Learning to say ‘Amen!’

 

I’ve spent a total of five weeks in the San Francisco area during the last year, and I’ve managed to visit the city itself only four or five times. Briefly put, I’ve only glimpsed the city; I haven’t really seen it.

I’ve seen — or sensed — some of the problems people have with what venerable journalist Herb Caen called Baghdad-by-the-Bay. Most of all, it’s too expensive to live there — real-estate values are beyond the reach of even the relatively affluent, thanks in large part to the dot-com companies like Google and Apple. What’s more, the San Francisco celebrated in Scott MacKenzie’s song is long-gone — if it ever really existed….George Harrison of The Beatles took one look at the Haight  and got the hell out of there, and after one glorious summer the place became a hellhole filled with homeless, strung-out teens with wilted flowers in their hair.

But, still, there’s something about San Francisco and California. I’ve joined the other tourists and taken a ride on the city’s famed cable cars, all the while humming the Rice-A-Roni theme song. I’ve walked along the waterfront, looking out at Alcatraz or up at the suspension bridge to Oakland. I’ve stood  on the steps where Mario Savio jump-started the Free Speech movement in Berkeley — although I’ve seen Berkeley’s bums, young and old, who are but a sad echo of the old counter-culture. I’ve crossed the Golden Gate and visited John Muir’s redwoods. I’ve sipped coffee at a café in North Beach. I’ve huddled with the ghosts of the Beats in the poetry section upstairs at City Lights. I’ve looked out at the Pacific — and, while I can’t explain the difference, I have no doubt that there’s something very non-Atlantic about the Pacific.

I’ve driven along the coastal highway to Big Sur. I’ve never seen any place so beautiful in my entire life, and I found myself wishing I could travel back forty years and have a fling with beautiful Joni Mitchell, or travel back fifty years and get drunk with Jack Kerouac, or travel back sixty years and talk about Rimbaud and Celine and Anais Nin with Henry Miller, or travel back more than eighty years and spend idle hours sloshing through the tidal flats at Monterey with John Steinbeck — and witnessing the awful oppression of the farm workers at Salinas.

I think what it amounts to is that I’ve seen enough of San Francisco and the California coast to know that at the very least I’d like to see more. And I certainly will. I didn’t leave my heart in San Francisco — but I did leave a little piece of it. After all, how could I ever forget — and how could I ever be unchanged after reading it — the quote at the entrance to the Henry Miller Memorial Library in the town of Big Sur: “It was here in Big Sur I first learned to say Amen!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A literary chorus

songs of ourselves book cover

Today’s mail included a package with my copy of “Songs of Ourselves: America’s Interior Landscape.”

I’m one of a couple of dozen writers invited to contribute to this fine anthology, an entertaining and eclectic collection of personal writings by a diverse group of talented writers. The title, of course, riffs on Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” and his paeans to the open road ahead and to life lived with an open heart. And these essays, each in their own way, all share some of Whitman’s passion for the life he saw bursting out all around him.

My contribution, “Man Has Premonition of Own Death,” consists of ten essays on the theme of mortality — and lives remembered, including the story of my ancestor Thomas Crooks,  a young man (my maternal grandmother’s brother) who, according to a newspaper report in the 1920s, did indeed glimpse the Grim Reaper’s shadow.

The book is published by Blue Heron Book Works and is available via Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Ourselves-Americas-Interior-Landscape/dp/0996817743) and makes for an excellent stocking stuffer!

 

 

 

Songs of Ourselves

I’m pleased to report that Blue Heron Book Works has just published a new anthology, “Songs of Ourselves,” which features a variety of personal writings works by 24 different contributors  — including a collection of essays by me on death, mortality and bygone lives remembered.

My contribution is gleaned from a larger book project, still in the works, titled “Man Has Premonition of Own Death,” a title inspired by a 1920s-vintage newspaper headline describing the death of one my ancestors, 23-year-old Thomas Crooks — my great-uncle on my mother’s side.

Young Thomas had met his fiancée for a picnic lunch, and was returning to his job at the old Alexander Smith carpet mill in Yonkers, New York, my old hometown.  According the newspaper account, “As he was returning to work, he turned to her and said, ‘I am going in. But I shall be carried out.’ ” Within a half-hour, my ancestor had “fallen” into a vat of acid used to cure the fibers used in the carpets. He died soon after at a local hospital in the arm’s of his devastated mother — my maternal great-grandmother.

Two of the essays I contributed to “Songs of Ourselves” contemplate the awful fate of poor Thomas Crooks.

Sounds kind of gloomy for holiday reading? Not really. My contributions to the anthology aren’t grim. They’re sometimes melancholy, sometimes thoughtful, sometimes nostalgic, and mostly a celebration of life — and the fact that I wish it didn’t have to end.  I think it’s a perfect reading material for sitting in a comfortable chair — by a crackling fire, perhaps, or sitting near a window as snowflakes swirl and the winter winds whirl — and thinking long, long thoughts of a long, cold winter night…

And that’s just my contribution! “Songs of Ourselves” features an impressive array of works by 23 other very talented writers representing a variety of voices and experiences that would impress even the good gray “Songs of Myself” bard himself!

Here’s how to order the book from Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Songs-Ourselves-Americas-Interior-Landscape/dp/0996817743/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449013561&sr=8-1&keywords=%22Songs+of+Ourselves%22+Mary+Lawlorhttp://www.amazon.com/Songs-Ourselves-Americas-Interior-Landscape/dp/0996817743/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449013561&sr=8-1&keywords=%22Songs+of+Ourselves%22+Mary+Lawlor

 

 

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!