Monday, August 15, 2011

Scribbler's Retreat - A Great Experience

Thanks to all who turned out for the Scribbler's Retreat and Conference at the Sea Island Lodge on St. Simons, Georgia. What a great group and a well-run writing conference!

I was fortunate enough to be asked to give the keynote address Saturday evening, and was thrilled by the response and enthusiasm of this group of writers. A speaker certainly can thrive off of that! And great questions, by the way.

Scribbler's does a number of conference at year, and it is truly a good experience for all levels of writers. And these people are FUN! I know this sounds a bit like a commercial - but honestly - it is one of the better writing conference experiences.

Back from JK House and trying to find a new pattern for writing here in the Chicago area again. A road trip of 1285 miles from Orlando through Georgia and South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina (stunning beauty) and the Smokey Mountains and Tennessee and Ohio and Indiana and Illinois. It is a little tricky getting the groove going again, but I've got some ideas and some I go...


Friday, August 12, 2011


I sat in Jack's room this morning, my last minutes in the Kerouac House.

There on the bed, and then at the desk, I thought about my 2-and-a-half months here. Not about every minute, every breakthrough in writing, or friend made, or visits to the Essay Club, or my readings at Infusion or inside this house, or the workshop with MadAboutWords, or my final weeks of writing inspired by the Downtown Credo coffee shop, or my book manuscript. Instead, I thought about the energy in that room, how I wanted to bottle it, to wrap it up in a sealed plastic bag and put it on ice to thaw whenever I need it.

I left behind my Zen bracelet I once wore, wrapping it around the small Buddha shrine in Jack's room. I wanted to leave something behind, more than just the memory of a writer who once worked here.

My last week was a good one despite the AC dying at the house on the next to last day. But somehow it was fitting. When Jack lived here, there was no air conditioning, so he wrote at night when it was cool, his keys echoing out the open window and bouncing off the trees and homes on this usually quiet street. Neighbors said they could hear the furious typing until dawn.

To all those who supported me - thank you. To all the writers before me - thank you. To the writer's to come - savor the work, and breath every bit of the omnipresent energy. I promise I left a little behind.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Now That Was Cool

Sometimes nights are pleasant; sometimes nights are memorable. Sometimes - they are undeniably seared into the landscape of your future.

That's what the night was at the Jack Kerouac House - a searing, unforgettable launching.

It was my goodbye reading at the JK House Saturday night. About twenty-five people on hand. Wine, cheese, cut apples, green grapes, sweets made of caramel. And a supportive, encouraging, responsive crowd.

I read a few short pieces I had written here, or edited here, and then a chapter from my new book-length manuscript. I tried to hit a lot of notes, strike some relevance. I pray I accomplished that. Think I did.

But, about this "landscape of the your future" of which I speak.

Performing at readings is not writing. It is just that, performing. There's a rhythm you have to recognize, a pulse you have to take, so that you offer what you think you must and allow it to be received through the windows of what your audience wants. It's tough work. I don't always get it right. Even when I do, I'm doubtful that it is as good as it can be. But what I am sure of from the reading the JK House Saturday, is that the stories told and the questions asked and the hearts and souls touched (including mine) were all very real. And with that, I go forward. I move ahead, take what the night gave me, and write more, create more, find new themes, discover more inquiries, and deliver more stories. Writers always need places, good places from which to jump. Saturday night I leapt from the steps of the Jack Kerouac House with wings.

Thanks to all.

I will soon relinquish the chair that sits at the desk in the small room where Jack wrote The Dharma Bums to the next writer, the next lucky soul who will also find a nuturting venue, a supportive cast, and a place from which to jump.


Friday, August 5, 2011

One More Week

The countdown has begun.

I have one more week left - to the day - here at the JK House. And as all goodbyes go, there's a some sadness. Made new friends here, and I've come to really love this area. (Yeah, it's been hot, but you somehow get used to it.)

Of course, I've completed a good deal of work here, or at least as completed as writing can be. I forget who it was, but an author once said something like this: a writer is never done with a story, he only abandons it. I know exactly what he meant.

