Archive | June, 2013

Friday Links: Commencement Addresses by Authors

28 Jun


June seems to have come and gone ever so quickly this year. I suppose that’s the nature of life. The older we get, the faster the days, months, and years seem to pass. I think even Einstein would agree. June always has thirty days in it—it’s not like sneaky February with its leap year—and yet those thirty days seem to go by so much faster than they did when I was a kid. I remember being in grade school just waiting for school to let out for summer break. The winter months seemed to drag on and on, and that last month til graduation felt like for-ev-errrrr.

The funny thing is, as much as I looked forward to graduating and summer vacation and all the excitement that June brought, it also felt like a sad time. It was a time to say good-bye to teachers who had great impact on my love of reading and writing as well as a time to throw out old notebooks filled with a year’s worth of thoughts and doodles.

It was also a time of change and uncertainty. What would the next school year bring? What would college be like? What kind of job would I find after college? What would it be like to go back to grad school after so many years out of college and in the workforce? Did I take advantage enough of grad school and will I now make good use of my MFA?

I wasn’t in any sort of academic program this year, and yet once again I’ve found June to be a time of exciting and positive change but also uncertainty about what the future holds. I recently made what felt like a pretty big decision that will (hopefully) bring me a bit more stability and permanence in my life, however the decision was made at a time when I found out a family member was making the opposite decision. I guess even as adults, we encounter times when we graduate from one phase of our life into the next.

Years ago, my mother gave me Anna Quindlen’s A Short Guide to a Happy Life. I’ve had to get rid of a lot of books over the years with all my various moves, but I’ve held onto this small volume, inspired by a commencement speech she once gave. I think no matter where we are in life, June is a good midpoint in the year to celebrate the accomplishments we’ve made so far this year and plan for the rest of the year. Commencement addresses like the ones by famous authors below are a great inspiration. I also like Warren Buffett’s recent advice to the Millennial Generation to “stop holding yourself back.”

Ray Bradbury (Fahrenheit 451) at Columbia College

Max Brooks (World War Z) at Pitzer College

Louise Erdrich (Love Medicine) at Dartmouth University

Neil Gaiman (The Sandman, Coraline) at University of the Arts

Sue Monk Kidd (The Secret Life of Bees) at Scripps College (woot!)

Anne Lammott (Traveling Mercies, Bird by Bird) at U.C. Berkeley

Michael Lewis (The Blindside, Moneyball) at Princeton University

Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) at Duke University

David McCullough (1776) at Wellesley High School

Anna Quindlen (Black and Blue) at Villanova University

J. K. Rowling (Harry Potter) at Harvard University

David Foster Wallace (Infinite Jest) at Kenyon College

Elie Wiesel (Night) at Washington University

And for those of you who dropped out of college: Jack Kerouac did too, but he kept on studying and you too can keep on learning and growing.

Lucky Peach Launched Travel Issue Last Night in NYC

27 Jun

lucky peach 6-26 _0

Right after graduating from college, I embarked on a backpacking adventure across Europe. I made so many wonderful memories. My nerdy English-degree self sought out Oscar Wilde’s lipstick-stained tomb and visited the church where satirist Jonathan Swift was dean. And of course, I hit beaches from Nice to Greece.

What I didn’t make memories of was the regional foods. I had a meager budget, as did my travel companion, and we stayed in hostels and ate foods like trail mix and potato chips that we bought from the grocery store. We were hungry but it was worth it to see so many spectacular sights and meet fascinating people along our journey.

But that’s not how everyone travels. Lucky Peach has devoted an entire issue of their delicious food journal, founded by chef David Chang and Peter Meehan, to travel. And they do travel right.

The issue launched last night at McNally Jackson in New York City.

What country would you like to eat your way through?

Cat Hitchhikes for 10 Months

25 Jun

Hipsters love cats. But apparently cats don’t love the hipsterfied city of PDX.

A cat by the name of Mata Hairi hitchhiked its way out of Portland, Oregon, in September after her owner, Ron Buss, let him out. Michael King, a homeless man, found Mata Hairi and rescued her, taking the cat on his hitchhiking travels to California and Montana. Mata Hairi would ride on top of his rucksack.

As soon as he was able to take her to the vet and a microchip revealed her owner, King was able to get in touch with Buss about Mata Hairi’s safe return.

I don’t know about you, but I’d love to see Mata Hairi get her own meme, a la LOLCats and Grumpy Cats.

You know who loved hitchhiking and cats? Jack Kerouac. Jerry Bauer took this photograph around 1965.

