Category Archives: Kerouac reflections

Missing Beat

Kerouac, where have you gone
hiding in empty milk cartons behind
lost faces
distant graces
and your honeymoon eyes.
Have you hitched some train ride
across our sweet corn field country
to the West
where it was all won and golden?

Perhaps you are hiding in your dreams,
sleeping in rail cars
or scattered out at sea,
walking among the Big Sur trees
or dancing down Market street?
Perhaps you lost yourself among the jazz tones
and the bop,
perhaps you’re just hiding in some shadowy basement bar
tapping along to the beat.

Maybe you got lost on a carnival ride
your dark cotton candy eyes
sent you rocketing to the top
and maybe you’re slowly falling back down to Mount Tam.
Maybe you’re in Paris,
maybe you’re in Mexico.
Maybe I’ll spend forever wondering where did you go…

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , ,

Beat streets of ghostly lives

Kerouac’s ghost:
an homage to the beat life adventure
that lickity split moment
thumb out run
dust rising down the road
no soles on your shoes
but God, is there a soul in your heart,
open car door
throw bag down, just
ssssllllide right in.

The “King of Desolation” and
an angel among thieving society,
loved the trip love the road
loved the people the desolation souls
the mad men the beautiful ladies
loved it all so hard.

Wrote more honestly
than many other people care to think when they die
thoughts clothed in truth
and actions led on by what would make him happy,
as it should be.
Seek happiness always first.
Love life, he sure did.

The ghost of Kerouac is no doubt
huddled down in some dark
smells like whiskey and cheap beer
basement bar on Skid Row
the old Times Square, ‘Frisco, between the peaks of
some Colorado Mountain town,
jazz on stage so hard so loud
it shakes your glass on the table
hands clap, dresses shake, cigars and cigarettes
burn away the night.
And next to him is Cassady’s ghost,
Bourroughs, Ginsberg, all the beat life
on the beat streets of ghostly lives.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Return to writing

Why is it that I consider myself “a writer”? What does it mean to be one? Does it mean writing daily, writing drunk and editing sober, being published, having writing credentials and a master of fine arts? 

I’ve been published. I don’t write daily. I dropped out of the only creative writing class I’ve ever taken. And I could write drunk if someone made me a cocktail or a strong punch. 

Two writing milestone happened in the past few days, and made me realize that YES! I am a writer. And I should never have abandoned this endeavor. I always do this, I start something, I let it slip, and then I don’t continue on with it and pick it back up because I get scared. I get scared that it’s been too long, that I’ve failed, and that if I start it again I may just fail again. Why are we afraid of personal failure, especially if we’re the only one that knows we’ve failed? Isn’t it failure only if you don’t try again?

I was published, again. (I’m going to go ahead and brag here for just a little bit, so I apologize in advance for that.. but I do also strongly believe that everyone should brag about themselves once or twice a year) I wrote this silly little City Report on the bicycle scene in DC and it was published on Urban Velo and is even in the print version of the magazine. 

When I first saw it online and then realized it was in the print version, I got giddy with excitement. I thought to myself, which am I more excited about, this or that time I was published as a “contributing travel writer” in the Philadelphia Inquirer… I guess a few more people have heard of the Inquirer…

The second big thing is that I was asked to be a main contributing writer for a new blog starting in my city. It’s still in the very beginning stages, but we’re having a first meeting of the writers in a few weeks and I’ll be there, scared ideas and all. 

So. I am a writer because it makes me happy. It makes me feel strong. It’s something I feel I am good at… I don’t know if it will ever become a career for me, or if I will ever publish a book and do readings in bookshops across the country. But, for now, I am going to return to writing. I’m going to meet with Jack again, and go hang out with Allan. I’m going to get swept up and lost in the books that I once knew and read stories that will greet my thoughts for the first time. 

Tagged , ,

These stories are pieces of your mind

IN JANUARY, I FINISHED READING JACK KEROUAC’S Lonesome Traveler and got swept up with life things and haven’t had the chance to sit down and write something since. I also finished another book last night, as I previously admitted to you that I was cheating on Kerouac but alas I’m so glad that I did. I’ll tell you about John Williams’ unbelievable novel Stoner soon.

