Tag Archives: Big Sur

My Literary Highlights of 2015

31 Jan

Even more than art, literature is fundamental to my life. Reading was so important to my development as a child and continues to expand my horizons to this day. I earn my living as a writer and an editor, but even my social calendar revolves around literary events. Literature is very much a part of my identity, and I make a priority for it in my life.

 

BurroughsAnne Waldman, Penny Arcade, Jan Herman, Steve Dalachinsky, and Aimee Herman read at Burroughs 101, hosted by Three Rooms Press, at Cornelia Street Cafe. (Anne Waldman pictured)

HettiePam Belluck, Hettie Jones, Margot Olavarria, Marci Blackman, and Beth Lisick read at Women on Top, hosted by Three Rooms Press, at Cornelia Street Cafe. (Hettie Jones pictured)

BigSur

Big Sur (an adaptation of Kerouac’s novel) on Netflix

brunchEpic four-hour brunch at The District with two writer friends, talking about “ethnic” literature, faith, and relationships.

SunsetAfter Sunset: Poetry Walk on the High Line.

Budapest1My friends surprising me by taking me to a book-themed restaurant on my first night in Budapest.

BookCafeBrunch with friends at the most exquisite bookstore, Book Cafe & Alexandra Bookstore, in Budapest.

ElenaReading Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, a recommendation from my friend Jane.

BEABook Expo America.

AmramDavid Amram telling stories about Jack Kerouac and other literary figures and amazing us with his music at Cornelia Street Cafe.

MisakoBrunch with my friend Misako Oba, whose new book of photography and memoir, which I helped edit, was published.

DurdenDrinks with one of my favorite people at Durden, a bar based on author Chuck Palahniuk’s novel-turned-movie Fight Club.

PoetryNew York City Poetry Festival with my writing group partner.

OdysseyWatched Homer’s The Odyssey performed, put on by the Public Theater, in Central Park.

Reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” (coauthored with Paul Maher Jr.) at WORD Bookstore in Jersey City.

HobartTeaching a writing class at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers.

WritersThe Redeemed Writer: The Call and the Practice, a conference I co-led in organizing through the Center for Faith & Work. (Pastor David Sung pictured)

BrooklynBrooklyn Book Festival.

ReggioBrunch at Caffe Reggio, where Jack Kerouac and friends used to hang out.

BindersFullOfWomenSpeaking on the panel Lessons Learned: Published Authors Share Hard-Earned Insights with Nana Brew-Hammond, Kerika Fields, Melissa Walker, Ruiyan Xu, and Jakki Kerubo at BinderCon.

LibraryMeeting regularly with one of my best friends to read and write together at the New York Public Library.

Hemmingway-1_0

Checking out the Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars exhibit at the Morgan Library & Museum with a friend who is a huge Hemingway fan.

OTRSpotting a first edition copy of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road at the LBJ Presidential Library in Austin.

Light

Reading Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.

Like literature?

Burning Furiously Beautiful on sale at Barnes & Noble.

Burning Furiously Beautiful on sale at Amazon.

My Pinterest posts called Lit Life.

I’m on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

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Confessions of an Awkward Lowell Celebrates Kerouac Attendee

5 Nov

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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.

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Big Sur Comes Out Today

1 Nov

BIG_SUR_400

Kalo mina! The film adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s Big Sur comes out today. Will you be watching it?

It stars Jean-Marc Barr as a Jack Kerouac who’s overcome by the notoriety that descends on him after the publication of On the Road. Barr told Salon:

“I’ve been living Kerouac all my life. So there was nothing to play.”

Though that statement seems over-reaching, from the trailers the half-French Catholic does seem to get to a closer emulation of Kerouac than other recent actors.

Of course, he’s also playing Kerouac at a much different point in his life than he’s been portrayed in the other recent films. In “What Hollywood Gets Wrong About Jack Kerouac and the Beat Generation” for The Atlantic, Jordan Larson wrote:

But the current Beat revival arguably goes too far with its re-imagination of the Beat writers’ livelihoods as simple adolescent goofing around—its most prominent writers were, after all, well into their grown-up years when they wrote many of their most notable writings.

Kerouac is definitely an adult in Big Sur. A rather depressed one at that. And it brings up the point I discussed earlier this week when mentioning Karen Yuan’s argument in the article “Notebook: Hollywood shouldn’t glamorize the Beat Generation’s self-destruction” for The Michigan Daily, and that is, whether portraying them as adolescents or as adults, Hollywood and the Beat Generation is being criticized.

