“As the sun pulls away from the shore …

… and our ship sinks slowly in the west ….”

I finished Moby Dick more than a week ago, on my last night on the road home from a holiday family visit in Oklahoma. The wide horizons of the Midwest were behind me — ahead, the road through northern Pennsylvania, which crosses the Appalachian mountains and the Poconos, finally flowing through the Delaware Water Gap and into New Jersey. It’s a lovely drive, the road climbing steeply here and there, spanning rivers far below it, curving around hills and farms, dipping into valleys.

I make this trip 2 or 3 times a year, and my hours on the road are usually spent noting the familiar sites I’ve passed dozens of times: massive farmhouses, broken down barns, antique malls and car dealerships, billboards with a religious bent (JESUS IS REAL), billboards for local attractions (WORLD’S LARGEST GOLF TEE). It’s easy to see that prosperity is always just down the road from dereliction — as well as the other way around.

And while I was rolling along, just a few hours from home, I couldn’t help thinking about Melville’s ending. Nathaniel Philbrick, in Why Read Moby Dick?*, explains that one of the novel’s purposes is to reveal America’s mad dash towards the Civil War. As I write today’s post, it looks as though America is once again in a mad dash towards a new phase of annihilation. Never a comforting thought, especially given Melville’s lessons: only one member of the Pequod‘s crew survived their monomaniacal leader’s urge for revenge. More than half a million died in the Civil War (see The New York Times, 2 April 2012) — not as dire as the Pequod‘s fate, but still the bloodiest war in US history.

We have our own modern monomania to deal with — myths about our origins that mislead us, beliefs about the righteousness of our cause to support us as we move towards greater folly, expectations of happy outcomes despite past lessons.

It’s been a strange decade, aptly capped by this reading of Melville’s masterpiece. Despite being written more than 150 years ago, its ending is post-modern — not an ending at all, but instead a sudden, quiet cessation. It’s what T. S. Eliot predicted: “Not with a bang, but a whimper.”

Deep into Pennsylvania, I was sinking lower, going down with the Pequod.

And then, I remembered a line from a Spike Jones song (watch the video below to hear the whole thing). It’s the title/intro of today’s post. And Spike Jones is the type of thing that keeps me sane. Sure, I’ll read Moby Dick again in a few years. But Spike Jones (and NBC’s The Good Place — available on Netflix) are currently on heavy rotation. So, no worries. I’ve cheered myself up. And I’m keeping away from newspaper headlines for a while. Ignorance is, in this instance, bliss.


*I briefly discuss Philbrick’s book here.

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Happy holidays!

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. “Veselé Vánoce!” The New York Public Library Digital Collections

To all my readers: Happy holidays, and best wishes for a new year full of cheer, good books, successful completion of all endeavors, and safe travels wherever you may roam.

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Shore leave ends

Last night I finished The Secret Commonwealth (Vol 2 of Pullman’s follow-up series to His Dark Materials) and sent it back (virtually, and virtuously) to the NYPL. By now, another patient reader has begun this dark and compelling tale. I noted parallels to current events (I’ll reveal no more than that), and had a brief moment of “That too?!?” about three-quarters of the way through. But then I remembered that I’m doing something similar with my own WIP, and just let myself fall deeper into Lyra’s world.

This year’s NaNo theme is so much fun.

As for my WIP — writing is progressing well, but slowly, and I’ll be on forced hiatus (for a pleasant reason) for a couple of weeks. But I’ve mapped out all the remaining chapters, many of which are already drafted — so maybe this draft is 70% finished. What’s even more exciting, with the help of my daughter, I finally filled in the last plot-hole. It was a big one, so I’m greatly relieved to have that repair in place.

And now I can get back to Moby-Dick. But before I start the next chapter (#68, so I’m past the halfway point), I just want to say a few quick words about Ishmael as unreliable narrator. In my last post, I warned everyone to watch out, because he makes up things. His chapter on the crow’s-nest, for instance, sounds like academic research but is, in fact, mostly humbug. But Ishmael has a clever sense of humor about it all — a bit like winking at the reader, especially with his footnotes — and is easy to forgive.

As for those footnotes, read them. They’re important. Melville, as Ishmael, is building a complex picture of American ingenuity, a mix of barbarity and inventiveness. Whalers, over the centuries, have invented all kinds of gadgets to ease the task of strip-mining the ocean’s wealth — ambergris, spermaceti, oil, meat — but there’s no avoiding the brutality of the process. You can move it below deck, but it’s still a bloody, stinky, cruel, dangerous mess.

