juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
Second, let us talk about family. Because the one good thing of the cruise—perhaps the good thing of the cruise, nearly it's point and purpose—was that these people my grandfather married into became, well, people. Introductions always go over my head and I rarely recognize faces; I'd met these folk before, but they were still strangers in every way that mattered. I didn't become bosom buddies with anyone, but for the most part I know and respect who they are now. For no damn good reason, Grandpa and Ilene had seating charts for dinner—grouped by table, thankfully not assigned specific seats—which made sure they were able to sit with everyone but didn't confer to us the same favor. On the last cruise the group of us mingled with ease all on our own; this time, there was one couple I never really spoke to. But I bonded with one uncle-in-law over books, and one cousin-in-law over video games; I can match faces to names to identities now, and that's worth something.

The conversation about books was particularly delightful.

But third, let's talk about me. (Of course.) Spending intense time with people—prolonged time with a group that I'm supposed to be apart of because we're all family now—reminds me just how much I am not people. Sometimes it's little things: I don't like what people seem to like, "nice" weather (sunny and warm) and "luxury" accommodations (which they were not—I'm picky, yes, and was recently on a much larger and plusher cruise ship, but this one had a general second-class feel). I don't take things for granted or float along on expectations—just because it's a cruise doesn't mean it's necessarily fun and relaxing and escapist; it actually has to be those things to be those things. More importantly, there are expectations for behavior and acceptance that I don't meet. You may remember my issue with being photographed on the last cruise, and it held true here: I don't believe anyone has the right to assume they have my permission, and it upsets me to be photographed without being asked. Similarly, I don't think it's appropriate or respectful for strangers to call me "sweetie" or for extended family members to call me by a nickname. People are supposed to be cheerful and optimistic, social and acquiescent, and I, in the back, am none of these things.

I sit differently than other people do, because of my back. I dress differently, in broomstick skirts and long-sleeved shirts, a style which hovers between causal and formal but is suitable for neither. I eat differently, I'm a vegetarian but also I don't drink and, unlike most people it seems, I like good food: I take a critical approach to food as I do to all things, I will reject bad food, and I believe nice plating and froofy descriptions don't automatically make food good. I avoid group activities and loud noise. These are my own quirks and none of them are necessarily anyone's business, but if they want to know what I think of the dish I'm not eating then I will probably tell them: I think watering down opinions in the name of social nicety is stupid.

This is news to none of you, I know, but it is isolating to realize it afresh. I still had a few good conversations. The one about books was personal, fairly private, involved, educated, a discussion in the most fulfilling sense, and I'm thankful for it. But so much of what people do to gather and be social makes me feel like the odd one out—because, of course, I am.

Dinner was the only required family event most days; we were free to dispose with the rest of our time as we wished. Devon and I slept a lot, in part to cope with the constant seasickness that everyone was suffering (smaller boats and rough waters are a bad combination); we watched a number of movies through the awesome DVD service* and he taught me to play backgammon. For the most part, we did nothing social except attend dinner.

And sure, maybe that was a wasted opportunity, but dinner alone was exhausting. Not always bad—sometimes so, like when the third generation was seated together and we 20-somethings were grouped with the little kids, or when the cruise line thought it wise to have a half-assed, painfully loud song and dance routine with the last dinner—but always exhausting, and by the end of each night, especially near the end of the week, it was all I could do to hold out until dessert.

And on the last night, in between rounds of bad song covers being blasted through the speakers, I got into a conversation with Ilene and one of my uncles-in-law about 1) Why if I'm such a picky eater and eat so little of the (on that night particularly shitty) food, I'm not thin! You'd think I'd be a stick figure, but there I am. Ilene then followed with a little monologue about how when she gets back she wants to start finding ways to get skinnier so have no delusions, it wasn't a celebration of my body type. Then we transitioned into: 2) What I eat at home, and why I don't eat breakfast, and why don't I just give a quick explanation of what agoraphobia is and how it impacts my day to day life. Because I don't leave the room much, you see—sometimes I manage a meal before Dev makes it home for dinner, sometimes not, because I can't always stand the thought of sharing a space and risking a conversation with someone just because I'm hungry.

