When you let your imagination run wild

I’m bearing down on midnight, and no one’s on the road except me, just maybe a few drunk drivers, maybe a few cops quaffing coffee in their cruisers, maybe some wildlife,  maybe some ghosts. And I’m so tired that my mind’s on cruise control as I think about something somebody just said to me — “Let your imagination run wild!” — and a satellite’s beaming songs to the radio in my car, and I hear “When the Night Comes Falling From the Sky,” and wouldn’t you know that now I notice for the very first time that there’s a high-flying fog or a low-lying cloud about 30 feet above me — this is what it looks like when the night falls from the sky!

My body needs to pull over but my mind’s in overdrive so I seek the median, the hyphen between yin and yang, and I sit on that flat thin parallel line and dangle my feet in the stream of my dreams.

I need a soundtrack, so I hit the search button, and the satellite spins into position and aims its beam at me, and I hear the weather in Cleveland and a snippet of Sibelius and a shot of Sinatra and a trucker on some Indiana highway who’s called a call-in show for truckers, and then, listen, it’s Jackson Browne (a greybeard now) singing from somewhere in space about wandering through the world as moments unfurl and how he’s waiting to awaken from this dream.

Now the low-lying cloud or high-flying fog has touched the ground. This is what happens. You slow down but gain speed. You  reach your destination but you’re not even close. You drive for an hour but it feels like a minute.

Such remarkable sensations…when you follow instructions…and let your imagination run wild.


The working world

I should not ever consider, if I consider switching careers, anything that involves even the slightest expertise in science or math. Nor should I even bother applying for any job involving high risk or high adventure.

Good thing I spent a half-hour this morning filling out an apparently well-regarded career counseling questionaire which helps you focus on jobs that match your interests, skills, aptitude — or lack thereof.

The survey’s overall impression of me: My interests “are spread broadly over many different areas, with no intense concentration.”

I’m not sure if this is a compliment or an insult. It may be that the computer program has me pegged — accurately, I believe — as a 21st century Renaissance man. Or it may be that what the comment really means to suggest is that I’m a jack of all trades but a master of none.

Overall, the anonymous career counselor advises me to pursue careers in writing and the culinary arts, to consider developing my skills in farming and forestry, to avoid a military career, to look into honing certain skills that might lend themselves to success in advertising and marketing, and to avoid any job involving religious activities.

That last one is particularly bothersome. It means I can pretty much rule out that the Tibetan monk recruitment team will knock on my front door and announce I’ve been chosen to be the 15th Dalai Lama.

The survey may not have detected my deeply spiritual side — maybe it’s because I’m basically a transcendentalist, which means I keep quiet and listen — but it did notice certain talents or interests that led it to suggest I might have a future as a media executive, a hotel manager or a public relations director. This part of the report again emphasized that I should avoid anything religious, that I should not pursue a career in accounting and that I would not make a good psychologist (which means this particular career guide does not accept the premise that it takes one to know one).

But it’s not all insults and reality checks. The survey actually gave me high marks for creativity. It says I could find success as a writer, editor or liberal arts professor. With a little more training or a slight shift in orientation, the survey says, I could become a chef, a public-relations director or a librarian.

Somehow this computer program apparently learned or sensed that I never earned a grade higher than “C” in any math or science class I ever took — algebra, geometry and statistics and chemistry (in which I somehow managed to get a grade of 42 on the final exam in my senior year of high school) — except for a college biology class in which I somehow, miraculously managed to get an A. Maybe I should become a biologist! No, the online career adviser says careers I should avoid because I lack the necessary analytical skills — in other words, I’m way too stupid — include chemist, engineer, math teacher, science teacher, statistician and systems analyst.

The report tells me, too, that reading between the lines of my answers it detected that I have an interest but no skills needed for the following careers: veterinarian, landscape architect and airline mechanic. I am very attached to my daughter’s pet, Noodle the Poodle, and I’ve done a pretty damned good job on the perennial flower beds all around my house. Where the airline mechanic thing came from I have no idea unless the folks who run the career-counseling computer were having a slow morning and decided to have a little fun with me.

