“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago — never mind how long precisely — having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off—then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball.”
That’s the first paragraph of Moby Dick written in 1851, an ode to the disgruntled man. Looking to escape the drizzly November in his soul, Ishmael ends up on one nasty boat ride. It’s a cautionary tale for those of us trying to get a grip on our own hypos, perhaps also fantasizing about knocking people’s hats off and substituting nasty comments on social media for pistol and ball. To calm my angst I’ve been watching penguin videos on Youtube.
My new influencer could be a chubby seabird with greasy feathers that can’t fly. Yes, I’m lowering my expectations. Since I first saw the video of penguins strolling through an art gallery, I’ve been admiring their incredible lightness of being and wishing I could find myself as curious and inquisitive, filled with wonder, without judgment or dissatisfaction, taking it all in, absorbing the newness without resistance and waddling on. Call me Penguin.
Waddle On could be my new motto. Like many people, I’m looking for a different way of being as I’m cut loose from the moorings of my social life, lunches and happy hours, movies and potluck dinners, jabbering with friends long into the night. My routine is disrupted, lumpy and rattled. For example, my car died because I’m only driving a few miles a week at slow speeds, which is not enough to keep my battery charged. Who knew? Now I see it’s my presumption of smoothness that’s the problem. I’m nostalgic for a normal that was never static, always shifting, imaginary. Penguins are not preoccupied by the mirage of normal. They are not nostalgic. They don’t seem disappointed to be indoors. My first step toward contentment might be to stop judging the present against the past.
In another penguin video the seabird gazes through an aquarium window eye to eye with a white beluga whale. Both captives in a world they did not choose, a world less beautiful than the one they were made for, their eyes meet. But instead of looking through the glass darkly to the imperfections of their reality, you can see their minds open to the newness of each other. They exchange a startled innocence and life goes on. I’m working toward that level of acceptance.