Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mid-Cruise Doldrums

When I first got on board Bruce, the Cruise Director, held a meeting of all the enrichment staff.  One thing he told us was that there are three stages to the cruise.   ‘Right,’ I thought, ‘South America, Africa, and Asia.”  That wasn’t what he meant though.  He talked about how the middle of a cruise this long is often a more difficult time.  At first, everyone is excited about being here and all the places we’ll see.  Near the end, everyone become aware that it’s almost over and they want to cram in as much as they can.  During the middle, though, people can get tired, bored, less energetic, and down-in-the-dumps.  He said we’d have to work even harder to keep the guests and happy and energized.

I’ve actually observed this, not just in the guests but in myself, too.  This morning I could not decide what to wear, and I discovered that I am completely bored with all the clothes I brought.  I don’t want to buy more things, as I don’t need them, and this became an enormous dilemma, taking way too much time and energy.  Sometimes I walk around the ship and realize I don’t want to smile at everyone, which is as grouchy as I can allow myself to become.  I do smile, especially at the ones who are the keenest writing students or book club members, but as I’m not always sure if someone smiling at me is in the book group (it has forty plus members and they don’t all come to every meeting) I smile anyway.  And, I’ve learned that sometimes smiling can change my mood in a positive way.

In general, the guests are showing signs of cruise fatigue, also.  Many are pairing up, to find some other sources of entertainment and exercise.  Not me, alas.  For those who’ve asked what happened to my crush, I discovered that with my former unerring instinct, I chose the man with the single biggest ego on the ship.  Fortunately I was able to divest myself of any yearning emotions rather easily, which I guess means I have matured at least a little bit since I was a teenager.

Other guests are getting testy.  There are some chronic complainers on any cruise, but they seem to be upping both quantity and volume when they express their displeasure.  Since the cruise line wants everyone to be happy, often complainers will be give a free glass of wine, bottle of champagne, or some other perk.  I hadn’t realized this, but it would explain why some people complain about things that seem perfectly fine.  Also, people are arguing more in public.  I have no idea how many people fight with their cabin mates when in the cabin, but there are definite signs of friction.  Even Melissa and I, who get along amazingly well, have had our little differences.

Not everyone is exhibiting signs of trouble, of course.  There are some people who have a seemingly endless source of energy and joy.  I wish I could be like them.  And the cruise continues to offer great activities, shows, food, and places to explore.  But I find this psychological pattern interesting.

In a way, the mid-cruise doldrums are like writing a novel.  Most novels, and movies, have a three-act structure.  I won’t get into details, but Act 2 is usually the longest and most difficult to write.  Writers, and editors, speak of ‘sagging middles’.  It’s hard to come up with enough conflict and tension to keep a reader turning the pages of something that can be several hundred pages long.  In Act 1, you are showing character, introducing goals and opposition, and setting an atmosphere, among other things.  In Act 3, events are rushing towards the climax.  In Act 2, though, you have to keep the characters striving to accomplish their goals or solve their problems, in believable and interesting ways.  When writing romance, for example, you have to find a way to keep two people, who are attracted to each other, apart in a way that is realistic and interesting, and do it while their attraction, in physical and in other ways, is growing.

Actually, I'm not sure if novel structure and a four-month cruise are are similar.  All I know is that middles can be difficult.  And keeping mine from growing when there is so much wonderful food on the ship, is the biggest challenge of all.

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