Saturday, June 25, 2011

Distractions - But Not Quite.

If you think the Orlando area is all about Mickey and believe commercialism and "tacky-ism" is everywhere, think - not only again, but again and again and again.

I've been here at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando nearly a month now, and haven't ventured out much to explore the area, sticking to the writing work at hand and some of the wonderful spots right here in College Park - Infusion Teas, Credo, and Christo's. But today I spent nearly the entire day checking out some go-to suggestions from the new friends I've made here.

Earlier this past week, I was invited to join the Essay Club meeting in the heart of the downtown. It works like this: members choose an essay - old, new, avant-garde, traditional, hard-hitting, lighthearted - read it ahead of time, then grab a bite to eat, a couple of beers or glasses of wine, and have at it, discussing the essay and morphing into anywhere it takes them. First of all - what a great idea! And second - what great people! Delightful group with interesting insight and considerations not only for the writing but for the venue. We went to a design-your-own burger spot in the trendy Magnolia and Pine area. The burger was tremendous, but the beer - Widmer - was terrific. First time tasting the citrus infused brew. It is a beauty for a hot summer night. But also, this group had FANTASTIC IDEAS for a Orlando transplant, and today I checked out some of those suggestions, heading for breakfast at the Briarpatch in Winter Park and a peek at the boat tour there so many have talked about, a walk and a stop near a great cafe in Hanover Park, a bike ride around Lake Eola, a drive to a hidden Cuban deli, and a walk through the downtown.

But in between all this - some writing. Yep, got to keep at it. The first draft is nearly complete, and soon it will be time to tear it all apart and fine-tune over and over. Some don't like the re-drafting process, but I enjoy it. It's like shining silver, the more you brush it - the more it shines, and watching it emerge from any early tarnishes is exactly what a writer hopes to see

However, when the process gets tedious - I now have a list of great places to escape to and recharge the battery.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Literary Golf

Just a thought on this U.S. Open Sunday. What would some of the literary geniuses be like as golfers?

There have been rabid golfers in the literary world. John Updike was the biggest in the modern world. He loved the game, even wrote about it. One of his best short stories "Farrell's Caddie" is a gem for golfers and non-golfers.

But what I'm thinking about today while watching Rory McIlroy destroy the field at Congressional Country Club from the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, is what kind of golfer would Jack have been?

First - he was athletic. He won a football scholarship to Columbia University and was a star player in high school. He also played baseball. You would think he would be a natural. But of course, golf isn't always that kind. What Jack may have had going for him would have been his Buddha-like thinking, his Zen demeanor and sensitivities. Golf is a mind game, and a spiritual one in many ways. Jack, no doubt, was a spiritual guy, despite his demons. Combine that with his athletic ability, well, he may have been a solid golfer. Jack did most of his writing at night, sometimes all night long, probably lending itself to liking those early morning, dew sweeper tee times.

All this said, Jack probably would have rather spent his four golf hours writing than hitting a ball around beautiful settings. But I do think Jack would have had an appreciation for the game, a clear sensitivity for what is needed to be good at it and accept its difficulties. Who knows, he may have even written a haiku about the experience.

Hemingway had his hunting and fishing, John Irving had his wrestling, and Baker his golf. If I had to pick one sport Jack might have taken up, my guess would be the game that requires 18 holes to finish and a certain poetry to master. It just seems fitting.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Letters, Letters...We've Got Letters.

The library at the Jack Kerouac House is a beaut! There are works by Jack, including poetry. plus biographies, studies of his literary style, and books of letters.

In one volume are many of the letters he penned while at this house in Orlando: letters to editors, friends, fellow writers like Ginsberg and Snyder, and family. Letters laced with anger, some with sweetness, some with regret, some with contempt for publishers, editors, reviewers and critics. The volumes of letters may be the most telling of the inner literary genius and, maybe more so, the inner man.

Kerouac was complex, to say the least; a man who knew his faults but believed in his work. A sweet son when he wished, a great friend when he cared to be, and even a good husband - at times.

