Monday, July 29, 2013

Kerouac, Fante, a few others dropped in without supporting detail

So I'm thirty-five pages from the end of Point Doom, the serial-killer novel I had to step back from, and twenty-six pages from the end of The Dharma Bums, the Kerouac does Zen and backpacking I sought safety in, and I just remembered that the two have also intersected within the text, and this could be another reason Fante drove me back to Kerouac.

Early on the gritty SoCal AA mystery, Fante's protagonist notes:

Jack Kerouac once wrote that "the only people for me are the mad ones. . . who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn burn burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."

That's crap, but thanks, Jack. For the last few years in New York I'd tried to be one of Jack's people. In my spare time I wrote a book of poems and, before he died, I had even worked with my dad, Jimmy Fiorella, and coauthored a couple of screenplays, but eventually I discovered the truth about Kerouac, that crap, and those people: most of them wind up in the bughouse or with a mouthful of broken teeth and a jar of Xanax. Or worse. They wind up OD'd and dead. (13)

Fante has a point about romanticizing alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment, homelessness, and the rest of gritty reality that sets in when the candles burn down and away, but Kerouac of The Dharma Bums seems much more "chill" than this famous quotation suggests.

At this point, I must confess I took a break from "typing" this blog (et tu, Capote), and returned to the Kerouac, and so I'm now within twenty pages of the end.

Alas, I took two breaks, and now I'm finished the book. For the most part, I liked the mood of the book and the descriptions of nature, and even the wild, all-night party sections were okay although I'd recommend Pynchon's V for that kind of party scene.

Okay, back to Fante and then maybe Norman Rush, Philip Roth, or David Lodge comes next. These slightly higher-brow writers are ones I've also enjoyed reading in 2013, and this summer, I also read and liked very much the afore-dissed Truman Capote's "Children on their Birthdays."

Sorry I meander and weave and provide so little detail.

PS--I finished Fante's Point Doom; the final torture scenes were not nearly as harrowing as I'd anticipated (why I'd moved away from the book a few times toward the end). The ending includes the perfect set up for a sequel, but I hope Dan gets us another memoir or Bruno Dante novel. Chump Change and Fante: A Family's Legacy of Writing, Drinking and Surviving remain my favorites.

Friday, July 26, 2013

they aren't "mooching"

CNN had the audacity to post this "mooching millennial" headline on the homepage in the Business section just below an image of and article on Detroit's new 444 million-dollar arena (yes, that Detroit, the bankrupt one). Even if by some miracle this isn't largely corporate welfare funded by taxpayers, the paring of these two headlines is gruesome. An entire generation, our 18 to 34-year-olds are taking on the greatest college debt in our history, facing a tough job market, and thus many are forced to live at home, and yet they are labeled as "mooching." Closer to home, our kids in South Carolina are facing higher tuition each year while the Governor receives two years of stadium suite space valued at $58,000.

It never ends.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Russell Banks on Jack Kerouac

I'm rereading Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums, the only Kerouac I read as a young man, and because it did not make much of an impression, I didn't return to him to try On the Road until twenty years later. The return was mainly because I'd begun teaching a course called "contemporary literature" and felt obliged to have some familiarity with Kerouac and The Beats.

In my current couple weeks of accidental single-parenting, I'm finding The Dharma Bums to be surprisingly enjoyable and a welcome escape, this reading about younger writers with the time and energy to run screaming down mountains, in this case, Matterhorn. It's good escapism from parenting, and also from my first (and only!) serial-killer novel which I put down fifty pages from the end (something I rarely do, and because I like the author, I will go back and finish).

Old Jack will always be a victim of his fame, and the fact he managed to be popular and hip while somehow getting his name into the mix when folks talk Melville, Faulkner, and the "great American writers." So maybe, like Paul Auster or Raymond Carver, he's not up there at the highest peaks of literature, but there still seems to be something fresh and original in his voice.