Here’s another photograph of Kerouac with a cat, plus a 1959 poem about his cat.


Happy 161st Birthday, Antoni Gaudi!

25 Jun

Antoni Gaudi, Catalan architect of insanely intricate, bone-like structures, was born on this day in 1852.  When I was backpacking through Europe, I stopped by his La Sagrada Familia.  You can read about it in my Church Hopping column on Burnside Writers Collective.

Gaudi was beaten and imprisoned when he showed up at a demonstration against banning Catalan.  The language is now considered an endangered language.

Friday Links: Words in the Mail

21 Jun

Happy Friday!

Here are a couple Friday links to kick off the weekend. This week’s theme is about how the link between literature and the postal service.

Indie darlings The Postal Service, who collaborated through snail mail, are touring the US right now. Can you believe Give Up is celebrating its 10th anniversary?!

Ireland fit a whole short story on a new stamp (via PW Daily)

When you’re a writer, your mailbox can be a source of agony — but it’s important to remember you’re in good company: Alfred A. Knopf sent rejection letters to Jack Kerouac and other famous authors in this 2007 NPR story.

On my recent trip to Dallas, I read Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette on the plane. The book, which garnered tons of publicity last year, features emails and snail mail between the characters. What’s your favorite epistolary novel?

As a young girl growing up in Australia, Geraldine Brooks had pen pals through the world. Twenty years later she went on a search to find these long-lost pen-pal friends, as told in the memoir Foreign Correspondence.


Vice’s Suicide Poet: Beat Writer Elise Cowen

20 Jun

Well by now you’ve probably heard about VICE’s suicide fashion spread, “Last Words.” If not, here’s the low down: The lifestyle magazine with the apparently ironic tagline “The Definitive Guide to Enlightening Information” launched The Fiction Issue 2013 featuring all women fiction writers. So far, so good. In fact, almost exemplary considering VIDA’s stats that women authors aren’t equally published. The issue features works by Joyce Carol Oates and Mary Gaitskill, a story on Marilynne Robinson … and a fashion spread on female writers who have committed suicide. Following the public’s uproar, the staff has issued a “statement” explaining their “unconventional” and “artful” approach and “apologiz[ing] to anyone who was hurt or offended.” They have taken it down from their website but not recalled the print publication.

I’m not going to belabor the point about the dangerous implications of “Last Words”—it used self-violence to sell clothing, it said nothing about the writers’ actual work, it glamorized death, it suggested the hysteria of women, oh just to name a few things—but I do want to point out a few things that I haven’t seen the many other critiques point out (though they may certainly be there; I didn’t have time to read every single article): the fashion spread is just one of the many troubling aspects of the issue. Let’s start with the cover: it’s a picture of a skinny woman—her hip bone and clavicle jut out—in a bikini, with her hands behind her back and her legs cut off. Granted it’s a photograph by Ellen Page Wilson of Carole A. Feuerman’s 2008 sculpture Francesca, and Feuerman works out of a feminist perspective, but at quick glance, and when featured on the same page as a link to the Vice “most popular” list that includes “VICE Meets: The Biggest Ass in Brazil,” it would seem to fall in line with the usual negative portrayals of women in the media and representing women as body parts instead of a whole person—even if the artist intended it to show women’s connection with nature and their strength. Oh and that Joyce Carol Oates story I mentioned? It includes a mother on “Xanax or OxyContin.” The one by Mary Gaitskill? About a woman who wonders if it was a mistake not to have children. Hannah H. Kim’s story is about dealing with sadness. Amie Barrodale’s “A Ghost Story” opens with a woman who doesn’t accept a marriage proposal and is disowned by her father, her mother a shut-in with eczema. Zelly Martin’s story “Jailbait” is just what it sounds like: a story about a teenager who drops out of high school after becoming involved with her parents’ friend. They may have literary merit just as the artwork does, but collected together these stories position women as sexual objects and depressives. Based on the staff’s  statement and the fiction and art selected for the issue, “Last Words” was not an “oops” moment for Vice. It was an insidious attack on women.

So just who were these suicidal women portrayed in Vice’s “Last Words”? The spread included Iris Chang, Elise Cowen, Charlotte Perkins, Sylvia Plath, Sanmoa, and Virginia Woolf. Much could be said about any of these writers and why perhaps these particular writers were selected (for instance, the fact that Sanmoa hanged herself with silk stockings and not a rope). The inclusion of Elise Cowen is an interesting one, though, and while I’m by no means endorsing Vice’s tactics, maybe we can turn a negative into an opportunity to discuss the life and legacy of this poet.

