Thursday, January 19, 2012

thinking about the ocean

After reading Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and watching both film adaptations, I've moved on to reading the next in the series: The Girl Who Played With Fire. Except that after getting through around a hundred pages I put it down, not wanting to move forward. Right now Lisbeth Salander is on Grenada, reading math textbooks on the beach, drinking rum and cokes, preventing murders, hooking up. I know she'll return to Sweden soon -- that cold and rapey land -- but I don't want to leave the sand yet.

I keep running across mentions of beaches and oceans today. Part of a poem I was reading mentioned a stone beach, just two words, and I had to stop and day dream about the ocean for ten minutes. There's something about the open water that fascinates me. All the time spent between infrequent vacations to the Atlantic feels claustrophobic, like life is a box with holes punched in it, just enough to keep one breathing. Everyday you open your eyes, there's always something there, blocking the line of vision. I look now and there's a wall. I look out the window and there's a twenty-story bank. I stare into the sky and people begin staring at me. As long as you're looking at something, the somethings of the world will always be on your mind.

Standing at the ocean, you can stare off into the horizon and see nothing. It's flat and expansive and appears unending. It's the closest most of us will ever get to being in space. It marks a delineation between here and everywhere else. The beach is synonymous with vacation, because maybe you can't go everywhere else, but you're sick and tired of here. It's why no one sets their beach chairs facing the hotels and pools. People don't come just for the bikinis and Mai Thais. Except Carmen Electra, probably.

I've flown over the Pacific, but never sailed across it. I can't even imagine what that it felt like for the first sailors to float unknowlingly into open water. Curiosity is so much stronger than fear, though. Sometimes I'm tempted, standing on the shore, to dive in and swim straight forward, unstopping. Just to see if I eventually hit a painted wall. Then Ed Harris will announce over the intercom that my entire life has been scripted. "What a boring show," I would mumble, swimming back to shore.

Last week I found a tour company that offers trips to Antarctica. You might say Antarctica is my Fiji. I squealed audibly when I found it. It's $8000, so it's pointless enthusiasm. But just knowing it's possible gives hope. Antarctica is not sandy or warm. But it does offer the ability to look at nothing. Or as close to nothing as we can get on Earth. And by looking at nothing I can stop thinking about myself, about everyone else, and just think about the world. The universe. Existence. Penguins. The fact that everything and everyone on Earth is made up of the same matter, the same elements, as what goes into the stars. We are star matter.

The best way to look at the picture of the Pale Blue Dot is to regard the mote of dust, acknowledge it,  note its insignificance. Then turn the camera around and let's explore.

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