I try to make it a point to discuss my mental illnesses in the same tone that I would any respected physical illness. My heath isn't necessarily anyone's business, but if I wouldn't feel ashamed to explain how my diabetes impacts my diet, then I sure as fuck won't feel ashamed to explain how my brain crazies do. It's healthy for me to be honest and self-accepting, and if I can make anyone else more honest and accepting (of themselves, of others) then I think that helps us all. And it has helped me, to be more honest; I've also gotten better about talking about these things—a similar issue came up at the end of the last cruise, and my summary and explanation this time was much clearer.

But that does nothing to change the fact that I was still, at the end of this long week, the fat girl** and the crazy girl; the outsider, the not-person. I don't regret being outed: despite all the caveats, and there are so many, I accept who I am, from curves to crazies. I believe that owning the person that I am and being willing to talk about it can only help. And the conversation didn't go poorly—Ilene was sympathetic I suppose but also, as usual, chock full of halfway-correct assumptions which she took to be the absolute truth, and it's pretty pointless to try to correct her (even on the word, agoraphobia, which she called agraphobia, and more importantly on the fact that agoraphobia means you can't even leave the house—nevermind that for a time not to long ago, I didn't—therefore mine can't be "real"); my uncle was surprisingly receptive, excluding an offhand but inappropriate quip about how he hears that that a bit of alcohol can help with problems like these.


But things were so very good before the cruise. I saw [livejournal.com profile] century_eyes, I met [livejournal.com profile] sisterite, and I had a marvelous time. I listened to "Dog Days are Over", and realized it was true. In my own silly way, I took a step towards self-actualization ("Today, being me makes me overjoyed."). I don't celebrate New Year's because the end of a calendar seems too arbitrary a cause for celebration, but for what it's worth I went towards the end of 2010 realizing that I am better—feeling better, being better, better at being me.

And then I was the fat crazy not-person. The cruise didn't destroy me—honestly it wasn't that bad, just exhausting, and that's nothing that some reading in bed can't fix. And part of the experience of isolation (in the midst of a crowd) has driven me to want to combat it: I want to find my own crowd, my clan, my chosen family; I want to see my loved ones again and find more and build on preexisting relationships; I want to spend time in Portland so badly that my skin itches with the desire. It frustrates me that I can't make these things come instantly to pass, but the desires for them are good.

But that good isn't quite enough to erase the bad that rouses it.

Anyway. The cruise was. It was long, and tiring, and did good things, and did bad things, and could have been much worse. FLL wasn't using the backscatter machines when and where we went through security, so the trip ended on a similarly exhausting (flying all day tends to be) but surprisingly painless note, which is an absolute blessing. I came home to news that a handful of you have been going through tough times and experiencing incredible losses, which puts my own familial angst in brutal context and mostly just makes me wish the best for all of you. Above all I am happy to be home—even if I sort of wish that home were up in Portland just now, but still: what matters is that it's over, so thank goodness for that.

* This was one of the few benefits of this particular ship: free movies to borrow as long as they were on shelves. We watched Death Race (not bad for what it is, and we both adore Jason Statham), Mission Impossible (I'd never seen it; yeah, it was fun), A Knight's Tale (pretty awesome, gleeful anachronistic, and the We Will Rock You sequence rocked my socks), Wicker Man (the remake; better in two minutes but still delightfully loltastic), Catch Me If You Can (not exceptional but solidly entertaining), and Shooter (again, not exceptional but solidly entertaining, emotionally rewarding and technically sound—gun-wise, not filmography-wise), and The Bank Job (a little more serious than we were expecting, and so relentlessly depressing; it might have been better at a different time).

** For the record, I wouldn't class myself as "fat," but then I also wouldn't self-apply any similar categorization. I'm short and curvy and moderately overweight; I'm also very bad with visual comparison, and I have no idea how my body actually ranks in the thick to thin scale. For the most part, I also don't care. But this isn't about what I would call myself: it's about how I felt I was being classed, implicitly, by someone else—and, as such and via context, carries the word's negative social implications.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
So then. More about the cruise. Something deeper than towel animals, in three parts.

