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        On The Road, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

On The Road, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.


In September 2007, I finished reading On The Road. It was the day the book turned 50. I have this thing for Kerouac. I consider him the James Dean of writers. I guess I’m easily swayed by myth.

On The Road didn’t sweep me off my feet like James Baldwin’s Another Country or Giovanni’s Room. And it wasn’t understated and elegant like John Williams and Stoner. The book dragged in places. The relationships were passionate but doomed. And I couldn’t understand why Sal clung to the inconsiderate, egotistical Dean like the stabilizing, wagging tail of a kite.

The story didn’t find ground for me until I found myself sweeping across the yellow prairies of Nebraska, pounding through the arid, western Colorado desert, and driving over the mountainous Continental Divide. I like Kerouac because he was a boundary buster. He helped other boundary busters – the artists, writers, poets, and musicians of his time – find their voices. He changed the definition of writer.

There has been a lot of hoopla over On The Road in the last year. Primarily because the 120-foot, $2.4 million dollar scroll he wrote it on (over 20 days in April of 1951) is touring the country. But Jack didn’t write On The Road in 3 weeks. He’d been gathering, composting, scribbling in a pocket notebook, and dreaming about it for years. He was a disciplined writer who sat down between travels and wrote with a vengeance. He had been living this story a long, long time.

On the eve of the book’s publication, Kerouac was so poor he had to borrow money for a bus ticket to New York from Joyce Johnson, his girlfriend at the time. When the book became famous, he’d been done with it for several years. And after he hit it big, Johnson recalls mobs around him at parties: “Women wanted him to make love to them and all the men wanted to fight him.”


         Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.     Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.     Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.     Dreaming Of Summer, reading on the deck, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Summer 2007, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

One of the best Kerouac accounts I’ve seen is the Audrey Sprenger interview by Jeffrey Brown that aired on the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour, September 5th, 2007. Sprenger takes an honest look at Kerouac, beyond the myth, to see the writer as he was:

I think the continuing popularity of the book stems from the fact that Jack Kerouac was brave enough to defy social convention and comfort to do quite a radical thing, which was to simply be in the world and write about it. He was a deeply, deeply disciplined writer who was committed to documenting America every day as it was lived by people, and I think that he really captured the ways that people lived and spoke. And that is what he was committed to as an artist, trying to develop a new way of American writing which would be evocative of how people actually lived, whether or not it followed the rules of grammar or literary convention.

  -Audrey Sprenger, Sociologist, interview from On The Road, Kerouac’s 50th Anniversary Celebrated

Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.   Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.   Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.   Why I Love Reading, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved.

Kerouac died young, in 1969, at age 47. Was it alcohol, stress, Benzedrine, fame? Perhaps a deadly combination. We may never know. But On the Road continues to sell over 100,000 copies every year. I count myself among the minions.

Not all reviews are favorable. Suzanne Vega wasn’t a big Kerouac fan even after her Book Of Dreams. Herbert Gold didn’t give On The Road a good review at its release in 1957. But I tend to fall in the same camp as Kerouac scholar Douglas Brinkley, and can get behind what he says in a 2002 NPR article by Renee Montagne, Kerouac’s On The Road:


If you read On the Road, it’s a valentine to the United States. All this is pure poetry for almost a boy’s love for his country that’s just gushing in its adjectives and descriptions. You know, Kerouac used to say, ‘Anybody can make Paris holy, but I can make Topeka holy.’

I’m saving the best for last. Like the writers before him, Kerouac wrote haiku. He loved to do readings in Jazz clubs in New York. You can hear him recite Some American Haikus (a few of my favorites: the bottoms of my shoes, nightfall, in the morning frost) and read the history of his recorded haiku at Kerouac Speaks. It’s a gift to hear a writer step inside his own voice.

Jack Kerouac, On The Road, Summer 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo by QuoinMonkey, all rights reserved. 

After decades of never making it past the first few chapters, I’ve finally completed On The Road. And discovered Kerouac’s haiku in the process. It only took me 30 years. Who knows what my blocks were to reading it. Every book has its time.





