Uncategorized July 14, 2014

It’s an odd analogy to sailing, life in the desert, but as someone who lived on the New England coast where I learned to sail, it’s also the perfect metaphor. So much of our English language is tied to nautical expressions. A “cup of Joe” an oft-heard term used for grabbing a cup of coffee dates back to the US Navy when President Woodrow Wilson appointed Josephus Daniels in 1913 as Secretary of the Navy.   One of his first orders was to abolished the officers daily allowance of wine, replacing it with the next strongest drink aboard: coffee -hence the sarcastic: “cup of Joe”.

The nautical lexicon is full of every day terms: “head” for toilet, “learning the ropes”, “lay of the land”, “clear the deck” and so on.  There are some wonderful ones that seemingly had no connection to sailing.  “Feeling blue” refers to when a ship’s captain died onboard, a blue flag was flown in his honor.  “In the Doldrums”  we use to mean feeling down, lethargic.  In nautical terms, it refers to an area north and south of the equator where the winds were so light, ships could drift for days.

There are many humorous ones as well, like “keeling over” usually from the effects of alcohol.  A sailing ship moved through seas “keeled over”, the push of the wind on the sails.  “Hunky-dory” has no connection to a dory, a small rowing boat, but to a street in Yokomaha Japan, “Honki-dori” where sailors could find everything pleasurable.  Everything is “OK”.

This morning I was emailing a friend on Cape Cod Massachusetts, sailing vessels in sight.   In writing about the status of this journey, I accidently slipped into the metaphor of a sailing ship to describe my journey.  It’s ironic that I’m in the desert, ie “beached”.  I have many times described (my) life as a road traveled looking straight ahead.  But the intersections steer me away from that horizon, changing the attitude and perspective.  I wrote that trying to “steer” this tour is like sailing a small vessel where to make it move toward my side of the boat, I have to push the tiller away from me.  And vice versa.  That is life.  The more one tries to make something happen, the more likely it will go in the opposite direction.  As parents, we learned that trick early on.

Many of the tour plans, out of my control, brought it to a dead stop in Palm Springs which hasn’t been a bad thing at all.   Praise and kudos from the museum’s director on down, have been the validation that assures me this journey I’m on makes sense.  And the validation assures me I have a permanent place at the air museum.   But a journey requires movement.  Or does it?   That is what I’m left pondering.

On the one hand, this whole tour, now into it’s fifteenth month, has been an education on life and people and connections, something  I’d never have imagined while planted at the Women’s Memorial.   Over the year, venues changed, some cancelled, many queries never respond.  I am baffled by the lack of response and understanding of what this is about. But I can’t change their thinking.  If this tour is to succeed, in my original scheme, it does require motion, momentum.   Like the captain of a ship adrift in the Doldrums, there is little I can do.  What the currents below are doing, remain deep and dark.  The winds hint at the surface, scratching, tickling.  A puff of hot air gone just like that.

I am fortunate enough to have access to better “grog” than just coffee, albeit it is Starbucks.  A nightly allotment of alcohol is at my control -in moderation of course.   I also have some amazing deckhands who have given me such support that I know the vessel is sound, sails mended and stores full.  I can ride out the light winds and hot sun.   The charts remain weighted down, ready for that breeze to ripple the canvas.  From where it comes… that is not the question but the answer.  I scan the skies in 360 degrees, expecting that breeze to not hit me full in the face, but from behind.



For over three decades my profession was as an author and illustrator of children's books. Firefighters A to Z (McElderry Books/S&S) was chosen as a "Best Book" by the NY Times (2000). Over 100 titles are attached to my name. In 2011 my life changed the moment I saw a photo of a WW II fighter pilot. Nineteen year old Griffin Holland, P-47 pilot stood erect on the wheel of his plane, staring off into the distance, cocky as all get out. The need to paint that photo and Griff's tearful reaction to it as an 88 year old man set this journey in motion.

Comments 6

    • wwtwotravelingportraitexhibit says on July 14, 2014

      Thanks for the, what I would call, high praise. And I will immediately check out this book. Sounds like the perfect read. Tomorrow, an LA Times reporter is calling. That puff of breeze might be stirring.

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