What’s interesting about Big Sur, though, is that the executive producer is Jack Kerouac’s nephew Jim Sampas. He was also the producer of One Fast Move or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur. Sampas also produced Dr. Sax and the Great World Snake and Joy Kicks Darkness, among other projects.

In 2009, Sampas told IFC:

“‘Big Sur’ is Jack’s most personal and confessional novel. I am blown away by his courage in writing about his own spiral downward with such honesty and depth. My goal is that this film we’ve created influences a younger generation to embrace this work. And if people who see this film are inspired by Jack no holds barred honesty, wouldn’t that be incredible?”

I had the pleasure of meeting Jim Sampas, a fellow Greek American, at this year’s Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, when Billy Koumantzelis (check out his CD on his time with Kerouac) introduced me to him. It will definitely be interesting to view this film in light of the others.

I’ve read mixed reviews, and I’d love to hear what others think of the film. Please post comments if you see it!

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

Is Hollywood Glamorizing the Beats or Just Retelling Their Stories?

29 Oct

“The flat Hollywood characterization allows viewers to live vicariously through Ginsberg, Kerouac and the gang, but it almost mythicizes them. Hollywood digs right into the drama — catering to what people want to see — and ignores the very human parts of them. But it may be a hard balance to keep. Even when depicting that soul-searching, it’s easy to fall to sentiment. The Beat Generation’s search for belief ends up being something we believe in. We’re all drawn to the image of explorers after all: modern pilgrims, earnestly due west like Lewis and Clark in Mustangs, toward the unknown destination,” writes Karen Yuan in her closing paragraph to “Notebook: Hollywood shouldn’t glamorize the Beat Generation’s self-destruction” in The Michigan Daily.

With descriptions like “wide, fruited plains,” “all vintage Cadillacs and cigarette escapism,” and “slick cool and soft anarchy,” Yuan’s turns of phrases are beautiful in this article. I commend her attention to language in this journalistic essay about writers. It’s a breath of fresh air from so many dry works of criticism. Furthermore, she brings up a valid point on the complexity of Hollywood trying to encapsulate the human experience. Whether one is a so-called Beat, a journalist, or a movie-goer our lives cannot be easily summed up in one film or three films … or even several volumes of literature, as it may be. Yuan herself makes that very point when she says “But it may be a hard balance to keep.”

Consequently, she seems to have out-argued her own thesis, “However, what [Hollywood] doesn’t realize is that the Beats are nothing to be glamorized,” by acknowledging the intricacy of life and that portraying “clouds of brooding angst” doesn’t create balance or reality anymore than depicting “carefree, YOLO-esque youth” does. Though she rightly suggests the Beats’ perpetual movement is related to their “existential search,” it is unclear what she thinks a more accurate adaptation of On the Road or Big Sur would be or how the murder of David Kammerer should have been told.

I would argue that the film adaptation of On the Road did a fine job of showing both sides. It perhaps doesn’t do the existential search justice but there are intimations of it, particularly in the scenes when Sal Paradise hallucinates among the Catholic saints, with the insertion of Proust, and when Dean Moriarty confesses that he doesn’t know why he does the things he does. The go! go! go! mentality comes to a screeching halt in the closing scene, indicating that maybe all those wild times weren’t all they were cracked up to be. Meanwhile, Yuan says Kill Your Darlings contains “tantalizing hints of murder,” when in fact the film does not hint but tells of the events leading up to a murder that landed three of the Beats in jail, with one of them doing time in a reformatory. It does not paint any one character as the villain, but again shows that the people involved and the events that unfolded were complex. Existentialism is a recurring theme of the film as seen through the New Vision. I haven’t seen Big Sur yet, but I’ve read the reviews of the film, and it seems to me that it’s far from glamorizing Kerouac’s life. More so, I’ve read the novel twice and know that it’s actually the antithesis of glamorizing the Beat Generation machine.

So here’s the question … or rather, I should say questions: Is documenting a life, an event, or a novel automatically glamorizing it? Where is the line between telling the truth and glorifying—when storytelling? Do stories have to be redemptive? If they are not redemptive, must they be cautionary tales? If they do not fall into these categories, are we better off ignoring them?