I’ll end with an excerpt from Part III:


In the spring of 1949 I had a few dollars saved from my GI education checks and I went to Denver, thinking of settling down there. I saw myself in Middle America, a patriarch. I was lonesome. Nobody was there – no Babe Rawlins, Ray Rawlins, Tim Gray, Betty Gray, Roland Major, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Ed Dunkel, Roy Johnson, Tommy Snark, nobody.

I wandered around Curtis Street and Larimer Street, worked a while in the wholesale fruit market where I almost got hired in 1947 – the hardest job of my life; at one point the Japanese kids and I had to move a whole boxcar a hundred feet down the rail by hand with a jackgadget that made it move a quarter-inch with each yank. I hugged watermelon crates over the ice floor of reefers into the blazing sun, sneezing. In God’s name and under the stars, what for?

At dusk I walked. I felt like a speck on the surface of the sad red earth. I passed the Windsor Hotel, where Dean Moriarty had lived with his father in the depression thirties, and as of yore I looked everywhere for the sad and fabled tinsmith of my mind. Either you find someone who looks like your father in places like Montana or you look for a friend’s father where he is no more.

    –On The Road, Jack Kerouac, 1957


-posted on red Ravine, Thursday, November 29th, 2007

-related to post, Kerouac Goes To War

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In her post Thornton Wilder & Bridges, guest writer Teri Blair said this about Mr. Schminda, her former teacher:

Years ago, I was given a reading list by my 11th grade English teacher. I was in the college prep class, and the list of 100 or so books were ones he wanted us to read before we graduated from high school. It wasn’t just his idea. He told us a committee of English professors had compiled it. These books were considered the bare-bones-minimum to have read before we darkened the first door of a collegiate hall.

This piqued the interest of several readers — myself included — and we asked to see the list. Teri generously reproduced it from mimeographed pages carried with her since high school. So, without further ado…(drumroll)…and in no apparent order except that which made sense to Mr. Schminda et al., here is…


THE “95 BOOKS” LIST
Provided by Teri Blair

JOHN STEINBECK
          THE GRAPES OF WRATH
          CANNERY ROW

HERMAN MELVILLE
          MOBY DICK
          WHITE JACKET
          TYPEE
          OMOO

WILLIAM FAULKNER
          LIGHT IN AUGUST
          INTRUDER IN THE DUST

MARK TWAIN
          PUDD’NHEAD WILSON
          CONNECTICUT YANKEE

JAMES FENIMORE COOPER
          THE DEERSLAYER
          THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS

WILLA CATHER
          O PIONEERS!
          MY ANTONIA

ERNEST HEMINGWAY
          A FAREWELL TO ARMS
          FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
          THE SUN ALSO RISES
          ISLANDS IN THE STREAM

F. SCOTT FITZGERALD
          THE GREAT GATSBY

THORNTON WILDER
          THE BRIDGE OF SAN LUIS REY
          OUR TOWN

THEODORE DREISER
          THE AMERICAN TRAGEDY
          SISTER CARRIE

FRANK NORRIS
          THE OCTOPUS
          MCTEAGUE

STEPHEN CRANE
          THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
          MAGGIE: A GIRL OF THE STREETS

WALTER VAN TILBURG CLARK
          THE OX-BOW INCIDENT

JOHN HERSEY
          THE CHILD BUYER

DANIEL KEYES
          FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON

OLE ROLVAAG
          GIANTS IN THE EARTH

WILLIAM BARRETT
          LILIES OF THE FIELD

SINCLAIR LEWIS
          MAIN STREET
          ARROWSMITH
          BABBITT
          DODSWORTH
          ELMER GANTRY

EDNA FERBER
          CIMMARRON
          GIANT
          ICE PALACE

UPTON SINCLAIR
          THE JUNGLE

OWEN WISTER
          THE VIRGINIAN

NORMAN MAILER
          THE NAKED AND THE DEAD

HERMON WOUK
          THE CAINE MUTINY

HARPER LEE
          TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

HARRIET BEECHER STOWE
          UNCLE TOM’S CABIN

LORRAINE HANSBERRY
          A RAISIN IN THE SUN

OLIVER LAFARGE
          LAUGHING BOY

THOMAS FALL
          THE ORDEAL OF RUNNING STANDING

PAUL ZINDEL
          THE EFFECT OF GAMMA RAYS ON MAN-IN-THE-MOON
          MARIGOLDS

JAMES AGEE
          A DEATH IN THE FAMILY

ROBERT PENN WARREN
          ALL THE KING’S MEN

JEAN MERRILL
          THE PUSHCART WAR

JOHN KNOWLES
          A SEPARATE PEACE

DALTON TRUMBO
          JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN

MICHAEL CRICHTON
          THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN
          THE TERMINAL MAN

