the dangers of the Caribbean for a city girl

I am in the Virgin Islands with my parents, my brothers, my brothers’ girlfriends, and Bear. My parents won this trip, and we’re all in a state of wild gratitude, mostly.

(thanks Mom and Dad!)

There is ocean absolutely everywhere.

An awful thing happens when you stand for a while, looking out over the ocean.

You forget to care.

It is a scary, big feeling. The sense of being swallowed whole. The sense of disappearing.

Last night, I stood on the patio, and looked out over the world. And I suddenly understood better why people might stay in the city forever. Because it’s easier, in a way. Not having to think about anything beyond the walls. Focusing inward. It enables you to work and work and try so hard to get ahead. Ahead is a place that no one seems to actually know much about. It’s a little like heaven, I think. You hope it’s there, waiting for you. Because otherwise there might be nothing.

 

In the city, I am always trying to get ahead. Embarrassingly, I have dreams of grandeur.

I’m being unfair. That doesn’t mean that everyone in the city is like that.

But for me, looking up at a sky suddenly alive with stars, I am overwhelmed. For a frantic, fluttering moment, my brain flips through the work I should be doing, trying to motivate me. The big projects I keep putting off. The smaller pieces that might lead somewhere. Those essays sitting in a folder on my desktop. I should pitch. I should always pitch more. And the new melodies I should be learning already for the high holiday services I’ll perform in the fall.

Nothing.

I am just standing there, surrounded by history. I am up to my neck in history. Soon, I will disappear inside it. It’s strange how open, naked nature makes me think of history in a way that old buildings and streets don’t. Old buildings date back to a specific point in time, but the ocean has seen it all. From the very beginning. And the night sky, which feels insignificant at home, here feels extremely relevant. I am abruptly conscious of living on a planet, instead of living in an apartment, in a building, on a block, in a neighborhood. I am abruptly aware of the moon as a ball of rock illuminated by the brilliance of the unimaginably enormous sun, rather than the moon as the only important thing in the darkened sky.

Bear, on the patio with me, says, “Come sit with me.” But I can’t seem to stop moving. I am restless, instead of relaxed. I lift my arms up and then put them down again, awkward and self-conscious.

I want to talk about TV shows. I want to talk about something small. I want to watch youtube videos of hilarious kittens meowing loudly. I want to gossip.

Because if you don’t do all of those things, and you’re surrounded by the endlessness of the ocean and the sky, than what are you?

Practically nothing.

I had to go inside.

I am uneasy.

I am bad at being on vacation.

I wonder if maybe there is a way to be better at life, in general. Something to do with the sky.

My brother Gabe, on the other hand, has no such issues with the sky, lifted arms, or general existential uncertainty related to wide-open spaces and free time:

(his awesome girlfriend is there, too.)

And here’s Bear:

And here’s my brother Jake (with Gabe):

*  *  *

Are you good at being on vacation? Are you good at relaxing?

Unroast: Today I love the way I look with my whole back exposed. I’ve never really liked my back. Actually, I don’t know much about it, which makes me a little suspicious. But here, it is always out. And I like it more, for knowing it better.

Note: So I had this idea. I’m thinking that instead of just putting new cake pics at the bottom of posts, I’ll also do individual posts about cake pics. So if you want to send me a picture of yourself eating a delicious dessert, and also tell me a little bit about yourself, the story of the photo maybe, and anything else you might want to share about body image/life, I’ll make that into a featured post. Maybe I should ask each cake eater some basic questions (all optional). Where do you live? How old are you? What are you awesome at? What is your favorite kind of cake? What’s your unroast for today? People keep telling me these fantastic stories when they send pictures, and I want to share them! If you don’t want to tell me anything, but want to send a picture, don’t worry! I’ll keep posting the pictures without text under my regular posts.

