dual personalities

Tag: Herman Melville

Party postcards

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Our mother was a great believer in having parties–small parties with family and a few friends maybe–but parties nonetheless. When we were little, there were usually favors. I tried to continue this tradition with my own family. It encourages celebrating the little things as well as the big things in life and helps everyone keep a positive outlook.

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So when Herman Melville’s 200 birthday was coming up, it just seemed liked a great excuse to have a party. We gave everyone plenty of notice to start reading Moby-Dick (or, okay, something shorter) and we started planning.

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We didn’t let a cancer diagnosis stop us. Daughters #1 and 2 took the reins, and by the time last weekend rolled around they had things well in hand. When DN arrived on Friday we were cooking with gas. Everything fell into place, although the caterers were late, but DN dealt with that, and when guests starting arriving, the Typee Punch was ready to go…

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We toasted the great Melville and then ate dinner.

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We gathered again to listen to the great Gary play hornpipes on his mandolin…IMG_0996.jpeg

And then almost everybody read their own Melville selection, which represented a variety from Billy Budd and Bartleby to The Confidence Man and, of course, Moby-Dick. No one had chosen the same thing to read. DN read from a Melville essay about Hawthorne which included the often quoted “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation” in context which I loved.

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Our favorite Method Actor channels Stubb killing a whale

I think everyone had fun and I was flattered that my friends had humored me in my whimsy. And a few people went outside their comfort zones and read some Melville!

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Huzzah. It takes very little, to have a lot of fun.

So keep reading…and keep celebrating!

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And there were favors!

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Nobody had more class than Melville. To do what he did in Moby-Dick, to tell a story and to risk putting so much material into it. If you could weigh a book, I don’t know any book that would be more full. It’s more full than War and Peace or Brothers Karamasov. It has Saint Elmo’s fire, and great whales, and grand arguments between heroes, and secret passions. It risks wandering far, far out into the globe. Melville took on the whole world, saw it all in a vision, and risked everything in prose that sings.  You have a sense from the very beginning that Melville had a vision in his mind of what this book was going to look like, and he trusted himself to follow through all the way. (–Ken Kesey, interviewed in “Ken Kesey, The Art of Fiction No. 136” by Robert Faggen in The Paris Review No. 130 (Spring 1994)

“Surely all this is not without meaning.”*

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The wee babes came over yesterday and learned some new words.

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Aunt Susie reads “Moby-Dick”–can you say harpoon?

Yes, we are in the big build up to Herman Melville’s 200th birthday/birthday bash at the end of the week. So, of course, we had to get the wee babes in the act.

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Lottie says, “Is there a sea princess in this book?”

Here, then, was this grey-headed, ungodly old man, chasing with curses a Job’s whale round the world, at the head of a crew, too, chiefly made up of mongrel renegades, and castaways, and cannibals–morally enfeebled also, by the incompetence of mere unaided virtue or right-mindedness in Starbuck, the invulnerable jollity of indifference and recklessness in Stubb, and the pervading mediocrity in Flask. Such a crew, so officered, seemed specially picked and packed by some infernal fatality to help him to his monomaniac revenge. How it was that they so aboundingly responded to the old man’s ire–by what evil magic their souls were possessed, that at times his hate seemed almost theirs; the White Whale as much their insufferable foe as his; how all this came to be–what the White Whale was to them, or how to their unconscious understandings, also, in some dim, unsuspected way, he might have seemed the gliding great demon of the seas of life,–all this to explain, would be to dive deeper than Ishmael can go. The subterranean miner that works in us all, how can one tell whither leads his shaft by the ever shifting, muffled sound of his pick? Who does not feel the irresistible arm drag? What skiff in tow of a seventy-four can stand still? For one, I gave myself up to the abandonment of the time and the place; but while yet all a-rush to encounter the whale, could see naught in that brute but the deadliest ill.

*Herman Melville

“I will not afflict you with complaining.”*

IMG_6583.jpegGreetings from the land of the living. I am checking in while daughter #2 is busy in NYC. For several weeks after my surgery I was not reading much; it was difficult to focus.

I started slowly with poetry…FullSizeRender-1.jpg

and  moved on to old, familiar Kierkegaard and a wonderful new history by David McCullough…

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Finally I made my way back to Moby-Dick and a recent biography of Melville. (Don’t you just love his face?)

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I am not a STEMM person by any means, but genetics has always fascinated me, and this book is quite engaging and easy to read.

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This is not to say that I spend all my time reading. Hardly. I wiled away many an hour in the first weeks of my recovery watching two seasons of sleep-inducing episodes of Murder She Wrote (better than any sleeping pill). When feeling more engaged, I have chuckled my way through several seasons of Corner Gas (2004-2009), a Canadian show about a small town in Saskatchewan where nothing much ever happens, which in my weakened state, I have found to be hilarious.

