Log in

01 July 2008 @ 11:59 pm
Mortal Men  
As I write this, I'm watching (for the fourth time now) an episode of Deadliest Catch, the documentary-drama about Alaskan crab fishermen working the hazardous Bering Sea in winter. Like many fans, I've been watching religiously for years and feel I know these folks.

A series of storms battered the fleet during the night, damaging several of 'our' boats. Phil, the captain of the Cornelia Marie, got thrown from his bunk and hit the corner of a cabinet opposite, breaking some ribs. His son Josh bound him up and they all went on fishing while Phil kept up a quiet, steady coughing behind the wheel.

During the day he started coughing up blood. Josh came up to check on him, and Phil with unaccustomed gentleness thanked him and asked for a few ibuprofen. He said nothing about the blood. "My health is on the back burner right now, we got a lot to get done... Chances are this is nothing."

After a day of fishing and getting gradually worse, Phil called up Murray, his senior crewman and best friend. Murray listens and says "Sounds like you poked a rib into your lung." Phil says "Yeah." Then they go on fishing, Murray working the deck with a solemn face, Phil coughing into bloody paper towels and hiding them in crevices in the wheelhouse.

Late in the night, now 24 hours since the injury. Phil abruptly calls a hospital in Anchorage, then says he's got fishing to do and hangs up. "I got to find another hospital... I don't like what this one is telling me. She says get to an ER right now."

The next morning, two days after the injury. Murray checks on Phil and finds him slowly getting worse. Phil keeps saying he doesn't want to let down his crew and his ship. "I always had this dream that I'd die at sea." Murray keeps on fishing, but before long he disobeys orders and tells Phil's sons what's going on. Josh comes upstairs and says screw the fishing, screw the money, if it was me we'd be in dock already. Phil gently says he needs to be alone right now and sends his son away. They go back to fishing, now all the deck in silence, but their postures speak volumes.

Later that day, another captain calls Phil about the fishing. Phil says listen, I got hurt and now the hospital's after me. The other captain goes, You did what?! Call the coasties, make the call, don't be shy. Phil thanks him for his concern and hangs up.

He turns to the camera and mutters how everybody is after him now...

"This is starting to get to me man... I don't know what to do. Big tough guy huh, ain't so tough. Big tough guy that ain't so tough."


It's hard to grasp the scope of what a human mind can do to itself. What we believe is more central to us than our talents, more powerful than our intelligence, more important than our survival. We believe so easily, so willingly. And what we believe, no force on earth can change without our consent.

"Something will go wrong, it always does."
"I just don't have the talent for it."
"Everything would be okay if I just do better."
"Nothing I do would matter anyway."
"He's trustworthy because he's one of us."
"But I love my mate."
"I'm not the kind of person that has this problem."
"I don't need help."

We minimize, we rationalize, we deny. We guard our beliefs as jealously as a dragon with its hoard and respond to any intrusion with overwhelming force. Changing our souls is so threatening, so terrifying, that we can't even conceive of the possibility that we might be wrong. The world might not be what we think it is... indeed, it never was.

"I've seen many times that after the shock of violence has begun to heal, victims will be carried in their minds back to that hallway or parking lot, back to the time when they still had choices, before they fell under someone's malevolent control, before they refused the gift of fear...
"Often they will say about some particular detail, 'I realize this now, but I didn't know it then.' Of course, if it is in their heads now, so was it then. What they mean is that they only now accept the significance...
"This has taught me that the intuitive process works, though often not as well as its principal competitor, the denial process."

-Gavin de Becker in 'The Gift of Fear'

'The Gift of Fear' is primarily about teaching people how to predict violent behavior and avoid it; but it is also, at the core, about intuition, creativity, and humanness. When a person frees oneself to guess, to make mistakes, to ask questions, one is more likely to find a workable solution to a problem. This can be demonstrated through experiments with simple puzzles, or by posing a question to any group of young children. Adults are expected to be more reasonable, which often means conforming; and school tends to be a long process of training in the fear of being wrong, both scholastically and socially. Artists, and especially writers, often have to *un-learn* this fear in order to fully capitalize on their creative abilities. In the deep places of us where creation happens, the heart does not know the adult's fear of making a mistake. It can never be less than true to itself.

The freedom of the heart that speaks without words, seems to me to come from those questions that are the stamp of childhood, as well as storytelling and art and creativity in many fields. One is "Why are things that way?" and the other is "What if they were different?" Why is the sky blue... what if it were green, or white? Why can't dogs talk, and what if they could? What might happen if we colonized Mars? What would a laughing pear look like? What if this species had three legs? What would it be like to live the life of this person we admire? What if those signals really add up to something.... what if I really need help?

Asking such a question implies willingness to search out and create an answer, one that is not necessarily right or wrong. It's our birthright, a free pass on our own recognizance to wander in the strange open lands beyond the walls, to see with eyes unclouded.


Three days after being injured, Phil concedes under pressure and sets course for the nearest clinic at St. Paul island. All night, the word is spreading through the fleet, and other captains start calling on Phil's radio, concerned for him. He answers none of them. On the Time Bandit, Johnathan says, "I'm sure he ain't gonna call us (back), he's the tough guy. Tough guy just gonna disappear on us... Say a little prayer for Phil. Hope he's gonna be okay."

Phil: "It's weird, you feel alone. Never felt real alone before...
"If something happened to me right now, what would happen with the boys? What would happen if I fell off the face of the earth right now?"

He finally gets medical attention, 60 hours after the initial injury. As the episode closes, we see him standing in the snow and slush outside the ER, gathering his nerve to go inside.

"I can't believe that this is happening. But it is, and I'm here."


Further reading:

Deadliest Catch fan forums

Blain's page on denial

Amazon link for 'The Gift of Fear'
Current Location: Standing in the storm drain
Current Mood: awake
Current Music: Bon Jovi "Dead or Alive"