My First Day at Sea

It is my first day at Sea aboard the Oasis of the Seas  and we are sailing the Western Caribbean.  I take some time to gather my writing goals for the week.  I decide to go back and read past journal entries and I find this one.  And I marvel at how my feelings on certain subjects remain the same year after year.  And, I am grateful that, in some ways, at least I am consistent.

It is 9:24am and having arrived early for my meeting with Angela, I sit at a round orange pedastal table against the wall of the Barnes and Noble Cafe savoring my Caramel Macchiato and reflecting on all that has passed and all that could be.   It is a moment of deep reflection blended with the mundane.  To my left, a couple sits enjoying their own breakfast version of coffee and a muffin, passing commentary on whether one has tried the other’s delectable latte version.  I think about time.   How fleeting it is and what a waste I have made of most of my life.  Or have I?  I am so hard on myself- why?   What is it about my life that seems to fall so short of the bar I have set for myself, for which I seem to never be able to attain success?  The bottom line is that I too often compare others lives with that of my own.   I look to their experiences in the hopes that I can one day perhaps mirror their realities.  Then I am drawn back to my present moment and I listen to the tunes filtering through the line of my ear buds from Spotify.  Right now, I am playing one of my favorite play lists which contains pieces from Handel, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven and pieces also from the soundtrack The Piano.    This is the movie that starred Harvey Keitel and Holly Hunt- set in turn of the century South Pacific somewhere.  I have very vague memories of the actual theme of the movie- it was about a woman and a little girl played by Anna Pacquin- who moved to this remote place that had a beach, rain forest, aboriginal peoples, and she – this lady – brought along this piano that was a required part of her daily life.   And the pieces she played were incredible …they to this day do something drastic to my soul.   Truly.  Classical music moves my spirit in a way that nothing else can touch.  So I love this soundtrack and realize that I must find a way to get ahold of that movie again and watch it.  There was violence involved- she had her finger cut offf which curtailed her ability to play the piano… horrific moment.. and I do not even know why that happened, what prompted it.   And was it in New Zealand, Australia or a French Polynesian Island?  What was the exact time period?   Why were they there?    I have such vague memories of the overall plot … but the music- oh my, the music.  I have had other experiences like that over the years- with movies like:  The Mission- which introduced me to Ennio Morricone, and also Adiemus.   I enjoyed the movies- but it was the music that followed me out of the theater and made me buy the soundtracks and listen to them over and over and over again.

