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Who Are Your Top 10 Favorite Writers?

Today is a fun blogging day — a couple of “10 Favorite” lists.

I make these lists about once every, well, 10 years. They not only show who influences us most deeply as readers and/or writers, but also who grabs our hearts, minds and souls. The 10-year period between lists also shows how we’ve evolved as people. Several on my lists have remained the same over the years, but one or two invariably switch out each decade.

That said, who are your 10 favorite writers? Also, since it is National Poetry Month, who are your 10 favorite poets and/or essayists? Mine are listed below, with a quick bit about each.

Please use the comment feature on this blog to let us know who your favorites are, and why (at least for a few of them). We’ll post a composite of the responses at the end of April.

Bob’s 10 Favorite Writers, in no particular order (except for number one):

boyle

T.C. Boyle

Jack Kerouac — My all-time favorite. ‘On the Road’, and ‘Dharma Bums’ are classics of his tireless stream of consciousness writing. Did you know he wrote ‘The Subterraneans’ in 72 hours — and included a 1,200-word sentence in there?

T.C. Boyle — a mastermind of fiction and short story. He’s carried the mantle among American short-story giants since Raymond Carver died.

Anne Rice — I’m not so hot on her books (except for ‘The Vampire Lestat’ and book one of her ‘Christ the Lord’ series), but her writing is amazing. Who else can keep readers up for two nights with more chilling scenes?

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Anne Rice, bewitching at a book signing

Thich Nhat Hanh — This Vietnamese Buddhist monk has written some of the most beautiful, applicable books of the past 50 years, his style succinct and full of love.

Laura Hillenbrand — Journalistic narrative gets no better than ‘Seabiscuit’ or ‘Unbroken’, does it? She’s awesome.

Elmore Leonard — My man Elmore, a master of realistic dialogue and snappy, fast-paced storytelling. I read a Leonard novel every time I want to improve my pacing, or simply when it’s time for a great story and some laughs.

John Gardner — 90% of my fiction knowledge comes from the late, great novelist and author of the best book on the craft, ‘The Art of Fiction.’

Anais Nin

Anais Nin

Hunter S. Thompson — Forget how bizarre he was as a person; he greatly influenced me through ‘New Journalism’ (the grandparent of narrative non-fiction), his writing for Rolling Stone, and his two gems, ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ and ‘The Great Shark Hunt’.

Anais Nin — Classy, erotic, cultured, full of irresistible imagery and beautiful writing. Unless your religious beliefs preclude you from doing so, every man should read a Nin book if they care about the innermost worlds of their women.

Joyce Carol Oates — She’s written hundreds of short stories and more than 40 novels. She plunges us into her characters’ worlds within two pages; I feel like I’ve lost my skin and identity when reading her. And her storytelling? The best. In her classic book ‘Blonde’, she admitted she felt like she was Marilyn Monroe while writing it. Priceless.

10 FAVORITE POETS

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder, in his element

Gary Snyder — My idol as a poet and steward of the land since I was 16. In my opinion, he’s the greatest poet/essayist alive (and a pre-eminent translator of classical Chinese poetry). He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1974. In recent years, I’ve had the honor of befriending and being mentored by him. Love the man.

Paramhansa Yogananda — As beautiful soul poetry goes, this Indian yoga master has the touch. ‘Songs of the Soul’ is a classic.

Wislawa Szymborska — She recently passed, but in 2012, Gary Snyder called her ‘the best poet in the world.’ Her winning the Nobel Prize backs his claim.

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Wislawa Syzmborska, the Polish wordsmith extraordinaire

Mary Oliver — How can you not love Mary? Her incisive images and attention to rhythm and detail are beautiful and exact.

David Whyte — He brings the spiritual, natural and inner human worlds together seamlessly; I get goose bumps every time I read Whyte aloud.

Billy Collins — Roll up your sleeves, pour coffee, and survey the little quirks and bits of magic in the everyday world. Billy engages us in the most accessible poetry of the last 50 years. (His protégé, Taylor Mali, could easily fill this slot – but with more obvious humor.)

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Mary Oliver, bringing her words to life

Percy Bysshe Shelley — Let’s dial back the clock. Shelley only lived to be 29, but he defined the 18th-19th century Romantic poetry period. Such beautiful poems, and he mastered the difficult combination of storytelling and lyrical verse.

Rumi — There were more than 100 great Persian, Arabian and other Middle Eastern poets from the 8th through 15th centuries; Rumi has lived on. Who doesn’t feel better and deeper after reading one or two of his poems? Honey for the soul.

Li-Po — Like Rumi, he stands tallest among China’s wandering poets in the 7th through 10th centuries. Want to be a Chinese landscape? Read him aloud.

Sappho — She brought written form to lyric and spoken verse 2,700 years ago, creating Western poetry as we know it (though she wasn’t the first; Sumerian Enheduanna penned her poems on cuneiform tablets 4,500 years ago). Sadly, only about 2% of Sappho’s work survives; she was as prolific as Shakespeare.

There are my lists. Looking forward to seeing yours!

ON SALE THROUGHOUT NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: Backroad Melodies, by Robert Yehling. $9.95 print, $1.99 Kindle, .99 Matchbook. Through April 30. http://amzn.to/1Hb62Ei

Low Res Cover Backroads

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Which Books Did You Read In 2014?

I always find it fascinating to see the lists of books that people read during a calendar year. 1781999_10203204443174551_906138982_nBesides showing that, yes, some of us still do read many books, these lists also give insight into the feelings, thoughts and areas of interest that crossed our minds during the year. It also gives us a footprint of the paths and journeys we took, or specific subjects on which we focused.