First, let us talk of food. Or rather, of a lack. Not that there's ever a lack of food on a cruise ship, but this one had no idea what it was doing about vegetarian options. On the last cruise ship, which was on the Royal Caribbean line, all vegetarian dishes were marked vegetarian and there was a fair variety of them. On this one...

The general cafeteria, the Lido, had a tolerable selection but didn't mark foods one way or the other so every meal was a guessing game. The quality there was mediocre, with unripe ingredients and general inconstancy, but I could usually find something to eat (although it was often bread and cheese). The main restaurant, the Rembrandt, had one vegetarian dinner menu with about four or five selections for each course—and the menu didn't change during the entire week. The quality was hit and miss (the sushi appetizer was decent; the tempura entré was greasy, burned, and had gone mushy), sometimes from night to night (the celery and Stilton soup was delicious and rich on Friday and disgusting and watery on Saturday). To make matters worse, you had to order your vegetarian options the day before, and orders were taken right before the dessert course—precisely when you were no longer hungry. There were a few incidental vegetation options off the main menu, but hidden meat was everywhere and each dish had to be verified vegetarian at the kitchen. The ship also had two specialty restaurants: Tamarind was Asian fusion, it had no vegetarian options for anything but the entré (which was had only one flavor: salt, and lots of it); the other courses had to be prepared on the fly, and included a tasteless broccoli soup which was lacking both Asian influence and, I swear, any ingredient but broccoli (I think they just put one in a blender and heated it up). Canaletto was Italian, with exactly one vegetarian entré—which was actually pretty good, to be fair, but the antipasto was destroyed by low-quality ingredients. As was to be expected, desserts were universally mediocre, dragged down by syrupy fruits, a heavy hand with the sugar, and low quality chocolate, although there was one flourless lava cake which was pretty tasty.

The wait staff was incredible, and whenever I asked to verify if a dish was vegetarian they were happy to oblige—and they were caught entirely unawares by the request. When you push vegetarian dishes off to a second menu, you treat it as this strange rare thing—something that no one actually wants, something that doesn't need to meet the standards of the rest of the menu, something not really worrying about until someone goes "um" and you have to scramble to throw together a meal for that weird picky eater.

And this, while there were five vegetarians in our group. The others I think were either less strict or more trusting—it was cute, actually, when I was seated with the kids (12 and, er ... under ten, I'm shit at estimating ages) and helping them find something to eat, because they had never thought that soups might contain meat stocks (all those not on the vegetarian menus did), that salad dressing might have anchovies (most do, but it's the specific trademark of Caesar dressing), or all the other ways that meat is hidden in or sprinkled on food. But my point is that while it is a minority choice, being a vegetarian isn't all that weird. For that matter, omnivores can eat vegetarian dishes—and maybe they'd like to try the Stilton soup (on its good days, anyhow).

When you treat vegetarians as a strange, rare minority that doesn't really need to be worried over until they're sitting there in front of you, a bizarre exception to the rule of how "normal" people eat, you more or less guarantee that they will eat second-class food.

And I did, for a week. So there's that on that.

Dev and I went out to Thai food at a weird place called The Woodsman yesterday, and it was surprisingly delicious and surprisingly spicy (spice is another thing you're hard-pressed to find on a cruise ship—that dish burned going down, let me tell you, I was so out of practice); we are already making inroads on our journey back to good food. Today I hope to get my hands on a shortbread cookie, because cruise ships have universally blah desserts. If nothing else, this has reminded us how much we do enjoy food which is actually worth eating.
juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (I should have been born a cat)
So cruise ships leave towel animals in your room when they turn down the beds. It's stupid, but this is pretty much the highlight of my day. Now to be fair, there aren't many highlights for me to be had on a cruise ship, but regardless: they tend to be pretty damn cute.

So I didn't write a cruise log this time. There's some things I have to say, and I will, but in lieu of anything approaching a diary I give you: a cruise in towel animals.

Towel swan
These images are gonna be hella noisy, taken as they were on boy's phone after sunset.
Night one was a swan. It's a pretty damn good swan.

Two, three, four... )

Towel bunny
Night five, and a bunny, and I'll be damned if it isn't adorable. Those cheeks!
Boy says it's surprisingly well-rendered for being a bunny made of towels, and I concur.

