I'm usually game to talk about cruise ships.
I worked as a performer on ships around the world for years.
It was an intense, formative time, saturated with adventure, fresh beliefs, revelry.
Nautical life plucked my inner cords. Rerouted me.
I made my first living wage as a ship dancer. Met a tribe of artists from all over. Had my first real taste of American life in ship rehearsals in South LA. I’ve lived in the US almost entirely since. I have danced, loved, failed, made messes and attempted to grow from them, south of my Canadian homeland, for eleven years.
Because of ships.
I love telling people about ship life because I find it to be an unparalleled experience that can't always be explained. There’s something fun about trying to explain it anyway.
"You see a lot of the world. Free food. New friends from everywhere. Save money. Some people complain that you can get stuck with a cast of people you don't get along with. But I think it usually ends up being what you make of it. The cabins are tiny and you have to do a lot of safety drills. There is a naval hierarchy that can be chill some days and wield a vengeful authority on other days without warning. You have to stay on your toes and be mindful of your place in your little floating society."
I launched my first blog to commemorate ship life in 2009. "Where Is Loosh?" was a rosy chronicle of ports, stage mishaps, crew bar shenanigans and sea dramas. I have an HTML version of it stashed somewhere in my digital files. I’ve been scared to look at it after all these years. Scared to point out the red flags and messes I might have avoided. Scared to relive my younger, stupider days. Scared to uncover all the things that weren’t so rosy and that had long term consequences. It’s these—the secrets hidden beneath the blogs, the memories I’m afraid to dust off—that lurk in the shadows when I am inevitably asked:
"Would you ever do another one?"
I blink with knowing eyes. Possibly even chuckle. "Absolutely not. Nope."
I follow up. "I had a great time, but I'd rather be on land," or "I'd totally recommend it, but I'm definitely done."
If you know me, you've probably heard me say all of these things.
It makes sense to say these things.
In 2009, I wanted change. I wanted to shed an old version of myself. I wanted to get paid to dance, to slip, breathless and smiling, into fishnets and sequins. I wanted to walk around in places I had never seen. I was trying hard to please the Vancouver contemporary dance scene, but I had only piles of self judgment and debt to show for it. I just wanted to dance. I wanted to light up a floating city with all the high kicks and jazz hands I’d been holding back. I wanted to eat for free and fill my day with exotic people and stories. I wanted, just for a little while, to escape the real world.
And I did.
I danced in 3" heels on the rolling seas.
I read as much as I wanted for the first time in years.
I recited Shakespeare, dabbled in the the Tao and thumbed the Bhagavad Gita.
I taught English and cooking classes for 40 bucks a cruise.
I pilfered movies and TV episodes for my hard drive, and scored a massive jazz collection from a Berkeley percussionist I once made out with.
I fused irrevocably with my hot blonde Mormon roommate. We’re still chained at the heart and funny bone.
I used the ship medical office to get free birth control.
I saw seals. Hawks. Orcas. Dolphins. A walrus and a baby blue whale.
I ate lunch next to writhing sea foam and unfettered rainbows.
I passed by a floating glacier and through the Panama Canal.
I had sex on the beach in the Bahamas.
I started to sing.
I flirted with pretty much everyone.
I learned endless bits of language and custom, accents and histories. Engineers, officers, entertainers, musicians, and techs let me into their worlds, smiling.
I stayed up late and slept like a baby, lulled by miles of swaying water beneath.
I fell in love, hard and fast. More than once.
Ships encourage cultural collision and accelerated closeness. Embarking a ship contract as a cute, single, horny, 20-something mixed girl is like pushing a giant button that reads:
“FAST FORWARD LOVE LIFE:
WARNING! NOT REVERSIBLE.”
When you’re young and thirsty, it doesn’t even feel like a choice. I pushed that button and never looked back. And yes, when I think about it now, it makes me cringe and blush and want to take a nap to forget. But at the time, it felt like a necessary and wondrous chain of events.