As I was walking home today, strolling down H St NE from the bus stop to my little brick DC row house, one of the mini homes with the elongated living rooms that stretch from the front door to the kitchen sink, I thought something neat. I was passing by the row of hip and up and coming spots, mostly bars with a few restaurants, speckled in between the run down and shelved forgotten store fronts that have been deserted and lonely and falling apart for years, all with FOR LEASE signs on them that are wearing thin. And I thought: “Everything’s always becoming something.” And isn’t that true? Whether it’s a storefront in a soon to be gentrified neighborhood of DC where I admit that I felt a little awkward getting looks from people on the bus as the only little white girl in sight, with the crazy man talking to himself sitting across from me, or whether it’s your own life and your own personality moving and shaking and every day becoming a little bit of something else and losing a little bit if what you were. It’s pretty spectacular.

Back to Kerouac.

Let me tell you what I learned from his collection of stories, almost like diary entries, moments and occasions reminisced from his dreamy mind, that he put together in Lonesome Traveler and published in 1960.

The stories that I remember, several weeks now after throwing the book to my bedside are the tales about his travels in Mexico and California and the beautiful women he saw and the drugs he smoked. I liked that story and I recall distinctly underlining a paragraph he wrote describing a couple of field hands making love in the field. It was magnificent in how innocently and secretly it was written. I remember his story of working on the ship and washing dishes or something like that, but I found that pretty boring. My two favorite stories were the one about Kerouac traipsing around Times Square in New York City and about his time spent working at the fire outlook on top of a mountain and how it brought him so close to God.

Going back through Lonesome Traveler now, the last story, “The Vanishing American Hobo” about his rambles with hobo friends, I had forgotten all about that, but that’s what inspired my writing Hobo Dreams.

It was Kerouac’s story “The Railroad Earth” that wrote that unforgettable scene of sex and the powerful railroad:

“Along comes the tired field hand Jose Camero and he see her in the vast sun red in the fruit field moving queen majesty to the well, the tower, he runs for her, the railroad crashed by he pays no attention…Switches rush up and melt into the rail, sidings part from it like lips, return like lover arms.—My mind is on the brown knees of Carmelity, the dark spltot between her thighs where creation hides its majesty and all the boys with eager head do rush suffering and want the whole the hole the works the hair the seekme membrane the lovey sucky ducky workjohn, the equaled you, she never able and down goes the sun and it’s dark and they’re layin in a grape row, nobody can see, or hear, on the dog hears OOO slowly against the dust of that railroad earth…”

Oh and it goes on and Kerouac tells some even more dirty details, but I’ll leave that for you to explore.

“New York Scenes” made me want to get up right then and take the next bus to New York City and a find a bum on the streets or an old crippled half deaf gentleman in an up-city nursing home who actually remembered what Times Square was like in the 40’s and 50’s. Probably wouldn’t have known Kerouac or any of the beatniks the original beats, but he would have known THE TIMES.

I loved Kearouac’s line “Men do love bars and good bars should be loved.” That’s the kind of man for me. Kerouac buzzed from place to place in this story, dramy places like Grants, the Automat, Bickfords… So many places famous of their time that they frequented, loved, lived in practically. And what is it all now? Some sleezy bright light pigeon hopping Broadway lurking tourist attraction that does nothing for humanity. I want to go there and find what those places… Grants, the Automat, Bickfords… what they really used to be like, what happened to them, and find old photographs of what they used to be like and side them next to the monstrosity of what stands there today.

The Garden Bar. The Cedar Bar. I bet those were bars to be loved by men. “Jazz belongs to the open joyful ten-cent beer joints, as in the beginning,” Kerouac said. And when he ended that story with the words, “This is the beat night life of New York ,” I had to write down just below it in my copy of the book, “Is there any beat left in New York City?”

And then what shocked me when I started reading “Alone on a Mountaintop” was that Jack Kerouac, THE Jack Kerouac, was writing with sentence structure! He was using periods and ending sentences in appropriate places!… for a bout half a page. And then it was back to his normal self. It was surprising and a little funny. I bet he had added that or his editor advised he throw in some introductory sentences to frame his experience. Funny though.

