Counting my blessings

My great and beautiful friend, the much-lamented Robert Lax, wrote this in the prologue to his masterwork “Circus of the Sun:”

And in the beginning was love. Love made a sphere:
all things grew within it; the sphere then encompassed
beginnings and endings, beginning and end. Love
had a compass whose whirling dance traced out a
sphere of love in the void: in the center thereof
rose a fountain.

Bob, in his life and in his words, strove to lead a simple life of love and devotion and peace. I’m thinking of this today, two days before Christmas, because I’m very aware this year of the simple joys and gifts I possess and will celebrate during this Yuletide.

I think that one reason I’m so grateful this year is that it feels to me like the whole goddamned world is falling apart, disintegrating, like we’re barreling toward oblivion at warp speed and pieces are blowing away as if our heat shield has failed.

But the other day I sat in a church – not a typical place for me to be — and watched and listened as a choir sang traditional Christmas carols. My eyes filled up with tears. Part of it was feeling connected to a nice group of people who are very human in both their frailty and their collective strength, and very welcoming to a relative stranger. Part of it was just feeling the simple power of the hope that still resides in Christmas. And part of it was that I couldn’t take my eyes off one of the altos, who sang with such heartfelt joy that it made me love her even more.

Mostly, though, it has to do with this, which my friend Bob knew and which he taught me: Love is the beginning and the end. It’s as simple as all that.

So I count my blessings…

I’m alive, and in pretty good health. I’ve got three great children, each of them remarkable in their own way. I have caring, devoted, supportive friends. My mother’s going on 81 years old and still shovels snow from her sidewalk and plants a garden every year and still calls me “Nicky.” I’ve got an absolutely beautiful 15-month-old granddaughter who can’t stop smiling and waves to me when we Skype and blows kisses to me over the phone when she can’t see me but can hear my voice. And, no, I don’t have enough money, and, no, the publishing world has not yet recognized my genius, but someday I will, and someday they will, and more important anyway than fame or fortune is the gift of being in love with an incredibly beautiful and gentle woman who loves me in return, and that we’ll be together for Christmas this year.

So, Merry Christmas! I hope you’ll find time to count your blessings, too. Here’s Diana Krall to put you in the mood:

The gift of reading….Kindle edition of “RIP” for just 99 cents!

Rip Van Winkle is stunned by the news that the Kindle edition of "Rip" is being offered for one day only at the amazing price of just 99 cents!

Rip Van Winkle is stunned by the news that the Kindle edition of “Rip” is being offered for one day only at the amazing price of just 99 cents!

Just in time for Christmas – and the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Tappan Zee Bridge across the Hudson River – the Kindle edition of my novella “Rip” is available at a discounted price between now and December 25. On December 19, the e-book version of my modern-day parody of Washington Irving’s classic story will be available for purchase and download for 99 cents! The price goes up to $1.99 the next day, to $2.99 on December 21, to $3.99 on December 22, and to the original Kindle price of $4.99 on Christmas Day.

DiGiovanni Rip bookcover

Of course, if you just have to have an actual book with a front cover and numbered pages and a back cover (which includes a charming author photo), “Rip” is still available via Amazon for $12.99 in paperback.

Merry Christmas!

Feeling at home , missing home…and then a horse appears in the mist

blueridge

I’ve been spending time in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, at a wonderful retreat called the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. I’ve done four residencies here, working on my fiction, as a visiting fellow.

It’s become so familiar to me that it feels like a second “home” — not at all comparable to my first “home,” New Jersey, where I’ve left behind someone I love dearly for about three weeks so that I can chase my elusive muse, but “home” enough that I’d love to have her here with me so she could hear the coyotes and bobcats and owls at night, and could help me count the stars in the velvet-dark sky, and could enjoy the quiet (except when the freight train rolls by, which it does frequently all through the night) and could meet some of the interesting and inspiring writers and artists and composers I’ve met during my stays here on this former farm called Mount St. Angelo.

Maybe most of all, for some reason, I’d like her to see this dark horse and these misty hills, which I see every morning as I walk down the hill from my studio to breakfast in the dining room:

photo

Hitting the street (fair)

I’ll be at the Highland Park NJ street fair Sunday, Sept. 29, reading from my Washington Irving parody ‘Rip’ and maybe from a novel-in-progress. I’m scheduled at 4:30 pm at corner of Raritan and Third avenues at a performance space hosted by Main Street Highland Park. I take the stage, believe it or not, after a juggler who’s on from 4 to 4:30!

To Be Continued…

Here's a photo -- from the outside looking in -- of To Be Continued Bookstore in Metuchen, N.J., where I'll be reading on Friday, June 28.