But they got right down to brass tacks (and knuckles) when they warned me, practically urged me, to avoid at all costs any job that involves adventure, danger or risk and then listed specific jobs I should especially avoid: police officer, soldier, ski instructor and test pilot.

How did they know I’d always dreamed of being a test pilot? And how do they feel now, knowing that they’ve sent my dreams into an out-of-control nose-dive?

The survey lists a whole bunch of other jobs I should look into, careers I might find interesting, including actor, ballet dancer, cartoonist, caterer, clothing designer, comedian, dance teacher, fashion model, floral designer, literature teacher, movie director, opera singer, philosopher, agricultural extension agent, air traffic controller, commercial fisherman, fireworks display specialist, massage therapist, prosthetist, rancher,  immigration inspector, postmaster and travel accommodations rater.

Well, if I can’t be a test pilot, all of those  jobs have some appeal, and maybe I could even do more than one of them: sorting the mail while singing the role of Pagliacci, contemplating life’s meaning while shooting  off fireworks, telling  jokes while delivering trays of lasagna to office parties, stretching and limbering at the barre while bringing a big Boeing 767 in for a safe landing.

Or else maybe I should just keep trying to be a writer.

Putting on the dog

So last night I attended the finals of the American Kennel Club’s Westminster Dog Show at Madison Square Garden and today I learned that the top dog — a Sussex spaniel from Texas who answers to the name “Stump” but is known in this strange world of deluxe dogs as Ch. Clussexx Three D Grinchy Glee — actually shares my birthday!

This might be even more amusing and surreal than the notion that I even attended a dog show, that there had to be 10,000 people there last night chanting the winning dog’s name as they tried to pressure the judge into choosing the Sussex spaniel over the Standard poodle or the pug or the Scottish deerhound.

That Stump and I were both born on Dec. 1 (and, no, Stump and I are not anywhere near the same age either in dog years or human years) might even be more amusing than the guy who sat behind me and in all seriousness made comments about each dog including these personal favorites: “Oh, look! Like a little runway model!” and (referring, as I recall, to a pug as it strutted around the Garden floor) “How proud my little boy looks!” and (referring to a poodle) “You can just tell how much she loves the applause!”

Now I have to admit that my own enthusiastic companion oohed when she saw the beautiful Siberian huskie and aahed when she saw the elegant Scottish deerhound and even sighed and murmurerd a little “awwwwwww….” at the sight of the cute little Yorkie. And I have to admit hat I kind of envied the folks who were sitting right down near the floor — the actual dog owners and card-carrying members of the AKC, I’d imagine — all decked out in their tuxedos and gowns, drinks in hand while I debated whether to spend $5 for a bottle of water.

But I also have to admit that I had second thoughts about how harmless and amusing this whole affair really was when I headed downstairs to Penn Station to wait for a train back to New Jersey, and there was only one seat available on the bench, and it was next to a homeless woman who coughed right on me in her sleep, which prompted me to move to another part of the waiting room where I watched a man throws a McDonald’s bag into a trash can and then watched another homeless woman walk quickly over to the trash can, remove the bag — and look inside it to see if any scraps of food remained.

I wonder what the poor woman would have thought if she’d seen the extravagent, frivolous, oblivious celebration that erupted upstairs after Ch. Clussexx Three D Glinchy Glee won that Best of Show crown. All that money spent — for show tickets and Manhattan hotel rooms, on booze, on those elegant gowns, on training and breeding those perfect dogs, and, yes, the more than $100 we ourselves had spent earlier on a Cuban dinner and Italian dessert downtown in the Village — would have bought those poor women downstairs at Penn Station a safe, decent place to live and a hell of a lot of Big Macs.

Standing together

Can a song change the world? I walked into my favorite cafe this morning and John Lennon was singing “Tomorrow Never Knows” and I’m wagering that there’s a song that changed somebody’s world, maybe even mine.

What about something by Bach? By Charley Patton? By Billie Holiday? By Elvis? Did “That’s Alright Mama” change the world?