The last night is miserable, all packing and no towel animal, because they want to kick you out as quick and early as possible the next morning. Also we spent six nights on board, but those are the only pictures I have and I can't remember any missing animals—perhaps there wasn't one on the first night? It's all a blur now. So, yes. A shitty travelogue.

But cute.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
The cruise was, again. We are at FLL now. Security was blessedly low-key. We get home not long before midnight, I think. All the rest can wait until then but, even if it could have been worse, thank fuck it's over.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
Leaving in a few minutes for my parents's so that we can all drive up to the airport and get started on this cruise trip thing. I may not be bright eyed and bushy tailed, and I'm hardly eager to go, but we're packed and ready. Dev and I are bringing a PSP, Zune, two seasons of Dragonball Z, all of Reboot, two books, and a couple of films between us. On the last cruise we made a bit of an effort to get out and about, but we've done that dance now and anyway I hear this cruise line (Holland America) and this ship in particular leave a little something to be desired, so we have given ourselves full freedom to lock ourselves away and geek out in social isolation.

So, yes. We're flying on Christmas—which by the way is today, and merry Christmas to those that celebrate it—and aw fuck, we haven't ordered [livejournal.com profile] sisterite's gift yet, that may be late hun!—and the holidays are obviously all fucked up, and I don't want to go, and I started this morning by stepping in cat pee, but you know: fuck it.

I send my love to you all. What is it that they say? I'll see you on the flip side.
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
This is the last cruise-related post! Even my parents (who drove to and from California) are all now home and settled, and the cruise is well and truly past; now, we all return to our normal lives. I wrote these lists while on ship; a week later, they remain true.

Saturday, Day 7, At Sea
Tomorrow we dock, get off, fly, and go back to the real world.

Things I will miss:Letter left in our room
  • A queen-sized bed with white bedding and extra pillows, spacious and cool and sweet. Mostly spacious.

  • An en suite bathroom. A balcony. A whole room, also spacious, private, sunlit, ours. And it's clean.

  • A vacation with Devon, with few interruptions, a fair bit of privacy, and a dearth of responsibilities for both of us.

  • The complete lack of cellphones. That no one is texting instead of paying attention to the world just in front of their face. The way that time slows and patience increases when instant communication isn't in the palm of your hand.

  • Francis, our dinner waiter. The guy that cleans our room, shame on me for not recalling his name. (He's the one that left the really sweet letter on the left in our room on the last day of the cruise.) All the service staff who learn our names and seem genuinely happy to work here, who are pleasant and kind. Francis has been here for thirteen years and says he doesn't even want a promotion—he loves his job. They make this stay a pleasure.

  • Constant access to food. A new, good, vegetarian Indian option with each dinner. Soft-serve frozen yogurt.

  • Wide, misty, low-lit views of the endless ocean. The moon rising over the sea. Flying fish. Cool breezes. (Being one of the strange few that enjoyed those cool breezes, instead of bemoaning the lost warm weather.)

  • The sense of otherness, of being out of place and time, the in-between unreal state that is a vacation.

Things I will not miss:
  • Second-rate food. Miserable desserts whose main component is gelatin. Spotty access to vegetarian dishes that aren't the same overcooked pasta with marinara sauce. Arbitrary room service menus and service times. The fact that if they can charge extra (specialty dining, beverages, brands): they will.

  • Michael Jackson's This Is It and J.J. Abram's Star Trek on constant repeat on the movie channels. Angels and Demons and Julie and Julia to fill in the downtime. Why not spam Half-Blood Prince a dozen times in a row, instead?

  • A poorly calibrated TV, making for a blurry screen. A lack of an in-room DVD drive (thank god we brought the laptop is all I'm saying). A poorly-calibrated projector that distorts and color-shifts films in the movie room. In general: insufficiently executed technology.

  • Living out of a suitcase.

  • The prevalence of bathing suits. A bathing suit with a shirt over it constituting "clothes." Formal eveningwear which puts sparkles and cleavage on display. Poorly supported thrust out (and falling out) breasts everywhere: swimsuits, dresses, warm-weather shirts. Copious bad perfume.

