Thursday, November 1, 2012

"That's a coincidence, I lived on a Bounty once..."...

(The Reader will allow me to attest that I am acutely aware of the time that it has been since my last entry in this Journal. It has been 500 days since my last entry. I did not expect to do this thing again, but recent events have returned me to this forum, on which I am more free to babble on without general coherence in a longer form than is allowed in social networking platforms. Which usually do not support my chosen tack here, that of typing as many words as possible and then editing them into a cohesive -- if densely incoherent -- totality. When I last attempted this diversion, it was as a gossipy local political and social put-on that published at indiscriminate intervals articles of my flat dissatisfaction with everyday enterprises. Before that, I was more regular and followed the conceit of a ship's journal, that ship being the mythical H.M.S. Impossible. You don't know that one, since it is the one whose exploits that I keep endeavoring to fabricate and chronicle in book or film while distracting myself with research about the Long Eighteenth Century.
You are no doubt familiar with the story of the contemporary sail training vessel that some readers may remember as the inspiration for this JournalH.M.S. Bounty, lost not far from Cape Hatteras earlier this week. Because this online journal has been visited by Googlers and Bingers nearly three hundred times more often in the last two days, I thought that I would give those people something to leave on their desktop at work. Your Journaller lived on Bounty for several seasons. A Bounty that is not in any way the one that was lost.)

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” -- attributed to Mark Twain

Nearly twenty years ago, I did many things that both delighted and disappointed me. More of the former than the latter, although I am still delighted by the disappointments. And all involved bowlines and sails.
For all I that know, Mark Twain may have said those words in that order, possibly at a commencement exercise at some venerable institution that paid him handsomely to wiggle his way out of his legendary curmudgeon. Those last three words seem like a very contemporary construct, and the Twain scholars that I have encountered doubt the quote's provenance because Clemens was a riverboat pilot, sometimes navigating steam-powered craft "on a heavy dew." And don't let's forget that I was once a wool-wearing historical reinterpolator. I know lots of people who will dispute anything that anyone says. 
For fun.
Here in the special Camelot that I call "home," we recently had a storm which was brought about by a hurricane, Sandy, about which you may have heard.
During storms, some of the local boatfolk haul their boats out of Apponogansett Harbor and store the sleek fiberglass and mahogany chunks of debt safely on the fields and rills behind the manse. I am uncertain whether some of those wags possess a clear "what were they thinking" prejudice like some armchair ship's masters, but I found myself -- while restoring stately Goon Manor to its pre-Sandy shambles -- with an inescapable compunction to run up to one of them, brandish my Bounty cap and jacket and '95 Maritime Tour T-shirt and, well...

"DO YOU HAVE A MINUTE? I mean, do you have about two decades? Because I have to tell you a story. The first part is easy and will only take a sec. Nice kid, a little precocious, painfully aware of ineluctable mortality due to a diagnosis of diabetes age seven, got good grades, swam and stole  borrowed played with Sunfish sailboats during Summers,  made some uninformed decisions that mostly turned out all right due to a recorded high I.Q., shithouse luck and wildly disparate eyewitness testimony, turned 16 emotionally when chronologically I should have turned 30..."
 "OH! This is about YOU!" 
As it turns out, I had been addressing the Manor's contracted tradesman, Burleigh Flatstock.
The English language -- when not being mourned -- is picturesquely compared to a toolbox containing implements that must be honed and cared for, else someone lose a digit or put an eye out. And like that.