ARTHUR CLARKE
          2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY

RAY BRADBURY
          FAHRENHEIT 451

NEVIL SHUTE
          ON THE BEACH

PAT FRANK
          ALAS, BABYLON

MARGARET MITCHELL
          GONE WITH THE WIND

BETTY SMITH
          A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN

RICHARD WRIGHT
          NATIVE SON

RALPH ELLISON
          THE INVISIBLE MAN

HAL BORLAND
          WHEN THE LEGENDS DIE

LEONA RIENOW
          THE YEAR OF THE LAST EAGLE

HAMLIN GARLAND
          SON OF THE MIDDLE BORDER
          DAUGHTER OF THE MIDDLE BORDER

EDITH WHARTON
          AGE OF INNOCENCE

JACK LONDON
          WHITE FANG
          CALL OF THE WILD
          SEA WOLF

CARL SANDBURG
          REMEMBRANCE ROCK

PEARL BUCK
          THE GOOD EARTH

RICHARD H. DANA
          TWO YEARS BEFORE THE MAST

NATHANIEL HAWTHORNE
          HOUSE OF THE SEVEN GABLES
          SCARLET LETTER

JESSAMYN WEST
          THE FRIENDLY PERSUASION

ALDOUS HUXLEY
          BRAVE NEW WORLD

SAUL BELLOW
          THE ADVENTURES OF AUGIE MARCH

ARTHUR MILLER
          THE CRUCIBLE

TENNESSEE WILLIAMS
          CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF
          A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE

WASHINGTON IRVING
          THE LEGEND OF SLEEPY HOLLOW
          RIP VAN WINKLE

EDGAR ALLAN POE
          THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER
          THE RAVEN

BRET HARTE
          SELECTED STORIES OF BRET HARTE

SHERWOOD ANDERSON
          WINESBURG, OHIO

J.D.SALINGER
          THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

LANGSTON HUGHES
          SELECTED POEMS OF LANGSTON HUGHES

JAMES THURBER
          MY LIFE AND HARD TIMES

EUGENE O’NEILL
          BEYOND THE HORIZON


Postscript
In a brief email exchange about her former teacher, Teri said:

Mr. Schminda is retired now, but lives in the same small town where he taught English to high school juniors. He whet my appetite for good books, and it was more than passing on the list of classics to read. He was thrilled about literature and authors.

One of the books we read the year he was my teacher was Moby Dick. I remember him pacing up and down the aisles between desks waving his paperback in the air and talking about Captain Ahab. He got fired up thinking about the adventure of the whale hunt.

When we read The Grapes of Wrath, I was desperate to go to Oklahoma and retrace the steps of the Okies fleeing the dust bowl. I wanted to know and love books as Mr. Schminda did. We all had to do an in-depth study of a writer; I picked James Weldon Johnson, my friend Pam chose Stephan Crane, and Sherri’s was John Steinbeck.

Mr. Schminda told us that we’d have to write one paper after another once we got to college. He told us by the time we left 11th grade he was determined that we’d know how to write term papers. We wrote and wrote and wrote. And when I got to college, thanks to his instruction, I knew how to write.

Thanks, Teri, for sharing Mr. Schminda with us, and thank you Mr. Schminda for inspiring Teri and countless others with your passion for reading and writing.

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Part I:

It’s Tuesday evening. I’m not inspired. When I feel this way, I look to other writers and artists to pull me up. We’re all in this together. No need to compete. There is room for everyone. I’m a strong believer in abundance. I feel a spiritual obligation to pay it forward.