  • Being called "Jess." Being touched, hugged, kissed. Being unable to correct these behaviors when they occur.

  • Bad music everywhere but in the safety of our room.

  • Uncomfortable sheets. Scratchy towels. The fact that despite the fact that it aims at resort, the ship only achieves hotel. Finding my toothbrush in a new location each time the housekeeper cleans the bathroom.

  • The general second-rate-ness. The poor atmosphere. The out of tune performances, the idea of visiting new locations in a floating hotel, the fact that all the indulgences cost extra, the poorly-dressed and poorly-behaving vacationers, the strange strange group of retirees who take a dozen cruises a year, the stink of perfume and cologne and chlorine, the noise, the expenses spared, the onboard tacky jewelry and cheap souvenir shops, the fact that every other thing wants to make you wash your hands, go back to the room, and have a nice quiet vacation all on your own where you lie in bed, read a book, and feel the motion of the sea because this, whatever this is, makes you feel a bit icky.

  • Heat. Sun. Hot humidity. Mexico.

As mentioned, our room cleaner man left the above letter in our room on the last day. I'll put a larger version below the cut, too, so it's a bit more readable. He was wonderful—we were awful, because we left the room rarely and so he only got to clean about once (rather than the usual twice) a day, and his comments about our seclusion did feel a bit like having a nanny. But I cannot overstate the wonder that was the service staff. There were regurgitated phrases and I dislike the atmosphere of course, but beneath that the staff had a simple authenticity. They were happy to work there, and happy to see us—and that they took simple pleasure in their jobs made our stay remarkably better. I do indeed actively miss Francis and his bad sense of humor and talk of home (he was from India, so we bonded over my near-steady diet of Indian food); I miss being surrounded by people that actually want to be there, and enjoy doing what they're doing.

The letter, larger. )
juushika: Photograph of the torso and legs of a female-bodied figure with a teddy bear. (Bear)
Friday, Day 6, At Sea
To come back up North [as we had, at this point, just began the return journey] is like coming home. When I was at school in Walla Walla, I felt the same thing on those long drives south. In the last two hours I would come back into a land of evergreens and fog, of water and growth, a richness of the land that the desert end of Washington refuses to offer—and as the view out the window went misty and dark (even in the warmth of summer) it would tug down to the deepest part of me that was—this is—home.

The temperature has dropped an easy 20 degrees, and we sail today into the wind--a wind to lean into, a wind strong enough to knock knots from the boat's speed. The sky mists at its borders, and the waves are rich blue again. This is like coming home. It's almost a relief to know that, when shoved south for a week, I don't suddenly realize that I love the warmth--my world is not rearranged, but rather what I assumed to be true is true: these dimmer, darker, deeper days are my days, they are my comfort and my home. I don't have to move to Mexico.

And to think, these aren't even the cold, salt-bitter Pacific coasts of my home state.

Tonight, meanwhile, is the big family night—the actual anniversary, and a formal dinner no less; we're taking group photos in just a few minutes and first I need to brush out my hair, because a walk on deck has turned it wild. I am not looking forward to pictures—but perhaps the rest, the closeness of the family, for a reason, with direction, perhaps even with good food--perhaps that will be nice. But there's no time left for wishful thinking—Devon's just finished using the comb.

Further thoughts, four days post-cruise
The anniversary celebration did indeed go well.

I had the same quibble about family photos as I always have: I have no problem with a commemorative group photo or two, but feel it's offensive to peer-pressure or demand others take part in numerous other photos (of individuals, small groups, family groups, etc.). I understand why some people would want to have those photos (I don't like or keep snapshots, but for those who do they can be pleasant mementos), and I think it's perfectly acceptable to request someone allow their photo to be taken—but more often than not, it's not a request but a simple assumption which removes the individual's ability or right to refuse. And, you know? It's unacceptable to take away that right, especially when it comes to someone's body—even if you're just transferring their image to film. That this assumption exists isn't my family's fault; it's wider-spread than that, it's cultural. And no, being photographed didn't do me lasting harm. But it made me resentful and uncomfortable, in part of the standard of assumption that lies behind it*, and that counts for something.

