On Cruise Ships and Changing the Conversation
I doubt anyone will care about this post, but I do. If you don't know anything about Geez Magazine or David Foster Wallace, then this little rant might not make sense. But it was cathartic for me to write. KTHNX.
Geez magazine recently sent two journalists on a Christian cruise for singles. My husband was upset, because we had been talking about doing the same thing ourselves. We could eat delicious food, lounge in the sun, and say snarky things about Christians! But alas, it has now already been done.
In reading the piece (the longest, and most ambitious that Geez has ever published) which was a part of the Leisure issue (tagline: our lives are full of time-saving devices, so why don’t we have more time?) I found myself on edge. I read it because I was very interested in the premise, the very squeamishness of Christian singles events plus the excessive monstrousness of a cruise. But the author, Mr. Froese, admits from the start he is a somewhat lapsed Christian (and that Geez sent him with the intention of making the cruise look bad), which eventually detracts from the story in a glaring way.
Here’s the thing: anybody can make fun of a bunch of desperate people looking for an escape from their lives. It isn’t clever or interesting at all, actually. Mr. Froese takes a wonderful opportunity of observation and squanders it for the chance to get his own views told, to share his own testimony about post-Christian enlightenment.
I don’t know why the article rankled me so much. Is it because I truly love Geez and was expecting something more? Is it because I am intimately familiar with both people who would gladly take a singles Christian cruise and people who would mock them for pay? Or is it because I couldn’t stop thinking of another essay on cruise ships, by David Foster Wallace himself, that said it all so much better?
In his essay for Harpers, DFW goes on a 7 day luxury cruise and recounts his experiences. I first read this several years ago and was struck by both his neurotic nature and also his intense interest in everyone around him. He is always the star character in his essays, but it is for a reason: it allows the reader to be off their guard, to be brought to realizations that they might have otherwise missed. DFW manages to entertain while bringing up the despair inherent in a cruise as well as the ultimate lie that the western world has swallowed: that luxury, or pampering, can make us happy. That we could be fulfilled, once and for all, by living out a few of our fantasies on the sea.
I love DFW, was devastated when I found out he had committed suicide in his mid-40’s (I somehow discovered his writing a mere 6 months after he died). He was a brilliant, troubled writer, and was expressly concerned with how alienating and tedious life can be, and how we must find ways to engage and care for other people.
This is what I want. For myself, and my Christian tribe. I want to be someone who is fully committed to engaging in the plight of whomever is next to me. It is easier to scold, besmirch, or even laugh at those who disagree with. Much harder is the task to seek after commonalities, to give up the power of forcing conversions or conversations. Geez, with their motto of “Holy Mischief” seemed to miss an important point. Beyond smuggling in bottles of vodka and getting 2nd place in the “Sexiest Man” contest (which didn’t seem very mischievous, only rather frat-like), there is no humor in predetermined experiments, in journalistic endeavors with the angle already written.
I am not there yet, but I want to get to the place where I can write an essay on cruises (be they Christian or not) like DFW. Where the struggle against self-righteous alienation is overridden by a genuine and true interest in the thoughts of all, in the real and true experiences we share. Where we all stop defending ourselves long enough to really and truly observe our neighbors. Where we all stop being the star of our own essay.