words by Sarah Acton
It is an almost impossible task, but Captain Ahab hunts down Moby Dick, though “it might seem absurdly hopeless task to seek out one solitary creature in the unhooped oceans of the planet.”
Not impossible when we consider that Ahab understands the Leviathan’s habit of swimming in veins around the submerged globe, he remembers the whale’s distinctive size and whiteness, and the long whaling experience of Ahab, and his navigational skills as the ship’s captain, plus his sly use of resources that facilitate the voyage.
But in the end it is Ahab’s monomaniacal focus that delivers him to the whale.
Watch out what you wish for, Ahab! When he encounters that white whale the consequence of his obsessive desire is death, taking all of the ship and crew with him to hell. Nevertheless he achieves his goal. If you set out for revenge then revenge is always going to be the end of a bloody business.
In setting out and naming his quest, Ahab sets his crew on a deviant track. He memorises every aspect of the whale’s form and studies charts to determine how to think like that whale. He is consumed by monomaniacal desire for revenge. It is madness that drives him onward with violent passion over days and months and years.
I remind myself of this as I indulge in a Moby Dick reread. I remember that completing any long voyage is a hard mental task, often demanding great physical endurance and deprivation. It is hard for a rational, fully rounded human being to stay on one single hunting voyage, to keep stubborn faith, to ignore all other distractions and even some responsibilities, to ignore the non-believers and those who say it’s not worth it; turn around and go home.
In fact it is hard to commit to become a member of that filthy, salty crew of the Pequod, unwashed and wholly focused in a messy, isolated three year pursuit of spermaceti gold of which they will only take a smallest part.
But there is a need for something of the ragtag mutinous crew of Pequod with all of the “mongrel renegades and castaways,” and a need for the “ungodly old man,” himself, for the crazed energy of Old Thunder, in the hearts of all writers.
These characters with all of their human flaws dared to ship, and enter into the unknown with a deliberate intention for wild and dangerous adventure.
It is easy to be lullabied into safety, familiar and certain, and allow distractions and routine to keep us cozy ashore looking out to sea fro the window. To step aboard the decks of the whaling ship, to pack a small bag travelling in hope of a return three years hence, to commit to the adventures between the two and know that at the end you will come shore harder, weathered, battered, stinking, with mysterious knowing in your eyes…there is the reason to abandon comfort. But it comes with risk and perhaps at a cost.
We cannot spy the vast mystery of whales unless we step aboard the ship. We cannot drive ourselves to the edge without a half-maddened force of urgent passion. We cannot seek the white whale unless we believe he exists and we believe we can find him despite the odds. We may need a Captain, a chart, a mast-head to keep watch, and we may need to name our goal by nailing a gold coin where all of our friends and family can see it, but we can determine our ship, sign up, and set sail into the great horizon.
Here at AuthorLab HQ we have been trying to motivate each other through the sludge of summer and bemoaning lack of pages written. Don’t get me wrong: there is no need to kill whales, abandon our families or unbalance our minds into madness to become writers, but we must remember to embrace of little of Ahab’s force of energy, to be stirred by great moving passions, to take risks in order to prioritise these passions, for these are all to see us through the long days ahead. And there are many days on a voyage if we are to deepen our intentions and achieve our desires.
“Swerve me? The path to my fixed purpose is laid with iron rails, whereon my soul is grooved to run. Over unsounded gorges, through the rifled hearts of mountains, under torrents’ beds, unerringly I rush! Naught’s an obstacle, naught’s an angle to the iron way!”
*all quotes from Moby Dick