As for the rest, well, I'm not sure what to say.** The actual anniversary, the actual family event, it was lovely. By nature of my grandparents's personalities and relationship, the dinner was laidback, lively, humorous, and yet still authentically touching. But my memory is limited and inconsistent, and already a summary of that evening has fled me. Instead what I remember is this: Despite a few glasses clanged and words uttered, there were no formal toasts. There was, instead, my grandfather rising simply to say they were blessed, to thank everyone for coming, and to pledge that in another ten years, we would meet again. Ten years ago we celebrated 50 years while on a ship touring Alaska. No one knows where we'll be ten years from now (and general consensus begs it's anywhere but another cruise ship) or who will be around then, but we will be together to celebrate family and love.

And that—that is beautiful.

* For further reading: My body is not your property, by [livejournal.com profile] shadesong writing for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center blog. This essay is about the assumption of consent (or the assumption that consent is unnecessary) for physical contact, but the two issues are hardly unrelated.

And while I'm on the topic, I also had issues with assumptions related to physical contact and consent while on the cruise. I'm hyper-sensitive to issues around touch because I avoid most physical contact, and so what bothered me probably wouldn't bother most: the instances of unasked physical contact were all fairly "safe" (being touched on the shoulder by our waiter) or occurred between family members (being hugged by my grandparents). But they did bother me—because for every majority that doesn't mind this sort of touch there is a minority, like me, which does; because even if each individual incident is minor, they all reflect a culture in which one (especially if that one is female) is not able to determine how and when others interact with their body. And that culture scares me.

** Am I better at writing critically than appreciatively? Yes, yes I am, thank you.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!
juushika: Screen capture of the Farplane from Final Fantasy X: a surreal landscape of waterfalls and flowers. (Anime/Game)
Written in my Moleskine on:

Wednesday, Day 4, Mazatlán
I've left Devon sleeping in the room. It's just past 7a. I've gone up to the buffet room and I'm hardly alone—we dock again today, so I imagine this crowd is even larger than usual, as people make an almost-early start to their day so they can go ashore. I've come because I'm wakeful and—despite the crowd—to be alone, for a while.

Land is visible from one side of the ship, but my current view out the back shows, for now, only water. Boats, too; a few seabirds—you can tell we are not far from shore. But most of the view, miles and miles of its majority, is water—only water. It's gray today (the sky is cloudy white); waves texture the surface as rain does a lake: constantly moving yet somehow permanent—permanent in the constancy of its movement. The water flows away from us as we sail forward.

A jetty has just come into view, scrolling up the lefthand window, followed by a cliff with scrubby green trees clinging to its ridge. To the right its pair, the other half of the cove's boarder, a church or lighthouse topping the ridge which stretches furthest into the sea.

The places we visit are interesting in that they are places, lands, climes which I have never seen before and perhaps never will again. These red-gray lands—land like clay, like brick: terracotta to the left, paling to yellow on the right, sandy, rocky, crumbling, dry even amidst all the water. Buildings built of planes, flat, long, layered, windowed, roofless. Scrubby gray-green pines and tall lean palms.

But it is not the land that interests me. Not the locations, not the signs of life.

It is the sea.

I feel it best at night. At day, you can see for miles—miles and miles, miles of water, just water. It's a navy blue, most days, a deep dark blue with just a few crests of white and the sea-green foam of the ships' wake. It's deceptively lifeless, when we're far from shore: deep, dark, still. Only a few flying fish, skipping like stones over the surface, give away the truth. But it's at night that I feel it best. Then the waters go black, shades of black beneath a black sky, and the near-full moon crests the waves and ripples along those miles, miles, miles to the black horizon. Then, things seem endless. The distance stretches further in its night-obscurity. The water dives deeper in the dark. Moonlight draws the eye out, out, out, farther on than it can see, and the effect—the effect is terrific.

Terrific: with terror, but the connotation these days is positive. Awesome: with awe. Amazing: it amazes. Wonderful: full of wonder. Incredible: beyond belief.

Not because it makes you feel small—it does, but it's more than egocentism, more than an observation of one's own size. It's that it makes the world seem large. Not "seem"—these things are this way. It is a realization.

