Wednesday, October 31, 2007

I can see the lights in the distance...

...trembling in the dark cloak of night.
Candles and lanterns are dancing, dancing
A waltz on All Soul's night...

So, Happy All Hallows, All Saints, All Souls, Samhain, Halloween, Dia de los Muertos, or holiday of choice to you. ^_^

We're back at sea again after a grueling sprint in Jebel Ali; we pulled in Wednesday last for a light load of cargo, planning on pulling out Saturday. Thursday we loaded more than we'd expected, working steadily throughout the day; Thursday night, some shipmates and I went out on the town, hitting various clubs until eventually ending up at a place called the Seaview, known for its live music. The band was decent, not as good as The Rock Spiders (see my entries for November of last year), but they knew how to jam. The bass player was especially good, switching instruments to the lead guitar for an excellent cover of Guns 'N Rose's "Sweet Child of Mine" as the finale. Friday was a lazy day; I'd put in a leave chit, hoping to finally drag Wally off to the indoor ski ramp at the Mall of the Emirates, but unfortunately we were both well burdened with hangovers. Ended up spending the entire day at Elmondo Internet Cafe, a good eight or nine hours stuck in the Wired - I regret nothing. While we were chilling at the cafe, one of our shipmates came by and mentioned that the sailing board had changed - rather than sail Saturday, we were now sailing Sunday, as the USNS Lewis & Clark wasn't going to make it into port.

At first blush, this sounded like an invitation to roll out and drink heavily again that night; but we were both still a bit hungover, and at any rate, I had duty the next day, and I'd been taking too many weekends off lately anyway. So, the next morning I woke up and headed out to work. Good thing, as I was on the cargo POD - doing a BS job, namely netting cargo. Unfortunately, at 6'3" with dirty blonde hair and a copper red beard, I stick out pretty well on deck - so when the bosun assigned all the otherwise unassigned dayworkers to go back and net cargo, the unrep bosun grabbed me out of the crowd to run elevator 6. Running the cargo elevators on deck is a boring, tedious, and pretty undemanding job; the elevator comes up, you flick the switch to 'stop', lower the safety net, and move it out of the way. The forktruck driver loads cargo onto the elevator, the operator replaces the safety net, switches the elevator to 'run', and pushes the button for the destination. Then you sit back and wait until the elevator comes back up, at which point the cycle repeats.

What was supposed to be a fairly light cargo load, a liberty port stop, suddenly turned into a marathon sprint, loading hundreds of pallets of cargo - everything we were originally scheduled for, everything the Lewis & Clark was scheduled for, and a good deal of other items besides. Scuttlebutt whispered that the security situation in the UAE was about to blow up on us, and all American ships were pulling out; discreet inquiries to the mildet, or to the security detachment, were met with a flat "I'm not at liberty to discuss that". Around 7:30 at night, they called deck department fore and aft - we were shifting berths from Shed 66, cargo loading, across the river to Star Energy - fuel loading. I'd been running the elevator all night, with a quick break when our fork truck died to grab some food - one of the steward utilities had ordered pizza. When I came up out of berthing, the bosun stopped me and said that he needed me to remain behind.

Remain behind?

Apparently, several people hadn't made it back to the ship yet - the sailing board had changed while they were out in town, and they weren't aware that the ship was shifting to Star Energy tonight, or leaving early the next morning. So, in case they made it back before we left, the ship was leaving a couple of people behind at Shed 66, along with the ship's agent, and a hired van and driver. I was volunteered as one of the stay-behinds.

It's a peculiarly lonely feeling, watching your ship pull away without you. Sure, the van was right there - and they were only going across the river, at any rate, so it wasn't like I was lost. Shed 66 has hordes of security - Navy MAs, hired Gurkhas, and probably layers of defense I'm not entitled to see - so it's not even like I was anything less than completely safe. Still, a lonely feeling...

