Here we are, at the end of our “Big Year”. It’s been an incredible experience, one we will remember for the rest of our lives. Rick is already wistful for the time we’ve had on the boat. He’s had a very productive sabbatical year, writing most of the book he’s been working on, and thoroughly enjoying the mental space that the freedom from land-locked life afforded him. I, on the other hand, am very happy that we will soon be back on terra firma, with a real house, a real kitchen, and real internet once again. I’ve had a blast, but I’ve missed my friends, having space to stretch out, walks in the park, rotisserie chicken, not getting seasick… A year on a boat is a loooong time.
|Back in the Slip!|
A number of things need to happen before we can resume our land lives. First, we need to have a place to keep our boat. We had let our slip go when we left last July, and we weren’t sure there would be another one available. To further complicate things, Young’s Boatyard had been sold in our absence, and we had yet to meet the new owner, Anthony Steward. Luckily, “Ant”, as he likes to be called, is a terrific guy, and we’re sure we’ll be very happy back in our old haunts at Youngs. In fact, Ant has had his own sailing adventures, spending two years sailing solo around the world in a little open boat. Rick googled him after their first meeting and now has developed a wicked man-crush, making me watch YouTube videos about Ant, and worrying me that he’ll want to make a similar voyage himself sometime.
You can read about Ant here:
Next, we need wheels. We gave away Rick’s ancient car before we left, intending to keep my old junker for when we got back, but mine died pretty spectacularly soon afterwards so we ended up donating that one away too. Now we find ourselves in a catch-22; we need a car to drive around, looking for a car to buy. Rick’s brother Jim came to our rescue, finding us a fairly new Toyota at auction, and handling the tags and title process for us. Score!
Last, we need to move back into our house. The house is not exactly in the same condition it was in when we left; a leak in the roof has caused some interior plaster damage, some of the furniture is a bit worse for wear, there are some plumbing issues, and one of the trees has died. We may find more problems once we’re actually back in there, but even this preliminary list is a bit daunting.
|Our house the way we remember it...|
Rick and I have been struggling a bit with separation anxiety. We’re still living aboard the boat, in and out of the slip at Youngs, until we can get back into the house, and we’ve had a few occasions where we’ve been apart for a short time. A solo trip to the grocery store, or a lunch out with friends, nothing major. But after having spent an entire year living in 125 square feet of space, even a brief separation feels comically traumatic for both of us. The move to land life may be more difficult than we imagine.
There are some other transitions happening as well. My son Dewey graduated with his Masters degree in May. Dewey was born with a number of birth defects that have required numerous surgeries over the years. He also suffers from hearing loss and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), both of which have affected his relationships with people and his academic progress. Earning a Masters degree is a big deal for anyone, but for someone with Dewey’s issues, it is a huge accomplishment. I couldn't be more proud.
Dewey’s graduation was complicated by a really pesky back injury I suffered a month or so ago. I was standing on the companionway ladder when we suddenly ran full aground on a sand shoal. I flew backwards into the cabin and landed hard on my derrière, busting my tailbone. Ouch! I spent most of my time after that flat on my back in the v-berth and in a good deal of pain. By the time of Dewey’s graduation ceremony I was somewhat improved, but still found it difficult to walk or sit. But hey, there was no way I was missing my boy’s big day, even if it meant being hauled in on a stretcher! Doped up on mommy euphoria and pain pills, I limped into that arena with Rick, got seated in the handicapped area, and saw my baby graduate. Nothing better.
Then there was my “retirement” party. I have been unable to play full time for the past three years due to some pretty debilitating overuse injuries in my neck and shoulder, elbows, back, etc. (Not helped by my latest butt-busting fall). My doctor has been telling me for the past year that my career as a professional violinist is over. I’ve been arguing with her, of course. My physical problems really began about twelve years ago, and I’ve been experimenting with alternative ways of holding my instrument ever since, trying to eke out a just a few more years of playing. Now, permanently damaged, I am unable to play for even a few minutes without exacerbating my symptoms. So, as of July 8, I’m being terminated by the BSO.