2009 - 2010: A Preview
I was smitten, briefly, with a barely-20 Dutch cadet, whose smile and pure hotness led me to think there had been some kind of mistake. Sadly, he was only on board for three days… which wasn’t much to go on even with the staggering hotness. I was then shattered by a Ukrainian cello player, a kleptomaniac who didn’t really shower, and who once abandoned me on a treacherous Juneau cliff face because he was late for his 5pm cello shift. He was also a slobbery kisser. So when he broke it off with me because the guilt of having a girlfriend back in the Ukraine had become too much for him, I was incensed. Roiling with resentment. Stupefied at myself. I needed a friend, and found one in a stubborn Texas vocalist, who had planned to seduce me all along and did so, with a rousing success. And that’s how my first eight months at sea formed the backbone for a theatre career, a travel obsession, and a divorce.
I have always thrown myself into love and figured the rest out later.
I know this is not logical or ideal.
I understand that there are safer ways to commit. Gradual, practical ways.
As the title of my latest blog conveys, perhaps somewhat controversially, love is my MO. I have found I cannot seem to separate myself from it or avoid it in any form. The love between family. The love between friends. The love between artists. The love between strangers. The love that hurts us and the unconditional love we cannot help but wonder about and seek.
Love is what I care about. It always has been.
I have tried to outsmart this part of me for decades.
I have reached for other goals and concepts only to find out they, too, were forms of love in disguise.
I have worn some very unromantic hats to try to blend in with the realists, only to fall in love with the realists themselves, and the hats too.
I have felt the powerful suffering of love, let it pass through me in ugly sobs and purple gasps, and still, I have returned, hands cupped, waiting humbly for more.
Today, on my 35th birthday, on this godforsaken blog, I surrender. Love is my main goal and probably always has been. Denying this causes me more pain than acknowledging it and leaning in. I know it’s not cool to openly surrender to love for a societal majority. After many rigorous tests, I realize I have no desire to be that kind of cool. I’m fucking cool enough. Being honest with myself is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve no interest in pretending love isn’t cool. Not anymore.
As I type this, I lay below the water line, on a crew deck of a just-built luxury liner. Legs dangling off a tiny bunk in a tiny cabin with grey, magnetic walls. I am eventually bound for islands and port towns in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and the UK. Overnights in Bruges, Ibiza, and Barcelona. But for now, I’m in this little magnetic box, typing away. Despite what I’ve been saying about ships for years, there is nowhere I’d rather be.
The opportunity was not on my radar, until my old friend, Paul, plucked me out of the ether and into the possibility. He’d been following my TikToks. He thought I would bring something special to the role (not just a dance role, but a full artist/host hybrid, where I essentially get paid to have fun and be myself). He wanted to work with me again. He invited me to an audition I would have otherwise known nothing about.
It was the Fall of 2021. I was gunning between restaurant and dance gigs, barely making rent and barely making sanity. I was struggling to make time for my own writing. I was questioning the point of living in America, and feeling estranged and unworthy everywhere else. I pummeled my choices daily. Overthought my life in obnoxious, impatient cycles. Flustered myself as payments failed, gigs fell short, spending thinned. Small daily tasks in a big house I couldn’t afford became paralyzing. Text messages from well meaning friends scattered my fragile heart to the wind. I no longer knew what I wanted for myself. Or I would think I did, only to find out I was still trying to please everyone else. My mind was full of other people’s needs and wants. It wasn’t technically anyone’s fault but mine, but I was struggling to break the cycle for myself. Scared to disappoint anyone. Annoyed that I wasn’t doing more, even though I was tired and faking it and retreating.
I expected to say: “No ships ever again, thank you though,” just as I had, over and over to curious friends, family, casting directors, and my agent over the course of the past eight years.
Instead, I paused.
I asked about the pay. I asked what the cabin situation was like. I asked about itineraries and contract lengths. I asked about the work itself. Paul’s answers landed soft, on a bed of curiosity. I let them linger there.