In keeping with the spirit of the day, I ring out 2014 with my own list, which combines books I read for entertainment, book research, personal learning, and sheer pleasure. It’s a low number for me, just 40 books this year (after 60 in 2013), but I also co-wrote a memoir, wrote a biography, finished a novel, edited a half-dozen books, and edited a year of Innovation & Tech Today issues — so it’s been busy on the creative side. My goal for 2015? 60 books read.

After reading this list, send us or post your own list of books read in 2014 – and let’s write and read more in 2015!

The Autistic Brain, by Temple Grandin (Non-Fiction)

The Golden Cat, by Max Brand (Fiction)

What You Want Is in the Limo, by Michael Walker (Memoir)

This Just In, by Bob Schieffer (Memoir)

L.A. Diary, by Sacha Wamsteker (Fiction)

Eat & Run, by Scott Jurek (Memoir)

Finishing the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, by Dale Matson (Non-Fiction)

Marathon Man, by Bill Rodgers (Memoir)

Kings of the Road, by Cameron Stracher (Non-Fiction)

City Primeval, by Elmore Leonard (Fiction)

Untwined: A Memoir, by Joan Creech Kraft (Memoir)

Storms of Fire & Ash, by Marie Alanen (Fiction)

Prostitute’s Ball, by Stephen J. Cannell (Fiction)

Divine Romance, by Paramhansa Yogananda (Spiritual)

Stranger in a Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein (Sci-Fi)

Brown Dog, by Jim Harrison (Fiction)

Jesus: Son of Man, by Kahlil Gibran (Spiritual)

Skinny Legs & All, by Tom Robbins (Fiction)

The Big Pivot, by Andrew Winston (Non-Fiction)

Mountains and Rivers Without End, by Gary Snyder (Poetry)

The Road to Woodstock, by Michael Lang (Memoir)

Against all Enemies, by Tom Clancy (Fiction)

The Lenovo Way, by Gina Qiao and Yolanda Conyers (Business)

Cakes & Ale, by W. Somerset Maugham (Fiction)

One Summer, by Bill Bryson (Travel)

The Customer-Funded Business, by John Mullins (Business)

Collective Genius, by Linda Hill and Greg Brandeau (Business)

How We Got To Now, by Steven Johnson (Non-Fiction)

Driving Demand, by Elizabeth Allen (Business)

Fast Copy, by Dan Jenkins (Fiction)

Bossypants, by Tina Fey (Memoir)

Brava: Space, by Claudette Marco (Sci-Fi)

What Would Mary Ann Do? By Dawn Wells (Memoir)

Walt Disney, by Neal Gabler (Biography)

Sleepwalker Chronicles: The Awakening, by Lillith Black (Fantasy)

De-Stress for Success, by Leo Willcocks (Non-Fiction)

Random Acts of Badness, by Danny Bonaduce (Memoir)

Little Girl Lost, by Drew Barrymore (Memoir)

Long Distance, by Abigail Mott (Poetry)

Lips Unsealed, by Belinda Carlisle (Memoir)

A Pirate Looks at 50, by Jimmy Buffett (Memoir)

Screw the Valley, by Timothy Sprinkle (Business)

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The Intersection of Literature & Free Expression  

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

The motto that symbolizes freedom of written expression

Whenever I travel to San Francisco, one of my favorite cities in the world, I make sure to pay homage to the roots of my craft near the intersection of Columbus & Grant, where North Beach and Chinatown intersect.

It is a simple little tour, really: just three places. The first, City Lights Books, is a wonderful patchwork of angles, stories, perches, step-ups, cellars and basements loaded with books you may not find anywhere else. It is also home base to celebrated poet and publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who spent the 1950s writing poetry collections, turning a half-dozen unknown writers into the famed San Francisco Renaissance crew (or West Coast Beats), and taking on the U.S. Supreme Court when they censored his publication of Henry Miller.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the maestro of poetry and City Lights

Now 95, Ferlinghetti is a hawk of a man, tall, imposing and imperious when crossed. He and my old friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, still read together once every October. Every time we write a page, article or book with anything we want to say, and then publish it, we’re reminded of who won that landmark censorship battle that culminated in 1961. It wasn’t the Supreme Court.

City Lights is my favorite bookstore, the bookstore that City Lightssparks me every time I walk through its doors. Now 60 years old, it is what an independent bookstore is all about — distinct character and personality, books carefully chosen by a well-read staff, a sanctuary of the written word, and the hub of a great writing community and movement. It is the best store to buy Beat literature in the world. Its selection of poetry, novels and literature reflects an open-minded, story-crafting, intelligence-promoting approach that is, well, the only approach that should ever matter in a society.

My favorite City Lights moment came in 2001. I walked into the store with Marty Balin, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame lead singer (and founder) of Jefferson Airplane, as well as Jefferson Starship. During their San Francisco concerts in the wild 1960s, bands used to ask poets to open their shows — celebrations of light, spoken word, dancing and music. Ferlinghetti was the Airplane’s designated poet on several occasions. As we walked inside, there was Ferlinghetti, perched in the checkout area. Marty and Ferlinghetti hadn’t seen each other in twenty years. Immediately, I felt like the luckiest fly on the wall as they caught up and discussed music, literature, and reminisced about those early concerts at Longshoreman’s Hall, the Matrix and The (original) Fillmore.

If the walls of Vesuvio's could talk, who would ever leave?

If the walls of Vesuvio’s could talk, who would ever leave?

