Tag Archives: friendship

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

9 Aug

StephanieNikolopoulos2

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It’s like falling in love.” ~ Christopher Morley

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I don’t read as much as I used to these days. Or, maybe I read more. It’s hard to tell. As an editor, I read all day at my job. But it’s a different type of reading. It’s more like a spot-the-difference puzzle, where I’m on the lookout for Briticisms and double punctuation marks. It’s not reading for pleasure, though it is pleasurable.

I am a book lover.

Much of my life is what it is because of books. My mother used to bribe me with books when I was a child. Books opened up a world to me. Reading became not just an activity but a refuge, and not just a refuge but a part of my identity. When I went away to camp, I took a sign language class. We were told to use the letter from our first name and the sign for an activity we enjoyed to create a unique name for ourselves. My name was an “S” opening a book.

Later, in high school, I dropped math class and took an extra English class in addition to my AP English class. My first or second semester of college, I took three English classes at the same time. It was wonderful! It felt so me. I felt like I was living out my true self. On spring break, I went to City Lights in San Francisco and dragged my best friend around the city, reading her Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s poems.

I absorbed myself in the pages of books for hours at a time, discovering not just kindred spirits and captivating lands but turns of phrases and how punctuation influenced a reading. When I learned to read, I also began to learn to write. Reading and writing were two sides of the same coin for me. One inspired the other. I am at my best, I feel my most authentic, when I am involved in both.

A few years ago, while working full time in book publishing and going to grad school full time for creative writing, I co-authored Burning Furiously Beautiful. It was a wild, intense time. I would wake up early before work and edit, a habit this non-morning person is not a natural at. I turned down plans with friends. I surrounded myself with books. And you know what? I miss it.

I miss the intensity of reading and writing and breathing words. I miss being assigned books that challenge me. I miss being exposed to new ideas. I miss the deadlines. I miss the workshops. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the solitude. The quiet nights. The passionate flurry of ideas.

I recently did a writing intensive with some friends. We tried to push out twenty pages a week. That’s more than I was required to do in grad school. It felt good. It wasn’t necessarily sustainable, but it got me back into the habit. As well, I’m doing the Goodreads reading challenge and trying to read a book a week. I’m woefully behind. Woefully. But it has gotten me back into the habit of reading for pleasure. I ask people to recommend books to me, so I still am being exposed to things I wouldn’t normally select for myself. Sometimes my friends read the same books; sometimes I read the book for my book club; sometimes I read the book for Bible study; and sometimes I get around to reading the books I excitedly bought but remained on my bookshelves. I read on the subway. I read in bed. I read in the bathtub. I read on NJ Transit.

And I’m about to read right now before bed! I’m finally getting around to reading Vivian Gornick‘s The Odd Woman and the City.

 

Advertisements

Stepping into 2015

5 Jan

I thought it might be worth reposting this as a reminder to myself.

***


Last January, I posted these two articles I wrote for Burnside:::

Does God Laugh at Our Resolutions?

Christian New Year’s Resolutions

Reading them a year later, I wish that I had done so sooner and refocused myself.  I really love these two resolutions:::

Resolution:  Walk humbly with God.

Resolution:  Love others.

The notion of walking humbly with God is just so beautiful and peaceful.  When I visited my family over the holidays, we took a few walks together.  There was no agenda.  We simply walked leisurely around the neighborhood, taking in the bright pinks of the flowering trees and the azure sky as we chatted.  The walks were short — under half an hour — but that time we spent meandering cul-de-sacs and admiring palm trees made an impression on me.  It felt meaningful even though our conversations weren’t necessarily any more meaningful than any other conversations we had during our time together.  In New York City, I walk a lot, but I’m usually walking with an agenda — with a predetermined place to go and time to be there by — and am walking on my own against a crowd of strangers.  Walking with someone just to enjoy their company is a much different feeling.

* * *

That was from 2012. A lot has changed since then. My sister moved out of the city, and my mother had a stroke, so we haven’t spent the past two Christmases together. I’ve spent a lot of time walking in the city by myself. But new people have also come into my life, and I’ve spent time walking with them, both literally and figuratively. Most importantly, many of the new people that have come into my life have been helping me in my walk with God.

This week I was reflecting on 2 Peter 1: 3-11:

3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to[c] his own glory and excellence,[d] by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue,[e] and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities[f] are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers,[g] be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

It seems like a good passage to continually focus on this year.

