Full Moon On Midnight Snow

Photo: Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

There was snow that swept through the country last night. Here, it was followed by rain and what did fall anew is gone. There are still piles from that last snowstorm, but that is the most unappealing snow.

It is quite lovely to see a Full Moon on a clear winter night when the ground is covered with fresh, glistening snow.

From November through February the Moon is high at midnight.  From May through July the Moon is very low in the sky. In  March, April, August, September and October the Moon is somewhere between. So, tonight’s Full Moon will be high in the sky at midnight.

Looking through a very long list of Moon names used by American Indian tribes, I found great variety for this January Moon. The Algonquin call it the Moon When the Sun Has Not the Strength to Thaw. That would be true in the North. The Chippewa and Ojibwe use the name Great Spirit Moon. The Apache, being in a warmer climate, call this the Time of Flying Ants. But colder January times figure into most names, such as Northern Arapaho’s When the Snow Blows Like Spirits in the Wind and the Cheyenne Moon of the Strong Cold. I like the Muscogee (Creek) name for this Full Moon – Winter’s Younger Brother.

For those who follow such things, this first Full Moon of 2022 falls in the intuitive, sensitive sign of Cancer, a sign that is supposed to remind us of feeling at home within ourselves. As with New Moons, this Moon of the new year could be a signal for a fresh start and letting go of what we don’t want to carry into the new year.

A friend who does follow astrology told me in an email that tonight I should “cleanse my aura.” I had to research that suggestion.

First of all, what is my aura? “Your aura is the energy field that surrounds your body. It acts as a magnetic field of energy that picks up on emotions, health, psychic debris and circumstances around you. Your aura can experience stress as you exchange energies with those around you, which is exactly why you need to clean your auric field from time to time.”

It turns out there are many ways to do this and some of them are things I do fairly regularly, such as getting into nature, soaking baths, or meditation. There are cleansing tools, such as crystals, herb sticks, bells, sage smudging. Using a New or Full Moon as a time for self-reflection is certainly not a bad twice a–month reminder

 

On Melville’s Isle

bust of melville
A bust of Melville at the former location of 6 Pearl Street in the battery at the south end of New York City. The boarding house where Herman was born is long gone and only a plaque and the bust by William N. Beckwith remained hidden behind plexiglass at the base of the towering white office building at 17 State Street when I visited in 2001. I don’t know if even the bust is still there today. There is a Starbucks across the street. 

I noted elsewhere that it was January 1841 when Herman Melville set sail for the first time on a whaling ship.  He has popped into my life several times this past month. I usually post something on Twitter for #FridayMelville, so that keeps the man and his writing in my mind. And “All men live enveloped in whale-lines,” he wrote.

Blum's new edition of the novelRecently one of my former middle school students from long ago was a contestant on Jeopardy. I have had no contact with her since those days and it was through that TV appearance that I learned that she is a Melville scholar. Hester (like that Hawthorne protagonist who is perhaps the first and most important female protagonist in American literature) is a professor at Penn State. Her bio shows she has had more adventures than her old teacher and certainly has gone even deeper into Mr. Melville’s work. Some of her writing includes serious scholarship (you can tell because the titles have a colon separating the interesting title from the scholarly one  ;-), such as The View from the Masthead: Maritime Imagination and Antebellum American Sea Narratives and The News at the Ends of the Earth: The Print Culture of Polar Exploration (free, open version).

I am quite delighted to see that she has edited and written the introduction to a new edition of Moby-Dick that will be published this summer. I hadn’t planned to add any more copies of that novel to my shelf, but I read it every year, so for 2022, this will be the copy I read.

The other Melville floating into my ken came inside another novel, The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay. One of the characters is secretly purchasing the original manuscript of “Isle of the Cross” which is thought to be an unpublished and lost work by Melville.

I did some additional digging on this title. It would have been his eighth book, coming after Moby-Dick (1851) and Pierre: or, The Ambiguities (1852) both of which were commercial and critical failures in his time. Maybe it was a novel. Maybe it was a short story or novella. It would be an interesting manuscript to find because from the few mentions of it this “story of Agatha,” the story has a female protagonist which is not what we expect from Melville.

It is thought to have been inspired by a story told to Herman Melville by a family friend on a July 1852 visit to Nantucket. John H. Clifford told Melville the story of Agatha Hatch Robertson. This Nantucket woman cared for a shipwrecked sailor named Robertson who she married. They had a daughter but Robertson abandoned them. He returned seventeen years later, only to abandon them again and then be exposed as a bigamist.