I’m thinking about last May. Me, Liz, and two of our friends met for dinner at Acadia Cafe . We were just finishing our meals, when it started to pour. We ran across Nicollet Avenue through the pounding rain (without umbrellas), and sloshed across the parking lot, dodging puddles.

When we finally slipped into a crack between two open doors, we were soaked to the bone: stringy hair, dripping palms, wringing wet. In the soggy line, we handed the smiling ushers our tickets, and stepped into an architectural dream. The place was packed, buzzing with energy. I’ve been meaning to write about that night ever since. But I just didn’t know what to say.

Sometimes things have to sit inside a while. I have to hold them tight to me. Until I know what I’ve got.


Angle, pipe organ, stained glass, inside Plymouth Congregational Church, night of Mary Oliver, May 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

Angle, pipe organ, stained glass, inside Plymouth Congregational Church, night of Mary Oliver, May 7th, 2007, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved. 


Part II:

After a glowing introduction, and with a half-smirk that never left her face, Mary Oliver slowly walked up to the podium at Plymouth Congregational Church. Steady and sure, she had me from the first step. She was funny, witty, wise, and sometimes sarcastic. She made me laugh, something I highly value in a writer. She seemed to have lived a long, good life – a life not without sorrow.

She woke me up.

Liz took a few notes that night in a black, 8×10 sketchbook she had hidden deep in her pack. I asked her if I could take a look at it tonight, to help me unearth buried treasure. I chuckled when I saw a little thumb-sized pen and ink sketch of Mary Oliver in Liz’s notebook, near the left corner, by the spiral binding.

It’s a great reproduction of the way Mary looked that night. I wish I could scan and post it. I carry everything the poet said in my heart. But there is something about looking at handwritten lists, thin-lined sketches, and short words on a long page, that jogs the memory.

At the top of the toothy, unlined paper was a list the four of us made, things we wanted to do: go camping together again, hang with pre-Dr. Ruth (the name of one of our friends), ask questions at the end of Mary Oliver, practice pranayama (i.e. don’t forget to breathe), always carry a mint

At the bottom were shards of memory, dots connecting the thin, wispy lines of Mary Oliver to snippets of words from the past.

Part III:

  • Mary Oliver, on the many poems dedicated to the dog, Percy:
    • dogs remind us of the joy of the unexamined life
    • dogs (pets) teach us to appreciate what we’ve lost; it’s the other life we no longer have that we must cherish
  • On advice for writing students:
    • it’s all in the way you live your life
    • be disciplined
    • pay attention!
    • cultivate astonishment and tell about it
    • never use a computer
    • lose your drafts, they are only learning material
  • On poetry
    • poetry carries stories of us, community, culture, nation
    • poetry is one of the bedrocks of culture
    • poetry helps us feel
    • poetry keeps the good stories going and makes us human – from Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person by Mary C. Richards
  • On being sustained in difficult times:
    • reach to be sustained
    • have faith
    • read other poems, other poets
    • remember life is a gift
    • love and work
    • embrace the natural world
  • On writing:
    • keep it simple and clear
    • accessible, no more than what you need
    • have fun cutting away
    • write fast, 30 or 40 drafts
  • On the podium:
    • “Oh, what a nice podium. How nice for the preachers.”
  • On titles:
    • “I have trouble with titles – there’s a Spring in every book.”

  • Epilogue: 

                Writer's Hands, Mary Oliver's hands, signing a copy of Thirst, May 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey. All rights reserved.

               –Writer’s Hands, hands of Mary Oliver, signing a copy of Thirst,
                May 2007, Minneapolis, Minnesota, photo © 2007 by QuoinMonkey.
                All rights reserved.


    At the end of her epic reading, we went out to the lobby to buy books for Mary Oliver to sign. I purchased a CD of Mary reading At Blackwater Pond. Liz purchased Owls and Other Fantasies. We had regretfully left Thirst at home.

    Liz walked up to the table, and opened Owls to an unconventional page for signing. Mary paused, a little taken aback. Liz was quick to recover. “I like this image,” she said.

    “Did you know it’s a photo of a feather?” Mary asked. Liz said, “Oh, no, I didn’t. That’s amazing.”

