Archive for May, 2008

Figuratively Speaking

Friday, May 30th, 2008

DOGMATICS

It’s only fitting that this writer’s three dogs would claim their right to butt, or should I say, mutt, in on this blog.

So today, Fiction Daily is, well, you know … Going to the dogs.

Dogs are such an inseparable part of human existence that we’ve built a large vocabulary around them.

We’re tired as dogs, when we walk on our dogs too much; if we do this for many years, you could say we have lived a dog’s life.

Often our use of the words reflects how our humble best friends experience considerable mistreatment at our hands. We treat someone like a dog, we work like a dog, bad times are dog days.

If we bother someone, we dog them, a reference no doubt to the canine’s ability to hound us to death when they want something.

If we are unoriginal, we might write doggerel, which apparently comes from Middle English use of dog as in Dog Latin, a debased form of that scholarly language.

When we tick off our spouses, we are in the dog house and when we really dislike our co-workers, we throw them to the dogs.

Another term that sounds doggy is dogma, which actually comes from the Greek word “dogma,” or opinion and today refers to a set of ideas presented as truth and closed for discussion.

Taking us to today’s entry title, Dogmatics, which is a system of principles established by an authority.

Around our house, you see, Dogmatics is the law of the land, and I’ll be doggoned if I see an end to it.

2008-05-30 12:48:08 GMT

Kerouac in Rocky Mount, cont’d

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

blake_kerouac_rm_back.jpg

In the photo above, you can see the back of the house on West Mount Drive in Rocky Mount, N.C. where Jack Kerouac spent several months in early 1956.

He lived there with his sister, Caroline, or Nin, and her husband, Paul Blake.

It’s only through the dedication of John J Dorfner of Raleigh, N.C., that we know about this house. In the early 1980s, after moving to the state with his wife, he became obsessed with knowing more about Kerouac’s time in Rocky Mount.

Understand, nowhere did any biographer mention the possible location of the house. That’s why when I made a similar search about the same time, I came up empty handed.

I was working at my first newspaper job in 1986 and heard from another writer that Kerouac had spent time in Rocky Mount. I figured it was a rumor really, and thought little of it. Then, I read a column by another reporter, Cindy Trew, who wrote about tracking down the house in “Big Easonburg Woods.” I was very touched by her column; she was a fine writer.

So I trekked to Braswell Memorial Library, looked through the North Carolina collection. Nothing. I drove around in Little Easonburg, which is just west of town on Sunset Avenue. Nothing.

Then in the late 1990s, curious again, I went to Braswell Library.

By this time, Mr. Dorfner had published his slim, but dense, volume, Kerouac: Visions of Rocky Mount.

There were photos inside and I drove along West Mount Drive until I found the house. It is pictured above.

AHEAD: How John Dorfner found the Blake-Kerouac House and saved it from obscurity, for now, at least

2008-05-29 11:46:59 GMT

Kerouac in Rocky Mount, N.C.

Wednesday, May 28th, 2008

The day is flying … finally back in the office after appointments all morning, with another appointment coming up shortly.

Today once I sit still I’ll be wrapping up some articles describing my visit to see “The Mythical Scroll,” Jack Kerouac’s 120-foot long manuscript for “On the Road” which was on view at the New York Public Library.

The scroll is now on view in Austin, Texas, which is currently hosting another remarkable exhbit. The scroll will be on view in Austin through June 1.

I had a delightful conversation with John Dorfner yesterday, the writer who actually tracked down the West Mount home where Kerouac stayed with his sister Nin and her husband, Paul, for some time in the 1950s.

More on that conversation tomorrow.

2008-05-28 17:02:46 GMT

The ‘R’ Word

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Welcome back after what I hope was a wonderful long weekend. I was at my desk yesterday, wrapping up a feature column about seeing Jack Kerouac’s 120 foot-long manuscript at the New York Public Library earlier this year. That seems like forever ago.

It’s nearly impossible to say anything about Kerouac that doesn’t sound overdone or obvious. Yet, “fools rush in ….”

I am also working on a sidebar that will explore the status … and future … of the Blake-Kerouac House in Rocky Mount, N.C., the home on West Mount drive where Kerouac stayed for a time in 1956.

It’s probably no surprise the recession has reached its claws into this isolated writer’s life. I had saved up enough money to work on the novel for a few months and most of it has trickled out to pay for heat last winter, car repairs, vet bills, food for the critters. Did I say gas?

Who knows what the future holds. I’ll keep going as I always do, and the money will have to take care of itself. We’ll tighten our belts around here for a while and get through it.

Still, a recession provides great tranquility and a slowdown means I can focus more fully on the novel. I have several short stories brewing and plans to publish them at a local printers under my own Permanent Press imprint.

2008-05-27 11:29:05 GMT

Figuratively Speaking

Friday, May 23rd, 2008

It’s Friday, and time for Figuratively Speaking.

Today, it’s One Fell Swoop.

I’ve often wondered exactly what this phrase really means, how it was first used and how it originated.

So let’s start by taking it apart.

SWOOP. An intransitive verb! How wonderful. Swoop means to move rapidly downward through the air, as in, I saw the owl swoop to capture the mouse in the dark.

Swoop also means to carry out a sudden attack: Investigators will swoop on the home before arresting him.

Swoop can also be transitive: She swooped the kitten up into her arms.

Now here is where it really gets interesting …

FELL. We know fell as the past tense of fall, but it also means, in a transitive sense, to cut down, as in fell a tree.

There is another, poetic meaning, that means of terrible evil or ferocity.

Which takes us to One Fell Swoop, which means all at one time, as in, We took the garbage out of the house in one fell swoop.

Now, guess the origin of this marvelous phrase?

Yes, we can thank the Bard for this one … One Fell Swoop first appeared in Macbeth, when Macduff says,

He has no children.—All my pretty ones?

Did you say all?—O hell-kite!—All?

What, all my pretty chickens, and their dam,

At one fell swoop?

Leave it to William Shakespeare to find the sparkling new use for the same old words.By the way, fell in the sense of terrible comes from the French word felon, which means a wicked person, much as it does today.
2008-05-23 11:57:58 GMT

A Lost Art?

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

The plot is a road trip, the characters are ordinary folks looking to have some fun. In the end, it’s the quality of the prose that makes “On the Road” by Jack Kerouac such an extraordinary novel.

I read “On the Road” again recently with adult eyes. I mourned a little inside, I must say, reading through paragraph after paragraph of wild narrative. When have I read anything like that lately? When have I written anything like that? Not in a long time for either.

This novel is a large, hairy, flaming ball that roars past. The writing is out of control. Absent are the carefully crafted phrases that pass for writing these days … it seems all writers today are so worried about the critique they’re afraid to say anything at all.

I’ve never studied so-called creative writing but understand that it’s taught through “workshops” in which students sit around in a table and along with the instructor criticize each other’s work. It sounds horrid … a process for institutionalizing mediocrity.

Of course the entire writing apparatus is at fault here. Truly groundbreaking was work done by brave writers, especially those working early in the 20th century… who did literature before it was considered a career.

Now an academic machine exists to try to reproduce those glory days of Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Wolfe. The publishers, meanwhile, want page-turners, gossip and trash.

As I spend more time with writing and writers, I come to appreciate Hunter Thompson and Bukowski, Artaud and Rimbaud, more than ever … they had guts.

But, I digress.

Kerouac’s “On the Road” is written with energy and a pace that exhausts. Yet, there is a musicality to it, each phrase winds like a jazz improvisation … those are Kerouac’s ideas, not mine.

Indeed, there are passages in the book when he captures jazz performances in an uncluttered, authentic way … unstudied sketches that would be impossible today, when everyone is tripping over their own feet trying to be “artful.”

For these many gifts, “On the Road” is a precious book … for readers, for writers and for a long time.

TOMORROW: Figuratively Speaking Friday
2008-05-22 13:41:03 GMT

Moving Targets

Wednesday, May 21st, 2008

Now that we’ve looked at plot in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, we can turn to the people of this groundbreaking novel.

Even before we meet our narrator, Sal Paradise, we meet Dean Moriarty. This character drives so much of On the Road at times it’s hard to get away from him.

Dean is reckless with energy and ideas, a guy who pushes everyone out of their comfortable decisions and takes them into events and actions they’d never agree to otherwise.

We know Deans in our own life … and Thank God for them! I’ve had Deans sprinkled throughout my life; in college they gave me political petitions to take door-to-door and weren’t afraid to loudly criticize capitalism and its greedy fallout. They drank too much, danced too wildly, spoke truth to power. They showed me that the borders of the world are not firm. We set them, ourselves, by our own daring.

Sal Paradise is our narrator. He is immensely likable as he plods through his life, looking for hope and good times, always lonely, never connecting fully with others.

Kerouac’s Sal helped to establish the idea of a dispassionate narrator. We see this kind of narrator in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. These narrators are never really involved in the action around them, nor do they judge or comment. They simply see what’s happening and tell us.

At the same time, Sal in this novel develops his own verve for the road and after meeting Dean, sets out to hitchhike across the country.

At one point, he spends several months with a Mexican woman who’s a migrant worker; he falls in love with her on a bus when she looks at him. This are some of the most meaningful moments in the novel, because they illustrate the great longing inside the book’s bravado.

There are so many others … Carlo Marx, Old Bull Lee, Marylou and the girlfriends.

We can’t forget, either, that Kerouac based these folks on his own experiences with Allen Ginsberg (Carlo), William Burroughs (Old Bull) and Neal Cassady (Dean Moriarty).

For me, that’s less important than the quality and achievement of the book.

AHEAD: Why the “Road” prose moves

2008-05-21 11:42:07 GMT