Everything looks better from the top of a mountain

My Mom reminded me the other day, “Ashley, you don’t fart rainbows.”  So if you’re looking for something right now from me full of sunshine and lollipops, I suggest that you look elsewhere.

Things have been tough for me, trying to live normally on this ship. The duality of emotion in my everyday life is becoming a bit of a disaster.  One moment I am happy and thankful and adventuresome, the next I am sad and lonely and depressed.  And I never meant to document these emotions in something as paltry as a blog.  I joked before embarking on the ship that this experience would be my version of Eat Pray Love.  And this has become a terrifying reality. The voices in my head have only gotten louder in protest to the hurdles I am facing in overcoming myself.  “What?” they chant at me daily, “Another insecurity?  Why can’t you just be happy and enjoy this?  There’s something – go for it!  No, don’t go for it, just stay safe.”  The soap opera inside my mind has become never-ending and predictable.  Two conflicting Ashleys are constantly at battle with one another and are exhausting me.  And yet, I find that I am retreating to the safety of noise, stimulus and action.  Perhaps it’s an animalistic instinct found typically in New Yorkers – surround oneself with others and one can ignore the problems in the mirror.  I find such discomfort in having a free moment or a night off that I would rather dress in formal wear and interact with new guests than just sit quietly alone and think.  Granted, the guests I meet on the ship are interesting and always provide great dinner conversation, so my pattern in doing this is explainable.  But I am having the hardest time just settling inside myself and comfortably analyzing my discomfort.

Take this blog entry, for example.  The last time I posted something was three weeks ago.  There is really no reason for me to not have written about the amazing travels I have had throughout South Africa over the course of the last two voyages.  But I was finding such dishonesty in trying to formulate a cheery travelogue to brighten my friends and families days from behind the glow of their work computer.  You are at work, aren’t you?

And now it is February.  And I should explain that the month of January on the ship feels like it took about four “normal” months.  I have explained this in almost every entry on the blog.  Ship time is bizarre, unexplainable, eerie.  Something you cannot possibly try to discuss with someone who has never worked on a ship.  And when things happen on the ship, everything is amplified.

Ship Life = Normal Life x 4

The ship makes you a little crazy sometimes.  If I am sad, I am destroyed with grief and have no appetite or desire to leave my bed.  If I am happy, I am bouncing off the walls, playing class clown in the mess, meeting guests at a rapid pace and smiling constantly.  There is something sick about it all.  Maybe I am not cut out for this lifestyle, but I cannot possibly deny that this is experience is teaching me so much about myself.

Before I came on the ship, there was a part of my heart that had become as hard as stone.  I cannot explain this, and I never thought I would be so personal on my own blog, but I was heartbroken.  I was lonely and sad, lost in melancholy, but felt I could not afflict anyone with my grief.  So I kept this contained, a heavy anvil always pulling at the back of my tongue.  I was so closed up that I physically could not breathe at times… and still I could not face an attempt to heal.  I did not want to burden anyone. I felt I had cried too many times in front of my friends and I was so afraid of judgment and ridicule in my inability to relax and move on.  So it all just stayed inside of me, wrapped up in a clever package and tucked deep inside where no one could find it.  I cannot fully understand my subconscious decision to retain this negativity, but it was coursing through my veins from the moment I embarked in Greece.  And then ship life began.  So all that, times four.

But I tried to keep rolling along.  Settling in the sick comfort of meeting people I would likely never see again.  Constant abandonment from fantastic guests seemed to dull my pain, if just for a day or two.  So I retreated into the cathartic practice of giving every bit of myself on stage, then picking up the pieces and doing it over and over and over and over again.  I do feel like I have been making honest friendships with the guests on board, but there seemed to be an unhealthy safety in knowing that I could fully give an emotional ballad on stage, just knowing they would be leaving in the next few days.  There was not the usual fear of judgment, so I didn’t hold anything back.  And with my fellow crew on board, I have constantly donned a placated smile.  I knew I was too (pardon my language, Mom) fucked up to try and get too close to people, because I could not deal with the reality that we are all just here on a ship working for the length of our contracts.  One day you meet an awesome friend who works in say, the spa, and the next she is disembarking.  Everything is so temporary and at the same time, amplified, that emotions (especially in me) can be dangerous.  And because of my predetermined sadness, the golden ring I was grasping so tightly, I kept holding myself back.

