“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. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”
-Herman Melville, Moby Dick
This is one of my favorite excerpts from literature, ever. It is more emotionally relatable than just about anything I can think of, that “just about” being pieces of Leaves of Grass and the occasional sentence by Garcia-Marquez, but we’ll touch on that another time. I have never seen the overwhelming horror of day after grinding, desultory, tedious day and the barely resistible urge to damage it and blindly flee from it and to subsequently be swallowed and lost by something cold and unfathomable stated so honestly, so truthfully, or so well as in the first paragraph of Moby Dick. The tiny strings that bind a person to the life she lives from day to day seem so often like an offensive collection of cobwebs that beg to be violently brushed away with a shudder of disgust. But those tiny strings are part of the deal. You want to leave everything behind and stow away on a boat, or go live on a mountain, or go deep into the jungle and never come out, or join the circus, or live in a tent in New Mexico, but you don’t. It’s just not what people do. Instead we substitute, with vacations if we have the dough and with imaginations if we don’t. In my experience, a good way to project your insatiable fantasies onto real life is to dress the part. Raise anchor, sailor!