Sea Changes

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange. 

These words, spoken by Ariel in Shakespeare’s  The Tempest are a beautiful way of describing the profound opportunities for transformation that time offers. A broken bottle to sea glass, a tiny polyp to a forest of coral, a cave carved by the force of the waves, a human changed by new insight and experiences. 

It seems particularly apt for me that Ariel describes change this way, because much of what has changed me in the last decade has come from having spent so much time traveling by sea. Not everything—throwing my life to the winds and moving sight unseen to Canada was perhaps the most transformative thing I have done in recent memory—but much of who I am now compared to ten years ago is tied to what cruising has offered me.

 I wrote the other day about Geoff DiVito,  my fellow speaker onboard, and the question he asked us in his latest talk: Why do we travel?  He said the most common answer is to experience other cultures. I have been thinking about that, and I find my conclusions rather dismaying. Yes, I have been a lot of places, but truly I haven’t experienced very much of other cultures except carefully orchestrated visits to semblances of the real deal. What else can one expect when one goes ashore after breakfast and is back at sea by dinnertime? 

I have chosen recently to say I have “set foot in” rather than truly visited many places I have been.  Don’t get me wrong—it’s been fantastic, but authentic?  Not that often.  I feel a special affinity for the ports without much tourist infrastructure, the ones where the shops are for the people who live there, not for people just stopping in for the day. Towns where you could buy new underwear or socks but forget finding a souvenir t-shirt or fridge magnet. Towns where the traffic jam is caused by people picking up their children from school rather than a clog of taxis and tour buses.  Places that won’t take my dollars or Euros. I love being ignored by shop keepers who converse with each outside their stores, to whom I am all but invisible because they aren’t selling anything I am likely to want. The kind of town so many people seem to think is  a waste of a day in port. Nothing much here, they say.  Nothing to hold one’s interest. You mean like Diamonds International, or duty free this or that?  I’ll pass, thanks.

 I was a little surprised that experiencing other cultures was the most common answer people gave to why they travel. As James Michener once wrote, “If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.“  I’ve been in ports where people on the shuttle going into the town just stayed on the bus and went straight back to the ship. I must confess, I have done that once or twice too, but not for the reasons Michener identifies. Once I recall, it was blistering hot somewhere in Southeast Asia, and where we were dropped off was a honky tonk beach with no shade. Back I went. Nothing to gain from staying. 

I’ve been on tours where the judgmental attitudes I overheard were heartbreaking. Too dirty, too poor, too ramshackle, too—different.  But some of my most profound insights about people have come from making my way through admittedly hygiene-challenged food markets, or along the streets even a little removed from the tourist zone, where people are more their authentic selves and what you see is a better reflection of their lives. 

Authenticity is hard to come by on cruise stops, but it can be done, and I am trying harder to seek it out. It’s these experiences that have the potential to make travel add up to more than a list of places I’ve been. It’s seeing an old man with burn scars in Vietnam and thinking I can guess how he got them, or seeing piles of plastic trash in a country where food was brought home in banana leaves that were thrown behind the house to decompose, and now the habit is hard to break. It’s realizing that people were wanting a photo with me because blonde hair was still a rarity in some places and I was the exotic one. It’s seeing little offerings to the gods outside houses every morning because that’s just how to start the day. it’s seeing signs that say “our children are not your photo op.”  It’s seeing an entire family on a motor scooter with children wedged around the parents because they are doing their best with the resources they have, however unsafe it may seem to western eyes. 

Even a quick travel stop can give one glimpses of all these things. And then, building on what is authentic, we find over time that we have changed.  A sea change, rich and strange. Through looking for authenticity outside ourselves, we begin to find our own. 


Why I Travel

I sometimes joke that the main reason I love having more than one speaker onboard is that I don’t learn a thing from my own talks.  I am fortunate that now I have a colleague and friend, Geoff DeVito, onboard Seabourn Odyssey, and even more fortunate that his talks are so thought provoking. 

Yesterday his subject was the future of travel. At one point he asked those of us in the audience to think about why we travel. My first thought was that I travel to experience for myself things that I had only seen or read about in books. Often setting foot in a place moves me to tears because I never thought I would find a way to get there.  Places I have cried include Red Square in Moscow, L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, and in the presence of giant reclining Buddhas in Yangon and Bangkok. 