Screen Shot 2019-06-18 at 2.51.12 PMSometimes, when I am feeling really productive, I work on a new needlepoint project while I watch the telly.

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This old Victorian chair is remarkably well suited for sitting in and sewing by a sunny window. And how about that  decoupaged side table I picked up at an antique mall a few months ago? How could I resist those tassels?

Chemotherapy commences tomorrow. We’ll see how that goes.

“An intense copper calm, like a universal yellow lotus, was more and more unfolding its noiseless measureless leaves upon the sea.” (M-D)

Meanwhile, what are you reading?

P.S. Here are a couple of pictures of the wee babes, because I know you have missed them, right?

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*Lucy Backus Woodbridge, pioneer, quoted in The Pioneers by David McCullough

Something all glorious and gracious

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“…But it is a mild, mild wind, and a mild looking sky; and the air smells now, as if it blew from a far-away meadow; they have been making hay somewhere under the slopes of the Andes, Starbuck, and the mowers are sleeping among the new- mown hay. Sleeping? Aye, toil we how we may, we all sleep at last on the field. Sleep? Aye, and rust amid greenness; as last year’s scythes flung down, and left in the half-cut swaths – Starbuck!”

–Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, Chapter cxxxii – THE SYMPHONY

Just a reminder that the 200th anniversary of Herman Melville’s birthday is coming up on August 1, 2019, so it is time to read/re-read Moby-Dick!

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…God only has that right and privilege. Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that. And yet, I’ve sometimes thought my brain was very calm – frozen calm, this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents turned to ice, and shiver it. And still this hair is growing now; this moment growing, and heat must breed it; but no, it’s like that sort of common grass that will grow anywhere, between the earthy clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava. How the wild winds blow it; they whip it about me as the torn shreds of split sails lash the tossed ship they cling to. A vile wind that has no doubt blown ere this through prison corridors and cells, and wards of hospitals, and ventilated them, and now comes blowing hither as innocent as fleeces. Out upon it! – it’s tainted. Were I the wind, I’d blow no more on such a wicked, miserable world. I’d crawl somewhere to a cave, and slink there. And yet, ’tis a noble and heroic thing, the wind! who ever conquered it? In every fight it has the last and bitterest blow. Run tilting at it, and you but run through it. Ha! a coward wind that strikes stark naked men, but will not stand to receive a single blow. Even Ahab is a braver thing – a nobler thing that that. Would now the wind but had a body; but all the things that most exasperate and outrage mortal man, all these things are bodiless, but only bodiless as objects, not as agents. There’s a most special, a most cunning, oh, a most malicious difference! And yet, I say again, and swear it now, that there’s something all glorious and gracious in the wind. These warm Trade Winds, at least, that in the clear heavens blow straight on, in strong and steadfast, vigorous mildness; and veer not from their mark, however the baser currents of the sea may turn and tack, and mightiest Mississippies of the land swift and swerve about, uncertain where to go at last. And by the eternal Poles! these same Trades that so directly blow my good ship on; these Trades, or something like them – something so unchangeable, and full as strong, blow my keeled soul along! To it! Aloft there! What d’ye see?”

–Chapter cxxxv – THE CHASE – THIRD DAY

“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

(The artwork is by Rockwell Kent.)

“Blow, blow, thou winter wind”*

Well, it is getting very cold here in flyover country. Not surprising, since it is January. But you know, people like to get panicky about weather.

Screen Shot 2019-01-28 at 5.41.32 PM.pngI must say, it is the kind of weather that makes one want to curl up on the couch and read a good book or watch a good movie.

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“To enjoy bodily warmth, some small part of you must be cold, for there is no quality in this world that is not what it is merely by contrast. Nothing exists in itself. If you flatter yourself that you are all over comfortable, and have been so a long time, then you cannot be said to be comfortable any more. For this reason a sleeping apartment should never be furnished with a fire, which is one of the luxurious discomforts of the rich. For the height of this sort of deliciousness is to have nothing but the blanket between you and your snugness and the cold of the outer air. Then there you lie like the one warm spark in the heart of an arctic crystal.”

–Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

Oh, Mr. Melville, you are the best.