Here’s a photo — from the outside looking in — of To Be Continued Bookstore in Metuchen, N.J., where I’ll be reading on Friday, June 28.

I’ll be reading excerpts from my satirical novel “Rip” on Friday, June 28, at To Be Continued Bookstore, 431 Metuchen, N.J., as part of the town’s month-long “Junebug ArtFest.”

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I’ll be appearing with two other authors — I’ll start reading sometime between 6:30 and 7 p.m. Store owners Sergio and Karen have copies of my book for sale — and I’ll happily sign any copies they sell. Admission is free. For more information about the event and/or the bookstore, call 917-686-6056.

“Hair” turns gray-haired

There was a sweet nostalgia and a vague sadness and a squirmy embarrassment — and not a whiff of marijuana — in the air when my very groovy tie-dyed companion and I recently embarked with friends on a mind-blowing, far-out excursion into the Age of Aquarius and a production of the great hippie musical “Hair.”

A little history. When I was 13 years old, I somehow aced the admissions test and was accepted into the ivy-covered embrace of the prestigious Fordham Preparatory School in the Bronx, N.Y. While I was there, I wore penny loafers and sport jackets with sewn-on elbow patches. And my impressionable mind was shaped not as much by the teachings of Fordham Prep’s Jesuits as by as the happy fact that “The Prep” was located on the campus of Fordham University, where I witnessed demonstrations by the SDS and the Black Panthers, and where I one day wandered into the university bookstore and purchased the first record album I ever owned: The original Broadway cast recording of “Hair.”

Why was “Hair” my first record album? I suppose there was something stirring in my blood, a combination of teenage angst and youthful rebellion and righteous but silent anger and protest at the economic and racial injustices I already sensed in this country (maybe my not-quite-comfortable presence at the still mostly white and still mostly affluent prep school had something to do with this Yonkers boy’s angst). And I know I was very aware of the vague but real prospect of being drafted into the Vietnam War-era military five or six years down life’s road.

But back to the future:
As we sat in a New Jersey theater waiting for the Age of Aquarius to dawn once more, we amused ourselves by checking out the audience and commenting on how OLD many of them were; noted with gladness that at least one-third of the audience looked to be of high-school and college age or a little beyond; and wondered if the young cast of this production of “Hair” would “let the sunshine in” and take off their clothes during the notorious production number at the end of the first act.

Yes, they took off their clothes. And, yes, I enjoyed the show and still liked the music — the title song, “Aquarius,” “Good Morning, Starshine” “Where Do I Go,” “Easy to Be Hard,” “I’ve Got Life” “Frank Mills” “What a Piece of Work Is Man” and “Let the Sunshine In” still have a surprising emotional resonance.

But the audience reaction, at least what I sensed, was disconcerting , a sort of bland, happy-faced, homogenized, weren’t-we-young-and-crazy-and-hip, superficial, Disneyworld, pastel-tinted, self-satisfied response — the hippie generation’s idealism and energy giving way to tired generalities and sappy nostalgia.

Perhaps it’s inevitable….”Give me a head with hair/long, beautiful hair” is now “I used to have hair”…The Age of Aquarius is now the Age of Viagra commercials…”Let the sunshine in” has given way to “Let’s move to retirement community in Florida”…They who were once hippies now get hip replacements.

Maybe Pete Townsend and The Who were on to something when they sang about “My Generation” and Roger Daltrey declared “Hope I die before I get old!” I mean, look at Daltrey now, old and tired and hoarse. Look at the embarrassing and cringe-worthy spectacle as one of the two remaining Beatles — Ringo — walks out on stage and flashes the peace sign and the other surviving Beatle dyes his hair and leads arm-waving, he-used-to-know-better “Hey Jude” audience sing-alongs. Look at the 100-year-old Rolling Stones, looking like they’ve been let out of the crypt for just one more tour.

And look at the world and what things are like more than 45 years after “Hair” opened off Broadway in 1967. War, hatred, poverty and bigotry all survive and even thrive, “

But there was still something good about seeing “Hair.” It’s hard to define, but maybe that long-haired poet Shakespeare said it best, in the lyrics adapted by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and set to music by Galt MacDermot: “What a piece of work is man…”

Beacon shines along the Hudson as “Rip” heads north

On the heels of a very enjoyable reading before a very receptive audience Tuesday night at the library in Highland Park, N.J., next stop will be on the shores of the majestic Hudson River at Beacon, N.Y., where the illuminati (and literati) will shine Saturday (tomorrow) at 1 p.m. I’ll be doing a “Rip” talk, reading and book-signing at the Howland Public Library on Main Street, as part of year-long slate of events and activities celebrating the town’s 100th anniversary. Admission is free. Copies of “Rip” will be available for purchase and signing.
“Rip” reading and book-signing aside, Beacon’s truly worth a visit — it’s in a beautiful setting with a quaint and cozy downtown, and it’s home to the great folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger, as well as the amazing Dia Museum.
Be warned: My reading will take place weather and heating system willing! Seems like there’s a chance of a little snow — and the library’s been having problems with its furnace! — so check with the library first to make sure the snow is shoveled and the heat is on (the library phone number is 845-831-1134).

