Essay to Book to Blog

Began this entry on Friday, June 13, 8:30 am

In my application to be a 38th Voyager, I envisioned that my final product from the experience would be an open-ended essay enriched by my experience as a Melville scholar and a teacher of Moby-Dick. My plan was to begin keeping a journal during the trip to Mystic for the Training Day and to simply see what evolved from there. I was envisioning the essay itself as a work of creative non-fiction, a work which the immediacy of a lived experience can be enriched by imaginative associations ranging from the broadly cultural to the deeply personal (which describes quite well the wordscape of Moby-Dick in relation to Melville’s original whaling voyage).

By the time I was finishing the journal entry for my Training Day as my plane was landing in Cincinnati, it was already clear that the length of what I was writing more closely resembled the first chapter of a book than the prologue of an essay. As I finished up the last week of the Spring Semester, saw my students present their final projects in Dickinson and the Arts, and began to sort and store all of the classroom materials to clear the decks for the voyage itself, I realized that the process of making the transition from the classroom to the whale ship was itself worthy of mention in the narrative I now was writing. As I was writing the section I am calling “Stowing Down and Scanning the Horizon,” I already felt that this was the beginning of a new chapter-length section, one that I quickly named “All Astir” after the chapter in which Ishmael describes preparations for his own voyage in Moby-Dick. Just as Ishmael writes in the “Advocate” chapter that “the whale-ship was my Yale College and my Harvard,” so was my college classroom now buoying me out to the whale ship.

“All Astir” has been interesting to write because of the way one thing leads to another. I love the improvisational nature of creative non-fiction of this sort, where you do not know where you are going until the process takes you there. As I thought of this project eventually becoming a book maybe two years from now (that is, if I found a publisher), I realized how much of the immediacy of the experience would necessarily be lost. Also, as I transcribed one journal entry after another into my Microsoft Word document, I kept inserting images would make excellent illustrations for whatever I was writing. It almost began to hurt to insert some of these pictures when I realized that ninety percent of the photos themselves, as well as much of their immediacy, would be lost if this project were published only as a book several years from now. With regard to immediacy, consider the image I am posting immediately below that Mary K Bercaw Edwards sent as an email attachment this morning. It was taken six days ago by her former student Nathan Adams from the deck of the Charles W. Morgan in the first trial voyage out of New London to see how she could sail under her own wind power.

The restored Morgan's first trial voyage, June 6, 2014, photo Nathan Adams

The restored Morgan’s first trial voyage, June 6, 2014, photo Nathan Adams

Six paintings greeting visitors at Shawn's Memorial Art Exhibition

Six paintings greeting visitors at Shawn’s Memorial Art Exhibition

It was at Shawn Buckenmeyer’s Memorial Art Show where it dawned on me that my writing project had to be a blog. A blog would allow me to share the immediacy of the written experience enriched by a superfluity of images. I had never created a blog and I am digitally challenged, but conversations with my colleagues John Alberti and Jen Celio at our event for Shawn convinced me that I could learn to convert my Microsoft text into a WordPress blog that would be much better suited to this project than the open-ended essay that was already morphing into a book.

Web site Moby and the Net for Moby and the Arts Class, 1996-97

Web site Moby and the Net for Moby and the Arts Class, 1996-97

With the help of Ed Trujillo, technical advisor to our English department, I am now up to date. I have converted my Word files into a living blog that others can see. There were some bumps along the way. The first weekend I could not find my blog files on my home computer and thought I had lost them all. On the second weekend, I could find my files and edit them, but it was not until I saw Ed the next week that I found out there was a “visual” alternative to the “text” function in which I could edit the text in a format similar to that for Microsoft Word rather than in HTML code, which I had been doing all weekend. Fortunately, I had learned the rudiments of HTML from my Moby students who had created Moby and the Net, our own website, during the Spring 1996 class ( But it is certainly easier to edit a text closer to the way you will be seeing it on the screen.

Now that I am into the rhythm of the blog I can’t doing this project any other way. I still write

First page of handwriten Training Day entry
First page of handwriten Training Day entry

out each new entry longhand—including this one—before transcribing it into a Word document from which I now convert it into a blog entry. I imagine that many younger people who are at ease with the new technology are creating everything from the get-go on the blog itself. But for now I like beginning with a handwritten journal entry. On NPR the other day I heard a report of what seemed like a fairly rigorous experiment showing that the human mind more securely retains information we have written out in longhand than that which originates on a screen. So, the starting point for this project will remain the handwritten word, even though the end result already certain to be something far different from what I had originally envisioned—as is, of course, the immediacy of its publication on the blog.




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