Savoring Tahiti


Treading water in Moorea, Tahiti December 2019

The quiet stillness of late afternoon, soft billowing clouds, the lapping hug of the South Pacific, dogs barking from afar, seabird caws, children’s laughter, lush green forest, and the smell of brine. Christmas in Tahiti.

Positive psychology, the brainchild of the brilliant Martin Seligman, asks the field of psychology to study those things that make us happy instead of why we’re not. Savoring, or remembering good memories, gives us the opportunity to practice happiness. We have all savored our favorite dish, a great book, and cherished memories. As snowy February wraps up and graduate school gets more intense and the layers of life pile on, I thought it would be a good idea to savor some moments from my solo jaunt to Tahiti.

Sunset at my own private beach December 2019

Twenty years ago, reading Melville’s sensual Typee had me running to the bookstore to buy a map of Tahiti so I could dream and wonder and envision. Maugham’s The Moon and Sixpence, the story of a flawed dreamer who fled to Tahiti, sealed it. I would go. Some day.

Reading nook on my front porch Christmas Day 2019

I spent hours on Christmas Day reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon Tiki, his account of how he and five of his adventurous friends sailed from Peru to Tahiti with no modern navigational tools to support his theory that the Polynesians had settled East to West. His tale included riveting stories about the crab they befriended, the sharks they avoided, the playful dolphins, and the terrible storms they endured while wearing fast ropes. The climax includes their getting stranded on a reef and the primitive ship that endured thousands of nautical miles being torn asunder. The isles of Tahiti and its atoll brethren are surrounded by reefs, which means Moorea, where I was staying, was an island, surrounded by a lagoon, flanked on all sides by reefs.

Fresh pineapple papaya juice at the Moorea Tropical Gardens overlooking Opunohu Bay

My new Franco-German friend and I started out early one morning to explore the calm, reef-filled waters on the southwest part of the island of Moorea. We crossed the channel, in some small way fearing for our lives, but soon entered a seascape with coral clustered into boulders.

Reefy coral goodness

During those two hours of kayaking, I savored easy paddling, the mid-morning calm, the windless scape, the companionship of a new friend and kindred spirit, the bright colors of living coral, the flitting fish, and the sense of freedom that being on vacation and having no itinerary can bring.

Kayaking out to the reef December 2019
Feeling deliciously exhausted after an afternoon swim

 

Emily Dickinson and the Nature of Language


Grad school did me some good. Sure, it gave me more than a few grey hairs and an identity crisis that forced me to reinvent myself, but it gave me the gift of critical thinking. Maybe I would have become this critical thinker regardless of the thousands I handed over in tuition, but I’ll take the catalyst.

When I tell people I studied English literature on the graduate level, they are surprised that I’m not a social moron only interested in explicating the infamous Molly Bloom chapter at the end of Joyce’s Ulysses. I didn’t go to grad school to wrap myself in a critical theory cocoon; I went to enjoy literature on a deeper level and to get smarter. Definitely accomplished #1. The jury is still out on #2.

The best part of having this kind of knowledge is sharing it with those who would otherwise be more interested in watching NASCAR or riding bicycles or clipping their toenails. And the other best part is making literature from centuries past relevant, fun, and cool. Again.

I tried to do that with my personal favorite crazy lady in attic, Emily Dickinson. The pudding is over at Great History.