“I feel like I’m walking on eggshells,” she muttered dejectedly. Followed by, “You take everything so seriously and so literally. I was just talking and your reaction is so much more dramatic than what I said.”
I’m beginning to think that Mark Twain lied when he said that history only rhymes but doesn’t repeat itself.
While I’m happy to say—or, better said, satisfied to say—that I anticipated January would be bumpy, I underestimated how bad it would be. Like a seasoned sailor, I read the sky, barometer, and shifting wind patterns. All the signs of an extended gale were there. It would blow long enough that we’d have seas to content with. Wind is thunder, waves are lightning—while the former gets your attention it’s usually harmless, the latter?…an entirely different matter.
I had the hatches battened down as we sailed into January.
The month began with our New Year’s Eve homecoming from Europe. While Rhett flew, I cheated. Yes, we were sitting next to each other on the Airbus A330, but as I stared out the cabin window I was miles away and my soul as empty as the expanse of ocean below us. This was the easy way. Our westward speed was in excess of 500 miles per hour, roughly 100 times faster than my eastward speed aboard Hazel James earlier in the year. I also knew that when we started our descent in a couple hours, the planeload of other travelers would be looking forward to the flight being over while I would be falling back to earth. I had achieved escape velocity and been in orbit for almost seven months. I had been on the earth but I was not of the earth, I was of the ocean and of voyaging and of exploring. Soon I’d just have the memories.
The end of our 2022 travels was just one threatening sign on the horizon. Others included the inevitable post-holiday blues and Rhett’s and my upcoming wedding.
For me, the weeks after Christmas and New Year’s are like a hurricane season. The sultry atmosphere is replete with latent energy that—with a little luck—might just dissipate peacefully. However, throw in a precipitating factor of some sort (a tropical wave off the Sahara, a major life-event like a wedding, or the random flap of a butterfly’s wing)—and the latent is transformed into a maelstrom.
I associate Christmas and New Year’s with three things: joy, and my sister Amy and Colleen. There’s the magic of the season and Rhett’s unbridled revelry in it. There’s the call from my sister a couple days after Christmas 2013 when she told me of her cancer diagnosis. There’s the sting of tears when I hear the lyrics from Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, “Someday soon we all will be together, If the fates allow,” and knowing that whoever or whatever the “fates” are, they’re not allowing Colleen to bask in her favorite holiday.
What can I say about Rhett’s and my wedding? Simultaneous with writing this post, I’m making some updates to our wedding website. Rhett kicked off the site, but now I’ve taken on the communications. I think I’m qualified and—trust me—you don’t want Dan dealing with the florist or the day-of wedding coordinator. The point is that when I’m on the site I’m confronted by the countdown timer’s 11 Days 10 Hrs 9 Mins.
It’s hard; so much happening together. It strikes the palate like a smoothie made with half sweet and half savory ingredients. Just because they’re each tasty and healthy doesn’t mean they should be mixed.
To batten down the hatches, I doubled-down on my yoga, meditation, and journaling. I reconnected with my therapist who I haven’t seen in a couple years and set up regular appointments. Yes, I saw it coming. I anticipated it. Could I have done more? Sure—one can always do more, but a sailor, like any other person, has to balance things. If you absolutely, positively don’t want to sink and drown, that’s easy—never leave sight of shore—or surer still, never embark.
I started my previous post like all other posts: with a naive beginner’s optimism. I think, This one’s going to be easy, a breezy surface-level travelogue. I already have all the material and pictures. I just need to write some stuff. However, as soon as I start weaving the warp of the words and weft of the images into a simple cloth, I’m dream not of rough burlap but of a tapestry, rich with thoughts, emotions, and connections. Days later when I finally hit the “Post” button on Now THAT’s Interesting I was emotionally spent and, unbeknownst to me, at the gaping maw of a dark tunnel that I often visit.
It’s like I’m a tiny engineer driving my childhood toy train set. The track is circular and has a scale-model tunnel to make the circuit more interesting. (It happens to be under the tree at Christmas). The thing is that there’s no switching track on the circuit by which to exit (at least not that I’ve found) so I’m doomed to plunge into the dark tunnel with every go-round the track. While it’s bad enough for me, it’s sad to think of Rhett as a passenger aboard.
