Tuesday, November 03, 2009

The Meaning of Wife

I don't usually like books about ocean cruising. All that guff about the wonderful weeks they spent in the doldrums admiring the thirty seven different shades of green of the ocean; or boasting about how the author went up the mast in fifty knots of wind in the Southern Ocean to fix the lower spritbuckle yardfickle that had got tangled with the toplifting shroudbobbin. It does nothing for me.

Thankfully, Janna Cawrse Esarey's new book isn't really about ocean cruising.

Sure, it's about how Janna decided she wanted to sail around the world after hearing Crosby, Stills & Nash's Southern Cross as a fifteen-year-old, and how she used to use "I'm going to sail around the world one day" as a pickup line for boys. And how she almost made her wish come true when she married a chap called Graeme, who knew a thing or two about boats having come from a family of commercial fishermen, and how Graeme and Janna sailed across the Pacific for their honeymoon.

Janna's book is titled.... wait for it.... the Motion of the Ocean, 1 Small Boat, 2 Average Lovers, and a Woman's Search for the Meaning of Wife. (The book is a little longer than the title but not by a lot.)

OK, so Janna and Graeme sailed across the Pacific, and Janna wrote this book about the experience. But the book is not really about sailing. It's about The Relationship. Or, more specifically, Janna's ever-changing view of the state of her marriage with Graeme (starting on the first page with what an "asshole" she thinks he is) as they spend the first months of their marriage cooped up together on a 35 foot boat which is incidentally cruising across the Pacific.

It's at this point in the review where I expect most of my male readers will write off this book as being purely for the chicks. Please don't. First of all, Janna's search for the "Meaning of Wife" is hugely entertaining - even for guys; and secondly, her book will give you new insights into the mystery that is woman (and we could all use some help on that topic.)

So let me introduce our major characters...

Graeme, as I mentioned, grew up with boats and the sea and knows his shit. He has been doing some high-powered corporate stuff where he is renowned as a firefighter, a problem-solver, which is just as well because he is the one that has to solve every minor crisis that our intrepid cruising couple encounters along the way. He is smart, brave, calm, competent, hard-working, and level-headed, and according to Janna "knows her body - her angles and lines, her moans and her hums." (I think we all know what she is talking about here.) In other words, Graeme is just the sort of person you would want to cross an ocean with, not to mention also having all the qualities of a perfect husband (or so you would imagine.)

Janna, on the other hand is a slow learner when it comes to sailing, and is frankly not interested much in acquiring many of the skills that are relevant to crossing an ocean on a small sailboat. Janna writes about how many cruising couples have a division of labor on the boat based on Blue and Pink tasks...

The Blue tasks are all the traditional male things like "engines, electronics, the mechanics of in-mast furlers et cetera." Janna admits that she knows nothing about this stuff, cares nothing about it, and has difficulty learning about it. OK. I guess Graeme can handle that side of thing. He does.

The Pink tasks are traditional female things like cooking, dishes and laundry. Janna confesses that she sucks at cooking, doesn't find any joy or stimulation in most Pink tasks, and as a truly liberated woman avoids Thinking Pink because it "reinforces the stereotype that woman cannot understand engines, electronics, the mechanics of in-mast furlers et cetera." Hmmm. I guess Graeme will have to handle a lot of the Pink stuff too. He does.

Can you see why there might be some tension in this relationship? Wait, it gets worse.

The saintly Graeme is super-efficient and is always actually doing stuff that is useful and necessary on the boat. "He oils and caulks and fills and empties and cuts and connects and tightens and loosens and gaskets and scrapes and solders and screws and maintains and repairs and installs and diagrams and consults and buys." And what does Janna do while Graeme is busy doing useful stuff? She might plait her hair; she might find an Internet cafe and email her girlfriends; she might stick wedding photos in an album. Hmmm.

Can you see why these two might have an occasional disagreement? Wait, it gets worse.

You see Janna is a thinker, an over-thinker actually, a worrier. She is forever questioning the status of the marriage. Have they lost the spark? Are they having enough sex? Is he The One? How do you even know when you've found The One? Should they be having more exotic sex? Is the relationship drifting? Was it a good idea to schedule sex for 3pm every day? And so on. And so on. Asking herself and her long-suffering husband questions like, "When we fall in love with someone is it with their best self? Or their whole self?" Yes sir, women really do think like this.

