Whale-Sized Karma

I’ve been thinking quite a lot about karma of late. To oversimplify, it means that whatever happens to you happens because of your actions. It’s a comforting theory. Be good, and good things will happen to you. Be bad, and you’ll get yours, eventually.

There are days when my belief in karma is the only thing that keeps me from imploding under the sheer weight of my righteous indignation. I may have been screwed over by despicable people (most notably, Andy Johnson), and I may be able to do very little about it other than shine a light on them through this blog, but I have to believe that, by dint of the rot in their very souls, they’re going to get tripped up sooner or later.

But mine is a scientific mind, and so I know on some level that this is all magical thinking. It would be wonderful if justice were that straightforward, but quite often it is not. The world is a random, chaotic place, and we aren’t in control at all. Not even a little bit.

Because of this, I know that a lot of the politicians who have perpetrated so much hate, discord and crime in recent years will get off scot-free. The insurrectionist traitors who stormed our capitol may be pursued and tried, but no sentences will be enough to pay for what they’ve done to this country. My only hope is that they keep making idiotic choices that come back to bite them in the butt, hopefully without taking any more lives with them in the process. (Five was already too many.)

Karma. A nice dream. I’ll leave you with a true story that is either the most beautiful example of karma or the most beautiful example of the random and chaotic essence of our world. You’ll have to decide for yourself.

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This is the story of the Essex. It was an American whaleship that, on August 12, 1819, sailed out of Nantucket, MA and straight into infamy. In my opinion, the only vessel worse (and in fact it’s much, much worse) than a whaler is a slave ship. The horrors we humans can visit upon this world never cease to amaze me.

But this last journey of the Essex would turn out to be either karma or chaos for its crew. The 21 men anticipated a 2 ½ year trip to catch whales in the South Pacific. But within 2 days their bad luck began when they ran into a storm that nearly sank the ship and damaged the sail as well as destroying two of the six whaleboats, and damaging a third. Captain Pollard chose to press on without getting replacements.

They hunted for whales that following spring and summer, and eventually made it to what is now Ecuador. Running out of whales to slaughter, they decided to go further south and west, where there was very little land, and that land was rumored to be inhabited by cannibals. But hey, there should be more whales there, so why not?

They stopped in at the Galapagos Islands, where they managed to take 360 giant tortoises aboard alive, thinking these creatures could go a year without food and water, and they could simply eat them as needed. These tortoises immediately began to starve. But, hey, the crew got to eat really well for a while there.

While island hopping for tortoises, a helmsman thought it would be funny to set fire to an island. That fire raged out of control and burned every living plant and animal to death, leaving a desolated, ash-covered wasteland and driving two species to near extinction. (The Floreana Island tortoise and the Floreana mockingbird, because I know you’ll ask.)

When they reached their whaling grounds, the first whale they saw came up under one of the whaleboats and completely shattered it. That left them with three.

During the next hunt one of the boats was damaged, again by a whale, and had to go back to the ship for repairs. Both of the others harpooned whales and were dragged by them over the horizon.

Those who were on the ship noticed a whale as long as their vessel acting really weird. It was just lying there on the surface, staring at them. And then it charged them and rammed the ship. The current theory is that the whale heard the hammering that was going on to repair the whaleboat, and it sounded like a rival bull sperm whale’s echolocation to him. We’ll never know.

Needless to say, ramming the ship stunned the whale. The crew thought of harpooning it, but was afraid that this would cause the whale to thrash and might damage the ship further. The whale finally perked up and swam away.

And then it turned. It was now facing the ship’s bow. It charged again, at twice its normal speed, and hit the Essex head on, shattering the bow. The crew scrambled to put provisions into the half repaired whaleboat when the captain’s whaleboat showed up. That must have come as one heck of a shock to the Captain.

Needless to say, the ship was toast. There were 20 crew members (one had deserted) to divide between, basically, 2 ½ boats. And they were in the middle of nowhere. The closest land was the Marquesas Islands, and that’s where Captain Pollard wanted to go, but his crew remembered those cannibal rumors, and wanted to go back to South America instead, which was twice as far away. And that’s what they tried to do, bailing all the while.

There was very little food and water to begin with, but the situation was made worse when most of the food got soaked by seawater, which of course rendered it very salty, which meant that every time they ate, they became more dehydrated and thirsty. (I’m getting thirsty just writing about it.) They soon resorted to drinking their own urine.

By a huge stroke of luck, a month later they landed on a deserted atoll called Henderson Island. Ironically, it’s situated just 120 miles from Pitcairn Island, where the descendants of the 1789 Bounty mutineers still live to this day.