There is a timeline of references to this story, so it is believed that a manuscript did exist. Melville wrote to his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne about Agatha’s story and suggested that Hawthorne write the tale. Hawthorne did not take the suggestion, but Melville worked on the manuscript in 1852 and took it to his New York publisher, Harper & Brothers, in June 1853. They rejected it, probably because sales on the last two books had been poor. Perhaps they also feared Melville’s use of a real person’s story might be something that could trigger legal action from the family.

There are mentions of the story in letters and that led Melville biographers to surmise what the book might have been. Melville completing another manuscript after two failures means that he had not given up on writing as early biographers had assumed.  Melville sent a letter to Harper’s Magazine in November 1853 and referred to “the work which I took to New York last Spring, but which I was prevented from printing at that time…”

Was it a novel he brought to his publisher? That makes sense. Was it a short story like the ones he had published around that time? He wrote the now well-known story “Bartleby the Scrivener” and the “Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles” series of sketches in this period. The use of “isle” in the “isle of the Cross” seems to connect it to those enchanted isles.

Rediscovering a Melville work would be a big deal for literary types. Rediscovering Hester as Dr. Blum is a bigger deal for me. She recalled that I wrote in her yearbook back then that “The world will get much more interesting when it catches up to you.” I won’t claim any prescience with that prediction but I know I did not write that in anyone else’s yearbook. I am quite delighted by my own Melville discovery.

And You, Dear Reader

reader
Reader – Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.com

At the end of the year, I look at the analytics on my blogs and websites and it makes me wonder about who is behind those numbers and graphs. That’s you, dear reader.

Some writers have a reader in mind when they write. I don’t. I least I don’t have a picture of some blended reader. I know a few of you from the offline world but the vast majority are virtual. Some of you aren’t even “readers.” The analytics often list “visitors” who drop by (probably based on a search for something) take a look and leave, never to be seen again. It’s like people who go into a store, walk around and don’t pick anything up or buy anything. Just looking. 

A few years ago, a friend said that I should publish on Medium. He mentioned that they even have a program where you can get paid for getting people to read your words. I got an account but have never gone for the payment route. Not that I’m opposed to being paid, but it seemed like more work and I wasn’t seeing lots of readers there and that was my original reason to create an account. I was curious to see if I would get more readers there than on one of the blogs. I did the same thing by posting things on LinkedIn.

Medium’s own advice includes things like:
Do not chase algorithms.
Do not read articles on how to “make it” on Medium.
Do not create headlines that scare the living daylights out of people so they click on them, searching for some elusive answer to life’s unanswerable questions.

Concerning that last item, of all the articles I have posted on Medium so far, the one that gets the most reads is “The Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything Is 137. Maybe,” which on Medium has more than a thousand “views” and about 700 “reads” (meaning they stayed on the page long enough to read it). I’m sure the title is what attracts people.

That post also appeared on this blog with the less clickbaity title of simply “The Answer is 137.” Here it has over 2000 views, but WordPress doesn’t provide a “reads” stat.

Why more viewers here? I think it is you, dear reader. This site has almost 2000 followers who opted to get an email when a new post appears. Thank you for following! On Medium, I have less than a hundred followers. True, I don’t post there very often but it’s a big pond for little fish like me.

Medium says that email subscriptions help ensure that your most devoted readers never miss a post and their “Subscribe” button is a little envelope next to the “Follow” button.

Medium may discourage clickbait-styled titles, but they gave an example in one of their newsletters of a “creator” (their label for writers) of Kyrie Gray, a humorist who runs the publication Jane Austen’s Wastebasket. She has titles such as , “Zeus Finally Fired Due to Sex Scandals” and “MasterClass Now Offers Courses Taught by Famous Dead Writers.”

Dear Reader – Hello.

Podcasting

podcast mic
I read that there are currently over two million podcasts and over 48 million podcast episodes out in the world. Those numbers are incredible on their own, but when you realize that just 4 years ago, there were “only” a little more than half a million podcasts, the growth is astonishing. Those numbers might make you think that the podcast market is saturated, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I started doing a podcast last year and added another little fish to that big podcast pond. It is a podcast of some of the small poems I post on another site, Writing the Day. I thought there might be some interest by those readers to hear me read the poems and talk sometimes about what inspired them.