Not a realization, either, because it is defined by what cannot be fully conceived: a world too far, too dark, to deep to understand. It is knowing defined by unknowing.

These are things for which language fails.

Further thoughts, two days after the cruise
We put gods and goddesses there, we place elder gods and the tentacles of Cthulhu, we try to give the sea's endless depth a face and a name and an identity because—even when they are beings of unimaginable power, even when they are avatars of that terrifying unknown—it's a little easier to understand when it's a little more concrete; because the concrete gives us a view into, a way to explore, that endless unknown.

When the sea stretched before me, I could not find the perfect words to express what I saw and felt. Back on land, the words are no more willing to come. Perhaps they don't exist. Language fails. Even the icons, faces, imagery fails—even Cthulhu is defined not by the tentacle we see, but by the unseen, unseeable beast that lies behind; witness it, and it will strike you dumb and mad. It cannot be expressed.

The best I have are descriptions of the images, hinting at the feelings they conjure. The best I have are more images:

Stormglass #2 by Wyrding Studios

The manmade made new by the sea: its still surface, its endless depth, its waves—agitating, grinding, altering—spitting back out, changed. And I, amber glass under silver seas. This piece went up when I was gone and, though I've never had love for sea imagery or materials, it strikes a cord with me now.

With nothing but flat empty water as far as the eye can see. )

What's already there. Deception. Stillness, endlessness. What we do not see.

Oh, I am not magically changed. I am still a being of land, of trees, of mountains—of measurable distance. But I was awed and touched, by those wide midday seascapes, by those dark distant nights. That stays with me, even if—for once—I cannot find all the words to express it.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I did not record a daily log (and trust me, given the repetition of my experience you would not want one), but while on the cruise I did record a few thoughts over a few days. I'll post them here, as I find the energy to go back and edit them for public consumption. To begin:

Sunday, Day 1, Boarding
I discovered my own personal hell. The flights down to L.A. were, surprisingly, not that bad—the first plane was old and rickety and exceedingly cramped, but both flights and the layover were short. For the most part, all was unremarkable, and therefore well. It was on the journey to the ship itself that things began to go downhill: it was a bit of a wait for the bus, a bit of a drive, and the entire boarding procedure felt messy—a lack of apparent organization, a dearth of communication, and the crowds, oh, the waiting crowds. It was a long, slow climb to get aboard.

And once we had, I was of course exhausted: Devon and I had stayed up all night to catch our 3a flight, and sleep on the plane had proved futile (I couldn't babysit both my back and neck, which meant I had to sacrifice comfortable, potentially restful head positions in order to keep my back pain under control). I wore an oversized comfy shirt for the plane, which was great for the plane—but made me frumpy and uncomfortable in the heat, the crowds, the almost-a-cruise atmosphere of the ship.

And then it got better.

Because the rooms weren't available until an hour after we boarded, so instead of the necessary privacy, crash time, and change of clothes that I had expected, we were herded to the messhall for what would have been a large and varied buffet had not every item tasted the same: like nothing at all. Chewable air would have been a better offering, I think. The hall was crammed, packed and hot and noisy; there were no free tables so we sat at a bar where I couldn't even reach the footrest, inviting a new wave of back pain. Remixed techno pop played over the loudspeakers which—as a combination of repetitive sound and awful lyrics—is indeed the soundtrack of my personal hell.

And then my grandparents and cousins arrived and—hot, sleep-deprived, pained, frumpy, disappointed, and approaching an almost embarrassing level of discontent—I had to hug about a dozen people and try to act pleasant.

There could be, for me, no situation more fine-crafted to elicit my personal suffering.

Things did get better (in the non-ironic sense, this time) when the rooms opened up. I took a quick shower, and crashed, and napped, and by the time we gathered in a group for drinks and, later, dinner, I was much improved. Sunday actually ended on a pleasant note with a surprisingly enjoyable three-course meal, so while the cruise began in misery and I can still nitpick many more problems, I spent Sunday night in a huge bed with my beloved and woke to 18 miles of pure ocean stretching on outside the window.