Nowhere else is this old saw [sic] more true than here in the Southern of Dartmouth, and nowhere can it be more dexterously exhilarated than by Burleigh Flatstock -- which is the moniker on his van -- right here on the grounds currently safehousing a few Boston Whalers and several plump daysailers.
The particular Goon Manor contractor in question exhibits effective -- if peculiar -- work habits: holding his hammer by the head and thrusting the handle end so each nail meets its culminative spot with a single deliberate shove. When Burleigh applies the smooth top of a handsaw blade, he can actually make quite a smooth incision.
Eventually.
Burleigh's nontraditional adroitness notwithstanding, he -- like his Swamp Yankee forbears --also uses English in much the same manner. Which is to say that he wields the English language like a tool. Or, more precisely: as a tool. I might exculpate him his impatience with a language that doesn't have a distinct single word designation for "the day after tomorrow," but a reversion to Yankee grunts and Swamper shrugs is no answer to linguistic pickyness.
Especially during a monologue out of which I am currently pouring my guts.
"Heard about your boat. Too bad."
"It's a ship. A full-rigged ship. Was a full-rigged ship. And it wasn't mine!"
I never "friended" or "liked" the HMS Bounty Facebook page. I never felt personally connected to that ship's current particular mission. I had inelegantly abandoned the Bounty-that-was-16-years-ago, and spent an inordinate amount of time mourning my delusions and forgetting -- no: repressing -- memories. 
When I was on The Big Blue Boat, I had become consumed by it. My naturally-acquired New England Calvinist work ethic could not play at work. This interacted with my inborn Catholic guilt, after realizing that I had actually been playing at work and part of my job (in port, at any rate) was to play act. Since I was getting paid (Navy rules), the ship was my job and worthy of serious consideration, and then consternation, and finally, confliction, and I became a brooding hump. Years before David Boreanaz made that fashionable. 
The three hundred or so books and essays that I had inhaled daily and the histories and fictions of The Long Eighteenth Century, rather than being a library of continual delight, became a bookbag full of increasingly irrelevant crap. I guarded the ship with a jealous pedantry and ignored or abhorred the rest of the TallShip™ community (such as it is). Bounty was -- to me -- a demanding and an unrequiting mistress that I had to quit.
And quit her I did.
And I was fatuous enough to use the "It's not you, it's me" canard.
Following a common practice among the jilt, the deserting,  and the bereft, I leapt aboard other quarterdecks and cockpits for brief dalliances but always apperceived a gut feeling of empty regret. I was surprised at the amount of seamanship that I had acquired, because it had been inculcated painlessly by a patient teacher. Or several.
 Eventually the "boat-delivery" conceit lost its intrigue and I was back to The Beach, joining its denizens in the wearying amble toward the inevitable. 
The early Internet was full of sailors' forums that eschewed any complex discussions of ships as dysfunctional workplaces, and the Brightsiders had immersed themselves in the new medium and distended the online world with cheery emoticons, cute animals, and unverifiable "inspirational" quotes. And, as is their wont, mistook "critical thought" for "criticism" and would brook none of that.
I attempted to reinsert some salt into the dreamy-eyed online TallShip™ talk, I spent a few years "publishing" an online journal of inappropriate snark which you are still free to audit, although I seem to have eternally distanced myself from the boaties and wannabes whom I have encountered and now generally avoid. 
There is a new batch of boat blogs that are laden with ads for WestMarine™ and MaerskLines. There are "onboard crew diaries" carefully crafted by some marketing firm or constantly tweet-updated by some Trustafarian on an oddly-named 2004 schooner who was mad chaffed to be FULL-TIME TALLSHIP'S CREW for that two-week run all the way to the family Winter place in the Caymans. 
No one ever visited this online presence looking for "hms bounty" or even "tall ship". No, the search terms that brought people here most were "cute cartoon animals" and "virginia hey".  
And that's how H.M.S. Impossible became The Impossible Journal and eventually fizzled to the current mere online repository for a few clever turns of self-possessed discourse that I could pop into status updates on Facebook, often inappropriately and unapologetically off-topic. (Please accept my sincere apologies for those impertinent instances.)
No, there will not be enough headlines like "Disconsolate Porn Industry Plans Tribute to HMS Bounty" for me to reestablish a regular line of converse here, nor can I republish any of the deleted journal entries that had direct reference to HMS Bounty that I had deleted years ago for whatever reason I did that. I may have been affected by The Brightsiders or been embarrassed about the time that I couldn't get the heaving line "acrosst" because I was balancing on unsecured cargo in choppy seas. The Captain didn't speak to me for weeks. 
But it is a dissipating, time-wasting sacrilege to preoccupy one's self in the ledger with the columns labeled "deeds, good" and "deeds, bad" because you know that the books always balance out in the final accounting.  
Has a maritime tragedy brought me back in touch with old shipmates? Yes, in surprising and frustrating ways. Because some plundered and dishonorably done-in relationships deserve much more than a click on a "Respond to Friend Request" button. Such reunions involve responsibly facile apologies and include some form of forthright hugging. Because for all of the reaching out that I have and have not attempted over the past decade and a half, I still feel at arm's length.
And, in one ineffable case, too many leagues away.
Which is a pity, because some arms belong to strong workmates, ready assistants, gifted companions, warm partners.
And to an exceptional and wonderful and impossible ship.