I think about how isolated I am in this experience- I don’t know one soul that has this same passion about music.   I have no one to share it with- is this perhaps the disatisfaction that I face?   Angela has said and written about the notion of wondering “where are my people”.  I feel this same way -most of the time.  Like I was dropped on this planet as an experiment- to see how I could manage surrounded by other beings that had nothing in common with me.    I have so many vivid memories of moments when, in a rush of excitement to share something I had experienced- the person on the receiving end of my commentary glazes over and it is  obvious that whatever it is that I am trying to convey has absolutely no impact on the recipient.  This is actually a regular occurence for me- just about daily.   And, I wonder- why?   Why do I have these passions experience them myself and just enjoy them- probably.   Is there a need really, to have someone else mirror back the same contentment that I experience in these moments?    I recall the time I was in Rome and was standing at the Trevi Fountain.  I was the only single soul standing there marveling at this fountain with sculpted horses in action as if jumping out of the fountain in fear.    I had no one to turn to to say “wow”.   And I remember how sad I was about that.  Or, standing inside the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican on a bus tour full of other people that were either couples or families traveling together, best friends on a trip together- and then there was me… standing there under Michaelangelo’s Creation – in awe… alone.
So I wonder – does it matter?  Why do I have a sense of loss when I experience these moments alone?  Why do I long to have those moments shared by someone else.   And the specific and more probing question is- would that other person even get why I was so mesmerized by those horses or by the music or by the piece of art work depicting the creation and biblical moments- like the Garden of Eden on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?  Would that person stand there with me, nod his head and then move on?  What am I looking for in the shared experience?   Having that person stand with me – simply be present with me?  Or, for that person to look at me and for there to be this connection.. this moment of complete understanding that comes from having the same passion.    And, what are the odds – if I were a betting woman, to be able to find this type of partnership?    I admit that I am not looking actively because I fear the risk of getting tangled up in another disatsifying unbalanced partnership that ends up being more service than mutual partnership and enjoyment.
Not finding other souls that share the same deep interests and understandings is difficult- it means that the life experience is more of a solo journey filled with obligations.  Is this the reason that my marriages – in part – failed?    I was stuck in these relationships with people who had absolutely no clue what made me tick, and nor did I know what made them tick and- neither of us could figure out how to move to the next step to learn about one another, to feel what the other felt.  And, with our busy schedules and obligations ..time trodded along, and the experience of being part of a “couple” felt so bland and blank… and pointless.   I was there to satisfy his sexual needs- mine were satisfied in part, but honestly, it felt more like servicing him.   And, the payment was null.    No real mutual benefit then, why stay?   So, I did not stay.  I eventually got out of both of those prison cells and launched myself into freedom… healing a bit along the way and then finding myself here- a solo traveler.  I enjoy my music, I enjoy my dog, I enjoy my parents, I enjoy globe trotting without having to gain access to a permission slip from another party that might find my globe trotting interest offensive or a waste of precious resources.  I don’t have to get permission to buy the vehicle I want to buy.  I don’t have to beg to go to the restaurant I want to go to instead of the one that makes him excited, I don’t have to hope that the movie we pick will be one I like.  I don’t have to share the dinner entree on the menu with him that he picks.   I can pick what I want on the dinner menu and eat it myself.    These all sound likely – like bizarre expressions of freedom- but to someone whose life was directed by another strong personality during two marriage episodes, the very idea of a third foray into this bizarre arrangement leaves me falling flat.     There is this comment I hear from people that one day I will find someone- so that I don’t have to grow old alone.    Well,  maybe I won’t have to – maybe I will live with several canine friends that keep me company, organizing my time as I see fit, enjoying nature, writing, music, and also- friendships.   I do need to get more involved in volunteer and other organizations that offer an outlet for social time and make life interesting- get things on the calendar.
Other than that- this time with the keyboard has been once again, fruitful.   I can count on the keyboard to help me organize my thoughts, to help me put down on virtual paper- the essence of the discontent and then I have a way to observe it through a different lense that brings focus on the situation and a better perspective.
Sometimes I come away from these sessions a bit more blue.   Today, I feel encouraged.  It’s been months since my last daily pages entry… and I am glad that I have re-opened this outlet of thought.     I need to do this much more often.

