Rocking The Boat

photo by Will Van Dorp

photo of Tug Hackensack by Will Van Dorp

My partner Will has a thing for boats. In fact, we lived on a boat for the first three years of our relationship. It was beautiful, and challenging. One of the beauties of boat life was that we were tied to a dock but we floated up and down with the tide. I’ve never been so tuned in to natural rhythms. No matter how much stress there was in my day or how chaotic the world seemed (and given that we’re talking 2000-2003 there was a lot of chaos), there was a regularity and a rhythm to my immediate environment. No matter what else was happening, the tide came in and the tide went out two times a day. Just like the tide marked daily rhythms, phases of the moon marked monthly rhythms, and bird migrations marked annual ones. All of this was visible, tangible, and inextricably woven through our everyday lives. There were beautiful sunrises.

I’m thinking about this because I’m planning for a transition in my own life, and it’s one that will require me to give up quite a bit of something that I’ve been holding on to tightly for the last 15 years: stability. I had very little stability growing up, and so creating stability as an adult is something I’ve prized more than just about anything else. I am proud of the fact that I pushed through college and graduate school and had my Ph.D and a tenure-track job before I was 30. I had tenure by 34, and along with that came a lot of security: a solid career path, good pay, excellent health insurance, a retirement savings plan, and work that combines intellectualism and social justice in a way that I think truly improves my students lives and their communities.

But it’s time to rock the boat, and thinking about boats is really helping me see that giving up some stability is not necessarily as scary as I thought. Boats are designed to move through water, unattached to the earth. They pitch and roll with the waves, an experience that can be terrifying and yet relatively safe at the same time. A sailboat flies through the water heeled way over on its side and then returns to its upright position when its sails are pulled in. A boat can’t balance itself on stable ground, but put it in the dynamic environment of the water and it’s resilience is immediately apparent. I remember being surprised during Hurricane Sandy when Will blogged about the large boats and ships that were staying safe by staying away from the piers and docks. Even during a storm, the resilience of a boat is greatest when it is not tied to a stationary point.

That’s what I’m holding dear right now: resilience. I’m going to focus on the strength of rolling with the waves instead of the stability of maintaining position. When I took my current teaching job sixteen years ago and we lived on our boat, I used to joke with colleagues that if the job didn’t work out I could just “cut the lines and go.” I never did, and that’s not what I’m contemplating now. But I’m definitely planning for a life with more fluidity, one that requires putting more emphasis on resilience than on stability. I will find new rhythms, and perhaps some beautiful sunrises!

Stronger together!


We are stronger together!

In a spot in the old city of San Juan, Puerto Rico, there is a place called Plazuela de la Rogativa. It stands on a high spot just inside the wall on the west end of the island and it looks out onto the harbor. The statue -pictured here – commemorates a night in 1797 when the island was being attacked by British warships while most of the city’s men were off fighting elsewhere. Here is the story, as told on

So the bishop and his congregation took it upon themselves to march through the city in an attempt to get the saints to help them. While they marched through the city they sang hymns and carried torches in their attempt to invoke help against the potential attack.

This procession of unarmed men and women was more effective then they had ever hoped it would be. On seeing the torches of the procession the British fleet came under the impression that the reinforcements had unexpectedly arrived early. The march scared off the potential invaders who left immediately abandoning their siege.

This story is often told as a way of demonstrating the power of religious faith. I am not a religious person, but I understand the power of being committed to a community and a set of ideals. This story is powerful not because of its religious message, but because it illustrates the way that a small group of organized, committed individuals working together can overcome an objectively more powerful group. In this story, cooperation trumps force. This is similar to what is meant by a quote generally attributed to Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

organization-152809_640It is what the “Organize!” fish poster illustrates, and it is the logic of unions and social movements.

When you look at the goals you are trying to achieve, look around you and try to identify allies that you might have overlooked, and ask whether the goal you are trying to achieve might be of importance to others. Even purely personal goals can be easier to achieve when we have the support and commitment of allies. I would not have been able to finish My Mother’s Cross without a team of people who believed I could do it and offered support and encouragement along the way.

We are stronger together!