Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Sifting Through the Narrative

"Better and better, man. Would now St. Paul would come along that way, and to my breezelessness bring his breeze! O Nature, and O soul of man! how far beyond all utterance are your linked analogies; not the smallest atom stirs or lives on matter, but has its cunning duplicate in mind." Herman Melville, Moby Dick 

Lulu's last day of fine arts camp was more than a week ago. Two weeks she'd been there; two weeks in which I thought I'd find an ocean of time to write. But I failed to get in the water. It was the sands, those turbinado-sugar-sands that were still on my mind, mind sands, dunes or desert, where grains of narrative filtered between my toes but failed to stick underfoot. Desert, beach, glass, quartz, black, garnet or volcanic for Chrissake—there was simply no semblance in the sands, and if there were, if by chance there may have been a granule of anecdote, this also sifted through the sieve-of-a-brain that is mine.  No narrative, no structure. Nothing doing. Undoing is what I did. Undoing packages that I'd neatly tied up many years ago. I don't know why I have this compulsion to return to old boxes, to open the lids of rust-covered dreams. A strategy perhaps. Fear of marching forward. Up the hill. For whom do I march, anyway? Up which hill shall I march? What will I find on the other side? (Assuming I actually make it over the summit and across to the other side.)

While Lu crafted and beat the steel drums Max often went down to the fishing hole that is Howard Pond. I had plenty of time to climb a hill. To climb a mountain. But I didn't. I don't know what I did. There's lots with which to fill a day. Filler. I could tell you about all kinds of minutial chores I performed throughout the day. Taxi here and there. Pack, unpack. (Well, I have been traveling, too.) Dishes. Clothes washing. My god, clothes washing! Minutiae fills. It also numbs the mind. And sucks gobs of time and energy into its black hole of domesticity. It allows for disengagement. It's enticing. Which is handy now and then.

Stop.

That path, that sandy, rosa rugosa lined path, is what I've been walking. Yes. Bodily present or not it's where I've been dredging my bare feet like some exotic ammophilous being. And I could tell you, also, that since leaving the turbinado-sugar-sands of Nantucket I'd been thinking about Herman Melville's Moby Dick and my own furling wave of melanomic monomania.  (A wave of which I rode for too long.) This is an unpredictable wave, or so I thought. However, if you drift with it, let the current pull you, you'll eventually be delivered back to the safety of the shore. Should you panic, let it collapse over you, you'll plunge into a delirious spin unto the murky seafloor. 

Wait. I've overdone the metaphor. 

Back to an epic story... 

(Which is what, I think, I should be telling.)

You know Melville's tale—the ship captain, Ahab, obsessed with destroying the great white sperm whale, the ferocious and cunning Moby Dick, to whom he lost his leg. Nantucket is from where Ahab's Pequod sailed. Melville wrote of Nantucket before he ever set foot on the "mere hillock, and elbow of sand."  He first visited the island only after Moby Dick was finished. But it didn't keep him from envisioning, from writing about the island, and its people who... 
... plant toadstools before their houses, to get under the shade in summer time; that one blade of grass makes an oasis, three blades in a day's walk a prairie; that they wear quicksand shoes, something like Laplander snow-shoes; that they are so shut up, belted about, every way inclosed, surrounded, and made an utter island of by the ocean, that to the very chairs and tables small clams will sometimes be found adhering as to the backs of sea turtles. But these extravaganzas only show that Nantucket is no Illinois.
Moby Dick is a book I never fully read. Until now, right here, online. And in each line, each carefully chosen word, I come to understand that I've spent this summer undoing because my story,  my Moby Dick, my Ulysses, hell, my Dick and Jane, is like Moby Dick himself: one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air. A portentous and mysterious monster. I thought I'd slay him this summer. Ha!

I am not Ishmael. I don't know where to begin. Somewhere, in the sand, I keep thinking. In the sand.

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And speaking of envisioning, this man cut away at the stake, has to be one of the coolest literary images I've stumbled upon.

You can see more magic from Brian Joseph Davis here

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I'm returning to the Cape in a couple of days. Out, above the elbow, along the National Seashore (where sharks, maybe whales too, are slinking about). I'll be  a week or so there. In the sand. The children return to school in less than twenty days... at which time I plan to return to this space fully engaged

Now, off to bring Max to soccer...