Across the street from City Lights is Vesuvio’s, the colorful two-story pub that served as Jack Kerouac’s watering hole during his trips to San Francisco. Hemingway had Sloppy Joe’s in Key West, Henry James had the White House Tavern in New York City, and Kerouac had Vesuvio’s. He percolated large parts of On The Road, The Dharma Bums and other novels while sitting inside. Now, the place is lined with classic photos from the Beat generation, along with posters of Mae West, Janis Joplin, and other adornments that were part of the bar Kerouac knew. It looked like a few patrons and bottles of ancient booze on the shelves had never left, too.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio's and leads to Chinatown.

The patron saint of Kerouac Way, which splits City Lights & Vesuvio’s and leads to Chinatown.

After that, we took our haul of books a hundred yards to Vital Tea Leaf, located in the middle of Chinatown. (Gotta love the way ethnic neighborhoods run into each other in San Francisco, so effortlessly, without fences or borders.) Our old friend, the 83-year-old proprietor with a sailor’s tongue and a sage’s wisdom, greeted us with hugs at the door. We then spent the next 90 minutes tasting teas made of nectar and gold (so it seemed), and listening to him mix insightful history and preparation tips with playful poking at customers as they walked inside. I find Chinese tea opens up the creative pores in a way that makes verse and prose pour from mind, body and soul; it is always my chosen drink when writing. So, I loaded up with pu’erh, milk oolong, cloud mist and lapsang souchong (the smoky tea), heard our host’s stories about each (cloud mist grows at 8,000 feet, for example), and headed off to write a few of my own.

To me, Columbus & Grant is not only the junction of ancient and modern literature, or the crossroads of shih and Beat writing and poetry. It is also the shining beacon that reminds me of two endangered species — the independent bookstore and freedom of written expression. As we move into National Poetry Month, we’re reminded of the treasures men and women have written for thousands of years. And the inalienable right and freedom to do so. That’s worth honoring in the best way possible — by writing.Kerouac sign

 

 

 

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Why Back Stories Matter (part 2)

(EDITOR’S NOTE: Part One of Why Back Stories Matter appeared on the 366Writing blog. In part two, we look at the specific reasons people love to hear the stories behind the story – and I share a few as well from my newest collection of essays and poetry, Backroad Melodies, which will be released on Summer Solstice, June 21.)

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

Poring through some of 700 pieces of research at Skywalker Ranch for the book Blockbusting!

WHEN WRITING BOOKS, authors spend months or even years pulling together backstory. Novelists must know the ins and outs of their characters, and their characters’ lives, loves and tendencies, before committing the first sentence to paper (or screen). Non-fiction authors must track down all available background information on their human subjects or central topics in order to present their material. In both cases, extensive research precedes any writing. It’s quite normal for an author to pore through hundreds of source materials (books, articles, papers, videos, transcripts, etc.) before writing a manuscript.On top of that, fiction writers invariably pull nuggets of experience or perception from their own lives, and weave them into their characters, plots, or subtext.

The final books that reach bookshelves, online stores, and our admiring eyes compare favorably to icebergs: ten percent of the research and raw material makes it into print. Maybe ten percent of that is character, subject or topical backstory woven into the fabric of the narrative.

As for the other ninety percent? Many writers like to entomb their source and research material into cardboard file boxes or backup drives, never to see the light of day again. As for me? I want to know the backstories, and I want to share them. For instance, in my novel Voice Lessons, I wove nearly a hundred personal anecdotes into the characters, events, lyrics, concerts, plot and subtext – not to mention the prose that took flame from research that included more than two hundred books and articles, two hundred CDs and another hundred DVDs. Will you know which anecdotes are from my life? Not unless you know me, well. Or unless I tell you. Behind each anecdote is another story, the agglomeration of experiences that created it. We could go on forever.

Which is the point: to give readers the experiences that shaped the wonderful experience they just had in reading a book. That’s why fan clubs exist. That’s why we comb through materials in all shapes and forms to find interviews, histories, biographies and reminiscences that add context, shape and perspective to what we just read. When we learn these back or side stories, lights switch on in our heads. Recognition parts our consciousness like Moses finding his groove on the Red Sea. “A-ha!” moments of realization break into smiles across our faces, accompanied by a warm, tingling feeling inside. Suddenly, we know more about what makes the author tick, what prompted him or her to write that passage in that way, or to drop in that particularly amazing detail. We feel good because we know more. Acquired and perceived knowledge always feels good.

51kzcyubVNL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_51S4MUUXEQL._SY346_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_  Two of the best novels I’ve read in recent years – which I happened to read back-to-back in Spring 2013 – were Fobbit, by David Abrams, and Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter. These two men were among four panelists at a Los Angeles Times Festival of Books discussion entitled, “Fiction at a Sideways Glance.” Well, as this piece might indicate, I’m going to be the moth drawn to any writing forum that looks at the craft from a different angle. Both men were engaging and insightful, their shared experiences delighting the capacity crowd. It so happens, too, that Fobbit and Beautiful Ruins are two of the most talked about novels of 2013.

Each book offers a fiesta for backstory seekers: Fobbit draws from a journal Abrams kept while serving as a public affairs specialist in Iraq, thus offering both a comedic (sometimes hilarious) look at the war and a troubling, in-the-trenches perspective we saw or read about nightly during Vietnam – the tragedy and heartache that happens before medals are pinned on our great servicemen and women – but which was expunged from our awareness by the 21st century Pentagon. Dark comedy? Fobbit is one of the best. You won’t think the same about the war in Iraq, or war itself, after reading it. (We will have the pleasure of hearing from Abrams later this month in a Word Journeys Blog interview).

