Comfort Crash Course

Comfort Crash Course, Day 12: Words of Comfort (or, Too Sick to Read Anything Else)

4,000 Miles of Confronting Comfort

Twelve days I’ve been on the ocean now. Having felt not a hint of nausea, I was beginning to get cocky. But today it hit. I’m finally seasick. Really. Seasick.

Until today it was perfectly smooth sailing, literally. The captain remarked to me over dinner a few days ago how rarely he’d seen such calm waters in the North Atlantic in the winter time—how lucky I was.

But I awoke early this morning to the deafening crack of my heavy steel window slamming into the wall. I sat up with a start, let my eyes adjust, and pushed my head through the window into the dim morning light. The air met my face with an icy slash, and I looked down to see the water swelling in great, black, angry, white-tipped bulges around the ship. Behind me in my room every cabinet door was opening and closing in unison. My coat hangers were swinging like out-of-control pendulums.

So too was my stomach. The cradlelike rocking that had lulled me into deep sleep over the previous week and a half had transformed suddenly into a nightmare amusement park ride, like a Ferris wheel running one gear too high with no one below to stop it.

So for the past several hours the world has looked and felt to me like it does just at the moment when you finish a drink late at night and realize with a sinking, spinning feeling that it was one too many.

What’s worse is that someone down the hall from me has been smoking incessantly since 8:00 a.m. On any given day a smoky room is enough to make me want to retch, let alone today. I’ve opened the window again (ignoring the steady banging against the wall), closed the door vent, and stuffed my heavy wool jacket against the crack at the bottom, but none of it seems to be helping. I even considered trying to lie out on the deck until I looked outside and realized it was snowing. Honestly.

So that’s that—I’m in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean, seasick as a nautical dog, in a smoky room that I can’t leave because there’s a freaking blizzard outside. You wanted to confront comfort, Christine? You got it.

This is the definition of getting what you wish for.

Anyone who knows me well can attest that I am embarrassingly needy when I’m sick. Any other day I pride myself on my independence and self-reliant womanly fortitude. But the day a nasty cold strikes, or the morning after the aforementioned surprise spins, I want nothing but a familiar hand to pet my head, do my bidding, and tell me everything is going to be okay.

I’m not about to ask the captain to do this. So today I’m turning to you.

Over the past couple of weeks upon my request, Lab|Log readers have been filling the comments section of the blog, and the BMW Guggenheim Lab’s e-mail in-box, with incredible words of comfort—ideas, thoughts, quotes, stories, and lists of things that bring them comfort.

As they’ve filtered in, my colleagues have sent them along to me by e-mail, bit by bit, in small doses. With a certain amount of restraint, I chose to save them for a time I really needed them.

Today was the day. And what a treat it was.

Despite the fact that the eighteenth-century Anglo-Americans succeeded in changing the definition of the word “comfort” to refer to a physical state more than a psychological one, the majority of the words I received show that our deepest understanding of comfort remains, at its core, very much more about the mind and heart than about the body. The words I received were overwhelmingly about moments, experiences, and feelings, rather than things.

“Being surrounded by nature” was one response.

Another read: “Music is for certain a great escape and can make every moment brand new—as every track could be a new moment and soundtrack to your experience.”

“An awareness of the value of what you are doing,” “knowing my family, cats and friends are well (physically and psychologically),” and “great art that surprises me and makes me see the world differently,” read others.

These are things that almost all of us can relate to. Which means that as I lie here on my hard, no-frills freighter couch with a tiny Macy’s teddy bear tucked under my arm, gasping at the gusts of fresh air that occasionally sweep though the banging window into my stale, smoky cabin, I can read the words, close my eyes, and conjure up the familiar feelings of comfort related to them. It’s almost like a familiar hand petting my green gills.

Thank you so much to those who have taken the time to send along words of comfort. I welcome more for the rest of the journey!

But for now, I’m going back to bed.

Photo: Christine McLaren.

The Comfort Crash Course is a two-week series by BMW Guggenheim Lab|Log blogger Christine McLaren as she journeys 15 days from New York to Berlin via containership, following the same cross-Atlantic route traveled by the Lab itself last fall. In the complete absence of city life, and armed with a library of diverse readings that helped inspire the theme for the Lab’s first cycle, Confronting Comfort, as well as others recommended by Lab|Log followers, she explores this theme at its core. The goal: to discover and understand the roots of the human quest for comfort—and why it needs to be confronted. More here.

  • Berlin says hello !

    Where the LAB should go now ? In Berlin the people do not like BMW and his marketing campaigns. Perhaps you can throw your LAB in the ocean, now. Have fun !

  • Ucce A.

    You’re welcome! Keep it up Christine! Get rest, get better!

    Peace and great vibes!

  • Lohryx

    Congrats Berlin for proposing a topic of discussion that is outside of the scope of this project. Apparently the directors of Lab would rather ignore the fact that gentrification is a real future for some. Why is Christine McLaren complaints about being adrift in the Atlantic ocean the focus and not the more pressing debate in the Kreuzberg district?

    • Anonymous

      Hello Lohryx – thank you for your comment. Christine’s series is a real-time account of her 15-day journey following the transatlatic route traveled earlier this winter by the Lab’s structure. The series is intended to offer a unique perspective on the Lab’s Cycle 1 theme: Confronting Comfort, reflecting on what comfort is, when and why we began to seek it, how that desire has shaped our modern cities, and ultimately, why we continue to question the nature of comfort.

      The current series is not related to the site of the Lab in Berlin. Future topics will be determined. We appreciate your feedback and encourage you to continue following the blog.

    • Lohryx

      Right, maybe this isn’t the time or place. But it seems there is a prime opportunity to have a real conversation about the effects of gentrification. Unfortunately these opinions seem to conflict with the image perception of your corporate sponsor and affiliated politicians. Have the curators made a space for this dialogue? Could you direct me to it?

      • Anonymous

        At the New York Lab, gentrification was addressed (and often was the focus) in various workshops and talks. Just one example can be found here: The full program calendar from New York is also still available online if you’d like to look back:

        This blog has also looked at gentrification from various angles, which you can read here:

        Hope this information is helpful. We’re happy to keep these discussions going here, and feel free to email us at as well.

      • Christine McLaren

        Hi Lohryx – I’m catching up on comments here now that I’m finally settling onto land again. I am looking forward to digging into these issues surrounding gentrification etc on the blog. I definitely hope interested groups will join in what I hope will be, as you say, a real conversation and thoughtful dialogue.