I would have my own cabin space. I could pay off my debt and keep up with rent. I could see the parts of Europe I’d never seen before. I could skip the dishes and the groceries and my pattern of people pleasing for a few months. I would get paid to warm roomfuls of travelers, in my own colorful outfits, with my own quirks and committed dance moves. I would be a complete person and artist, not a robot.
In that curious state, a realization hit me.
This is what I will write about.
This is how I write my first book.
Oh, the first book. What a mindfuck for a new writer with a dancer’s murderous self criticism. I’d been gathering research and organizing bits of ideas for over a year. I wanted to write a memoir, but I also had fiction ideas. I had concepts for film and series scripts. My daily thoughts rolled by in blog paragraphs and personal essays. But I was hung up on where to start. Confused about how to package the concepts into something, anything people might care about. I excused and sabotaged myself. I dribbled out some pitiful journal entries. I cowered under my money failures and physical exhaustion. I wrote, directionless, with no clear goals or habitual practice. I want more time to myself. I need space. I need to establish a routine. I want to get out of survival mode and hear myself think.
Things were much better than they had been six months prior. My mental health was on the upswing. I was breathing through and accepting financial uncertainty. I was anchoring my sanity with TikToks and learning about boundaries. I was learning the hardest love of all: self love. And things with my best friend, lover and life partner of seven excellent years were deeper, more honest and more delightful than ever.
But the ship felt like an unlock. A portal to that first manuscript. I could refresh my cynical LA persepective with new people and environments. I could create a writing routine on the high seas. I could lift my old love stories and messes out of the shadows, jogged by the actual experience of sea life, held up by the ocean itself.
I could also, truly, have time to myself. No house cleaning. No pet care. No kitchen prep or cleaning. No distractions. Just write a draft with no expectations. No pressure for it to make me rich and famous. Just write it because you need to write it.
Excitement. Fear. A little guilt.
Could I really do it?
Would my partner be OK?
Would it even be worth it?
Am I even a writer?
* * *
I left ten days ago.
I suppose I could do it. Because I did do it.
I showed up to the audition and marveled at the refreshing tone of its leadership and attendants. Paul was all smiles.
I talked to Shane. We confronted our fears. I talked to my mom and some close friends. They didn’t seem surprised at all that I might consider a cruise ship after all those years of saying I wouldn’t. The world had changed enough to negate so many of our old convictions, I guess.
I signed a contract. Sold my car to pay January’s bills (which was smart because all my restaurant shifts and dance gigs were cancelled due to Omicron anyway). Shane and I had a quiet, giftless Christmas and a chill New Year’s. We soaked each other up. I carefully packed my books and favorite shoes.
I flew to Italy. I quarantined for days in a swanky Sailor cabin with a balcony facing the eastern sunrise. I relearned nautical safety procedures and ship brand-speak in online classrooms over ship wifi.
I met a gaggle of talented crew and smart management.
I read a novel and started another.
I settled in. Found my expectations surpassed in the food, the crew perks, the authenticity of my job, and the kindness and diversity of the ship.
I locked myself out of my cabin, and then my own bathroom. Classic Loosh. Crew members in bright red coveralls were swift and happy to help.
And… I wrote this.
I wrote closely to my own truth and without much fuss. I didn’t rush. I didn’t procrastinate. I just followed what I wanted to say. Let it marinate. Rearranged it. Tied it off well enough.
I am writing, just as I did back in 2009, on a blog maybe no one will read, about a job at sea and how it changed the course of my life.
I am writing after a year of not writing. Of wanting so badly to write.
No, I don’t think all my posts will be this long. I’ll be working and walking around in Western Europe and keep some writings to myself. But I want to blog regularly and start a conversation again. This post is an intro to my next four months at sea. An establishment of the Why.
Because I want to write about love.
And my love stories are inextricably woven through my adventures at sea.
Not all of them, of course, but a lot of them.
At last, a starting place.