I’ve been thinking about that word a lot this week, on this cruise vacation that I anticipated so much, for the chance to get away if not for the excitement of cruising itself. While I don’t do it enough to say taking a cruise is routine—not like for some of the passengers you usually meet, retired, wealthy, who take several cruises a year—I have taken my share. Here at C?WC?, I’ve documented memories of some of the ones I took as a kid, the ones that offered freedom on the high seas away from my parents, as I explored the ship and had the opportunity to meet people from other places, people older than me, more experienced, different in good ways from the friends I had in school or the neighborhood kids I played with.
I’ve also blogged about the more recent cruises in real time: the last cruise, a short solo trip in 2015 after a breakup, and the one five years ago with my sister and niece, which we’re duplicating this trip (hey, we shared a tiny cabin and didn’t kill each other, so why not do it again?) This time, though, my niece has five years of college under her belt, so she’s a drinking bud and a person to happily converse with, when we happen to run into each other. And the three of us have shared some rousing games of Bingo and strolls through the local towns.
Then, of course, there was the Cruise from Hell, the one I documented in minute, painstaking, and painful detail. Not a lot to say about that one now, except that the feeling I had then remains: I might not cruise much again after this one—more on that later—but I would like to cruise to Alaska again, this time with someone who actually wants to be with me.
As on that cruise, and the solo one, I feel an acute longing to share the cruising experiences, the routines good and bad, with a significant other. Not that we would have to be together every moment; I like my alone time to read, write, take pictures, or just merely sit and stare at the sea. Even more so now as a desert dweller, I find great comfort and contentment just gazing out at the horizon, watching that line where the ocean and sky meet, with clouds at times hovering above, or the setting sun illuminating both.
But this cruise, with too much time alone even while traveling with two other people, I think about the meaning of routine. There’s the sense of doing the same thing in the same way at the same time. At home, the routines are obvious: the morning email check, exercise, meditation, work, cooking dinner, going to bed, repeat. Almost daily. And in the first few days of the cruise, leaving behind those routines felt relaxing, and freeing. Not the kind of freedom I found on ships as a kid—that was too great a departure from the norm to be recreated now. And maybe the self-imposed routines of an adult take deeper root than any imposed on us as children. But there was freedom this time in stepping out of the Santa Fe routines, at least in the beginning.
But soon I found myself getting into routines here, too. The food I ate and when I ate it, when I exercised (though not as diligently as at home), going to this bar at this time for that drink. And while the cruise is supposed to be FUN!, the vacation routines took on some of the same monotony as the home ones—but without the sense of comforting regularity those latter routines can bring.
Comforting regularity. Is that just a nice way of saying “fucking boring life?” And as I contemplated that possibility this week, I thought about other meanings of routine. Average. Dull. Nondescript. And as I felt moments of acute loneliness even as I sat amidst 2,500 vacationing revelers—or more likely because I sat amidst them—I thought about living a routine life. Existential angst cut through the Bermudian sun, the onboard frivolity, the momentary relief of fleeing the usual at-home routines.
I look at all this and laugh. Yeah, I’m sure most of my fellow passengers have been spending the week ruminating on existential angst. Or worrying about the emails and work building up during this time away, which must soon be dealt with again. A huge part of the usual routine. Or thinking about cruising or taking another extravagant vacation without the buoy of an emotional attachment and asserting, never again. Because while some of the routines of cruising can still be satisfying, overall the experience feels empty without that special someone by my side. I go sit in a lounge just to be around others, hoping being near strangers, overhearing their conversations, can make me feel connected. And then, on the rare occasions when I share a few words with these couples and families luxuriating in each other’s company, when they let me into their worlds for even just a few minutes, I come alive as I realize I have a voice besides the one in my head. That vitality soon passes.
On this, the last day, I have a feeling I didn’t have as a cruising kid, or even on the Cruise from Hell. I’m ready to go home. Get back to the old routines. Deal with my existential angst with my cat by my side, waiting for her next puking session, with the mountains outside the window that bring a soothing inner calm, just like the meeting of the sea and sky. Until, of course, I feel that need again to break away and anticipate that next vacation and its routines
I leave for San Diego in less than two weeks. We’ll see what that brings…