Anyone my age grew up with the threat of annihilation in a nuclear war.  Standing in Red Square, I was in the belly of the beast, the place where the military might of a sworn enemy was paraded. What I had seen in black and white—both literally and figuratively—was now before me in the dazzling full color of St. Basil’s cathedral.  I cried because the world had changed so much, and that it was better than I imagined on both a global and a personal scale.

L’Anse aux Meadows is the site where archeologists firmly established the Viking presence in North America centuries before Columbus. The history buff in me ached to see it, but when I looked on a map. I had little hope I would ever be able to travel to such a remote spot. I have now been there twice.  

Photographs of giant reclining Buddhas were part of textbooks I used in my World Religions classes, but realistically I was unlikely to have the resources to take a trip to that part of the world.  Speaking on cruise ships, the world opened before me, and I have seen and done so many things I never thought I would. I have set foot on every continent except Antarctica.  I have been at least briefly in well over a hundred countries. I have heard the call to prayer in numerous Muslim countries, smelled the incense in countless temples, dodged cars in dozens of cities, and worn the soles of many pairs of shoes on ancient stone roads and beautiful paths through breathtaking natural beauty. 

Geoff then went on to tie our reasons for traveling to what the future might hold for us in a changing world. As he spoke, I realized that a big reason I travel is to complete the past, to turn my dreams into reality. That’s been wonderful, and I hope to do more of it, but the big question for me now is how traveling can take me into a richer, more rewarding future. What do I do with what I have seen and learned?  I can continue to grow my collection of cities, historical sites and magnificent vistas, but the question now is how I will change, how I will move forward by doing so, and I don’t have an answer to that. 

I am in a very enjoyable holding pattern right now, but I know myself well enough to recognize when I am no longer on a growth trajectory, which is usually the precursor to a shakeup in my life. I can’t imagine stopping traveling.  It is one of my great joys. But maybe I will change how I travel.  Maybe I will start using the freedom I granted myself by uprooting my life to go live for longer periods in new places. Maybe I  need to make outward travel a source for deeper inward travel. Maybe that means staying put for a while once I return to Victoria. Maybe I am avoiding something by being always on the move. Maybe something else Is growing restless inside me and wants to be heard. 

My second immediate thought when Geoff asked why we travel was that I want to grow personally. I want to be the biggest person I can be, then I want to be bigger. Perhaps the next step in that path is to grow smaller, as oxymoronic as that may sound. But then again, I haven’t seen Istanbul yet, or Japan, or Easter Island, and so many other places that still call to me. For now, I will once again enjoy the experience of observing myself as I figure out where I am headed. 



Cruise Colleagues

I meet a lot of people on cruises. A subset of those are other speakers, but there are surprisingly few. There is a formula I don’t entirely understand by which the number of sea days or short stops in ports are calculated so that they have the right number of speakers to fill the time available. Because most itineraries are port-intensive, I am probably three quarters of the time the only speaker on board.

There are exceptions. I have sat in the audience to listen to retired astronauts, astronomers, FBI agents, movie executives, admirals, baseball players and even the florist to the Queen. I must say that, sadly, I have rarely met another woman in my role. Pretty inexcusable, and I don’t know what to attribute it to. 

I always go to the talks, even to the speakers who are less than compelling, unless they drive me away. There was one who managed to work into each of his talks that he “hadn’t had the time” to go to mine. When he got even basic facts wrong in his talks, and then, apparently was dismissive of my expertise privately to guests, I decided  I was too busy to attend his talks also.  There was one who was clearly loaded when he arrived and ended up giving what sounded like the same talk over and over again. Something about galaxies, and stars, and…I forget.  

And the florist to the Queen?   I just couldn’t manage to care over the course of four talks exactly what massive arrangements he had delivered to which royal, and where. The baseball guy—well, I went to every one of his talks because I love baseball, but apparently fewer than a dozen others  did. 

i have sat through a number of total snoozers and a few that had me riveted every minute. It’s  been a long time, though,  since a speaker made me feel as if I was in the presence of someone who had lived an utterly awesome life. Today I had one of those moments. The speaker, David Mackay, was a man who had a long career as a music producer and then as a television producer of the theme music for a number of British sit coms. 