*William Shakespeare

The painting is by Mary Cassatt

Willful travelers in Lapland

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“Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a color as the visible absence of color; and at the same time the concrete of all colors; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows- a colorless, all-color of atheism from which we shrink? And when we consider that other theory of the natural philosophers, that all other earthly hues — every stately or lovely emblazoning — the sweet tinges of sunset skies and woods; yea, and the gilded velvets of butterflies, and the butterfly cheeks of young girls; all these are but subtle deceits, not actually inherent in substances, but only laid on from without; so that all deified Nature absolutely paints like the harlot, whose allurements cover nothing but the charnel-house within; and when we proceed further, and consider that the mystical cosmetic which produces every one of her hues, the great principle of light, for ever remains white or colorless in itself, and if operating without medium upon matter, would touch all objects, even tulips and roses, with its own blank tinge — pondering all this, the palsied universe lies before us a leper; and like willful travelers in Lapland, who refuse to wear colored and coloring glasses upon their eyes, so the wretched infidel gazes himself blind at the monumental white shroud that wraps all the prospect around him. And of all these things the Albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?”

–Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

In case you had forgotten, yesterday was Herman Melville’s birthday. (I toasted him at the baseball game.) And FYI–next year will mark the 200th anniversary of his birth, so let’s make a note and plan a party! (I am serious about this.)

By the way, the baseball game was super fun. Our seats were great and the weather was unbelievably perfect, considering it was August 1 in St. Louis! Cool, clear and a nice breeze! The wee babes did great for a couple of innings…and Lottie even sat on my lap for a good long while.

IMG_3331.JPGIMG_3336.JPGScreen Shot 2018-08-01 at 11.26.38 PM.png…but the 2nd inning was incredibly long and Lottie lost it after awhile.

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Both fingers in her nose and crying!

They left an hour and a half into the game, but The OM and daughter #1 and I stayed until the seventh inning (around 10 o’clock–way past my bedtime.) The Cards were in the lead at the point. (They hung on and won.)

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Now it is back to the salt mine for business as usual. Have a good one.

Merely bearing witness

Did you read that the poet Richard Wilbur died? You will recall that he was the Poet Laureate of the U.S. for awhile. He taught at Smith College when I was there.

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He was much honored in his lifetime, but, of course, the NY Times obit tends to focus on the negative, stating snidely, “By the early 1960s, however, critical opinion generally conformed to Mr. Jarrell’s oft-quoted assessment that Mr. Wilbur ‘never goes too far, but he never goes far enough.'”

Well, I rather liked him.

To claim, at a dead party, to have spotted a grackle,
When in fact you haven’t of late, can do no harm.
Your reputation for saying things of interest
Will not be marred, if you hasten to other topics,
Nor will the delicate web of human trust
Be ruptured by that airy fabrication.
Later, however, talking with toxic zest
Of golf, or taxes, or the rest of it
Where the beaked ladle plies the chuckling ice,
You may enjoy a chill of severance, hearing
Above your head the shrug of unreal wings.
Not that the world is tiresome in itself:
We know what boredom is: it is a dull
Impatience or a fierce velleity,
A champing wish, stalled by our lassitude,
To make or do. In the strict sense, of course,
We invent nothing, merely bearing witness
To what each morning brings again to light:
Gold crosses, cornices, astonishment…

(Read the whole poem, “Lying,” here. BTW, “velleity” is a wish or inclination not strong enough to lead to action. I had to look it up.)

Wilbur’s papers are housed at his alma mater Amherst College.

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I like this photo of Wilbur by Tsar Fedorsky (AC 1982)

Here’s an article about the archive.

While we are musing on Berkshires themes, don’t forget that today is the anniversary of the first publication of Moby-Dick in 1851, in Britain. Its publication in America followed on November 14, 1851.

“Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed — while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!”

And this struck me as very sad.

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Yes, Country Curtains, a Berkshires favorite that started off selling a simple unbleached muslin curtain by mail order, will shut down by the end of the year in the face of unrelenting online competition.

I remember when they were a little mom-and-pop operation in Stockbridge and we would see their ads in the old Yankee magazine. I remember looking at their catalogs with my mother.  And I bought some of those plain muslin curtains–the ones with the pompoms–for our first apartment after the OM and I were married. I bought some curtains there just last year–they have elephants on them. Sigh.

But this was funny:

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Onward and upward. Hang in there and join me in a toast tonight to Richard Wilbur, Herman Melville and Country Curtains.

This and that

“It’s better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”

–Herman Melville

This statement was quoted by House Beautiful Editor-in-Chief Sophie Donelson in her July/August column. She doesn’t say where the quote comes from, but it probably wasn’t from the book on her nightstand. Of course, she was quoting Melville in reference to home decoration and that is valid I suppose, but poor Herman was talking about something different. Sadly, he knew a lot about failure.

