One of Oscar Wilde’s poems, “The Ballad of Reading Gaol” has a line lamenting, “…that little tent of blue Which prisoners call the sky”—his feeling when jailed on charges of indecency or some such after his relationship with a young man was revealed. I used to repeat that line to myself when washing dishes in a Manhattan apartment beneath a window that opened onto an airshaft; now, it comes to mind in my tiny cabin with its porthole that shows a bit of sea and sky.
All our plans changed, again, when a very stiff wind made it impractical to motor to Nantucket; we would all have been violently seasick for sure. Glad to be relieved of that possibility, and gradually succumbing to total inertia and a child-like dependency—“Where’s my breakfast?”—I silently grumbled when the buffet was a few minutes late. I’ve spent the last day and a half dozing, sleeping, eating, drinking—and reading. My great discovery is William Maxwell’s memoir, So Long, See You Tomorrow which has provided me with insights about how to write a memoir about a child’s tragedy and suffering with a detachment that makes the account more affecting.
It has been too windy to sit on deck, and this morning my yoga mat would have blown away—I did practice in the momentarily empty saloon—but the wind provides me with another excuse to retreat to my tiny, gently rocking cabin under the porthole. Confinement is, of course, a matter of attitude; Wordsworth wrote, “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room,” and as I observe the couples here—many former military men, now retired, with a passion for sailing, and their quiet wives—I wonder if the confinement I imagine is also a matter of attitude.
One thing for sure: we spoiled, closed-up people eat a lot and drink a lot—a split of champagne was left in my cabin this morning by one of the always charming, attentive staff. A state just short of intoxication may ensure that there are no complaints about the unavoidable change of plans.
But a few breaths of reality are essential, provided last night at dinner by two women: one a long-time health professional charged with overseeing doctors’ prescriptions, the other a long-time inspector for the labor department of the human trafficking abuses on the fruit farms in Oregon, where people we call “illegals” work punishing hours in horrid conditions for whatever the owner is willing to pay.
At lunch today a long discussion of the failures of our health care plans led to one woman to comment that greed is now acceptable, like the violent racist slurs and the open misogamy of our current Republican candidate. Multiple, long-term failures of leadership—no matter how the top of the totem pole is designated—have deprived us of examples of honorable behavior. Even the concept has been deleted.
Perhaps our middle-aged fascination with genealogy—our endless looking back—takes the place of active involvement in the here-and–now. The dentist who knows about health care issues and the two women I described don’t seem to have genealogies—of course they do, but they are not of great interest.
And it may possibly bear on this point that the two women are not married and may be living together.
And—last but not least!—the people on the windy deck this morning were all reading BOOKS!