Writing On the Beat

29ea328e678a5dd345690dd54a3c4c41

Beat icon Jack Kerouac composed a 30-point list of essentials for writers that he called his “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It’s all-Kerouac.

My friend Sharyl Fuller asked me to select one or two (Only one or two?? Me? As if!) of these points and comment on how they relate to me and my personal writing. This could be difficult because I’m one of those “sit down and write” guys.

Once I settle into my writing desk cockpit for my flights of fancy, I know I have to write something whether I have a certain inspiration already in mind or not. This hurry-and-write mentality, if not facility, might come from my newspaper reporter beginnings, or maybe from my stolen minutes (and sometimes more) of creativity at my desk at work.

So, which point in Kerouac’s list applies to me? Well, most of them are couched in a very Hip-cum-Zen, cool yet spiritual language and vibe, but two stand out:

#5 Something that you feel will find its own form, and
#17 Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.

As a storyteller and poet, I might be what writers call a “pantser,” writing not from some predetermined start-to-finish or here-to-there. Particularly with poetry, I don’t sit down with a map before me, just a sense of where I am, accompanied by an image, some related and unrelated words, and faith that something tangible will come of this time I’m about to spend with myself and the ghostly Whoever that’s about to tell me Our story. Because they’re all “our story.”

The bricks and mortar of my work, my true and fanciful memories of a life lived in the real and imaginary worlds, music I can no longer hear but do, images I can no longer see, if I ever really saw them in the first place, will scramble up from the dark places, sparkle on the illuminated shelves within me, and report for duty.

It’s my job (the final letter of that word could as easily be a Y) to line up those courses of words representing the tangible and intangible, to construct birds and birdhouses, trees and trepidation, weapons to fight an enemy across No Man’s Land or even across a heart, emotions and images only you can see and understand.

If that process doesn’t snag onto old Jack’s #17, maybe it’s

#25: Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it.

And that’s what I do.

I like to say I write my poems and stories, hang them on a tree or door in the public square—digital and between book covers—and then I walk away. They’re not only mine anymore. I’ve given up sole ownership to them the moment you read them.

And maybe that spirit of figuratively losing my creations to the individual reader clicks with one more from that list by my Beat inspiration for this essay.

Kerouac’s #19: Accept loss forever.

Loss awaits me just one letter away on a white sheet of paper. Always has. Always will.

Thank goodness.

This essay was prompted by my friend Sharyl Fuller’s Writing Outside the Lines post about Jack Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose.” It was an interesting exercise in which I found out I do a lot of what Kerouac suggested. Now back On the Road to more fiction and poetry…I think.

Desperate Measures

Ever wonder how the once-prolific though often actually dispassionate poet guy comes up with the hundreds of bits of story and verse he’s posted on this small wall? Lately, so have I.

Sometimes, when my shallow puddle of passion leaves me (like during the past month or more) and nothing in life wants its story written that day, I free write a list of ten words, sentences or impressions based upon a word I pull randomly from whatever book is near my hand.

Some of the inhabitants of these lists, once I gaze at them for a spell, form connections with one another, like moderately successful blind dates. (Hopefully, more like a weekend at a swingers’ club.) And sometimes these connections become ideas for poems and stories you’ve read and maybe even liked.

It’s a desperate ploy by a desperate man, but damn if it hasn’t worked more times than not.

I’m beyond desperate these days. I am bereft of emotion and insight. That’s why I reached over to the bookcase, opened up the first book I touched (a crossword puzzle dictionary, if you must know) and dropped it upon its spine, poking my finger between the pages and using the word upon which it came to rest.

Today’s word, at this point pretty damn useless for this fairly blind imagination, is GREEN.

Here’s what happened after that:

1. Green, nothing but green, surrounded me, lying there on the 30-yard line, once the white, red and black cleared from my head.
2. Green tomatoes, breaded and fried, sounded like a decent side dish, but the blonde who walked in while I ordered would have been an epic one.
3. Green fluid seeped from beneath car and puddled on the roadway.
4. Green buckskin uniforms lay scattered above the village, waiting for the signal to attack.
5. “Green grass, will return someday, my son, when Manitou is once again pleased with his fallen people,” the old sachem told his grandson. But each of them knew otherwise.
6. Green-clad cheerleaders pranced and kicked along the sidelines, while the backup wide receiver stretched his hamstring and strained his eyes for a look at one blonde’s personal 50-yard line. (A sad, but true memory from the concussed dude from up there in Number 1.)
7. Green like no green I’d ever seen greeted me when I emerged from the shadows beneath the mezzanine and saw the diamond-cut emerald set in the red velvet infield dirt of Fenway park.
8. “Green antifreeze, I told you to get the GREEN antifreeze,” Dad said, tossing his cigarette away in disgust.
9. “Green beer for you on this fine day, darlin’?”, the barmaid asked. (Wonder what would have happened if I asked for orange?)
10. “Green pants and a green clip-on tie bearing the SPI monogram of St. Patrick’s Institute, were my uniform for nine years, after which I vowed never to wear any combination of blue mixed with yellow again, Sergeant,” I told the Army corpsman at my Draft physical. (Another truth, long-forgotten.)

I hope one of these images springs forth a little literary life soon. Otherwise, I’m going to have to put away my pencil for a spell. And I’m forgetting where I put a lot of things lately.