Beautiful Ruins is an exquisite story of a romantic spark between two people that stretches across fifty years of life, in all its ups and downs, set against three backdrops that the author painted with a combination of personal observation, experience and research: the early production Italian set of the epic Cleopatra (or, to be more specific, what went on between Liz and Dick); a tiny hamlet with Italy’s majestic Cinqueterre coast; and the playground of golden dreams and brass-knuckle realities known as Hollywood.

I am a glutton for good stories, and all great books are loaded with creation points that spider outward as far as you can follow. They are all truly silken threads.

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

Snowmelt descending down the South Fork of the Yuba River

BACK TO THE BACKROADS. The roads listed earlier anchor the overall backstory of Backroad Melodies. Many of the poems were written about or on them. Since I’ve opened a can of worms, and encouraged everyone to either seek out or share the stories behind the stories, here are a few from this collection:

• “A Day on the Rake”:  I took a day of silence during a long meditation retreat in Northern California (on MacNab Cypress Road), grabbed a rake, and spent an entire day working on a mile of paths that wound between hundreds of plant species and statues of deities representing all the world’s major religions. Truly energizing.

• “Birthing a New Day”: An experience from the inception of my relationship with Martha, at the base of Mount Palomar, in her backyard on Ushla Way, twenty miles from the nearest town. Years later, I can gladly report that very day feels like this poem.

• “Fossil Light”: Standing outside on a crystal clear midnight in February, temperature three degrees above zero, viewing the stars through the prism of their original conception. What we see twinkling today is the way they existed before modern civilization, before humanity … even before dinosaurs. Fossil light.

• “The Way Stones Tell Stories”: Sitting in the San Luis Rey riverbed during dry season, holding a stone, admiring its age and stoic presence. Every sentient being has its storytelling style; our job is to know how to listen, and what to listen for.

• “Morning Prayer”: Driving through Capitol Reef in Eastern Utah just as dawn erupted on the cliffs, canyons, domes and bridges of this monocline, known to geologists as the Waterpocket Fold. I feel Native American spirit and energy most profoundly in the Four Corners region … as on this morning.

• “Ghost Riding”: This could be subtitled, “the songs of trees on back roads.” When wires, lights and busy minds aren’t present, wind feels and sounds like ghosts while whispering through trees.

• “Tea Time”: Over a three-year period, I had the profound pleasure of walking next door occasionally and drinking tea with my friend and favorite poet, Gary Snyder. Few people are more conversant on so many different topics.

• “Four Pool Quartet”: On a hot, late September day in the Sierra Nevada foothills, one of my students asked if we could hold an outdoor class. You don’t have to ask me that question twice. We loaded up cars, and I took them to an out-of-the-way spot on the Yuba River, reachable only by driving a road you don’t want to think about in icy or snowy weather, then hiking down a trail steep enough to tax a bighorn sheep. We sat on giant flatrock, deposited when the Sierra Nevada range was formed five million years ago, and wrote and swam for two hours. (“Did you know this snow-fed, rock-strewn river has five or six different currents,” I told them, “only three of which you see above the surface?”) This poem was one of my two contributions for the day, written behind a back road, while sitting in a river pool.

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Catching Up … Conferences, Poetry, Kayaking & Kerouac’s Spontaneous Prose

While clearing off a busy desk … Am starting to prepare my presentations for the Southern California Writers scwcConference, which will bring editors, agents, publishers and authors together Feb. 15-18 at the Crowne Plaza Hanalei in San Diego. This is one of my favorite writer’s conferences, full of very current writing, promotion and marketing tips. Not to mention the read & critiques, where peers and faculty members offer up constructive feedback to help work get published.

• • •

Had a moment this week that made me take pause — and remind myself to keep in touch with people I’ve befriended and deeply respect. About 10 years ago, I attended a New Year’s Eve party in Twin Falls, Idaho like no other. The party was hosted by revered Idaho poet Bill Studebaker, whose poems of passion and place are known worldwide. His “On The Bank of Love Creek” is one of the finest love poems I’ve ever read.

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

Poet, kayaker & lover of life, Bill Studebaker

During the festive night, Bill played Gene Autry recordings from 1915, showed us photos of he and his son kayaking in glacial melt in Greenland (imagine if you roll the kayak!) and engaged in a midnight Amazon blow dart fight across a crowded room with his friend, archaeologist Jim Woods. (Fortunately, the blow darts were not tipped with poison!) Finally, he tried to talk me into kayaking with him the next morning, New Year’s Day, on the icy Snake River in Twin Falls — right beneath where Evel Knievel made his failed attempt to soar across the canyon on a motorcycle in 1976. “What will the air temperature be?” I asked.

“It’s supposed to get up to five above.”

“Uhhh … no thanks.”

After that bash, Bill and I stayed in touch, exchanged poetry and shared a lot of laughs. His sense of humor knew no bounds. Nor did his sense of adventure with his kayak, or his 30 years of dedication to his writing students. He was an expert kayaker, sometimes careening down 40- and 50-foot waterfalls. As I got going with Voices, my novel that will be out later this year, I decided to memorialize the New Year’s Eve party, and Bill, by re-enacting it with my main characters. (See Chapter 23 when the novel comes out.)

This week, I decided to get in touch with Bill after some years of being out of touch, to let him know that the infamous party, and his graciousness, were coming back through my novel. Also, I wanted to see what new poems he was writing, and share a few of my own. Sadly, I learned he died a few years ago in a kayaking accident on the Salmon River.

