Jumping In


Once again, I have been too busy and/ or distracted to post anything about my latest adventures.  The cruise I am on started in Singapore and included four ports in Borneo and four in the Philippines. Today we stop in Manila, and then we have only a sea day before finishing in Hong Kong.  I will stay on for one more week, to experience Tet, the New Year, in Vietnam.  

I thought Borneo would be the high point of the cruise, but it is really the Philippines that has been the revelation.  The islands of Palawan and Romblon are straight out of tropical paradise fantasies, Palawan with its beautiful shallow reefs and cliffs that shoot up straight from the ocean floor, and Romblon with perfect beaches of dazzlingly clear water and soft sands.  As usual, I am already trying to figure out how I can get back here soon, perusing Seabourn and Silversea itineraries as far out as early 2021. Once is simply not enough.

I am not actually much of a water sports or a beach person, so I am surprised at how excited I got about snorkeling yesterday. I have really been missing out! I used to swim pretty long distances and was into scuba diving for a few years, but I drifted into other things like jogging, for a while, and tennis. 

I suspect at some point too early to remember ( or past life?), I may have had a traumatic experience being suddenly immersed in water, because I really resist getting wet , though am fine once I have done it. I don’t even like getting in the shower, and will sit around in sweaty clothes rather than take a shower immediately after tennis or just a hot day.  I have gotten in the pool in my condo complex once in the more than five years I have lived there and the jacuzzi maybe two or three times.  I don’t think I have ever gotten into the pool on a cruise, and many times I don’t even bother to pack a swimsuit. I never do the snorkeling or beach outings on tours, and I am really intimidated by the idea of kayaking because I am so worried about tipping over.

It’s nothing, I tell myself. No big deal. Silly. Lame.  Irrational.  But we are who we are.  Nevertheless, I have decided I am done with this nonsense because I am just missing out on too much.  I can’t wait to go snorkeling again, and that’s a start. Embracing change is one of the exciting things about being alive, and I am determined to be as alive as I can.

I don’t think there is anything  beach coming up for a while that I can do to jump in, literally and figuratively, to the new life as AquaLaurel, but maybe I can start by getting in the pool on the ship.  Just because I can. Just because I want to. 


Rest In Peace, Mary Oliver

We lost a wonderful poet this week.  Here is a poem by her that resonates with me, and I imagine with many others who have faced the fearsome task of breaking away.

The Journey

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

—Mary Oliver


Reinvention, Writ Large


Sometimes it comes on us with a screech and a slam, and sometimes it is so subtle  we hardly notice the signs at the time. Sometimes it’s more like sloughing off skin cells or getting a haircut, and sometimes it’s more like third degree burns, or losing a limb.  Sometimes we yearn for it and other times we view it with incapacitating dread.  But whatever forms it takes, the need for reinvention is one of the facts of life.

I didn’t know it at the time, but living in a different place at age 12, 13, 14, and 15 was one of the best things that ever happened to me.  My father was a physicist so out of sync with the military-industrial buildup of the Cold War that he roamed from job to job for a few years, thinking each change would be more rewarding.  Finally he called a time-out and took a job he didn’t like much, but in a place where my sister and I could have a more stable life and attend a world-class high school.

I began this peripatetic life as an obese 7th grader with poor personal grooming and no particular social skills, and reinvented myself once, twice, three times, as puberty and a growth spurt  took care of much of my baby fat.  I discovered cosmetics (and boys) and the importance of washing my hair, and ended up  looking pretty good by the time I was out of high school.

I reinvented myself in an important way by ditching my childhood name, Laurie, when I went off to grad school at the University of Chicago.  Not a soul knew me by that name, and  I was certain  it was the best chance I would ever get to add that little bit of adulthood to my life.

Life  had dealt me a few major blows I could not have survived if I didn’t reinvent myself as a person who could handle such things.  Just as Rodgers and Hammerstein promised,  after a while those happy tunes we whistle become who we really are. Now I am so enamored of change and reinvention that I honestly don’t know how I will ever manage to sit still again.