I am not star struck by whomever he may have been on a first name basis with. I have never given a damn about celebrities because fame isn’t enough to make you interesting. Also his career was long enough ago and so rooted in England that I didn’t recognize many of the shows or stars he worked with, but that didn’t matter to what I took from having listened to him.

Here was someone who knew where the men’s rooms are in the studios at Abbey Road. Not that he told us that, but my point is that he was ensconced in a place where music history was being made. He interacted or directly worked with many artists that are iconic to me. He talked about the era when first stereo and then 8-track recording were the biggest thing in ages, and how the business has evolved since then. He was there at an amazing time and can tell the story. As I chatted today with him at lunch today, I was looking into the face of someone who has had a truly remarkable life. 

I can say the same for so many of the people I have shared a stage with. Maybe they feel the same about me, maybe not, but I don’t care. Hearing about other people’s lives is wonderful, but I come away affirming that my story is big enough for me. 


The Grouchies, Caribbean Style

I wake up almost every day ready to paint a happy face on it.  When I don’t feel that way, I keep it to myself. Today, I am going to do something different. I am going to admit that I feel grouchy. 

The Caribbean is fun for a while, but it is not different enough from place to place to hold my interest. The snorkeling, except for Bonaire, has been disappointing. The “sailing adventures,’” again except for Bonaire, have been motor cruises on a sailboat.  I don’t think putting up just the jib counts, especially when it’s not even trimmed. The rum punch and the sea air are pretty darn fun though. 

I haven’t done much of anything ashore for a week on this New Year’s cruise, my last on Odyssey. We missed one port because we weren’t allowed to dock, then today only those on excursions can go ashore (I don’t have one, so here I am in my room).  The onboard programming has been thinned out due to concerns about social distancing, and I am traveling alone, so I don’t have the impetus of another person to get me out and about. 

I am still having fun with some very amusing people. The ambiance of music on the pool deck and balmy evening meals al fresco are enough to rapidly adjust my attitude back to a measure of bliss. I am fine where I am. I always am, with a few exceptions I must have blocked from my memory at the moment. 

The reason I’m writing this is not to complain but to share something that occurred to me while I was ‘owning” my grouchiness.  I realized I also have to own the responsibility for not being grouchy. Yes, there is absolutely nothing on today’s schedule, which only means it’s up to me to fill the day. 

So I started casting through my mind for what might be good things to do. I could write a blog post (doing that!). I could do the laundry (on it!).  I can go out on my nearly private sun deck a few steps from my room and enjoy an unusually cool Caribbean morning while listening to my latest audiobook (going there now—see photo).

  I can do some prep for upcoming talks and have that off my mind. That should take me to lunch. Then, since I don’t have a talk today, I can have a little wine with lunch. In the afternoon, I could indulge myself with the one calorie-bomb drink I allow myself per cruise (one of the rules that keeps my pants buttoned). Pina colada? Mai Tai?  Hmm… I’m pretty certain that will lead to a nap, and then, voila! It’s late afternoon. I am getting over the grouchies just thinking about it. 

So the moral here is, it’s not the Caribbean’s fault I am bored. It’s not the ship’s fault I am restless. It’s not COVID’s fault that restrictions frustrate me. It’s all on me. I am lucky enough to be able to choose what kind of day I will have.  Funny, I feel like going out with my happy face again. It’s a good day after all!.  


Sea Day

Sometimes I sit down with a blank screen and no focus for my thoughts and just see what pops out. This is one of those times. It feels like I might have something to say but damned if I know what it is!

Day 2 of 2022.  I am at sea on a surprisingly  cool day just trying to pass some time until the pace picks up with lunch and a talk to give this afternoon. I’m at sea instead of poking around Gustavia, St. Bart’s because the authorities there denied us permission to land. We have had a smattering of cases over the last week, none serious that I know of, and these little islands with limited resources to handle outbreaks among their own people simply aren’t taking any chances. 