Round about midnight, the guard at the gate paged me over his PA, asked me to stand by. Well, I'd been 'standing by' for the last four hours. No skin off my nose. Turns out the ship had called the pier guards, and asked them to send me home. Well, 'send me home' apparently got turned into 'bring me home', 'cause the next thing I know they're escorting me back onto the pier, giving me a safety briefing, taking down my personal information for their records, and slapping a life jacket on me. I rode across the river on one of the Navy security boats, climbed a short ladder up to the pier at Star Energy, and strode down the sandy stretch to the gangway. The watch looked at me, slightly goggle eyed, not expecting anyone to come aboard at half past midnight at a pier with restricted liberty. I shrugged as I walked on.

So, to wrap up a long story - that was my weekend. I slept in, Sunday - Monday and yesterday both have been a long stream of unreps and moving cargo around, and today promises to be more of the same. All well and good, keeping busy makes the time go by - unfortunately, I seem to have picked up one hellacious head cold somewhere, and my foggy sinuses and fuzzy head are making me pretty miserable. It looks like a busy week, more underway replenishments in the offing, culminating with a stopover in Djibouti, Africa, to pick up cargo. I spent last summer in West Africa (Liberia and Ghana); I can't say I was expecting to go back to the continent, but at least it's East Africa, something new, this time. The schedule still seems pretty torn on whether or not we'll be returning to Jebel Ali, or the UAE at all, this deployment, but they still seem pretty firm on our return to the World this December. I have in for the first of the month off, although it looks like my earliest opportunity to leave would actually be sometime later that week, and things aren't really clear as to whether they'll spend the money necessary to fly me home, or merely pay me the (much cheaper) overdue for relief fee upon putting into Earle around the late middle of the month. Either way, I should be home in time for Christmas - I'm keeping my fingers crossed. >_<

Midnight tonight marks the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, and I am well and truly pumped for it. Finally settled (somewhat) on a title; the tenative working title is going to be "Toy Soldier's War", sticking with the same story I was thinking of for WANI and have spoken of here before. I have plans to either stay up until or wake up at midnight tonight to write; probably not too much, given how sleep has been a fairly elusive partner for me lately, and my dreams have been troubled and disturbed. I don't have nightmares - haven't since I was five years old, and had one so horrible it burned the terror out of my night time excursions since - but I've been known to wake up in the morning with a groggy, "What the hell was that all about?"

But I suppose I've rambled on enough for one entry, and although I'm on the most private computer in our little library, I can still see people peeking over at me as if wondering just how much longer I'm going to monopolize the internet.

Happy Writing to everyone engaging in the great adventure this November. ^_^

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

It's easier to believe in this sweet madness...

...oh, this glorious sadness, that brings me to my knees...

Elmondo internet cafe again. It's only been a couple of weeks since last I was here, but it feels like months - I've been puttering around on the internet for a while now, not being too particularly productive but enjoying myself thoroughly. I'm in the middle of a large upload to The Wanderer Chronicles - older photos of Souda Bay, from February of last year. I've been meaning to upload them for a while, but every time I sit down in front of an internet connection, it slips my mind. Figure that I might as well make good use of my Pro account's unlimited upload, and start clearing away some of the back log. ^_^ Not too many new photos, unfortunately, there just hasn't been quite as many exciting things going on aboard - just the same old routine. I can't really complain, but it does make for a less than amazing Flickr page. >_< Ah, well, maybe this next underway will bring more photo opportunities...

I was kind of surprised to find a comment from my mom on the entry before last, and two comments - one from my friend Lyn, the other from my friend Mark - on my last entry. I mean, wow... people actually read my blog. >_< But then, that's why it's public, and why I give people the address... and for that matter, why I have an RSS feed running to my notes on Facebook, so people can read it easier. So, hi mom! Hope I haven't been swearing too much on here. >_< Foul language, I've found, is quite the occupational hazard for a sailor...

My iPod, Molly, has begun giving me trouble again - it's been about a year now without any serious problems from her, so I suppose I can't really complain. That said, with the new iPods rolling out in 80 and 160 gig video - not to mention the iPod Touch - I think the time has come to look at upgrading. I took the first step today, buying a 4 gig Nano ('Jacqueline') to listen to while I work and work out - anyplace where its smaller size might be an advantage, and its smaller capacity less of a limitation. When I get home in the winter, or maybe around the new year, I'll take the next step and pick up one of the larger iPod classics, along with the requisite new FM transmitter - the perfect tool for road tripping.