On Henderson, the crew was able to find fresh water, and ate birds, crabs, eggs, and peppergrass. But they pretty much had wiped out the island within a week, and decided to move on. Three men remained behind, and actually managed to survive for a year before being rescued.

The other 17 men, in their 2 ½ boats, attempted to head to Easter Island. Within a week they once again ran out of food, and were only left with saltwater soaked bread yet again. They totally missed Easter Island, and began to die one by one.

The first two that died were buried at sea. One boat, carrying three men, got separated from the other two, and it is assumed it was the whaleboat later found washed up on Ducie Island with three skeletons inside.

As the last 12 started dying, some were eaten by their crewmates. So the people scared of encountering cannibals became cannibals themselves. Imagine.

By February, they were out of bodies to eat and were forced to draw lots as to who would be sacrificed. The ironically named Owen Coffin, the 17-year-old first cousin of Captain Pollard, drew the short straw. To Pollard’s credit, he offered to take his place, but Coffin felt that his lot wasn’t any worse than theirs. His best friend on the ship shot him.

The two remaining boats became separated, and one was rescued 89 days after the Essex had sunk. On it were three survivors.

Four days later, when Pollard’s boat was finally rescued, nearly in sight of South America, he and another crewman were so delirious, and so desperately sucking on the bones of dead men, they didn’t even notice the ship draw near, and were extremely terrified when they finally did.

So 8 men survived, and 7 bodies were eaten. But here’s what I find even more astounding. After all that trauma, all 8 men were back at sea within a few months. Captain Pollard kept having such bad luck at sea that eventually no one would sail with him, and he had to retire to Nantucket.

Nantucket is a small place, and he had to share it with the mother of the cousin whom he had eaten. Needless to say, relationships were rather strained. He became a night watchman. He would lock himself up in his room and fast every year on the anniversary of the sinking of the Essex. He never married or had children. He lived to be 78.

The first mate, Owen Chase, also survived, and went on to write a book about the experience, which inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick. Chase had a very successful sailing career as a sea captain, and eventually built his own whaler. He also had many wives and many children. But the ordeal haunted him, and he was eventually institutionalized after he was found to be hiding food in the attic of his Nantucket house. He lived to be 73.

All the other survivors, save one, lived long lives and died in a variety of sailor ways. And so it goes. Karma? Chaos? Or just the circle of life?

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Making Headway

I’ll tell you a little secret that will stun you: I used to be on top of things. Yeah, I know, right? Me? Organized? Hard to believe.

But it’s true. For years there, my to-do list wasn’t so long as to overwhelm me to the point of near paralysis. I was actually efficient. Stuff got done. All my trains ran on time.

I don’t know when I started losing my grip and slowly sliding toward the whirlpool of utter chaos, but here I am. It seems as though staying organized is like treading water. You can’t ever slack off, even for a minute, or you start to sink. And once you start sinking, it’s a lot harder to get your head above water again.

One trick I’ve had to learn over and over and over again is not to give chaos the recognition it craves. Once you’ve done that, it engulfs you. It’s just too much. You become convinced that you’re never going to see your way clear.

No. The trick is to focus on one thing. Just one little thing. Do that. Feel that sense of accomplishment? That’s your superpower. The more you feel that, the more you’re able to do. A friend of mine calls this keeping your eye on the shovel. The shovel. Not the great steaming pile of… stuff that needs shoveling. And before you know it, the mound is a manageable size.

I’ve been really sick for about a month, so I’ve been feeling more paralyzed by inactivity than normal, but the other day I finally got done one thing that I had been putting off for months, and man, was that ever a fantastic feeling! And that gave me the strength to do something else. And I really feel a lot better now.

There’s still a ton of stuff to do. There always will be. But I feel like I’m coping again.

I just have to remember that just as you should never look down when you’re afraid of heights, you should also never look chaos in the eye. He does not have your best interests at heart.

chaos

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We Are Five…

The other day I said to my husband, “Do you think we’ll ever settle down to a nice, quiet routine, or do you think we’ll always be in a state of barely controlled chaos?”

His response was, “Well, we are five…”

Indeed we are. Two adults, three dogs, all with different needs and desires. And while having dogs may not be as complex as having children, they do make an impact.

There are things we do because I’m suffering from a bad cold. There are things we do because our car was recently totaled. There are things we do because one dog is deaf and going blind. There are things we do because one dog is prone to biting and generally showing his a**. There are things we do because one dog is easily frightened.

We are still working on transferring my possessions from one location to another. We’re learning everybody’s sleep habits. We’re adjusting to various energy levels. There are work schedules to consider, and doctor/vet appointments, and errands. There are birthdays and anniversaries and relatives and friends. There are walks to be taken and cars to be repaired and a never-ending pile of clothes to be washed. There are meals to plan and prepare and eat.