A long time ago, a friend returning from a year in Norway brought me a can of whale meat. I kept that can for years, an object lesson of a strange sort. By the time I got rid of it (about the mid 1980s, I think), it had evolved from an interesting piece of art into a terrible reminder of what living on this planet demands.

Dear readers: try to make good choices.

Posted in Adventure, Am reading, Am revising, Fantasy, NaNoWriMo, Seafaring, short stories | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Steampunk typewriter

I bet you’re wondering about the title for this post. Well, feast your eyes on this:

Poster by Georgia Lange, for NaNoWriMo 2019

Ooh, ooh! Let me give the prototype a test-run! Note that it can clock your typing speed, keep an eye on your verb tenses, and (I’m hoping) let you know when you’ve had a brilliant idea. Jean Lee, I’ll see if I can line one up for you as well.

Ok, putting that dream away for now.

NaNo progress: 16 days of writing, and I should pass the 50K mark sometime tomorrow. I’ll have “won”, but I won’t have finished, so I’ll keep writing until my plane takes off.

Meanwhile, as for Moby-Dick, I’ve hit a snag. Actually, a pleasant one, but I’m in a bind. I’ve been waiting nearly 3 months for a copy of Pullman’s Book of Dust, Vol 2,  and it came yesterday. If it were a copy I’d bought (whether virtual or analog), then I could easily set it aside and wait for a better, less busy moment.

But since it’s an ebook from the NYPL, I can’t, because it’ll disappear from my phone in 12 days, and if I put it back on hold, it’ll be another 3 months before I see it again. Oh, #FirstWorldProblems, why?

Sorry, Ishmael, Ahab, Moby-Dick, Queequeg, Stubb, Starbuck, et al. But don’t worry — it’s “see you later”, not “so long”. I’ll be back in a few days.


NaNo has posted an interview with graphic designer Georgia Lange here. Well worth a read. Turns out, a graphic artist’s process is similar to a writer’s.

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Am writing, am reading, am really really busy

12 days into November, and I’m on track to finish NaNoWriMo well ahead of the deadline. It’s amazing how much I can accomplish when I have to.

The reason I have to: I start a 2½-week trip on 24 November, which will leave me with no spare time for writing, and probably little for reading.

Which is why, while cranking out the daily NaNo pages, I’m also barreling through Moby-Dick. I passed the 35% point a couple of days ago, and my interest and enjoyment haven’t flagged.

“Moby Dick”, Rockwell Kent, 1930, courtesy FalseArt.com

But I have to admit that I’m flummoxed about what to add to the massive amount of Ahab-and-the-white-whale commentary that’s collected over the past 168 years.

2019 being the 200th anniversary of Melville’s birth, of course the blog-iverse is crammed with readers sharing their first/second/nth experience of reading Ishmael’s ultra-detailed tale. I have nothing to add, except a slight warning to all: don’t let Ishmael’s voice of expertise fool you. He makes up sources and disagrees with experts. You’ll see. This in no way diminishes Ishmael’s believability when it comes to narrating the events aboard the Pequod — he misses nothing, and never hesitates to tell us all.

To end, I send you to a Moby-Dick themed website well worth a lengthy visit: CallMeIshmael.org, where Patrick Shea, composer, musician and teacher based in Brooklyn, has posted commentary and a new song for each chapter of Moby-Dick. Starting in 2008, Shea composed the songs at the rate of about one a day (although it took him much longer to record them for his blog). His comments provide not just a reaction to the novel, but also a genesis-tale for each accompanying song. The songs themselves range through several musical genres, with lyrics printed for us to sing along. (Shea’s song cycle pre-dates the premier of Heggie & Scheer’s opera, Moby-Dick, by just 2 years.)

That’s it for today. I’ll be back in a week with an update.

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Witch Week 2019 ends

It’s been a great Witch Week, and many thanks to all who participated. Our theme for next year is …

… No spoilers here! You can read all about it at Calmgrove.

Happy November to all!

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A penny for the guy

Engraving by Crispijn van de Passe, ca 1605. Guy Fawkes is 3rd from the right.

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

To wind up Witch Week, we’re exploring a political fantasy by Diana Wynne Jones appropriate to this day of “gunpowder treason and plot“.

Head over to Calmgrove to read our discussion of Cart & Cwidder. If you’ve read it, please join in.

And remember, remember, the 5th of November!

A late 17th or early 18th-century report of the plot, Wikipedia

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