The  Perpetually Solo Exister Club

The remnants of the holiday were still present, evidenced by the occasional stray piece of tinsel that Janet found curled around a dining room chair leg, or rainbow confetti scattered on the marble stairs leading up to the second floor.  Yet the warmth of friends and the history of their common bond felt like it had long disappeared.  It felt odd that only a few days had passed.  The quietness of the place unsettled her as she thought about how long it would be until she next had visitors within this massive vaulted ceiling chamber.  In a way she had dreaded the stress of hosting this holiday season’s annual gathering.  Yet, when the day had finally arrived, the company of friends had been exactly what she had needed to keep at bay the untenable void and loneliness that had become her daily life these last four years.  Ever since the death of her eldest sister Joyce, these twice a year events had become crucial to retaining her sanity and her ability to engage in intelligent conversation.   The time in between always seem to drag on for an eternity and she often wondered whether she had lost her voice as the upcoming event drew near.   With no human being to connect with but twice a year, the anticipation of social interactions often became unbearable.  And then, once fellow members began to appear and create the expected group dynamic, she somehow managed to pull it off without letting on to anyone that she had fallen more and more deeply into the vortex of solitude.   Without daily engagement, she often felt that her skills of communication and the cadence of her interactions were halted, jarring and limited.  She wondered if there might come a time that she would succumb to her urge to cancel her involvement in the Holiday Foray.
Up until now, Janet had maintained her membership in the group to ensure that she at least had this bi-annual connection: once during winter and once during summer.   WIth this last surge of anxiety leading up to the event, she thought this might be the one: the cancelled event that would seal her fate as a member of The Perpetually Solo Exister Group; the off-shoot roster that continuously evolved from those members that decided to initiate the inevitable cutting of ties.  She had overheard Phyllis mention that Muriel had just recently joined that membership:  Muriel, too, had become a Perpetually Solo Exister.  Janet had always like Muriel- she was one of the more genuine members of the Holiday Forray.  It always felt like she was one of the only ones that when she engaged socially, she was completely present.   She was listening- truly taking in whatever it was one was saying.   And, afterwards, Janet would generally recall the encounters as quite pleasing and memorable and would actually look forward to seeing Muriel again the next time. She would definitely miss Muriel.  And she wondered, would anyone in the Holiday Forray ever really miss her?  If she should send her own official notice of cancellation, would anyone actually notice her absence?  There was an unspoken rule which meant that all members had agreed to resist any idea of reaching out to contact someone who had cancelled.  Cancellation suggested a decision to relinquish all rights to friendship and social interaction.  The membership guidelines required that members honored the choice made to cancel by another member and this agreement was understood by all, and rarely did anyone ever break this rule.
The notion of joining the Perpetually Solo Exister Group had Janet in a twirl.  What would it mean really?   Authentic living?  Not having to pretend that social norms were important; this actually felt appealing, in a way.  Not having to force herself to figure out how to interact with others after long stretches of solitude, seemed quite a relief.  The only issue really was what would the end result be for Janet- would she shrivel away into nothingness?  Would her brain turn to mush as the social manners books she had been raised on suggested?  Would she die and dissolve all alone with no one to sweep up her pieces?  No- no the idea of living in the void uninterrupted was not viable for her.  She had to continue with this membership because the alternative was too scary.   And, for now, the stress of getting ready for the event was by far much better than the idea of not having an event for which to prepare.   The preparation alone filled so many of her days – for both events.   Actually, months of anticipation were filled with activity and duty in preparation for the bi-annual gatherings.  Without them, what would she have for a life a purpose.  No, this was the way to mark her time on the planet.  An important, indeed- critical part of her life.  So, she walked to the study to pull out the annual diary in order to make the necessary recordings of this past event, and begin the journal process for the next gathering.    She felt a release as she found herself making this bi-annual decision following the most recent event- stay in the group.  It is the best and only way to maintain a sane and reasonable life.  And, after all, she would not be called upon to host again for another two years.  So at least she would avoid the anxiety of hosting duties.  Rather, she would be able to focus these next 48 months on simply preparing to make her entrance, dazzle with conversational etiquette, focus on her ability to smile demurely and prepare to engage and listen.  Those skills were enough for her to focus on for now.  These skills were practically absent in this last event, since her primary focus had been on the catering, the decorations and the schedule of the evening.   Truly, she had not had much chance to engage at all.   So really, if she thought about it, these next two years would be a great diversion for her- unlike the last year which was draining of all of her resources, financial and otherwise.
She looked out the panoramic floor to ceiling windows of her two story foyer which overlooked Arthurian Falls in the distance, from the very position where she had stood as still as an Olympian Statue only just a few nights before, greeting her guests, providing them with their Bulletin listing for the evenings entertainment and then directing them to her ever ready Master Butler for their preferred refreshment.  She focused on the view before her, she tried to re-engage her senses and recall the peace she always felt whenever she walked through Paradise Garden located on the perimeter of the manor.  She imagined herself walking down the fifty step entrance staircase that bordered the fountains and rose gardens which lay just beyond her front door  The staircase led to the terra cotta colored gravel pathways that swepth through her five hundred acre property, winding through various meadows and hamlets.  This was her very own Caldicot Mansion.  A place of total harmony and peace, filled with hundreds of bird species and exotic wildlife.    Perhaps she should take her afternoon stroll now.. she could use a break from all of these anxiety provoking thoughts, none of which she could fully resolve right now anyway.  She would enjoy meandering through one of the five labyrinths that Joshua had designed all those years ago, before he had disappeared somewhere in Connemara.
She whistled and Bijou appeared, her most trusted canine companion.  “Come” she called to her, “let’s go for our walk.”   Bijou happily led the way through the open front doorway, and her tiny little body daintily pranced down the staircase, looking much like the best trained quarter horse in the most competitive riding show.   Janet followed Bijou across the black and white gloss of the checker board tiled foyer, through the bevelled glass front doors and down the staircase into Paradise Garden.  A fresh thought of utter blessing swept through her body and she acknowledged in that moment how little she actually needed visitors.  She had all of this, and sweet Bijou with whom to share it all.   Maybe moving over to the Perpetually Solo Exister Group wouldn’t be so bad after all.  Did she need the superficial twice yearly relationships that were maintained in the Holiday Foray?   After all, no one in the group really knew one another on a deeper level.   It was all surface.  Was it worth it in the end?   She had a lot to ponder, and she worked through it in her mind as she made her way onto the gravel pathways and slowly walked towards the head of the labyrinth entrance.  The meditation of the labyrinth would certainly help her work it all out

