I wrote this letter on my 5th tour around Roosevelt Island in twice as many days, rehearsing the points I wanted to make, how I would phrase things, while I cruised around the sandbar at the south end of the island at low tide. When I submitted my time sheet on Friday, I had worked 40 hours in the last two weeks. I’ve spent so much time on the water in the last month that, when I close my eyes, the world rocks gently like I’m still on the dock.
I try and go paddling every time I go to the river. If I’m teaching a class, I try and go thirty minutes early and sprint out to Three Sisters and back. After I finish an 8 hour shift I jump out of my clothes and paddle board up to the waterfall. The worst parts of the shift are when I have to stand still. Or deal with customers. I like moving, I like being busy, I like being able to solve a problem by throwing a boat at it.
It was the Fourth of July last week, my favorite day of the year. This was the first year I didn’t have to do a rescue in the dark but I feel like I’ve done enough rescues--the cracked boat halfway through the tour at sundown, the flipped boat in the wake of the water taxi--in the first half of this season to make up for missing out on doing one in the dark.
I’m one of the last ones in on the Fourth. I’m usually a sweep, zigzagging across the river, looking for tipped boats or lingering customers, so when I pull up around 10:30, the dock is chaos. I get to hop out of my boat, still barefoot, and throw myself right into the action. You don’t have to stop and think, there’s always something to do--a boat to stack or a paddle to strip of the glowsticks we duct tape on for visibility or a life jacket to hang--you just keep moving until you’re exhausted and it’s finished. I think this is what I’m good at: organizing things and giving people a task and taking something that’s chaotic and a mess like the Fourth of July and 300 boats and making sense of it by climbing on top of a pile of precariously leaning double kayaks for a better vantage point, finding what still needs to be done, and fixing it with my own two hands.
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the boathouse, not just because I’ve been scheduled nearly every day for the past twelve days. This is my fourth summer and I’m a good 4-5 years older than the average dock staff; most days feel less like management and more like babysitting. I wonder when it’s my time to grow up and do what other people my age are doing which, as best I can tell, is getting drunk on mimosas at bottomless brunches and going to Nats games.
Some days, I feel like I could never give this up and then other days I feel like I should’ve already left. Some days, it’s hard being there because I’ve made such good friends who, for whatever reason, have since moved away: Ally lives in Arizona and Zane is in Costa Rica and Alex is in Ghana and Frank is in Florida and there’s a lot of alliteration there and also feelings of nostalgia and missing them and the way things you used to be. I think I also miss the person I used to be when I started at the boathouse: a 23 year old new to the city who couldn’t paddle and was full of wide eyed optimism.
I was listening to a talk the other day where someone said that our discontent with our present is just echoes of our past. I’ve been feeling a lot of discontent lately, worrying that I’m not where I’m supposed to be, that I’m not as far along with my life or career as I’m supposed to be, that I’m not as happy as I’m supposed to be.
Sometimes it feels like the boathouse is just one big echo of my past. So I’m trying to be happy in this moment for exactly what it is. I don’t know if I’ll be back at the boathouse next year. I don’t know what kind of art I’ll be making in six months or what stage I’ll be at in my career. I don’t know if, this time next week, I’ll be happy or maybe struggling my way through another funk.
So I try and pick one thing in this exact moment to be grateful for. Right now it’s being on the water. It’s the sun and my favorite hat. It’s my full Nalgene. It’s executing a perfect sculling draw stroke.
Who knows where I’ll be in a year? But right now, I’m happy.