Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Siddhartha Entry 1

Excerpt from:


by Herman Hesse, pg. 9 - 11

But he, Siddhartha, was not a source of joy for himself, he found no delight in himself. Walking the rosy paths of the fig tree garden, sitting in the bluish shade of the grove of contemplation, washing his limbs daily in the bath of repentance, sacrificing in the dim shade of the mango forest, his gestures of perfect decency, everyone’s love and joy, he still lacked all joy in his heart. Dreams and restless thoughts came into his mind, flowing from the water of the river, sparkling from the stars of the night, melting from the beams of the sun, dreams came to him and a restlessness of the soul, fuming from the sacrifices, breathing forth from the verses of the Rig-Veda, being infused into him, drop by drop,

from the teachings of the old Brahmans.

Siddhartha had started to nurse discontent in himself, he had started to feel that the love of his father and the love of his mother, and also the love of his friend, Govinda, would not bring him joy for ever and ever, would not nurse him, feed him, satisfy him. He had started to suspect that his venerable father and his other teachers, that the wise Brahmans had already revealed to him the most and best of their wisdom, that they had already filled his expecting vessel with their richness, and the vessel was not full, the spirit was not content, the soul was not calm, the heart was not satisfied. The

ablutions were good, but they were water, they did not wash off the sin, they did not heal the spirit’s thirst, they did not relieve the fear in his heart. The sacrifices and the invocation of the gods were excellent—but was that all? Did the sacrifices give a happy fortune? . . .

And where was Atman to be found, where did He reside, where did his eternal heart beat, where else but in one’s own self, in its innermost part, in its indestructible part, which everyone had in himself? But where, where was this self, this innermost part, this ultimate part? It was not flesh and bone, it was neither thought nor consciousness, thus the wisest ones taught. So, where, where was it? To reach this place, the self, myself, the Atman, there was another way, which was worthwhile looking for? Alas, and nobody showed this way, nobody knew it, not the father, and not the teachers and wise men, not the holy sacrificial songs! . . .

Siddhartha knew many venerable Brahmans, chiefly his father, the pure one, the scholar, the most venerable one. His father was to be admired, quiet and noble were his manners, pure his life, wise his words, delicate and noble thoughts lived behind its brow—but even he, who knew so much, did he live in blissfulness, did he have peace, was he not also just a searching man, a thirsty man? Did he not, again and again, have to drink from holy sources, as a thirsty man, from the offerings, from the books, from the disputes of the Brahmans? Why did he, the irreproachable one, have to wash off sins every day, strive for a cleansing every day, over and over every day? Was not Atman in him, did not the pristine source spring from his heart? It had to be found, the pristine source in one’s own self, it had to be possessed! Everything else was searching, was a detour, was getting lost.

Thus were Siddhartha’s thoughts, this was his thirst, this was his suffering.”

Today's post is the result of a process that began around three weeks ago. A good friend of mine, Maria, posted a discussion of Herman Hesse's classic “Siddhartha” on her own excellent travel blog (“Life and Lessons in Ecuador,” – I highly recommend you check it out at http://). I found the ebook and was immediately sucked in. It is a short but dense read, a dialogue on zen philosophy told via the journey of a Brahmin youth in the time of the Buddha, Siddhartha. After reading it through a few times, I began a response to her blog post that quickly ballooned into a full-fledged blog entry.

Anyway, one of the reasons the book has captivated me so fully is the above selection. This is from the first few pages when we are meeting Siddhartha as a youth. He comes from a loving family, with a wise and benevolent father and a caring and tender mother. He is an intelligent, pious, confident youth who enjoys debate with the elders of his community about all matters religious and philosophical. By all rights he should mature into a leading member of the community, settle down, and make his parents proud.

This is not what happens, however. Despite the love and wisdom of his parents, despite all the benefits of his caste and background, he feels an unrest in his soul that will not be quieted. I, too, feel this thirst. I also grew up sheltered from hardship in a loving family and should be happy with what I have. But I'm not; I can't help feeling that there is something more, and that this something is the most important thing there is. Is this thing what they call achieving peace?

Have you ever met someone who has achieved peace? I have not. Everyone I know has conflict, internal and external. My mother and father are both very wise, but they still have conflict. The leading religious figures in my life have conflict. My teachers, professors, peers, role models, co-workers, and friends all have conflict. Everyone I know spends their lives mired in conflict, spinning in circles around one another until their years are expended and they pass away. I am deeply dissatisfied with the vision of a life that follows the same pattern.

So what can I do? Kenny Werner says that “the meaningful path is the path of action.” But what action?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Entry 72 5.24.11

Entry 72, May 24th, 2011, 12:10am (ship time GMT +2)

I got off the ship today in Barcelona. Originally I intended to go to the Picasso museum, but after a delay dockside I didn't have enough time to make it there. Instead, I headed for the Maritime Museum (Barcelona had one of the largest medieval shipyards in the world, after all), but it turns out that it is closed for renovation for the next two years. Next I headed to the Museum of Contemporary Art, but by the time I got there they were about to close, and I forgot my student ID so the ticket would have been rather expensive. Beginning to feel slightly frustrated, I sat down at a cafe on La Rambla to drink coffee and people watch, but was informed by the waiter that if I wasn't going to eat there I had to leave. Fine! Gah!

I finally succeeded at getting a haircut at a little hole in the wall off of La Rambla owned by an Arabian guy. He had more hair on his forearms than I've had on my head through my entire life, so I figured he was an expert. The shop was not much larger than my cabin here on board . . . luckily he spoke some English, because if we had to resort to Spanish (his, heavily accented, and mine, just plain shitty) things could have gotten ugly. The cut looks good, and was cheap, too: five Euros. I tipped him an extra, so the whole thing cost a bit less than nine dollars. Ten, if you count the beer I'm going to have to buy the hairdresser on board to pacify her for getting it cut on shore.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Entry 71 5.22.11

Entry 71, May 22nd, 2011, 4:32pm (ship time GMT +2)

I woke up this morning having fasted more than 24 hours and did not feel hungry in the slightest. In fact, I felt like I could have gone another whole day with no problems at all, but I decided not to. It is probably best to build these things up gradually; maybe I will go two days next time.

I'm not totally sure why I'm doing it. Partly I think it is an urge to emulate the ancient Buddhist and Zen masters, including the characters I am reading about in “Siddhartha” (more on this book later) (also, thanks to Maria Navedo for mentioning it in her blog, it is a great book!). Also, I think I am curious what sort of control I can exert over my own habits – it is part of the larger work of developing self discipline. And finally, if I am not afraid of being hungry, it will keep me from over-eating.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Entry 70 5.21.11

Entry 70, May 21st, 2011, 8:10pm (ship time GMT +2)

I just finished “Effortless Mastery” by jazz pianist Kenny Werner. For those who haven't read it, it is a fascinating book about forging a connection between musical performance and the inner self.