In fact, here’s one now. Her expression cracks me up:

“here’s a photo of the top hat cake I made for my 21st birthday.
The icing went wrong in the middle but it tasted delicious”– Lizzy

21 Comments »

Kate on June 12th 2012 in life, new york

21 Responses to “the dangers of the Caribbean for a city girl”

  1. Sheryl responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    You capture so perfectly how very insignificant and yet energized the night sky can make me feel.

  2. Melanie responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    That face she is making in that cake pic is priceless!

    I am good at vacationing. I LOVE being out near the ocean or forest. It makes me remember how small I am in the universe, and sometimes I really need that.

  3. Jennifer responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:35 pm #

    We went to Chicago a few weekends back. I live in such a rural area that to get among so MANY people and buildings and agendas overwhelms me the way nature overwhelmed you.

    When you write:

    “I am abruptly conscious of living on a planet, instead of living in an apartment, in a building, on a block, in a neighborhood…”

    I recalled how stunning it was to stand amid so many people in one place. I became “abruptly conscious” of how my spacious and quiet world is not the whole world. I am really nothing special among sea of unique individuals. I will never be The Best at any pursuit I undertake. There are so many others vying for their own spots.

    I felt almost panicky.

    How can we feed so many people?

    How much pollution do this many of us make?

    How many cities are there like this on the planet?

    How can we live gently on the planet when there are so FREAKING many of us?

    Then one train ride and car ride later, I’m back home. My town is so quaint and tiny, so void of high culture and diversity. How would I change if forced to live in a real city for a while?

  4. Lacey responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    I think…I’m pretty good at vacationing. At least when it’s planned ahead of time. It’s in everyday life that I’m not terribly good at slowing down and allowing myself to just relax a little bit. The Virgin Islands sound lovely though!

    And I love the idea of hearing some of the stories that the picture-submitters have. I think that’d be awesome!

  5. Kate responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    @Sheryl
    I’m glad to hear you feel like this, too! I feel like I’m so ridiculously sensitive sometimes. Someone else goes, “Yay! A beach!” And I’m standing there, bowled over, like, “Oh my god. The enormous, perfect chaos of eternity!” Sigh. :-)

  6. Liz responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:42 pm #

    On vacations, I stare at the ocean, swim in the sea, and watch my family playing in the sand for many, many hours each day. The only other thoughts I have are about the book I’m currently reading, food, sunscreen, exploring, and the vibe of our little family of four–has it been a good day for us as a family? I guess when it comes down to it, these are the things that are most important to me (not in that order, of course :) .

    While traveling, I always think: I know that we can only take these vacations because of the work done back in the “real” world, but what if the real world could feel more like a vacation? At some point, wouldn’t I stop zoning out and drooling over the ocean, and get back to work? Probably. I guess that’s the trick, right? To be present and able to enjoy the important moments in life, while still pushing ourselves to create and prosper—because creating makes us happy too. It’s all so very confusing…If you figure out how to balance it all, please let us know because I’m quite certain you would be a bazillionaire! :)

  7. Kate responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    @Jennifer
    SO interesting!! I couldn’t help but wonder how a kid who grew up out here would feel on a trip to NYC… Maybe the way you’re describing?

  8. Kate responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    @Lacey
    I’m glad you like the new cake pic idea! I’m going to give it a try this week! I can’t wait.

  9. Kate responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    @Liz
    YES. What would life be like if THIS was life? I think probably it’s not even possible. Even if you were so rich that you never had to do anything ever, you would probably find something to do. Do you think people can live whole lives of leisure? I can’t imagine it.

  10. Kimmy Sue Ruby Lou responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 1:54 pm #

    Just when I’m certain that I think too much, a post pops up from you…love it! I think you’re understanding that sometimes you have to stop thinking for a minute, and just BE. Enjoy your change of scenery, most importantly your family! :)

  11. Liz responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 2:05 pm #

    I could never live a life of leisure. I would go crazy. I actually think the more money I had the more I would probaly feel compelled to do: to help others and travel the world. I can’t even sit still for more than 5 minutes unless I’m reading or watching a performance, so I know I could never just be. I like the feelings I feel after I accomplish a task, no matter how small. And as much as I love watching my daughters play in the sand, even then, I can only sit by idle for so long before I run into the ocean for a swim or paddle board or make a meal or do laundry or need to explore. I have a restless spirit I guess. Do you think we all do deep down?

