Thursday, April 7, 2011

Entry 26 4.1.11

Entry 26, April 1st, 2011, 8:16pm (ship time)

My friend Ben, the trombonist and assistant musical director, was mentioning yesterday that he planned to go to "Little Bonaire," the imaginatively-named island off of Bonaire (main city is Kralendijk, if you're interested. We're still in the Dutch Antilles). I asked if I could tag along (having missed Bonaire last voyage due to training) and so found myself rubbing sleep out of my eyes at 8:30am (ship time, Bonaire is one hour ahead) this morning.

The plan was to walk a half an hour to the rental shop and rent sea kayaks and snorkel gear for the day. Little Bonaire is about half a mile from the mainland and is reputed to have the second best snorkeling in the world (behind Cozumel) and so I was excited. Unfortunately, due to wind, they weren't renting kayaks (although it was a perfect day for sailing) and so we snorkeled off the main island. It was amazing.

There were several wrecked piers nearby that served as our focus point for the day. The coral was growing thickly on them, meaning that the fish were hugely plentiful and varied. I can't really describe what it was like to someone who has never been snorkeling, but I'll try -- imagine that feeling you get when looking out the window of an airplane at the ground below. Now, instead of trees and fields, you have gently ridged sand and protrusions of rock and coral, and instead of tearing through the air at hundreds of miles an hour you are leisurely drifting along, more like the Goodyear blimp. The water is crystal clear down to thirty or forty feet, and the ripples of sunlight tear across the bottom whenever the sun slips from behind a cloud.

The fish were everywhere! You couldn't look at a single spot and see less that twenty fish. There were lots of parrotfish, biting at the rock with their beaks (you could hear it through the water as a sharp click-click). Schools of small silver fish darted around, numbering in the hundreds or thousands, and we didn't just see these schools, we swam through them! Solitary trumpetfish prowled about, snouts almost as long as their body, and darting through the squads of less maneuverable blue fish (each larger than my hand) seemingly out of spite. Christmas tree worms peeked out of crevices, disappearing in the blink of an eye if you snapped your fingers in front of them. I saw a flounder, disturbed from its resting place, scoot along the floor for a bit before setting down again on the sand, two protruding eyes the only sign of its location among the sediment. I'm pretty sure these are the fish that start life with their eyes on either side of their head, and then switch halfway through (one of the eyes gradually moves across their body) which sheds new light on Ariel's friend in "The Little Mermaid" (he's going to be a lot less attractive when his left eye starts migrating across his face).

It was a riot of colors, shapes, and sounds. I think SCUBA certification may be in my future, as this was the closest thing to being able to fly that I've ever experienced. It was only limited by my ability to hold my breath once I was totally submerged. A good late-morning/early afternoon.

And I only got a little bit sunburned! Probably due to the three coats of sunscreen I administered over the course of the day. Forget sunburn, my brother would have literally burst into flame today.

Next cruise, I am thinking of renting a small sailboat. I saw plenty of sunfish out today, along with the bigger ships (including a few two masted schooners). It would be really lovely to rent an FJ, pack a lunch, and sail over to Little Bonaire. The beach looked soft enough to run a small boat right up onto it from the surf, although I've never done this before so perhaps this is actually a really bad idea.

The rest of today's post is a fairly introspective. Indulge me, if you so desire, or skip it if you'd rather read about tropical locales and shipboard life.

I continued my reading today. I spent a few hours on the back deck reading about William Herschel, the brilliant German expatriate musician-turned-astronomer who discovered Uranus with a reflecting telescope of his own design and construction. After closing my book, I ventured out onto the fantail and was not a little disappointed to see that the bright fluroescent lights here block out all but the brightest stars. This brought me back to my self somewhat -- I had been as absorbed in the book in much the same way that Herschel became absorbed in his telescopes.

