I grew up on a ship. Not a cruise ship, and not a houseboat or a yacht; the MV Logos II was a converted car ferry that sold books and did aid work around the world. My family moved aboard for four years when I was ten. It’s a singular experience; very few people can say they spent four years living on a ship, particularly from the ages of ten to fourteen. Those four years have been incredibly influential on me as a person and for years I’ve toyed with the idea of translating it into some written form. I am, after all, a writer.
Much of my time here at Gallatin has been spent refining my understanding of story and the intricacies of plot. Writing a story about growing up on a ship would be the next logical step. That, however, would be a disservice to my time on the ship. In reality, life aboard the Logos II was just that: life. Sure, there were bursts of excitement and drama, but for the most part it was routine. Go to school — yes, there was a small school aboard, complain about homework, spend time with the few other kids aboard, maybe do something related to where we were, and so on.
Granted, the nature of the excitement was different from suburbia, but it was not a gripping tale of romance and wonder. What made the ship special was how life aboard worked. It wasn’t what happened — though those stories are interesting — but the smaller details of life that stick with me. There’s a rhythm to life, one marked by a sense of community that goes beyond the changing countries. An odd sort of constant transience amongst an amalgamated multiculturalism.
It’s not a traditional story: there’s no rising action, climax, nor, far as I know, true resolution. To reduce it to a single story, no matter how long, would be dishonest. Thus for my Senior Project I intend to write a collection of poetry about life aboard the ship. Poetry because I don’t believe there is another written form more adept at concisely conveying emotions. Furthermore, writing a series of vignettes that, for the most part, are about everyday life lends itself better to the poetic form.
William Carols Williams’ poetry, for example, is known for its minimalist imagery, bringing up a place and a feeling and inviting the reader to dwell there. That almost ephemeral nature of his poetry is a tone befitting of my time aboard the ship. Were it in prose, there would be a pressure for each remembered snapshot to have a proper beginning and an end, whereas poetry would allow me to jump right into the middle of the feeling and let me try to capture it. The poetic form will also allow me to experiment with the narrative form.
Because a narrative will emerge from the collection of poems, no matter what. Shaping that narrative, however, means not so much using Aristotle’s Poetics as exploring mood, theme, and sequence. How can a narrative be told without the usual framework of a story? This project will be a challenge on me to stretch myself beyond my comfort zone and find alternative means to construct a narrative. To that effect, the order of these poems will be very deliberate as it is from there that a sense of flow will develop.
The juxtaposition of these poems to each other will be incredibly important. I intend to write a total of twenty-five poems about my life aboard the ship. They will be very varied in nature; some taking from the traditions of Masefield and Coleridge in their descriptions of life on a ship, others more like Williams in their focus on the moment. This project, as a reflection on four pivotal years of my life, will have an array of attitudes within it. Some poems will be contemplative, a twenty-four year old man looking back on his childhood.
Others will be written as I were still there. Others yet will be bittersweet, some joyful, some sad, some angry. Some will be about everyday life, others will explore the themes of identity and belonging; two concepts that resonate within me as a biracial third culture kid. Leaving the ship behind and grappling with ‘normal’ life and coming to terms with the knowledge that your childhood world has been scrapped have had rippling effects that will work their way into these poems. I believe that now, more than ever, is the right time for me to embark on this project.
I’m coming to the end of another incredibly important four years of my life, this time my undergraduate career at Gallatin. I’ve spent my time here learning to understand story better, with my rationale exploring the question of why we tell stories. In many ways, my Senior Project will serve as a way for me to reflect on my time on the ship and perhaps understand why I tell stories. Furthermore, my faculty mentor Stacy Pies is a professor whose judgement I’ve come to trust and someone who I know won’t coddle me through this project.
She’s also someone who will make sure that my own emotional sentiment won’t get in the way of the academic integrity of the project. In my final semester of Gallatin and with Stacy Pies as my mentor, these poems will be the best they can be. On a larger scale, the move from Singapore to the Logos II is probably the most impactful event of my life, one that’s responsible in one way or another for my being here. Growing up in a multicultural environment is why I feel not just at home here in New York City, but normal. Spending two weeks each in over eighty ports exposed me to a lot of people and cultures.
And with people and cultures come stories; stories about adventures in the Canary Islands or just the experience of spending Christmas Eve in a Peruvian slum. On a deeply personal note, this project will be a way for me to reconcile my past with who I am now. I grew up on a ship. It’s a vital fact of who I am and responsible for much of what I’ve done over the past years. For my Senior Project I want to put everything I’ve learned about storytelling into finally recording, recounting, and retelling my memories from the Logos II.