The pastor of the church I grew up in used to say, “Ignorance is not bliss.” Being downright oblivious or purposely ignoring issues doesn’t make them go away. The truth of the matter is the “intrigue and montages of reckless drug use” were a part of the life of Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, and so forth. And I would gather that the parties and drugs and casual affairs were a lot of fun as they were happening. That’s why people do those things. To categorically demonize these things does a disservice to the truth. The truth of course is much more complex. Consequences aren’t always immediate or even a given. We can look now in hindsight at On the Road and know that Jack Kerouac died at only forty-seven years old, after abusing alcohol. However, we can cast our collective eye on Burroughs and see a man who did a lot of hard drugs who didn’t pass away until he was eighty-three years old.

Yuan says, “They wanted to rebel against this new middle-class United States and find something new to believe in….” Today’s suburban teens and Ivy League undergrads may very well still be searching for something to believe in. I think the Beats’ stories go on, not because they glamorize illicitness, but because they speak to that very basic human need to feel like more than just a cog in the machine but like we’re actually living, that our lives have meaning. I think this is part of what Yuan is advocating for, and I think it’s actually there in the films and in the literature. It’s just not whitewashed, pristine, perfect. But then again, neither is life.

 

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Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road” is now available as an ebook and paperback!

John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jack Kerouac Write about Nature

23 Apr

muir

“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

~ John Muir

It was conservationist John Muir‘s birthday over the weekend and yesterday was Earth Day. A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of editing a reissue (not the one pictured above) of his My First Summer in the Sierra and writing the flap copy, and I quickly became absorbed in the poetic language he used to described the beauty of the earth. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have caught on that even though I absolutely love the glittering sidewalks and Art Deco skyscrapers of New York City, I am just as comfortable out in nature. (It’s the suburbs I can’t stand!)

Muir was an early advocate of nature preservation and founded the Sierra Club. He used to hang out with Teddy Roosevelt, whom I’ve also written about, and they’d go off exploring Yosemite. Can you imagine any of our recent presidents going off into the woods with someone we’d today probably label a hippie? It was this very friendship between Roosevelt and Muir that led to America’s natural beauty being preserved. Interestingly enough, Muir and Roosevelt were both rather talented writers, and their works are travelogues through nature.

Jack Kerouac referenced John Muir in The Dharma Bums, a novel that makes you want to drop everything and go sit in the woods for a great long while. He also wrote about Muir in an essay entitled “The Vanishing American Hobo“:

John Muir was a hobo who went off into the mountains with a pocketful of dried bread, which he soaked in creeks.

Kerouac was incredibly well read and would often read history books about America before or during his road trips. As “The Vanishing American Hobo” indicates, Kerouac saw the landscape and economy of America changing before his eyes as he traveled. The era he lived in was the beginning of the great highway system, and he saw why Muir’s conservation efforts were so important.

We tend to associate road tripper Jack Kerouac with cars and bars, but he actually loved nature. On the Road is essentially a glowing account of America’s landscape, the melon patches, the sun-drenched sky, the ragged mountains. In Big Sur, we see him sit out and just stare at the ocean, absorbed in nature. His obsession with animals gives us a poignant insight into his psyche.

We often put labels on people, and to see literature through critics’ lenses. What if we read John Muir’s work as literature instead of viewing it as nature writing? What if we read Jack Kerouac’s work as nature writing instead of counter-cultural novel?

What if we saw a story in a blade of grass? What if we listened really hard to the call of a bird?

You might also be interested in this article I wrote a few years about John Muir for Burnside Writers Collective:

And in this clip of me reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful about Jack Kerouac’s empathy toward animals.

Big Sur Debuts Today at Sundance Film Festival

23 Jan

Big Sur debuts today at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah:

When I first saw the trailer for Big Sur I felt a sense of relief. While I enjoyed the film adaptation of On the Road, the Sal Paradise character (based on Jack Kerouac and played by Sam Riley) fell flat for me. Jean-Marc Barr plays the Kerouac character in Big Sur and at least from the trailer seems to embody him much better.

The film is directed by Michael Polish and the cinematography is by M. David Mullen, who worked together on Stay Cool and The Astronaut Farmer, and it is gorgeously lush.

The story of Big Sur is in many ways On the Road‘s opposite. On the Road brings to life Kerouac’s early adventures roadtripping across the country. His zeal for life explodes across the page. Big Sur, on the other hand, shows the writer in the later years of his life, after fame and alcohol had taken a toll on his life.

The first time I read Big Sur it depressed me greatly, reading how Kerouac struggled and obsessed over death, but I read it again last fall when I was roadtripping down the California coast and saw how Kerouac really was a master at style. There’s a repetition and rhythm of the book that echoes the cyclical nature of the ocean.

This isn’t the first time Kerouac’s time in Big Sur has been the subject of a film. In 2008 there was One Fast Move Or I’m Gone: Kerouac’s Big Sur.