And for the record: this is why the cruise was, for me, undesirable.
I know there are people that want to go on cruises. I am not one of them. I know that to speak glibly of this gift from my grandparents (who paid the way for all those that attended) is both to overlook my own luck and privilege, and to undervalue the important familial aspects of the trip. But speaking purely of my own comforts, desires, and preferences: I did not want to go on a cruise. And that first day isn't a bad example of why.

A big cruise ship is a floating, all-inclusive, isolated hotel. Even if it has a rock-climbing wall, it's nothing more or less. So, say: You're a vegetarian and a picky eater with certain standards for food quality (hey, you sound just like me!) Then: There will regularly be nothing for you to eat in the buffet, either because ingredients are unlisted, the only vegetarian option is iceberg salad, or all of the readily-available, self-serve food tastes like shit; not infrequently at the sit-down waited meals you will eat one more bowl of pasta with marinara. Say: You require certain accommodations in order to cope with or prevent chronic pain. Then: You may have difficult, limited, or no access to those accommodations (it took us three hours to get extra pillows for the room; the majority of the public seating was actively bad for my back), especially at the beginning of the trip when you need them most. Say: You are an introvert, or, worse, agoraphobic. Then: Outside of the safety of your stateroom, you will be surrounded by crowds without exception—any time you want to eat, take a walk, or consider engaging in a ship activity, you will be surrounded by large crowds of loud strangers. If you are traveling in a group of 24 family members, you will also encounter people you know, on a fairly regular basis; you will be required to attend family gatherings.

In other words: a cruiseship is, for me, not a plush floating island of amenities. Instead, it may leave me without sustenance, in pain, and traumatized. Of course it's not always a worse case scenario—there were good vegetarian options sometimes, even for me; sharing a room with just Devon gave me plentiful privacy and comfort in order to look after both my physical and mental health, and I am grateful beyond words for that. But there's big drawbacks, and an unending parade of little ones from uncomfortable sheets and towels to edible but unenjoyable food to the very atmosphere of the ship.

I don't know how quite to describe that atmosphere. It's ... it's the dining hall on the first day. People wearing skimpy shorts and bad, fruity perfume; people talking too loud and being too excited to go. It's the worst imaginable music, bland food, the bitter smell of a dirty sea and the edge of a big city. It's not quite the access or comfort you want, wrapped in the allure of an Exotic! Resort! Location! It's smarmy, almost, the very idea of the thing: visit new, exiting areas the in pseudo-comfort of your floating monstrosity of a hotel. I cannot personally think of a less pleasant way either to vacation (why not chose somewhere authentically comfortable, with more variety, with better food, with better amenities—or why not stay home?) or to travel (why not, and this is a crazy idea, actually go visit a place for a week or four?)

Yes, this is a matter of personal taste. It's also because I'm picky, I take my luck for granted, I don't know how to be grateful, and so on. Every time someone mentions how awesome a cruise sounds I feel that discomforting guilt: people want to do this—shouldn't I be glad for the chance?

But no. No, I was not, however awful a person that makes me; this is why. The cruise wasn't all that bad, and I'll get to the rest later. But for a bit of context, this is worth saying first.
juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
I am currently at LAX, awaiting plane. I am mostly dead, which is better than all dead. The cruise was. I'll be home tonight.

juushika: A black and white photo of an ink pen. (Writing)
This may come as a surprise, but I'm leaving for a week. The surprise may be that you missed my previous mention of this trip, or that I'm making any sort of hiatus announcement at all—usually I just disappear without warning.

For the next seven days I shall be on a freakishly large boat some miles off the nearest coast. We will not have internet access, because they overcharge about as much as you'd expect. I may not catch up on my flist when I get back; if that matters to you, feel free to leave important comments here or shoot me an email. I'll be back when I'm back—y'all take care 'til then.

We're not ready yet, and only have, well, just a few more hours before it's out of our hands and onto the plane, as it were. I am finally phasing from "lala I can't hear you" to "oh fuck, I have stuff to do," which is about time even if it's no fun. The cruise will be. Hopefully it will also be good. Crossed fingers from friends are welcome.

Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today! Adopt one today!


juushika: Drawing of a sleeping orange cat. (Default)

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