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 One of the characters is secretly purchasing the original manuscript of “Isle of the Cross” which is thought to be an unpublished and lost work by Melville.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 – 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.

Weekends in Paradelle 2021

blog post

It’s time for me to review the year here in Paradelle. I’m always curious to see which posts received the most attention during the year. I like it when new posts get a lot of reads, but usually, older posts have the biggest numbers overall.

For example, a tiny little post called “What Happiness Looks Like” was at the top of the list almost all year.  View it  Maybe it’s the title that invites the possibility of knowing what happiness really is that grabs people.

I have a little widget on the site (it’s less obvious on mobile devices) that tells you which posts have the most visits today. I think that people reading that list are likely to click on a title. It’s like getting a book because it is a bestseller. There must be something to it if it is that popular, right? Popularity breeds popularity.

That might explain why a post about a little food joint that used to be in New Jersey continues to attract readers. “Greasy Tony’s Reborn In The Desert”  (View)  can’t be popular because so many people went in there for a sandwich.

The Moon is a topic of interest to me and to my readers. Top posts this year included:
“Moon Myths: The Dark Moon”
and some of the monthly Full Moon posts such as:
“The Bone Moon of February”  View,
“The Hare Moon”   View,
“Native Americans and the Blue Moon” View,
“The Hunter’s Moon of October”   View

Also popular were some of the posts about holidays and calendar and astronomical observations, such as “Ceremonies for Candlemas” Eve View and “Time for the Clock and the Sundial to Sync”   View

I think my own favorite posts are ones that are standalone and probably don’t fall into any specific category (though I do put every post into at least one category!)  A few of the top ones in 2021 were:
“Follow the River”
“The Hundred Acre Wood”   View
“The Girl in Blue” View
“Mindfulness” View
A Persian Flaw View
“The Inelasticity of Staying Connected” View
“Going Backwards Uphill” View

Many of my posts are perennial.  It’s the time of the year when posts like “Here we come a wassailing” and “Make a Viking Toast for the Winter Solstice” get found in searches as people look for holiday and end-of-year information.

I thought at the start of the year that the counter for this blog might click over 500,000 visits in 2021 but we’re still a ways off. So, keep click and reading, and leave a comment once in a while. It’s nice to hear from all you virtual readers.

Where Is Paradelle?

Is Paradelle an island paradise?

Recently, someone who is new to this website asked “Where is this Paradelle that you say you go to on weekends?”

Well, it’s nowhere. And it’s here. I suppose it’s virtual. Look out, Mark Zuckerberg, I’m already in the metaverse. On weekends.

I explained this on my second post here, but that was in 2008. Maybe you weren’t visiting, so here we are again. And Paradelle has changed some.

Originally, the paradelle was a new poetic form invented by Billy Collins. He meant it as a parody. It was funny, as long as you were in on the joke. Collins introduced the form with a poem in his collection Picnic, Lighting. His fake history was that the paradelle was invented in eleventh-century France.  It was an almost impossibly complex form. His “Paradelle for Susan” was intentionally terrible. The form defeated him and the poem erodes in its complex repetitions.

Collins launched the form in 1997 and not long after I spent a week in a writing workshop with Billy. Along with much poetry and much Guinness, he shared the origin of the paradelle.
The parody turned out to have legs and started running on its own. Other people started trying to write better ones than Billy’s original. I wrote one and I worked a long time on it. My poem and other paradelles were collected and published in 2005 in the anthology, The Paradelle, from Red Hen Press.

You can read more about the origin story – and my paradelle contribution on that 2008 post, but let me get back to Paradelle the place. 

Collins thought of the paradelle as a parody of a villanelle, which is itself a complex and repetitive form. When I was looking for a name for this website, I thought of paradelle but my etymology is that rather than a parody it is a paradise. And since -the suffix -ville is used in fictitious place names (as in one of my other online homes, Ronkville), I used -delle as my place suffix. 

My original plan was to post here only on weekends. Two posts a week. As things went along, the weekend was extended to Friday night. Americans usually start the weekend as soon as work on Friday ends. 

As time went on in Paradelle, my fascination with celestial events from meteor showers, to solstices, equinoxes, eclipses, and the monthly Full Moons became part of being in Paradelle. They don’t always occur on weekends, so there is the occasional weekday post. 

Though I love islands (there are a few posts on them) and think of them as a kind of paradise, there are a lot of posts here that let you know that my Paradelle is located more inland. In winter, it snows in Paradelle and I escape to a cabin on a mountain to write and read and explore nature. In the summer, I go down to the Atlantic shore. It’s a four-season paradise.

At year end, I will look back at posts from this year and try to figure out what visitors have been enjoying. That is something that has changed in Paradelle since 2008 – visitors. there were few that first year and that was fine. You don’t want your paradise too crowded, but you do want to share it.

Currently, Paradelle has had more than 400,300 visitors. Not all at once, thankfully. It’s a lot of people. Some are regulars who visit every weekend. Most drop by only once or twice. It is not the most visitors I have online. That honor goes to a more serious place called Serendipity35  is where I started blogging in 2006. and it still gets the highest number of readers every month and has over 100 million visits since it began. It comes from days at a university and has my thoughts about learning and technology and the places where they intersect.

Endangered New Jersey is my blog that focuses on the species and parts of New Jersey that are threatened or endangered. It currently has more than 795,00 visitors.

But I don’t write for numbers – especially since I don’t get paid to write. I write because I like to write and feel some need to write about many things.

If I could have made my livelihood by being a poet, I would have gladly done it. Instead, along with my own poetry, I blog about poetry at Poets Online monthly e-zine which is a companion blog to my Poets Online site. The site offers monthly poetry writing prompts and a chance for poets to be included in our monthly issues. The site has been online since 1998 and so it has more visitors than Paradelle.