  12. Krystina responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    I am awesome @ being on vacation. I NEED a vacation too!

  13. lik_11 responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 2:06 pm #

    I love vacation!!!! Must get away….

  14. Deanna responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    I have mixed feelings about vacation. On the one hand, I love to travel and see the world, but I also love being home and with my routine and I miss my routine when I’m away. I think one or two vacations a year is fine..maybe a few short ones like going hiking or a day trip to wine country. I have clients who take 10 long vacations a year..that to me seems like running away from their lives.

    I also hate coming home to piles of mail, a house that smells funny, a dog that is jumping all over me to go for a walk and this feeling of fatigue. I could sleep for a week and still feel tired when I get home.

  15. CarbonGirl responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    I loved this:

    “And I suddenly understood better why people might stay in the city forever. Because it’s easier, in a way. Not having to think about anything beyond the walls. Focusing inward. It enables you to work and work and try so hard to get ahead. Ahead is a place that no one seems to actually know much about. It’s a little like heaven, I think. You hope it’s there, waiting for you. Because otherwise there might be nothing.”

    So beautifully written and I feel it really gets to the heart of modern life.

    PS: I am so jealous of Lizzy in the cake pic! I always want to bake my own birthday cake because I love baking. But my husband feels that it is his responsibility to supply the cake and therefore will not let me make one.

  16. misti_hope responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 2:34 pm #

    Here is a picture of a tattoo with a quote that should put you at ease in the vastness of the universe. And it’s by Carl Sagan!

    http://is.gd/jBM24E

  17. San D responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 3:36 pm #

    My husband loves nature. I have a healthy reverence. He will linger for hours in a field looking and photographing. While with him I will text friends the following sequence. “Beautiful vista, sky goes on forever”. “Bugs have descended on me, spending time swatting”. “Shoot me now, we are on hour 3″. Now, in retirement, I am busier than ever, I just can’t be “still”.

  18. morgaine responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 9:15 pm #

    I love the cake pictures idea! Can we do that retroactively if we already have pictures in the gallery?

  19. Kate responded on 12 Jun 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    @morgaine
    absolutely! I meant to mention this, actually. If you already have a picture in the gallery, I’ll still do a feature post for you.

    Also, if you have a blog, I’m happy to link to it there.

  20. TG responded on 13 Jun 2012 at 5:56 am #

    I really hope you are enjoying this holiday more than this post suggests other wise what a shame for both you and the people you are with. Enjoy the perspective this experience gives you. Embrace it. Sit and snuggle with Bear on the patio. Be two specks under the stars. It’s good sometimes to have the reminder of how small our lives really are, how meaningless all our preoccupations are in the bigger picture. Of course very few of us could live permanently in that state but its good to embrace it every now and again if possible. It reminds me slightly of the quote by Terry Pratchett’s Death ‘Human beings make life so interesting. Do you know, that in a universe so full of wonders, they have managed to invent boredom.’ We shield ourselves from the wonders of the universe by concentrating on all our petty concerns and metaphorically saying ‘yay a beach’.

  21. Celynne responded on 13 Jun 2012 at 2:58 pm #

    I think you might just not be an open-spaces kind of person. Endless fields of wheat make me feel strange and exposed. I grew up in rolling forested hills and valleys and now I live in the downtown core of a city and I can really sense the difference when I’m finally standing somewhere vast and open. I am very good at relaxing though, if it’s a vacation that doesn’t require me to actually use my brain. I can happily veg out for ages being chill and relaxed. The cake post idea is really great, you should definitely do that!