Elise Cowen

Vice’s inclusion of Elise Cowen is an interesting choice because she’s not very well known as a poet. As far as I know (a search for her name on only brings up a DVD), there is no volume of poetry written solely by her. Her work has appeared in various collections but has not appeared on its own. In fact, the first book by her won’t be published until 2014. Tony Trigilio, an English professor at Columbia College Chicago, is editing the first major collection of her writing, entitled Elise Cowen: Poems and Fragments, for Ahsahta Press. Fourteen of those poems were published last year in Court Green, a literary journal Trigilio edits with David Trinidad.

The fact that Vice chose Cowen, when they could have selected more widely published women writers who have committed suicide—for example, travel writer Gertrude Bell, poet Ingrid Jonker (“the South African Sylvia Plath”), or literary critic Beatrice Hastings (Katherine Mansfield’s lover)—suggests the Vice team is either very well read or they were going on cult following more than literary recognition. The reason I am familiar with Elise Cowen, and presumably most other people are as well, is because of her circle of friends.

Elise Cowen dated Allen Ginsberg. In case you’re confused, yes, Ginsberg did date women here or there. He met Cowen through Barnard philosophy professor Alex Greer, and they went out on a date together. They got to talking and discovered they had a mutual friend in Carl Solomon, whom they’d both met while spending time in a mental hospital. Needless to say, Ginsberg and Cowen weren’t the best match: shortly after their romantic involvement, Ginsberg began seeing Peter Orlovsky, who became his lifelong partner, and Cowen began dating a woman with the pseudonym Sheila. The foursome apparently ended up living together after Cowen graduated from Barnard in 1956.

In New York, Cowen supported herself as a typist until she was fired, and then she went to check out the poetry scene in San Francisco, where she lived with an alcoholic painter. She became pregnant and had a late-term abortion and hysterectomy. After she returned to New York, she wound up in Bellevue to get treated for hepatitis and psychosis. Against the doctor’s orders, she checked herself out and went to go live with her parents up in Washington Heights. There, at their Bennett Avenue home, she jumped through the glass of the seventh-story window. Elise Nada Cowen was only twenty-eight years old.

Known at Barnard as Beat Alice, Elise Cowen may not have published a volume of poetry in her lifetime but her story and poetry is known today because of her friends. Her poetry references other great female writers such as Emily Dickinson and Mary Shelley. It is bold, experimental, and sensual.

For more information on Elise Cowen, her poetry, and her friendships, visit:

Elise Nada Cowen ’56 (Barnard College)

The Lady is a Humble Thing: Elise Cowen (Beatdom)

Elise Cowen: Sappho-Dickinson Hybrid with a Beat Sensibility (Jacket 2)

Black daisy chain of nuns (Jacket 2)

On Elise Cowen (1933-1962): poetry on the margins (Wake Your Mind)

Elise Nada Cowen (Cosmic Baseball Association)

Elise Cowen (UPenn)

Women of the Beat Generation (Knight)

Minor Characters (Johnson)

A Different Beat (Peabody)

Journals: Early Fifties, Early Sixties (Ginsberg)

I Celebrate Myself (Ginsberg)


Kristen Stewart Hits the Road

19 Jun


Kristen Stewart, who played Marylou in the film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, is reportedly on a summer road trip in the South. According to several sources, she’s been hanging out at bars and shooting pool in Amarillo, Texas, and Memphis, Tennessee, and is on her way to New Orleans, Louisiana. Among the hotspots stops on her visits: Coyote Ugly Saloon.

Prior to filming On the Road, Stewart had taken a four-week Beatnik Book Camp and taken a road trip. According to Hollywood Life, at a 2012 screening at SVA, she told reporters she avoided the “grimiest” aspects of road tripping.

In March of this year, she and then-boyfriend Robert Pattinson were planning a road trip in Europe for this summer. They were talking about traveling around Italy, Germany, and France in a van. So will they or won’t they? The rumor mill can’t decide.

Here’s my review of the film adaptation of On the Road.

Friday Links: Words in Motion

14 Jun


Leaving you this weekend with a few fun links:::

I was just thinking the other day that there should be a library on every corner instead of a Starbucks … or maybe a library in every Starbucks? The Free Little Library might be the solution we need! Here’s to hoping the expand throughout New York City.