Regrets? Right now, I sure have a few.

• • •

Just finished a very enjoyable project: writing an online companion to the Jack Kerouac novel “The Dharma Bums”

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

The original Dharma Bums cover, and Gary Snyder, the inspiration of main character Japhy Ryder, circa 1956

for Barnes & Noble. Those who have known me for awhile know I am an unabashed Kerouac fan. I’m also a huge proponent of the spontaneous prose technique he mastered – right down to effusive 1,200-word sentences in novels like “The Subterraneans.” While I was teaching at Ananda College last year, I even designed a course on Beat writing, starring Kerouac, for my senior creative writing class. With “On The Road” just released as a movie co-starring Kristen Stewart, Kerouac books are once again flying off bookshelves. It’s quite impressive: he wrote these books 55 to 60 years ago.

The Companion piece took on many shapes and forms. It’s far more interesting than the Cliff Notes we used as crutches for countless novels in our school days. The point was to show the contributing factors to “The Dharma Bums”, how it was put together, its philosophy and narrative style, and discuss the central characters.  For me, this last part was particularly enjoyable — and personal. Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, the last surviving person Kerouac used to build his characters in the autobiographical novel, gave me some invaluable assistance. Snyder was the model for Japhy Ryder, the hero of the book. Over the years, as we’ve talked to each other, Gary has shared fond memories of Kerouac, with whom he hung out extensively in 1955-56 – and which is chronicled, though fictionalized in many places, in “The Dharma Bums.”

Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac

So,  for everyone who wants to know Kerouac’s secrets, here are the 30 essentials of spontaneous prose — as presented by Kerouac himself, in a 1953 article entitled “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose”. If you want to write with abandon, or need to break yourself out from writing too conservatively, cut loose with a few of these:

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  2. Submissive to everything, open, listening
  3. Try never to get drunk outside yr own house
  4. Be in love with yr life
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual
  10.  No time for poetry but exactly what is
  11.  Visionary ties shivering in the chest
  12.  In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  13.  Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  14.  Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  15.  Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue
  16.  The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  17.  Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  18.  Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  19.  Accept loss forever
  20.  Believe in the holy contour of life
  21.  Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  22.  Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  23.  Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  24.  No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  25.  Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  26.  Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  27.  In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  28.  Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  29.  You’re a Genius all the time
  30.  Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

 

 

 

 

 

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On Dharma Bums, Eternity, Legacies & Champions: Publishing Highlights of 2012

Happy New Year!

Time to clean off the desk after a busy, eventful 2012…

Headshot- for proposalFirst of all, a big congratulations to my sweetheart, Martha Halda, whose memoir, A Taste of Eternity, is now at book proposal and agent stage.

Martha first thought of writing this book while recovering from a horrendous 1999 car accident in which she was pronounced clinically dead three times — and had a profound Near Death Experience that has defined her physical and spiritual life since.  To give you an idea of how far she has come from that accident? After her family was initially told she would be an invalid for the rest of her life, she went on to complete the 2002 Dublin Marathon, and lives a healthy, robust life today.

Now, she’s written the first three chapters of A Taste of Eternity, and looking forward to a 2013 publish date. Martha has also started a blog, in which she’ll share a few stories from the book and how her daily life continues to be touched by those precious minutes she spent directly in God’s hands.

• • •

Between Christmas and New Year’s, I picked up a very interesting project: to write a Cliff Notes-type “specimen” for Barnes & Noble.  The book in question? One of my all-time favorite novels, The Dharma Bums. Once again, interest in the Beat generation and author Jack Kerouac is flying through the roof, this time because of the December 21 film release of On The Road, Kerouac’s breakthrough novel. When Kristen Stewart is one of the three lead actors (she plays Marylou), the movie figures to draw attention for younger moviegoers. Many will likely turn to the rich soil of Beat literature, which continues to speak to the young, disenfranchised, soul and purpose seekers.

However, The Dharma Bums project excites me for another reason. In the decade since the last time I read the 1958 autobiographical novel about Kerouac’s the dharma bumsawakening to nature and Buddhism, I’ve gotten to know the real-life Japhy Ryder, the novel’s protagonist. With this book, Kerouac turned mountain man-Buddhist-poet-conversationalist extraordinaire Gary Snyder into a cultural hero and the leader of the “rucksack revolution”, a good 15 years before Gary won the Pulitzer Prize for Turtle Island.  What amazes me is how little Kerouac deviated from Gary’s voice and character in what was supposed to be a fictional character. Every time I read Japhy Ryder’s dialogue, I could hear Gary expounding on something or another during the many times we would get together in Northern California. The actions, the convictions, the interests, the profound knowledge and wisdom … all Gary. And to think: he was only 25 when he and Kerouac had the experiences that formed the backbone of The Dharma Bums.

Ever read a novel where you personally know the protagonist? I hadn’t, either. It certainly creates a different experience, one that I hope will add reading insight for the Barnes & Noble customers who pick up this treatment later in 2013.

• • •

photoAlso on the shelves at Barnes & Noble, and newsstands throughout the country, is The Legacy Series Magazine. I was privileged to help conceptualize this magazine, as well as edit it. We began with a tribute to the late Steve Jobs and his enormous legacy to businesses and consumers (besides masterminding Apple products, he facilitated change or the creation of eight industries). Then we talked to some of the most visionary people and leading innovators in technology today, including Dallas Mavericks owner and Shark Tank co-star Mark Cuban, GE Senior VP Beth Comstock, bestselling author Ken Segall, Zinio Executive VP Jeanniey Mullen, Chris Voss of The Chris Voss Show, Ask.com co-founder (and my old high school friend) David Warthen, and iPhone Film Fest winner Craig Perkins.