"Made one of them in origami."
"Huh?" I asked Burleigh, shocked out of my revery.
He profferred his knock-off off-market tablet:
Perspective. Thanks, Burleigh.

The Bounty that I once handed, reefed, and steered still sails on.
According to my true shipmates, in their hearts and heads.
Where all good things sail endlessly in fine winds that carry the sound of laughter.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." -Oscar Wilde

Perhaps it was the longstanding SouthCoast tradition of miscomprehending the role of the artist in society, but I have always understood writing as a solitary craft.
I was never the type to join writers' groups, so I was fortunate to high school on an autarchic little island of Jesuit erudition. In Fall River, the intellectual backwater where the academy was situated, creative writing is considered a profligate luxury and associated with the lavender silk pillow set.
Elsewhere -- let's say, oh, Newport -- one's pals were perpetually dipping their quills into the community-fostered inkpot and scratching invisible keepsakes into some packsack or other; it's hard to not wring the sighs and cries and forge them into some attempt at beautiful music. I was afforded plenty of opportunities to share my poetry publicly. Which panned out quite well, with a few local literary publications printing a few pieces at no cost to me.
And once, I was actually compensated for it.
In free copies of the magazine.
(The magazine, incidentally, was printed for free by some sucker and offered at artsy establishments without charge.)
But that was last century, when the idea of reading poetry aloud before an audience was an exercise for greybeards to practice before bluehairs.
I practiced my own penchant for performance on professional and amateur proscenia. I could see no reason to muddy the literary waters by conjoining poetry and drama (*coff*Shakespeare*coff), but seeing as how entropy was firmly mucking up every other definition that I had ever learned, "performance art" became the obscenely ubiquitous medium of expression for poetry.
Or what passed, in some quarters, for it.
You may remember the shorthand sitcom stereotype of "poetry reading." Black turtlenecked clove cigarette smokers snapping their fingers at self-impressed berks who think that "melancholy" coordinates metrically with "broken doll" if you frown hard enough. You know the bit.But at poetry slams, similar clichés assaulted.
Poetry slams brought movement and instruments and percussion and recordings into the coffeehouse. Young people (and, dude, twenty-five years ago, I was one) were treated to Schoolhouse Rock versions of Horatian odes -- well, without the Augustan principles and with more pauses and swear words.
At some point in the evolution of the form, merely reading a poem, without mixed media presentations and throbbing basslines, was considered boring. Stuffy. And, um, not really poetry at all.
Since I was playing the museum and library circuit -- where bookish unrhymed iambs of maritime irony played better -- I would not have minded even the evolution of reading events into hip-hop franchises.
If it weren't for some humorless, witless, and charmless participants.
"Irony," as it turns out, requires lots of those sneaky meaning-filled "words," and usually not ones that served in coarser contexts as substitutes for "genitalia."
There was the woman who screamed obscenities while ripping up family photographs. There was the couple who shouted inanities and then full-bodyslammed each other. There were the ones who gave heft to bland words like "stupid" by inserting painfully uncomfortable silences before, during, and after. The ones who would fall to the stage and say, "CRASH!" The ones who spoke in a soft whisper except for the times when they hollered.
I found some of them to be fierce, earnest, mean-spirited, frightened, impolite, unpolished, tattooed, angry, blathering prats who were unaware that the novelty had worn out decades before. I was not familiar with their vocabulary and my more-often technical observations were generally ignored because concerns like metaphor and comprehensibility were oldhat distractions. Because I was neither relentlessly self-absorbed nor sickeningly fawning.
I had a college "advisor" who found fly-fishing not only diverting but uncommon enough to appear hip, and extolled the virtues of freshwater angling while tying lures during our advisory sessions. Turns out that he did this so that when his wife called, he could say that he was tying nymphs in his office. Which he found exceedingly clever. He spent long hours attempting to parse the poetry of Bob Dylan's popular songs, claiming that Dylan was the only songwriter whose work stood up to classical literary analysis. While twisting waxed thread around the shank of a hook, he twisted himself in excogitating convolutions in order to prove Zimmerman's lyrical acumen. I handed him the lyricsheet from Elvis Costello's Imperial Bedroom.
That's around the time when a new faculty advisor showed up with a bottle of Dewar's and a syllabus filled with Eugene O'Neill.
A poem is not a song. When the words of a song can be effective without performance -- when appreciated first-hand from the page and not blared from a stage -- that is where poetry lives for me. I have been moved by some fine and new poets. Locally, I know of many. They are hard to find, unless you know where to pick up their chapbooks, which says less about the poets' public relations skills than it does about the public's relationship with poets.
But this intrigues me:

NORTH DARTMOUTH, Massachusetts (May 4, 2011) – Baker Books and WhalingCity Review are thrilled to welcome Janet E. Aalfs to the bookstore’s Bean & Leaf Café for a poetry reading on Saturday, May 21st at 7:00PM. Aalfs, who was the poet laureate of Northampton, Massachusetts(2003-2005), weaves poetry and martial arts dance in performing,teaching, and social justice activism locally, nationally and internationally.
"Intrigues me," much more than this:
Because I would rather extrapolate on the meanings of words and their order. Rather than concentrate on the personality or the performer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

O My Lily of Killarney

They meant ''Kauai.'' Looks like Hanalei.I have only ever heard two people in Rhode Island utter the name of the last Hawaiian queen, and they both pronounced that name dramatically differently.
The first -- a Fifth Grade teacher who had our class memorize the locations of Union and Confederate losses as well as the names of the hapless generals whose incompetence he held as cause -- intoned the designation as some variation of "Lily O'Killarney."
The only other person who ever said the name was the breathtaking Sophronia (mentioned here and here) who, while recently visiting her alma mater Brown University and avoiding Emma Watson, exhaled the name of "Leeliwokeelahnay" incidentally, carelessly, and as though she were referring to her mother's great-aunt.
Which she probably was.
And that's what I got for mentioning Sarah Vowell's newest book and that it's about Hawaii.
As I steamed through Unfamiliar Fishes -- Sarah Vowell's gift to us dockbound vicarious history vacationers -- it was the latter's voice that I heard wrestling control from the unmistakably characteristic Sarah Vowell. Whenever I read a rumination of historical events ruminated upon by Sarah Vowell, I invariably hear the veritable voice of Sarah Vowell reading it. And this without the audiobook version.

Blame it on my decades of blade-and-tape audio editing, call screening, or phone center customer servicing, but once I've heard a voice, it's filed in the soggy attaché that I secret behind my eyes. But whenever I see a word that isn't German and possesses numerous neighboring vowels, I can hear Sophronia's luscious mezzo-soprano, casually and fragantly dropping the name of some secluded beach or other on the island where she herself exotically bloomed, moonlight dappling her soft cocoa skin, softly dusted by fine volcanic sand languorously affixed with playful errant splashes of warm salt sea...
You know, like humuhumunukunukuāpua‘a. Or kahlua. Or uhaul.
Although, a weekend running around the former Sandwiches with Sarah Vowell would be a pleasant diversion. She apparently knows everybody and certainly recognizes the best spots for plate lunch. And the bonus is that for every hike to Kealakekua Bay with her precious nephew, we get to hang out in a moldy house museum or library stacks with some ardent and single-minded archivist caricatures.

