Monday, April 25, 2011


I've already taken crap here for admitting that I like James Taylor music,* and this is probably going to lead to more of the same. But I've had a stanza of a song rattling around in my head intermittently for a few months now, and I need to try to get it out.

I'm a lonely lighthouse, not a ship out in the night 
I'm watching the sea 
She's come half-way round the world to see the light 
and to stay away from me 

I was in Naval Junior ROTC in high school, during the closing years of the Viet Nam war. We marched, polished our shoes and belt buckles, and learned to do all that "right shoulder arms" stuff with fake rifles. I was second in command, so I got a sword. And yes, it was exactly as cool as you think to carry a sword.

We also learned to navigate, which was my favorite thing. I was the best in class at navigation, probably because my father was both an architect and a lover of maps, so most of the tools were very familiar to me. Before there was GPS, navigation involved occasionally figuring out where you were, comparing that with where you thought you were, and then determining what direction you needed to go to get back on course. You would repeat this process until you tied up at the dock.

The "figuring out where you were" part often involved sighting two or three landmarks and triangulating your position from the angle to them. Lighthouses were built specifically to be these kinds of landmarks for navigation. Mistaking  the distance to these landmarks often caused ships to run aground. So in the end, maritime navigation really is (or was) a process of finding something and staying away from it.

There's a metaphor here somewhere. We all need fixed points in our lives to help us find our way.  Without them, we are just sailing around with no direction or purpose. Religion, politics, adventure, love, sex, and career can all serve this purpose to some degree, and at different times. But if we become too attached to one or another and fix our gaze on it, we risk crashing at the feet of the very thing that was supposed to save us.

How do we find the right balance? How the hell should I know? To paraphrase a line later in the song, just because I'm standing here doesn't mean I won't be wrong this time.

Happy sailing!

* The early stuff, before he went commercial.**

** That's a joke from on my former self. You know, the one that bought the Flying Machine album and pretended it was as good as those that came later. But I really haven't bought anything he's done since 1980.


  1. i'll resist the urge to abuse you for the saptastic song... because i have far too many secret, guilty pleasures (ahem, musically) to throw stones...

    and i'll also say "ouch". restless blows, doesn't it?

  2. My friend Mario married Shawn Colvin, and pals around with Chris Rock and Robin Williams and people like that -- he says that on occasion someone will phone for Shawn and totally blow him off or act like he's 'nobody,' but every time JT calls he always talks to Mario, and engages him and acts totally interested in their conversation -- a total mensch...but we knew that.

  3. Man, someday I'm going to do something cool.