Perhaps it is the state of the world these days, or merely my inner state of mind, or some combination of the two, but lately I have been feeling adrift. More accurately, the need to be adrift. To cut myself free from the present place and time in the hopes of finding diversion, escape, maybe even transcendence. Distance, at the very least, from the here and now.
It’s a familiar feeling to me. I suppose I was born to it, this ingrained restlessness. I suspect it’s the spirit of my dead father wandering through my soul. He was a lifelong sailor and ceaseless traveler; a man always trying to outrun demons that were as indelible and ever-present as the tattoos on his forearms.
Over the years, I have found lots of different ways to escape from mundane reality. Often, it has been geographic travel, in the form of road trips and plane trips. But much more significant have been the inward journeys (both healthy and unhealthy) by means of music, love, art, writing, and drugs.
Of course, you can’t hope to travel any great distance, especially inwardly, without the risk of becoming lost. I’ve repeatedly stumbled into some unwise and forbidden places. Many times in my life I have felt close to drowning in the terrible-but-beautiful darkness of my inner life. I am a hapless sailor aboard a ghost ship, adrift on a strange sea within my own head. Finite and small as this liquid realm is, it is also somehow fathomless: a place of sudden whirlpools and bottomless trenches, treacherous currents and flashing teeth. An invisible ocean the size of a snow-globe, yet holding tempests of feeling and tsunamis of memory.
Time and again, when my soul rises to the surface to catch its breath, it will be pushed under by some rogue wave of recklessness, melancholy, or dangerous joy. Just when I’ve reached the shore, I’m called back into dangerous depths by the golden-throated sirens. I know their songs are suspect, but they are too enchanting.
Like many sailors, I have a secret fear of the sea, but also an irresistible, romantic longing for it. I don’t want to live inland, safe and dry in some gated suburb of the mind. Even at the risk of madness or self-destruction, I want to travel to the uncharted places where dragons live, and where foaming oceans cascade off the edges of the world.
I know I am not alone in this; there are many other single-handed sailors like me. Sometimes we see the lights of each others’ vessels glowing through the fog. Like Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, we are all bound for weird places, each of us traveling under a curse. Our boats are leaky, our maps are suspect, our instruments are capricious. The skies above us are wild, and filled with often ill-fated stars. I don’t know which, if any, of us will return safe and sound or ever be heard from again. But, if we’re lucky, we may catch a glimpse of some wondrous places. If we’re luckier still, perhaps we will find good companionship and the occasional welcoming harbour along the way.