Thursday morning had a great break of day, dark grey threatening rain clouds, seem to be painted by Turner and Church, requiring a soundtrack with trumpets and sackbuts; but this threat of doom was undermined at dawn as the hopeful, East End artist light lit up the red mud shore. At 5:30 a.m. I caught a keeper bass, my first of this season, and that special contentment that comes with fishing and catching stayed with me all day long, but as I started to lay down to sleep I felt something creepy, literally, creeping on me and found a deer tick hiding in a very shady place, on me. That’s life, a bass in the morning and a tick at night.
By Contentment I mean that general feeling of well being, whereas bliss, happens to me in spikes of unexpected joy, when I’m usually already in a relaxed state of mind; it swells in the chest to the back of the neck and then soars to your head. Where does this feeling of overwhelming bliss come from whether I’m catching fish or not?
It feels primal and strikes me on a gut level, like its equal/ opposite, grief. I’ll be intensely focused, for instance on fishing, and thinking of nothing but what is in front of me, and be pleasantly surprised each time I’m lifted out of my skin with bliss.
It feels related to the joy of performing on stage; once you learn to relax and absorb the energy from the audience, and channel it through your singing, there is a cyclic exchange of energy between you and the audience that feels so good it could be endorphins. I’m often so “blissed out “ after a good concert that I lose track of all sorts of earthly responsibilities: compact discs, cash, audio equipment, and I’ve forgotten some important items after a good fishing expedition, as well; my 10 foot surf rod, for instance. I just landed a 41-inch striped bass, on the beach at Mecox for the first time, and as I left, in that exalted state, the $550 rod and reel remained on the beach. Ten minutes later I came to my senses, banged a U-turn and returned to the beach to find my rod and reel leaning against the truck of a fellow fisherman, who stuck it there for safe-keeping.
Fishing in the waters that wrap around Sag Harbor can be very calming, as you are wading waist deep in tidal water that is either table top flat, or chopping one foot tall waves at roughest. You are part of the bay, often the tallest thing within 100 yards of water, at the first light of day, an hour before dawn, where the light heightens and softens simultaneously on the wildlife: the herons fishing along with you, the osprey above and the deer that sneak on suede covered feet to waterside, warily keeping an eye on you.
The only way this magic bliss appears is hard work, you have to be well prepared for fishing or performing. Every song must be rehearsed so thoroughly you could sing it in an orchestra pit with the whole pit playing Bach while you sang the blues. Every reel, every lure and every piece of gear necessary must be at the ready as you move about your house at 5 a.m. on auto pilot without the distraction of thinking; here action and routine rule. You start the truck, turn off the radio, you need nothing but the morning air and as you near the water you get that first rush of bliss, an anticipation, as if this is the first time you have ever fished. That wave of comfort may be a first cousin to the nerves I get hours before I go onstage.
As I get through the first song, I calm down and beam a little smile inside to myself…for being where I am born to be: onstage telling stories in song. The nervousness before I go onstage, indicates to me I still care about how well I’m going to perform. When I stop caring about that, I’ll stop performing, and when I no longer get that rush of anticipation as I’m going to fish, there will be one hell of a yard sale.
However, no matter why, or where it comes from, I am still determined to get my share of bliss in this life…as it is… infested with ticks.
Terence M. Sullivan is a practitioner of the Bardic tradition of Ireland singing a capella, in Irish and English from Carnegie Hall to Canio’s Book’s in Sag Harbor. He writes verses and prose inspired by the natural beauty that surrounds Sag Harbor and the natural madness and humor of Manhattan where he lived for 35 years. [/expand]