I found myself thinking about such things in Christchurch, New Zealand today, as I roamed around a city that less than a decade ago was pretty close to leveled by two major earthquakes and thousands of aftershocks.  The image at the top of this post is not of mist or fog ; it is the clouds of dust and debris raised as a city is being destroyed.

Socrates, through his pupil Plato, believed that society was “the soul writ large.” By this he meant that the same forces, for good or bad, that drove individuals, played out in the strengths and weaknesses of the entire human community.  What tamed the indidual, or drove him or her mad, could be seen everywhere from the marketplace to the palace…and in a leveled city.

What did Christchurch do? It asked, “how can we make us better?” What shortcomings could this disaster be an opportunity to solve? How can we come out stronger, better equipped for the future? What are we prepared to move on from, and what do we want to keep? The construction fence on the Cathedral Square reconstruction site is full of inspirations like the ones in this photo.


Among these reflections was the realization that this gave the city a new chance to do a better job than colonials had, of acknowledging and embracing the indigenous people of the region. Ngai Tahu, the  local Maori group, were integrally involved. Many new buildings incorporate indigenous designs and have indigenous names. The library, one image shown below,  is called Turanga, a name that embodies holiness. Balconies and other outlooks are situated to look out on places in the landscape beyond the city that are sacred to them. The exterior and interior evoke indigenous art and themes.

Christchurch’s idea of recovery was not just to rebuild everything the way it was , or settle for utilitarian buildings just to get it done..  Some buildings are being restored, or will be when the millions can be found to do it, but the overall feel of much of Christchurch is very hip, very modern, very colorful, a bit edgy, but very now.  And some of the best things incorporate both—an artisans’ collective inside a historic building, for example. And some things, like the foundations and tangle of rebar in the image below, are deliberately left as rubble, in the process of becoming a haunting form of art.

I like this place.  It feels fresh and new, even amid the large spaces that haven’t gotten much beyond clearing out the rubble. Most of these are ever so practically used as parking lots.  But underneath the ground, the new buildings and restored old ones have  deeper foundations and state-of-the-art engineering to enable them to move with the earth without unbalancing the building above.  The best lesson of all when it comes to reinvention—grow stronger from your mistakes— applies equally to the soul of an individual or a city.





In Transit

On ships they use the term “in transit” in a rather unusual and somewhat confusing way.  It refers to people who are not getting off the ship, but are continuing on for the next leg of the itinerary.  To me, it seems that the ones in transit are the ones getting off, the ones in transition from one place to another.  When I stay on, all the transiting I do is between my room and the buffet, or if I am unusually good, the gym.

I am now in transit in the usual sense of the word, as I sit in the Sydney airport waiting for my flight to Christchurch, New Zealand.  When I wake up in the morning, I will be in yet another country new to me.  Some day, I will make a list of how many there have been, but most of them still lie ahead in the next couple of months, if the fates agree.

I am going to New Zealand to do a little hands-on preparation for an assignment a year from now that will take me around Australia and New Zealand several times. I will be giving talks that are a little more focused on the ports and surroundings (history, interesting people, main sights), and though it is possible to do this kind of talk without having been to a place, it is just a much nicer comfort zone to have visited at least once.

So off I go!  I will be interested to see the progress Christchurch has made in recovering from the devastating earthquake a couple of years back.  The coastal railroad from Christchurch north was destroyed by landslides from the earthquake, and it just opened last month.  It is one of the great rail journeys in the world, and (lucky me) I will be transiting it in a few day’s time.  Then on to Picton, across the Cook Strait to Wellington, and then back to Sydney for a few days.

Most of my thoughts since I last posted are not about my journey, but my country’s.  Hard to know what to expect, but if the animal world is any indication, boxed-in animals tend to bite, claw, and do whatever it takes to get away. Hopefully the most we will face is some nasty snarling without much teeth, but who knows, when the trapped one has the full power of the executive branch, and a spineless party to fight back with?

At any rate, I wish you all a Happy Blue Year from the land down under.  May it bring much for all of us in transit, in one way or another, to cheer about.