This story is where the name of the collection comes from. As Kerouac is en route to his mountain top, he asks his guides where it is.

“ ‘Where’s Desolation Peak?’ I asked, meaning my own mountain (A mountain to be kept forever, I’d dreamed all that spring) (O lonesome traveler!)”

O lonesome traveler! It was a proclamation he felt of excitement and exuberance in the life of adventure and going somewhere he didn’t know. He wasn’t afraid of it. And he surely wasn’t scared of being alone. He greeted the solitude with a strong embrace and probably something like a grinning smile.

O lonesome traveler! I say, if only we all felt that passion and lust when we were alone in any circumstance for we’re all travelers through our own lives.

This here is one of my favorite things he wrote in the whole collection:

“The stars are words and all the innumerable worlds in the Milky Way are words, and so is this world too. And I realize that no matter where I am, whether in a little room full of thought, or in this endless universe of stars and mountains, it’s all in my mind. There’s no need for solitude. So love life for what it is, and form no preconceptions whatever in your mind.”

And one more story to tell you from Kerouac’s stories, in “Big Trip to Europe,” Kerouac is in England and visits a museum to look up his family history and stumbled upon his family description. The “Keroack” family motto was written out as: “ Love, work, and suffer” He wrote, “I could have known.”

Jack, these stories are pieces of your mind, and have become shambles of my imagination of what you were like. You lived such a free and adventurous life, and that I envy. I wish you were still travelling and adventuring and loving and could still write about it today. You old lonesome traveler.

Tagged , , , , ,

Hobo dreams

 IMG_3276

I’VE NEVER HITCHHIKED BUT once when I was driving home from Washington, DC to Oak Ridge, North Carolina I took the back way and pulled off the highway in Buena Vista, Virginia to look for a gas station, a bathroom and a bite to eat.

IMG_3274Two or three miles down a two lane windy road beside a creek I found a Shell gas station with a Burger King. I filled up the jeep and got a vegie burger, yes, Burger King is the only fast food joint on the east coast that carries vegie burgers, and I walked across the street to this swinging bridge. I think it may have been an old railroad pass, or maybe if I remember it correctly, when I walked across those wooden boards suspended high above the creek, it lead to a railway.

It was all so green. Evergreen trees. Other trees. Bright green trees with bright green leaves. That’s how I remember it. That spot has become one of my favorites. I’ve gone back there a few times.

When I finished my meal and headed back to the jeep, a gang of four or five kids, some folks my age, actually called over to me and asked where I was headed. Said they were camping a few miles up the road just off of the Blue Ridge Parkway. They had walked down here to the gas station to pick a 24 pack of cheap beer and now heading back to their campsite. They wanted a ride.

I turned them away, blaming my full car. Which was true. My back seat and trunk area was full. I probably could have moved it around, or even taken them two at a time, someone sitting on another’s lap in the front seat next to me. But they were strangers. I should have done it though. I’ve always regretted that.

IMG_3273

Next time, if I’m ever asked for a ride and the person or persons look reputable and unharming, I’ll surely say yes. That would make for a great story.

Footwalking freedom. These kids were reviving the hobo dream. Kerouac talked about “footwalking freedom” in “the Vanishing American Hobo” from Lonesome Traveler.

“There’s nothing nobler than to put up with a few inconveniences like snakes and dust for the sake of absolute freedom.”

photo 3

When I was maybe 11 or 12 years old, I dressed up as a hobo for Halloween. I wore muddy old baggy pants. A torn flannel shirt. I had the classic hobo stick with a bandanna full of stuff slung over my shoulder. I think I may have even rubbed mud on my face or drawn on a scruffy beard with my mother’s eyeliner. I know, a bit weird, right. But HEY! That’s because the American Hobo, in all his glory, is still to this day idolized by kids, young and old, who dream about traveling the country, road trips with friendly strangers, this sense of complete freedom and extraction from worldly desires. This footwalking freedom.