Here’s a synopsis of Polish’ Big Sur from the Sundance website:

Big Sur focuses on a moment in Jack Kerouac’s life when, overwhelmed by the success of his opus On the Road and struggling with alcoholism, he retreats to his publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in the small, coastal California town of Big Sur, which eventually inspires his 1962 novel of the same name. Kerouac’s time begins with quiet moments of solitude and communing with nature. But, struck by loneliness, he hightails it to San Francisco, where he resumes drinking heavily and gets pushed into a relationship with his best friend Neal Cassady’s mistress, Billie.

While writer/director Michael Polish (Twin Falls Idaho) explores a less glamorous moment in Kerouac’s legacy—one of alienation and mental breakdown—Big Sur equally examines the beauty of this time in the writer’s life, witnessed in the romance of friendship and the purity of nature. Jean-Marc Barr embodies Kerouac’s intelligence and masculinity, but also portrays him at his most contemplative and vulnerable. Luscious and breathtaking, Big Surapproaches a religious cinematic experience.

Director: Michael Polish

Screenwriter: Michael Polish

Executive Producers: Mark Roberts, Eddie Vaisman, Jim Sampas

Producers: Ross Jacobson, Orian Williams, Adam Kassen, Michael Polish

Cinematographer: M. David Mullen

Production Designer: Max Biscoe

Sound Designer: Chris Sheldon

Costume Designer: Bic Owen

Principal Cast: Jean-Marc Barr, Kate Bosworth, Josh Lucas, Radha Mitchell, Anthony Edwards, Henry Thomas

 

Road Trip: Hitchhiking to the Mission

24 Nov

 

By the time my poor bus rolled into Carmel, the day was fading and the shops had closed their adorable doors.  Music from a live concert rose up out of the heart of the main shopping plaza, and the moon made his appearance even though the sun hadn’t quite set yet.  I was a little disappointed not to be able to stop into the cheese shop that the wine guide back at the winery had recommended, but I was intent on getting a little culture out of the trip.  Man cannot live on cheese alone.  I set off to visit the Carmel mission.

I was a little annoyed that I’d paid all this money for a tour that basically amounted to the driver talking over the intercom as he drove the bus and then sleeping while we wandered off on our own into the unknown.  That was the point when I actually needed a tour guide.  I didn’t need someone to tell me to look out the window because by golly there’s a strawberry field.  I needed someone to physically walk me to locations because I’m for someone who loves to travel I’m notoriously bad with directions, and I hate wasting time getting lost when there are things I want to see!  I asked the driver to point me in the direction of the Carmel mission, and he told me the twosome up ahead of me were also headed there and honked the bus horn at them so they’d wait for me.

I awkwardly approached, not knowing if I was encroaching on some romantic rendezvous.  As it turned out, they were ex-brother and sister-in-law.  The woman had married and divorced the guy’s brother.  They couple had been divorced for many, many years now, but the woman and the brother had remained good friends and travel companions.  Hm… was there maybe something more there?  No.  He’s gay and in a committed relationship, and she is currently in a serious relationship.  They just like to travel together.

Alrighty then!  Onward ho!  (Actually, I found the relationship backstory out on the return trip.)

The woman once been given a beautiful painting of the San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo and always wanted to visit it.  We set off down the road, the driver having told us it was only about a ten-minute walk.  That was a lie.  As we were trying to figure out which way to head, a woman in an SUV pulled up and asked us if we wanted a ride.  Now, if you’ve read my “Nightmare of a Trip” post, you know that I’m well versed in the dangers of hitchhiking, but I figured I was with two other people.  Plus you had to have seen the woman in the SUV.  She was skinny with bleached blonde hair and wore these ginormous heels and what may have been a dalmatian-fur coat.  I couldn’t tell if she was actually old or if her skin was damaged from too much suntanning.  We were grateful to her, though, as she took time out to give us strangers a ride.

The San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, like all the shops, had already closed, so we could only peer in over the fence.  It was a beauty!  Established in 1771, the Community of the Carmel Mission is a working church.   The Basilica Church is a registered National Historic Landmark and there are five museums on the grounds.

Of course, the bus also made a stop at the Carmel mission when we left the area, but we didn’t have time to get off the bus at that point, so I’m glad I ventured off to enjoy its peaceful presence.