The book has left me conflicted in one area – namely, practice. Kenny tells the story of his own journey to Brazil after attending Manhattan School of Music and Berkley. He stayed with a saxophonist friend and his twin brother, who was a classical pianist. His friend's brother, by placing intense pressure to himself, had reached a very high level of performance in European competition before suffering a mental breakdown. He moved back to Brazil to recuperate, meeting with a therapist and a series of piano teachers. Kenny Werner, also a pianist, soon become friends with him, and starting picking up the method that he was studying.

The classical player was practicing two things. First, whenever he started to resume the cycle of self-torment that had led to his breakdown, he repeated “I must be kind to myself” over and over again. Second, the only thing he was practicing was a five-finger exercise – playing from thumb to finger on one hand and back again, concentrating on releasing each finger onto the key absolutely effortlessly. He started with five minutes of practice a day, stopping as soon as he was unable to play without thinking. Gradually he had built his practice time back up to about eight hours a day, except this time it wasn't driving him crazy. In fact, it took no effort at all – he felt as fresh at the end of eight hours of playing as he did at the beginning.

Mr. Werner took this method and applied it to his own playing. He rebuilt his entire practice routine around only playing what he could play with a still, empty mind, and it worked for him. This is of course what he recommends in his book, and this is what has me confused.

All of my teachers up to this point have emphasized a pretty similar method. Step one: learn something (scale, transcription, etude). Step two: apply. Step three: be great. The amount of material you learn has a direct relationship with how good of a musician you are, and if you aren't learning at a certain rate you're lazy. Mr. Werner is the first person that I can remember talking about a separation between musical skill and personal self-worth. He also says that the constant drive to scrabble together more knowledge is usually driven by the fear and panic inspired by the vast amount of knowledge that exists to be mastered. No one stays on one project enough to really master it, and so very few actually become master musicians – they just become very practiced mediocre musicians.

Mr. Werner lays out a four step practice plan to help fix these problems. The first (and most important) step consists of first quieting the mind and then picking up the instrument. This usually stirs up the mind, and so after quieting it again the horn is placed to lips. This usually stirs up the mind once again, and so after quieting it for a third time the player takes in a deep breath. After holding it for as long as possible, the breath is released through the horn. The drill is regarded as a success if the student is able to release the breath without trying to control it in any way, and accept the sound the emerges with love, immediately forgetting it and returning to a quiet mind. As soon as the student can no longer do this, they put down the horn and go do something else.

This is so counter-intuitive to everything I've been taught that I don't know what to do with it. On one hand, it makes perfect sense. The next three steps involve expanding this sense of playing mindlessly to improvisation and finally practice. I can see how it would work, but I would have to devote myself entirely to this one system. I am afraid to do this because the practical part of myself (a part that has been cultivated by many respected teachers over the years) scoffs at the ephemeral and mystical nature of Mr. Werner's system. Play five minutes and then put the horn down for the day? That's lazy! I'll never get anywhere if I do that! I'm not a serious musician if I use his method as an excuse not to practice!

This is exactly the fear he talks about – Buddhists call it the fear of loss of life, the fear that I would waste my time here on Earth. I'm afraid that I'm not a good musician (and by extension not a good person) if I am not working hard at my instrument. It would be easier if I could practice as Mr. Werner says, and then practice all of my usual stuff afterward, but I feel as if that would defeat the point. No, it's got to be one or another. We're talking about a significant amount of practice time here, too; probably several months. The book says it usually takes this long to begin laying the new patterns in your mind.

On the other hand, it reminds me of the way the master teaches in “Zen and the Art of Archery.” There is very little, if any, discussion of theory or how to shoot a bow. Instead breathing, meditation, and focus are taught. Once the author is able to let go of the desire to shoot well, he begins shooting well, but he spends several years (years!) shooting poorly week after week. Mastery comes to him, but only once he stops searching for it. This is the path I've been looking for, but now that I've found it I'm not sure that I am brave enough to take it. I have no idea if it will work or not, and it runs so against everything I have been taught before . . . I need to keep thinking about it.


I've been fasting all day today, mainly to see if I could. It has been surprisingly easy – some mild discomfort, but easily ignored. I actually felt the loss of pleasure much more strongly than the loss of sustenance. I feel as if my eyes have been opened as to how much I eat purely for pleasure.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Entry 69 5.20.11

Entry 69, May 20th, 2011, 12:03am (ship time GMT +2)


Management is doing their best to make sure that everyone has a chance to get into Rome while we're here in the Mediterranean. To this end, the orchestra had the day off today. There was also a special crew-only tour of the city for only $20 that filled up extremely quickly. Luckily I was able to snag a spot!

The crew tour was a particularly good deal because the ship does not actually dock in Rome (the city isn't really on the coast). Instead, we dock at Civitevecchia (chiv-ah-ta-Veck-ee-ah, or as the crew has already shortened it: Chivvy), one of the industrial ports that serves the Rome area. From there it is about an hour and half by bus or an hour by train to the city itself.

Most of the bus trip is through rolling countryside, the hills bursting with verdant green shoots in the mild breeze of late May. Hidden in the idyllic landscape we could see pastures with grazing cattle, vineyards, and the odd collection of red tile roofs scattered here and there. Rob, our lead trumpet player and a native of Morrow Bay, California, said it reminded him of home (except with Cypress tress scattered everywhere). To me, it looked like a Van Gogh painting. It is no large wonder to me that Percy Shelley, Humphrey Davies, Coleridge, and Lord Byron all ended up here in Italy at one point or another.

The city strikes out of nowhere. In the space of five minutes the bus goes from rolling green countryside to crowded cobblestone streets. The ancient district strikes with similar rapidity – we were beginning to wonder if the bus was in the right city when out of the asphalt jungle sprang a two thousand year old wall (our guide announced (with practiced nonchalance, I thought) that, “this wall was built in 37”). From there we were mostly walking.

The tour was rather rushed, I feel. We got no more than ten minutes in each location, but I suppose this makes sense as it was designed to allow the crew members who will only manage to get off the boat once in Rome this season a chance to see the whole city at one go. We saw (in no particular order) what's left of the Circus Maximus, what's left of Caesar's palace, what's left of the Colosseum, what's left of the forum, what's left of . . . you get the idea. All of these things were mind boggling, of course, but I have to wonder whether or not they would be more impressive rebuilt to their former glory rather than left as pile of rubble. Of course, there's much to be learned from archaeological digs, but once those have been completed, why not restore the Colosseum to its former glory? It used to be plated in white marble and gold . . . what's left is sort of a skeleton that's been worked on in haphazard fashion over the years before being preserved. I say, fix it up and let's have some concerts!

But these are quibbles. I deviate from my main point, which is namely that I saw more actual history today than I've seen in my entire life up to this point combined. To see, in a single day, everything from the hill where Romulus founded Rome to the balcony where Mussolini used to speak leaves me in a state of sensory overload that will take some time to recover from. I consider today's trip to be a sort of reconnaissance mission, laying the groundwork for future expeditions. I already know that one day will be spent on the Colosseum, another on the old forum and governmental ruins, another on the Vatican and Sistine chapel . . . etc. There are plans to be made!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Entry 68 5.18.11

Entry 68, May 18th, 2011, 1:44pm (ship time GMT +2)

Wow, I am behind in my travel writing! I didn't write much about Barcelona or Malaga, and I missed Cannes entirely yesterday. Let me catch up a little.

