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Floating

Monday, January 6th, 2020

I had a weird and wonderful experience yesterday.

A little background first:  for the last seven years I have never gone on a cruise where I wasn’t at least a little obsessed with being prepared for my lectures.  I leave home with everything as ready to go as I can make it, but I always discover problems with builds or images in the  slides, or decide I need to make it a little shorter or add something I just learned. I look things up that I have new questions about.  I doublecheck pronunciations of  place names and people.  It’s worth every minute to go on that stage ultra confident, and so far I have avoided anything close to a disaster.  Even when my hard drive failed earlier this year in Vietnam, I had a back up plan, or two or three, and limped through the rest of the cruise with the audience unaware anything was wrong.

The last two cruises have been particularly stressful because I have been in the role of destination speaker, meaning that my content is supposed to stick pretty close to the ports we are visiting.  I spent time between cruises a year ago visiting New Zealand, where I had never been, so I could get some awareness of the lay of the land and the general feel of the places we were going . Nevertheless, I still had to talk with a degree of authority about several places I hadn’t been able to visit.  Adding to the stress was the extraordinary number of Aussies and Kiwis on board—well over half the guests.  I hadn’t expected that because I assume people go away to take cruises, but when you live so far from so many of the world’s destinations, a chance to cruise locally is very attractive.  If I was a fraud, Iwould be found out for sure.

It all went off without much of a hitch, and since things went so smoothly I guess I wasn’t aware of how much stress I was experiencing.

On this cruise and the next (the last for this assignment) I am an enrichment speaker.  That means that I can talk more generally about interesting topics of my choosing, like women at sea, famous mutinies, Polynesian navigation and the like.  I am totally in my professorial comfort zone, and in fact have given all of the talks multiple times before.

Yesterday morning I had no lecture to give, and since I am ready for all upcoming ones,  I had nothing at all to do or to worry about.  I was hanging out in my cabin, reading  a totally enjoyable book on my veranda,  drinking a second cup of coffee, watching the  sunlight on the water—all the good stuff passengers on vacation can do.

I went in to my cabin and saw that it was still only about ten in the morning.  I was astonished.  Why in the world was there so much more time than I was used to?  Oh well, I said to myself, and settled in to do something to fritter away a little more time before lunch. I was just bobbing along, floating.

Then it occurred to me:  there were things going on that morning. I always go to my colleagues’ lectures and one of them was almost over! I dashed to the theatre just as he was finishing, then realized that another talk followed his that I wanted to go to.  I was so utterly out of it that I hadn’t even checked the schedule, wasn’t even relating to anything outside my own veranda, my own chair, my own time.

And it was wonderful!  I was actually on vacation, however briefly.  By that point it was over.  I had roiled the waters.  I was back on board, back in role. But I caught a glimpse of something I have difficulty ever achieving—a real, true break.

People may think of my life as one long vacation, but it’s not.  I am on duty every time I step out of my room.  I  have to please at a certain level or I won’t be invited back.  I’m not complaining, but please don’t picture me poolside with a tropical drink in my hand listening to the ukuleles play, because that almost never happens. Don’t picture me walking on stage and chatting my way through a lecture, because though I want it to look that way, that absolutely never happens.

I spent some time yesterday, walking by myself on the beach, occasionally recapturing that sense of  happy drift (selfie below). Today I am going off on Mare Island, New Caledonia, on a ship tour. I will be the escort, which means I go for free, but I have to be vigilant about what is going on with the guests.  At some point we will stop at a beach for a swim.  Sounds great to me, but you know what I most want to do?

Ditch it all, lie on my back in the water and just float.

 

 

 

The Magic of Confluence

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

This morning I awoke to headlines about the assassination in Iraq of a top Iranian military leader.  I felt my blood rising to a boil over the appalling mess the current inhabitant of the White House is making of everything he touches.

I moved further down my list of mail and came across a reference to a wonderful article, “Ichigo Ichie,” about the importance of  being “moment hunters,” of looking for value in a precious  instant of time that will not come again. The value of just being still, of  looking around,  of grounding in the present.  I have linked it here.

https://link.medium.com/OxNub5VkX2

What could I do to apply it to the negativity I was experiencing?

Then I remembered a precept  from Julia Cameron, author of Walking in the World, which I am now reading.  In it, she talks about the importance to creativity of taking  a walk each day.  Since I can’t walk on the ship except around a boring track or on the treadmill in the gym, I decided to go stand outside and watch the water, to see if I could move my head into a better place.

Within a few minutes, a transformation began.  Cameron is right, that dusrupting routines invites the inner artist to surface.  I haven’t written anything creative  in years now, but within a half an hour, I became a poet again.

The ocean calls,

Come out, stand at the rail, see me.

Watch the show the ship and I put on for you.

See the spray escaping from the bow,

How every plume is different.

This one a skier’s trail down a mountain of new powder

This one breath on a dandelion

This one the tumble of spilled white paint.

A roar in a packed stadium

A slammed door echoing in a hallway

The whisper of a conspirator beckoning.

Drawing close, each swell says “here I am, this one is me.

What can we become  before I take my water back?”

The ocean stretches to a monotonous horizon.

Ship and swell make art of the moment.

It’s not particularly good poem, but because I am staying in the present, I don’t  intend to polish it.  It is a poem about a moment. It is mine, and that is good enough.  And at least for now, my rage is tamed.

Downtime, Measured in Hours

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

Today is another turnaround day between cruises.  This morning everyone got off, and by later this afternoon a whole new group will have arrived.  There’s a period of time between about 10AM and 1PM when the ship feels so different.  The suite attendants and butlers  are working at breakneck pace to get the rooms ready for the next occupants.  Managers, officers,  and guest relations people are hustling behind the scenes to be ready, but everywhere else, the ship is quiet.

It feels a little like that moment between exhaling and the next inhalation.   The bars are empty, the gym is empty, the lobby is empty, the restaurants are empty.

I was the only one in the gym, and then a little later, the only one in my section of the restaurant where the lunch buffet is served.  Eventually, down at the other end, the singer from the supper club was coming in to start her day, having slept in after her late night show.  Most of the waiters were standing at attention with no one to be attentive to.  It is a part of life on the ship that most passengers never see.

That was beginning to change by the time I finished lunch.  The first arrivals were trickling in.  The sense was rising that we were on duty again, no longer part of the private life of the ship but a piece of the collective identity of those in service to the experience of the guests.  In a few minutes the Cruise Director will come on over the sound system to announce that the rooms are ready, and the halls will fill with new guests and their butler escorts, “going public” again.

That for me is the start of the new cruise. I am in my room now, but when I next step out into the hallway it will be as my public self, with a smile and a name badge. I will be Laurel Corona, Guest Lecturer again.

In a few hours I will stand up in one of the lounges to greet new guests with a pitch for what I will be speaking about, then on to dinner with the solo travelers, as I always do the first night.  Before I know it I will be back in my room brushing my teeth and hopping into bed.  It begins in earnest tomorrow, with my first talk and from there, an ongoing obligation to stay actively and pleasantly in the public eye.

I’m ready.  I’m just glad there’s time for a nap first.