There’s a Secret Poet in Lynn, MA, who has been posting anonymous messages. (via Poets & Writers)

I want a Poet Tree outside my window! (via Poets & Writers)

Have you ever spotted the POEMobile?

Want to read poetry on the go? offers 2500 poems in mobile format.

Anakalian Whims posted last year about Parnassus on Wheels and the idea of a peddler’s caravan.

Walden on Wheels is a new book by Ken Ilgunas about how living on the open road helped the author find financial freedom.

In case you missed it, here’s my link to the Penguin Book Truck.

Something tells me I’ll be spending some time out on Library Lawn on Governor’s Island this summer.

What are you reading this weekend?

Blame Parents for Millennials Acting Entitled: Helicopter Parents Have Trophy Kids Who End Up Boomerang Kids

12 Jun


Remember my post from last July “Hipsters Hate Driving”? It was inspired by the Reuters report “America’s Generation Y Not Driven to Drive” that did not once use the word “hipster” but rather “millennials.” Well, apparently Ford—as in the car manufacturer—sponsored a panel discussion with my exact title on May 30, 2013.

Flavorwire’s Tom Hawking caught up with Hipsters Hate Driving keynote speaker and millennials expert Jason Dorsey  in the June 10, 2013, article “Flavorwire Interview: Millennials Expert Jason Dorsey Says Young People ‘Really Do Act Entitled.’” At the Ford panel, “The Gen Y Guy” had said: “[Millennials] don’t want commitment. They drop in and out of experiences. They can’t wear a shirt or blouse if it’s photographed. The worst fear of millennials is wearing the same dress twice on two different [social networks],” and Hawkings got to the bottom of whether Dorsey really did think millennials are that shallow.

Flavorwire’s title quote comes from one of Dorsey’s responses:

When you dig into it, you find that a lot of millennials really do act entitled. They really do show up and have these massive expectations and are not willing to work at [things].

The word “entitlement” has come up again and again in discussions about millennials, and Dorsey argues it’s important to delve into the “why.” Of the root causes, Dorsey mention aspects relating to higher education and employment. Valid points, but I want to highlight a few comments he made that may slip under the cracks. Dorsey says, he focuses on trends like when people of the current generation are “moving out [of parents’ homes]” and “the relationship you have with your parents” as well as “views about parenting, especially how they were raised.”

Now we’re getting somewhere! Think about it for a moment: who are the parents of Generation Y? The oldest of them are Baby Boomers, who are “the generation that received peak levels of income” and “are associated with a rejection or redefinition of traditional values,” as Wikipedia put it. The younger parents are of Generation X, often derided as the Slacker Generation, who, facing economic downfall, turned to entrepreneurship. In other words, the shift from Baby Boomers to Gen X itself set the stage for a new generation that would be less traditional in their career outlooks.

In terms of their parenting style, these Baby Boomer and Gen X parents of Millennials have been called “Helicopter parents.” Jennifer O’Donnell defines this phenomenon in her article “What Are Helicopter Parents?”:

The term “Helicopter parents” is often used to define a group of parents who engage in the practice of over-parenting. Helicopter parents are accused of being obsessed with their children’s education, safety, extracurricular activities, and other aspects of their children’s lives. Critics have criticized helicopter parents for over protecting their children and for failing to instill them with a sense of independence and a can-do attitude. Helicopter parents are also accused of over programming their children, and for failing to allow them free time to play and explore on their own.

She goes on to explain the root causes:

But the practice of over-parenting came into its own sometime during the 1990s when parents were bombarded with news stories about child abductions, academic competition, and ultimately, competition in a global economy.

Wikipedia explained the definition further, giving light into how this parenting technique affected children’s habits:

[The term “helicopter parenting”] gained wide currency when American college administrators began using it in the early 2000s as the Millennial Generation began reaching college age. Their baby-boomer parents in turn earned notoriety for practices such as calling their children each morning to wake them up for class and complaining to their professors about grades the children had received. Summer camp officials have also reported similar behavior from parents.

The children of Helicopter parents became known as Trophy Kids. I very briefly touched on this concept in my post “Parallel Generations,” in which I discussed the commonalities between the Lost Generation, the Beat Generation, and Generation Y, when I said:

Since then we’ve seen Generation Y, also known as the Millennials or Generation Next, who are often thought of as privileged Trophy Kids.

Notice the word “privileged.” Ron Aslop wrote the book on the subject: The Trophy Kids Grow Up. As the book’s website explains:

The millennials are truly trophy kids, the pride and joy of their parents who remain closely connected even as their children head off to college and enter the work force.