And speaking of road tripping, I find myself possessed of the strangest urge to wander when I get home. I've always had rambling feet, so I guess it's not too odd, but one might think that after six months away from home my primary concern would be being home. For the most part, it is - I'm fairly proud of the fact that I've only missed one Christmas at home over the course of my life (2005), and I'm in no hurry to repeat that... the holidays have always been a time for family and friends, as far as I'm concerned, and like the song says, home is where the heart is. That aside, I've been plotting various trips for the otherwise unoccupied weeks and weekends around the holiday itself, and thinking of friends who could give otherwise pointless wanderings an end result... namely, my friend Billy in Florida, my friend Danielle in Indiana, and my friend John in Texas/Kansas (school/home). Of course, a lot will depend on their schedules as well as mine, not to mention weather and road conditions around that time of year... but I have hopes, especially since I haven't seen any of the three for over a year now, and I miss their company.

Speaking of travels, my little sister is getting ready to wander off to the wilds of Jolly Olde England come the new year. I confess to a horrendous sense of jealousy, but also a sense of anticipation - she's been planning this scholarly voyage abroad for some time now, and it certainly gives me the perfect excuse to visit the British Isles when I get off my next ship, hopefully sometime before she returns home in June. Not too mention a near-native guide, if I can manage my time off to coincide with some of hers. We've been talking it over on Facebook lately, and I confess to being somewhat stoked over the possibility.

It's an amusing contradiction, given how much time I spend away from home, but I really don't travel all that much - MSC ships generally stick to the same familiar ports, after all, whether that be the Holy Trinity of Roda (Spain), Souda Bay (Crete), and Augusta Bay (Sicily) for tankers, or the much less holy Jebel Ali and Fujiara here on an ammo ship. Admittedly, West Coast ships get a much more delightful list to choose from - it's one of the best reasons for switching coasts, although I have too much waiting for me in Virginia to willingly take that step right now - but to a greater or lesser degree, it's true whichever ship you sail. MSC goes where the Navy goes, and where it's safe for us to go, and where our cargo is waiting for us... and with few exceptions, that's about it. I've seen a lot of amazing places in the past few years, but it seems to me that it's not enough... and I want to see more.

So, maybe it's not that I don't travel all that much, but rather that I'm just not satisfied with the traveling I do. One of the reasons I've aspired to be a writer is that with that profession, a man can write anywhere - I wouldn't be tied to any one city, or country, or continent. And, as the years pass by like shooting stars and I find more and more gray hairs on my head every day, maybe it's time I stopped talking about it, prodding the idea like a new tooth that I can't quite decide fits or not yet, and start doing something about it.

November's coming... I've already proven that I can write a novel, if I sit down and try. I think the time might have come to write something that I can publish.

Of course, going into NaNoWriMo with such lofty goals is pretty damn silly - after all, the point of November is to write, and not to worry about things like publishing, literary quality, or even coherence. But, come December (and the much more informal 'National Novel Editing Month') I might just have the time to ponder these subjects...

Yay, my Flickr upload is completed! Went off a lot smoother than I expected, actually. ^_^

So, NaNoWriMo; I think I'm going to go with an idea I originally had for a novel-in-a-year club my friend Danielle envisioned. The club sadly seems to have died a lonely death, but the idea has spent the last year or so ricocheting around the inside of my skull like a Flubber pinball, and I think it might have distilled down enough to finally be written. The idea had its genesis after watching Rahxephon on my journey home from the Gulf last year - I'd been thinking about doing a mecha story for a while (Snow Patrol's song "Run" stuck in my mind as being perfect for a slow motion, overly dramatic mecha fight scene when I began working on a [now defunct, big surprise] web comic a couple years back), so it's not surprising that watching a big-mecha anime would give me an extra boost of inspiration.

I have yet to come up with a title; it's possible that I've been thinking about it too long, and something might very well suggest itself to me when I actually get into the thick of things and start writing. It's a little frustrating, as both 2005 and 2006's NaNovels were well named going in.

