Push, Pull

Twenty-five years ago, I went kayaking as part of a group outing. I had kayaked a few times on fresh-water lakes in Wisconsin but had never experienced the cold waters of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oregon.  It was a bit daunting to launch into the cold water, starting off in a sheltered bay and heading out into the big blue.

Luckily, we had a good leader. Micah. He taught us the basics, how to get in and out of an overturned kayak in cold water, how to paddle. This basic instruction has turned out to be quite handy.

Tidbit #1:  You will need to paddle back. Do not blow your wad outbound, you need to make it back to shore. (Your guide is NOT going to drag your sorry ass back!) Pace yourself. This is especially important if you are stupid enough to go into deep water on your own. There is no guide to drag your sorry ass home. It was nice knowing you.

Tidbit #2:  Master your paddling technique. I was struggling with my paddle, trying to pull the oar to me to try to get somewhere. Micah pointed out to me that it is much easier to push the paddle away. A person can push all day, while pulling will exhaust a person very quickly. I use this technique every time I paddle a kayak and it works beautifully. Push, push, push… listen to the water glide past your boat.

I am so glad I figured out that pushing is easier than pulling. Pulling gives you blisters.

Pushing and pulling is not just for kayaking.

Over the years, I have had a several different positions in my career. Years ago, I had switched to a new clinic with expectations of improved hours, pay and professional satisfaction. A year and a half later, it was not as expected or promised. Several meetings with management had produced no change.

After a bit of anguish, I quit my job. It was terrible but afterward I felt a sense of calm. The manager asked me how I had decided to quit and out of the blue I quoted Kris Kristofferson’s Me and Bobby McGee, “Freedom’s just another word for nothin’ left to lose…”  

The manager smiled. She got me. I moved on. They had a hard time replacing me and lost more money than they would have if they had worked it out with me.

On that occasion, I would say that I got pushed. I needed a push. I think management thought they were pulling me into line, but what happened is that they pushed me a little too hard and I returned the favor by jumping overboard.

Speaking of jumping overboard- remember Jaws? That movie has scarred me for life. “We need a bigger boat.” Or not.

I have had the experience of paddling both a one-man boat and a two-man boat. Now that is a terrific experiment. I recommend it.

My Sister and I took a two-man kayak into Monterey Bay. It was a delightful trip and we saw a baby seal get born. It was amazing, until our guide yelled, “Paddle!” The baby seal was getting too close to our boat and we had to maintain a proper distance. We paddled and got to a safe distance. Whew.  The guide told us to follow him.

So, I started paddling. I was paddling hard and making no progress. I looked back and my sister had her paddle dug in to keep us where we were… she had not heard the new directions and was keeping us steady.

I wanted to thump her on the head with my paddle. I had exhausted myself! For naught!

Note to self… when you are in the same boat make sure you know where you are going and make sure both people are paddling. For me, the better choice is to paddle my own boat. It only took me 50 years to figure that one out.

It is not just me in case you were wondering.

On a different trip about a decade later, I was invited to go a group kayaking tour of Ding Darling Nature Preserve in Florida. It was mostly a couple’s thing, but my friend who invited me said there were two single boats and I would have one and her boyfriend would paddle the other one. The other boats had a variety of sisters or married couples put together in boats. She apologized that I would have to paddle alone. I told her I would be more than happy to go it alone.

The boyfriend and I were the only ones who enjoyed the trip.

The rest of the group came out of the water ready to kill. It is not easy to paddle in tandem. I was paddling around and easily able to navigate the boat and glide through the water. I saw mangroves and birds and other lovely things. I could go close to the shore or out into the middle of the stream. Towards the end, I was ahead of everyone. I waited at a buoy.

One couple caught up to me and the husband said, “We beat everyone!” I laughed and said, “Not everyone!”  He gave me the evil eye. I could tell that from his point of view the little girl alone in her boat did not count. Asshole.

Twenty years later…

I am still pushing. I occasionally regress into pulling and wear myself out. It happened a bit this year. The pandemic has not been kind to me. My profession was impacted by the pandemic and it has been a struggle to keep it together. Quite a few of my colleagues are retiring. I am too young, so that is not an option for me. In a way, I think that is good because when the only option is to keep going… you keep going.

I became a bit too socially isolated and danced with depression. Luckily, my friends and family recognized that I was losing it and brought me back to sanity.

I find it ironic, that I crave time for myself and for my creative pursuits but at the end of the day I require social interaction. Who knew? Now, I know. I also need to exercise daily, and I now recognize that working is good for me. I need a sense of purpose and do not do well when I have too much time on my hands.

“Too thinky” one friend would say. (“No thinky” is also bad…but that is for another story which ends with a person who shall not be named doing the walk of shame with her bra in her pocket.)

I often walk with my Sister, the same one I wanted to whack with my kayak paddle.

We talk about many things on our long walks. We talk about hopes and dreams, we talk about work and day to day minutiae, we talk about how to navigate life.

We are back in our kayak. Only this time, we each have our own kayak and paddle together. Sometimes we are side by side and sometimes one of us leads. It goes back and forth. On a rare occasion, one of us will pull the other one. That kind of pulling, I do not mind. The rope is strong. It will not break.

GGJ

*This story was inspired by Ruth Bader Ginsberg who passed away yesterday. I could not sleep so I wrote this story. This one’s for Ruth.

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