Letter to S--, 24 April 2012

Dear S,

I hope this finds you well and happy in Firenze.  Please say hello to Brunelleschi's dome for me, and to the stern ghost of Savonarola.

Portland is blooming right now.  Little false summers strip away our layers with delectable warmth, only to dissolve overnight into the familiar overcast pallor of Portland's perpetual no-season.

I'm super busy with on-call shifts, PlayWrite, dragonboats, tech stuff on the side, and building a solo show.  It would take far too much time and paper to convey a fair sense of each of these bits of me, so I choose one facet arbitrarily for you to share:

Yesterday was my first experience tilling (that is, steering) a dragon boat.  I'm part of a team, the No Teachers Left Behind team, which is a sweet collection of yoga-athletic and yoga-paunchy middle school teachers, a smattering of their partners, boyfriends or roommates, and then me.  Last year I painted their faces in Maori war-patterns, and we took 4th Place in the 4th Division (the last which qualifies for medals).

I'm a regular paddler, and I signed up to be a backup tiller.  Yesterday's practice I spent half paddling, and half tilling for the first time.  It was a perfect day on the Willamette, with some occasionally stiff breezes and currents, but otherwise warm, bright and everything buttery and splendid, like a Maxfield Parrish painting.

Steering a dragonboat requires surprisingly strenuous effort and cunning.  It's like being the puppeteer of a self-propelling runaway train, but on water.  There are 8 benches of paddlers, with 2 paddlers per bench, plus the caller who sets the pace, and the tiller.  And the boat itself, which is a plywood-laminate dragon, wayward and fussy to steer, liable to catch cross breezes on the elaborately sculpted head and tail.  All this translates into surprisingly profound motive power and momentum.  Turning this monster, while balancing on the exposed aft deck, using a big cartoonishly heavy steering-oar, requires poise, river-wide awareness, and the kind of physical strength that unites thighs, shoulders and arms in week-long soreness and stiffness.  All of this is ridiculously fun.

At one critical point, I was maneuvering us around a massive construction barge (which created an artificially narrow passage), when no less than 4 other dragonboats, two fishing boats, an outrigger kayak and a big stupid luxury boat all decided to converge on the same narrow passage, from different directions, all at the same time.

You'll be surprised to learn that I didn't sink anything, nor did I nor anyone else drown.  The paddlers pushed us through the treacherous wakes of all those bigger and faster boats.  The sea monsters dwelling in the deep sensed our collective valor, and chose to hide their gruesome heads even deeper in the murky ooze.  The mayor called, asking to decorate the bridges with spotlit portraits of our dragonboat team, but we modestly declined...

Come home soon, dear S.  There are gallons and gallons of chocolate milk just waiting for us to joyfully imbibe.



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