Thursday, January 17, 2008

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, nor breath nor motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.

From Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner

I was thinking I was in the "doldrums" yesterday, slogging through another day of work that resembled all others, but I wasn't really -I just couldn't come up with the image of what it was I was feeling. And then I began thinking of the doldrums themselves and how my interest piqued upon learning about them in Ms. Vail's Western Civ class in high school.

The doldrums. The spot near the equator where the winds die altogether, the seas go calm, and sailors begin to lose it. Scientific word for it: the "Intertropical Convergence Zone" (ITCZ). I imagine it's quite a sight. You're sailing along, slapping the waves and then *poof* -nothing. The sails go limp and drop from the mast. Men reach for the oars, if they have them. And then, I understand, right around the hottest point in the day, say, 3-4 o'clock, it rains.

In the 19th century, a "doldrum" was a dullard, or a dull and sluggish fellow. It's derived from "dol", meaning "dull" with its form taken from "tantrum". Where a tantrum is a fit of petulance and passion, a doldrum was a fit of sloth and dullness. The region referred to as the Doldrums was actually named such because of a mistake, as these things usually are. Reports of ships stuck windless on the open sea and "being in the doldrums" were mistakenly believed to be describing their location, rather than their state of being.

So, yeah, it all sounds about right. It was nearing 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and the talk radio was yammering the same old schlock. I was hopped up on Sudafed from a cold the family is passing around, and I was just slogging to and fro, from one side of the job site to the other, stopping only to scratch my head and remind myself what it was I was doing.

It could be worse, I suppose. I could be in the "Horse Latitudes" -so named because we got so desperate, we tossed the horses overboard to lighten the ship's load. Makes sense. That's just the sort of thing I would do, and then complain about the long walk when we got to land.

But I'd like to see it, the Doldrums. I think it would be relaxing for a time, as I would have plenty of beer with me and a fishing pole. I've seen something like it out on the Colorado River in the middle of August. I like it.

Anyway, it was all just the weary daydreaming of a tired, sore, bored 37 year-old trying to make it through another day. Truth be told, I know people who are more in the doldrums than I am, so I shouldn't complain. It's a tough, spiritless spot. No wind. Stillness. Lifelessness. Stagnation. This is when the people around you begin to get on your nerves, and you find it impossible to focus and maintain course. Remind yourself: it's the Equator. The muggy, boring middle of a second act. Wait it out. Face forward, lest you get caught going in circles in the open-spaced labyrinth that a desert or a sea can bring. Hold out till night, and when it comes, look to the stars.

I usually just think about the Little Ditchman, smile, and go back to work.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.