I like the way Kerouac can offer the reader vicarious freedom even as he parodies such. For example, after climbing only almost to the top of Matterhorn, he decides upon desert adventures for his "rucksack revolution." So after he purchases and then fills up his rucksack to become a "huge hunchbacked monk," he notes, "I was all outfitted for the Apocalypse indeed, no joke about that; if an atom bomb should have hit San Francisco that night all I'd have to do is hike on out of there, if possible, and with my dried foods all packed tight and my bedroom and kitchen on my head, no trouble in the world" (81). Okay, so he says "no joke," but I'll stick with my hunch that he is enjoying some irony and self-mockery here.

Anyway, via a tweet, I just chanced upon this Russell Banks interview response from The Paris Review (Summer, 1998):

You began to write in the 1960s. How did that decade influence you? Did you meet any notable figures?

Yes, I met Kerouac. It must have been 1967, a year or two at the most before he died. I got a call from a pal in a bar in town, The Tempo Room, a local hangout—Jack Kerouac is in town with a couple of other guys and he wants to have a party. I said, Yeah, sure, right. He said, No, really. I was the only guy in this crowd with a regular house. So Jack Kerouac showed up with a troupe of about forty people he had gathered as he went along and three guys who he insisted—and I think they indeed were—Micmac Indians from Quebec. Kerouac, like a lot of writers of the open road, didn’t have a driver’s license. He needed a Neal Cassady just to get around; this time he had these crazy Indians who were driving him to Florida to be with his mother. They all ended up crashing for the weekend. He had just received his advance for what turned out to be his last book and was spending it like a sailor on leave. He brought with him a disruptiveness and wild disorder, and moments of brilliance too. I could see how attractive he must have been when he was young, both physically and intellectually. He was an incredibly beautiful man, but at that age (he was about forty-five) the alcohol had wreaked such destruction that it left him beautiful only from the neck up. Also, you could see why they called him Memory Babe—he would switch into long, beautiful twenty-minute recitations of Blake or the Upanishads or Hoagy Carmichael song lyrics. Then he would phase out and turn into an anti-Semitic, angry, fucked-up, tormented old drunk—a real know-nothing. It was comical, but sad. There were a lot of arguments back and forth, then we would realize that no, he’s just a sad, old drunk; I can’t take this stuff seriously. Eventually he would realize it himself and he would back off and turn himself into a senior literary figure and say, I can’t take that stuff seriously either. Every time he came forward, he would switch personas, and you would go bouncing back off him. It was a very strange and strenuous weekend. And very moving. It was the first time I had seen one of my literary heroes seem fragile and vulnerable.

(Back to L.U.S.K.)

What else? There's always the fine literary father angle, and The Paris Review introduces us to Banks as a fellow working on his fourth marriage with four daughters behind him. I just searched online that Kerouac had at least one, and I think only one, marriage and daughter. Separate entanglements, so to speak.

Okay, that's enough to get me excited about more Daddy-daughter time after her daycare ends today.

Monday, July 22, 2013


Ending on Isaac Sweeney's career progress seemed a bit too beyond the pessimistic pale of this blog, so I thought I'd return to my usual doom and gloom with this alternet piece on privatizing to reduce wages among janitors and cafeteria workers at charter schools.

This common tactic, that leads to downward pressure on wages for all "nonessential personnel," was something I noticed even in the 1990s, and it has always bothered me. Maybe the new healthcare law solves this problem, but for now, for most of my adult life, I've lived in a country where we tolerate food workers without access to healthcare serving school children. You don't have to be a "skilled professional" in any field to see how an illness exacerbated by lack of timely medical treatment could be far more expensive to society once hundreds of kids also become sick.

Although posted this video on how absurd it is to use an 80-hour work week to teach employees how to budget money, they were also kind enough to post the good news on wages by using the distorting mean instead of median, so with a straight-faced headline they let us know that the "average American worker" earns $1,000 bucks a week. A good clarifying comment notes that we only have 100 million full-time workers (in a population over 300 million), and the median pay among them is in fact $763. I "googled" to follow that back to its source, the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Somewhere along the surf, I also stumbled upon the fact that within the private sector, one in four makes less than ten dollars an hour, and many more of us live desperately, terrified we could sink back under that modest level (400 bucks for a 40-hour work week before any taxes, housing, food, transportation, or healthcare costs are taken out).