When I was single, I could blow a lot of this stuff off. But now we are five, and things are exponentially more complex, chaotic… and delightful.

kk2up

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Things That Make Me Lose My Composure

Someone told me the other day that I’m very composed. It took me by surprise, but I suppose it’s true. I don’t enjoy drama. I haven’t thrown a tantrum in, oh, at least a week or two. (Joke.)

I think the reason I’ve never thought of myself as the poster child for composure is that I know what’s going on on the inside of me. That is a bit more chaotic than the outside stuff. If all that turmoil were on the surface, I think people would assume I was crazed.

For instance, I’ve been perpetually freaked out ever since Donald Trump took office. I’m surprised I haven’t developed ulcers from the sheer frustration I’m experiencing as I watch him systematically destroy everything he touches.

I also tend to lose my cool at this time of year at work on my drawbridge. The sailboats are out in force, and for whatever reason, most owners don’t seem to take the time to know what the hell they’re doing with those very expensive toys.

And don’t even get me started about pedestrians. I haven’t crushed anyone yet, mind you, but they sure make it a distinct possibility. And I’d kind of like to keep my job.

The one thing that brings me closest to violence is witnessing the abuse of children or animals. If you can’t pick on somebody your own size, I’m sorely tempted to give you someone your size to pick on. But you wouldn’t like it.

I also can’t abide selfishness or greed. Be as self-destructive as you want. It’s your life. But when your actions negatively impact others, I take issue with that. And for Pete’s sake, take responsibility for your actions. Grow the %@$& up.

I find liars despicable, and people who are hellbent on believing those lies to their own benefit are even worse. If you can’t reach your destination without taking one of those two crooked paths, then you might want to reexamine your destination. It most likely will not turn out to be the paradise you envisioned.

So, am I composed? The jury is still out on that one. But I find that chocolate helps.

balance and composure

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Controlling Makes You Lose Control

I know someone who insists that people do things simply because she wants to see if people will do them. Unfortunately, as is often the case with people like this, she has been placed in a position of power that she is neither qualified for nor capable of handling in a functional way. She knows it. Everyone knows it. And that only exacerbates her need to control everything.

She often insists that trivial things be done this very minute. Because she says so. There’s no logic to it. There’s no need for it. It disrupts everyone’s workflow and makes her look insane. But that’s beside the point, apparently.

She also seems to thrive on chaos. She will blow things entirely out of proportion. Is there a fly on the butt of a water buffalo somewhere in India? Crisis! Red alert! All stations man the freaking torpedoes!

What she seems incapable of understanding is that the harder she grips the steering wheel, the less anyone takes her driving seriously. She’s erratic. She’s illogical. She’s irrational. She’s completely out of control. No one likes her. Everyone avoids her, and people laugh at her behind her back. Surely she senses it. That, of course, makes her grip the steering wheel even harder.

It must be a horrible feeling, being caught in this feedback loop of ever-increasing dysfunction, where the only way to break free is to swallow your prickly pride. The tension level must be off the charts. I know it is for the people who have the misfortune of finding themselves within her sphere of destruction.

It’s so much easier to steer when you grip the wheel of life lightly. Less is more. Breathe. Let others breathe, too. The world won’t come to an end. It’ll be okay. I promise.

breathe

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When Things Fall Into Place

For me, there is nothing quite as satisfying as those brief, random moments when the chaos that usually swirls about me suddenly becomes a comprehensible, stable, solid whole. Maybe it’s because I’m a worrier and a planner, but that “All’s Right with the World” feeling often eludes me. That makes it all the more precious when it does stop by for a short visit.

For example, during this whole home buying and moving process, I’ve had a to-do list that’s 12 pages long. I’ve often woken up in the middle of the night, thinking of something important to add to it. If I don’t sit up, turn on the light and write that thing down, I’ll lie awake and go over it in my mind for hours. I’ve taken to leaving my to-do list on my night stand. If you want to see me absolutely wig out (and trust me, you don’t), just hide that list.

My stress level spikes around those to-do items that require me to rely on other people. Is it a West Coast thing? No one around here seems to be the least bit dependable. That drives me up a wall. If my friends need me, or I’ve made a professional obligation, you can count on me to follow through. If I say I’m going to do something, I do it, unless I’m dying. How hard is that? Apparently it’s pretty freakin’ hard if you are anywhere near the Pacific Ocean. Go figure.