The story revolves around a young military student (Jason "Chase" Barret) who, after a devastating attack on his academy by unknown enemies, wakes up in a cryogenic tank surrounded by soldiers. Over a century has passed since he was frozen, and Earth is under siege by an alien invader - the Rivari. Most of humanity has perished in the hellish war, and only a few fortress cities - megacities, for lack of a better name - remain, fighting desperately to survive. Jason's profile matches that required to pilot the fabled Lancer, humanity's last, best weapon against the alien; and against his will, for the survival of his race, he's thrown into battle. Lost in time and meaning, what will become of our hero?

I like the concept of the temporally displaced protagonist; Lancer pilots are usually determined long before they reach adolescence, and are purpose-trained for their eventual roles. Because they're incredibly rare - a mere handful among the millions of humans left in the megacities - they're incredibly valuable, and in many ways are treated more like prisoners than soldiers - their movement and activities tightly controlled, never allowed to risk themselves off the field of battle. For most of the Lancers, these tight controls are accepted - after all, that's the way it's always been. How is a 21st century teenager likely to react to this, however? Especially when he's been ripped from his home and family and thrown into a war he can barely comprehend?

A couple of scenes have already all but written themselves in my head, and I've been busying myself over the last week or so jotting down other notes as they come to me - the other Lancer pilots of his squadrons, details of the Lancer itself, thoughts about the Rivari and the megacities. I can barely wait for November. ^_^

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Now there's an ocean between...

...where I am and where I want to be
So you prayers in doubt, doubt not for me.

Ugh, it's about 5:30 in the morning out here, and here I am - perched in the library, typing away. Recent activities had me wiped enough where I crashed out just after dinnertime last night (not that I went... ship's food seems to be on a downward spiral the longer this cruise goes on, and I really hate to see how bad it's going to be come December), and after eleven or so hours of sleep my body decided it had enough. So here I am, marveling at how many other people are awake this morning... we were supposed to have call outs for an unrep pretty soon, but times have changed and now everyone's awake for no reason.

Not that it affected me one way or the other, since my team wasn't getting called out until later anyway.

I'm happy to see that Blogger seems to be working on the ship's computers again, because my plan to get into an internet cafe this last time in port ran afoul of the shoals of a major cargo operation; we were in for an overnight, and I got stuck working until midnight. >_<

My latest addiction is the Moleskine , a charming little notebook with hard covers and an elastic band to keep everything all together. I purchased several from a bookstore in Emirates Mall the last time I went ashore, but so far I've only used one of the pocket-sized ones. I have hopes for the others, with NaNoWriMo 2007 fast approaching, but my pocket 'skine has been my constant companion since I purchased it, great for writing down just about anything that crosses my mind. I'm not sure what it is about Moleskines, but they have quite the cult following - and mine, at least, really do make me want to write. Which is good, 'cause God knows I can use all the encouragement I can get... as if the sad lapse in this journal wasn't proof enough.

I recent upgraded my Flickr account to Pro, meaning I get unlimited storage space and unlimited uploads per month - I figured it was about time, especially with the new camera and all the pictures I've been uploading lately. Unfortunately, the ship's internet connection is too slow to upload them the normal way on here, and when I e-mail them in, some of them seem to be going astray... I'm watching and waiting right now to see if the latest three I've sent in will load, but I'm not seeing much activity.

Whoops! Spoke too soon, the first picture seems to have loaded, and I have hopes that the other two will quickly follow. ^_^ This just seems to be the day for things to work properly... but here's hoping I'm not jinxing myself by saying that.

National Novel Writing Month is fast coming upon us again, and again, I'm tangled up in the idea of what to write. I've wanted to do an anime-mecha type story for over a year now, but I'm also getting an idea for a sort of horror story... and another one that involves the undead, but is more of an action story, ala Underworld. Ah, decisions, decisions... No matter which story I settle on, though, I think I'm about as adequately prepared as I'm ever going to be.

So, I guess that about does it for now. There are some other things I've been thinking about, but the line for the computer is growing, and I should probably save something for my (hopefully soon) next entry. Ciao.