As I approached the tunnel, the precipitating events were innocuous and trivial but they started the crystallization and soon the latent atmospheric energy was actualized. Things were said, misconstrued by me as literal, and I was in darkness. I went so far as to take exception to Rhett’s “mispronunciation” of the word Potato.
This all transpired before Rhett had read what I just posted. As the whistle screamed and the locomotive’s headlight illuminated the dank and mossy arch of tunnel, things were bad enough that Rhett wisely decided I needed some time and space by myself to think about what I really wanted out of this life.
At the time I thought I was numb, maybe even immune to love, but as she prepared her things to leave, I was startled to feel my heart cleaved in two. While it’s one thing to have that sensation, it’s another to know that you’re the one who plunged the dagger. As I sat deflated on the couch and in my pain, I mused about my tendency toward the primacy of science and logic, and how it doesn’t square with a quote from a recently-read science fiction novel.
Never doubt our emotions rule us; and no matter what we do, or say, or resolve, a single feeling can knock us down like a sword to the heart.Kim Stanley Robinson, Green Earth (Science in the Capital Trilogy)
While my childhood tunnel was short and straight (with the proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”), the tunnel of my adult-self is arduous and anything but linear. It’s curvature—evidently matching the circuit of track to which I am bound—is such that when entering there is no light, no beacon, at the other end. I’m deep in the tunnel before I can perceive any hope in front of me.
It’s similar to sailing. When the weather is fine and the sun drenched azure sky is punctuated with fluffy clouds, and a fair breeze and following sea are pushing you forward—it’s so good that you can’t believe it will ever be bad. Conversely when it’s pitch black at 3:00 a.m., and you’re desperately trying to get some sleep below decks on the bucking bronco of your boat and you’re woken to the thump of something above decks and you know you’ve got to get your foulies on, get up there and check it out—it’s so bad that you never can believe it will ever be good again. On deck in the inky darkness, you’re not sure if you should wish for dawn and some light to make your job easier or if that light would only illume those menacing monsters rolling underneath you. You know they’re real but you’d rather not see them.
After some time—time where each second felt like an eternity—and I had thought things through, Rhett and I reconnected and agreed that there was no one single “correct” pronunciation for Potato. As we tentatively shared our thoughts about the triggers that had launched me into this most recent tunnel, Rhett shared that she had read my post. I winced. Did I make a gaffe? I thought, Did I say something that’s going to aggravate the raw but healing wound between us? Instead, she commented that as she processed what I had written, and talked about it with her best friend, she was reminded that my sometimes seemingly still waters run deep with whirlpools of grief and loss.
It’s funny, I thought that previous post was a predominantly a travelogue, focused on our journey through mainland Europe, with just a dash of personal commentary sprinkled on top for seasoning. However, she had seen something far different. While it’s warm and comforting to be understood at such a deep level by another human being (and it’s a newfound thrill for me to consciously write a veiled reference and have a reader understand it) it’s disorienting to have someone else see something in your work that you never knew was there—like scrolling on your phone and stumbling upon a text message or email that you clearly wrote but you have no memory of writing it.
Hemingway hatched the “Iceberg Principle”, where (according to Wikipedia), “Hemingway believed the deeper meaning of a story should not be evident on the surface, but should shine through implicitly.” To elaborate…
Hemingway said that only the tip of the iceberg showed in fiction—your reader will see only what is above the water—but the knowledge that you have about your character that never makes it into the story acts as the bulk of the iceberg. And that is what gives your story weight and gravitas.Jenna Blum, The Author at Work
So far I’ve been drawn to pecking out non-fiction. (Of course, just what is non-fiction in a post-truth world?) In reconciling with Rhett, I feel like a mirror image of Hemingway’s iceberg—on first glance the reflection looks accurate, but upon closer examination you find it flipped left-for-right. Yes, we both have bulk below the surface but Hemingway has the knowledge of his fictional character, whereas I don’t have the knowledge of my own non-fictional self. It’s scary to think that Rhett and others who know me see more of me than I think there is of me.