37 comments:

  1. Oooh I do like this piece...and am glad you have returned with a metaphorical flourish....nicely done!
    I re-read MD two years ago and it took me a while...having read it as a kid i had little understanding of its style, but as an adult who knows better i thoroughly enjoyed it..
    looking forward to you becoming more fully engaged...in fact i think it is time i did the same, having been stuck in a rut for a bit :)

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    1. Dan- the summer (and maybe for you, the winter) is a good excuse to wander off the road, intended or not, even if one should jam a wheel in a rut. We climb out of it somehow, return to the real world, how shall we say, enlightened?

      I found myself in a bit of a trance reading Melville. But then, I've been under an odd spell all summer!

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    1. Thanks, Dicky. I've been practicing silence lately. Though I'll probably soon be ready for a good scream! ;)

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  3. Ah Jane, even when you've lost your way, your writing takes me exactly where you meant to go. You cannot separate the writing from the writer for you carry within yourself every word, and without trying—there it is!

    Enjoy this week on the cape. I miss the bare-board cottages, and salty accents. Perhaps soon...

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    1. Oh Leah, I'm so glad you knew where I was meant to go. I'm still trying to figure it out!

      I know what you mean by the bare-board cottages, and salty accents.The Cape was marvelous. I didn't want to leave. I mean, I really didn't want to leave. There wasn't enough surf song, or morning shore line strolls, or midnights under the Milky Way. I'm so easily seduced by the magic of the outer Cape. I was not ready for the end of the affair. ;)

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  4. Oh Jayne, we've both been spending time on sugar sand beaches, but across the divide: Me on the north shore and you on the south. I look forward to seeing you back here again soon.

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    1. Bill- Aren't sugar sand beaches the best? North or south shore, they're just beautiful. The odd thing about the National Seashore is that there were no shells washed ashore. Not one! So different from the beaches of Nantucket, which is rather odd now that I think about it... hmm... I may need to look into that...

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  5. Hey, it's summer. Enjoy the Cape! Enjoy the sand...but keep an eye out for Jaws.

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    1. Loree- No Jaws, but lots, and lots!, of seals. Families frolicking in the waters at every beach we went to. Quite enjoyable, indeed. :)

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  6. I have never read Moby Dick. But I'm happy to read you.

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  7. Jayne: Your writing is your gift, your art. Never let it go! This is a magnificent, well crafted blog post that is at once intelligent, intriguing and fun. It's refreshing to stop here and feel nourished.

    My friends read Moby Dick in high school. I must have picked Marshall McLuhan's "Understanding Media" just "to be cool". A poor choice on my part. I never understood a word he wrote!

    See you here soon! :)

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    1. You're very kind, Michael. McLuhan's Understanding Media. Wow. Did you always know where you were headed? And, you know, it's never too late to read the great Moby Dick. I'm glad I waited--wouldn't have appreciated it in high school (certainly didn't appreciate what little Melville I did read). ;)

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  8. 'This is an unpredictable wave, or so I thought. However, if you drift with it, let the current pull you, you'll eventually be delivered back to the safety of the shore. Should you panic, let it collapse over you, you'll plunge into a delirious spin unto the murky seafloor.

    Wait. I've overdone the metaphor.'

    I can always hear you, Jayne.

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    1. Suze- Do you hear my sheer panic, my utter frustration? Sometimes I go back and read something I wrote and think wow, she's a mess. How is it that only a day, or a week or so, can pass and I look back and ask, who was she then? (Which is what I'll ask if I reread this response. Sheesh. No wonder I needed to summer to just laze!) Maybe someday someone will find the right cocktail for me. ;)

      What do you mean I have to mix my own?!

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  9. i hadn't read moby dick until recently when i bought an ereader and it was one of the free books included. i thought that damned whale would never show up.

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    1. Hee, hee! Well, he doesn't, actually, does he? ;)

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  10. Oh, I think some of that sugar from the sands (and the Hill) is having an effect on you. Great writing, Jayne!

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    1. Oh Linda, my Linda... most definitely! Btw, those tomatoes... marvelous! ;)

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  11. I think it is hard to be productive on demand.

    One hated Moby Dick. Page after page of what items they brought with them on the boat.

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    1. Ha! Laoch. I kinda like lists. I really should keep more of them myself. ;)

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  12. "Better and better, man": at first I thought you were quoting from The Big Lebowski. (Seriously.) Would've been a vastly different post, hmm?

    Or maybe not. Your posts do manage to accrete chains of related being. Reading them is like observing a vastly accelerated time-lapse film of the evolution of life -- at the cellular level. They evolve here not as life but as meaning... no wonder the affinity for dunes of sand, because you may love the large-scale forms of waves but you also love their (literal, as well as littoral :)) particulars. Rather like ol' Mr. Melville, huh?