 

“Benjamin Franklin was like a hobo in Pennsylvania; he walked through Philly with three big rolls under hi arms and a Massachusetts halfpenny on his hat. John Muir was a hobo who went off into the mountains with a pocketful of dried bread, which he soaked in creeks.”

But for me, now, that hobo dream is far gone. Hobos are only out in the wilderness, because that’s where the freedom is.

Here in the city, it’s all bums. Instead of dreaming about walking and sleeping for days among the red wood trees, it traipsing around city streets, face craned up to the sky. It’s still beautiful though, for me. Sunshine, rain, snowflakes, dust. City parks, city blocks, bums on stoops shaking cups at you outside your store. I guess it’s hard to see the beauty in that though. These city bums don’t have it well off at all. In these cold winter months the government opens up extra homeless shelters and something called warming buses to try to keep them freezing. I don’t like calling them bums; it’s offensive. Just homeless folks who are down on their luck.

These folks are nothing like the cherished, honored hobos that Kerouac spoke of. Einstein and Beethoven. Johnny Appleseed.

Those are more like folks such as Chris McCandless, West Virginia hicks, even some salty mountain bikers. The kids that had asked me for a ride with them and their beer just back up the mountain road. Wandering spirits. Dreamers just passing through.

Both these hobo dreamers and the city bums. As Kerouac wrote: Le passant. “He who passes through.”

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Over the FM dial

radio show

KEROUAC WAS INTO JAZZ. HE DUG IT HARD and I bet he loved that good ol’ southern blues beat as well. Seems like in On the Road whenever Kerouac mentioned drinking in bars, there was always music. He always mentioned the music.

“Once there was Louis Armstrong blowing his beautiful top in the muds of New Orleans; before him the mad musicians who had paraded on official days and broke up their Sousa marches into ragtime. Then there was swing, and Roy Eldridge, vigorous and virile, blasting the horn for everything it had in waves of power and logic and subtlety – leaning to it with glittering eyes and a lovely smile and sending it out broadcast to rock the jazz world. Then had come Charlie Parker, a kid in his mother’s woodshed in Kansas City, blowing his taped-up alto among the logs, practicing on rainy days… Charlie Parker leaving home and coming to Harlem, and meeting mad Thelonious Monk and madder Gillespie … Here were the children of the American bop night.” – On the Road

Now I don’t know much about this jazz bebop stuff, I can sure appreciate it and I love to hear those horns wail, I just don’t know squat about it. But I do know something about bluegrass and folk. The way the fiddles melt in with the banjo and get picked up by the bass drum drum drumming in the background to set the beat, toes tapping, legs tapping, next thing you know your up on your feet hoppin’ around and wiggling your hips and throwing up your arms like a crazy person. And there’s the simple quiet folk that seems to be the heart of the matter. And the swayin’ blues that started it all of.

We got Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan and Waylon Jennings. Woody Guthrie of course. Peter, Paul & Mary, Simon & Garfunkle, guys like Peete Seeger and the Foggy Mountain Boys. New stuff too. The Milk Carton Kids, Old Crow, David Wax. It’s all good stuff.

I’ve had the pleasure over the past few years to host a radio show and share these tunes with the world over the FM dial. A little local college station just outside of DC. College Park radio WFMU 88.1FM. Inside of a worn down dining hall up the stairs and in a smelly little radio room with bookshelves 14 feet high full of outlandish and bizarre records. My co-host and I taglined our show “Folk, bluegrass and worthwhile country” because we all know how bad country can be. And we prided ourselves on our expansive flannel shirt collection, so we always came wearing flannel.

The sound boards are big and crowded with buttons and numbers and dials. Never knew how to properly work the thing. The transmitter switch was my favorite thing in that little musty studio room. It was on the right side on some big tall box and it lit up a blue light when it was switched up to the on position. Below it someone had written and taped up instructions and no lie they said “I am getting old and cranky. If the blue light does NOT come one, give me a stern tap. – Switch”.

My second favorite part of the radio show experience was the big soft microphones that hung down on these silver crane-like mechanism. I felt so professional and important talking in to them. I never knew about such thing as a radio voice until the last time I did the show. I definitely talk different and sound different when on the air. My voice gets deeper and more serious and I crack ironic jokes like it’s my job.