    There was a pause while Mary ran her pen across the page. I watched from the sidelines. Liz smiled and said, “My Mom’s an Oliver. I like to think we’re related.”

    Mary glowed with an impish grin, handed Liz the book, leaned forward, and I could have sworn she winked when she said, “Let’s say we are.”


    Mary Oliver – On Paying Attention posted on red Ravine, Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

    -thanks to WomenSpirit, The Loft Literary Center, and Plymouth Congregational Church for sponsoring Mary Oliver’s visit to Minneapolis on May 7th, 2007

    -related to post, The Uses Of Sorrow – What Is It About Obituaries

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    Near the end of the evening, I felt like posting something. I looked at my book case and grabbed Kerouac’s On the Road. I’ve been wanting to read it for years. But there it sits, untouched. Occasionally, I pick the book up and roll the soft cover over in my hands, take my time running through the bio; I never read the book.

    Tonight started out the same. I ran across a quote I liked and was going to post. But then something strange happened. I opened the book to a place near the end, the beginning of Part 4, and started to read.

    He’s got my attention. I’m listening. And I think I might just finish the book.


    “That’s only Ed Dunkle. He came back from Galatea, they’re gone to Denver now. They spent a day taking pictures.”

    Ed Dunkle, his compassion unnoticed like the compassion of saints. Dean took out other pictures. I realized these were all the snapshots which our children would look at someday with wonder, thinking their parents had lived smooth, well-ordered, stabilized-within-the-photo lives and got up in the morning to walk proudly on the sidewalks of life, never dreaming the raggedy madness and riot of our actual lives, our actual night, the hell of it, the senseless nightmare road. All of it inside endless and beginningless emptiness. Pitiful forms of ignorance. “Good-by, good-by.” Dean walked off in the long red dusk. Locomotives smoked and reeled above him. His shadow followed him, it aped his walk and thoughts and very being. He turned and waved coyly, bashfully. He gave me the boomer’s highball, he jumped up and down, he yelled something I didn’t catch. He ran around in a circle. All the time he came closer to the concrete corner of the railroad overpass. He made one last signal. I waved back. Suddenly he bent to his life and walked quickly out of sight. I gaped into the bleakness of my own days. I had an awful long way to go too.


    2
    The following midnight, singing this little song,

    Home in Missoula,
    Home in Truckee,
    Home in Opelousas,
    Ain’t no home for me.
    Home in old Medora,
    Home in Wounded Knee,
    Home in Ogallala,
    Home I’ll never be,


    I took the Washington bus; wasted some time there wandering around; went out of my way to see the Blue Ridge, heard the bird of Shenandoah and visited Stonewall Jackson’s grave; at dusk stood expectorating in the Kanawha River and walked the hillbilly night of Charleston, West Virginia; at midnight Ashland, Kentucky, and a lonely girl under the marquee of a closed-up show. The dark and mysterious Ohio, and Cincinnati at dawn. Then Indiana fields again, and St. Louis as ever in its great valley clouds of afternoon. The muddy cobbles and the Montana logs, the broken steamboats, the ancient signs, the grass and the ropes by the river. The endless poem. By night Missouri, Kansas fields, Kansas night-cows in the secret wides, crackerbox towns with a sea for the end of every street; dawn in Abilene. East Kansas grasses become West Kansas rangelands that climb up to the hill of the Western night.

            -excerpt from On the Road by Jack Kerouac, Part Four, end of 1, beginning of 2, p. 254-255, Penguin Books

    In my old age, I intend to collect all my work and reinsert my pantheon of uniform names, leave the long shelf full of books there, and die happy.   

         – Jack Kerouac

    Submissive to everything, open, listening.   

      – Jack Kerouac, from Belief & Technique for Modern Prose

    -related to post, Kerouac Goes To War

    Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

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    Lately, I’ve been feeling the changes that come with age. The bones are a little creakier, the eyes need more light and time to focus, and I don’t have the zip and vigor I did when I was 20.

    When I was travelling the last few weeks, I could feel the effects on my mind. I would interview people and 30 minutes later not remember the details of what they said. Over and over, I’d ask my mother to tell me the name of a miniature gardenia or thin-leafed oleander she had pointed out to me just hours before. I could not remember.