Every guest I have chatted with is okay with this change in itinerary, but I suspect we won’t be landing in Virgin Gorda tomorrow either, since the British Virgin Islands folks have been among the strictest about turning ships away. Really feeling for the crew, who have to keep happy faces painted on, when they may soon start disappearing from many guests’ public presentations of themselves if this starts turning into a cruise to nowhere. 

I just focus on doing my job to the exacting standards I self-impose. That’s what keeps me grounded ( odd expression when at sea). However,  I am increasingly glad to go no further than my balcony, or to a small, practically secret sun deck  a few steps from my door. 

Well, it turns out I really don’t have much to say.  No finding of great meaning in any of this. That’s okay too. The year is still young. 

Happy New Year from Somewhere in the Caribbean!

Christmas 1964

You know those movies where the star is looking at something and it gets blurry and music comes up and suddenly we’re back in time, at some critical juncture at the star’s life?

I have been having those feelings the last few days as I have sat in the show lounge on Seabourn Odyssey staring at the Christmas tree on stage. It’s nothing spectacular—just a plain tree with colored lights—but I have found it transfixing. It takes me back to Christmas 1964, the beginning of my sophomore year of high school.  

I was at the end of a long run of different schools in different towns, having moved after seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. I didn’t like myself much at twelve, and even less at thirteen. I was seriously overweight and just starting to notice that personal hygiene mattered. Then, amazingly, I grew three inches without gaining any weight, and actually had curves rather than voluminous mounds of baby fat.  In ninth grade, to my amazement, boys started to notice me. No one remembered the other me who had lived in those other places in that other body. It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

In the summer of 1964, before my sophomore year, my family moved to La Jolla, California.  The transformation continued, but now—wow!—I was permitted to date. Life opened up. I was a new person, the teenage me.  And wonder of wonders, the teenage me wasn’t a total dork.

I remember distinctly so many of the details of that Christmas, when I had just turned fifteen . I even remember what I wore to the midnight service at the church we attended.  I remember a couple of the parties I went to. I remember the boy who had just dumped me and the other boy I just met who became my first serious boyfriend. I remember the music.

‘I’m in love with her, and I feel fine…”

“Time is on my side…”

‘’Girl, you really got me now…”

‘Something tells me I’m into something good”

But most of all I remember the blissful wonder at the sense that my life had started. Childhood was over, and this next chapter was going to be so much more exciting.

And it was.  It was exciting, and scary, and heartbreaking, and frustrating, and confusing, and exhilarating. It was a door opening on that liminal period where I got to practice at adulthood without taking on the responsibilities of it.  

This was the first of many points in my life where I have felt as if I were walking through a door into a new life.  I went to college, I got married, I became a mother, I changed careers, I got divorced, I had lovers, I lost lovers, I navigated life on my own. 

Maybe that’s why I have been staring at that Christmas tree twinkling on the stage. It is reminding me of that girl, who became, through so many iterations, the person I am. I look back at her, and I see her strengths.  I see her vulnerabilities.  I see qualities that will lead her astray.  I see qualities that will give her the courage she will need to face what lies ahead. I see a life  that she cannot imagine at fifteen, at thirty, at fifty. I see what she will have to embrace, reject, forgive, withstand, and love with abandon. Even then, she is nurturing all that I will become. 

My school photo at 15


I am sitting in my son Ivan’s apartment in Phoenix, having come from San Diego today to pick him up to fly to the Caribbean for the first real vacation we have taken together. Tonight we do the red-eye to New York, where we catch our flight to Sint Maarten. 

I am still trying to put my finger on why travel feels so different to me now. I used to think it was because I no longer have a permanent home, but I suspect now that there is another dimension as well.  I got rid of well over 90% of my possessions when I sold my condo and moved to Victoria. I have a small storage locker there, filled primarily with important papers, a bit of memorabilia I don’t want to part with, books, and out-of-season clothes.  The contents of that storage locker, plus my car, are the sum total of what I own in this world, other than what is in those two suitcases over there in the entryway of Ivan’s apartment.  