Barcelona is the most metropolitan place that we've been to so far, although I'm sure Rome will surpass it tomorrow. Regardless, it is a thriving, modern city of one and half million people and may be too large for me to explore fully, even though I'll be there every two weeks for the next four months (seven more visits, I think?).

Barcelona is the city that Chicago could be, given another two thousand years of continued urban development. It was originally a cluster of Phoenician (Minoan? I get them confused, my brother would know) settlements (the coastline was radically different at this point, as a pair of rivers have been depositing silt in the area) before being colonized by Rome as “Barcino,” a walled city along the Augustus road. It was known for luxury fish foods (one of the preserved ruins is a fish salting and gamum (fish sauce) workshop), grains, grapes, and olives. During the Moorish occupation of the Iberian penninsula, Barcelona existed at the crossroads of Moorish and Christian cultures (I think . . . this depends on if I read the Spanish museum displays correctly). It also was one of the centers of the industrial revolution in Spain.

The cruise ship terminal is very large, and was hosting three other ships in addition to our own. The terminal actually exists on an artificial breakwater in the harbor and is connected by a drawbridge to the city itself, allowing transit of both heavy freight trucks and the cruise ships themselves. The shuttle bus from the pier dropped me off at a huge traffic rotary near the Barcelona world trade center, where a fifth, extremely strange cruise ship was docked. It was about the same length as the Grandeur, but with perhaps half as many decks. From the decks protruded four huge masts, with triangular sails furled into rollers on each of them! A cruise ship with sails, what silliness. It had a stack, too, I might add – there's no way such a small sail area could move a ship of that tonnage at anything like an economical speed.

From this rotary it was just a short walk to the huge Columbus Monument. This is a huge pillar with a statue of someone who I can only assume is Christopher Columbus on top of it, surrounded by angels and Poseidon and all manner of fawning deities. Columbus, by the way, is written and pronounced “Colón” in Spanish, meaning that Colón, Panama is really Columbus, Panama (another way in which that wretched city is like Ohio . . . it figures, really). If you're not really into the whole Christopher Columbus hero worship thing, it may be a bit of a let down, but the monument is impressive for its size nonetheless.

From the monument I headed down La Ramba, a wide avenue with a tree-lined plaza down the center that leads into the heart of the city. It is known for being the “Most Interesting Street in the World,” as well as a slightly notorious haven for pickpockets, racketeers, and assorted miscreants. Fortunately for me I saw plenty of the former and very little of the latter. Human statues, chocolate stores, flower shops, guys selling little squeakers that you can hide in your mouth, cafes, restaurants, a woman selling fish and birds (in tanks and cages, respectively) . . . all of this was just on the plaza itself, the stores along either side only added to the mass of noise and activity.

I visited Barcelona's cathedral as well. This building, although larger and more sophisticated, did not strike me in the way that Palma's cathedral did. Perhaps this is because I was not there on a day of worship . . . however, I suspect that this is also because the cathedral in Barcelona feels more like a museum than a place of worship.

That's not to say that it wasn't stunning, because it was. Even though part of it was under construction, the cathedral itself is an architectural and engineering masterpiece so incomprehensibly old that I can't even wrap my mind around it (the Count of Barcelona and his wife are interned in boxes on the wall . . . they died in the 1000's!). The thing is, it doesn't shimmer like the building in Palma. It doesn't feel alive.

Although even in this state the cathedral still has a very powerful suggestive influence. I sat for a while, just thinking and watching the people pass by. When sitting in such a building the question is not “Is there a God?” but rather, “How can there not be a God?” The building feels like physical proof of the divine. Intellectually I know that it proves nothing except for the incredible devotion of people long dead, but emotionally it registers as truth. I was always skeptical of the power of architecture to actually influence human behavior . . . until now.

Also, there's a saint buried beneath the altar. Like, a person thought to be so in tune with the holy spirit that they could violate the laws of physics (or perform miracles; however you want to say it is okay with me, really). Whoa. Can you imagine meeting a saint today?

In fact, why don't we meet saints more often these days? The population of the world has increased massively since the time of Christ. Shouldn't that mean that saints appear more often, assuming that humanity keeps popping them out at the same rate per number of normal souls? Perhaps it's like Dostoyevsky says, and they're all locked up in insane asylums. I suppose we can blame science for this. As many good things as science has done for humanity, I am kind of sad that it has taken away the concept of super powers. We may still not know what we are, but we know what we're not, and we're not special.

Also, this means that I personally have no chance of becoming a superhero through sainthood. This was pretty unlikely anyway (let's be real here), but it is still kind of a letdown.

But I'm wwaaaaayyyyy off topic here; I'm supposed to be writing about my travels. The images of the saints and other various figures around the cathedral were fascinating to me – I wish I was able to recognize more them. Stories are everywhere (told mainly in pictures on the wall and in alcoves), and they are the stories of people trying to “figure it all out.” Sometimes they succeed, and sometimes they don't. I like to think that the questions they were trying to answer and the questions I am trying to answer are not that different from one another.

Today I'm in La Spezia (Italian soil! Woo!), our port of choice for reaching Florence and Pisa. We had a rehearsal this morning, so I didn't have time to make that happen (plus, I'm saving my pennies for Rome tomorrow!) but I did get off the ship to wander around town. Italy is green, lush, and mountainous. The city feels snug and quiet, with lots of winding roads and paths up the hills, mixed in with old stone walls and creeping greenery filling the nooks and crannies everywhere! It is the very end of spring here, and so the entire city smells of lilac and lavender. It reminds me of the gardens at MSU on the last day of spring finals . . . quite pleasant, indeed – I will try to get some good pictures.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Entry 67 5.16.11

Entry 67, May 16th, 2011, 11:38am (ship time GMT +2)

People occasionally say things like “that's a beautiful song,” or “what a beautiful dress.” While the message is perfectly clear, I wish we had a more accurate way to say it because technically nothing is intrinsically beautiful on its own. It can't be.

Consider the following: what is considered beautiful and what isn't changes as time passes. Each new generation's music (or art, writing, etc.) is criticized by the previous generation for being “senseless noise” before becoming the new standard. It then proceeds to go in and out of vogue before ultimately being forgotten. Nothing in the physical makeup of the art has changed (Romeo and Juliet is still the same collection of words it was a hundred years ago, and the Mona Lisa looks exactly the same).

