Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth
“The Doldrums, my young friend, are where nothing ever happens and nothing ever changes.”
I often feel in the Doldrums in February. Juster’s description of the graying surroundings, the cool, uncomfortable but not offensive air, the muted environment, it all just hangs. A little bit like the Waiting Place in Dr Seuss’s “Oh, the Places You’ll Go” – where everyone is just … waiting …
“Waiting for a train to go, or a bus to come, or a plane to go, or the mail to come, or the rain to go, or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow, or waiting around for a Yes or No … everyone is just waiting.”
I caught myself in a it of the Doldrums yesterday .. its something one falls in I think rather easily, or at least finds themselves there without remembering how it was they made the journey. For me there is a certain pleasure, then a sense of dream, as guilt and anxiety sink in… what a wonderful feeling, to do a bit of nothing … wait, surely I must be doing something? …
Doldrums are a sea-faring term as , something I had not known, reflecting a part of the ocean near the equator where the wind is calm enough, or scattered enough, to prevent any headway. After killing the albatross, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner gets lost in just such a place: “Down dropt the breeze, the sails dropt down, / ‘Twas sad as sad could be; / And we did speak only to break / The silence of the sea! “
I imagine Doldrums are necessary in some way; when we can relax into the world, when our energies are so extended that we cannot help but rest. When life forces us to slow down, when carrying on would be dangerous to our spirit and self. I wonder if that moment of awareness, like being lifted from a dream, are sufficient
Milo escapes from the doldrums when the Watchdog (who is offended when Milo says he is ‘Killing Time’), encourages Milo to think (even if it is against the law in the Doldrums). By becoming conscious and aware, by engaging with things mindfully, his car starts up again and he is able to make his get away.
Dr Seuss encourages us to reject waiting. I don’t think this is a call to impatience, but rather to reaffirm the dynamism within us, the voice and energy calling us to do something, to make something, to participate in the creation of the world. Some of that will involve waiting, but hopefully without the stagnation of projects grinding to a halt.
And the Ancient Mariner … it was an unconscious blessing that did it. After seeing the death of his crew, and feeling the weight of his actions, he sees water-snakes: They moved in tracks of shining white, and when they reared, the elfish light, fell off in hoary flakes. … O happy living things! No tongue their beauty might declare: a pring of love gushed from my heart, and I blessed them unaware. … The self-same moment I could pray; and from my neck so free the albatross fell off, and sank like lead into the sea.
So however you find yourself in the Doldrums, whether by accident or design, whether necessary or superfluous, and however it is that releases you from their siren call, I hope their presence will find its way to nourish you, if only in their cool reflection.