Thinking about thinking

You don’t think on a cruise ship. No one does. Well, I hope someone on the Bridge does, but no one else does. What is there to think about?

You plan one day ahead, max.: What We Are Going To Do Tomorrow. That’s it. We rarely write anything down until we part and need to swap email addresses. I don’t write this blog for you. I write it to remind myself how to type, corral words, string a sentence together, plan a paragraph. Planning 24 hours ahead is not thinking. It’s all written down – in the daily newspapery thingy that lists what’s on where and at what time, in the version of the Daily Mail that gives us the news in print around 24 to 36 hours after we’ve seen it on the tv; there are port guides and guide books and excursion books that we read before we left and wrote notes in. There is no need to think. In fact, my family are probably some of the most forward-thinking people on board. We get the menu a day early, so that we can pre-order in case we need something different. The menu is pre-printed as well. But other than that, all thought is still.

The other day I tried to email a friend back in the UK to wish him a happy birthday. But we are eight hours adrift of the UK. Not so complicated, you might think. But I started the email and then my brain froze, like Roadrunner boi-oi-oinging to a standstill, the vibration of intended movement rattling up from his stopped feet t o his still moving head. My mind felt like the seventh dwarf still hi-hoing into the back of the other six who have long since stopped in their tracks. I could almost see the pause symbol flashing before my eyes. Was I eight hours ahead or eight hours behind? If it’s today here, is it today there or tomorrow or yesterday? Surely someone as smart as me should be able to work this out? But try as I might, my brain could not, would not sort it out for me. I even dug out a pen and paper but was dissatisfied and uncertain with the result I got. So I deleted the email, unsent. I sent it today. It will arrive somewhere in the region of two to three days late – I have no idea – but it is definitely late, so it says happy belated birthday. That much I am sure of.

This is how little we think. We lose the ability through lack of use. It’s not as stultifying as trying to communicate with a small child all the time (no offence, parents of small sproglets, but you DO know what I mean) – we have adult conversations about weather and the cost of trips and the best places to see, go, eat, whether the film at the cinema was any good, being blown out of bed in the Blitz and found asleep on the floor, and how much we like Two and a Half Men and wish Charlie would get his act together before Ashton Kutcher makes a right hash of it (we only watch it for the kid’s one liners, anyway, let’s face it) and aren’t P&O AWFULLY badly organised, but there is no actual THOUGHT involved.

When I mentioned at dinner that I am reading Jonathan Franzen’s essay on the future of the American social novel, all I got were blank stares, even from the Americans at the table. No one even pretended to be up to responding. But I purchased this book in San Francisco precisely BECAUSE I could feel my brain atrophying through lack of use, withering away into a soggy, spongy mess of recent pop culture references (someone stopped at my table at dinner to ask me who won American Idol) and 24 hour news (Sky AND BBC, remember), so liquid that it might dribble out of my ears at any moment like a sort of cream of mushroom soup. I don’t even watch American Idol.

Am I a snob? Am I some sort of over-intellectualising freak, who pushes myself to understand on too deep a level and leaves others treading water out of reach? Is thought really so alien a concept when on holiday? At all, for that matter? For what it’s worth, by the way, How to Be Alone by Jonathan Franzen is not a challenging read. It’s a selection of short essays on different topics, from his father’s Alzheimer’s to the disintegration of the Chicago Postal Service. I don’t need to reach for a dictionary, which has been known when reading Will Self, for example. That’s not to say I don‘t enjoy Will Self, I do – in fact I rather enjoying learning new words from him! But today I felt like a weirdo. Because I was trying to think during a cruise. Silly me.

This is, in fact, bothering me so much that I got out of bed to write this. (I think it’s about eleven o’clock. I went to bed at nine and read til ten.) Where is the line between thinking and over-thinking? Is there one? Is it fixed or mutable? Is it different for cruises than it is for real life? Can you ever over-think? You can clearly under-think (look at the world around you!), so it stands to reason you should be able to over-think, doesn’t it? Granted, every message I saw on Facebook today was about Eurovision, rather than the incident in Tenerife or the implications of the UK spending money we clearly don’t have to bail out Greece, whose currency we do not share, and whose economy is actually growing faster than ours, but Eurovision is about post-modern irony and not getting nul points, so that’s fine. But you’ve got to think sometimes, haven’t you? Haven’t you? Is it possible to go through life without thinking at all?

Of course, while I’m sitting here, I will moisturise my face. Anyone who has ever flown long haul knows what air con does to your skin and mine hasn’t experienced fresh air for 36 hours straight now. I didn’t go outside today. Are you nuts, it was FREEZING?! So the skin on my face, living in an inside cabin (those with balconies can have fresh air all night as long as their bedsocks are up to the job), is so dry you could write on it in pencil right now.

But while I moisturise, I muse. Is thinking a more unusual occupation that I have thus far taken for granted? Is the community on the ship a microcosm of the real world? Is the real world also full of people who simply don’t think about stuff? Ever?*

I find the idea of going through life without thinking a very odd one, but then you read about people who are clearly just wandering through their existence in a state of almost permanent bewilderment, like sheep, so that almost everything that happens is a surprise. It’s not hard to understand where the phrase ‘sheeple’ came from, and even if you’ve never heard it before, you know instantly what it means and who it describes. But are they people that can’t think or won’t think? Is there a difference between Can’t Think and Won’t Think and which is the better state, if any? Can you deliberately choose to not think about things or is it something you are taught or brought up with? What is the appeal in not thinking? Is there an upside? Is ignorance really bliss? Are there really people in the world for whom the warning on the side of Black and Decker drill boxes sold in the USA that reads “Not for oral use” is genuinely useful advice? I define myself via my ability to absorb, re-use and, most importantly, analyse information from the world around me and it frightens me to think that others don’t. Not as much as the concept of losing that ability, myself, but almost.

I don’t have answers to these questions. If I did, they wouldn’t be keeping me awake at night. QED! I am open to suggestions. If you can/want to/are capable of thinking about it, let me know what you… think.

* Sorry, that paragraph sounds a bit Candace Bushnell/Carrie Bradshaw, doesn’t it?! It wasn’t intentional, but after I wrote it, I could hear her!

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One thought on “Thinking about thinking

  1. Teresa Sharp says:

    I love it! My mind questions much in the same way. I don’t have the answers but I observe the wide range of different approaches to life among my friends and acquaintances.

    After spending 5 days on a trip with close friends I’m reminded how we somehow have all developed a way of seeing the world and living in it that keeps us feeling safe and not too exposed. For some it’s living on the surface enjoying as much as we can and for others it’s trying to figure everything out and digging deeper to the ‘whys’.

    Some accept themselves as they are (with or without stubbornly refusing to change) and some try to change to get along better. Inevitably conflicts arises and then we all scramble to feel secure again (either by digging deeper, trying harder or pulling back and pushing disturbing thoughts below the surface).

    Another element I thought about as I read your post is how even amongst those who love to think (and even do it on vacation…like I do)…there are times you just want to relax and enjoy yourself…thinking and therefore discussing what we are really thinking inevitably leads to disagreements which can ruin a vacation sort of mood (my girl trip was a case in point). It seems to me American Idol, Charlie Sheen and the like are safe conversations hence, safe thoughts….we seldom loose relationship or ruin a relaxed vacation mood over those kinds of disagreements.

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