As Aslop suggests, these helicopter parents have been extremely involved in their Millennial children’s careers. George’s Employment Blog writes:

Although the Millenials often seek out challenging work and high levels of responsibility, these applicants’ parents are highly involved in their kids’ job search.

In a story entitled “Helicopter Parents Hover in the Workplace” on NPR on February 6, 2012, Jennifer Ludden says parents are doing more than just sending their children wanted ads and helping them with their resumes:

With millennial children now in their 20s, more helicopter parents are showing up in the workplace, sometimes even phoning human resources managers to advocate on their child’s behalf.

She states the facts:

Michigan State University more than 700 employers seeking to hire recent college graduates. Nearly one-third said parents had submitted resumes on their child’s behalf, some without even informing the child. One-quarter reported hearing from parents urging the employer to hire their son or daughter for a position.

The result of helicopter parenting is that Generation Y is coming across as entitled whether it’s their fault—or their parents. The Wall Street Journal article “The ‘Trophy Kids’ Go to Work,” published in 2008, said:

More than 85% of hiring managers and human-resource executives said they feel that millennials have a stronger sense of entitlement than older workers, according to a survey by

But who’s to blame: the parents or the kids? In the September 12, 2012, BusinessNewsDaily article “What Gen Y Is Not Getting from Their Parents,” David Mielach, writes:

A new survey has found that 69 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 29 receive little financial support from their parents.

He goes on to say:

The research found that 75 percent of young adults would rather live independently of their parents even if it is a struggle to do so financially.

Oh really? Then what are we to make of the rise of the phrase “boomerang kid,” which refers to young adults moving back in with their parents? It’s a concept that had such resonance it got its own (ill-fated) sitcom: How to Live with Your Parents for the Rest of Your Life.  T. J. Wihera wrote in the 2009 Denver Post article “Gen Y: Returning to the Nest”:

The Census Bureau reports that 56 percent of 18- to 24-year-old men and 48 percent of women in the same age bracket were living at home with their parents in 2008, though it should be noted that these numbers also count college students living in the dorms as living at home.

A more recent 2010 article in The Atlantic summed it up in the title “1 in 10 Millennials Living With Parents Because of Recession.” This year, Bloomberg Businessweek launched a business to get boomerang kids out of their childhood bedrooms.

While millennials’ parents may have raised them to be confident, independent-thinkers, and may have done everything in their power to push their little Trophy Kids toward success from a young age, their helicopter parenting techniques may have backfired. Many millennials have become boomerang kids, relying on their over-protective, control-freak parents to continue giving them the direction they have always given them.

In my recent blog post “Shunning Cars … and Life” I touched on the cultural shift that took place around the time of the Beat Generation, saying that while Jack Kerouac went on the road, today’s Generation Y is living a virtual life. Could it be that part of the reason why so many millennials have turned to living life through a computer screen has something to do with helicopter parents who “fail[ed] to allow [their children] free time to play and explore on their own” because “the 1990s […] were bombarded with news stories about child abductions, academic competition, and ultimately, competition in a global economy,” as O’Donnell wrote? In other words, perhaps parents believed life behind the computer was safer and more educational than the alternative of playing carefree outdoors. Children were the gods of their computer worlds, they could control their domain, and they soon became celebrities of social media sites like MySpace [emphasis mine], which furthered the entitlement already instilled in them by their parents.

Of course, these are generalities. Even though he was from the so-called Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac, who used the term “hipster” in his writing, could fit the profile of a millennial. His mother, Gabrielle, hovered like a helicopter parent, and he was a boomerang kid, who was living with his mother even in his forties.

Retracing Jack Kerouac Mentions Me

7 Jun


The other day I mentioned how J. Haeske and I have been talking about the correlation between Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck. I feel honored that the Retracing Jack Kerouac blog linked back to that conversation.

On the blog, Haeske reveals that it’s one of Steinbeck’s books that’s his favorite—not Kerouac’s. Can I let you in on a secret? Saul Bellow is probably* my favorite author. (*It’s hard to pick just one! That’s like picking your favorite child! Kerouac’s obviously right up there among my favorites with Bellow.) It’s interesting to discover that although we primarily blog about Kerouac and go to great lengths to read his works, study his literary techniques, research his biography, and retrace his footsteps, there might be one other author or book that for whatever reason we call our favorite.

Is that weird? Do you have a favorite book? Is your favorite book different from your favorite author?