I hit the road last month to attend Lowell Celebrates Kerouac!
Confession time! In most circumstances I feel like a hanger-on if I’m in the company of whomever is the man or woman of the hour. Maybe it’s related to the Imposter Syndrome Sheryl Sandberg talks about in Lean In. Who am I to talk to someone of great stature? I never want to bother anyone, make it appear that I’m trying to get something out of them, or come out as some zealous fan. So, my typical response is to just keep to myself.
The first year I attended LCK I went alone and barely talked to anyone. I had been studying Kerouac’s literature for more than a decade and was fascinated by everything around me. It felt so surreal to be in Kerouac’s stomping grounds, to see his birth home, the Grotto, the Pawtucket Falls, the mill town he’d loved and written about. Roger Brunelle gave excellent tours, and I was enthralled by every moment of it. I loved every moment of it, and even though I had no one to share it with I didn’t really mind.
This year was completely different. My friend Julie Parker let me crash at her beautiful home outside of Boston, which was brimming with books and paintings and so full of inspiration. She’s a design consultant who does package design, marketing, and brand identity, so when we weren’t at the festival we had endless conversations about publishing and self-promotion.
I got to meet Paul! Oh my gosh, I was so nervous. Paul and I have been collaborating together for almost two years, and I probably spend more time talking on the phone with him than anyone else except maybe my mom when she’s in the States (when she’s in Greece, it’s difficult with the time difference), but we’d never met in person. I guess I was worried by meeting in person, something would change. It ended up being awesome. He gave Julie and me a tour of Lowell, and since he himself grew up there, his insight and stories were really personal.
I also got to catch up with David Amram and Billy Koumantzelis. I first got to know each of them from interviewing them about their friendship with Jack Kerouac, and since then I’ve been careful not to assume they’d remember me or talk to me beyond that. I completely understand that they’d have other, more important, people to talk to. But I didn’t want to go to my default of keeping my distance for fear that would make it seem like I didn’t want to talk to them. Ugh. My head gets so mixed up sometimes! Anyway, I did end up getting to spend time with both of them, and they’re both so gracious and fascinating individuals. For all the negative things that have been said over the years about Jack Kerouac, I have to say that he sure knows how to pick friends. These guys are stand-up gentlemen. Even though I first got to know them because of their friendship with Kerouac, that doesn’t even matter to me anymore. I just like talking to them and hearing their perspectives. When I had first interviewed Billy, I was curious about who he is, and at one point he stopped me and said, “Aren’t you here to ask me about Kerouac?”
Through one of David’s concerts at Cornelia Street Café, I’d met the poet Christopher Barry. He was at LCK too and introduced me to his brother, Stephen Barry, who is also a poet. Chris is a great guy, and it was fun chatting with him and his brother. David also introduced me to Steve Dalachinsky and Yuko Otomo, who are these amazing poets from New York City. Seriously. Probably among the best I’ve ever heard read—and I’ve heard a lot of poets read over the years. I probably would’ve been too shy to ever introduce myself if it weren’t for David. Billy also introduced me to Jim Sampas. You know, the guy behind One Fast Move or I’m Gone and the new film Big Sur. I sat there kind of stunned, saying, “I’m a big fan of your work.” I gave him a postcard for Paul’s and my book, Burning Furiously Beautiful, and Jim said, “I think I’ve heard of this.” Wow. I also got to meet the documentary filmmaker (Grave Matters) Brent Mason. Super nice guy. I met Stephen D. Edington, the organizer of LCK. He’s given sermons at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Nashua, which I’ve read online and found quite interesting. And, I got to meet Roger Brunelle and his wife, both of whom were so warm. I don’t know why I get so nervous to introduce myself and talk to people sometimes….
Another highlight, though, was meeting people from the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page. I was so touched when they came up and introduced themselves. I am so thankful for the network we have on that page, and it’s been great meeting like-minded people offline.
I guess I write all this to show that even if you sometimes are predisposed toward awkwardness, shyness, and over-thinking things, good things happen when you step out of your comfort zone. A colleague of mine recently posted on Facebook about how his daughter was having trouble with good greetings, that it took her a while to warm up to even people she knew when she’d see them again. I feel a lot like that little girl sometimes. Although this is supposed to be a recap of my time at LCK, I think it’s important that I share my true story. I’ve gotten the impression sometimes that people think if you read Kerouac, you’re trying to be cool. I never really had the impression of Kerouac as the cool guy. I always thought of him as the guy shambling after his friends. I think if you really read and study Kerouac, you understand that he too battled shyness, that although he had a lot of successes he also had a lot of failures, that he was prone to both self-assurance and worry. I think that if we just be ourselves and use our gifts and if we are open to opportunities and push ourselves little by little out of our comfort zone, we will surprise ourselves by what we can do. The key though is that it’s not about being in the spotlight or about others in the spotlight; it’s about the blessings of creating art, doing what we love, and fellowshipping with others.
* * *