Letters - it's a shame we don't write them like we used to. A volume of email exchanges from a writer like Kerouac just wouldn't be the same.


Monday, June 13, 2011

Okay, NOW it's Summer.

I was told when I arrived at the Kerouac House this the summer that the heat hadn't yet made its way to Central Florida. Today, it arrived. It's closing in on 100 degrees in the city of Orlando. Yes, the Kerouac House, as old as it is, has air conditioning. Thanks for asking. And now I'm sitting inside a very cool, artsy tea shop - Infusion Tea - drinking iced Jubilee tea sweetened with agave. I'm guessing maybe 50 kinds of teas sit in jars along the back wall of Infusion, and on the north side of the building is a co-op art shop. I'll be back.

I'm doing what I'm supposed to do down here - write, write, write. I spend at least 5-6 hours each day writing or editing. Most days have gone pretty well, churning it out. But yesterday I hit some muddy roads, I can usually get out a solid 500-1000 words a day that I feel are at least first-draft strong, but Sunday I struggled with one potential chapter, rewriting it eight times. Now, redrafting is not unusual, but this was like walking through grainy, slippery sand on a hot Florida beach - one heavy foot after another heavy foot, trudging along trying not to get burned. But oddly, I loved it. Call me crazy.

I broke away this past Saturday morning to get in a round of golf and I met some wonderful guys. One of them teamed up with me to challenge the other in an 18-hole match. We won. The others bought the beer, and we told stories of our families, our travels, our golf games. That's when one from the losing duo - a self-described "West Virginia hillbilly" - asked if I had a name yet for my book-in-progress. He wanted to know what it was so he wouldn't "screw up and buy it!"

It was all in fun, but he was apparently done handing over any more winnings to me.

And so it goes from hot Orlando!


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Feeling like...Home?

I've been at Jack Kerouac's House at the JK Project in Orlando for just over a week now, and I wonder - could it feel like home already?

A friend reminded me the other night on the phone how when you have few errands to run (if any), no office to go to (just Jack's room in the back of the house), and don't have to get in your car to live your daily life (only once so far to buy a printer cartridge), then finding a great place to spend your days, maybe ANY place, can feel pretty good. That may be true, but I do like the College Park neighborhood in Orlando. It reminds me of some of the wonderful neighborhoods in Chicago where walking is the usual mode of transportation and there are great coffee shops, an old-school diner, a hardware store, places of worship, and a solid grocery store all within a short bike ride or walk.

And the people have been friendly, like most, really. It's not just a Orlando trait, is it? But I did meet a sweet lady today. Helen is my neighbor just across from Jack's house. I'll give her first name only for her privacy. She lives there with her sweet dog, Sarah. She, the dog, appears to have some Basset Hound in her, but I'm not sure. Sarah has those stubby legs, those big ears, and that bulky body. Scratch her tummy and she moans.

College Park and Jack's neighborhood does not have a lock on hospitality or friendliness, but what it does have is a willingness to embrace a stranger, a writer-type that lives alone in a tiny house where no one knows what's really going on in there. They respect my space, my need for some solitude, but still - like all the rest of us - want to connect.


Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Haiku Experiment

Kerouac was a master at the Western haiku. Not the one limited by the 5-7-5 syllables of the Japanese haiku, but the more free-form version. He was adamant however about not using what he called "literary trickery" like metaphor, but in my attempts I'm not so sure I was able to stick to that form. He also worked to get a sense of season in the haiku, a tradition. I gave that a shot also, trying to be subtle. He was also inconsistent about using punctuation; sometimes he did, sometimes he didn't.

So, I gave it a shot during breaks in manuscript writing.

Here's one of my favorites from Jack:

Crossing the football field,
coming home from work,
The lonely businessman

And another:

The summer chair
rocking by itself
In the blizzard

And a couple of my own attempts:

Scurrying lizards on the porch
quick to safety shade
My writing waits

And another:

Bike to cup of coffee
a path in the sun
To mediate

And so it goes from Jack's place...