Beauty even varies across the same slice of time, depending on the audience. If two people view the same painting at the same second, they see different things. No, when someone says that something is beautiful, this only tells you something about the person talking, not anything about the object in question.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Entry 66 5.15.11

Entry 66, May 15, 2011, 6:29pm (ship time GMT +2)

It has been a pretty quiet few days. Nicky and Lincoln both signed off this morning, leaving me two friends short, but I went drinking with some of the new cruise staff last night and so there are a couple new friendly faces as well – Chris, who just transferred from the independence and is Tyler's new roommate, and Sofia, one of two Swedes on the boat (the other is the staff captain).

This week's cruise takes us to Italy! I'm excited, particularly for Rome. A few of the cities we visited last week where established by Augustus Caesar on the locations of Phoenician settlements, and so I am excited to visit the source of so much history. Cannes will be nice as well (my first visit to French soil!) but I think we have a rehearsal that day and so it may be difficult to visit.

The depth of history here in Europe is difficult to comprehend. In the United States and in the Caribbean, conventional history (i.e. the history of European settlers) is so short that the narrative arc can be perceived all at one go. Europe is not at all that way . . . empires have risen and fallen so many times here that I can barely remember who follows who. It would be even worse in Mesopotamia or China.

Our headliner tonight is seriously playing “Apache” . . . I think I'm the only member of the orchestra who is sitting in back singing the dance hall remix in my head (jump on it, jump on it . . . etc.).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Entry 65 5.13.11

Entry 65, May 13, 2011, 1:07pm (ship time GMT +2)

British soil! This is a first. We're docked in Gibraltar today, our last port before returning to Palma and finishing the Spanish itinerary for the first time. Nicky (our thorny British T&D manager) was extremely excited to go ashore and get a “proper English breakfast” for the first time in many months.

Gibraltar is very much a small piece of the United Kingdom, transplanted to the Mediterranean. It isn't like some colonies I've seen (looking at you, Cayman) that are nominally part of a certain country but have a culture that is totally different. Gibraltar is an extension of the UK, to the extent that they have red telephone boxes and police officers in funny hats. The peninsula even uses pounds sterling, although most places will accept Euro.

Gibraltar is not very large. It is not an island, despite what some would have you think, but is instead a peninsula protruding South and parallel to a segment of the Spanish coast. It is not in the narrowest part of the strait linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, either; it is slightly to the East. Whenever a plane takes off, it becomes an island, though, as the runway bisects the main road to Spain (they actually have traffic lights that turn red whenever a plane is taking off or landing!).

I'm eating in a restaurant called “The Clipper,” one narrow, cobblestoned side street off of the main tourist drag (the “free wifi” sign will get me in every time). The waitress asked me if I wanted “white coffee,” (“cuppa white coffee, love?” (I feel that she was overdoing it a bit)) and because I had no idea what she was talking about I said yes. It turns out that this means coffee with milk, which makes a certain amount of sense as we already say “black coffee” to mean coffee without (black coffee in Spanish speaking countries is “cafe americano,” meaning that you get a large cup of weaker black coffee instead of the small cup of espresso that seems to be the norm). I have decided that milk is acceptable in coffee but sugar is not.

I also just polished off a plate of tikka masala. It turns out that tikka masala was actually invented in England . . . and it tastes like it was. If I had to describe it, I would say that it tastes like Indian food made only with ingredients that are native to Britain. Not bad, exactly, but I'd rather have chicken korma any day of the week. The British seem opposed to anything that could involve spice or seasoning.

Perhaps I sound highly critical of Britain in this blog. This is not the case – it is only because their culture is so similar to ours that I feel comfortable in making fun of it. It certainly isn't a one-sided discussion – the Brits are constantly making fun of our (mis)use of the English language (the more indignant they get, the more I lapse into my old West Virginia speech patterns) aboard ship, and so it becomes a friendly give and take. How's that lease in Hong Kong working out for you guys, eh? What was the phrase, “the sun never sets on the British Empire?”

Entry 64 5.12.11

Entry 64, May 12, 2011, 2:27pm (ship time GMT +2)

I'm sitting in a cafe just off of Plaza de la Marina in Malaga, Spain, sipping a coffee and reveling in the fact that I just ordered entirely in Spanish. It's a small victory, to be sure (I only ordered cafe americano), but it's a start. I even said please and thank you!

Mmm. Good coffee.

I was debating whether or not to get off the ship today, as I was feeling particularly lazy. Staying in and reading a book sounded like a reasonably good idea. However, I dragged my bones off the ship around noon and now I am glad that I did. Nicky convinced me – she said that I could either read alone in my plastic, air conditioned cabin, or read at a street cafe, sipping on a coffee and attracting beautiful Spanish women (oh, who is that mysterious American over there, so absorbed and studious? So handsome as well!). Somehow I doubt that Hume's “Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding” is going to be a big hit with the ladies, but we'll see. I'll try Kant next if Hume strikes out.

The people watching has been good so far. Almost as soon as I sat down, a group of African women walked by selling necklaces and bracelets, their wares balanced effortlessly on their heads.

Ugh. I just discovered that I do not like sugar in my coffee.

And before I forget, congratulations to my friend Rusty Smith for getting hired to play lead trumpet on the Liberty! We dock with the Liberty in Palma, so maybe I'll have a chance to see him then. Small world, when the guy you played trumpet with in middle school jazz band gets hired to play a ship you dock with in Spain.


A few interesting ideas from Hume already. He defines an idea as the shadow of something left behind by an experience, and then asserts that all ideas proceed from experiences. The imagination, at first seeming to be limitless and unbounded by any of our physical concerns, is instead revealed to be extremely confined and narrow as it can only operate by combining qualities and objects we already have experienced. We can imagine a golden mountain, but that is only because we know the material gold and the concept of a mountain. New ideas cannot come from inside, only outside the mind.

My immediate objection here is the concept of God. If we cannot create ideas, this means that someone must have experienced God from outside and told everyone else about the concept because there is no way we could have come up with it on our own (ideas come only from outside). Hume anticipates my objection, explaining that God is a being who knows, thinks, and is virtuous – all concepts readily gleaned from other aspects of human understanding that have merely been taken to the level of infinity.

Infinity is interesting when viewed from this standpoint. None of us have experienced infinity, but we talk about it as an idea. Where did it come from, then? When we talk about infinity, we don't actually hold the idea infinity in our head – we couldn't, we've never experienced it. Instead, we substitute the ideas of “really big,” “a lot,” or “larger than,” which we do understand.

Hume's other proof that ideas come only from the external world is thus: a blind man cannot understand the concept of “blue.” Here he admits a flaw in his assertion that ideas come only from the outside. Suppose a man has lived his entire life seeing all the various shades of blue except for one. Then, suppose that all these shades were set in front of him in a gradual spectrum, leaving a space for the one he had never seen. Is it possible that he could synthesize the missing shade? An interesting question.


A man and a woman wandered by just a second ago. I overheard a little bit of their conversation; it jumped out at me, as they were speaking in English . . . “He has a laptop, maybe there is?” she said. “I'll check” he replied, heading into the cafe proper.

There's no internet, if that's what you're wondering.” I said.

Oh really? That's too bad.” The guy came out from the cafe. “There's no internet, Carlos.”