In 2014, I did a daily poem project called Writing the Day. It has 365 poems from that year, all written in the ronka poetry form. Since then, I continue writing there, though it is more of a weekly practice. In 2021, I added a podcast element.

There is also an occasional blog I call One-Page Schoolhouse where I try to educate “one page at a time” with short posts about a wide variety of topics.

Not enough? I love the etymology of words and the origins of names and that led me to do a site called Why Name It That? which looks at the origins of the names of people, products, teams, words, phrases. The most popular category is the origin of rock band names. Yes, it has more visitors than Paradelle. This means my little weekend getaway is till my quietest spot online.

Doing Some Dreamwork

giraffe dream

If you hear that someone is doing “dreamwork” it can mean they are working on interpreting their dreams. Today, this differs from the classical dream interpretation that we associate with people like Sigmund Freud.

Freud and others explored the images and emotions that a dream presents and also evokes in order to come up with a meaning for this kind of dream or dream symbols that could apply to other people too.

When I wrote earlier about a dream I had and the symbolism that is associated with it, I relied on some “classical” interpretations, but modern dreamwork is more individualized.

A book on dream interpretation may tell you that dream of a pregnancy (yours or someone else’s) usually has nothing to do with pregnancy and is a symbol of something new being “birthed” in your life. It certainly could be about a new project but it could be literally about someone being pregnant. Dreamwork now is more about discovering each person’s own dream language. That pregnancy could be about an inner transformation or connecting to your inner child.

A book of dream symbols might suggest some interpretations and they might seem relevant but you need to write your own dream dictionary. A child dreaming of feeding a giant giraffe is not the same dream if I dream about a child giving some food to a giant giraffe. Maybe the child is feeling different from everyone. Maybe I am dreaming about exaggerated, oversized desires.

I have been keeping dream journals for many years and I now know that certain things reappear. After decades of teaching, classrooms are often the setting for my dreams. If you read common interpretations of classrooms in dreams, you won’t find what they mean to me.

A friend once compared dreamwork to doing horoscopes. She said that you can read horoscope websites or books about your sign and sometimes what’s there will make sense for you. But to those who believe in astrology, only a horoscope done specifically for you will make sense.

I think interpreting a dream is like interpreting a poem.  If you read a poem about a child exploring a basement, the basement of the poet may be quite different from any basement associations you have in mind. I looked up “basement” in several dream books and they say that it represents a deep level of your subconscious mind – your deepest darkest thoughts, emotions, and memories. But maybe your basement was where your recreation or play room was as a child. I had my workshop for building models and my little chemistry lab in the basement. There was nothing deep, dark or secretive about it.

Many years ago, I gave a poetry reading and afterward a woman came to me and said that she enjoyed the reading and particularly my poem “Weekend with Dad.”I really identified with it because I am a divorced parent too.” I thanked her, but I am not a divorced parent and the poem is not about a custody weekend with my son. Or is it? For her, it was definitely about that kind of weekend, and looking back at the poem I realized she was right. That interpretation is valid. For her.

Any place, person, or object can differ in its meaning for different dreamers. The meaning can even change throughout your life. The classroom in my dreams when I was 11 is not the same one I saw when I was in college or is it the classroom I occupied as a teacher. Dreamworkers consider a dream to be alive after it ends and that it can have a variety of meanings and that those meanings may change.

Can’t a dream “just be a dream?” I have many dreams I have recorded that I cannot interpret. They seem to be just brief stories that are unconnected to my life – at least at the time I had dreamt them.

Freud’s theories are frequently dismissed today by modern science and psychology, but what he wrote about dreams is still influential. He didn’t know anything about REM and the NREM sleep cycles. His theory that dreams are wish-fulfillment partially came from his time spent analyzing children’s dreams. Freud also believed that dreams are very much about sexual or aggressive nature and that is why we repress them in our waking life.

When I started my first dream journal t age 13, I bought Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams. It was way beyond my comprehension but it got me thinking about what my dreams might be telling me about myself.

Freud’s student, Carl Jung, became a successful and famous psychiatrist too. Building on Freud’s ideas about the unconscious, he took different views about the meanings of dreams. He believed dreams express aspects of our personality that we haven’t developed in our waking life. Jung believed dreams were the way to see into our unconscious mind and provide us with guidance for our conscious life.

There are those now that dreams are not encrypted and don’t require interpretation because they have no other meaning. But they’re not useless because they are the way the brain attempts to convey information to its conscious self.

Freud called the dreamwork “the essence of dreaming.” They are “a particular form of thinking.” Dreams are very much about images created from abstract thoughts. In dreamwork, you reverse the process and turn the images into language.  Freud compared dreams to picture puzzles like rebuses.

One thing I have not found to be true in my dreams – though I wanted it to be true at times – is that they predict the future. They are all about the past. Oneiromancy (Greek oneiros = dream, manteia = prophecy) is the practice of using dreams to predict the future. I think it is a superstition, but it might only take one or a few coincidental dreams that accurately seem to predict the future to make you a believer. Dreams foretelling the future appear in the Bible, Homer’s Odyssey, and in Shakespeare’s plays.

journalBefore you go to sleep tonight, consider keeping a dream journal near your bedside and immediately recording any dream you recall upon awakening. Dreams dissolve quickly.

There are plenty of websites and books about interpreting dreams and even dream journals with suggestions about what you should try to record. But all you really need is a pen and notebook and to develop the practice of recording dreams and then considering the people, places, and objects that appear in them in the context of your own life experiences.