Day 99: Albatross

I used to wonder where the phrase “albatross around my neck” came from.  I knew the meaning of the phrase (to carry a shameful burden), but I didn’t know where the phrase originated.  In fact, I didn’t even know what an albatross was.  I just knew that carrying one sounded awful, and so the phrase resonated with me.

Enter…  the internet!  Google, with its indefatigable ability to answer such questions, informs me that the phrase comes from a poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by Samuel Coleridge.  An albatross is a bird signifying good luck, and, in this poem by Coleridge, a bird follows a ship.  All those aboard interpret it as a sign of good luck to come until, fatefully, the mariner shoots the albatross.

Not long after the shooting of the albatross, a southern wind blows the ship into uncharted waters.  Blaming the mariner for bringing about their bad luck, the crew makes him wear the dead albatross around his neck.  They see him as having brought about a curse.

Why is this story on my mind?  I was thinking about how it feels to be looking for a job.  It feels like a massive burden, like an “albatross around my neck.”  Now that I know where the phrase comes from, I think that looking for a job is perhaps not quite as bad as having an albatross around one’s neck.  But, you know, it is not completely different!  You feel like all your good luck has left, and you feel like it is somehow your fault.

One of the weird parts of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner is that the crew actually dies and then comes back to life.  Seriously.  It’s really creepy.  The mariner is looking at all these dead men on the ship and feeling the need to repent, which he does, and then the albatross falls off his neck and everyone comes back to life.  Bizarre, right?  With the crew (and some spirits?) helping him, the mariner finally steers the ship back home

The story ends unhappily, though, because the mariner has to spend the rest of his life telling the story, a cautionary tale, to everyone he meets.

What is my cautionary tale?  What did I learn from this 100-day project?  That, I think, will be tomorrow’s post.

For now, I should end by saying that today’s thank you goes to someone who recommended a podcast to me.



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