Monday, June 6, 2011

The Lizard King

Of course, that's the Door's Jim Morrison, I know. But it could be Jack Kerouac, too. The front porch of Jack's house is a lizard haven. Little grecko-type reptiles scatter when I open the door. Probably about a hand's length long. Some of them bellow in the throat like a bull frog. Quite impressive.

Good day of writing today. Couple chapters shaped. And got word on a workshop I'll be collaborating on with Mad about Words, a great friend of the Kerouac House and a fine group of writers pulling together workshops for those who want to tell their stories. It will be sometime in July and if you're in the Orlando area, worth checking on. More when things are confirmed.

Visitors are coming! Visitors are coming! A few people planning to come down to say hello over the next months. My wonderful girlfriend will be down over the Fourth, my son Graham later that month for a couple days, and my dear friend, Brad from Denver will stop by for a few days in early August. My older son, Casey, probably will not be able to make it. He's a busy creative guy as it is, and has a FULL summer. Go get 'em, young man.

Oh yes, and to answer the question I am most asked: Is it hot down here? Yep, it is. But it's not unbearable. It's welcome. Remember, home for me is Chicago!

Out on the bike for a bit, a cup of coffee, and many emails to return. Then - back to Jack's room for the tapping of the keys!


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Jazz, Kerouac, and a Summer Night in Orlando

What does one say about a magnificent night? You know the kind: the one that lingers; the one that won't let you sleep when it over. That's this night in Orlando.

I sit on the porch at the Kerouac house with a liquor-tinged cup of coffee considering the gift I have been given: the chance to write and perform here. It's very early Sunday morning and I'm just back from a lovely event at the splendid home of Summer Rodman, a board member of the Jack Kerouac Project, a sweet, energetic woman - and an accomplished poet. The Per Danielsson Trio played marvelously complex piano and string bass jazz, the kind Jack would have loved. Joseph Reed Hayes, poet and playwright, read from his work. And I had the opportunity to read from my new - in progress – manuscript, and breathe the same air of some 100 other creative comrades who love art, the beauty of jazz, and the spoken word.

The event was webcast live and I'm sure it will be available to see again through the Jazz on Edge website ( but the real thrill was being there live, drinking the wine, talking about Kerouac, sharing my work with other talented artists - poets, writers, musicians. The creative life was alive tonight in Orlando, a heart beating to the rhythms of so many good souls.

The neighborhood is quiet now; only the crickets and a far-off train whistle hang in the heavy Florida air. But if these were the late 1950s, there would be one other sound carrying over this memorable night: the furious tap of the keys on Kerouac's Underwood, emanating from the small room in the back where Jack wrote until morning under a lonely, naked light bulb. It is said that one of Jack's neighbors used to hear the music of Kerouac's typing move lightly out of the small apartment and into dark night. What I would give to hear a little of that tonight? Ah, but it's early. There are many hours before dawn.

David B

Friday, June 3, 2011

Kerouac Admirers at the Door

Another day of good writing and reading here at Jack's house. I'm working in the early mornings after a bike ride, writing in Jack's room for 3-4 hours. I take a break to eat, make more coffee, take another quick ride, and then edit. I might return in the mid-to-late afternoon to begin again, but only work for another hour or so.

Today, during a break for coffee, I tried my hand at a few haikus. Jack was a master at the Western Haiku, poems not restrained by the 5-7-5 syllable lines. It was like Kerouac to break the rules. There's a book here of Kerouac's haikus, hundreds of them. They inspired me. Not ready to share them yet. I'll let them sit for a day before offering them up.

Just about 5:30pm local time, I had my first "Kerouac hunters" knock at the door. Although that phrase seems a little pejorative, these were not the Kerouac crazies who can show up at Kerouac haunts drunk and full of bravado. These were two nice ladies spending some time in Orlando who just wanted to see Jack's place. They were polite and interested, and well-informed about Kerouac, this house, and his time in Orlando. They took pictures and we talked for a half hour or so. It was good. I suspect they won't be the last.

