Life Lessons, Writers and Writing

A Writer’s Writer – Carson McCullers

The following is a re-post from January 2018. It remains timely today.

She was a rock star.  Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, brought her critical acclaim at the age of twenty-three and she made her mark on the literary scene of the 1940’s and ‘50’s at a time when the field was still overwhelmingly dominated by men.  Her body of work hauntingly echoed the themes of loneliness, unrequited love, and being different.  A southern gothic writer, she railed against racism and homophobia – and her message still resonates today.  Her name was Carson McCullers.

While living in a Brooklyn brownstone called “February House” with a menagerie of other writers and artists, she wrote The Member of the Wedding.  When she was in residence at Yaddo Artists’ Colony, she penned The Ballad of the Sad Café.  Later, as her health was failing, her home was a Victorian with a wrap-around porch and a view of the Hudson River, not far from where I grew up.  Each time I passed by that house, I imagined Carson, decades earlier, sitting on her porch, peering from her window as she sat at her typewriter, perhaps walking down South Broadway in the mornings.

When I came upon a grainy, 1958 recording of her reading from her work, I was awestruck.  There was a fragility in her voice, which quivered, as though she were about to cry.  That shakiness, along with her thick Georgia accent, conjured in my mind an elderly southern lady rather than a woman who, at the time, was only forty-one-years-old.

Carson McCullers left us a beautiful literary legacy.  Whether you’re looking for a thought-provoking book for yourself, or a good-read for your book group, her prose is lovely and her message will surely ignite great discussion.

 

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Life Lessons, Pop Culture, Writers and Writing

The Typewriter

Yard sales are common in my town but I seldom, if ever, take part.  For one thing, to have a crack at the really good stuff, you must arrive early and I’m not a morning person, especially on Saturdays.  Add to that my inability to shake off the old city-dweller mentality that no matter how tempting a curio might be, “there’s just no room for it.”  So, it was very out of character for me to check out the yard sale taking place in my neighborhood this past weekend.

As I approached the house, I saw the usual folding tables filled with knickknacks and gently used kitchenware.  There were books, of course, and a seemingly brand-new tennis racket.  I paused in front of the historic banker’s chair that was in need of a little TLC, and considered the antique wooden ironing board that yearned to be a piece of art displayed on a kitchen wall.

Call it serendipity, or fate, that I should spot a manual typewriter.  I couldn’t believe my good fortune that, as late as 11:00 in the morning, a vintage Royal had not yet been scooped up.  My first thought: it’s still available because it’s expensive.  My second thought: didn’t Kerouac use a Royal?  I knew about his famous Underwood – the typewriter he used to write On the Road – but I remembered reading somewhere that although he favored the Underwood, at one point, he also used a Royal.  Another literary giant had used a Royal, but I couldn’t place who it was.

On closer inspection, the putty colored typewriter was dirty, perhaps nicotine stained, and laden with the kind of dust that accumulates from years spent in an attic or basement.  The keys had long ago yellowed and the roller was splattered with white-out.  Its carrying case was even more soiled, and I couldn’t tell if it was leather or some sort of fabric that had petrified.  Still, this was a vintage Royal that, given its body’s metal construction and iconic red logo lettering, I guessed to be from the mid-1950’s.  I doubted it actually worked.  In fact, I didn’t even care.  I just knew I wanted it.  And for ten bucks, it was mine.

As soon as I got it home, I went online:

How to clean a vintage typewriter
When did Royal introduce the portable Quiet De Luxe model
Famous authors who used a Royal

Turns out a small paint brush, a soft cotton rag, a gentle hand, and the sparing use of water and rubbing alcohol have gotten me off to a good start.  I think my typewriter is a 1956 model.  And Hemingway was the other writer who used a Royal.  In fact, he had three of them.

Why have I been so fixated with this typewriter all week?  It’s the sheer romance of the whole thing.

Think about it…  In this digital age where first our PC’s, and now our laptops, become obsolete every couple of years, we don’t keep them long enough to create a history.  We don’t get attached to them.  We just discard them.  Years from now, will I even remember what version of Windows I used to write this blog post?  But I do remember the typewriter I learned on, and used to write my college papers and my first short stories – a blue Smith Corona.  It didn’t possess the mystique of an old Royal.  I don’t imagine anything could.

This Royal is going to sit on a shelf in the room where I write.  It will be more – much more – than a conversation piece.  It will be my reminder of what’s important.  My talisman.  The compass that guides me to whatever comes next.

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Best of Boston, Pop Culture, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

The following is a re-post from October 2017.

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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Girl Talk, Writers and Writing

A Writer’s Writer – Carson McCullers

She was a rock star.  Her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, brought her critical acclaim at the age of twenty-three and she made her mark on the literary scene of the 1940’s and ‘50’s at a time when the field was still overwhelmingly dominated by men.  Her body of work hauntingly echoed the themes of loneliness, unrequited love, and being different.  A southern gothic writer, she railed against racism and homophobia – and her message still resonates today.  Her name was Carson McCullers.

While living in a Brooklyn brownstone called “February House” with a menagerie of other writers and artists, she wrote The Member of the Wedding.  When she was in residence at Yaddo Artists’ Colony, she penned The Ballad of the Sad Café.  Later, as her health was failing, her home was a Victorian with a wrap-around porch and a view of the Hudson River, not far from where I grew up.  Each time I passed by that house, I imagined Carson, decades earlier, sitting on her porch, peering from her window as she sat at her typewriter, perhaps walking down South Broadway in the mornings.