So here’s where in the Hollywood movie version of my life, Javier Bardem meets Julia Roberts and everything makes sense. Not quite so dramatic, but basically, something caught my eye.  And I was resistant but curious.  And here I am, having the first crush I’ve had in a long time and I’m on this crazy-making ship. Everything, times four. Dinner in the officer’s mess was like seeing your crush across the gym at an eighth grade dance.  A pass by one another in the hallway was like birds singing!  Cartoon bluebirds! From the movie Cinderella!  And enter the mice to sew me a new gown for the ball!  No, I was Belle, singing through the hills!  No, because he’s not ugly and mean like the beast! Aha, I must be Ariel because of the now bright red hair and my affinity for sea life!  Prince Eric was so cute! But what Disney princess could I possibly be, working on a ship?

Ladies and Gentlemen: please direct your applause to the inner workings of Ashley Harrell’s wild imagination.

Anyhow, I now had an official crush, after I had been told that this gentleman had an eye for yours truly.  So what of course do I do?  Find out his disembarkation date and decide that yes, I’ll take a chance on someone who’s only disembarking one month before me.  And so began the pleasures of getting to know someone new, appreciating interesting conversation and late nights in the crew bar.  I felt so refreshed, appreciated and lovely and interesting.  I was finally starting to pull out that cleverly wrapped package of my sadness, and contemplate throwing it off the top deck of the ship.  I truly felt the scars on my heart softening and gaining some perspective.  And just when I knew that this guy was really special and there was a reason this was all happening… he told me he was considering resignation because of a completely understandable frustration with his job.  And the next day he resigned.  I was so heartbroken, simply at losing this glimpse of a potentially amazing relationship, even if it might have been doomed to the same fate some four months later. And so I only had a few more days with him.  It was absolutely lovely and I’m so glad we had the time we had.  And I can’t quite understand it because it was so new – maybe it’s the ship – but I really hope it’s not the end.  Life hurls some very strange curveballs at times.  No matter what, the feelings I had made me feel such relief and hope in what could happen for my heart in the future.  I am sad, but hopefully we’ll be able to meet once more in South Africa before our ship heads up the west coast.  And who knows what life has in store for any of us? Ugh, can you believe how much of my personal life I am sharing here?  Trying to keep it real, folks.  Disney princess style.  Without the evil stepmother and personification of animals and household objects.

So here I am, left with my confusion, times four.  On a rocking ship in the observation lounge once again.  It is an absolute ICE BOX in here – seriously, it is so cold that I can see my breath in front of my face!

To deviate from the heavy and emotional inner workings of my one-woman soap opera, let’s review the last three weeks:

  • Cape Town is absolutely awesome. The first time we came into port I woke at dawn and watched as we entered the gorgeous waterfront with the backdrop of Table Mountain.  Last port in Cape Town I hiked to the top of Lionshead Mountain with Krystle, Peter, and some awesome Aussies we had met on the ship.  Simply beautiful.  Ate at a great restaurant on the waterfront.  And there’s still so much I would like to explore!  Hopefully the next time we are in Cape Town (at the end of this voyage) I’ll be able to satisfy the rest of my adventure cravings.
  • South Africa is absolutely beautiful.  Stunning countryside with loads to see, unfortunately, a lot of the ports are truly lame.  Unsafe for solo women, the shuttle bus just takes you to a shopping mall… so I’ve been going as an escort on as many tours as possible!
  • The shows are going fantastically and I’m pleased to be working with our new cruise director on some old opera and art song material from college, including a heap of German lieder.  Toll!
  • I surfed in Durban and got up on my first wave!
  • At the curtain call of our last opera show, a really sweet couple that I had eaten dinner with the previous night gave me a bouquet of flowers.  So amazingly sweet that I nearly started crying during our dance club version of “Con te partiro.”
  • I’ve been working out and running a ton and think that my far-fetched bucket list goal of running a marathon might not be out of the question after all (I broke my foot a year and a half ago).
  • Peter and I have gotten so good at Trivial Pursuit that we know the questions to every single question at Team Trivia Challenge based on pure repetition.  Who wants to challenge us when we are back in NYC?
  • “Liar’s Club” has become my forte on the ship.  I have been on the panel for the last five cruises playing comedy songs on the guitar that I write, based on made-up and truthful definitions of ridiculous-sounding words.  This is like a second cabaret show for me!
  • I ate frog legs for the first time!

I think that about sums up what’s new and fresh here on our exotic cruise lifestyle.  The food in the mess is becoming increasingly boring and I’m starting to feel an almost primeval urge to get into a kitchen and start cooking for myself.  When I get back to New York, I am going to go crazy in the kitchen.  Get ready for lots of dinner parties, folks.

My other newest thought – and I’d gladly appreciate some feedback on this – is the idea to stay in Rome for a week or so after my contract ends.  We finish on June 13th in Civitavecchia (nearest port to Rome), and I don’t think I want to miss out on the opportunity to enjoy Rome for a bit.  Does anyone have any ideas for me?

Thank you for tuning in to the wacky world of Ashley’s mind this Friday evening.  I hope I wasn’t too heavy, sad, dramatic, what have you… I’m just trying to keep this honest.  Because it’s time I start being more honest with myself.  Life’s too short.

Photo time:

Pulling into Cape Town at dawn
At the top of Lionshead Mountain
Table Mountain as seen from Lionshead

Wouldn’t you love for that hike to be your Saturday morning routine?

At the Shakaland Zulu Village outside of Richards Bay, South Africa

6 thoughts on “Everything looks better from the top of a mountain

  1. bella29 February 3, 2012 / 5:20 pm

    honest and beautiful, I expected nothing less from you.
    you truly take my breath away sometimes! love you.

    • marcel February 3, 2012 / 10:31 pm

      Marvelous! Keep growing.

  2. Lore Duser February 4, 2012 / 12:43 pm

    Thanks for the great post. Honey, your personal safety and well being comes first but aside from that, you have to dismantle the fences you have built around you and allow happiness to find you. You are a precious person and you deserve to be happy. Do not allow the sadness to settle in. You are almost half through your commitment and the other half will be history before you know it. We think it is a grand idea for you the spend time in Italy. Good luck. We love you.

  3. Doretta Hamil February 4, 2012 / 12:54 pm

    Ashley, It’s called life. Like a roller-coaster, life takes you up and down and upside and downside. Then lets you out breathless and apprehensive. Then some time you want to do it again and maybe a little differently. Experiences we have throughout our life make us what we are as people. The difficult and and easy are both necessary in our development as a whole person. The difficult times diminish and the joyful ones are enhanced. Embrace each.
    Sending you love. Grandma

  4. Wendy W. Mairose February 6, 2012 / 12:07 pm

    We are certainly enjoying the adventures of Ashley. The trials, tribulations are enormous, but what a wonderful time in your life (though it may not seem like it somedays). Thank you for sharing your diary of events. Hope all is well. Take care and enjoy!

    Wendy and Roger

  5. Brian February 9, 2012 / 12:54 pm

    Beautiful photos, Ash! And as difficult as it is at times, try to keep the amazing opportunity to see the world in perspective…that’s why you went on the journey, right?

    And you know me too well…I definitely read this at work.

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