“Beat Generation” Premieres during Lowell Celebrates Kerouac

10 Oct

 

Kerouac’s play “Beat Generation,” written the same year that On the Road was published, will also have its premiere tonight.  The event stage production is taking place during Lowell Celebrates Kerouac, the week-long literary where fans from across the country make their pilgrimage to Kerouac’s hometown in Massachusetts.

As The Guardian reports, until around 2005, Kerouac’s play “The Beat Generation” sat unpublished in a New Jersey warehouse. In 2006 Da Capo Press published the play, with an introduction by A. M. Holmes.  Kerouac, who had a great interest in film, never got to see his own play put on or his novels made into a film.

Merrimack Repertory Theatre (MRT) raised funds through Kickstarter to stage the play in Lowell and is presented with UMass Lowell.  It was made with “the support and collaboration of Kerouac Literary Estate representative John Sampas,” according to MRT.

The play centers around the same group of New York City friends Kerouac often wrote about, as they pass around a bottle of wine.  Perhaps even more so than his novels, which are rich in poetry, the emphasis in “Beat Generation” is on dialogue.  Kerouac had a great ear for the unique syncopation of everyday language and the lingua franca of the working class.  As Kerouac himself said:

One thing is sure: It is now a real play, an original play, a comedy but with overtones of sadness and with some pretty fine spontaneous speeches that are as good as Clifford Odets.

Odets (1906-1963) was a playwright raised in Philly and the Bronx who wrote such plays as Waiting for Lefty and Golden Boy.  Born to Russian- and Romanian-Jewish immigrant parents, Odets used ethnic language and street talk in his plays.  Arthur Miller said of Odets’ work,  ″For the very first time in America, language itself . . . marked a playwright as unique.″  Kerouac himself was the son of immigrant French-Canadian parents and made use of both ethnic language–his own joual dialect as well as Greek and Spanish–and street talk.

For information on the special events surrounding the play as well as tickets, visit MRT.

Video from Collaboration with Jazz Musician David Amram

19 Sep

 

This is the video from my collaborative reading with David Amram at Cornelia Street Cafe on Labor Day.  If you missed my full recap, you can read it here.

In the video you’ll hear me reading a section on Jack Kerouac’s time in Mexico, which gives some perspective on Kerouac’s faith, his sensitivity toward animals, and his tumultuous friendship with Neal Cassady.  The book I’m reading from is my book with Paul Maher Jr. called Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road

Special thanks to my videographer Liz Koenig.

The event also picked up some press!

Larry Closs mentioned it in his article “Transcending Beat with David Amram.”

The Pappas Post mentioned it in “Stephanie Nikolopoulos and Jazz legend David Amram pay tribute to Jack Kerouac.”

Recap — with Photos! — of David Amram Reading

10 Sep

 

When musician David Amram introduced me before I read with him at Cornelia Street Cafe on September 3, 2012, he very generously said people should pay attention because one day they’d see me on television.  To me, though, reading with David Amram was a much bigger deal than being on television.  There are countless television shows, but there is only one David Amram.  While there are many fantastic musicians and writers out there whom I’d be honored to read with, there are few who hold such a special place in forming my creative identity as Amram does.

I first became acquainted with Amram through studying Jack Kerouac when I was just a teenager.  I was enamored with his improvised performance as Mezz McGillicuddy in the 1957 Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie film Pull My Daisy.  In fact, this photograph, featuring Larry Rivers, Jack Kerouac, David Amram, Allen Ginsberg, and Gregory Corso, who all collaborated on the film, is probably my all-time favorite photograph of the poets, writers, and artists associated with the Beat Generation.  It seems to so purely capture their friendship: just a couple of people hanging out at a cafe, maybe talking about the arts, or maybe just drinking coffee late into the night and enjoying each other’s company.

Although it was literature that introduced me to Amram, his music fascinated me.  Here was a musician who was more than just skillful.  Amram is an innovator.  He’s someone who experiments, improvises, blends genres, captivates.  He is, quite simply, mesmerizing to watch and listen to.

Through reading biographies on Kerouac and also reading Amram’s own biographies, I came to discover the jazz-poetry readings Amram and Kerouac began doing in the Village in 1957.  These were improvised sets, requiring each to masterfully foresee and adapt to changing tempos and moods in each other’s works.  These jazz-poetry collaborations captured my imagination, challenging my view of art and the way in which it’s created, the musicality of words, and the role of collaboration, improvisation, and performance in literature.  As I read about the collaborations in musty library books, forty-some-odd years after they’d taken place, I envisioned what it must’ve been like to be in the crowd at a painter’s loft or at the Circle in the Square.  Did the people there realize they were part of history?

In 2001, I had the opportunity to ask Amram just that when I interviewed him for some research I was doing at the time.  I sat enthralled, clinging to his every word, as he told me about all the places he used to hang out at in New York, about collaborating with Kerouac, and about how the term “Beat Generation” is just a marketing term that people later attached to the individual artists who each create unique works.  As he talked, answering all of my questions and never rushing me, and later as I read another biography of  his, I realized that Amram is the real deal — a creative genius and also a beatific individual, an artist who inspires and encourages.

Amram has been someone whom I’ve long admired, both on an artistic and a personal level.  Reading about those 1957 jazz-poetry readings he did with Jack Kerouac, I never imagined that one day I would have the opportunity to read the book I’m writing on Jack Kerouac with him.  When my former editor suggested we attend Amram’s show at Cornelia Street Cafe in the Village, I excitedly said yes.  A few days later, I had to email him back to say Amram had invited me to read with him.  It was completely surreal.

The September 3, 2012, show was completely sold out.  I had some friends who were turned away at the door.  Special thanks to Cornelia Street Cafe’s Robin Hirsch and the staff for hosting the reading and for doing such an excellent job in organizing the event.  I read a short selection about Kerouac’s time in Mexico from Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the book I’m co-authoring with Paul Maher, Jr.  It was really exciting because author Larry Closs and painter Jonathan Collins, both of whom I met through the Burning Furiously Beautiful Facebook page, were in the audience.  Poet and producer RA Araya, who has been hugely supportive of my work and whose birthday bash was the premiere reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful, was also there, and graciously provided the photography you see here.  I had some other family and friends there as well and am so appreciative of their support.  It means more to me than most people realize.

As soon as my videographer, Liz Koenig, sends the video, I’ll post it so you can hear me reading with David Amram and his band.  The band, consisting of Amram, Kevin Twigg, and John de Witt played so beautifully — even more of a feat, considering Twigg had hurt his hand before the show.  The music was haunting and fit the piece that I read so perfectly.  I wanted to remain present in the moment, to really hear what they were playing, and savor the moment.  It was one of those times in life that I wanted to tuck into my heart and cherish.

 

 

David Amram, Stephanie Nikolopoulos, Joe Pacheco

Stephanie Nikolopoulos, David Amram, RA Araya

Writing Wednesday: Passion and Proximity

8 Feb

When I was an English major in undergrad, I didn’t have English major friends.  Most of my friends were premed or computer science (blame my proximity to Harvey Mudd on the latter) or a variety of random majors: history, American studies, French.  I was friendly with my classmates in the English department, but we weren’t a really close-knit clique.

That’s not to say I didn’t have any word-minded friends when I was in college.  I spent a lot of time in “The Dungeon,” what we called the basement office to the indie newspaper where I worked, and perhaps based simply on the fact that we had to spend a lot of time together, I cultivated friendships there.  When you work the graveyard shift, things tend to get a little silly around 3 am.  It bonds you, whether you like it or not.  Just recently one of the women I worked with came to NYC for a visit, and it was so much fun to catch up with her over brunch at Beauty & Essex.

When I graduated from undergrad, many of my relationships continued to be based in the literary world once again by virtue of my chosen career.  Work kind of dominates your life.  You spend most of your waking day at your job.  You might as well make friends there.  Outside of the friends I made at the publishing house, though, I gravitated towards people with very different careers than mine.  People who worked in graphic design, banking, real estate, you name it.

Being in a creative writing MFA now, it would seem natural that I should have a lot of writing friends.  Life doesn’t always work that way.  While everyone’s headed out for red wine after our classes end at 10:30 pm, I’m shuffling to the subway because I have to get up for work the next morning.  You can’t be bleary-eyed when it comes to editing books.  The friends I have made there, though, are awesome.  It’s so great to connect with writers, who understand the whole juggle of life and work and writing and who totally get it when you say you wish you didn’t have a passion to write.

I wonder if friendship is based more on proximity and circumstance or on mutual interests.  For some, those two might intertwine, but for many I don’t think it always does.  I think that’s because our passions aren’t always our biggest priorities.  I don’t mean that in the negative sense that our passion isn’t meaningful and important to us.  I just think other things can be as meaningful if not more meaningful, and we gravitate toward those who share our same values and personality over people who share our same activities.