    Volumes have been written about ways to keep the body in shape when biological breakdown causes us to expend greater effort for less reward. But what about that most delicate of organs, the brain?

    There is a June 15th article in Blogcritics Magazine about the effects of aging. In Ten Ways To Bench Press Your Brain, Craig Harper compares the aging body to the aging brain:

    People typically slow down mentally as they age. They experience short-term memory loss (where are my keys?), process information more slowly, find it harder to concentrate and focus, are more easily confused, become vague, and tend to be less creative and less adventurous.

    The moment we stop using it, we start losing it. The good news is that our brain (like our body) is amazing and can adapt (grow ‘muscle’) at any age. We can (to an extent) undo some, if not most, of the damage. It’s great to be in shape physically but what’s the point of having four percent body-fat, Olympian biceps, and veins on our veins, if we have a mind like a Dalmatian?

    Harper, a motivational speaker from Australia, lays out 10 reasonable ways to keep the gray matter in shape.  And what’s #7 on his workout list?

    READ!

    I’m taking lucky 7 as a good excuse to set everything aside this summer and take action on the one thing most writers (and books on writing) seem to agree on: to be a good writer, you have to read! Read everything you can get your hands on (especially in the genre in which you write).

    For other ways to increase brainpower, here is a shortened version of Craig Harper’s tips for exercising the mind. For the full article, head over to BC Magazine Sci/Tech – Ten Ways to Bench Press Your Brain:

    1. Set goals.
    The moment we stop setting goals is the moment we start going backwards. Without goals we don’t have to think, plan, rationalise, problem solve, or create (as much).

    2. Laugh.
    It’s not illegal to laugh, be silly, or have fun as you age. Although some grumpy old farts will take me to task on this, they’re wrong. “Hey Johnnie… pull my finger.” (So juvenile.)

    3. Play.
    “We don’t stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.” Two of my favourite people in the world are a (nearly) seventy years young couple who ski, ride mountain bikes, run up and down sand dunes, hike, lift weights, travel, help others, play practical jokes, and hang out with ‘silly’ young people.

    4. Study.
    You don’t have to go back to college and get your PhD, although you might, but maybe explore short courses, workshops, anything to blow out those cerebral cobwebs and get those rusty cogs turning once again.

    5. Learn a new language.
    Research tells us that people who speak two languages regularly age (mentally) at a slower rate than their unilingual buddies. They stay in shape (mentally) for longer. It even delays the onset of Alzheimer’s. Now, if you spoke three languages…

    6. Express yourself creatively.
    Write something: a book, some poetry, a business plan, or start your own blog. Paint, draw, or sculpt. My father began to paint at sixty-five, and now is an awesome professional artist. Invent something. A lot of the best inventors are crusty old guys. Come on, you crusty old guys… invent something!

    7. Read.
    Not just romantic novels. Read stuff that makes you use your brain, challenges you a little. Makes you think, reason, and remember; exercise your brain.

    8. Consciously try and remember stuff.

    It’s there, you just need to dust it off. Find your old school photos and name all your classmates. Try and remember (and replay in your mind) moments in time. Your first boyfriend’s, next door neighbour’s, brother’s… name (the one you kissed).

    9. Do some mental workouts.
    Crosswords are fun and great for your brain. Puzzles, problem solving stuff, Su Doku: force yourself to think, reason, and calculate.

    10. Have a project.
    Something to keep you thinking, communicating, planning, solving problems, and remembering. In general, bench pressing your brain.

    Below are a few related posts with comments rich in book talk. One writer who frequents red Ravine is spending the summer reading the classics.

    If you feel like adding your summer reading list to our comments section, it might inspire us all toward a few more presses at the bench.

    What are you reading this summer?

    Books With A Bang

    Julio Iglesias Does Books

    Writing Topic – 10 Slam Dunks

    -The 1950’s – What Was America Reading?

    -Dreams Of A Creative Insomniac

    Tuesday, June 19th, 2007

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    I was going through an old writing notebook I filled in Taos last year, when I ran across some notes I had jotted down on Nikki Giovanni and James Baldwin. It’s good to re-read writing practice notebooks. Sometimes there are helpful quotes, raw images, inspirational lines to be plucked from the pages of wild mind.