In San Diego, as I was packing to head out to Phoenix, I couldn’t find a favorite jacket. If it wasn’t in my suitcase, I must have left it on the last ship, I thought, but I didn’t see how that was possible, since I checked my room thoroughly and surely would have noticed. 

Yes, it’s true that traveling means living only with what one brought, at least temporarily (well, except for shopping.). But there was something about staring at those two bags and realizing, “This is it. This is the bulk of what I own.” I couldn’t call up visions of a walk-in closet, a dresser packed with things I didn’t bring, to soften the impact. In moments of loss, even of something as minor as a jacket, the consequences of what I have chosen leap out to grab me. Fortunately that feels far more often like a caress than a slap. 

There is more to this nomadic life I have chosen than simply not having a permanent home.  It means truly living only out of suitcases and storage boxes. I am always moving with my possessions from place to place, varying slightly what I have to fit the adventure I am on. That’s why both every place and no place is ‘home.” It’s hard to explain, but sitting here right now in another unfamiliar place, just seeing my bags over by the door grounds me.  Just knowing that my winter clothes and boots are waiting in the dark in that locker in Victoria grounds me too. 

The story has a happy ending: I found the jacket. I had worn it the last evening on the ship and because  I had already packed and locked my bags, I stashed it in a zipper compartment on the outside of one suitcase.  Being very lightweight, it was easy not to notice it wedged down there. I am really glad I still have it, but sometimes it takes losing something, even if temporarily, to break open one’s thinking to find something even more important.


No Home, No Phone, No Problem

Since I touched down in Montenegro nearly three months ago, I haven’t traveled by plane anywhere, and incremental travel from one place to another doesn’t give the same feeling of closure ( or opening) as a sudden relocation in a distant place. Maybe that’s why I have been feeling reflective today as I prepare to leave the ship and fly to San Diego for a visit with friends.  

Among those reflections is how it has been to be phoneless for the six weeks since I left my iPhone  on a train in Geneva. Honestly, I haven’t missed it that much. The main function I truly could not manage without was the clock. I hated the idea of wearing a wristwatch, so I bought a little watch with a carabiner-style clip that I attached to my bag, and problem solved.  

 I quickly forgot about taking pictures, and it was quite liberating. I saw people endlessly documenting their experiences, and I thought how nice it was just to be enjoying mine.  I will start taking photos again when I have a phone, but I hope I have learned a lesson from this about making sure I am not so busy creating memories that I forget to have experiences.

Sometimes I wish I had my app that tells me how many steps I took on a long day, and I am presently locked out of my bank account and a few other sites because I can’t receive either a text or a call to prove who I am.  Occasionally I could have solved a problem with a phone call, but really everything can wait. So much truly can wait, or doesn’t really need to be done at all.  

Most important, though, is that when I have a few minutes to spare, I don’t have a phone to pull out.  As a result, I  sit quietly, or walk—or maybe even talk to someone! I think, I imagine, or I just enjoy what is there, whether it is people watching, or  the scenery of a place I have gone to the trouble of visiting. Much, much better than finding out what I might have missed in the last few minutes. or ignoring my surroundings in favor of a rousing game of solitaire.

My second insight relates to my evolving sense of “home.” This is my first cruise assignment since I sold my condo and began my life as a vagabond. My assignments are usually long enough to establish a sense of a home base on a ship, but there was always that other place where my stuff was, where my mail would be delivered, where my car was parked.  A place where I would walk in, drop my bags and say, “ahh, it’s still here.” 

I don’t have that anymore, and it does make a difference.  For me, “home” is now wherever I am.  I love Victoria.  It is the place I choose to be when I am not somewhere else. It is enough of a home to meet my needs. I am excited to go to San Diego, but it isn’t home anymore.  Right now, as I prepare to pull out my bags from under the bed and pack to leave the ship, the future is full of places I am going to, all of which I anticipate with pleasure, but none of which are ”home.”

Do I miss things about having a stable life?  Yes!  I miss my blender and my French press.  I miss having everything where I can get to it immediately. I miss knowing the best place to buy things I want and need. I miss easier access to many longtime friends.  I miss having  a lot of little things be so much easier. What do I gain by going without? The world.