But every now and again, all the puzzle pieces seem to fall into place. People show up on time and do what you so desperately need them to do. And maybe a little extra. “Oh, you’re trying to get rid of a washing machine? I’ll be happy to take it off your hands, too!” “Need some extra money? Well, here’s some overtime!” “Sure! I’m available to clean your carpet on the only possible day you have available for me to clean your carpet!”

I love that feeling of weight being lifted off my shoulders. At times like those, I can breathe. I never realize I’m holding my breath, but apparently I do it quite a bit. But then, all of a sudden, whoosh! Oxygen to the system! It rarely lasts long, and those moments are always unexpected, but I’ll take ‘em!

weight-of-the-world-america

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I’ve Come Undone

I am at the end of my rope. I’m on the ragged edge. I’m losing it.

I’m buying a house. I’m packing, I’m moving. I’m making changes and updating and getting rid of stuff. I’m doing paperwork. I’m documenting. I’m panicking that I won’t get everything done on time, or I’ll forget something important. And I’m doing this all by myself.

Well, that’s not entirely true. My realtor and my loan officer have been great. But there is no one whom I can wake up in the middle of the night when I’m having an anxiety attack, unless you count my long-suffering dog, Quagmire. There’s no one to lighten the load. There’s no one who will shoulder the burden, even for just an hour or two, to give me the tiniest of breaks. I can’t say, “Honey, could you please make that particular decision? I’ve had it.” I’m fresh out of honey.

I’m going to have to hire people to help me move and clean and modify and repair, because lord knows no one is stepping up to volunteer. And I don’t have much money. I wish just one thing about all this would go smoothly. Just one.

I wish I were Amish, or something. Because it really does take a freakin’ village, and it feels like there’s no civilization for miles.

But I take a great deal of comfort from the quote below. This is growth. It may look like chaos, but it’s growth. I’ll just be glad when it’s over.

For-a-seed-to-achieve-its-greatest-expression-it-must-come-completely-undone

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Bad Bridge! Bad!

I’d say that working on a drawbridge is a very zen-like experience 95% of the time. Unfortunately, you never know when that 5% of pure chaos is going to rear up and bite you on the patootie. I had one of those days recently.

I went to bed at 3am. No, I’m not a party animal. It’s just that I didn’t have to be to work until 3pm on this particular day, so I tend to sleep in. Way, way in. It’s one of the few joys of being single, and I take full advantage of it.

So imagine my confusion when the phone rang at 7am, right in the middle of a REM cycle. My dream popped like a bubble. I hate when that happens. For a minute I have no idea where I am, or even who I am. It’s like my brain has to reboot.

I was being called to come in to work early. How early? 11am. They needed me to work a 12 hour shift. Okay. Crap. I set my alarm for 9:30 and went back to sleep. At least I’d be getting 4 hours of double overtime. (Thanks, union!)

So in to work I went, to find that I had company for the first 4 hours. A Trainee. Actually, I like training people. It’s kind of fun. And this was a pleasant person to talk to, whom I could see would work out nicely. As I’ve written before, I can pretty much tell if someone is fit for this job within the first 5 minutes.

But while he was here, the sidewalk camera shorted out. That’s a problem because it means we can’t see all the pedestrians before we open the bridge, and Seattle pedestrians are horrifyingly non-compliant about staying off of moving bridges, despite flashing lights, loud gongs, and us desperately screaming at them. It’s a wonder no one has been killed. So fixing this camera is a top priority. Which means the electricians had to come out. Now we had 4 people crammed into a tiny little room, and that can be a bit emotionally draining. But they fixed the camera and were gone within an hour.

And then it was time for the trainee to leave. Finally, my usual routine. Peace. Quiet. My own domain.

Then the storm hit. Rain was coming down in sheets. And the next thing I knew, BOOM! Lightning struck just south of the bridge. Now, when I was a bridgetender in Florida, I was used to this. It was a rare day when lightning didn’t strike somewhere in my vicinity. But here in Seattle, I’ve only seen lightning three times in the nearly three years I’ve been here, so I nearly jumped out of my skin this time.

And then alarms started going off. Oh, shit. That’s never good. It turns out that 3 of the 4 drives that operate bridge had shorted out. It was after hours, so I called the supervisor of the electricians, and he told me to walk down to both ends of the bridge and push a specific button to reset the drives. All well and good, but the storm was still raging. I had to walk down with lightning crashing all around me. That was fun.

Then I walked back up to the tower, only to discover that one of the drives had reset, but the other two had not. I made a call again, and was told, again, to go down and push the button. Naturally, the two drives in question were on the far side of the bridge, which meant yet another long walk through the electrified tempest.