Music. I should listen to more jazz.

Tagged , , , , , ,

A love letter to Kerouac

MY DEAR JACK,

You will always be there for me. Your eyes dark and frozen in glimpses of still and silent mostly grayscale photographs timeless in how much wisdom and struggle I know are behind those solid eyes and I can, I can feel the sadness too.

But Jack, you can’t break my heart, can’t make me cry, can’t reach out to push me away, can’t lie to me, can’t outrun me, can’t tell me things to try to helplessly impress me…

You belong among the Big Sur mountains, among the pine needles of the evergreen trees fresh and those fallen. You are there among the golden and gray sunset in the harbor in San Fran. You’re here somewhere too. Your thoughts lining the shelves of my room, memories bound together sewn with some of my own.

I can lustfully daydream about your gentle touch the brush of the back of your hand against my cheek. You would have been a sweet, sweet heartbreaking lover. Those dark eyes, your rare smile.

You passed away many years before I was born, but I love your writing. It speaks through me. I live through it. I have never been so drawn to something before, never been so inspired and moved to act and pick up a knapsack to just GO to the woods. Not looking back.

Like a field of fresh black-eyed susan’s, a warm cable-knit scarf bundled around my neck, a hot cup of tea with biscuits and sweet marmalade still warm, you remind me of good things.

Jack. Mr Kerouac. These are my love letters to your writing, to who you were everyday of your life from the famous to the fallen, the what was then that can’t ever be now and to all you stood for and carry on to be.

Tagged , , , ,

Hey Hey Woody

“HEY  HEY Woody Guthrie I wrote you a song…”

I just stumbled across this very lovely song Bob Dylan sang. It has a melody that just takes you gently by the hands and swings you around so your skirt sways out wide and swishes and flows in the breeze created by your movement. A gentle muscular shadow on your jawline cowboy boots a flask of whiskey and me with my skirt boots and probably a yellow flower in my hair. That’s how it would be.

Jack Kerouac probably would have been grande buddies with Woody if they had ever come across each other, and maybe they did. They sure had close acquaintances.

Ramblin’ Jack Elliott knew Kerouac.

I actually had the pleasure of seeing Ramblin’ Jack perform at the Library of Congress during a tribute concert to Woody Guthrie last year or the year prior. It was beautiful: the old men and their guitars and harmonicas and everyone in the audience UP UP on their feet singing THIS TRAIN is bound for glory THIS TRAIN…I’m sure I had tears in my eyes.

And that worn warm smile. It STILL shines. Even after all these years and all his travels.

Ramblin’ Jack said in an interview: “like when I went to visit Woody. We just started playing music together and one day led to another. It got to be a good thing and I ended up staying at his house for a year and a half. When I left there, I rode all over Europe on a Vespa motorbike, 5,000 miles in the rain every day with British writer Herb Green, and all over the rural U.S. That was a great time in my life. Then I landed in Greenwich Village, where I was friends with Bob Dylan and met Jack Kerouac. Jack had just finished writing On the Road, and he read me the entire manuscript over three days, sitting on a floor on Bleecker Street.”

When Kerouac was, say 35 years old, that would have made Woody somewhere around 45 years old, ten years older ten years wiser quite a gap there. They may have met. I’ve not been able to track it down. I don’t think they did.

But if they had: Woody in his flannel shirts with an old brass Hohner in his pocket would have surely been like a big brother to Kerouac. Both crazy.

I can just picture it…

Kerouac and Woody would have met along a dirt road somewhere in the Midwest, sun raging no water no rain, just a lot of hot dry dust. Woody was spending some time in that town, writing songs, talking to woman and Kerouac was just passing through, probably heard from Ramblin’ Jack after his visit to New York that Woody lived there and he should stop in and ask for him at the nickel dime store where he should also buy some strawberry ice cream because it was the best that side if the Mississippi.

But Kerouac didn’t even have to call around. He walked from the old gas station down Main Street, past the bar past the bank past children running and playing and there Woody was. He was singing the blues, with a cigarette perched on his left knee almost burning a hole in his trousers.