There are four musicians leaving this year, and the orchestra honored us with an onstage acknowledgement, and then an after party where we were all wined and dined, roasted and toasted, stories were shared and good-byes were said. But what can one really say about the end of a lifetime career?
|My dear friend Ellen Troyer, eulogizing me|
In my own case, I have to admit that it is not a completely sad event. In the course of the last years, when I was still playing full time, I had grown tired of the daily grind of practicing, the ball-and-chain-ness of having to drag my violin with me everywhere, even on the boat, in order to stay reasonably in shape. More recently, I’d begun dreading practicing, due both to the ever increasing physical discomfort produced by the act of playing, but also to the ever increasing amount of music that needed to be prepared each week. I seemed to have very little remaining patience for the behind-the-scenes politics at my workplace, and had become frustrated and angry about the uninspiring, non-existent interpretations of great masterworks by mediocre conductors. The old joy that I have felt for most of my professional career has been beaten down during the last decade, really only making an appearance for chamber music and certain guest conductors.
Nonetheless, I am sad to leave a career that connects me directly with my colleagues, the powerful action of combined efforts creating an experience of sound, the total of which being far greater than the sum of each individual contribution. I’ve always felt the spirituality of these moments on stage, the threads of sound weaving us all together, musicians, audience and the universe. I will miss being an active participant in that.
It seems unthinkable that I will never again play the last movement of Mozart’s Jupiter symphony, or the slow movement of Beethoven’s Emperor concerto, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Shostakovich 5, Mahler 1, Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Barber, Vaughan Williams, Dvorak, Stravinsky, on and on and on. Every piece that I hear on the radio now becomes my favorite work, my favorite composer, and I want to scream out in anguish, “BUT I WILL NEVER PLAY THIS AGAIN!!!”
There’s also the inconvenient and down-to-earth problem of not getting paychecks. My disability insurance premiums may or may not continue after July 8, and if I am ultimately unsuccessful with my claim, I will have a few years of zero income before I can start collecting social security, pension and other traditional retirement benefits. Having spent my entire life – since the age of ten – intensely focused around the violin and other music related pursuits, I find myself with no other marketable skills. And at the age of fifty-nine, not a lot of time (or inclination) left to learn something new.
Luckily, Rick makes a decent living, and we have some savings built up. We may need to exchange our house for something smaller, but there are certainly worse things that people can suffer. We’ll be okay.
Even if the disability company comes through, what will I do with my time? I’m actually not too worried about that question. My sewing machine collection has been languishing in our basement for the past year, and I’ve been chomping at the bit to get back to it while we’ve been on the boat. My quilting has never been professional quality, and I am a poor excuse for an artist, but I thoroughly enjoy piecing fabric together into something new. I’ve long used quilting as an antidote for the momentariness of music, something tangible that can be held in your hand and touched, as opposed to the ethereal, temporary quality of my work with the violin. I am looking forward to devoting some real time to my craft.
|Another baby quilt|
|Twin-sized for Dewey|
I may not be able to make music on my own any more, but we’ve been doing a good deal of listening to music while on the boat. We’ve got a pretty good sound system down below, and every evening while I’m making dinner, Rick acts as DJ. I’ll admit, I can’t yet listen to my own chamber music recordings, it’s just too painful. But I’ve enjoyed listening to piano music, stuff I never played myself. Over the course of the year, we’ve developed two standard “must-plays”.
The first is Brahms Intermezzo, op.118, no.2. This is a piece I used to listen to every night in college when I was having trouble sleeping. I rediscovered it at the beginning of our boat trip, and Rick and I spent an entire evening listening to every version we could find on the internet in an effort to find the best one. Grimaud, Rubinstein, Kissen (surprisingly yucky), many others. The hands-down winner was Radu Lupu, from a 1976 recording. We bought our copy, but here’s the same one on youtube:
Next in the playlist is the real theme song of our year away, and I always need to hear it right after the Brahms. Just in case you think we only listen to classical music here on Valkyrie, think again, because we have very eclectic tastes (and also, Rick wouldn’t last a day if he couldn’t listen to his beloved Stones). This is a country classic, sung by Peter Wolf, called “Nothing but the Wheel”. The lyrics are what draw me to this song, and although it’s really about a road trip, I always think of the big wheel in our cockpit, the wind, and the night sky.
Tomorrow we go home.