January 7, 2008 - Formosa Strait
07.01.2008 - 07.01.2008
Those who know me well, know that I do not really believe in the term “coincidence,” i.e. random happenings with no connection or meaning. Instead, I I tend to believe more in synchronicity and the fact that everything is interconnected, meaning that seemingly random events provide us with a subtext. Unfortunately, I often don’t know how to read that subtext. And so it is with great delight that I took note of the fact that immediately following a series of epiphanies I’ve had over the past couple of days, I selected a song at random on my iPod, began listening to it, and only after the music had begun, noticed the title: “The Awakening of a Woman (Burnout).” Ironically, this is a song that I have absolutely loved since the very first time I heard it, a few years ago now. In fact, there was a period of time where I listened to it – and the entire album from which it stems – Cinematic Orchestra’s Man with a Movie Camera – on a daily basis. However, I never bothered to look at the specific track names - which is a lamentable after-effect of the mp3 revolution but a diatribe I shall not invite myself to enter, for I have others.
Getting back to the song and its relevance in this posting, first of all, I look at the date – January 7 – and I marvel. It seems impossible that so much time has passed already and yet we’re still at the start of things. I can’t possibly describe everything that has happened, but I will try to give a taste.
The students arrived on January 2. I can’t even remember already whether they came in the morning or in the evening, whether they came at once or trickled in, whether they bore excited expressions or whether they were nervous or sad. I don’t remember. What I possibly remember is that it was one of my first days working in the library. Or maybe we had training events up until they arrived. I do remember there was a day where we had a closing ceremony for the staff, during which we had to do performances, and the group I was in "staged" a story that I wrote and Shez illustrated a few years ago. L., the American Human Rights attorney, sang “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Catch a Falling Star” and F., the Italian ESL instructor, accompanied her on trumpet. These selections were appropo as will be evident in a moment. First I would mention that afterward the Director of Onboard Life, a Black S. African, told me he found the story to be very profound, and requested a copy of the book. I had to tell him it’s just a little unpublished story, but that I would send him the text, which is as follows:
Once upon a time Starfish and Heavenly Star decided to trade places (Alachazam!)
Starfish floated around outer space, while Heavenly Star swam the seven seas.
At first Starfish thought, “Wow, Heavenly Star’s been luckiest – “it’s beautiful up here, if a little chilly and dry!”
Meanwhile, Heavenly Star thought, “I like it glug glug, but I don’t know how to swim!”
Neither would admit that while traveling’s fun, home, once you’ve found it, is best.
So Starfish stayed in the sky, dried out and desiccated, and Heavenly Star floated on bright light burned out.
But the mystery of life would not let that be, and the stars were restored to their individual glories, left to believe it was all a dream…. But it wasn’t, for every now and then Heavenly Star finds plankton and Starfish finds moon dust.
And whenever they do, both laugh because they now know that every dream can be real, just as every goodbye can mean hello.
Meanwhile, another woman, D., was tickled pink because she’s the onboard geochemist, and she thought perhaps I’d used the word “plankton” as a reference to her talk on “Phytoplankton Pigments and Microscopy” – earlier in the day? some other day previous? I don’t recall the day, but she had, in fact, told us about the oceanography research being conducted daily on the ship. TSS is helping to study the ocean’s food webs by collecting water samples six times per day, which helps to give an indication of how global change affects plankton and alters the ecosystem base. Other shipboard efforts include monitoring changes in pollution (atmospheric aerosols and trace gasses) levels from ocean to urban settings and conducting marine animal and seabird surveys. TSS is also participating in the Consortium for the Barcode of Life, similar to the Human Genome Project. In this case, they are collecting and analyzing mosquito samples from port visits as part of the Mosquito Barcoding Initiative. In addition, the Oceanic II is one of many ships all over the world that collect data for the World Meteorological Organization; three times each day, folks onboard the ship record the temperature, humidity, wind speed, air pressure, and cloud conditions – information that contributes to weather forecasts.
But again I digress, though purposely. I would ask you to understand, however, the metaphor, which I have conjured to help me make sense of my own situation, the situation being the fact that we are bombarded with information. It's as if we've each been given a glass and told to keep it full at all times, even when running from point to point, meeting to meeting, etc. Meanwhile, a large faucet or hose is produced, which so generously produces water, that our glasses are actually overflowing. Yet, we're so distressed about the spillover that we fail to realize that if they glasses are overfull, by default they are full as well. Each day has brought such a bounty of information that it’s absolutely impossible to take it all in – and I reached a saturation point a few days ago, which was an unpleasant feeling. Unpleasant as in mental illness unpleasant, but I do think it’s passed, at least for the time being.
But back to the students for minute. There was another day, in which we had a welcoming ceremony. Everyone stood on the deck and a bunch of hippie folk banged a bunch of hippie drums and then there was a role call of nations/ethnicities and those from that nation were invited to step forward. For example, I stepped forward when they called out S. Africa and Tanzania and, of course, the U.S. What we witnessed, therefore, was the vast array of nationalities from which these students and staff hail. In fact, the students represent more than 30 countries. BUT.
I need to breakout for a minute again, for you see, it was not merely a coincidence, my friends, when I picked up that issue of The Economist at the airport and stumbled upon the article on Esalen. I spent a month at Esalen two years ago. It took me two days to realize I had basically joined something very similar to a cult, and it took me a good couple of weeks to recover from the fight I had to put up at Esalen to resist any and all forms of brainwashing. How surprised am I then to rediscover myself part of an entity that I have begun to question *in that way* on some levels? I can’t go so far as to call it a cult.
But here’s the thing. What these places do is they distract you. It’s the same thing you do with children or the very naïve. You get them to look over here so they don’t see what’s going on over there. Here they’ve got us so busy, running around from meeting to meeting, tasked with so many things to do, from morning to night, that we’re too overwhelmed and too exhausted to do anything but go along with the program. Except, in my life, I never tend to go with program as dictated, and that’s why these experiences never go smoothly for me. But I do want to change that. Because, even if by my own assessment I were to deem the entire world to be a cult, I still have to have my own place in it. That’s just the plain and simple truth. So, I’m writing this not as a whistleblower nor as a dramatist. I’m just trying to explain what’s going on here, and it’s damn near impossible, but I will try anyway. But at the same time, I ask you to accept on face value that my even bringing up the words “Esalen” or “cult” aren’t simply the ravings of a black woman gone mad in the middle of the wide open seas.
(to be continued)