Not only are the poems small, but so are the podcasts. Some are under a minute. A few are a few minutes in length when there is some explanation I want to include. You might think that short episodes would have some appeal in these busy time but I don’t think so. I would think the same about short stories, but novels (end especially long ones) are definitely more popular. All those multi-hour true crime podcasts seem to be at the top of lists.

I fell behind on the podcasting. I started with the newest poems but I plan this year to go back and record some of the older ones that continue to get readers. There are about 800 poems there so I’ve got more than enough content. If only I had more than enough time.

Currently, they are available on Spotify (which has been the most popular option), but you can also find them on Google PodcastsPocket Casts, and RadioPublic.

You can find the poems and the story of how that project got started at WRITING THE DAY. It would be great if you stopped by and read a few poems and really great if you went to one of those podcast places and gave a listen.

Utopia, New Jersey

helicon2
Nightly discussions occurred around the Helicon Hall fireplace

I remember being introduced to the idea of a utopia back in junior high school and becoming fascinated with the idea of creating a society of perfection. It was the same social studies class that introduced me to the idea of a sharing community where all were equal and work and the rewards were shared. Then our clever teacher told us this was called Socialism and Communism. Of course, we were taught that those were bad things, but they sounded pretty good to us.

But the idea that Sir Thomas More had back in 1516 in his book, Utopia, stayed with me. I particularly liked More setting his utopia on an island because I have always had a thing for islands.

Utopia has been used to describe “intentional communities” that attempt to create an ideal society,  I wrote here earlier about Henry Ford’s failed attempt at a utopian community in the Amazon which he called Fordlandia.

New Jersey would not be the first place that comes to mind when you bring up utopian communities, but one example is an experiment by the writer Upton Sinclair. Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” He was no fan of commercial society.

Upton was born in 1878. When he was 15 years old, he started supporting himself by writing “dime” novels. He continued to write pulp fiction to get himself through Columbia University and he wrote a novelette a week all through college.

When he got an assignment from a socialist weekly to investigate working conditions in the meatpacking industry of Chicago, he was shocked at what he saw. He used his research to write The Jungle. The manuscript was rejected a number of times, so Sinclair published it himself in 1906. He had already published five novels, but The Jungle was his first real success. It motivated people to demand reforms in the meatpacking industry. It was said that President Roosevelt received a hundred letters a day demanding reforms.

The success of The Jungle allowed Sinclair to start a utopian experiment in New Jersey.

Upton Sinclair and son, David, 1904
Upton Sinclair and son, David, 1904

As unlikely as that may sound, there have been other utopian experiments in the state, as documented in Utopia, New Jersey: Travels in the Nearest Eden. The cooperative colony in Englewood, NJ was founded by Upton Sinclair in 1906.

A fire would end the experiment after only six months, but the dream remained with Sinclair for the rest of his life.

It was called Helicon Home Colony. It was hardly perfect. There were sex scandals that were written about in the press right from the beginning. They had a policy that specifically excluded non-whites. But Sinclair really believed his experiment was the future of American living.

Matt Novak wrote a good piece on Helicon that goes deeper into this story.

Sinclair considered his Helicon Home Colony (AKA Helicon Hall) as living based on reason and science. His ideas came from his reading of other 19th century socialist utopians.

Meta
Meta

My reading about the experiment makes me think that Sinclair wanted to get away from an unhappy family life.  He was not getting along with his first wife, Meta. He didn’t like being a father. He had just spent  three years secluded with them on an isolated farm in order to finish The Jungle.

He wanted freedom to write and a private community would allow him to write while others kept his wife occupied and the community raised his son.

He did have some progressive feminist beliefs and wanted the community to have things like cooking, cleaning and child-rearing done by those who could do it best without regard to gender. Creative pursuits could be followed by anyone who desired them.

Sinclair wrote some articles, including one in the New York Times, to set out his principles and solicit people who might want to join the experiment.

The plan was more ambitious than what he had the time to actuallycreate. He wanted to have as many electrical conveniences as possible and their own power plant, plus their own food-producing farm.

Although Sinclair was a self-avowed socialist, he didn’t call the community a socialist experiment and he didn’t want political beliefs to be part of the experiment.

As I said up front, it was hardly utopian in who was welcome to join.  Race, religion and profession were to be considerations. Writers, musicians, academics, artists  and creative types were invited to live there.  There was a board of directors and members owned shares in Helicon. Sinclair controlled about 70% of the board’s vote and could have overruled anyone.

