Monday, November 19, 2012

First Degree of Separation: Shifting the Fire

 "The mythological hero, setting forth from his common day hut or castle, is lured, carried away, or else voluntarily proceeds, to the threshold of adventure.  There he encounters a shadow presence that guards that passage.  The hero may defeat or conciliate this power and go alive into the kingdom of the dark (brother-battle, dragon-battle; offering, charm), or be slain by the opponent and descend in death (dismemberment, crucifixion).  Beyond the threshold, then, the hero journeys through a world of unfamiliar yet strangely intimate forces, some of which severely threaten him (tests), some of which give magical aid (helpers).
                                                               - Joseph Campbell, Hero with a Thousand Faces

1st Degree of Separation- Shifting the Fire 
Day 1 of the 42 Days out at Sea

I am not sure how many degrees of separation the hero of this tale is experiencing right now, but it is significant.  The hero of this tale is on his way to Dutch Harbor, Alaska traveling on the APL- Philippines Cargo Vessel.  He is the first engineer, a sailor and wander in the first degree of fire. If passion exist then he has it.  If spirit exists he has this also.    

Joseph Campbell explains that the first stage of the Hero's journey is separation, but there are stages within stages.
  • The Call to Adventure
  • Supernatural Aid--protective figure supplies amulet (or whatever)
  • The Crossing of the First Threshold--encounter with guardian/monster
  • The Belly of the Whale--womb-image/self-annihilation

  Does the modern merchant marine experience these stages?  I would say yes.  Now my particular hero is a bit different than your permanent career first engineer.  He does not have a particular ship that he has a permanent position on.  This allows him to have his own schedule and to pursue his other hobbies and interests.  This particular hero is also known as the Jypsy for this reason.  He might be the ultimate shifter between worlds.  I have to be honest and say this makes him much more attractive, because he dictates his own destiny, and is able to withstand the unknown even more than your average 9 to 5 suit. 

The Call in most literature and movies revolves around some mysterious problem or call to adventure. It is the move from the known world to the unknown.  It is a psychological shift of going beyond your normal routine. My muse has to pay the bills, but I think his inner desire for intensity and adventure prompts him to go out to sea in probably one of the most intense and difficult jobs on the planet.  As a first engineer he is responsible for an engine room that is the size of two 2000 sq. foot houses including the backyard and front yard.  With Crossing of the First Threshold, he deals with a monster engine of 40,000 horse power. It hums and spits out oil and other juices.  Sometimes breaking down or acting up with a storm comes or when maneuvering in and out of ports.  Within the first five days out at sea he must do an oil change because of California fuel regulation.  That means every time you port in a California, he must shift the oil without spilling it in the ocean.  Spilling oil in the ocean is federal crime and he will be arrested.  He assures me that this is an ongoing worry of his.  For example, he explains that one time somewhere on the ship he heard the word spill over the radio.  He proceeded to freak out and shut down everything in the engine room, especially the emergency shut off line.  He had to investigate the source of the spill fearing the worst.  He finally found the guy who was talking on the radio.  One of the crew had knocked over a bucket on board that had spilled something.  I don't think it was even oil.  The coast guard had heard the radio transmission also and decided to do a fly by of this vessel.  It is a very intense environment.  

The Belly of the Whale is the last part of the separation stage, as most sailors finally let go of land.  That is they finally submit to the ship world, and remain in her belly for the duration of the journey.  They begin to have that ship-secluded existence.  They become more introvert, non communicative.  They are an intense heightened state, a surreal world that is foreign yet familiar.  Whoever they were on land matters no more out at sea.  The ship is everything.  Their identification his only as the engineer that will fix or break the monster.  The ship essentially swallows them, and for us back at home, it is as if they have died.  American ships especially do not help in this regard.  There is no communication and so hero feels that they have been kidnapped.  Family does not know one single event until 42 days later when the hero returns and can explain their life.

The Jypsy hero has been a Marine Engineer for six years or more.  With so many journeys he has attained supernatural aid in the form of intuition and practice.  Although he would deny any supernatural forces helping him in these very intense moments, I do believe they are there.  Now this is my bias not his.  

 Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story
of that man skilled in all ways of contending,
the wanderer, harried for years on end,
after he plundered the stronghold
on the proud height of Troy.
                                           He saw the townlands
and learned the minds of many distant men,
and weathered many bitter nights and days
in his deep heart at sea, while he fought only
to save his life, to bring his shipmates home.

                                       The Odyssey

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