Although I am sure that we'd argue about whether sugar laborers or American whalers are the root of Hawaiian Portuguese cuisine.
I guess we'd just have to sample lots of it.
Unfamiliar Fishes is a fine sampler of another variety of fare.
One might button down Unfamiliar Fishes as a sequel to The Wordy Shipmates in that once again, Protestant busybodies in their missionary zeal spoil everything. The Wordy Shipmates features spot-on discussions of John "Ronald Reagan Will Misquote Me Often" Winthrop and our local celebrities Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson. These folks and their progeny -- divergent though their intentions were -- sank the hooks pretty deep into New England soil. Deep enough so that a new generation of clumsy genocidists feels compelled to exercise itself even further west and further demonstrate what a bunch of greedy clever prissy selfish hypocrites they were.
Unfamiliar Fishes testifies to a historian's vocation: to introduce us to people who can no longer edit themselves or tweak their own reputations. Sarah Vowell lets the participants tell their stories, usually in their own words, and sometimes repetitively. The still-wordy missionaries ("mikaneles"), Bible-literate haoles, ill-prepared maoli -- and their historical and contemporary mouthpieces. At one point, I found myself immersed in an engaging reminiscence of the Nation of Hawaii before it became clear that I had neglected to return to Sarah Vowell's book after briefly consulting Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen on my Kindle. I don't know if Sarah Vowell was channeling Queen Liliuokalani. Recently, I've found that technology sometimes troubles me.
Pre-ordering a new Sarah Vowell book and awaiting the Kindle upload date, I was put in mind of haunting the college pub, anticipating the presence of some sweet object of schoolboy fascination from History of Literature class.
You spend a lot of the night getting up the nerve, but when you do introduce yourself, you immediately fall in with a welcoming and agreeable companion.
You giggle about Andrew Marvell's time-consuming slampiece, sing along with the Neil Young on the jukebox (who THEHELL played that ?), quote The Brady Bunch and that funny NPR show, try the drink that the bartender has "been working on," and nobody exchanges numbers because you'll be in class Wednesday and Friday.
I was mailed a copy of The Wordy Shipmates, and even though I am a self-impressed gasbag recognized widely for "bombastic pomposity" (I can't let go), I never wrote a review. I understand that when someone sends you a book for free before it is even dropped, you probably should do. No such demands were made on me, but I said nice things anyway. In a brief statement about something else.
And then Sarah Vowell comes to New Bedford, sneaks around the Whaling Historical National Scenic Shopping District, and doesn't even have her people send a note to advise me that I have been officially snubbed.
Sarah Vowell has made some impression on the local Visitor's Center volunteer coterie. Just after the publication of her exchange with a decidedly emblematic New Bedfidgian ("Oh No Not Another Moby-Dickhead"), the Cetacean Holocaust National Paving Blocks Aren't Cobblestones Dammit Park people are actively seeking new volunteers who will gush about Melville's big ole book.
I am sure, however, that the New Bedford Office of Who's In Charge of Tourism This Week appreciates Sarah Vowell's strict observance of the "You can't say 'New Bedford' without saying 'Whaling Museum'" Law (although she missed the opportunity to comment on the "burgeoning arts scene" like everybody else does). I would like to sincerely thank her for not mentioning the name of the sham house museum/banquet facility that she claims to have visited while here, and then admitting that New Beige had some passing something to do with "sailors" in Hawaii. I beg her to not do a book about whaling even though her wit, scholarship, and charm would completely blow Nat Philbrick -- and Rory Nugent for that matter -- off the shelves. And I appreciate that a woman who doesn't drive begins her book at the Rainbow Drive-In in Honolulu.
It should also be noted that, given the opportunity to take on the very same subject matter -- the effects of mikanele on Hawaii -- I would have turned out a novelty pamphlet explaining how Mele Kalikimaka ever happened.
Mahalo to you Sarah Vowell.