The Amnesiac Shipbuilder

Last night at community dinner, we did an exercise which was meant to replace/augment the normal process of sharing with one another how each of us is doing, what we are thinking about, how we are feeling, etc. Usually we’d just go around in a circle and have each person contribute whatever she feels like about herself, but last night we decided the contribution needed to be slightly more formal: we each took roughly 45 minutes alone with pen and paper, and wrote, either in poetry, prose, or a mix, the answer to the questions “where are you?”, “how are you doing?”, and “what are you feeling?”.

The idea was to imbue some more constrained object (a few paragraphs of prose, or a haiku, or a rant) with a more focused, albeit artistic, answer, with the hope that this presence would be actually a more meaningful way to share than just saying verbally whatever would have come to mind. Indeed, I was very surprised at the level of depth I felt we were able to achieve, seeing as we were working with a significant economy of words; in fact, when we came back together and read what we had written, we had enough time to go around twice, in order to further understand people.

Hopefully at least a few of us will post what we wrote on our weblogs here–I’m going to start with my work of the evening, entitled The Amnesiac Shipbuilder. It’s a story.

Land, that once felt safe and so sweet
Now a detestable spit of sand
What gave life and surety to feet
I'd banish if I thought it would heed a command

Water to drink is no good if it keeps
Life alive but alone, incomplete
Fruit follows suit, it belongs in the deeps
If health is all that there is in this heat

I have in the wreckage a thousand tomes
Whose wisdom's satisfied a thousand men
But my adventure lies not at home--
Useful a shipbuilding book would have been!

Resignation is my lover at night
With whom I wrestle sensuously
But her charms are not even close to delight
And in daylight, I spurn her contemptuously

Laziness would no doubt have been my bane
If I thought effort could affect
But helplessness never gave one gain
Unless him for rescue did God (or fate) select

Either one would be fine.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

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