One of the rumors that immediately started being said about the community was that the 46 adults (along with 15 children)  were just a sex cult of free love.

Helicon
Helicon Hall in Englewood

Sinclair didn’t want to employ traditional domestic servants and preferred using local students as interns. Interestingly, one of those interns was Sinclair Lewis who was then a budding author himself and who is often confused with Upton Sinclair. Sinclair Lewis would go on to write Babbitt, Main Street, Arrowsmith and other books and became the first writer from the United States to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature. The interns did not work out and they ended up hiring servants which sounds less than utopian.

Whether or not Upton Sinclair’s idea of utopia would have succeeded will never be known.  A fire, on March 16, 1907, burned Helicon to the ground.  A carpenter died in the fire so there was an inquest. The hearings were a local sensation and exposed the “free-love nest” story back into the newspapers, but no charges against Sinclair or anyone else were made. Members of the community got back their investments from the insurance money, but Sinclair was broke.

Sinclair considered starting over again in California, and Fairhope, Alabama and in Arden, Delaware, but nothing ever came of those plans.

Upton Sinclair was prolific throughout his life and went on to write almost 100 books. In his 1919 book, The Brass Check, he wrote:

“I look back on Helicon Hall to-day, and this is the way I feel about it. I have lived in the future; I have known those wider freedoms and opportunities that the future will grant to all men and women. Now, by harsh fate I have been seized and dragged back into a lower order of existence and commanded to spend the balance of my days therein.”

He may have idealized Helicon more because he never got to see it fail and so he always believed that it could have worked.

Soylent Green 2022

Soylent Green is a movie, and in that film, it is also a processed food that keeps the 40 million inhabitants of New York City and much of the world alive. It is set in the year 2022.

It was the worst of times. Scarcity. 50% unemployment. People living in cars. Women are completely oppressed. The younger and prettier ones become “furniture girls” – mistresses to rich men.

The film Soylent Green was released in 1973. It is an ecological, sci-fi,  dystopian thriller. It was directed by Richard Fleischer, and stars Charlton Heston, Leigh Taylor-Young and Edward G. Robinson in his last film.

The 2022 setting of the film is a world of dying oceans, the greenhouse effect (a term less used today) but the changing climate results in pollution, poverty, overpopulation, and depleted resources. Sound familiar?

Soylent green.jpg
Fair use, Link

It is also partly police procedural about the murder of a wealthy businessman. The wealthy elite citizens live in elegant fortresses with private security, bodyguards and their “furniture. NYPD detective Frank Thorn (Heston) and his aged friend Sol Roth (Robinson) are on the case. Roth, AKA “Book, “is a very intelligent former college professor and police analyst who remembers the world when it had animals and real food.

The murder victim was William R. Simonson, a board member of the Soylent Corporation which makes the food supply for half of the world. Their cookie/wafers include “Soylent Red” and “Soylent Yellow” but their new product is “Soylent Green” which is a more nutritious version and it is in demand and in short supply. It is advertised as being made from ocean plankton. There are supply chain and distribution problems and that causes riots when supplies run out. Rioters are violently removed from the streets by garbage-truck-type vehicles called “Scoops” that shovel up people and haul them away.

Simonson’s “furniture” Shirl begins a relationship with Thorn and helps him. He is told to end his investigation but continues anyway and finds himself being stalked.

It has been a long time since the film was released, so can I give a spoiler about the plot? The dying oceans can’t produce enough plankton to make Soylent Green. The company needs a new source of protein. I won’t say what that source is – though you might guess – and Simonson’s murder was ordered by his own company because he was troubled by the direction of the company.

Roth is disturbed by what they discover that he decides to end his life using one of the assisted suicide government clinics. Euthanasia is an accepted practice in this version of 2022.

The screenplay was based on the novel Make Room! Make Room! which was published in 1966). In the novel, the setting was 1999.

I won’t say it’s a great film but it did win the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation and the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film at the time. Is it a prescient film? Is it accurate in its prediction of 2022? Thankfully, we are not living in the film’s 2022 world, but there are aspects of the film’s future that are true to today.

I was surprised some years ago when I saw that Soylent (meal replacement), became a brand of meal replacement products. I was surprised because what happens in the book and film is a horrible thing.

In the book and 2012  film Cloud Atlas and in another dystopian novel, Tender is the Flesh, food shortages are solved in a similar way to Soylent Green.