So while Graeme is steering around typhoons and avoiding pirates and rescuing Janna from rabid dogs, Janna is having all these thoughts about the "Meaning of Wife" and capturing them on her laptop for our future entertainment. Gentlemen, I suspect that what Janna has written about Graeme in this book is much the same thing that all our wives and girlfriends say about us when they get together on a girls night out and spend hours telling each other what assholes their male partners are. Which is why this is such an excellent handbook into the mysterious workings of the female mind.

For example...

  • What does it mean if you forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed? (Not that I ever would of course.) In her mind, it means you don't find her attractive any more. Didn't know that, did you?

  • Why does she always take at least half an hour to get ready when you want to go ashore? She's giving you time to read a book and brush your teeth. Didn't know that either did you? I'm telling you, the book is full of gems like this. Dental hygiene is the key to success with women.

Other things you might not know...

  • When you pee over the side of the boat she is imagining how she is going to fail to rescue you after you fall overboard. This is a sign of how much she loves you.

  • Women are secretly envious of our ability to pee over the side. When women sailors get together they discuss how a woman can learn to pee standing up. Sometimes they even demonstrate to each other how to do it. Apparently they think this is a turn-on for their husbands. Didn't know that did you?

There's much much more in this field guide for men to the female psyche or "what she is really thinking when she gives you that strange look." Every man should buy a copy of this book. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry. It will make you a better husband or boyfriend. It will remind you to brush your teeth and change your underwear. Seriously.

As I mentioned before, Graeme is as close to being a saint as any dude you will meet in real life. Early on in the book when Janna is having one of her periodic woman-to-man discussions with him about, "How do I know if you are The One?" and "How do you know if love will last? Like forever?" Graeme speaks the truest words of wisdom about marriage in the whole book...

You have to make it the One every day. Through blood, sweat, and tears, laughter, hope, and faith. You don't know (if it will last). You DO. You do the things that will make your relationship good today. And the next day you do it again. And again. And again. The goal isn't simply to have a marriage that lasts. The goal is to create something wonderful, together, every day for the rest of our lives.

You will have to read the whole book to discover whether or not Janna really takes this message to heart, and what shape their marriage was in after their trans-Pacific adventure. Along the way you will learn how Janna found out that "it's not the size of the ship that matters, it's the motion of the ocean." (I think we all know what she is talking about here.)

Oh. And there are some good bits about sailing too.

Full disclosure: I was given a review copy of this book.


carrie said...

I LOVED this book - passing it along to everyone I know, young and old, male AND female!

Virginia Howlett said...

I read it and laughed and loved it -- my husband read it, and he thought it was wonderful too. We even used it as context to discuss our own marriage, while laughing together about all the ways we drive each other crazy. It's a terrific book!

Anonymous said...

nice review Tillerman - you put a lot of time into that!

I feel like I should go brush my teeth before I post any more comments, though...


graeme said...

Hi Tillerman,

Not sure whether assholes are allowed to post here, but what the heck. First off, thanks for taking my side of things in your review--I appreciate the support, and agree that we men can turn the tables here by reading between the lines.

The tragedy for me is that your review of Janna's book pretty much covers the territory it took me 17000 miles to figure out. Why didn't someone just tell me that...

Women are difficult.
Dental Hygiene matters, especially on small boats.
Persistence is everything. In sailing, in relationships.
And cruising is a lot of work. Better learn to enjoy it.

Yep, that's the readers digest version for men. Sorry, Janna, probably not helping book sales, guess I got caught up in the male solidarity thing.

Last quick comment: We met O Docker at the reading in Corte Madera, seemed like a good guy. Don't be too hard on him! Fun to meet the people behind the banter.

Good fun, and thanks for the support!

Pat said...

Okie dokey, I just brushed my teeth.

Actually, our household has some moderately non-traditional division of household duties; for example Carol Anne is the household electronics engineers and wiring guru.

Jbushkey said...

Your review makes Janna sound like the needy, spoiled, self centered, neurotic, HIGH MAINTENANCE, drama queen I will teach my son how to a avoid.

Poor Graeme. Hopefully you have a much better woman in your life at this point

Tillerman said...

Everything I wrote in the review was based on what Janna wrote in her book, but I certainly cherry-picked the passages that reinforced that negative stereotype of Janna, not to mention glossing over the sections where Janna was less than glowing in her praise of Graeme. I plead guilty to presenting a one-sided picture of the relationship in order to write an entertaining review.

The full truth (even the truth exposed in the book) is much more complex. The book is really about how Janna and Graeme came to terms with each other's strengths and weaknesses and forged a strong marriage out of the process. Aren't all successful marriages like that?

My wife is much too sensible to risk spending a year or two trapped with me on a small boat. I am sure that our marriage has succeeded for so long because of her wisdom in that regard.

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