For all the history of grief

An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

Archibald MacLeish‘s, “Ars Poetica” is one of the poems that have stayed lodged in my mind since I first began studying literature, and these two lines are among my favorites:

Every year at this time I see friends posting photos of the trees where they live, or their romps through fallen leaves.  It is indeed a glorious show nature puts on, but I recently learned something about maples, aspens, and other showy fall trees that has transformed the season’s  meaning for me.

Leaves don’t “change colors.” When a leaf unfurls it contains chlorophyll for photosynthesis. We see it as green, but in fact all the colors it will become are hidden under the green our eyes perceive. When autumn approaches, the tree no longer needs its leaves, and the chlorophyll fades. It is only then that we see the other colors that were always there.

That thought stops me in my tracks.  Aren’t our own lives like that?  When I was younger I thought I knew myself.  I thought I presented who I really was to the world.  But it is only in getting older that I can see the deeper nuances, the colors that were essential to who I am, but that I had not yet fully appreciated. 

As we get older, we see ourselves stripped to essentials, the distractions of green youth now faded. The rich hues that are the through lines of our lives emerge to show us the path we have always been on, the values that have kept us whole even when we were shattered, the moral compass that brought us to shore when we were adrift. 

 I first understood the word “autumnal” when I heard it applied to the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss.  The music is full of the history of grief, all the empty doorways, all the fallen maple leaves.  Some things can only be understood when life becomes bittersweet, when we see our hidden colors and wish we had appreciated them sooner. 

When we become autumnal. There is no better season for the poetry our lives are writing.  As MacLeish puts it, “A poem should not mean, but be.”  There is poetic meaning to be found in the leaves of autumn.  I found some for myself in what I am writing here. But really what they whisper to us is just to be. To dance in the golden light because we are, and we are still becoming.


A Bridge in Vienna

Years ago, when I was around 40, I  was convinced that I was supposed to go to Vienna.  It wasn’t an idle thought about a place it might be fun to visit, but more like a compelling need. I believed that there was something there I was supposed to find. 

This was before search engines on the internet, and I had only a vague idea about what Vienna would look like, but this vision of where  I needed to go was quite concrete.  There would be a bridge in the city, and right where the bridge met the street, there would be steps down, and on those steps something waited for me.

I wasn’t at all clear on what it was.  Maybe someone I would meet, maybe an object I would find, maybe a flash of insight I would have. I just needed to go, and I would find out.

My then-husband and I were traveling in Europe frequently by that point, and since I was in charge of planning our trips, I could have made Vienna a focal point, but somehow I never did.

Just in the last few years I have been able to tease out a few threads of the tangled, matted mess of our relationship, and I think I know now why I kept this need to go to Vienna a secret.  I wasn’t  supposed to go with him.  What was supposed to happen couldn’t, while the energy of travel was so taken up with his demands, his shallowness, his whims.

So we never went.  And in the decades after the divorce, I never went either.

A few months ago I began my most ambitious solo travel adventure, seven weeks on public transportation through the Adriatic and across Europe to Barcelona to catch the ship I am currently on. The itinerary was fluid.  I changed my mind often about where I wanted to go, and many evenings I spent poring over maps.  Towards the end, as I always do, I started thinking about where I would go when I next had the opportunity to travel.  Budapest, maybe?  Bucharest? What’s in Slovakia?  Macedonia? 

But never Vienna.  I never even considered including it.

Recently my former fixation on Vienna came to mind.  What was that about?  Why, if there was something so important there, had I simply forgotten about going to find it?

And then I realized that it was never really about Vienna at all.  I was in a marriage of unequals, in which I was being gaslit, taken advantage of, and regularly betrayed.  I was not ready to acknowledge this.  I loved him.  He was lively and fun.  Our combined income was high enough to buy our way out of having to work on the serious, fundamental differences between us.  Travel was the ultimate symbol of our “success.”

I get it now. I didn’t want to go to Vienna with him because going there was really about him. I needed to escape, and I wasn’t ready. Eventually I went to that bridge.  I found what I was supposed to find— the will to cross it, the courage to leave. I just did it in my own head without going to Vienna at all.