Tuesday, March 20, 2018

March 20: Momentous Men, Obsession, Book Manuscript

Stubb was the second mate. He was a native of Cape Cod; and hence, according to local usage, was called a Cape-Cod-man. A happy-go-lucky; neither craven nor valiant; taking perils as they came with an indifferent air; and while engaged in the most imminent crisis of the chase, toiling away, calm and collected as a journeyman joiner engaged for the year. Good-humored, easy, and careless, he presided over his whaleboat as if the most deadly encounter were but a dinner, and his crew all invited guests. He was as particular about the comfortable arrangements of his part of the boat, as an old stage-driver is about the snugness of his box. When close to the whale, in the very death-lock of the fight, he handled his unpitying lance coolly and off-handedly, as a whistling tinker his hammer. He would hum over his old rigadig tunes while flank and flank with the most exasperated monster. Long usage had, for this Stubb, converted the jaws of death into an easy chair. What he thought of death itself, there is no telling. Whether he ever thought of it at all, might be a question; but, if he ever did chance to cast his mind that way after a comfortable dinner, no doubt, like a good sailor, he took it to be a sort of call of the watch to tumble aloft, and bestir themselves there, about something which he would find out when he obeyed the order, and not sooner.

What, perhaps, with other things, made Stubb such an easy-going, unfearing man, so cheerily trudging off with the burden of life in a world fail of grave peddlers, all bowed to the ground with their packs; what helped to bring about that almost impious good-humor of his; that thing must have been his pipe. For, like his nose, his short, black little pipe was one of the regular features of his face. You would almost as soon have expected him to turn out of his bunk without his nose as without his pipe. He kept a whole row of pipes there ready loaded, stuck in a rack, within easy reach of his hand; and, whenever he turned in, he smoked them all out in succession, lighting one from the other to the end of the chapter; then loading them again to be in readiness anew. For, when Stubb dressed, instead of first putting his legs into his trowsers, he put his pipe into his mouth.

I say this continual smoking must have been one cause, at least of his peculiar disposition; for every one knows that this early air, whether ashore or afloat, is terribly infected with the nameless miseries of the numberless mortals who have died exhaling it; and as in time of the cholera, some people go about with a camphorated handkerchief to their mouths; so, likewise, against all mortal tribulations, Stubb's tobacco smoke might have operated as a sort of disinfecting agent.

The third mate was Flask, a native of Tisbury, in Martha's Vineyard. A short, stout, ruddy young fellow, very pugnacious concerning whales, who somehow seemed to think that the great Leviathans had personally and hereditarily affronted him; and therefore it was a sort of point of honor with him, to destroy them whenever encountered. So utterly lost was he to all sense of reverence for the many marvels of their majestic bulk and mystic ways; and so dead to anything like an apprehension of any possible danger encountering them; that in his poor opinion, the wondrous whale was but a species of magnified mouse, or at least water-rat, requiring only a little circumvention and some small application of time and trouble in order to kill and boil. This ignorant, unconscious fearlessness of his made him a little waggish in the matter of whales; he followed these fish for the fun of it; and a three years' voyage round Cape Horn was only a jolly joke that lasted that length of time. As a carpenter's nails are divided into wrought nails and cut nails; so mankind may be similarly divided. Little Flask was one of the wrought ones; made to clinch tight and last long. They called him King-Post on board of the Pequod; because, in form, he could be well likened to the short, square timber known by that name in Arctic whalers; and which by the means of many radiating side timbers inserted into it, serves to brace the ship against the icy concussions of those battering seas.

Now these three mates- Starbuck, Stubb and Flask, were momentous men. They was who by universal prescription commanded three of the Pequod's boats as headsmen. In that grand order of battle in which Captain Ahab would probably marshal his forces to descend on the whales, these three headsmen were as captains of companies. Or, being armed with their long keen whaling spears, they were as a picked trio of lancers; even as the harpooneers were flingers of javelins.

There you are--the Holy Trinity of the mates on the Pequod.  Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask.  Each, as Ishmael describes them, good and trustworthy men.  Each with his own set of peculiarities.  And Ishmael has yet to clap eyes on the Old Testament God of the ship--Ahab himself.  Of course, if you are familiar with Moby-Dick at all, you already know Ahab's singular, driving motivation.  Spoiler alert:  it's big and white and swims in the ocean.

Everyone has some force that motivates them.  For Stubb, it seems to be his pipe.  For Ahab, it's a whale.  Me?  I guess it's writing.  The best part of my day is when I sit down to write these blog posts and then, afterward, when I try to scratch out a new poem in my journal.  I feel really alive at these moments.

That is not to say that I neglect my duties as husband or father.  Never.  Wasn't raised like that.  Today, for instance, I have to cut my writing time short to take my daughter dress shopping.  She has a choral concert on Thursday and needs an appropriately black and modest outfit.  So, in about two hours, I will be standing in Kohl's, arms laden with possibles, as my daughter scours the racks.

That is my life, and I've been doing it for quite some time.  Frankly, I don't know what I'd do with eight or nine hours of writing time in a day.  Once in my life, I went to a writing workshop retreat in Big Sur.  It was a week long and overseen by poet Sharon Olds.  In the morning, I would wake up with the sun and go walking along the cliffs above the Pacific with my journal and pen.  Then I would go to workshop.  In the afternoon, I would go for another walk with my journal and pen.  Then I would go to workshop again in the evening.  All that was expected of me was to write.  All day long.

At the end of those five days, I had working drafts of ten new poems.  It was a glorious time, driven only by the motivation to create poetry.  That was my white whale in Big Sur.

Since my life is more complicated now with work worries and family worries, I rarely get long stretches of writing time.  Instead, I steal time from other activities.  Five minutes here.  An hour there.  If I'm lucky, a two hour stretch of uninterrupted concentration before I have to pick up my daughter from her dance studio.  Small whaling voyages rather than extended excursions around the Cape of Good Hope.

Yesterday, I cobbled together a couple hours to piece together a book of Christmas essays that I've been working on.  It felt pretty good to have an actual, honest-to-God manuscript in my hands.  It's nowhere near done, but it felt like I had landed a pretty big fish.

So, you see, I'm just like Ahab or Starbuck or Stubb or Flask.  A little obsessed.  A little driven.

Saint Marty is thankful today for a new book, even if it's a little rough around the edges.

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