We got to talking – he's from Chicago, and she's from New Jersey. They're co-workers on the first day of a backpacking trip in Spain, and were glad to find another American here in Malaga. It turns out that the guy was a trumpet player for seventeen years, and even studied with Arturo Sandoval (!) for a little bit. Talk about a small world. Anyway, I gave them my map (I can get more at the cruise ship terminal, and I know my way back (I hope)) and they set off to find a particular plaza they've been looking for. Nice people, I hope the map helps. She's cute, too, I wonder if they're just co-workers? Perhaps they're in that weird label-less time of a relationship, or just shy.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Entry 63 5.11.11

Entry 63, May 11th, 2011, 1:52am (ship time GMT +2)

Visited Barcelona today. Beautiful city, good food, fashion-conscious women, old Roman ruins, blah blah blah . . . you're going to get plenty of those posts the next few months. What I really want to talk about is economics.

On the ship, it all comes down to food. The mess closes at midnight, and reopens at 7am the next morning. For most normal human beings, that's not a problem, but if you're like me at every once in a while take a nap at 4pm only to roll out of bed around midnight, this can be quite an issue. My sleep habits often force me into dealing with the shadow economy that exists every night from midnight until 7.

The standard unit of currency among hungry crew in the middle of the night is the noodle bowl, much as deer skins (“bucks”) were among the settlers of the American frontier. If you do not have any noodle bowls (like me), you will need some sort of trade good to acquire your meal. Tonight I was able to trade a quarter can of cashews and a handful of skittles for a bowl, which is a pretty good deal. I've got a contact who has access to a large stockpile of noodle bowls bought in Panama, and so prices are good. Otherwise it could have cost me an entire package of skittles in addition to the cashews.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Entry 62 5.9.11

Entry 62, May 9th, 2011, 10:27pm (ship time GMT +2)

Today we visited Ibiza, Spain, the party capital of Europe (and perhaps the world). We were there through only the early afternoon, although on later cruises this will change and the crew will have a chance to partake of the nightlife. I took the chance today to go visit the wall city and fortress in the old part of the city.

The island itself has been settled since ancient times, and buried beneath Ibiza are the ruins of both Phoenician and Roman habitation. The walled city is an excellent example of both medieval and renaissance fortification. The oldest sections line a cliff overlooking the ocean, and were rebuilt several times throughout history. The outer wall is relatively haphazard in design, although it is quite thick and tall. Standing on the wall next to the old barracks (which is now the Ibiza museum of modern art), one can see across the rooftops of the rest of the city – a beautifully chaotic patchwork of tile, clotheslines, and rooftop gardens. Passing through the twisting neighborhoods protected by this wall, you finally reach the fortress proper. This most recent version of this wall was designed all at one time during the 1600s, although much of it was built over preexisting foundations (the small , heavily fortified gate dates to the original medieval fortifications). It consists of a thick curtain wall, punctuated by eight or nine large pentagonal protrusions (casements, I think?) that are all named after various saints. Cannons and soldiers were stationed on the wall, and then additional cannons and soldiers were hidden near ground level in the small angle where the casements and wall meet. Here, protected from direct fire, they could fire on anyone drawing near the base of the wall, and with the adjacent casement they could form a devastating crossfire. The fortress is laid out with scientific precision, and even as it follows the contours of the hill there is not a single square foot of ground at the wall's perimeter that isn't covered by at least two different weapon emplacements.

If it gives you any idea of the size of the city, inside of this wall is another fortress formed by the most important civic and military buildings. The old city would have required a garrison of thousands, and an army of tens of thousands to conquer.

After exploring the fortress, we stopped at a little cafe to eat lunch. I ordered a ham and cheese sandwich (un sandwiche con jamon y queso, although I think the owners of the cafe were really French instead of Spanish because she said fromage instead of queso (that or my command of spanish is still highly suspect)). Expecting a few slices of lunch meat on square bread, imagine my surprise when I instead receive a sliced baguette laden with prosciutto, mild Spanish cheese, lettuce, and the sweetest tomatoes I have ever tasted. It was delicious!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Entry 61 5.8.11

Entry 61, May 8th, 2011, 7:29am (ship time GMT +2)

We're docked in Palma de Mallorca today, for the first of what will be many times. I just finished breakfast and am on the back deck drinking in a scent I haven't smelled in a long time – the smell of summer. There's a land breeze blowing as the sun rises, and it carries the clean scent of fresh leaves and humidity to the boat. That is, when I can smell it over the cloud of cigarette smoke from the legion of crew members gawking at the shore and sucking down cigarettes at a prodigious rate.

God I swear no one does anything but smoke on this boat.

Anyway, the smell of summer reminds me of home. It's the smell of the playground during morning recess in third grade. It reminds me of a large stand of birch trees that I can see from my backyard. Summer in Michigan is one of my favorite things in the world, and I'm going to miss it entirely this year . . . although summer in the Western Mediterranean may be an acceptable substitute.

We begin our new pair of itineraries today. We have a seven day Spanish cruise, followed by a seven day Italian cruise. How odd it is to think that our passengers signing on board today have no idea that two weeks ago we were in Panama. As far as they know, the ship didn't exist until their bus pulled up to it at the dock here in Spain.

Anyway, we leave at 17:00, so I'm going to get on shore. I can see a fort from where I'm sitting; maybe I'll go take a look at it. Time to go add another continent to my list – this will make four (North and South America, Asia, and now Europe – I don't think that a few hours in Tenerife counts as visiting Africa).


I took a nice long walk down the shore to the center of Palma. They certainly parked the ship far enough away . . . it took almost an hour and a half to reach downtown. It was a pleasant walk, though – the city is quiet on Sunday morning, and there were lots of interesting boats moored in the marinas that I passed by. I saw a private yacht approximately the size of a destroyer (compensating a bit, are we?), a sailboat that had burned down (ouch!), and a bunch of small boats with a strange sort of rig that I don't quite understand. I'm not sure if they're sail powered or not – most of them were small wooden boats with no other visible form of propulsion, but they only have two short stubby masts with a long spar laid between them. Very odd.

I didn't have any particularly clear goals getting off the ship, or any sort of map besides what I had seen from the back deck this morning, but I acquired both of these things as I walked. I passed a bus stop with a nearly complete map of the city (*click* now it's on my phone) and over the masts of the pleasure cruisers I saw a tall, spikey stone building that looked to be pretty interesting.

The building turned out to be the cathedral of Palma de Mallorca. I circled around the cathedral, getting lost in the side streets before finally finding the entrance. It was shortly before mass, but I stuck my head in anyway . . .

I can barely describe the experience. I was stopped dead in my tracks by the force of four hundred years' accumulated solemnity. An architectural analysis of such a building would do it no justice. Neither would pictures . . . I took one, but quickly stopped. It isn't the stones, glass, or acoustics that make the building powerful, it's something else. The morning sun was streaming in through the windows, and the chanting Latin resonated in the space over and over again until it felt like the very stones were buzzing. I bowed my head in surrender; there was nothing else that could be done.

