Uncharted Waters

stick chart blueI think it is safe to say I am no longer unemployed. I may not have a “job” according to my narrow and traditional definition of “job,” but I have plenty of work all of a sudden. I am spending most of my waking moments working on one of three writing projects and all of them will pay me soon enough. I even have a fourth one on the way for September. Wow. How did this happen?

So far, every “traditional” job I have sought out—meaning, one with benefits and an 8-5 schedule—has determined that I am not the right candidate for the job. I have to ask, is the Universe trying to tell me something?

Perhaps I am being called to stay agile and flexible, to hop from job to job to job, learning new things and putting my writing abilities to good use wherever they may be needed. What would Georg say? He would be all over this. He would be thrilled to see me going off grid with a purpose.

One of my writing jobs is preparing the AP Art history study guide for an online high school resource called Shmoop. Yes. Shmoop. Their tagline is: “We speak student.” I have just spent the last three days immersed in the arts of the Pacific Islands. I learned a lot about a lot of things I had never heard of before.

stick chart organizedOne extremely compelling thing I learned about is something called a Navigation Chart, or a Stick Chart. These charts were made in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by navigators of ocean canoes in the Marshall Islands. The chart is made using the “midribs” of palm fronds, and these sticks are lashed together in an open framework to represent the movement of wave swells in a given section of the ocean.

swells diagram

Cowrie shells are attached in the appropriate spots to represent islands. The lines of the sticks show the movement of the swells between the islands. The swells are interrupted by the islands and then met by counter swells coming from the other side of the land mass. The part of the island under the water also affects the movement of the swells. It is important for the occupants of a little tiny canoe to know where the swells are headed so that little tiny canoe does not go off course in the endless sea. This is crucial.

The stick charts are so unique to their makers, the only person who can read a stick chart is the navigator who made it. And unlike other kinds of maps that generally go along on a journey to guide the way, stick charts don’t come on the boat. The navigator memorizes the chart and then will spend a lot of the journey crouching or laying down in the canoe to better attune him (or her) self to the pitch and roll of the swells. By combining body sensation with memory, the navigator can instruct the oarsmen to steer the vessel where it is supposed to go and back again.

stick chart redThis is amazing, if you ask me. I feel like one of these dudes in the bottom of the canoe. I am trying to stay in touch with the swells as they rise and fall. I am working on using all my past experience to guide me into this uncertain future. I know I will go somewhere, and I know I will come back again.

All I need is my canoe, my stick chart, my laptop, and maybe some nice fresh vegetables from the farmers’ market. I made the most delicious ratatouille yesterday. It involved the frying of onions, of course. That is one of the perks of working from home. Midday cooking breaks, and that lovely smell of fried onions. I highly recommend this. Georg would too.

Oh, and chocolate. Let us not forget chocolate as we navigate our way into the unknown.

Sailing chart of Marshall Islands archipelago. Black & White photograph, taken in May 1928, from the Science Museum Photo Archive. Object on loan to the Science Museum from the Royal Empire Society
Sailing chart of Marshall Islands archipelago. Black & White photograph, taken in May 1928, from the Science Museum Photo Archive. Object on loan to the Science Museum from the Royal Empire Society


4 thoughts on “Uncharted Waters

  1. Hi Lisa,
    Love your posts!

    Just wanted to let you know I use Shmoop in my docenting at the Villa. It is a fantastic and fun resource. I just read their version of Medea. Quite accurate, but very hilarious. I love the fact that their art history items aren’t too “precious,” not a strongly art historical approach – very refreshing.

    Enjoy the variety of new experiences!

    Sent from my iPad


    1. Thanks, Karen! One of the most interesting things about writing for Shmoop has been to work at presenting Art History in a manner that is light-hearted and funny–and even downright hilarious–without being disrespectful. I am learning! It is a good thing, I think.

  2. Lisa,
    As a former AF navigator I found this post to be especially interesting and as I’ve commented before, I love your writing style.
    Your friend,

    1. Hi Greg, thank you so much for your kind words and your vote of confidence. it is very pleasing to know that someone who actually knows something about navigation found this blog post interesting. I’m SO glad. See you soon!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s