If this is America in recovery. . .

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Holic and Sweeney

Within the last week, my copies of Nathan Holic's American Fraternity Man and Isaac Sweeney's Same Track, Different Track arrived by mail.

Holic's fast-paced novel has an absolutely fantastic cover, and of course, I was excited to see this blurb on the back:

Both writers are full-time teachers now, but both have paid their adjunct dues, and in different ways continue to support the cause of the more tangentially employed among us. For Atticus Review, Nathan has delivered six sets of graphic frames for Fight for Your Long Day, and Isaac continues to write about adjunct issues and more for The Chronicle of Higher Education. More or less, what we have are two early 30-somethings with small children working constantly to survive but also thinking of the less fortunate of higher education, whether they're instructors or students.
I've already skimmed Isaac's book, and although I'd call most of what I read a nonfictional summary and assessment of how he fought his way out of the adjunct's life to land a full-time tenure-track job at a community college, in this telling, there is plenty of implied advice for adjuncts trying to do the same. Two key points from Isaac's experience are 1) apply early and often, many more jobs than you'd think would be necessary (this rings true as I remember a recent PhD comp/rhet grad applied to more than 100 positions to land one tenure-track job at a four-year school), and 2) also play to your strength during the teaching demonstration. For his TT campus visit, Isaac used a lesson he'd taught many times before, and he nailed it.
For many of us, easier said than done, yes, indeed.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

A Day in the Life

It's possible that my day-in-the-life adjunct's novel is partly the inspiration for Lee Kottner's newish project of encouraging part-time faculty to post their daily lives as blogs.

So far, for contributions, Migrant Intellectual is back after months of archive hibernation, and Brianne Bolin posted a touching one about adjuncting while raising a special-needs child. Both Baum and Bolin focus in part on how the contingent life adversely impacts physical and mental health, and it should be noted you could be  part-time and overworking anywhere, not only in academia, to experience these negative impacts.

On a related note, Isaac Sweeney, the publisher of my commencement-angst e-story (it's 35 pages) has his new nonfiction out on his transition from adjunct to full-time community-college faculty. It's called Same Track, Different Track, and here's the mostly memoir's first sentence quoted from the Amazon Book Description:

"I was never supposed to be where I am today. In academia, the route to the tenure track has on it a terminal degree, publications in peer-reviewed journals, and other what-everybody-else-has-done things.”

Bottomline? There's something odd about the America we share in where one adjunct without a terminal degree gets a community-college TT while others with similar qualifications scramble for cash and courses as they cannot even get an annual guarantee of work. Alas, as with houses and cars, our American lives are largely negotiated and navigated on an individual basis; that's what I know to be true.

The whole situation is also a reminder that I have to be grateful for all I have in this world, and highly aware of possible dishonesty if I'm going to claim it's been "earned."

Monday, July 15, 2013

Fante and Holic

A nice reason to be back in South Carolina is to receive a couple paperbacks in the mail.

I've been a fan of the Fantes, father and son, since finding Dan's Chump Change as a Sun Dog trade paperback years ago, so although the serial-killer angle is a bit beyond my usual, I was excited to open my preordered Point Doom. I'm already 250 pages into it, and so far, the book is a page turner with some good SoCal AA and car-sales grit and satire to it.

Also, workaholic Nathan Holic's American Fraternity Man is due to arrive at my place in a few days, and I'm proud to say that this Greek satire will be the first novel I see with my blurb on the back cover.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Xi'an, China

We're back from Xi'an, China, where at the beginning of a two-month stay I posted these first impressions. One of Xi'an's most famous landmarks is the Da Yan Pagoda (Wild Goose Pagoda):


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