonder what happened to Connie, but through the weird miracle of Facebook, I have come to admire her career and that of her famous second child, Caroline Bowman, a Broadway star known for her performances in Kinky Boots and as Eva Perone in Evita. Just last fall, Caroline, who is the image of her mother as a young girl, was cast as one of the two sisters leading the Broadway production of Wicked.

Back to Happy, A Journey of Hope, Healing, and Waking Up, sounds a number of themes familiar to women’s self-help literature but does so with an endearing freshness and authenticity born of Connie’s and Rob’s remarkable, personal story. At just 72 pages, it is a quick read in which the author imparts, in nine […]

January 22nd, 2015|

Lies and Damned Lies

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I have listened with weary amazement to conservative pundits crying “Liar, liar! Pants on fire!” in the wake of revelations about the Jonathan Gruber video. Gruber is the MIT economics professor who was paid by the Obama administration in 2009 to help design the laws that became Obamacare. Videos of various speeches he has given reveal that he and the politicians pushing Obamacare deliberately hid their underlying agenda to create a new health care tax in the guise of a law requiring healthy people to buy overpriced insurance they didn’t need. In other words, they lied—something heretofore unheard of in the sunny uplands of American legislative politics. In the words of Captain Renault, the GOP House caucus is “shocked, shocked,” to know that obfuscation for political gain is going on in Washington.
The obvious problem with this complaint is that the American people didn’t vote on and pass Obamacare; their duly elected representatives did. Regardless whether any of them chose to read it, there is not one iota of the law that was not published and put before legislators’ eyes before they voted on it. The concept of the individual mandate—along with the fee for noncompliance—was formally disclosed in the “discussion draft” of the bill published by Speaker Pelosi in June 2009, more than four months before the final vote. Laws may be enacted in a hodgepodge of haste and hurry, and Obamacare certainly was, but they are not enacted in secret.
Obamacare has been on the books and available for study by anyone who cared to read it, lo these past five years. When Justice John Roberts did exactly that and concluded that the individual mandate was, in fact, a “tax,” there was no hew and cry that this was a […]

November 14th, 2014|