I spent the last ten days on a cruise ship to Alaska. The night before the first day of the trip a friend of mine asked if I’ve read David Foster Wallace’s non-fiction essay “Shipping Out.”
I had not.
And as a fan of David Foster Wallace (not an Infinite Jest (yet) fan but a Girl With Curious Hair fan) I downloaded it.
It is most definitely worth reading. Click here for a link to read it for free if interested.
“Shipping Out” written in nineteen ninety-six, twenty years ago, was so timelessly on point. Perhaps David is just a visionary in all things, even luxury Cruise lines, so much so, he only writes what is true enough to stay, the concretes.
On this boat reading this essay I could not help but keep notes.
I didn’t bring my laptop, because laptops can’t swim, and my unreasonable fears of them going overboard hold water. Without my laptop I couldn’t work on my new book, (which I missed so dearly and am excited to get elbow deep back into).
What am I to do with these notes?
Can I make any sense of them?
Were they simply mutterings with booze and David Wallace at the helm?
On the boat we had no cell service, no Social Media, no offline Spotify music, no “just google it” no “let me look up the weather for the town we will be in tomorrow.”
You read what you brought and you hit the buffet more times than is healthy.
I brought Honored Guest by Joy Williams.
I brought Numbers In The Dark by Italo Calvino.
And I brought Shipping Out by David Foster Wallace.
On a cruise, one will not, for at least the first two to three days, be able to complain about anything, that is unless, they are a truly terrible person. I have reason to believe that in the first couple of days passengers are so spoiled their brains will fool evolution for a false sense of contentment. Oh how we love a good false sense of contentment.
After these two or three days, one will either become a terrible person. Or they will fight against such a natural tendency, and grip this idea of contentment, false as it is, it isn’t earned or deserved, just try to appreciate it, bathe in the afterglow of it.
Contentment is, of course, to the bitter end, subjective. But when you’re on a boat with three thousand people being spoiled by sixteen hundred people, I found a complete breaking point. If you have not lived a life of this privilege, it is surreal. It is an indulgence of existence.
And if you are not careful you might believe you deserve it.
And when people start thinking they deserve these things, it’s a slippery slope, to becoming a truly terrible person.
These cruises, from the very beginning, derive a god-like ego in the very notion of demanding stillness fourteen floors from the chaos of the breaking Pacific ocean. And we got that. Here I was just trying to get some sleep one hundred or so feet from a seemingly endless abyss before my short, curated soft, Bon Iver playlist finishes. I appreciate this. I do not deserve this.
The boat quakes provided by the waves give me all the soft unpredictability I wanted in my life and never found in San Francisco. I appreciated it.
I’ve begun to only eat the muffin tops at the buffet, yes I enjoy them more. I do not deserve this muffin treatment. No one does.
I’ll thank every staff member two times more than I should with a calculated tone that says, no one should have it this good. Crack jokes with the twenty-four hour free room service attendant so she can maybe let her hair down, ease her back.
I have lost a sense of value when all of the food is free, I don’t know when I should really truly mmmm in the midst of a meal. I can’t find the taste without the value. This is not to say it didn’t taste good, it was all good, too good, yet without bad… there is a static to it, and after a number of days, like the pretend food in the movie Hook, it is loved to death then thrown across the table worth only it’s weight in comedy. This is hard to understand and impossible to appreciate, it is after all the epitome of being spoiled.
Down the halls and across the dining room tables I’ve overheard the people that gave in, they believed this was theirs, that they deserved this surreal treatment and now they are demanding more. And they are unhappy because more doesn’t exist. Their cruise is mediocre. They lost their contentment. And on a cruise ship it is an expensive thing to lose.
I want to believe, throughout the trip, that I held my contentment. I appreciated everything as much as I could. Yet who wouldn't say the same. I will admit, another week and who knows what I could have become.
Part two, later, soon.