First let me tell you how I came to be reading Moby Dick or The White Whale; because let's face it it’s not a common book for a 25 year old to be reading.
I love reading, always have, ever since my mum read to me as a kid and I started reading over her shoulder. I always read through school, college, university, on holidays, in a bath, in a box, with a fox…
But after missing out on a few literary references my lovely teacher friends were making, I felt I needed to read those books most people assume everyone has read. So I looked up one of those generic 100 books to read before you die lists and crossed referenced it with about 10 others, eventually winding up with a list nearer to 200 than 100. But with this big trip coming up I knew I'd have the time to at least make a dent in this life time list.
And so over 2 years ago I began reading Moby Dick. When you read on the kindle like I do, you have no real concept of the size of a book. So when I'd been reading solid for an hour and was still on 3% I began to realise how big this book was. A few of you I'm sure are doing a facepalm about now, well duh, what did you expect? And I'll be honest nothing happened in that 3%, like literally nothing. The first sentence was pretty much the peak, rated one of the best opening lines of all time. I'm not quite sure how but it was.
A further week of plodding through and I'm at around 10%, this from someone who finishes a book in a day or two usually!
And so it was I made my first mistake. I decided I would use it as my book in school so I could enjoy another book at the same time.
Reading 2 books is a bit like watching 2 films pausing and starting again. Needless to say progress was slow. But it did allow for some hilarious conversations with the kids when they asked what I was reading. What shocked me most though was that most of them had never even heard of the book. I know I'd never read it but I had heard of it! So I read them the famous opening line “ call me Ishmael” , they were similarly unimpressed.
By the time I left for my trip I was halfway through and I'd given up, they hadn't even found the whale yet! I felt like I was reading The Life of Pi again where half way in I'd just had a massive RE lesson. But The Life of Pi picked up halfway and was an incredible read; Moby Dick had not.
I read classic after classic thoroughly enjoying most of them, but still had not come back to Moby Dick. Until 2 weeks ago that is.
I hate having only half done something, whether it's marking, a project, watching a film or reading a book. So reluctantly I picked back up where I had left off. I was admittedly faster now I wasn't just reading during reading time but it was still a slow book, I feel like I know so much about whaling I could probably be a whaler! And I read and I read and I read; all the while convincing myself they had to find the whale soon. And before you ask, no I had no idea of the story or the ending.
96% in and still no whale? Seriously? Seriously? So far we met the characters, they got on a boat and went whaling. Nothing had happened! But I persevered, that's what this book taught me most, perseverance. And after a particularly long bus journey, I finished the book. And I was so very disappointed I had wasted nearly 50 hours of my life; because yes the kindle tells you these things.
So what else did I learn except perseverance?
Don't think just because it's a classic it's going to be amazing. Books are subject to opinions and just because some people love it doesn't mean everyone else will.
The % read on kindle is very deceptive! Check the number of pages and time to read. I don't mind a big book, but I need to be ready for it mentally!
And yes, don't quit, persevere, if I'd given up I'd never have known how it ends, I'd have always wondered. Even though I didn't like it I can have an opinion if the book ever comes up again in conversation. Opinions are never to be undervalued, if you don't know you can't really have an opinion.
But here's the crux of what I learnt, the thing that surprised me: the ending.
So they don't kill the whale, they don't all go home rich, no one except Ishmael survives…
There was no happily ever after. I'm so used to a happily ever after ending, I don't know what to do when there isn't one. And this isn't the first time it's happened, there's a long string of books with disappointing endings: 20,000 leagues under the sea, the old man and the sea, of mice and men. The list is endless. But why does that make it a bad book? I guess if I really think about it, it doesn't. I'm just not used to it, growing up in the Disney era with fairy tales and happy endings, a book where in the end everyone dies leaves me feeling bereft, incomplete.
But you see, I think this was Herman Melville's point. And now that I think of it, I kind of wanted the whale to win. So I did get what I wanted, though it was delivered in such a strange manner I couldn't process it as a good ending.
Now the tough part will be answering the question : did you enjoy reading Moby Dick?
No, no I did not. But was it a good book? I guess I have to say yes.
This was a big thing for me a few years ago, the main question I kept coming back to was:
What is the point?
Why was I on on this planet, surely my whole purpose is not to live have kids and die. I couldn't wrap my head around the why's. Why should I bother going to work, what is the point in earning money if I'm just going to die, what is the point in having kids if they're just going to die. Life just seemed so pointless, like the only point of living was to continue others living. It's a strange concept to understand if you've not been in that place but it spirals. Soon what's the point in going to work turns into what's the point in seeing my friends or what's the point in having a shower and eventually you get what's the point in leaving my bed. All thoughts of the future disappear under a black cloud.
Recently, I've revisited this in my head and biologically speaking I know that the point of life is to have children who can then go on to have children (fecundity). So I wasn't far off in my morose thinking. But I think we all know it's more than that. If the point is just to live why do we have such good social skills and large brains? Plus it's 2017, not everyone does have kids and that has become completely acceptable, thank goodness!
So, lying awake in my tent on the gorgeous Fraser island, with people partying around me, I asked myself what I wanted out of life, what is the point of my life going to be?
The answer shocked even me. To be brutally honest, I'm not sure I want kids of my own. We live in an overpopulated world with a lot of problems. I consider myself an eco warrior on a very small scale; I'm vegan, I carry a glass straw and I try to avoid plastic. These are not even a drop in the ocean compared to the impact of having a kid. That's not to say I don't like kids, in fact something else I realised was that I do need kids to be a part of my life. I need to be able to have an impact in some small way in their lives. As a teacher, an aunt or maybe even a foster parent some day.
It sounds, I think, like I've just signed myself up to a certain lonely life, but I came to another conclusion, though this one I've known for a few months now: I don't need another person to make me happy. I can be completely content on my own, in fact I'd go so far as to say I am happy on my own, I don't need a partner. I do want one, but I don't need one, and there is a massive difference, trust me. There problem for me is I'm almost too independent, some people want to be needed and the truth is I will probably never need someone else.
It's strange, being that I've grown up on the Disney fairytale of knights in shining armor and happily ever afters. I think I assumed like most kids that at some point, inevitably, I would find a man get married and have kids. I say that with none of the pain it is normally said with and all of the mundanity that I believe it to contain. It's great if that's what you want, truly it is, but it doesn't inspire me with any zest for life. And coincidentally, even Disney have realised this, gone are the princesses being saved by the princes and the rise of the strong independent woman has begun.
The only other thing I wanted, really truly needed out of life was happiness. It can come in many forms, from many different sources, but I need to be happy. I can be more happy living in a tent with the wilderness around me than in a mansion, I would be more happy having one really good friend than a hundred just so so ones. Whilst I love working and I love teaching, becoming head of department or getting into SLT won't make me happy, the pay rise won't make me happy. I want to earn enough to be able to be comfortable but I want the freedom to have a form group and really have time to help my students. I want to have time to chat to them at the end of the day rather than have my head in a pile of marking, time to call their parents rather than sending a hurried email. I don't want to spend days worried that I crossed a line because a kid ran up to me and gave me a hug.
Before traveling I used to say my aim in life is to own a house with a pool, that's how I'd know I'd made it. Now I think a paddling pool would do it! Or maybe I'll dig a hole with tarpaulin and just fill it up!
So you see, I guess I learned a lot on Fraser island.
I'd love to hear what others 'need’ out of life, if you fancy leaving a comment below.