The cathedral vibrates one's soul down to your very shoes. It hums with the power of yearning towards a larger truth. It is a sacred place, regardless of credo or history or scientifically demonstrable facts. This humble Agnostic stood quiet, awestruck. It would be a bitter soul indeed that was not moved, standing in the light of a hundred stained glass windows in Mallorca.


I am back on board now, having just finished a rather anemic lunch in the mess. I am back a little earlier than I expected to be, but I ran into some friends who were headed back to the ship and decided to split a taxi with them. In a brand-new port, and with two thousand passengers coming on board, I didn't feel like taking any chances in getting back to the boat on time.

If Palma is at all indicative of what the ports on this run are going to be like, I am very excited for the rest of the season. The city is beautiful, clean, and absolutely fascinating. Not an inch of it (that I saw today, at least) feels fake or Disney. Winding alleys feed shade-covered avenues that all eventually meet the sea like a paving stone estuary system. The city is remarkably quiet and very busy all at the same time, a function of the omnipresent plant life and the natural gas powered mass transit system. The inhabitants of Palma clearly have money, taste, and a rich history, and so I look forward to spending a lot of time here.

Never have I seen so many quality restaurants in one place! For someone who comes from the food and cultural wasteland of the Midwestern United States, it is a bit overwhelming. The challenge will be budgeting in Europe . . . total cost today was 3.45 euros for a cup of coffee (it was good coffee!) plus 4 euros for the taxi. This works out to roughly eleven dollars, and I didn't even eat anything! I think the strategy will have to emphasize quality over quantity of experiences. Perhaps one well-researched trip per voyage will suffice, if I put the (admittedly paltry) weight of my entire weekly budget behind it.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Entry 59 5.6.11

Entry 59, May 6th, 2011 (8:40pm, ship time GMT +2)

Course: NE Speed: 21 knots

Linda, our trainee replacement T&D manager, was coming up to the back deck right as I was leaving today. She's from Chicago – I think she and I are the only two people who aren't freezing right now in the 65 degree weather. Gotta love that thick midwestern blood.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Entry 58 5.5.11

Entry 58, May 5th, 2011, 9:45pm (ship time GMT +1)

Course: NE Speed: 21 knots

The Grandeur is pounding North now after our brief stop in Tenerife. We've got two days to make Palma, and I think we're making close to the old lady's best speed. The dishes in the staff mess are buzzing in their racks, and I can feel the rumble of the props through the soles of my shoes. On broadway, the light fixtures are rattling above the engine rooms.

The band took a trip to the windjammer cafe for dinner, and being nine stories above the ocean while the ship surges through the waves is quite an experience. I can't even imagine what it would feel like to be on a naval ship doing twice this speed.

I was hoping to get up early this morning and spot Tenerife as the sun came up, as it was our first landfall in a week. However, my hopes were dashed, as last night around 11 o'clock I took a look outside and was startled to see a mountain of orange lights outside the mess porthole. We arrived several hours ahead of schedule, I assume due to good weather.

Tenerife is one of the Canary Islands. We docked at Santa Cruz de Tenerife, the capital and principal city of the island. Tenerife is extremely mountainous, and the city stretches away up from the waterfront like a few places that I know in Northern California (or Japan). There's another cruise ship port on the North side of the island, but Cat (beverages manager, and bassist Lincoln's girlfriend) said that it was like if one took all the best parts of Spain and ruined them with British pubs. The North side is highly commercialized and touristy, while the South side is more business and industrially focused.

After a boat drill and inspection by the Spanish authorities, we were granted some much needed shore leave. The city of Santa Cruz de Tenerife is beautiful! The city is a mixture of modernist architectures and stretches up into the mountains for miles. There are parks, gardens, and pedestrian plazas everywhere. There is a system of electric streetcars that crisscross the city, and along the shoreline is a wide boulevard lined with leafy tropical palms. Farther up in the hills, we could see houses clinging to the sides of mountains, and roads cut into the rock. Tyler said that it reminded him of Hawaii. If there was an ugly part of the city, we couldn't find it. If my Spanish continues to improve, I might be happy living there for a time.

The spoken language is Spanish, and the currency the Euro, although I suppose technically the Canary Islands are part of the African continent (not sure about this; gotta look it up, although this is what the latitude would imply). The weather was mild, much like late spring in Michigan (although with a healthy sea breeze). Today was mostly cloudy, but I got some beautiful shots in the morning of the shadows of sunrise and the clouds obscuring the tops of the mountains.

I was able to get these early morning shots because I woke up bolt upright in bed again around 3am today. The ship is on Madrid time, and apparently my body is on Singapore time. I'm not alone amongst the crew – I think this was the most alert we've been for boat drill in quite some time.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Entry 57 5.4.11

Entry 57, May 4th, 2011, 9:05pm (ship time GMT +1)

Course: ENE Speed: 16 knots

Wind: Calm Waves: Very light swell from NNE

The ocean is closer to normal today. Still very calm, but now a light gray. I'm watching the sun set on the back deck, and the world is framed by a massive bank of low, flat clouds that stretch uniformly across the horizon. It is like being stuck in a large, flat box – ocean on one side, cloud on the other. I almost expect to look up and see ships sailing upside down on the clouds.

The weather changed several days ago; I forgot to mention it. Two days out of Barbados the temperature suddenly dropped about ten or fifteen degrees Fahrenheit, and the humidity dropped to practically nothing. It is now quite pleasant, much like mid or late spring in Michigan. This should make visiting the cities in Europe a bit more comfortable than the cities in Central America. The rest of the crew is of course bundled up in jackets and coats, but as a midwesterner I have a bit of a reputation to uphold and so have maintained my use of shorts and T-shirts.

Still no internet. We haven't seen so much as a jet contrail for almost a week. As far as most of the crew is concerned, the rest of the world may have ceased to exist. I have eaten the same lunch at the same time at the same table for six days in a row – if this was a Star Trek episode it would be one of those time loop ones (right about now Data and Guinan would be recalibrating the navigational deflector). I've been unable to update the blog for several days, which is unfortunate, but I will do my best to catch up once we are back in touch with the rest of the world.

I like being hard to reach, but I need to get off the ship and away from people for a bit tomorrow.

Absolutely magnificent sunset today. The air is so clear out here that the colors are actually different than on land. I could take pictures of it, but pictures of sunsets never seem to really turn out right.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Entry 56 5.3.11

Entry 56, May 3rd, 2011, 3:47pm (ship time UTC +1)

Course: ENE Speed: 17 knots

Wind: Calm Seas: Calm

The internet has been down for more than two days now. This is one of the beautiful things about being at sea – if anyone wants to get a hold of me, they would literally have to come out to the boat and talk to me. I am totally unreachable – no phone, no email, no text messages, no letters. I have no obligation to interrupt my own activities for anyone else (well, except for my job here, but you know what I mean). It is one of the reasons that I really enjoyed sailing back home – it represented a way of taking control over my own agenda. If anyone wanted to talk to me while I was out sailing a boat by myself, they would have to physically get into a boat and chase me down (and unless your boat is significantly faster than mine, good luck!).