Today is Melville’s birthday, so let’s give some thought to how to celebrate. You could check out this website: Melville’s Marginalia Online, a virtual archive of books owned and borrowed by Melville (1819-1891). Amazing! If you are in New York City, you could take the Melville walking tour. Whatever you do, be sure to wear your Herman Melville t-shirt.

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 11.44.45 AM.pngAnd by that I mean, please don’t. (Maybe Ms. Donelson found the quote on a t-shirt!)

Well, moving on…we have heard a lot lately about the total solar eclipse that will occur around 1 p.m. on Monday, August 21. The last total solar eclipse here in flyover country was in 1442. As you can see, we are right in line for some great viewing!

Screen Shot 2017-07-31 at 11.02.42 AM.pngWe have, of course, been reminded ad nauseum to obtain special protective glasses if we plan to watch, so I sent off to Amazon for some of these. Am I cool or what? (Well, the OM is a scouter, so I always try to be prepared.)

Are you wondering how I am going to tie up Herman Melville’s birthday and the total eclipse of the sun? Here is a section of his obit in the New York Times of October 2, 1891:

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Sad, sad, so sad.

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Discuss among yourselves.

“Top-heavy was the ship as a dinnerless student with all Aristotle in his head.”*

So Bob Dylan finally made his Nobel Laureate acceptance speech, the only requirement to claim the money that comes with the prize, with several days to spare. (The deadline was June 10.)

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And of course he spent a long portion of his speech talking about Moby-Dick! Bob never disappoints.

Huzzah for Bob! And here’s some Moby-Dick for your mid-week inspiration:

“Whether to admit Hercules among us or not, concerning this I long remained dubious: for though according to the Greek mythologies, that ancient Crockett and Kit Carson–that brawny doer of rejoicing good deeds, was swallowed down and thrown up by a whale; still, whether that strictly makes a whaleman of him, that might be mooted. It nowhere appears that he ever actually harpooned his fish, unless, indeed, from the inside. Nevertheless, he may be deemed a sort of involuntary whaleman; at any rate the whale caught him, if he did not the whale. I claim him for one of our clan.”

I will also note the passing a few days ago of rock legend Gregg Allman (1947–2017) who had been sober for twenty years and was a Christian. Funnily enough, he ended up an EpiscopalianInto paradise may the angels lead you. At your coming may the martyrs receive you, and bring you into the holy city Jerusalem.

*Herman Melville, Moby-Dick

“The skeleton of the whale furnishes but little clue to the shape of his fully invested body.”*

kellogg-photoToday is the birthday of Remington Kellogg (October 5, 1892 –May 8, 1969)–a fascinating fellow who was an American naturalist and a director of the United States National Museum. Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, he attended the University of Kansas where he pursued his lifelong interest in wildlife. From there he went to the University of California–Berkeley. While serving in the Army in France during WWI, Kellogg still found time to collect specimens, which he sent back to Berkeley and the University of Kansas. He was discharged in July 1919 and returned to Berkeley to complete his doctorate, transferring from zoology to study vertebrate paleontology.

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In 1928 Kellogg became assistant curator at the United States National Museum and in 1941 became curator. At the museum he devoted time to studying primitive whales from the Eocene and early Oligocene of North America. In 1948 he was appointed director of the Museum and in 1958 was made assistant secretary of the Smithsonian Institution. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1951.

Whales have been at the heart of Smithsonian research since 1850. It was Museum director Remington Kellogg who wanted a “scientifically accurate” model and pushed for the research to make one.

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So a toast to Remington Kellogg (what a great name!) and to Herman Melville while we’re at it.

“Speak, thou vast and venerable head,” muttered Ahab, “which, though ungarnished with a beard, yet here and there lookest hoary with mosses; speak, mighty head, and tell us the secret thing that is in thee. Of all divers, thou hast dived the deepest. That head upon which the upper sun now gleams, has moved amid this world’s foundations. Where unrecorded names and navies rust, and untold hopes and anchors rot; where in her murderous hold this frigate earth is ballasted with bones of millions of the drowned; there, in that awful water-land, there was thy most familiar home. Thou hast been where bell or diver never went; hast slept by many a sailor’s side, where sleepless mothers would give their lives to lay them down. Thou saw’st the locked lovers when leaping from their flaming ship; heart to heart they sank beneath the exulting wave; true to each other, when heaven seemed false to them. Thou saw’st the murdered mate when tossed by pirates from the midnight deck; for hours he fell into the deeper midnight of the insatiate maw; and his murderers still sailed on unharmed — while swift lightnings shivered the neighboring ship that would have borne a righteous husband to outstretched, longing arms. O head! thou hast seen enough to split the planets and make an infidel of Abraham, and not one syllable is thine!

Have a good “hump” day!

*Moby-Dick, Herman Melville