Saturday night is my final reading at the Kerouac House, and I'm looking forward to the chance to share pieces of the book manuscript and some short fiction I written here, all inspired - to some extent - by the area, the house, the local people, the shops.

Next weekend, I head for Sea Island, Georgia for a conference - The Scribbler's Retreat. I've been honored to talk about radio narrative, creative nonfiction, and interviewing as the conference's keynote speaker. Never been to Sea Island, and friends tell me it is storybook beautiful.

I can't say I'm looking forward to the 1200 mile drive back to Chicago, but how fitting, right? It prolongs the Kerouac connection when one has to get behind the wheel and drive and drive.


Wednesday, August 3, 2011

And Now, a Bit of Fiction

Most my writing here at the JK House has been creative nonfiction, working on a book manuscript for a road trip story.

But, in the last week or so I've taken a break, and been working on some short fiction. I try to write something every morning at around the 600-1000 word length. I love short fiction. The shorter the better sometimes. I think of Cat in the Rain, Hemingway's great short story measuring out at just about 1000 words. (Not to say I'm Ernest, but I am earnest. Sorry, that is a really bad pun.)

So with all this's a taste of some short fiction....

Barre Work
By David W. Berner

She was a ballerina. Actually, she was a budding ballerina. That’s what they call the young ones who visualize starring in Giselle or Swan Lake, but whose talent is not yet refined, their technique not yet precise. Still, even at the age of 15, she walked with her feet already severely pointing outward. Her turnout, as it’s called, was well beyond her young life. She dreamed of living in New York City. I dreamed of being her lover.

She attended ballet classes twice a week on Wednesday afternoons after school and again on Saturday mornings. She always arrived early to do extra barre work. Once, I came along and watched. She progressed through a series of beautifully graceful movements: the demi plie, the full plie, the grande battement front. Her body squatting nearly to the floor, her back straight, and the lights in the room casting delicate shadows on her sinewy tendons and muscles. With each move, she sculpted herself into a new work of art.

“Ballet is a dance executed by the human soul,” Alexander Pushkin, the Russian poet, was believed to have said. I was a freshman in high school; I didn’t know anything at all about Pushkin. But if I had heard someone quote the poet as I saw her move through the elegant routine, I would have agreed. I witnessed her soul at work that day. Something I believed I had glimpsed in the moments we spent alone. The dance was different, but fueled by the same spirit. Some might say I was too young, too naive to recognize this, but I know what I saw.

The lesson focused primarily on perfection of the brise, a sharp movement that throws the working leg into the air while pushing off from the supporting leg. The dancer lands on crossed feet, knees bent. Standing in 5th position, she briskly jumped, beating one leg against the other in midair. Even in its quickness, the movement remained elegant, like that of a jaguar – powerful and graceful. To reveal her beauty the cat needs to do nothing more than move its body, to allow the working muscles to expose its magnificence. She needed no partner. Like the cat, she was a singular being focused solely on where her body was, would be, and how she would get it there. She was keenly aware of herself, yet moved only by instinct, as if in a dream. Her eyes gave away nothing. No one could breakthrough the intensity, the dancer’s wall. She would not let them.

It was no different with us. I wanted to get closer to her somehow, climb over the wall, but she would only let me scale it enough to see through the tiny cracks. Her parents had insisted she see other people, they told her she was too young to be so serious with one boy. “I’m don’t know what to do,” she said, “I have to listen to my parents, but I can’t imagine what things will be like.”

To dance is to sacrifice. The body is contorted into what the art needs. To be who she became required all of her. It is also true of love. We give up pieces of ourselves, transform to meet the requests of our lovers, shape our souls into what is desired. To be in love, to experience it, requires all we have.

After her lesson, after the barre work and the final brise, I told her I wouldn’t be coming to any more of her ballet lessons. She kissed me. “Promise you’ll get to New York to see me one day,” she said. “Promise me you won’t forget.”


And so it goes...