While waiting for boat parts to arrive, I’ve had time to think about life, family, friends, photography, getting out of Alameda, and adding more boat projects. But there has also been time to read the blogs of the photographers I admire. in particular David deChemin and Guy Tal. Both of these people are superb photographers but Guy’s essays are especially thought provoking.
Sometimes I’ll re-read one of his essays a few times, usually a few days or weeks apart and find the emotional impact of his words hasn’t diminished. One essay, in particular I seem to come back to often is “The Abyss is Always There” .
Although not directly about photography, “The Abyss …” talks about the emotional struggles we all go through, sometimes on a daily basis. The reference to the abyss is from a Nietzsche quote: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss will gaze back at you.”
There are very few real abyss’s on our earth, I’d consider looking into the Mariana Trench to be one. Most abysses are of our own making.
The reference to monsters are of course our own demons, moods or progress on tasks or lack of same. Guy talks about artists being more attuned to the ups and downs of creativity. I think boat work may put people in similar minds.
I find some of these monsters when a day of planned progress on boat projects results in little accomplished by the end of the day. On those days I’ll sometimes try to trace the day in my mind, finding only that the day passed quickly spread among many small pieces of activity, sometimes too many to recall. How many of them were necessary, how many were diversions or procrastinations, how many of these tasks actually accomplished anything? On a boat there are so many diversions.
The intent may have been to find a pesky little annoying leak where rain water has been dripping and epoxy the leak shut for once and all. But while crawling back to where the leak is suspect, I’ll find a couple of wires attached to a small terminal block. On one or both of the wires will be some corrosion, not enough to keep the circuit from working, but just knowing that the corrosion may someday progress to the point of breakage is enough to drop what I’m doing and start on the new task. I’ll fix the leak after, I’ll think. I stop the hunt for the rain leak and remove the wires from the terminal, clean the corrosion, cut the old terminals if necessary, crimp new ones. Once completed I’ll wonder what circuit the wires are for, so I’ll start tracing the circuit so it can be noted and recorded for the future. That done, the day progresses like that, from one unplanned task to another. The original task never touched.
When a week has passed with little progress to show, I start to see the abyss, If I look. Sometimes it’s not as simple as looking back at the work week but seeing an analogy to life. How and where am I spending my short time here. Many thoughts flit across the graphic screen in my mind. Is this trip worth the time and money, am I being selfish to want to see the world by sailboat, am I spending enough time with family? These more worldly thoughts are intertwined with boat safety; are we doing enough to keep us safe, are we trained enough; have enough medical supplies and training?
That’s the trouble with abysses, there is no end to where thoughts travel.
Guy Tal, later in his essay says that “there are always reasons to worry, things to fear, others to envy, challenges to meet and deeds to regret.” The abyss is always there. But if we worry about the abyss too much, fear of the abyss becomes another excuse to not get things accomplished.
I find admitting the presence of the abyss to be satisfying even comforting. Just knowing that if I keep working toward completion of my tasks, that eventually they all get done and activity of it all keeps some of the other thoughts at bay. Boat tasks are a bit like life lessons, I know that I’ll never learn all of them, try as I might to become a good person, learn all there is about sailing, become the photographer I want, be a good father and husband, I’ll never get there. But if I keep trying, it might be enough. Aristotle knew this when he said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
Guy’s essay is not an exposition of gloom. He describes the highs and lows of life to be like a pendulum, swinging from the lows to the highs and back again. I know that next week will very productive, crossing off tasks from a list like dominoes falling, one after another. I know there will be more slows days, but the trick is to not look into the abyss, too often