Tonight, I sit on the front porch, a great cool breeze on a crystal clear night. I'll take one more bike spin before dark and choose a reading I've been asked to perform at a Saturday night benefit for the Jack Kerouac Project. Tomorrow - an early rise, morning writing, and a day spent in the Florida sun.

Can anyone say - paradise...


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Twenty-Four Hours and One Vision of Jack

The back part of this Florida bungalow is where Jack lived with his mother for a time. He rented the space for something like $40 a month, a fortune for a guy who had no real job and had not yet published On the Road. He got word of its publication while living here.

Last night, before going to bed in the front part of the home, I stepped into Jack's room in the dark. There was just a hint of light coming from the north facing window, the outside porch light of the house next door. On the wall in that room is a photograph from a news photographer who came here to take pictures of Jack for a Time magazine article. It shows Jack in that very room, typing the publisher's manuscript from the scroll that was the first draft of The Dharma Bums. There's something of a shyness in his eyes, a reluctance to the fame about to envelope him, which we all know was eventually the root of his demise. I could see only the shadows of that photo, but for a moment, it appeared to slightly move, like an old-fashioned movie house picture show. Of course, it was only the meager light dancing on the black-and-white photo. But I like to think that Jack's energy is what made that photo move. His energy everywhere in this place.

There are also lizards.

Yep, those small central Florida lizards. They'll not exactly in the house, but they are outside. They scurry when I go out to the front porch, fast and furious like Jack's typing. And the gigantic oak tree that shades this home is, as one poet who stayed here said, one large pencil scratching out words on the old tin roof. The branch lightly touches the house as if recording the life of those who are lucky enough to stay inside.

Jack kept hundreds of little notebooks with sketches and words and thoughts, scribbled out with pencil and pen. Maybe that's where Jack's ghost resides - in the beauty of that big oak, scribbling out his musings on the tallest part of the house, the part closest to heaven, nirvana.

Twenty-four hours have passed. I have decided to live in the front section of the house and write in Jack's room, so I can be there when the light again catches that photo.

David B

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Living in Jack Kerouac's House

After 1200 miles of driving, one harsh and heavy rainstorm, and a bad breakfast in Macon, Georgia, I have made it to the Jack Kerouac Project in Orlando.

I'm staying in Kerouac's house in the College Park area. I was awarded this opportunity about nine months ago and will be able to stay here and work, write, and look for Jack's ghost through mid-August. I am thrilled to be here.

Incredible story about this house. This is where he lived with his mother when he wrote The Dharma Bums. It was here that he lived when he became an overnight sensation after a tremendous review of On the Road in the NY Times. The house was discovered by a local TV news reporter in Orlando, and when he found it, the place was in shambles. Literally - squirrels ran in and out of it. Long story short - a foundation was formed, and after a long haul and a lot of trip-ups, the place was cleaned out, renovated, and offered to writers by award to stay here and write.

It's a marvelous Florida bungalow. Very small, but cozy, sitting in the leafy neighborhood of College Park with its neat little bars and coffee shops and Infusion Tea - a popular spot for local writers. It's quite a bohemian neighborhood. Kind of fits, huh? Although it wasn't like that when Kerouac came to town.

There was a neighbor who lived across the street when Kerouac lived here. She's gone now. But before she died, she spoke of hearing the furious typewriter keys coming from the Kerouac house late into the evening and through the night, Jack's favorite time to write. Shortly after On the Road was published, Jack gave her a first edition copy and signed it...

To Mrs. McCray
my good neighbor
Jack Kerouac

The book was given to the woman who once lived in Kerouac's house just before Mrs. McCray died. She kept the book in a sealed plastic bag, hoping to save it from the humidity and bugs.

Tonight, I sit on the front porch of this place and look at the Florida stars, longing for a sign from Jack. I may have already received it. I hope to complete a manuscript while I'm here and take in the vibe that must still exist throughout these rooms, must still hang in its wall