Shedding distractions

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 5:15pm

I call my sailboat Reverie my shed, and it’s where I crunch out words so people can absorb and perhaps assimilate my ideas. And, maybe become informed, or entertained about whatever topic I track down intel for, in regards to a column or maybe some fiction that I’m writing. My shed is a hideout in Newport Harbor. It’s a mad monk hideout filled with possibilities. The shed is a place to get things done; however, it’s also a place to get completely sidetracked, and can set the mind meandering down myriad and unintended rabbit holes. Subsequently, I must focus my brain to the task of writing words, and deal with shedding distractions that can be found in my isolated and quiet writing place. It’s not easy staying on task, especially writing with a deadline.

I’m writing all of the time. A day doesn’t go by that I’m not angling an idea that will be scribbled into something readable. (Everything is a possible topic.) Napkins, moleskin notebooks—of various sizes—sticky notes, pads, annotated fiction and non-fiction books, textbooks and magazines are the places where the raw material for my writing is contained. I always go to my shed with the purest of intentions to write something I can live with, and as I walk down the dock with my writing gear stuffed into my backpack with maybe a sandwich, I feel as if I am on a mission to put a minimum of 1000 words on the page for a particular column idea. I can retool the piece later. If not 1000 words or more, then I’m slacking, which is not acceptable for this scribbler. Although I am very disciplined with my writing, things can go quickly awry when I go to the shed.

My sailboat has a comfortable main cabin and it’s perfect for writing. Conversely, my shed also has many distractions. After I set up my laptop and get out my notes, my eyes may drift to a copy of “No Country for Old Men” by Cormac McCarthy, and of course I just have to pick that book up and open to a random page and read—Cormac always informs and entertains. Moreover, an island guy I know saves me his old New Yorkers and New York Times Review of Books, for me and they constantly set me adrift from writing because there are so many great articles and book reviews that beg to be read. Sometimes while writing, I’ll crank some music, or I might hear my bilge pump and want to examine the amount of water getting into my boat. Hey, a guy has got to check his boat’s bilge, right? Besides reading, musical, and dirty water distractions, there are several others. For example, I have various rolls of tape in my shed that are used to jury-rig certain boat projects: Duct, Gorilla, Flex Tape and clear Scotch packing tape can be found all around Reverie’s cabin. (Ahem, a guy can never have enough Duct Tape.) When I look at my tape types, I start looking at the multitude of usage possibilities of said tape inside the cabin and on the outside deck of my shed. I can burn the clock for at least an hour just thinking of the quick fixes I’ll be doing this summer. (My boat is old and beat up, but she sails well.) On a more imaginative note, I can also avoid writing with the perfect sailor’s distraction of thinking about getting another sailboat, which is a huge rabbit hole that I sometimes venture into for the possibilities of a buying a different boat to grow old with as I geez forward. Life is short, right? After crawling out of this nautical maze of a rabbit hole, I come to the conclusion that I’ll sail Reverie into old age, as I hear my wise wife’s voice say, “We have a nice boat. Just sail the boat you have.” ‘Nuff said about that.

“Hey, Joe, I have a book you might like. I have a galley if you want to take a look,” said Susan Bush who is the owner of the Island Bound Bookstore in Old Harbor on Block Island. The next day Susan sent me a book on the ferry titled “The Lost Boys of Montauk,” by a writer named Amanda Fairbanks. Susan has never suggested a bad title to me so I’d figured what the hell, I’d glance at the book. I brought it home from the ferry docks when it came on the last ferry of the day, and cracked it after supper. I ripped through one hundred pages. This book grabbed me, hard. It all started with a simple suggestion of a possible book to read, and it morphed into an obsessive page-turning, fast-paced, and well-researched book about a fishing tragedy involving a boat out of Montauk in 1984. Furthermore, I made the mistake of not taking the book out of my backpack when I went to write in my shed last week. Fairbanks’s book—her first— simply blew me away and became a major distraction for me—in my shed. Susan Bush unleashed a powerful and visceral story for this unsuspecting reader. When I finished the book after only three sessions, I told Susan, “Get this one on the shelf as soon as it’s published in May.” She concurred. Good writing is good writing, and this is good writing. I highly recommend this book which informs the reader of the coastal culture and fishery of Montauk. Short-list this one for a solid summer beach read.

Over the many years of writing in my shed I’ve punched out a couple of hundred columns for The Block Island Times, as well as several other freelance assignments. Moreover, I’ve written lots of fiction in my shed. Most notably, I wrote my recent novella “Tangled in the Web” aboard Reverie. This prodigious amount of work has been done in this little floating hideout in Newport Harbor and I’ll continue to scribble there while shedding distractions and getting the words on the page. It’s a perfect place to get some work done. Finally, I know a future column will be forthcoming with a review of “The Lost Boys of Montauk,” which of course I’ll write, hopefully undistracted, in my shed.