The television is mostly out as well. There's a rumor going around that Bin Laden has been killed. I suppose I'll find out for sure when we get to Tenerife.

The Atlantic is like a pond today – flat and still. The only disturbance is our ship's wake, stretching out for miles behind us. Looking directly down from the rail the water is a stunning, dark crystal blue, but looking out from the ship the ocean is bright white in all directions, reflecting the high whisps of cirrus clouds that are everywhere in the sky today. The sky is actually more blue than the ocean is when you look out to the horizon.

The Lady G is surprisingly active, considering how absolutely still the ocean is. She's rolling and pitching fairly quickly – not over a very large distance, but the motions are short and sharp. I suppose this is just her natural gait at 17 knots – the wide beam relative to her draft makes her correct her roll rather quickly. We've slowed down a little since the first couple days, I can only assume that means that we're ahead of schedule.

The orchestra is working more than usual during the crossing. We've started doing big band sets in the centrum, which is nice (and good sightreading practice, since we haven't ever rehearsed most of the charts). Also, because this cruise is 14 instead of 7 nights, we've been playing a different headliner every night. A headliner is a guest entertainer who comes on board with their own music, usually a singer or comedian. We run through the show in the morning, and then perform it that night. This is really what they pay the orchestra to do, I think, as the production shows all have click tracks and could probably be done without us (although I like to think that this would strip them of any last shred of musical worth that they may still have). Sight reading skills are of paramount importance – you've got to play it right the first time you see it. I'm doing alright in this department, but I have some room for improvement. By the end of this job I will be a pretty competent sight reader.

Last night's charts were terrible, by the way. Not only were they badly written from a musical perspective, they were badly written from a formatting perspective as well. Nonsensical rhythms, broken harmony, scribbled corrections and additions dotting the page – you name it, we had it. It frustrating for both us and the headliner. We asked him to clarify something at one point, and he balked, explaining that he couldn't read music (I heard someone remark under his breath, “shit, neither can we, if it looks like this”). Singers, if you're reading this, please for the love of god: 1. learn to read music. It's not that hard, and we're not going to take you seriously if you can't, and 2. make sure your charts don't suck. This is where reading music becomes useful.


We've been moving forward a time zone each day, as I mentioned earlier, and it has led to an interesting phenomenon. It is just past 8pm, ship time, and yet the sun is up as if it is late afternoon. We've been changing time zones much faster than the ship has been sailing through them. For comparison, consider this: we're on Paris/Rome/Madrid/Berlin time at the moment, an hour ahead of London, but we are still almost two days West of the Canary Islands. There is still one more hour to make up, but that won't happen until after landfall in Tenerife.

Tenerife, by the way, was Captain Joshua Slocum's first port of call after his first crossing of the Atlantic in his small, 34-foot boat Spray during his solo circumnavigation of the world. I'm reading “Sailing Alone Around the World,” a book given to my family by some friends of ours who are themselves quite accomplished sailors (their blog about the travels of the Intrepid Fox is one of my many means of living vicariously a life of sail). Slocum sailed around the world at the turn of the century in a boat he rebuilt himself, and his book is a mix of clear, straightforward prose and brilliant high-seas adventure. I'm looking forward to spotting the island the day after tomorrow (perhaps not quite the way he did, but crossing the ocean remains a sign of adventure none the less).

I'm looking forward to some time by myself when I finish this contract. It is something Slocum has plenty of throughout his book, and it is something I have none of here, packed aboard the ship with almost three thousand other people. I have no idea what I will do when I sign off, but I am sure that it will involve some peace and quiet. Maybe I'll find a cheap little apartment in Barcelona and pretend to be Ernest Hemingway for a while. And I've heard the jazz scene is good in Porto, perhaps it will be time to learn Portuguese?

I cannot get over how still the ocean is right now. It is calmer than Lake Michigan. I can see little patches of wind move across the surface – you can tell because they darken the surrounding water. The Grandeur leaves a wake on it like a toy boat putting across a pool.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Entry 54 5.1.11

Entry 54, May 1st, 4:13am (ship time GMT -2)

Musical frustration.

I won't go into it right now. Suffice it to say that I've put in my own work for the day. I've spent my time in the shed. I've gotten a little better at my own instrument, and a little more knowledgeable in my own music. That's what is really important in the long run.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Entry 53 4.29.11

Entry 53, April 29th, 2011, 5:52pm (ship time GMT -3)

Course: ENE, Speed: 20 knots

Moderate Wind from E, Light Swell from E, partly cloudy

Today marks the first full day of the transatlantic portion of our voyage. The crossing will be six days at sea in a row, and we move the clocks forward an hour each night at 2am. This means that the crew will be sleep deprived for the entire voyage).

I was not wrong about the British guests – I'm sure they're all lovely people, but consider this statistic: normally after each voyage in the Caribbean the ship would come away with about a page and a half of official complaints – not bad (that's actually pretty damn good – we were consistently pulling satisfaction ratings of 295 out of 300 when sailing out of Panama). Now, after two days of sailing, we have six pages of complaints. This is from a ship that is less than half full! I doubt that our hotel staff have suddenly forgotten how to do their jobs – the European guests are just more demanding (our target rating in the Mediterranean has been moved from 280 to 240 by the Miami office).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Entry 52 4.28.11

Entry 52, April 28th, 2011, 4:35pm (ship time GMT -4)

Dockside, Bridgetown, Barbados

I can already tell that our British guests are going to be lovely bundles of joy.

We got our first real batch of Brits today, on a pair of 747s from across the pond. I am gathering the distinct impression that if a Brit is not distinctly miserable at least once a day while on holiday, they will consider it an abject failure. Some of them are getting an earlier start than others . . . I heard one man in particular complaining bitterly to Rico (the cruise director, my boss's boss) that he had been told there was a problem with his ID card when there wasn't one and had been forced, forced! to walk all the way back to the gangway from his cabin two decks above for no reason. Personally, I think that we'd be doing this particular fellow a favor if we had him up and down the stairs a few more times . . .


I have officially said goodbye to North America. If all goes according to plan, I won't set foot on American soil again until October. October! And I'm about to add another continent to my travels, bringing the total to 4 (well, five, if you count our landing in Tenerife as Africa, but I don't think that really counts).

The Atlantic swell is strong. The waves look like they are carved out of granite, almost as if the Atlantic water is heavier somehow. We've been bow onto the swell ever since leaving the lee side of Barbados, so the Lady G isn't rolling much, but we're pitching quite noticeably (even amidships you can feel it). There was one wave that I heard hit the bow particularly hard – it sounded like we smashed through a cinder block wall.