Back to the title of this post, I like the aphorism, “You can’t bake a cake (especially a wedding cake!) without breaking a few eggs.” However, while the focus is on the food (the yolks and whites being folded into the flour and sugar) perhaps a more important corollary should address what’s done with the spent eggshells. Do I simply “let them go” and drop them in the garbage, or do I nonchalantly toss them over my shoulder and onto the floor for a soulmate to tread upon? I ask this because—at the beginning of this post—the “she” who said “I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around you.” is plural. I’ve now heard the exact same line from both Colleen and Rhett.
Sure, when Colleen said it to me, I could tell myself it wasn’t me, it was just her being her. I know enough about statistics to know that you can’t reliably establish pattern with a sample size of one (in this case, Colleen). However, when Rhett dropped that same line in my lap with no knowledge whatsoever of what Colleen had said, it was either via a séance between the two of them, pure coincidence, or the one constant shared by the two equations—yours truly. I guess I could squint at the situation and half-convincingly tell myself it’s coincidence. However, when Rhett added, “You take everything so seriously and so literally.” I stopped squinting and felt compelled to look in the mirror. Yes, I’ve had my share of loss that might explain-away a few things—and Rhett is so gracious about keeping that grief in the fore—but the sample size I’m dealing with is clearly past the coincidental threshold.
Twain told us that history rhymes but doesn’t repeat itself. OK—if that’s true—my situation feels like Colleen concluded her stanza of my poem with “Someday,” and—a few lines into the next stanza—Rhett finished a line with a day of the week (pick any day). The rhyme is so close that it’s almost not a rhyme.
In the same Green Earth trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson posits, “If you don’t act on it, it wasn’t a true feeling.” The dagger that I plunged into my heart (and twisted) when Rhett decided to give me some space was the the most real thing—the most true thing—I’ve felt in a long time. I guess that begs the question: What am I going to do about it?
It’s personally a bit discouraging to work on myself with yoga, meditation, journaling, and therapy and still be on the train, constantly wondering how long the journey ’round will take this time—two days?, a week?, two weeks?—until I’m back at the mocking, gaping maw of the tunnel. Of course that’s the glass-half-empty side of me talking. The glass-half-full-side optimistically retorts, Dan, if you’re not where you want to be now in your evolution, just imagine where you’d be if you didn’t do any of that work? It’s a good question and some of the potential answers are chilling enough that I don’t explore them. I’ll never know. Life isin’t a double-blind controlled scientific experiment conducted by Mr. Spock.
Channeling my inner Kim Stanley Robinson again…
An excess of reason is itself a form of madness.
The countdown timer on our wedding site, now says 9 Days 8 Hrs 3 Mins. I’m scared. Not of the day itself, but of the day after, and the day after that, and the vulnerability of letting myself go and potentially being hurt (imagine that dagger lodged in my heart forever—never to be exorcised). I’m also scared about not being my best self to someone I love and who clearly deserves the best of life.
As I look out the train window and ponder the time remaining (now at 9 Days 7 Hrs 55 Mins), I’m thinking I may need a new—or at least refined—mental model. I’ve been around the circuit enough to know that I am me, there’s no changing that and if there were a simple switching track that would magically unshackle me from this cycle, I would have seen a hint of it by now. I’ll have to explore this concept with my therapist on my visit with her tomorrow. I’ll keep you posted with any epiphanies.
In the meantime, Rhett and I have agreed that it really doesn’t matter how each of us might articulate Potato, and our differences and peculiarities make us special (the genuine “special,” and not the cynical “special”). I have this sneaking suspicion that Rhett knew this all along and she’s just pretending she coming to the realization along with me in an attempt to soften my landing.
In related and exciting news, we have the link for the livestream of our wedding livestream: https://youtu.be/4aV70RubRJ0. (If you’re on-the-go as you read this, no worries, I’ll publish it again on a dedicated post prior to the wedding.) Plan to logon the stream about 4:00 p.m. US Eastern Time on Saturday, February 4. We’ll probably start streaming about 4:15 with the ceremony starting at 4:30. Also along that note, if you’re interested in seeing our wedding website (along with more professional photographer pictures), you can find it here.
Wish Rhett and me fair winds, and following seas over the next week and a half! I’m confident that the gales that have recently tested us have honed our skills making us better, more resilient, and more aware sailors and a better sailing team.