 

 

I’m not sure which mission he’s referring to, but in Big Sur Jack Kerouac writes of Cody, the character based on Neal Cassady, saying:

“Now dont walk too fast, it’s time to stroll along like we used to do remember sometimes on our daysoff on the railroad, or walkin across that Third and Townsend tar like you said and the time we watched the sun go down so perfect holy purple over that Mission cross–Yessir, slow and easy, lookin at this gone valley…”

Road Trip: Monterey

19 Nov

Most people associate John Steinbeck with Monterey.  Many of his famous novels, including Cannery Row, were set in Monterey.  Not surprisingly, there are many tributes to him in the toursity little town.

 

Steinbeck photobombing me

Jack Kerouac also wrote about Monterey.  One of the most beautiful passages about Monterey in Big Sur is:

But it is beautiful especially to see up ahead north a vast expanse of curving seacoast with inland mountains dreaming under slow clouds, like a scene of ancient Spain or properly really like a scene of the real essentially Spanish California, the old Monterey pirate coast right there, you can see what the Spaniards must’ve thought when they came around the bend in their magnificent sloopies and saw all that dreaming fatland beyond the seashore whitecap dormat–Like the land of gold–The old Monterey and Big Sur and Santa Cruz magic….

 

Road Trip: Sea Lions and Sea Otters on the Northern California Coast

19 Oct


 

 

 

I’m a total sucker for cute animal videos, and a while ago I came across this video of a sea lion that falls in love with a woman on the beach.  I’m not sure where it was filmed, but I thought of it when I spotted sea lions while road tripping down Highway 1.

Even cuter than sea lions, though, are sea otters, which are also native to that magnificent stretch of Northern California coastline.  Unfortunately, the lives of sea otters have been in danger due to disgusting toxins flushed into the ocean.  The Sea Otter Alliance is a good resource for finding out more about these adorable animals.  The Monterey Bay Aquarium offers helpful information on California coastal protection, sustainable seafood, and saving sea otters.  According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium website’s sea otter page:

Southern sea otters once ranged from Baja California to the Pacific Northwest. But by the 1920s they were considered extinct due to intensive hunting. They were listed as “threatened with extinction” under the Endangered Species Act in 1977. But despite decades of federal and state protection, the population of southern sea ottersAnimal Guide(Enhydra lutris nereis) which resides along the California coast, struggles to survive at a fraction of its historic numbers, estimated at 16,000-20,000 animals. No one knows why the population isn’t recovering. Pathogens and parasites, possibly linked to coastal pollution, can weaken otter immune systems. And the risk of a major oil spill remains a serious threat.

 

Jack Kerouac obsessed over the death of a sea otter in his novel Big Sur.  After On the Road became such a huge success that fans were literally arriving on Kerouac’s doorstep, the author retreated to nature, staying at his friend Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s cabin in Big Sur.  Kerouac was a man who loved animals, going to the extent of putting out food for wildlife.  He was drinking heavily at the time and the novel documents a dark period in his life.  Death becomes a constant threat, and foreshadows his own premature death, as he sees animals all around him die.  One in particular is a sea otter that washes ashore, which he mentions time and time again in the novel.

 

 

Overarching Writing Tip from Big Sur Writers: Don’t Censor Your First Draft

17 Oct

If you’re a frequent visitor to this site, you’re probably a fan of the Beat Generation, which means you’ve probably read Jack Kerouac’s Rules for Spontaneous Prose.  In a recent fit of procrastination, I stumbled upon Henry Miller’s Commandments while browsing the blog a lovely being.  Then through a rabbit hole that began on Poets & Writers, I discovered John Steinbeck’s writing rules on brain pickings.

As I scoured their tips for jewels of wisdom, I considered whether there were any repeating schemes amongst the three authors, who each lived at various points in their career in the Monterey area of Northern California.  The theme that emerges is one of writing with the force of one of the ferocious waves in Big Sur—quickly, spontaneously, wildly, freely, bravely, deeply, purely.

John Steinbeck: Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.

Henry Miller: Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.

Jack Kerouac: Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better

In other words, while you’re composing, just get it all out there on the page.  Don’t concern yourself with censoring your thoughts, diction, or punctuation.  You can always go back and fix things later, but for the first draft, at least, it’s better to let the story take shape naturally.

I’m generally not the type of person who subscribes to a set of writing rules, mainly because I believe everyone has their own technique and process, but I am a huge fan of lists.

Through Poets & Writers, I also discovered Kyle Minor’s “Advice to My Younger Self” and Margaret Atwood’s advice to writers, through which I consequently found similar lists by Zadie SmithElmore LeonardKurt Vonnegut, and David Ogilvy.

What are your tips for writing?