When I came upon a grainy, 1958 recording of her reading from her work, I was awestruck.  There was a fragility in her voice, which quivered, as though she were about to cry.  That shakiness, along with her thick Georgia accent, conjured in my mind an elderly southern lady rather than a woman who, at the time, was only forty-one-years-old.

Carson McCullers left us a beautiful literary legacy.  Whether you’re looking for a thought-provoking book for yourself, or a good-read for your book group, her prose is lovely and her message will surely ignite great discussion.

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Best of Boston, Writers and Writing

Honoring Jack

Pumpkins, large and small, adorn nearly every window box and doorstep in my neighborhood.  Along with the usual ghosts and witches, we here in the Bay State have easy access to the ultimate Halloween spectacle.  Salem may be a quaint New England town steeped in history, mythology, and magic – but Salem in October is way too touristy for me.

Instead, I take a day trip to Lowell to visit the grave of one of my literary heroes – Jack Kerouac.

The first time I visited Kerouac’s grave, it was just before Halloween, and the anniversary of his death.  I arrived at Edson Cemetery with a crudely drawn map that a kindly gentleman at the Chamber of Commerce had given me and, as I made my way along the neat little rows of tombstones and markers, I marveled at the extraordinary shades of yellow, orange, and red leaves underfoot and overhead.  Kerouac’s grave was an unassuming flat slab that was flush to the ground.  This is what it said:

 

“TI JEAN”

JOHN L. KEROUAC

MAR. 12, 1922 – OCT. 21, 1969

– HE HONORED LIFE –

STELLA HIS WIFE

NOV. 11, 1918 – FEB. 10, 1990

There had been many recent visitors to the grave, fans, and writers perhaps, because they’d left unopened bottles of imported beer, packs of Camel cigarettes, flowers, and sheets of poetry, some handwritten and some typed, in several different languages.

I sat on the ground and took out a bottle of champagne and my worn paperback copy of On the Road.  I purposely shook the bottle so that when I popped the cork, the bubbly came gushing out just like it does in the winning team’s locker room.  I took a small drink before pouring the entire bottle onto the grass, letting it soak right into the ground so he could enjoy it.

Then I opened my book to a random page and started reading.  There in that graveyard was all the history, mythology, and magic I needed.

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Life Lessons, Writers and Writing

New Year, New Plan

writing_2017As I watched the ball drop in Times Square, I thought about New Year’s resolutions.  Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of absolutes.  Like giving up carbs.  Who cuts out a whole food group, cold turkey?  Or vowing to work out five days a week.  Does walking to the bus stop count?

Still, as confetti fell all over 44th and Broadway, I got the same start-over-fresh feeling I had every September when the new school year began.  New notebooks, new pencils… only now I use a keyboard.

It’s been one year since I started my blog, Dolce Zitella.  And as the New Year begins, it’s the perfect time to thank everyone who’s read the weekly blog posts, responded with comments, and recommended the blog to friends.  I truly appreciate your support.

For me, Dolce Zitella has been fun – like having a marathon conversation with the girls.  In contrast, the non-fiction book I’ve been working on for the past several years has been a solitary labor of love.  The subject matter is deeply personal to me, and I’m pretty damn passionate about it.

But here’s the rub – like many of you, my work life is demanding and working late has become the norm.  Every night I work late is a night I don’t get to write.  Between getting home late, keeping up with the blog, and attending to the myriad of things that make up the everyday, carving out enough time to work on the book has been challenging.

Finishing the book in 2017 is not a New Year’s resolution.  It’s my goal.  And with any goal, you need a plan.  So here goes: moving forward, I’ll be writing a new blog post every other week, rather than weekly, so I can devote more time to the book.  Dolce Zitella will still be posted on Thursdays.  I know I can count on all of you to stick with me on this.

And what’s the book about, you may wonder?  Well, that’s another story for another day.

red poppy

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Life Lessons, Writers and Writing

A Room of One’s Own

The four of us met several years ago in a “Writing a Non-Fiction Book” class.  We shared a great respect for each other’s work and the tenacity to keep at the writing.  So when the class ended, it was a no-brainer that we should form a writing group.  We began meeting bi-monthly at a funky café in Harvard Square.

Our group is the literary equivalent of having a “gym buddy.”  When you don’t feel like going to the gym, you force yourself because she’s counting on you.  And so, the writing group keeps us all on track.

We are diverse women; the writing is our common thread.  We lead very different lives, with demanding work schedules, multiple family responsibilities, and community commitments.  Add to that the everyday tasks of cooking and laundry, and how much time is left for writing?  For me it always comes down to this: sleep or write.  Which would explain my consumption of caffeine and the circles under my eyes.

october-weekend-in-vermont

In the spirit of Virginia Woolfe’s essay “A Room of One’s Own,” we recently planned an intensive weekend of writing.  We drove to Vermont, holed up in a carriage house that overlooked the Green Mountains, and we wrote.  No household chores, no television, no distractions.  Each of us structured our time a bit differently, but the bottom line was writing and receiving feedback in real time.  Alright, I’ll admit it – there was a small side trip to the Eileen Fisher outlet store located a few miles away.  But I promise, it was a very productive weekend.

Living communally reminded me of my college days.  These amazing, supportive women have made a crucial impact on my life.  We left Vermont with a deep sense of accomplishment.  Next time – and there will be a next time – we’ll go to the ocean.

red poppy

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