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Black crowned night heron, Lindo Lake

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sisyphus enters the dreaded Calm of Scorpio

sub topical depression © Robert Sommers 2013
dol·drums
[dohl-druh mz, dol-, dawl-] 
noun, ( used with a plural verb  )
1. a state of inactivity or stagnation, as in business or art: August is a time of doldrums for many enterprises.
2. the doldrums.
a. a belt of calms and light baffling winds north of the equator between the northern and southern trade winds in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
b. the weather prevailing in this area.
3. a dull, listless, depressed mood; low spirits.
Origin:
1795–1805;  obsolete dold  stupid (see dolt) + -rum ( s ) (plural) noun suffix (see tantrum)
Synonyms
3. depression, gloom, melancholy, dejection.

The physical condition known as the doldrums were first mentioned in Maury's geographical text, The Physical Geography of the Sea in 1855. The rolling vicissitudes and rocky emotional state that they were named after came first, probably even before our hominid ancestors decided to weigh the comparative advantages of an upright stance and the opportunity to try out that nifty new opposable thumb.
578. The Sailing Directions had cautioned the navigator, again and again, not to attempt to fan along to the eastward in the equatorial doldrums; for, by so doing, he would himself engage in a fruitless strife with baffling airs, sometimes re-enforced in their weakness by westerly currents. But the winds had failed, and so too, the smart captain of the Flying Fish evidently thought, had the Sailing Directions. They advise the navigator, in all such cases, to dash right across this calm streak, stand boldly on, take advantage of slants in the wind, and, by this device, make easting enough to clear the land. So, forgetting that the Charts are founded on experience of great numbers who had gone before him, Nickles, being tempted, turned a deaf ear to the caution, and flung away three whole days, and more, of most precious time, dallying in the doldrums.
He spent four days about the parallel of 3° north, and his ship left the doldrums, after this waste of time, nearly upon the same meridian at which she entered them. 
She was still in 34°, the current keeping her back just as fast as she could fan east. After so great a loss, her very clever master, doubting his own judgment, became sensible of his error. Leaving the spell-bound calms behind him, where he had undergone such trials, he wrote in his log as follows: "I now regret that, after making so fine a run to 5° north, I did not dash on, and work my way to windward to the northward of St. Roque, as I have experienced little or no westerly set since passing the equator, while three or four days have been lost in working to the eastward, between the latitude of 5° and 3° north, against a strong westerly set;" and he might have added, "with little or no wind."
From Chapter 7, Routes - M.F. Maury: The Physical Geography of the Sea, 1855.


The doldrums is a name for parts of the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean affected by the Intertropical Convergence Zone. The zone is a band of clouds that occur on the equator when the northern and southern trade winds meet. The doldrums is a condition that occurs when equatorial heat leads to low pressure that couples with calm winds and creates a dead zone. The low pressure causes the hot air to rise very high in the atmosphere and travel in a northern and southern direction until it finally settles in the region known as the Horse Latitudes. Sailing vessels can founder in the calm for weeks and months, making the proposition of being trapped in the doldrums the bane of sailors.

Samuel Coleridge refers to the doldrums in his Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

All in a hot and copper sky, The bloody Sun, at noon,
' Right up above the mast did stand, No bigger than the Moon.
Day after day, day after day, We stuck, no breath no motion; As idle as a painted ship Upon a painted ocean.


The Horse Latitudes lie roughly 30° to 35° north and 30° to 35° south of the equator. The region is known as the Calms of Cancer and Capricorn in the north and south hemisphere respectively, Two of the great deserts of the world, the Sahara and Great Australian are both in the Horse Latitude region. The region was supposedly given its name when sailors would throw horse and cattle overboard to save provisions when stuck in their watery miasma.

Beat - exhausted, at the bottom of the world, but looking up and out.
beat about,
a.to search through; scour: After beating about for several hours, he turned up the missing papers.
b.Nautical . to tack into the wind.

"There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick 

I feel like I have been "beat about" myself the last couple weeks, making little progress. Might even need to knock a fellow's hat off. I am afraid that I am/was stuck in my own personal version of the dreaded doldrums.The show was difficult and its bounty fairly meager. Although I am certainly grateful for whatever success I managed to eke out and those customers whose purchases will allow me to pay bills this month.

I try again on Wednesday. And then soon again thereafter. This month is a marathon, not a sprint. Logistical planning will be most difficult in the area of clean socks and shirts and maintaining good will and spirits with my fellow man.

