Saturday, August 02, 2014

Fact Check

Early in June, I was starting to get extra anxious about the date of my big row across Buzzards Bay. For two years, I had been loosely aiming for July 7th, 2014. On that date, I would be the exact same age that Gideon Dexter had been on the day that he died. What perfect symmetry — to row back to his home town at that age — to return and continue-on at that point.

Gideon died roughly two months before his birthday. The newspaper account of his death noted that “Mr. Gideon Dexter was 46 years old.” Was it too strained an assumption to think that his next birthday would be his 47th? Probably not. The strained assumption, however, was to think that an 1827 newspaper employed a fact-checker — or cared enough about the details of the life of a caulker. Early in June, my mother asked me why I was thinking of July 7th for the date of my row. I explained. She replied, “But he was 45. He was born in 1781.”

Once I accepted the fact that Gideon’s death and my life would not share this math-mystical intersection, I was relieved. The physical therapy of my wrists and elbows is progressing — but slowly. Certainly the progress was too slow to get me across Buzzards Bay under my own power on July 7th. 

My relief has continued to grow each week — as the finishing work on my boat has taken much, much longer than I had anticipated. Every time I’ve been asked “how long until your boat’s done?” I’ve replied, “two weeks.” And I’ve meant it. But I’ve been saying that for over three months now.

Two weeks ago, I finally figured out why I was so grossly wrong in my estimation of time. I was out volunteering on the Baykeeper, the boat that the Buzzards Bay Coalition uses to go out and do water testing and to offer septic tank pump-out to recreational boaters. The captain that day asked me how things were going. He actually has some knowledge of boatbuilding, and as I described how much sanding I was doing between each layer of epoxy, he asked me why? After all, all I needed to do was to use a scouring pad to microscopically abrade the surface. I didn’t need to sand.

Picture this: I had been taking a little folded piece of sandpaper and rubbing it with two fingers into the crevasse between the underside of the seats and the side of the boat. I had been leaning over into the boat upside down to smoothly sand the underside of each seat. It was taking me five days just to hand-sand the inside (only the inside) of the boat. Full days and three months of such bodily contortions were beginning to send my back into spasms — slowing the sanding, threatening my training and physical therapy schedule.

Which is not to complain, as such. The learning curve for any new skill can be steep. Wrong assumptions and lack of knowledge can send one down dead-ends or on long detours. I haven’t ruined anything. But, hell, I just spent three months doing something I didn’t really need to do. I don’t exactly have the money to afford such mistakes. I could have been earning money with that time — but such thoughts are just the downward spiral of anxiety. I remind myself constantly that my artistic practice — and especially this project — is about labor and its fetishization. I should feel highly successful in that regard. yay.

The upshot is that my row did not happen on July 7th. I could possibly have the boat done in time to row it across Buzzards Bay in early September. But I would have virtually no time to practice in that boat. And I have no way of knowing if my tendon issues will be resolved enough to make a 20-25 mile row feasible. Would I really want to push myself across the bay only to thoroughly damage my tendons — to the point at which I would be unable to draw for months. That would be a distinct possibility. But my anxiety has been mounting nonetheless, as I would need to put all of my support crew in place in order to row this year.

I’d been anxiously running though such thoughts — actually thinking of my tendonitis and the fact that I did not yet have a boat  as sorry excuses for my failure to get this project done. As if facts were excuses. Then last week I was out on the Baykeeper again, and a different captain said, “You don’t want to row across Buzzards Bay in September. The wind starts picking up — That’s why they have the America’s Cup in September. July is the best time to row.” July.

I will be rowing across Buzzards Bay next July. I will get the boat done this year, and I’ll test it out. Then I’ll have it ready and waiting to put in the water in April or May next year and train in that boat — and I'll be ready to row in July.
looking across Buzzards Bay from the back of the Baykeeper.