Unconditional Love

It is said that one of the reasons that a person enjoys a canine companion is the aspect of unconditional love.  A dog’s nature seems to be one that throws all cares away and just drills down to excitement, contentment and sheer joy at the human’s return after having been abandoned for most of the day.  There is no grudge.  Rather, there is a body swaying back and forth with such vigor and a tail that spins around with sheer abandon.   For the human, any stress or tension that may have existed on the commute home melts away at the greeting and display of such pure affection.

Why can’t humans behave this way with one another?  Why does our experience with romantic partnerships as well as relationships in general not include such joy in greeting one another at the end of an extended absence?  Of course our response is likely that we are more complex beings.  But is that true?  And if it is, is this a benefit?

Certainly, we humans have a basic need for community in some fashion.  Being completely isolated and having merely a dog for companionship might not satisfy nor be prudent over the long term.  However, even now after all these years, I find myself yearning for a place of solitude.  Once there, I am not sure that I will be truly content.  There are no guarantees.  But as I reflect on my youth and position memories next to more recent feelings, I realize that my longing for a solitary place of my own has been at the forefront for most of my life.   I understand the draw to the hermitage.

There are memories of a time when the movie Jeremiah Johnson was at the top of my list of favorites, along with Harold and Maude.  I watched those movies alone – over and over again.  The appeal of the first one was living away from demands of society- living alone, and fending for myself.  Being in nature, limited expectations from others.  For a high school graduation present, my parents took me to a summer resort on a lake in Wisconsin.  I recall taking a row boat out on the lake with them and we coasted and rowed around the lake.  Mom was entranced by the majestic homes that dotted the shoreline.  I remember sitting in that row boat dreaming of living in one of the tiny boat houses, small quarters that would offer just enough room for a bed, maybe a table and a view.   And in those visions, I imagined myself living there with my dog.  My vision did not include sharing the space with another human.


Much later in life, I recall describing Iceland to an interested party.  The rugged landscape for some is considered the Wild West.   For me, it is a terrain filled with raw resources and  potential for hours of reflection.  I imagine myself living in a small cottage on the cliffs, a tiny garden and a dog.   Recently, watching a show on Netflix which hails from Wales called Hinterland- the lead detective’s mobile home accommodation on the coast, isolated from the masses with the wind whipping through and the waves crashing below, seems the perfect setting for writing, hiking and having a cup of tea.  And of course, a loyal canine nearby.

Throughout my life, I have had canine love and it has never disappointed.  Fairly regularly, I receive advice from well meaning people that I will find someone special.  A gentle soul that will provide a safe and enjoyable life in partnership.  Mom hopes that he can play the guitar so that I can sing and enjoy beautiful moments of music with my true love.  A teddy bear she says, someone warm and huggable.

Until then, I have accepted and become satisfied with the life of solitude that is paired with the unconditional love I receive from my canine friend, and for now, that time is with Sofie.   Maybe when I am old and grey, it will be in a cottage by the sea with my faithful friend nearby.  I imagine this space with books, tea, a writing desk, a window looking out at nature, a warm bed, a small village not too far away for basic provisions.   This for me would be my ideal final chapter.