Here's an interesting story: another ship in the Grandeur's class was modified a couple years back by RCCL. They cut the ship in half and added a hundred-odd feet of hull, expanding it from six fire zones to seven. I was talking a few nights ago with an officer about whether or not they would ever do that to this ship, and he said that apparently the Grandeur was supposed to be the first to get this modification, but right as they were about to start cutting another ship had a major breakdown and RCCL needed the drydock space. That's why it has been so long since we've been in drydock.

Barbados was nice, although it looks like times are tough. There were some classic signs – broken fountains, unrepaired fire damage . . . but the beach was amazing. Coral beaches are the best, the sand feels like velvet under your feet. Or nougat. Or something.

Entry 51 4.27.11

Entry 51, April 27th, 2011, 4:42 pm (ship time GMT -4)

Course: E, Speed: 16 knots

Light wind and swell from the E, intermittent showers

Today's post: Fingers Pointing at the Moon

I'm continuing my comparative analysis of “The Purpose Driven Life,” (and perhaps, by extension, Christianity itself). It continues to be logically inconsistent, but that's not really the point – it wouldn't be belief if it was provable. We knew this going in.

Today's chapter is titled, “The Heart of Worship.” Warren asserts that the heart of worship is surrender, or giving one's self to God's plan completely. This involves abandoning all personal desires, goals, and hopes – yielding total control to God. To quote Paul (from Romans, I think?):

So then, my friends, because of God's great mercy to us . . . offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer.”

I'm reminded of something Dostoyevsky wrote near the beginning of “The Brothers Karamazov,” talking about Alyosha's decision to study at the monastery. I don't have the book here to quote it exactly, but essentially he says that while most young men are willing to march off to war and die for nothing, they are afraid to spend several years in dedicated study and service to something (like Alyosha does by joining the church). Living for God is much greater form of worship in my mind than dying for him.

Pastor Warren continues, showing several proofs of God's love for us (all biblical quotations, and so totally irrelevant from a factual point of view) before discussing the effects of surrender. He says:

You know you've surrendered to God when you rely on God to work things out instead of trying to manipulate others, force your agenda, and control the situation. You let go and let God work. You don't have to always be “in charge.” . . . in stead of trying harder, you trust more.”

Compare Warren's passage to this:

tao te ching, ch. 10

Giving birth and nourishing,

having without possessing,

acting with no expectations,

leading and not trying to control;

this is the supreme virtue.”

or this:

ch. 74

Trying to control the future

is like trying to take the master carpenter's place.

When you handle the master carpenter's tools,

chances are that you'll cut yourself.”

I doubt that Lao Tzu is trying to say that there necessarily IS a master carpenter, but the point is the same. This next example may be the clearest:

ch. 40

Return is the movement of the Tao.

Yielding is the way of the Tao.

All things are born of being.

Being is born of not being.”

I think it's pretty clear that “surrender” is a concept that both Lao Tzu and Pastor Warren understand and value. The difference is in what they surrender to; Warren, to a loving, caring, conscious and glorious God, and Lao Tzu to . . . well, something. The Tao, yes, but he goes to great lengths to say (at the very beginning of the tao te ching) that by calling it the tao, it is not the tao, and that by its very nature it cannot be named.

Here is an interesting passage:

tao te ching, ch. 30

The Master . . . understands that the universe

is forever out of control,

and that trying to dominate events

goes against the current of the Tao.

Because he believes in himself,

he doesn't try to convince others.

Because he is content with himself,

he doesn't need others' approval.

Because he accepts himself,

the whole world accepts him.”

Compare this to the dedication of “The Purpose Driven Life.”

This book is dedicated to you. Before you were born, God planned this moment in your life. It is no accident that you are holding this book. God longs for you to discover the life he created you to live – here on Earth, and forever in eternity.”

This is followed by a page with a pledge where you commit the next forty days of your life to discovering God's plan (complete with signature line).

Now, maybe I'm just projecting my own preconceptions here, but it seems like Pastor Warren is trying pretty hard to convince me that his path is correct. In fact, Christianity as a whole has traditionally involved trying to convince people to join the church and be saved (“evangelism,” anyone?). This has never made any sense to me, because it seems to me that if there is any one sure way to keep someone from doing something it is to tell them to do it.

Perhaps Lao Tzu's insight can clarify the situation. He says, “Because he believes in himself, he doesn't try to convince others.” Maybe the church as a whole still contains some seed of doubt at its very core? That would certainly explain the drive to collect followers over the past two thousand-odd years.

Also, consider this. “Because he accepts himself, the world accepts him.” Perhaps this applies to the church as well? Christianity has certainly met with vigorous rejection here and there, most notably from the Islamic world but also from atheists throughout history and a growing segment of the population here in the United States. Could the concept of original sin keep Christians from accepting themselves, and consequently keep the world from accepting them? I will have to think about that.

One thing is certain. IF there is a universal truth, and the two different tellings of that truth that I am studying differ in their accounts of it, it logically follows that at least one of them must be wrong. I suspect that they are both incomplete, actually, and I am beginning to doubt that even all humanity's stories combined could tell the universal truth. As a zen master once told a student, “My teachings are merely a finger pointing at the moon. Don't look at the finger!”

If that's true, and all religions and philosophies are really just fingers pointing at the moon, then that means one cannot look up wisdom. Good to know, I suppose . . . this wisdom stuff is slippery business. I guess my question now becomes: if I can't look it up, where do I find it?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Continuing Internet Problems

They've been "fine tuning" the ship's internet for about a week, which means that it doesn't work at all. I'm still writing, but my ability to put up posts has been pretty limited . . . hopefully they get it sorted out soon, I have a substantial backlog to work through! Thanks for your patience!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Entry 50, 4.26.11

Entry 50, April 26th, 2011, 3:04pm (ship time GMT -4)

Cafe De Buren, Willemstaad, Curacao

Moderate Wind from the SE

The excitement of preparing for the Atlantic crossing is beginning to ease into routine and monotony. In Panama there was an air of hushed expectation, similar to the way on feels just before starting on a long car trip. Now, though, we're getting into the routine of travel. Porting in Curacao today feels like we haven't started on anything new at all, as we've been stopping here for the past several months already. I'm looking forward to Barbados, though – never been there before.

And I looked it up yesterday – I'll be logging over 5000 nautical miles this voyage. Sweet.

The ship is a ghost ship right now. There are around six hundred passengers here for the crossing, which means that there is more than one crew member per passenger at the moment. A couple hundred more will be joining us in Barbados (all Brits, lovely . . .) for the crossing, but that's still two days from now. We've cut the shows to one seating each since we're running at less than half capacity.

We had boat drill again today, hopefully our last boat drill in the Western Hemisphere. In case it gives you any idea where I am on the totem pole, my emergency number is 1169. This doesn't seem so bad until you realize that the command staff starts with number 100 (presumably the captain) and decreases in importance as the number gets larger, and that the crew only numbers 750ish people total . . .

Anyway, I'm off to get back to the ship for rehearsal – we have guest artists on board all week and so I'll be sight reading a show every night. It will be a welcome change.