“You must be Woody.”

“That I am, kid.” Woody looked him up and down, the little beat up dirty railroad bag thrown over his shoulder. Almost a younger version of himself.

“Kerouac.” He said and reached out his hand for a shake.

“Ah, Kerouac! The Great Jack Keruac, lord of the road, of the trains, and a ladies man at that.”

Hmph. Kerouac humble chuckled and would have blushed if he wasn’t already red from the heat. “Thank you sir.”

“Let’s sing a song!,” Woody bellowed.

So Kerouac plopped down next to him, dust rising into the yellow sky and they sang and they talked about their travels, time spent in New York, love for the California and the sea.

“What do you believe in kid?”

Kerouac sat looked up at the yellow dust filled sky with no clouds in sight just yellow air the bright sun burning the back of his neck and a little bit of sweat ever so often trickling down the crease in the middle of his back. He looked up and thought and responded, “I believe in adventure and freedom, spending time with people I GET,” he pounded his fist into the dirt as he said that last word,” close calls and no calls and always, always running after it till I get it and even then some…” He paused. Stood up slowly because his lower back was beginning to ache and creak, brushed off the dust from his pants, kicked his shoes, brushed down the front of his white t-shirt, and looked right at Woody. “That’s what I believe in.”

Woody just smiled back, picked up his harmonica and pulled off a joyous exuberant riff.

Yehaw!

…………..

Now, I know this didn’t happen. Sadly around the time that On the Road was published, Woody’s health was bad and he was likely in the hospital in New Jersey and we know there’s no dust there, only soot and salt.

But I do think, with their shared deep deep love of traveling and people and trying so so hard to get life right, that they would have been dear friends.

Tagged , , , , , ,

My year with Kerouac…

JACK KEROUAC’S LIFE, FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, WAS JUST ONE BIG ROLLER COASTER ESCAPE LOVE LUST RUNNING after something you just can’t quite grab with your greasy fingertips, dusty road sunsets and moonrises and evergreen tree sparkling moments filled with adventure and whiskey soaked till the morning comes running after your dirty clothes thrown on the naked floor.

This website, these stories of mine, they are my roller coaster. My moments of reflection, of study, creative escapes trying to plot through the forest of new weeds and words and ideas and madness.  This is my year with Kerouac.

Last year my mantra was… “happiness, one cup at a time.” I drank a lot of hot tea. That’s a lie. I wanted to drink a lot of tea because I thought it would make me happy. I had this crazy idea that drinking a lot of hot tea would make me happier.

That simple warmth, that honest innocent taste, it always puts a smile on my lips. I guess the mantra could apply to alcoholics too: happiness, one cup at a time. Bourbon, gin, even wine. But no, I’m not there… Hot tea. One cup at a time. Sipping up some warm peach, ginger or chamomile tea just reminds me of sunshine and dandelion weeds.  A little bit lustful and innocent. That’s why it’s happiness to me. Drunken, sunshiney happiness.

But as the year went on I discovered that teacups were an empty excuse for happiness. I’d go through all the fuss to boil water on the stove, pick out the perfect tea bag, let it steep, and then by the time I got around to drinking, the tea was cold and it upset me even more. So I gave up on tea.  Hurrah! Well, I had tried. From time to time I still make tea, ginger tea to calm my tummy.

From tea to Jack Kerouac… I know he was fond of tea, but another type…

This blog is my dedication to my writing and to the writing of the beat authors. I will write and publish here when I have inspiration or simply something to say. It will likely be poems, prose in the style of Kerouac, and essays. Maybe a few narrative interviews if I can come across some interesting characters. When I have no words and my fingers won’t type, I will read, I will listen to the soft syllables of Jack and friends. Ginsberg. Carolyn. Good ‘ol Bill Bouroughs. I hope to become so familiar with them its as if they sit around my kitchen laughing, smoking, they become my own dear friends. I know these writers are wise and have much to teach me, so I am here also to learn. Learn and write. Discover. This is my year with Kerouac.

Tagged , , ,
Advertisements
%d bloggers like this: