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Sunday, September 19, 2010

New documentary - Bracelets of Grace - almost done!

The POW-MIA bracelets of the Vietnam War era made an incredible impression on all those who wore them. Millions of bracelets with the name of a missing or imprisoned soldier were worn on the wrists of family, friends, supporters and critics of the war. It may have been the only item - the only common bond - that crossed the tumultuous political divide.

In 2004, a talk show host at a Chicago radio station was taking callers on this discussion subject: What do you own that you just can't ever throw away? One caller responded by saying she still had the POW-MIA bracelet she wore during the Vietnam War. That phone call prompted dozens of others to call in about their bracelets, telling their stories of wearing them and keeping them safely tucked away in jewelry boxes, night stand drawers and attic boxes.

"I just can't ever let this go," said one caller."This was MY soldier."

The emotions behind the stories of the bracelets told that day on the radio talk show were genuine and true, and they prompted me to begin the research that has led me to the rich and powerful story of U.S. Air Force Major Stanley Horne. In January of 1968 Major Horne's plane was shot down over North Vietnam. Soon afterward his name was one of the many engraved on a POW-MIA bracelet. His story, and the story of those who wore his bracelet, not only tell the narrative of the bracelets' impact, but also the story of how America struggled with the war and tried to heal from the scars it left behind.

BRACELETS OF GRACE - An audio documentary - is Major Horne's story, the bracelets' story and the story of how a soldier's family and a nation grieves and attempts to mend from it's tragedies.

This November 11th, Veterans Day, is the 40th anniversary of the POW-MIA bracelets of the Vietnam War. I'm hoping to have the documentary on radio stations nationwide.

On this blog, BRACELETS OF GRACE tell your personal stories of the POW-MIA bracelets. Share them with all of us who remember the bracelets and still cherish having worn them.

This is my latest story.

Oh, and by the way ACCIDENTAL LESSONS is now in a new printing - hardcover.


Peace,
David W. Berner

Friday, September 3, 2010

Bracelets of Grace (Audio Documentary)

It's a been a bit. My fault. I've been working on my audio documentary about the MIA-POW bracelets of the Vietnam War era, and it's been intense. GOOD intense, though. That kind of intense when you can see, feel, and hear the work coming together. I'm so happy with what I've been able to discover from this story and so grateful to the family of Major Stanley Horne of Madison, Wisconsin. They have been so wonderful to me, giving me access to personal letters and documents. The major's story is the focus of the narrative of the documentary, taking the listener through the making of the bracelets, what the bracelets stood for, and how they crossed the divide between those against the war and those supporting it during those incredible and tumultuous times.

I will be soon starting a blog, a place where anyone who has stories about their POW-MIA bracelets can enter a post, write about what the bracelet meant to them. It will also be a place for those who lost loved ones in Vietnam but are thankful for the bracelet campaign and how it helped them through those difficult times. I'll be promoting the blog and the documentary soon, hoping to have it aired on radio stations across the country and possibly be available for download at Audible.com where some of my other material has been offered.

Before I get the bracelet blog going, if you have any personal stories of the bracelets you'd like to share, please write me here at this blog. We would all love to read them.

Peace,
David

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Love Those Re-Writes!

I've been writing a new memoir and in the last few days have been working through the drafts of several chapters and stories within the manuscript. I love this process. Always have.

The rewriting is the most rewarding because this is where you really start to see the story unfold. Sure, as you're writing, you're meandering, sometimes struggling, through murky story lines, the ups and downs of the plot, hoping to weave your writing into some, you hope, cohesive larger piece. But when you rewrite, that is where the story starts to really come to life. Yes, this is also where you see the holes in the narrative; where dates don't match, ages are off. Details, details. And yes, all of those things have to, must be, repaired, justified. But through all this, you also are now seeing what the story really is. What it is you really want to say is finally emerging clearly through the fog.

As I write those first drafts, I really don't know where I'm going with my stories. Most of them are memoir or nonfiction, and yes, I have many parts of the narrative already laid out for me. But the underlying life of the piece, the true meaning, isn't yet clear. Ah, but during the rewriting, that is where it all begins to surface. Like bread, the real story rises, you hope, to become nourishment for the reader's soul, mind, and heart. That is what you wish for, what you strive for, and pray you can, just once, someday, somewhere, accomplish.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

New memoir - Now, your feedback.

Here is the opening story in my new memoir. Give it a read, make a comment. Have at it.

- - -


I awakened in the morning to find the banister to the second floor stairs torn out of the wall. Flakes of white plaster and dust were scattered on the carpet. I tried to pretend none of this had happened just like I tried to pretend I was asleep when my father, so wildly furious, burst into my bedroom late the night before. The best defense against my father’s anger was to turn away from the obvious evidence.

It had been a school night, but my parents agreed it was okay for me to go out on my first real date. We were 13 and she was the girl I was sure I would marry. Jane had deep-set blue eyes, shoulder-length brown hair, and the stance of a dancer. Her feet seemed to always be turned out as if she were about to perform a pliƩ. We had tickets to see Three Dog Night and Alice Cooper at Three Rivers Stadium under the late spring stars.

After the second encore – Three Dog Night’s version of Neil Young’s The Loner – and the lights came up, Jane and I headed for the exit, creeping along in the mob of fans. We walked over the yellow steel bridge to Pittsburgh’s Point Park where the blue light of the street lamps illuminated the bridge’s sidewalk. On the other side, near the Hilton Hotel next to the park’s eastside entrance, Jane’s father was waiting in his running Pontiac.

“Is that your Dad?” I said.

“Yeah, he’ll give us a ride,” Jane said.

I thought she and I had agreed that it would be my father who would drive us home. I was sure Dad was likely somewhere nearby or on his way, expecting us to be looking for him. But I didn’t open my mouth. I didn’t bother to tell her that I should somehow let my father know we weren’t going to need his ride. I didn’t dare admit a mix-up or misunderstanding and I said nothing about it all the way home.

Her father pulled his car up near the blacktop driveway of my house at a few minutes past midnight. A nearby streetlight glowed like a full moon, casting the car’s shadow onto the stone wall that separated the lawn from the front walkway. It was just minutes before midnight. I was too timid to try to give Jane a kiss, especially with her father in the car with us. Instead, I awkwardly said thanks, waved goodbye, and immediately began to look for Dad’s car. It was not in the driveway and not parked on the street. I peered through the garage door window. No car.

If Dad were in the house, he and my mother were apparently asleep, but the porch light at the top of the outside front steps had been left on. I tried to ease my way into the house, opening then slowly closing the creaking storm door. I climbed the dark stairway, shut the door to my bedroom, hurriedly took off my clothes, and slid under the bed covers.

That’s when the front door slammed. I could hear heavy feet pound on the stairway, quickening with each step. And then, the bedroom door exploded open.

“Son-of-a-bitch!” yelled my father in a throaty crackle.

The light in the hallway broke into the darkness of my room not like a candle but like a searchlight.

“David. Jesus Christ!” Dad said, standing just inside the doorway.

I pulled the bedspread up over my face, revealing only my closed eyes. Dad grabbed it and yanked it off me.

“How the hell did you get home?”

I acted as if I had been shaken from a dead sleep. But Dad knew I was faking it. He had marched all the way into the room and was now standing beside my bed with his arms folded across his chest, hovering next to me like a policeman questioning a suspect.

“I drove all the way downtown, all over the goddamn city looking for you for over an hour, and you’re in goddamn bed?” he said. “Jesus Christ.”

The hall light illuminated just one side of Dad’s face, giving it a shadowy look.

“Well, Jane’s dad was there and he…”

“Jesus Christ,” he said again. “Jezzzsus Chrrrrist!” Dad quickly looked me up and down, shook his head and stamped out of the room, the door rattling shut behind him. That’s when I heard a series of sudden, sharp noises – a snap, a crack, and then a thud. “Goddamn it!” he said, the force of his voice permeating the wall. I pulled the covers back over me and tightly shut my eyes.

The next morning I headed down the stairs for school, cautiously stepping over and around the debris. Pieces of plaster littered on the stairway, there were cracks and holes where the handrail had been attached to the wall, and the top section of the rail lay on the steps, long screws hanging from the bent wall brackets. Looking at all those broken pieces for longer than a second made me nauseous. I feared touching any of it, believing if I got too close, Dad’s explosive temper would somehow rise out of the wreckage and fill the air, forcing me to breath it in.

But when I returned home in the late afternoon the damage was gone. The handrail was reattached to the stairway, the carpet on the stairs was freshly vacuumed, and new plaster was drying where there had once been holes in the wall.

Dad never said another word about what happened. Neither did I.


Thirty-five years after that angry night, I found myself sitting in my car in the parking lot of an Olive Garden restaurant. What brought me there was a panic-driven phone call from my 16-year old son.

“Dad,” he said in a whispery voice. I could hear his hand rubbing against the phone, shielding the mouthpiece. “I don’t have enough money.”

Graham’s older brother had just graduated from high school and had been to all the big events - homecoming and the prom - and had somehow handled the inevitable awkwardness and mishaps of those early girl-boy experiences. He had navigated his way through holding hands, the kiss goodnight, and the self-conscious dance of paying for a night out with a girl. But on this summer night, it was Graham’s turn.

The girl was wearing an overly formal pink dress with ruffles around the waist and along the knee-length hem. There was glitter in her eye shadow and shiny crimson lipstick drawn unevenly on her mouth. She looked a like the youngest bridesmaid at a VFW wedding reception. Graham had heard that she loved Olive Garden, so that’s where he wanted to take her to celebrate her birthday.

“The bill is over fifty dollars,” he said.

“Over fifty! What the hell did you buy?” I asked, not expecting any sort of real answer.

“She ordered two appetizers, a salad, Fettuccini Alfredo, chocolate cake for dessert. She just kept eating.” He continued speaking in a soft voice, trying to keep from being overheard by anyone else in the restaurant’s public men’s room. “I told her I was going to the bathroom.”

“Okay, look,” I said. “I’ll come by and give you some more money. But it’s going to take a little time to get there. I’m nowhere near the restaurant.”

“Hurry,” Graham said.

I found myself thinking wondered about the Olive Garden menu - the regular two-for-one specials and something the restaurant chain calls its “Endless Salad Bowl.” This prompted a question.

“Graham, how the hell do you spend fifty bucks at Olive Garden?” I asked, picturing how his girl must have just kept calling for the waiter, pointing to items on the menu, and saying I’ll have this.

“I don’t know. She just kept knocking it down, Dad,” he said.

“Okay. I’ll call when I’m close. Tell her you have to go to the bathroom again and come outside. I’ll hand you some money. Don’t order anything else. You hear me?”

And so, I waited. My eyes fixed on the front door to the restaurant, watching families and couples exit and walk to their cars. There was a brief break in the patron traffic at the entranceway when Graham burst through the door, his eyes quickly scanning the parking lot. I honked horn and he ran to the car. I handed him a ten-dollar bill through the rolled down window.

“That enough?” I said.

“I think so,” Graham said, grabbing the money and beginning to run toward the restaurant door.

“Don’t forget the tip,” I said out the window.

Graham was halfway to the entrance when he turned and ran backwards so he could see me.

“How much?” he yelled, still back-peddling.

I stuck my head all the way out the window and hollered, “Whatever you have left!”

Graham disappeared through the doorway.

I leaned my neck against the driver’s side headrest and smiled. I thought about how Graham wanted this night to go well and how much he wanted to be grown-up. I thought about my own first date and my father’s violent reaction to the mix-up that night. And about what it must have been like for Dad to go out with a girl the very first time. I don’t know this for certain, have no way of being sure, but my father’s first date was probably with my mother. They grew up on the same street just a few houses from each other, but didn’t have much in common in those early days. He liked boxing. Fighters were his heroes. Sliding on big gloves and throwing punches was an escape from his family, falling apart from the sins of his father. She liked reading. Dickens was her hero. Devouring books was her getaway to places far from the Pennsylvania steel town street where she was born. But there must have been something that brought them together. His smile? Her eyes? They could have walked together to the local ice cream shop where all the teenagers hung out. They probably didn’t kiss, but they most certainly thought about it. And when she returned home I’m sure my mother’s father asked about Dad. How did he treat you? How did he behave? Did he use his manners? But it undoubtedly was quite a different story for my father. I’m confident his dad – a reticent and detached man - had no idea that his son was out on his first date. I’m sure he wasn’t concerned that my father had forgotten to tell him where he was going, how he was getting home, or what time that would be. And Dad’s father certainly wouldn’t have been willing or available to sneak his son a few extra pennies to pay for the miscalculated cost of a chocolate sundae.

Many years ago, my father’s father threw a stone in the water and the ripples continue to reverberate, creating little waves against the shores of my life. Dad’s memories and my own, our individual stories of being a father and a son, are part of an everlasting continuum that both shines in the open sun and hides in the darkness behind the moon. Some are buried in the ground, quieted by dirt and earth, and the inevitable silencer – time. But others radiate, like heat off ancestral pavement, linked by DNA, shaping my life and the lives of my sons in ways I may never fully understand.

When Graham and his girl came out through the restaurant door, the sun was painting a thin red line across the western horizon and the evening remained warm. It was the kind of balmy night that had me wishing for a convertible or a big front porch where I could sleep in a chaise lounge until morning. Graham was smiling and so was she, a good sign that the night had been rescued. This would be the memory I’d want to evoke for every one of the summers of my past, if I could only make it so.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Abby-Normal Memoir

I was recently reading some thoughts about memoir writing from Abigail Thomas, the excellent memoirist who wrote A Three Dog Life. She writes about how she doesn't like things to be neatly put together, for stories to always make total sense. She doesn't particularly like chronology. Her life, she says, does not run in a line but rather is compiled of many "moments" scattered about.

As I work on my memoir about fatherhood, I am compelled to feel exactly the same. I see fatherhood as a series of moments, not a logical, narrative line or timeframe. Fatherhood and all the baggage - good and bad - it gives us to carry is defined by slices of time, not by a continuous, neatly packaged narrative.

That's why I like writing the pieces I have and continue to do for my memoir.

Now I just have to get an editor to agree with me!

Oh, one more thing - The Printers Row Lit Fest in Chicago was a great success. Thanks to all who came out to see me and show great interest in my book - ACCIDENTAL LESSONS. I am always greatly humbled and honored.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Printers Row Lit Fest

This may be my favorite literary event in Chicago - Printers Row - and it's this coming weekend, June 12-13.

There is nothing better than browsing the booths, the events, the books, and being enveloped by readers and writers. If you have never been to Printers Row, take advantage of it this time. It's a vibrant, historical part of town - Printers Row/South Loop - and the season is right for reading, writing, and some patio dining and drinking - which is in abundance in the South Loop these days.

I'll be at the Chicago Writers Association booth signing copies of Accidental Lessons, noon-2pm. Love to see you there.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Spreading the Word

It occurs to me that promoting your work, your book, or whatever you are marketing is far from the artistic process. I found this out quite vividly in New York recently at the Book Expo of America. This is a yearly massive event for booksellers; where authors and publishers try to convince the book stores, libraries, etc to take on their books and put them in their stores. It's also a place to schmooze with agents, publishers, and the like. Although I had a good experience there - a lot of interest in my memoir, Accidental Lessons - it still feels so removed from the writing life. And, it is.

I tell my students and people who come to The Writing Life workshops that writing and publishing are two different animals. You have to know a lot about both, but don't confuse the two. If you want to be a writer - write. If you want to be a writer who gets published - write. Writing is the constant, not publishing. Sure, we all want to share out work, get published, but writing is what we first fell in love with. Don't be so enamored by the sexy suitor - publishing - that you forget your first love - writing.

This is a big part of my The Writing Life workshops. Two more coming up in Chicago-area Border's stores (St. Charles and Naperville) in June. If you want to be a writer, come by. I would love to see you.

Oh, by the way, thank you Joseph-Beth Bookseller in Pittsburgh (Southside) for a nice workshop night this past Thursday!

Keep writing!
David

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Writing and Publishing - Just Like Baseball

It is the season, and yes, I am a hapless Cubs fan. Grew up a Pittsburgh Pirate lover, but when they began to become a very sorrowful team in the 1990s, I started to lose interest. Because I've lived in Chicago now for more than twenty years, the Cubs have become a favorite, and yes, have given me occasional hope. And despite the heartache, I still love the game - it's simplicity, the unique "no clock" element to it, and its heavy emphasis on statistics. No, it's not that I love math, but rather because I have begun to realize how much writing, or rather publishing, and baseball statistics have in common.

The biggest similarity - getting published is like getting hits. You strike out, fly out, ground out and walk far more often than you get you get that stand-up double off the right field ivy. So, if your batting average in baseball is, say, .250, that's pretty darn respectable. Translate that into the craft and art of writing and publishing - if you write and try to publish and a fourth of the material you submit is being published in journals, magazines, online literary sites, etc., well, that's pretty darn respectable.

Not even the best writers in the world, the most celebrated or accomplished, get EVERYTHING they send out published. Now, mind you, if they are accomplished they have a better shot at it, certainly, but most of us are not on the popularity or celebrity level of a Stephen King, right? We are just writers, toiling along, trying to tell the best stories we know. And if we get something published, we should celebrate it heartily...like a bloop single over the shortstop's head.

David W. Berner

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Writing is the Constant

Great night at the Penguin Bookshop in Pittsburgh this week. Great group of people with - what I love - a wonderful drive to write! There were even a couple young people there - one I believe was eleven - with a desire to create and share their work. So nice to see.

In May I'll be back in the Pittsburgh area for another THE WRITING LIFE workshop. This one is scheduled for May 27th at the Joseph-Beth Booksellers store in Pittsburgh's Southside neighborhood.

After holding these workshops, I always wonder about what many of these people take with them. The realities of publishing are hard to swallow sometimes. It's a tough road. But I hope that I can inspire people to see that the only constant is the work - the writing itself, not the publishing. Publishing, even for the stars of the industry, isn't always a guarantee. Even the best, most popular, still receive rejection letters. In any creative endeavor, remember that the work - the art itself - is the most important. The book that gets published, the art that is hung, the photograph that is framed and sold will come if we are devoted to the craft, the art, the work. Cliche? Maybe. Idealistic? Probably. But it is what drives the artist. Let this drive you.

David

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Search to Create

My radio documentary class is honing in on their final project ideas. It's such a struggle to find that perfect idea, to find that story worth telling. This is one of the hardest parts of the process, I agree. But you must, MUST, step out of your comfort zone. Look at the world around you, be aware. Step away from your Facebook page, your music, your apartment, and open your eyes to everything. Look at posters on the telephone polls, read the smallest story in the most obscure newspaper, read the blogs of unusual websites. Look, search, explore.

Yes, art is in the stuff right in front of us. But sometimes we need to step away to see it. Step away.

Also - FYI - I'll be holding a writing workshop, reading/signing at Penguin Bookshop in Pittsburgh on March 25th 7-8pm. Great independent book store in the Sewickley neighborhood.

Penguin Bookshop

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

New Things

Getting close to finishing the father stories book. I wrote a final piece, the one I want at the end of the book. It's entitled Ghost Boxing. As soon as I finished it, I realized that was the better title of the book. It'll make sense when you read it, I think. I hope.

In March I'm expected in Pittsburgh to present a workshop at a great book store - Penguin Bookshop in Sewickley. We are leaning toward a workshop in how best to get published, and then a reading of Accidental Lessons and some new work. I'll also be at the Joseph-Beth Booksellers on the city's Southside neighborhood in late May, and then the New York Book Expo the last week of May, also.

I was thinking the other day after reading an interview of a friend - author Thomas E. Kennedy - in The Writer's Chronicle about where we write, where art is produced. Tom writes long hand, sits in a special spot in his home in Copenhagen. But he also says he writes "anywhere." And he does, I've seen him pull scraps of paper out of his pockets to write notes on - pieces of overheard conversations, observations. That's a good habit to get in, by the way. I do it too. But I keep notes in my moleskin notebooks. But the real thing here is where do we work? Where do writers, songwriters, painters, thinkers work? I find myself changing venues all the time...coffee shops, my college office, my home office, my leather chair in the living room, I've even written in cars on road trips...someone else driving, of course. I need that switch-a-roo. I can't write in the same place all the time. There's something about the change of venue.

I have a sabbatical coming up in 2011 and I'm thinking about heading for some "writer retreats" to work - cabins in the woods, oceanfront cottages, distant coffee shops. But it's not about inspriation, I find that all over, thankfully. It's more about that venue, that perfect place. But then again, I'll likely be there a couple hours and ache to move somewhere else.

Change is good for creative work. Change is marvelous.

Best to all of you.

David B

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

He's Back!

It's been awhile.

I've been working hard on my new memoir manuscript, contemplating what the hell I'm writing in this new novel (it's a tougher go than the memoir work) and reading, a lot. Read a new book entitled A Common Pornography, by Kevin Sampsell, that I absolutely loved. Uniquely told story about a boy, a young man, and a father's legacy. It's disturbing, troubling, and at the same time, funny and heartwarming. Well, maybe "heartwarming" is not the right word. Either way, it's worthy of notice.

Also just picked up Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born. I have not heard a bad thing about this book - friends, reviews, colleagues all say it is stunning. So - I read...

I'll let you know.

This Friday I'll be presenting at a teacher's workshop about creative writing and audio, pulling the two together to help create the best writing from students. And that reminds me, I've got some new work to do on that. It's a incredible thing to see the work of students come alive, off the paper, in audio work; them reading their works and editing in music and sound. It is an extension of the creative writing process that can be invigorating and liberating. I'll let you know how it goes.

Last entry I asked for some help with naming my next manuscript - of course editors and publishers have a say in this, and what we work out together could be nixed in the first edits - but - keep sending out ideas, I would greatly appreciate it.

Hope all is well, keeping writing, reading, creating.

Best,
David

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Help Me Title My Book

I am continuing to work on the final pieces for a book I have tentatively called "The Color and the Noise" - that's the title of one chapter (piece/essay) in the book about fatherhood, dealing with the sins of the father, and finding your place as a dad, even if you have no idea what you are doing, or why you are feeling or acting the way you do with your own kids. You can read about it on my website - www.davidwberner.com

That particular piece is about my younger son's struggle in school, with family and friends, and yet his absolute LOVE of metal music and how that mad music may have been one of the best things for him.

But the overall theme of the book is about overcoming and reacting internally, even viscerally, to the sins of the father, the biblical belief that we all have to atone, live through, deal with, the bad things our father's, family's have done. In this story, it's the sins of my grandfather I focus on and how my dad dealt with his father leaving the family for a woman who lived down the street; how that event changed my dad, effected him, but also effected me as a father, two generations later. The book is structured to be a series of pieces - essays, stories, snippets - whatever you want to call them - that come together to tell this larger story.

So - the title.

The Color and the Noise
Living with What the Dead Did
Watching the Past
Boxing with Ghosts (there's a significant piece in the collection about how boxing helped my Dad overcome a lot of emotion.)
Punching Air

Just some thoughts. Yours? What do you think, with the limited knowledge you have of the book?

Second -
I've begun a novel, BARELY begun a novel.
The premise: A man goes on an ill conceived, even reckless journey with a friend to find the boy he gave up for adoption with his college girlfriend many years ago. The trip takes him on a journey he never expected with revelations he never would have imagined. Essentially, it's a road trip story, with a twist.

Titles?

Third Man Road (The "third man" concept is about having a guardian angel that gets you through anything.)
Turn Left When You Laugh
Turn Left When You Cry
Driving Naked
Driving Fast and Naked
Driving with Eyes Closed
Roads with Angels
Driving with Angels

Again, you haven't read the work, but - what do you think of the titles as they stand alone? What evokes an emotion, and what is it?

I would love your thoughts. Think of it as communal titling. :)

David B

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Great Read

Just picked up a new release - A Common Pornography by Kevin Sempsell. Such an interesting approach to storytelling - little remembrances, snippets of time and place. I know it's cliche to say - but - I can't put it down. I love when good stories are told in new ways. Just like The Beatles or Dylan told their new stories in new ways. Kevin, sorry, I don't mean to link you with Lennon-McCartney or Dylan - but, I think you get the point.

Dave B

Monday, January 18, 2010

For Kerouac Fans

Anyone who knows me - students, friends, family - can't miss that I am a Jack Kerouac fan. And no, my favorite is not On the Road. My favorite is The Dharma Bums. But, either way, I think Kerouac - minus the cliches about him and his work - was one of those lightning bolts in literature, art, pop culture that comes only a few times in a century. On the 50th anniversary of the publication of On the Road, I released a personal audio documentary of a Kerouac-like trip I made with a friend - my Dean Moriarty - across the American west. It was broadcast on public radio stations across the country. And recently, at the college where I teach - Columbia College Chicago - I was privileged to be involved in the campus-wide celebration of Kerouac when his original On the Road manuscript was exhibited at the school.

And now, even more great Kerouac stuff.

There's a new CD and documentary film just released called - One Fast Move or I'm Gone: Kerouac's Big Sur. it is a marvelous collection of Kerouac images and stories, but most importantly it is a collection of new musical works from the indie artists Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie and Jay Farrar of Son Volt. Big Sur was a post-On the Road work that really is a downer. It focuses on Kerouac's terrible descent into alcoholism and his attempt to dry-up while spending time alone in a cabin owned by Poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti in California's Big Sur. The book is wonderful, but depressing. The music in this collection - yes, a bit EMO - but in many respects absolutely beautiful. In a way, it captures Kerouac's Big Sur - a novel dealing with the depths of human despair, but also engaging glimmers of hope. Sure - maybe a CD collection based around Kerouac's The Dharma Bums might have been better. (On the Road would have been too much of a cliche, don't you think?) but still, the music is worth a listen, even if you are are not a Kerouac fan.

Dave B

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ode to the Guitar

I've been playing guitar - with varying degrees of intensity - for decades. Played in a band in my 20s, performed at coffeehouses with my acoustic, and lately have enjoyed quite moments late at night to soothe all. My 30-year old six sting, battered as it may be, still sounds wonderful. Clear, clean, and resonate.

A few nights ago, I hooked up with a friend, someone who loves music, loves Jazz, loves guitars, owns several, including a marvelous Martin acoustic. I played it for hours, finger-picking my way around every song I could remember. The music, mixed with good wine, a good woman, good friends, and the warmth of firewood was nearly as perfect as it gets.

I need to play more.

David B

Friday, January 8, 2010

No Idea Why

I've been stymied lately. Couldn't get the good writing mojo going. I was stuck and uninspired, and every time I would try to sit down and write, it was simply awful. My goal has been to complete - at least first drafts - of all the pieces I have in mind for a collection of father stories. All personal stories, memoir, to be gathered into a book that tells the story of how a grandfather's guilt carried its way through my father to me, and how I'm, as a father, trying to make up for a grandfather's misguided decisions, how we all are living the sins of our fathers.

Finally, I've made progress.

In the last couple days, for whatever reason, the writing juices are flowing again. The words are forming, the sentences are connecting, the insight is emerging.

My question is this: Why does this happen? Why does the muse come and go? What dampens it; what sparks it? In Greek mythology, the muse means a "guiding spirit" or a "source of inspiration." But isn't this spirit, this inspiration, always there? Doesn't it just have to be uncovered, revealed? So, what keeps it hidden?

I realize these are questions of a thousand poets, the dreams of artists everywhere. But still, that doesn't mean I can't ask the question - over and over and over again.

David B

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reading on the iPhone

Never thought I would say this - I love my iPhone Kindle application!

I am a lover of books, holding them, smelling them, hearing the sweet crack of a book's binding opened for the first time. I love old books, new books, all books. I have shelves of them.

But, I downloaded a book - A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore - through AmazonKindle onto my iPhone and found the reading highly enjoyable, accessible, and down-right cool. The book is a wonderful read, that is a given here, but the screen on the iPhone for reading is far better than I expected.

Just for kicks, I downloaded my own book, Accidental Lessons, to see what it would be like to read on the iPhone Kindle. And, honestly, I love it.

Never thought is would say this - I'm thinking about downloading more books to my iPhone. And no, I'm NOT getting paid for this!

Best,
David W. Berner