I must admit I feel jealous of Herschel, riding through the English moors, staring up at the glittering sky, much as I feel jealous of Joeseph Banks (the first of the great explorers to be described in this book). With Banks, it was quite a simple thing, the longing to explore strange new places (my current situation, where instead of strange new worlds I am discovering strange new restaurants, is far from disagreeable . . . but . . . but . . . !). My jealousy of Herschel, though, comes from a different direction. I am jealous of the single-minded passion that he had for his work.

William Herschel did many things in his life. He was a virtuoso violinist, organist, and composer. He was in the army. He was a self-taught student of mathematics. However, when he discovered astronomy in his thirties, it grabbed his attention so thoroughly that he was able to push himself to levels of devotion that the mere dabbler would find too demanding to accept. This is what drove him, desperately homesick, to live in England for six years by himself, traveling alone and teaching music to feed himself. It was this devotion that led him to make his own telescope mirrors when the existing technology was insufficient (a highly dangerous process involving molds made of horse dung, rare copper alloys and white hot molten metal). It was this passion that kept him out every night for six to seven hours at a time, shouting out observations to his sister Caroline (who really receives far too little credit). It was because of his devotion (and his sister's help) that he was able to acheive something.

I feel that my own passions are spread too widely to succeed in any one area. I have many areas of study (music, writing, etc.), but in none of these fields would I consider myself an expert, much less a master! Indeed I am barely functional in most of them. What I am missing in all of these pursuits is what Herschel has -- the burning need for absolute mastery of an art.

This is a public log, I know, but I am not asking for support or reassurance that "No, you're really quite good at ____." No one else can give me what I'm looking for. I'm searching for the key, the catalyst that will bring everything together.

I know the potential is there. Looking at my own interests, I can see some underlying patterns -- clues, even, to what might be my eventual purpose. I am a constructor of systems, first and foremost. As a kid, I constructed machines, real and hypothetical. I invented societies and planned moon bases. Now I write music, and stories. Whatever work it is that finally puts everything together for me, it will probably involve ordered creation, or system-building, of some sort.

The other clue I have comes from music. I love the blues -- not just as an idiom, but as a concept. A music that exists to heal . . . now there's something worth being good at. I know that whatever my work in life is, it will not be some sterile construct existing in isolation, beautiful only in its harsh artificiality. It has to be something that means something to someone.

As a side note, I am sitting next to a galley vent, and they've been cooking sticky cinammon pastries for the past hour. It's driving me crazy.

Here's the point: I feel like I am waiting for something. I feel like I am waiting for something to come and unite all of these disparate shards of glass in my head into a solid, sharp crystal -- a project, or discovery, or a goal that I find compelling enough to pour my entire self into. I don't feel that I am wasting my time -- surely all of these things I am learning will be useful in some way (Herschel talks about "sightreading the sky," and about how his extensive training in playing Bach and Handel organ works prepared his mind for playing the many parts of the night sky at once. Surely he could not have discovered Uranus without first being trained as a musician. I'm serious.). Maybe it is something I am already doing, but I am not in the right place as a person to do it to my maximum potential yet. Maybe it is something no one has ever done before, that only someone with some strange combination of skills that I just happen to possess could stumble across and make great. Maybe it is something I've never heard of, but by learning what I am learning now I am preparing my mind to think in the ways necessary for such an endeavor.

Musically, I feel unfocused. I have not found my voice -- to put it differently, I don't know what I want to sound like. This leaves me in an awkward place. I work hard to sound good, but I am always working hard at someone else's sound. There is no way that a desire for professional competence can inspire the sort of fire I need for absolute mastery by itself -- it has to serve a higher purpose.

Maybe this is just a cop-out, a way to rationalize not dealing with my own musical inadequacies, a trap delaying me on the road to artistic virtuosity. A manifestation of some sort of fear -- perhaps the fear of hard work. I'll have think about it more.

In the meantime all I can do is to continue working at improving everything I do, in the faith that someday that moment will come when my purpose is illuminated and everything flashes together into focus. I need to be ready for my Herschel moment. Perhaps it will never come (a depressing possibility), but perhaps it will.

Good lord, did I just use the word "faith?" What is this world coming to?

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