Here’s a link to a You Tube video of an around-the-world singalong to the song by Ben E. King, “Stand By Me.” The idea’s kind of like what Arlo Guthrie described in “Alice’s Restaurant” —  three people sing it, and they may think it’s an organization. Fifty people start singing it, fifty people a day, and they’ll think it’s a movement. It’s like Pete Seeger might say — get enough people singing a song together, they might even start clapping their hands, and if they’re clapping their hands, those hands will be too busy to do anyone any harm.

Here’s the  “Stand By Me” link:

Click on it and start singing!

The poet laureate of Elizabeth, N.J.

No joke. Elizabeth, N.J. And Bayonne. And Carteret. And maybe even Port Elizabeth and Ho-Ho-Kus and Secaucus. Joe Weil’s a great poet. It’s taken the rest of the world too long to notice, but Joe Weil — product of the streets of  Elizabeth — sees beauty even when its face is smudged and dirty, hears music in cries of sorrow, sees greatness in the ordinary, finds songs in his heart when there appears to be no reason to sing, write poems about Elizabeth that remind me very much of my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y., and turns his gritty city into a place of sad stark beauty inhabited by the ghosts of sad beautiful human souls who still walk those streets and abide in Joe’s memory. Listening to Joe Weil talk about poetry and about Elizabeth, N.J. and listening to him read his poems…it makes you understand more clearly what Springsteen meant when he sang about that opera on the Turnpike and the glow from that giant Exxon sign.



So check this out. Here’s a link to a special broadcast recently by New Jersey Network, the state’s public television channel, about Joe Weil:


Laurels and laureates

What’s a laureate? The word comes from the Middle English, by way of Latin, and it all derives from the practice of honoring or recognizing someone’s great achievement by crowning the person with a wreath of laurel.

Dove? Well, of course, it’s a symbol of peace, and recently I found myself remembering a line from good old Sir Thomas Malory: “And anon there came in a dove at a window, and in her mouth there seemed a little censer of gold, and therewithal there was such a savoir as all the spicery of the world had been there.”

That’s  from “Le Morte d’Arthur,” which really has nothing to do with the poet I’m about to write about, but it’s my way of finally getting to the point and announcing that this year’s 12th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival will feature former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove.


She’s one of our greatest poets, and she’ll give a public reading on Saturday, Oct. 17, at 8 p.m. at the beautifully restored Prallsville Mills in Stockton, N.J., a small town nestled along the Delaware River in Hunterdon County, N.J., about an hour from Philadelphia and about 90 minutes from New York City.

I started this event, and coordinate it with my friends Keith Strunk and Laura Swanson of the River Union Stage theater group in Frenchtown, N.J. Details about tickets and other information — including plans for two book signings — will be announced in late spring/early summer. Meanwhile, though, mark your calendars. You can read and hear samples of Rita Dove’s poetry at the Academy of American Poets Web site (www. poets.org) or her own home page at University of Virginia ( http://people.virginia.edu/~rfd4b/).

Rita will join an impressive list of poets featured at previous Delaware Valley Poetry Festivals, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, former U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Gluck, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Muldoon, National Book Award winner Gerald Stern, acclaimed poets Thomas Lux, Stephen Dobyns, Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Diane Wakoski, and many of New Jersey’s finest homegrown poets including Charles H. Johnson, B.J. Ward and Joe Weil.

This past October, we shifted gears  a bit, and featured nine outstanding younger poets recommended by some of the poets listed above.  It was an memorable weekend of amazingly skillful, intelligent and passionate writing and readings by artists with an wide array of backgrounds and styles but a shared gift of being able to move people with their words. Google the names of any of these rising poetry stars — Peter Covino, Janet Foxman, Khalil Murrell, Metta Sama, Matthew Siegel, Lonnie Manns, Jose Rodriguez, Michelle Lerner and Brian Trimboli — and you’re in for a treat.

And while you’re at it, visit the Web site of River Union Stage, where there’s a link to the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, with more information and more links to poems by Robert Pinsky, Louise Gluck, Paul Muldoon and the other great poets who have preceded Rita Dove on the truly remarkable list of artists who’ve joined us here to bring great poetry to the wilds of western New Jersey.