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I’m happy to announce that my reading and book-signing at the Holland-Alexandria Free Public Library has been rescheduled. I’ll be appearing there on Saturday, March 16, at 1 p.m. I’m looking forward to returning to my old turf in Hunterdon County in western New Jersey — I lived in Alexandria Township for many years and edited the local weekly paper, the now-defunct Delaware Valley News.

Here’s a photo of me posing with the statue of Rip Van Winkle in Irvington, N.Y.:
me and rip van winkle

Here’s an updated schedule of other scheduled “Rip” readings and book-signings:/em>:

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m., Highland Park Public Library, Highland Park, NJ

Saturday, Feb. 23, 1 p.m., Howland Public Library, Beacon, NY

Thursday, April 4, 5 p.m., Port Jervis Free Public Library, Port Jervis NY

Saturday, April 13, 2 p.m., Hunterdon County Library, Raritan Township, NJ

Monday, April 22, 6 p.m., Somers Public Library, Katonah, NY.

At each venue, I’ll read excerpts from my satirical modern-day “retelling” of “Rip Van Winkle,” talk a little about my longtime affection for the works of Washington Irving, answer questions, and sign copies for people who buy the book, which will be available for purchase after the reading. Admission to all events is free.

“Rip” tide rolls up the Hudson

me and rip van winkle

I’ll be in Peekskill, N.Y., this Saturday afternoon (Jan. 19) for another “Rip” reading and book-signing.

Here’s a link to a write-up in the Peekskill edition of the online news outlet Patch.

As for that photo above — That’s me and Rip Van Winkle…More exactly, that’s me posing with a great statue of Rip Van Winkle on a lawn next to the village hall in Irvington, N.Y., where I gave a “Rip” reading last Saturday.

Irvington — named after the author of the classic story “Rip Van Winkle” — is just a lovely riverside town just south of Tarrytown (former stomping grounds of Washington Irving, the Headless Horseman and the Rip character in my parody of Irving’s classic story — in my book, Rip works as a toll collector on the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown!)

Anyway, try to make it to my reading this Saturday at 1 p.m. at the Field Library, 4 Nelson Ave, Peekskill, N.Y.

“Rip”-fest at Tiffany’s!

The refurbished and recently-reopened Tiffany Reading Room in Irvington, N.Y., where I'll be reading excerpts from my novella "Rip" on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m.


The refurbished and recently-reopened Tiffany Reading Room in Irvington, N.Y., where I’ll be reading excerpts from my novella “Rip” on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m.

It won’t be “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but I just might be tempted to play or sing “Moon River,” which was featured in that film’s soundtrack and was one of my young father’s favorite songs back in the early 1960s.

That’s because I’ll be reading from my novella “Rip” and signing copies afterward on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m., in Irvington, N.Y., on the shores of my own life’s river, the beautiful Hudson, which became embedded in my heart and soul when I was a boy growing up a few miles downtstream from Irvington in Yonkers, N.Y.

I’m pleased to be reading in Irvington, for several reasons.

One, it’s the hometown of my friend Phil, whose family owned and operated the village pharmacy.

Second, the village is just south of Tarrytown, setting of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and is — of course — named after Washington Irving.
So I’ll be reading excerpts from a parody of “Rip Van Winkle” right in the heart of Irving country!

Third, and perhaps best of all, while my appearance in being hosted by Irvington’s public library, I’ll actually be reading in Irvington’s town hall in the beautifully refurbished and recently reopened Tiffany Reading Room.

The great room was in disrepair and was being used for storage until a local fund-raising campaign raised the tens of thousands of dollars needed to restore the room to its former glory — looking very much the way it looked a century ago when it was designed and furnished by Louis Comfort Tiffany with funding from none other than the daughter of Jay Gould!

So try to make it to Irvington-on-Hudson on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. The Irvington Village Hall is located at 85 Main Street, just down the hill from Route 9. Admission is free. Inspiration is by Washington Irving. Parody of “Rip Van Winkle” is by Nicholas DiGiovanni. Set design is by Louis Comfort Tiffany!

Here’s a link to a recent New York Times article about the Tiffany Reading Room’s history and restoration:

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/23/nyregion/the-tiffany-reading-room-in-irvington-town-hall.html?_r=0