In February 2020, when I was waiting in The Bahamas for a good weather window to start my single-handed sail to the Virgin Islands, I posted “Dear Addiction” (at the time I didn’t know there would be a Part II). If I can ask you for just a few extra minutes of your attention, please re-read (or read) that post before continuing. It was hard to write and even harder to share—at the time, it was by far my most personal and most soul exposing.
A year and a half later it’s the second anniversary of Colleen’s death I’m again waiting for a weather window. This time it’s to sail from Mount Desert Island, Maine “up” to Boston. As we wait, I’ve been thinking more about that letter. Less about the words Colleen wrote and more about the patterns and colors she drew that serve as the background to the prose. The reason it’s been top of mind for me is due to several recent encounters I’ve had with Vincent van Gogh. There was a podcast about his life and times, and a New York Times article about his sister-in-law Jo and how she tirelessly promoted her brother-in-law’s work after his death, and—finally—there was the 1971 Don McLean song “Vincent” that was suggested to me by a music streaming service algorithm (I’ll also add it to the hjsailing playlist).
While McLean is best known for his 8 1/2-minute iconic single “American Pie,” “Vincent,” about van Gogh’s genius and troubled life is far more nuanced and deeper. The song is often referred to by its opening refrain, “Starry Starry Night.” While I’d listened to it many times before, when I heard it this time—amidst the backdrop of the podcast and NYT article and Colleen’s death anniversary—its lyrics sent chills down my spine.
Now, I understand what you tried to say to me
And how you suffered for your sanity
And how you tried to set them free
They would not listen, they did not know how
Perhaps they’ll listen now
van Gogh painted Starry Night in 1889 when he was a patient at Saint Paul deMausole Asylum in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, France, struggling with his grip on reality. Colleen wrote “Dear Addiction” when she was a patient at a residential treatment center on the West Coast of Florida. As I was thinking about how van Gogh expressed his “madness” (the word “bipolar” didn’t exist in the 1800s) through colors and swirls, it got me thinking to the colors and shapes that Colleen drew as a backdrop to “Dear Addiction.”
As I considered this connection, I searched on the internet to learn more about McLean’s thoughts on the song and was startled to find a 2017 article in the journal Neurosurgery titled “Neuroanatomical Interpretation of the Painting Starry Night by Vincent van Gogh” by Bradford, Rusyniak, Rusyniak and Rodning.
We speculate that Starry Night may be the subconscious manifestation of the artist painting the very locus of his genius, but also the locus of his affliction.
The authors also quote Don McLean’s lyrics, something I’ve never seen in a peer-reviewed article.
Reading that paper and learning more about van Gogh’s genius and affliction and the days, weeks and months preceding his demise has helped me understand just a little bit more about Colleen’s last days, weeks and months on this earth.
I linger on these lyrics:
This world was never meant for one
As beautiful as you
On to lighter topics…
It’s great to have Rhett back onboard Hazel after a good week home for her. I’ve noticed that when we’re voyaging together, I’m one-half of “that cute couple,” and others gravitate toward us. However, when she’s away and I’m single-handed, I’m just “that creepy loner,” and others give me a wide berth.
When we embarked on this voyage in June, Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island was in the back of our minds as a furthest northward and eastward goal. I’m happy to say that we have achieved that geographical goal and are now making our way back “upwest” (as opposed to “downeast”). We haven’t gotten very far though, given tropical storm Henri. A few days ago it looked like he might be a significant impact to us so we took shelter in the safe harbor of Northeast Harbor on Mount Desert Island. Henri’s remnants will pass south of us today and pose no problems—still, I feel good about our conservative decision to hunker down.
Somes Sound is just west of us and is one of the few fjords in eastern North America and the remaining Maine destination that we really want to see on our first trip downeast. We will likely sail there today, explore it for a day or two and then look for that good weather window to sail “up” to the Boston area (zooming in here will show you the relationship between Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Somes Sound on Mount Desert Island).
From a quick terminology perspective, in Maine the prevailing winds are from the southwest so sailing east is sailing generally downwind—thus the term “downeast.” Given that, when talking about sailing to Boston, old-timers will say they are going to sail “up” to Boston.
On other fronts, I continue to make good progress with the Heeling is Healing manuscript. My editor Susan Schmidt’s guidance has been most helpful and, unless sailing “gets in the way,” I try to spend several hours on it each morning. If my blog posts seem less frequent, it’s because of the time and emotional energy I’m devoting to the manuscript. As a former US president once said, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” I feel that same way about trying to write a book!
Fair winds and following seas.