We also wrote compelling features on the present and future courses of social media, filmmaking, technology, publishing, crowdfunding, music, green technology and cloud computing. All of these pieces brought out what I love most about fine magazine journalism: Great interviews, great insights, explanation of new concepts, and the writers’ distinct abilities to inject their personal experience and the stories of others into the material they were covering. You want to know what’s coming next in these areas? Get the mag.

The Legacy Series Magazine will be featured at MacWorld/iWorld in San Francisco in three weeks. We have a major announcement pending on possible multiple issues, but we will always produce the large annual publication in the fall.

• • •

TCW_r2_ecover-loresI also had the privilege of serving as co-author to Dr. Steve Victorson in The Champion’s Way. Steve and I spent three years gathering materials and writing this book, which revolves entirely around groundbreaking research Steve did in the late 1990s for his doctoral dissertation at Boston University. In that research, he interviewed more than 40 national, world and Olympic ski champions and top performers, and found 11 distinct characteristics in common between champions. These 11 characteristics are not found in any other books on the subject.

We put Steve’s findings to the test with champions in all sports — and they rang true, in every case. Thus, The Champion’s Way’s 200 pages explore the inner and outer qualities of champions, look at nearly 100 repeat winners in 15 different sports, and point out specific ways in which all of us can develop, sharpen and refine our own latent championship qualities. Besides plenty of great sports anecdotes, the lasting value of The Champion’s Way is how the 11 common characteristics can create top performance in our lives, no matter our vocation, sport or interest.

The Champion’s Way is available through bookstores nationwide, and in both print and Kindle form on Amazon.com.

 

 

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A Busy Summer of Writing Arrives

A few writing and book topics on a very hot Summer Solstice:

I love writing in summer. The longer daylight hours, warmer weather, presence of trees and plants everywhere, and completion of a college year seem to conspire to throw this writer’s creativity into high gear.

This summer is especially prodigious. In six weeks, on August 1, Dr. Steve Victorson and I will celebrate the publication of our book, The Champion’s Way. Developed from Steve’s doctoral dissertation at Boston University, The Champion’s Way has been a dream project as a book writer, editor, former sportswriter and coach: a look at the 11 distinctive qualities that champions master over all others. However, we make this discussion engaging, with more than 50 interviews with various Olympic and World Champions, along with dozens of other sports anecdotes. Anyone can become a champion of themselves in life, business, the arts, education or sports. That’s our core message — master the 11 qualities.

We spent more than three years writing and rewriting this book. What is especially endearing is that the book is releasing during the first days of the London Summer Olympics — a perfect companion read to see how these great athletes tick.

The Champion’s Way will be available for pre-order in the next few weeks on Amazon.com. The official website will be up by July 10. Meantime, visit our Facebook page.

• • •

The other book I’ve been writing for years, Voice Lessons, is also finished. Am now conducting the final polishing edit after ten years, three complete rewrites, and a restructuring of the plot after it almost sold to Dutton in 2003. The novel is a father-daughter-daughter relationship piece set against the backdrop of a legendary music group that reunites after many years. The main protagonist, music legend Tom Timoreaux, heads out for a long-awaited reunion tour with his band, The Fever, and hires his daughter, Christine, as a backup vocalist. In the course of the book, she becomes a superstar. I won’t spoil the surprises and emotional content of the book, but I will add that the book also provides a panoramic backdrop of the last century of American music, and how the rock and roll pioneers not only drew from many influences, but lived and breathed music in ways that would be really refreshing to see from more of today’s stars.

The book’s official website – with “backstage” passes, Fever “tour schedules,” lyrics to the 80 original songs I wrote for my characters, and much more to entertain music fans everywhere — will be available for viewing in August, and publication is scheduled for Spring 2013.

• • •

Also releasing in Spring 2013, Backroad Melodies, my fifth collection of poetry and essays. This will be my first released poetry collection since The River-Fed Stone in 2008, and it will feature 50 new poems plus 10 essays — including a multi-paneled tribute to my friend, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder, drawn from our many discussions, good times and readings.

One of my personal favorites from this collection is the essay, “For The Lifelong Love Of Learning,” in which I share my own personal experiences with students and faculty through Education for Life, one of the best and most principled systems ever created to inspire, motivate and inform students on what ultimately matters in their intellectual, emotional, spiritual and physical development.

We’ll keep you posted on Backroad Melodies. Look for preordering and other information by Holiday 2012.

• • •

Not to be outdone, we will begin our new e-book line in Fall 2012 with The Best of The Word Journeys Blog, featuring the most popular and commented-upon pieces from the first 100 postings of this blog. Several of the blogs went viral, owing to the beauty of social media, and several others ended up in unexpected places (such as Christian Science Monitor’s Culture Cafe), with unexpected readers — back stories that I share in the run-ups to the pieces.

• • •

I’m also working on a very special and unique project, The Legacy Series: Innovations and Technology, with my associate, Lisa Maine, and my friends and colleagues at Innovative Properties Worldwide in Denver. This special publication, which will be available over the holidays as a print magazine, e-book, mobile App and iPad publication, focuses on what we need greatly in this country economically: more innovation, vision and complete commitment to the business models revealing themselves for today and tomorrow. We launched this publication as a tribute to the memory and contributions of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. We depart from Jobs’ enormous impact as an inventor, visionary and businessman to look at the seven industries that Apple products either created or infused, as well as developments in a wide variety of areas.

