I had a weird and wonderful experience yesterday.
A little background first: for the last seven years I have never gone on a cruise where I wasn’t at least a little obsessed with being prepared for my lectures. I leave home with everything as ready to go as I can make it, but I always discover problems with builds or images in the slides, or decide I need to make it a little shorter or add something I just learned. I look things up that I have new questions about. I doublecheck pronunciations of place names and people. It’s worth every minute to go on that stage ultra confident, and so far I have avoided anything close to a disaster. Even when my hard drive failed earlier this year in Vietnam, I had a back up plan, or two or three, and limped through the rest of the cruise with the audience unaware anything was wrong.
The last two cruises have been particularly stressful because I have been in the role of destination speaker, meaning that my content is supposed to stick pretty close to the ports we are visiting. I spent time between cruises a year ago visiting New Zealand, where I had never been, so I could get some awareness of the lay of the land and the general feel of the places we were going . Nevertheless, I still had to talk with a degree of authority about several places I hadn’t been able to visit. Adding to the stress was the extraordinary number of Aussies and Kiwis on board—well over half the guests. I hadn’t expected that because I assume people go away to take cruises, but when you live so far from so many of the world’s destinations, a chance to cruise locally is very attractive. If I was a fraud, Iwould be found out for sure.
It all went off without much of a hitch, and since things went so smoothly I guess I wasn’t aware of how much stress I was experiencing.
On this cruise and the next (the last for this assignment) I am an enrichment speaker. That means that I can talk more generally about interesting topics of my choosing, like women at sea, famous mutinies, Polynesian navigation and the like. I am totally in my professorial comfort zone, and in fact have given all of the talks multiple times before.
Yesterday morning I had no lecture to give, and since I am ready for all upcoming ones, I had nothing at all to do or to worry about. I was hanging out in my cabin, reading a totally enjoyable book on my veranda, drinking a second cup of coffee, watching the sunlight on the water—all the good stuff passengers on vacation can do.
I went in to my cabin and saw that it was still only about ten in the morning. I was astonished. Why in the world was there so much more time than I was used to? Oh well, I said to myself, and settled in to do something to fritter away a little more time before lunch. I was just bobbing along, floating.
Then it occurred to me: there were things going on that morning. I always go to my colleagues’ lectures and one of them was almost over! I dashed to the theatre just as he was finishing, then realized that another talk followed his that I wanted to go to. I was so utterly out of it that I hadn’t even checked the schedule, wasn’t even relating to anything outside my own veranda, my own chair, my own time.
And it was wonderful! I was actually on vacation, however briefly. By that point it was over. I had roiled the waters. I was back on board, back in role. But I caught a glimpse of something I have difficulty ever achieving—a real, true break.
People may think of my life as one long vacation, but it’s not. I am on duty every time I step out of my room. I have to please at a certain level or I won’t be invited back. I’m not complaining, but please don’t picture me poolside with a tropical drink in my hand listening to the ukuleles play, because that almost never happens. Don’t picture me walking on stage and chatting my way through a lecture, because though I want it to look that way, that absolutely never happens.
I spent some time yesterday, walking by myself on the beach, occasionally recapturing that sense of happy drift (selfie below). Today I am going off on Mare Island, New Caledonia, on a ship tour. I will be the escort, which means I go for free, but I have to be vigilant about what is going on with the guests. At some point we will stop at a beach for a swim. Sounds great to me, but you know what I most want to do?
Ditch it all, lie on my back in the water and just float.