    We read Another Country and Giovanni’s Room for the Intensive and I’d checked out a bunch of library books on Baldwin. One was called A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973), published by J.B. Lippincott.

    I remember thinking the generational differences between Baldwin and Giovanni would add a richness to their dialogue. It was true. At the time, Baldwin was 49 and Giovanni was 30.

    On February 28th, 2007, Nikki Giovanni spoke On Poetry and Truth in the Ted Mann Theater at the University of Minnesota’s Minneapolis campus. The talk ran on PBS the first week of April and Liz taped it for me. But I didn’t get a chance to watch it until after the closing at the Virginia Tech Convocation. I was riveted to the screen.

    She started out talking about how her dog, her mom, her sister, Rosa Parks, and her aunt had all died unexpectedly within a year period in 2005; she started out talking about grief and loss. Then she went on to discuss in great detail, the children’s book she wrote about Rosa Parks, titled Rosa.

    She considered the book carefully and wrote with historical precision, considering every detail. That’s the hallmark of a good writer. I could see that writing the book had helped transform her grief.

    I wish I would have had a chance to see Giovanni and Baldwin dialogue. They are two writers who have a startling honesty and unwavering passion for what they believe in. Speaking strictly for myself, I am completely inspired by both of them. After hearing an archived Baldwin interview, or listening to Giovanni speak, I want to run out and write my next book.

    In Taos last August, I shared some of the Baldwin and Giovanni dialogue with the writers in the Intensive. Some found it inspiring. I thought it might be good to capture here the parts on Truth and Love. You can also still buy the book.

    It seems like famous writers and artists used to publically dialogue with each other more regularly than they do today. Maybe it’s my imagination. But I’m hungry to hear gifted writers speak about their work and have frank conversations with one another about the issues of the day.

    And while they are at it, I’d like to give them a go at world peace or global warming. It wouldn’t be the first time creative intellectuals debated the truth – and came to a place of compromise and love.


    A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
    excerpt, p. 78 – p. 82 – On Truth

    Giovanni: Exactly. And I’m talking about Chester’s [Himes] pursuit of truth. Because Richard Wright died, or was murdered, before he quit pursuing the truth.

    Baldwin:  That’s right.

    Giovanni: But Chester could say, Okay, I will pursue truth in this way, which looks a little better, so that you can make a movie out of it if you want to and it’ll still be true. And then takes it right to Blind Man with a Pistol.

    Baldwin:  But, sweetheart, it’s the same thing we were doing on the plantation when they thought we were singing “Steal Away to Jesus” and I was telling you it’s time to split.

    Giovanni:  But why do we –

    Baldwin: Steal away, steal away –

    Giovanni:  Why do we, as black writers, seem to be so hung up on the truth?

    Baldwin:  Because the responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. The act of writing is the intention of it; the root of its liberation. Look, this is why no tyrant in history was able to read but every single one of them burned the books. That is why no one yet really believes there is such a thing as a black writer. A black writer is still a freak, a dancing doll. We don’t yet exist in the imagination of this century, and we cannot afford to play games; there’s too much at stake.


    A Dialogue: James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni (1973)
    excerpt, p. 92 – p. 95 – On Love

    Giovanni:  People really feel the need to feel better than somebody, don’t they?

    Baldwin:  I don’t know why, but they do. Being in competition with somebody is something I never understood. In my own life, I’ve been in competition with me.

    Giovanni:  Which is enough.

    Baldwin:  Enough? It’s overwhelming. Enough?

    Giovanni:  Just by fooling yourself –

    Baldwin:  That’ll keep you busy, and it’s very good for the figure.

    Giovanni:  It makes you happy, you know.

    Baldwin:  Well, it means that in any case you can walk into a room and talk to somebody, look them in the eye. And if I love you, I can say it. I’ve only got one life and I’m going to live my life, you know, in the sight of God and all his children.

    Giovanni: Maybe it’s parochial, narrow-minded, bullheaded, but it takes up so much energy just to keep yourself happy.