One of my favorite jobs when developing and editing a specialty publication like The Legacy Series is the interviewing process. During this time, I love hearing the visions, ideas and strategies of forward-thinking CEOs, who have one eye on their bottom lines and the other on tomorrow’s marketplace. You’ll hear from plenty of CEOs throughout the publication.

• • •

The end of summer brings with it one of my favorite writing conferences at which to present: The Southern California Writers Conference. This conference has been partially or wholly responsible for more than $3 million in publishing deals for first-time authors. In the past two years, it also has established the reputation as one of the best conference resources for up-to-the-minute developments in the ever-accelerating digital book world, and what it requires of authors. I will be presenting two workshops, with topics to be drawn from: editing your own manuscripts; writing your book’s business plan; repurposing content for print and online use; and/or a creative writing intensive.

The SCWC features top editors, publishers and agents, all of whom are looking for great books and authors. The workshops are first-class, and we have read-and-critique group sessions that are second to none … including the infamous Rogue Read & Critiques, which start at 9 p.m. and end at … well, the record is 6:45 a.m.

Be sure to click onto the SCWC’s website and register now if you plan to attend. It’s well worth every penny.

• • •

Like I said, summer is a great time to breathe deeply, expand the mind into the warm, open air, and see what comes back creatively.  Enjoy your writing and reading … and most of all, the sun and warmth.

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Bill McKibben on Climate Change: Act Locally — And Globally

(This is the second of a two-part blog series on New York Times bestselling author-activist Bill McKibben’s recent visit to Nevada County, CA, sponsored by Ananda College of Living Wisdom and the Yuba Watershed Institute. In Part 2, I discuss McKibben’s suggestions on taking personal action that can slow the continued warming of the planet and its related storms, famines and disasters.)

On Sunday morning, I took an 11-mile Earth Day run down the North San Juan Ridge, the heart of California Gold Rush country and one of the world’s most unique regions. I ran atop serpentine rock that once lay miles beneath an ancient ocean floor, mantle rock from the earth’s deepest crust until it was vaulted above surface. I ran atop a fossil river bed the width of the Mississippi, surrounded by moonscape and Manzanita remnants of the most destructive part of the Gold Rush, hydraulic mining that ripped 500 feet of elevation off the Sierra Nevada foothills. As my run continued toward the Yuba River, I passed from the ponderosa pine forests of the low mountains to the oak and grasslands of the foothills, sighting deer and rabbit, enjoying the chatter of nearby Shady Creek, and reveling in a beautiful, mild sunny day in which Scottish broom, wildflowers and trees burst forth in fullest blossom.

As I clicked off the miles, a few thoughts occurred: What will happen to us, as a people, when it becomes too warm, polluted and dangerous to enjoy these Earth Day runs — or any outdoor activities? Why do we know less about our nearby natural surroundings than any generation in the history of mankind? How can we take the global steps to slow climate change when we won’t try to live without making a Sasquatch-sized carbon footprint?

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Bill McKibben (right) with Gary Snyder, who influenced much of his work for the environment and world.

When Bill McKibben came to Nevada City April 17 to discuss his latest New York Times bestseller, Eaarth, and the increasingly dire climate change conditions in which we find ourselves, he took dead aim on these and other questions. In fact, for all the anecdotes and scientific evidence he laid down —rising sea levels, acidifying oceans, increasingly destructive and frequent storms, diminishing ice caps, growing carbon dioxide levels, falling grain supplies and ever-multiplying harmful insect populations, etc. — McKibben’s greatest message came from the solutions he discussed, and how we tackle our future environment on this earth: globally. 

I will break down a few key solutions McKibben discussed in his 60-minute talks at Ananda College and Miner’s Foundry, where the sell-out audience included California Gov. Jerry Brown, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gary Snyder and a 95-year-old Freedom Rider from the Civil Rights era.

• Acting Locally – and Globally: The first step is to reduce our personal carbon footprint and embrace more sustainable living. This includes such actions as buying produce from farmer’s markets rather than stores (where produce travels an average of 1,000 miles beforehand), growing our own food, doing business locally, using solar power and learning to repair our machines. It means getting to know our neighbors again, and relying less on cities. “My absolute favorite statistic is that last year, for the first time in 150 years, the USDA reported that the number of farms increased in America over the previous year,” McKibben said.

It also means acting globally. How do we do that in the ominous face of the mega-billion dollar fossil fuel industry, which is doing everything it takes to leech the last drop of oil from the earth and the last dollar from our pockets? How do we make substantive change when our government protects and subsidizes those fossil fuel interests, even though 70 percent of Americans are opposed to it (whatever happened to we, the people)?

“We’re trying to take away the subsidies these fossil fuel companies get from the government,” McKibben says. “Because of our government, taxpayers are paying these guys to continue destroying our environment.”

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Bill McKibben (far left), California Gov. Jerry Brown (right) and Gary Snyder (far right), among the crowd before McKibben's talk in Nevada City.

• 350.org and the Internet: One way to act globally is to embrace movements like 350.org. This is McKibben’s action group and website, started by he and seven students from Middlebury College in Vermont. It is a great way for each of us to act globally — starting now. On May 5, 350.org will hold a worldwide “connect-the-dots” day, focusing on climate change issues in every conceivable locality. Since 350.org has active branches in “every country but North Korea,” according to McKibben, you and I can get involved, connect with others, and spread the news worldwide. 350.org has served as the centerpoint for what CNN called the largest political demonstration in history, and been the major force in stopping the Keystone Pipeline. It goes to what McKibben feels is a major tool for halting climate change and global warming — communicating on the Internet.