I read Unbroken last year, the story of the man who set the record for staying alive on a raft while being strafed by Japanese Zero's and circled by tiger sharks and then getting stuck in a concentration camp. And I had to wonder how many people eventually just jump overboard and say fuck it, the despair of the doldrums squeezing out the very last ounce of hope from their situation, the inner demons being far greater than anything present in the physical universe at large.

One of the hard won lessons in my life was the one where I finally "got" conservation of energy. There are times when nothing much can be accomplished until we get our tail wind. Conditions eventually change, no matter how bad they seem. People that love you step in to lend a hand and help you on your way. But there is nothing you can do sometimes but chill and wait the bloody thing out. Wait for that wind to change. Unless of course you starve to death in the interim. I suppose there's always that.

Thought about my friend Al, a rich guy who decided the shit sandwich was coming, maybe not this year but eventually coming for certain and he just didn't want to have to face it. Decided life was no longer fun and that he would instead check out of the equation. Which he did. Unequivocally, on the business end of a .38. His choice.

Life can be like chinese water torture for some people. A death by a thousand pin pricks, execution by attrition. I am not going to call the suicide a coward, we all should have the freedom to choose the time and the manner of our passing. Only we know how much pain we individually can stand. I have known a handful of suicides and don't really feel qualified to judge.

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.”
― Herman Melville, Moby-Dick 

I had coffee with a man this morning whose mother had long ago killed first her husband and then her self. Even though it happened long ago, the pain was still there right below my friend's outer surface. He said that the event had indelibly affected him. Scrambled his brain a bit. How could it not?

His mother was a daughter of a jewish man who never told her kids and hated jews her whole life. My friend found out his family history when a deceased aunt left a small fortune and they were contacted by executors. Sounds slightly familiar...

I wonder if suicide runs in families? After my mother's mother died unexpectedly of a cerebral hemorrhage, with the fur business in Los Angeles bad, about my age or a few years younger, my grandfather Martin turned the gas on and took his own life one summer's day. Never met either one of them. 
And my paternal grandmother, supposedly tired of my grandfather's purported infidelity and wearied of this world, was an overdose suicide when I was seven. I stayed at home in Lancaster by myself while the rest of the family attended the funeral and ended up getting really sick with simultaneous mumps and whooping cough.

I enjoy life too much to consider checking out, life is so fleeting as it is. Wake up one day and you're old and dead. But I don't blame people who feel like they just can't go on. Because life can definitely be one big shit sandwich.

Why do writers take their life at such a higher clip than their artistic brethren? Plath, Brautigan, Mishima, Hemingway, Robert E. Howard, Hunter Thompson, Virginia Woolf, the list is very long. Why don't painters feel the same sort of pain? Or cake decorators? Or do they?

Of course, it is usually the really good writers, who's work lays closer to the raw nerve. The shitty writers live long, prosperous lives.

Can we ever really trust people that are happy all of the time? Isn't there some sort of denial working in those situations?

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Had the first sale of my new course book on Photoshop the other day. Got a nice e-mail from the company. Maybe the first of many. Yippee! Guy who has owed my five hundred bucks for ten years also made good yesterday. A good feeling for both he and I. I certainly appreciate it. Guy made good.

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In case you didn't notice the blog got picked up in a huge way last week, nationally by Crooks and Liars, second time in a little over a month. Thousands of new hits, hope that they enjoyed the Blast. Janis Joplin would have been 70 the other day. Listened to a repeat of Jim Ladd with the Door's drummer John Densmore. Fascinating. A classical piano, clarinet and timpani player, Densmore threw on a copy of Ravel's orchestration of Pictures at an exhibition, talked over the whole thing and explained pianissimo and fortissimo, the concept of dynamics versus speed and volume. He segued into the end and I was left with such an appreciation for him and his wonderful laconic but balanced style.

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Another great restaurant week dinner at Pampelmousse with spouse, accent and friend. I had the filet duo, arugula fennel salad with rock shrimp, pear tarte tartin. Nice Hirsch pinot. Somebody had abalone, gnocchi, whole menu looks great. Can't wait for Cucina Enoteca to open at Flower Hill. Hope that the noise level is lower than Urbana. Do I sound old?

Peace.

William Etty “The Sirens and Ulysses” 1837 

3 comments:

Randy Walters said...

One of the all-time great mentions of the Doldrums is in Norton Juster's "The Phantom Tollbooth", which remains the single book that has brought me the most joy during this lifetime.

Anonymous said...

call your mother, she misses you. hahaha

Blue Heron said...

Thanks for the tip on the Juster book, Randy. I have heard of it and mean to read it.