I came back to the tower. The two drives were still malfunctioning. Phone call number three. This time he said he’d be right out. So I sat there in the tower, drenched in sweat, waiting, as sailboats stacked up like cordwood on the canal, and I was contacted every five minutes by various boaters and had to explain why I wasn’t opening the drawbridge for them.

Could things possibly get worse? Of course! A traffic accident south of bridge backed up traffic for miles, delaying the arrival of the electrician.

And then the phone went dead. I’m getting calls on the marine radio from a variety of employees, asking if I’m sure that the phone is properly hung up. Do I look like an idiot? Of course the phone is properly hung up. Then the phone fixes itself with no intervention on my part, so of course everyone thinks the phone was not properly hung up. Sigh.

Oh, and the sidewalk camera went out again. Fortunately, it, too, fixed itself. Go figure.

The electrician finally makes it through the traffic snarl, and is able to fix things within 45 minutes, bless him. By now I’m so exhausted from the adrenaline rush that I’m nauseous and practically delirious. I have never been so happy to see 11pm in my life. The next challenge is driving home without falling asleep at the wheel.

When I finally get home, my dog is extremely happy to see me. (I just love dogs, don’t you?) So I feed him, take a shower to get all the sweat off, and dive into bed. I suspect I’ll be asleep within 5 minutes, which is a good thing, because I have to be back to work at 7am the next morning. I’ll be lucky to cram 5 hours of sleep in.

Except, did I mention that my dog is extremely happy to see me? I may be ready for bed, but he is not. He wants to play! He wants to tell me about his day. He wants to know where the hell I’ve been for 12 hours. He wants to warn me about the lightning monsters that come from the sky.

I hug him. I give him kisses. I tell him he’s a good dog. I beg him, I plead with him, to settle down. Finally, he curls up by my hip and…the next thing I know, the alarm goes off, and it’s time to do it all over again.

If I were a cartoon character, I’d have one of those squiggly lines above my head right now. I need a hug.

Facepalm

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And Now for Something COMPLETELY Different…

I thrive on routine. If you are into astrology, you could say that’s because I’m a Capricorn. If you study psychology, you might say it has something to do with my introversion.

Regardless. I may not have all my ducks in a row, but I can usually predict where they will wander off to and when. And I derive a great deal of comfort from that.

I’m also a planner. When I travel, for example, I generally know where I’m going and when and how. When something upsets my itinerary it tends to rattle me. This is why I am never comfortable at airports. There’s nothing quite like an airport to eff up your plans. Airports should have their own circle of hell in Dante’s Inferno.

I’ve been working since I was 10 years old. I like when I’ve gotten so familiar with a job that I can organize my tasks. It’s nice to have some idea what the day will probably look like. Tell me your end goal and then let me loose with a certain level of autonomy, and I’ll have my job running like a well-oiled machine in no time.

Which leads me to the one mistake upper management tends to make in every place I’ve ever known. They spend a great deal of time either fixing things that aren’t broken, or not consulting the stakeholders when something genuinely needs fixing. Either way, they always seem sincerely stunned when they have upset the apple cart and we mere underlings have to waste an enormous amount of time scrambling around to pick up the apples.

Here’s a thought: communicate. Get feedback before you make changes. Assume that your staff actually has some insight. Not only will morale improve, but chaos will also be kept to a minimum. What a concept.

duck
Not exactly in a row, but they’ll get where they need to go.

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Keep Your Distance–Demolition in Progress

I have this friend who is a great guy. In many ways, he’s the male version of me. He loves to travel, is liberal, and is a bit of a science nerd. He’s curious about the world and the people in it. He’s got a lot of stories to tell and he’s fun to banter with. For a brief, shining moment, there, I had a massive crush on him.

But here’s where we part company: His very existence is a slow motion train wreck. He has no steady employment and no steady address. There’s absolutely no stability in his life whatsoever.

I may be biased toward my Capricornian sense of organization and planning and order, but it seems to me that if you are that much of an eff up in your 50’s, you’ve had to put a great deal of time and effort into it. Granted, unexpected things can happen, and you never know when fate is going to kick you in the teeth, but to consistently operate without a stable foundation for your whole life long requires a certain skill set that eludes me.

Okay, to assume I know what’s best for everyone may be typical of me, but even I realize that that’s not particularly realistic. And yet I have to say that I have watched this guy make certain choices that were bound to have disastrous results. It almost seems as though he does these things to himself on purpose. Chaos is drawn to him like a moth to a flame.

The only reason for this that I can think of is that it’s a highly effective way to keep people at arm’s length. It’s a rare individual who will voluntarily run into a burning building, after all. And this amazing, lovable guy is a towering inferno.

demolition_of_partick_central_railway_station

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