    Baldwin:  It isn’t even a question of keeping yourself happy. It’s a question of keeping yourself in some kind of clear relationship, more or less, to the force which feeds you. Some days you’re happy, some days you ain’t. But somehow we have to deal with that on the simplest level. Bear in mind that this person facing you is a person like you. They’re going to go home and do whatever they do just like you. They’re as alone as you are.

    Giovanni:  Because that becomes a responsibility, doesn’t it?

    Baldwin:  Well, it’s called love, you know.

    Giovanni:  We agree. Love is a tremendous responsibility.

    Baldwin:  It’s the only one to take, there isn’t any other.

    Giovanni:  I agree and it’s awful; we’re supposed to be arguing.

    Baldwin:  And we blew this gig.

    Giovanni:  Goofed again. I think love is an answer but you have to be logical about it, you know.

    Baldwin:  You say logical or rational and I say clear, but it becomes the same thing. You can’t be romantic about it.

    Giovanni:  No, you can’t be romantic about love.

    Baldwin:  That’s all, you know.

    Giovanni: I think we’re in agreement.

    Baldwin: You think we are?

    Giovanni: Yeah.

    Baldwin:  You asked the loaded question.

    Giovanni:  I asked the loaded question?

    Baldwin:  You did. You did ask the loaded question. But it’s all right, because we’re home free.


    -posted on red Ravine, Monday, May 14th, 2007

    -related to post: Nikki Giovanni – Hope at V-Tech

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    It’s hard to come up with only 10 books that have had the most impact on my life. I’ve lived long enough to know there are many more than 10. But once I sat down to write, and began crawling through the recesses of childhood memory, a solid list began to form.

    It reads to me like stepping stones, cairns on a map of my life:

    1. Collected Works of Edgar Allan Poe, Walter J. Black Inc, New York, (1927)  – I used to sit and read his mysteries, rocking away and biting my fingernails. When I saw Galway Kinnell a few weeks ago, I was happy to hear that Poe was one of his favorite authors! See PoeStories.com for the latest and greatest on Poe.
    2. Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse – this book had a huge impact on me, along with The Prophet which I read my first year of college. There’s a great e-book of Siddhartha online.
    3. The Prophet by Khalil Gibran – I was going through a change in consciousness at the time I started reading this book. Believe it or not, there’s an online fan site for Kahlil Gibran.
    4. Nancy Drew Mysteries by Carolyn Keene – what’s not to like about Nancy Drew? I loved the Hardy Boys series just as much, if not more. I have a few originals of each around my bookshelves and in my collections. Books like these kept my sense of wonder intact. Nancy Drew is alive and well!  Check out Nancy Drew Sleuth.
    5. Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton – first book I read by May Sarton. My favorite is Kinds of Love. I’ve read everything she’s written. May Sarton changed the way writers look at journals and their relationship to memoir.
    6. The Color Purple by Alice Walker – had a big impact. But my favorite book is Meridian. I consider Alice Walker one of my mentors. I’ve read everything by her and saw her speak at Borders a few years ago. She has an amazing quiet and calm about her. A peacefulness I want to cultivate in my own life.
    7. Illustrated Book of Bible Stories – One of my childhood mementos. It’s packed in a box somewhere. I ran across it when I moved in with Liz last December. I grew up Methodist and used to read these out loud to myself in my bedroom, marking the pages as I went. I think Aunt Cassie gave the book to me. Back then, it was tradition in our family to gift signed copies of Bibles and Bible story books.
    8. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko – I read this book when I was going to art school. It changed the way I looked at the structure of books and writing. I love the story and her style; I recently read it again.
    9. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley – first time I knew a woman could have this much chutzpah, blood, guts, all that and more. I loved this book when I read it at about age 11. I probably knew on some level right then and there that I wanted to be a writer.
    10. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut – I read a lot of books of this type in the early 70’s. So I guess for me, this Vonnegut book represents a certain genre that I was reading at the time. It was nearing the end of Vietnam, but war and peace were still at the forefront of campus politics. I remember watching Slaughterhouse-Five (the movie) in a dark college auditorium my 1st year of college. We were having sit-in’s and chanting for peace. We still are.

     -from Topic post: Ten Slam Dunks.

    Wednesday, May 9th, 2007

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