    It's been a while since I banged my own head on the lintel over the doorway into Moby Dick. (The damned bump still throbs in certain weather.) I'd heard about and so been prepared for all the details, the postponement of action, and so on; but I remember my sense of surprise at how much sly humor Melville worked into the telling. Not knee-slapping funny, by any means. But for a guy so much into water, he sure did dry well.

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    1. Duuuude, seriously? Funny!... if I could only adjust my, um, ethos, to that of the Zen dude, I'd, well, I wouldn't be posting blogs like this anymore! Gads, I thought you were going to say something about a vastly accelerated time-lapse film of a train wreck! (Well, that is--maybe--how I felt when I wrote this.)

      True, I do, I really do, like the particulars. The dunes: they were magnificent. I mean, dramatic and sort of traumatic at the same time. 100 feet high, multicolored striations, brush and berries and even small trees dangling from the edges, sometimes clinging to the sand, just below the cliffs, begging or mercy. And then, there were casualties where dune met coastline.

      For some odd reason MD was the perfect summer read for me. Must be the short chapters. And sly humor. ;)

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  13. I was at the beach last week as well, but I got little done as far as writing and didn't expect to. Mostly because my kids kept me busy. Now I need a vacation from my vacation. Have fun at the beach. :-)

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    1. Angela- One cannot do anything at the beach. I can barely read at the beach! Even without kids, it seems impossible to do anything on the beach. We have such good intentions, and then, we open our chairs, plunk them in the sand, and become transfixed with our surroundings. (And, at the same time, meeting the needs of our children.) I need a vacation from my vacation, too. Next year, two weeks! (Ha, I wish.) ;)

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  14. Moby Dick is my husband's favorite book.

    I would be interested to see what I look like drawn as one of those composites. Would anyone be able to pick me out from a crowd based on the sketch, I wonder?

    I accomplished a heap of nothing this summer. I finally realized it's the heat. (Which explains my *deep dislike* of Alabama for the two years we lived there.) I'm positive the heat and whatever other forces of nature are at work within it do something to the psyche of certain weather-sensitive people like myself. I am a new person after two nights of naturally cooled air.
    Yes, fully engaged in domesticity. It's amazing how many hours that can account for!

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    1. Leonora- That's a great question. Makes one wonder how one would be described by another. I mean, a composite can be only as good as the detail.

      Your words give me comfort--I don't feel quite as alone in my idleness! I agree, it's the heat. I've been blaming it all on the heat this summer. Nature, no doubt, has an effect on us. Inertia, this terrible languid feeling. I'd be worthless in the south! We are finally getting some cool nights here. Last night was the first that the a/c was not on. We've never had a summer like that. I fear, though, this extreme heat is a trend for future summers. Ugh!

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  15. i've come to trust that at times i need a heap of time where nothing is accomplished. because what i am trying to do has nothing to do with accomplishment....i just need to get that out of my system so that when the muse does show up, i am more able to recognize her/him. i so enjoyed this post(!)

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    1. Yes, Sherri, that heap of nothingness is when we fill the spring, right? Or at least, that is the result, I hope. Clear a path for the muse--don't want the overgrown wild grasses to obscure our visions of the muse! ;)

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  16. The wave of melanomic whatever sounds interesting Jayne - reminds me of my aim to read more than two chapters of Moby Dick next time.

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  17. Hi Jayne-Do you remember that sifter beach toy? It really wasn't essential. As far as making castles and forts. It still was cool though. Jerilyn has told me the landscaping is one of the highlights on Nantucket. I envision the "toadstools",cobblestone,roses,and colorful annuals.
    As I'm sure you know, I respect your devotion to your family.I know the dishes,taxi service,camp."Someday we'll look back on this and it will all seem funny". Something very precious and beautiful about a mother's unconditional love of her children.
    I have some literary fly fishing friends(belive it or not) they claim Melville's Moby Dick is the greatest fishing story ever told.
    Engaging writing, I have come accustomed to.

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  18. Hi Jayne! Just dropped by to see what's new! :)

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    1. Michael- So sorry for my late response--I've been swamped with new projects... Ack!

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  19. Stopped by to tell you that I gave you an "award".
    How have you been?

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    1. Oh, Antares, thank you. So happy to see you here. I shall pay you a visit... ;)

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