• Stepping Out and Being Active: A Sunday School teacher, McKibben is a faith-centered man whose calmness in the face of this global maelstrom is remarkable. And inspiring. He sees interfaith groups of all denominations, regardless of their religious differences, arriving at ways to live that realistically acknowledge the changes in the Earth. To wit, he talked about the time that a Jordanian group made a human “3”, a Palestinian group made a “5”, and an Israeli group made a “0” on different banks of the Red Sea. They put their very deep divisions aside to recognize the one thing they have in common — living on a planet in distress.

That’s not all. One of McKibben’s most poignant comments came to the students of Ananda College, which is a campus-community practicing sustainable living in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The appeal to stay on campus and live self-sufficiently and sustainably is very strong, but, as McKibben said, “You can do that, but the climate change problems will still come to you. You need to get out and participate in the larger solution.”

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Bill McKibben, delivering the troubling news about climate change — and offering hard solutions.

• Food Sources: One of the more galling pieces of legislation was quietly passed last year by the U.S. Senate, making it a crime for you and I to produce and distribute food in all of the healthy ways that our grandparents would have called daily life. The purpose: to squelch the organic food industry in favor of agribusiness and genetically modified foods, all subsidized, for “the public safety.” Already, some raw milk dairies, bee farms and small organic farms in Northern California, and in other locations, have been shut down.

What?

Underneath this, it’s easy to see the sinister writing on the wall: The trucking and rail industries earn billions from transporting agribusiness crops from one end of the country to the other. Pharmaceutical and medical interests thrive on your short- and long-term unhealthiness — and mine. Every gallon of raw milk is a gallon a subsidized agribusiness dairy didn’t produce. Every piece of organic fruit is something for which Monsanto or Ortho did not provide seed, herbicide or insecticide — cutting into their profits. All of which does not make the director of the FDA, a former Monsanto executive, very happy.

When you hear McKibben address the issue, you can see the anger in his eyes. “I find it amazing that the Senate passed this so-called ‘food safety’ bill, and they are enforcing this law in the name of public safety, when, in the last 50 years, the chemical companies and powers that be have made the food supply into something that has turned us into fairly unhealthy people. They have not given a damn about our safety, and all of a sudden, they pass a bill that says you can’t grow and sell organic vegetables or sell your neighbor a gallon of raw milk?”

Now for the good news: Of all the government intrusions into our healthy choices, McKibben feels this might be the most solvable. “This is a very winnable situation,” he said. “Anyone who cares about eating healthy food needs to fight. Every farmer should have the right to sell produce or raw milk from his farm gate.”

The actions to take? Exactly what will make us healthier and reduce the carbon output into the atmosphere: Plant gardens. Share and swap food with neighbors. Grow organically. Buy from local farmers’ markets or locally grown produce. Use organic seeds.

There is much more to this ever-evolving situation. The bottom line with climate change and our forthcoming challenge, according to McKibben: it’s time to take another look at ethics as basic as the Bible in which they’re written — being stewards of the Earth, and loving our neighbors. “The Gospel injunction, ‘Love one’s neighbors,’ is very important to me,” he says. “It’s not what we’re doing now, which is drowning, starving and sickening our neighbors.”

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Bill McKibben’s Eaarth Message: It’s Time To Act

(This is the first of a two-part series on New York Times bestselling author-activist Bill McKibben’s visit April 17 to Nevada County, CA and to Ananda College, where I teach. In Part 1, we look at McKibben’s message to spread the disturbing news that global warming is not only accelerating — but that its terrifying offspring, wholesale climate change, has been born.)

I was an environmental activist in the 1980s and early 1990s. I marched, fought for forest preservation from Reagan-era logging of redwoods and Douglas firs, participated in clean ocean campaigns, quit eating meat for environmental and health reasons, wrote many articles, and absorbed the vital works of Gary Snyder, Wendell Berry, Edward Abbey, Terry Tempest Williams and others. I also performed public relations work for EarthSave, the group founded by Baskin-Robbins ice cream heir John Robbins to confront the unhealthy, dangerous way food is mass produced — particularly in the meat and poultry industries. Want to know why Wendy’s, McDonald’s and others stopped cutting down Amazon rainforests to graze their hamburger cows? Or why free range meat, raw milk, organic produce and farmers’ markets – the ways of every generation up to those born post-FDR – started to regain a foothold in this country? Thank EarthSave, in part. We made a difference.

During this time, in 1989, a young East Coast writer with as much fire in his belly and anger over the nation’s fossil fuel and agribusiness approach as me — far more, as it turned out — wrote the first book on global warming. In The End of Nature, Bill McKibben warned of the consequences if we didn’t take major steps to slow our fossil fuel consumption and reduce our carbon footprint. That book launched McKibben on a lifelong mission with his pen to call attention to the slippery slope on which we were sliding, away from a perfectly balanced atmosphere and environment that has hosted civilization for the past 10,000 years, and toward an abyss we are now seeing through the tremendous storms, droughts and earthquakes of the past few years.

How have we done? Well, let me put it this way: While talking briefly on Tuesday with McKibben, a bestselling author and the world’s foremost environmental journalist, I brought up his latest book, Eaarth. The front half of this book reads like the movie script of The Day After Tomorrow — only it’s all true and scientifically verified. I said to him, “It’s really a shame you had to write Eaarth. I felt like I was reading the worst-case scenario of everything we were warning people against 25 years ago … and they just blew us off.”

Welcome to the way it is. Or, as McKibben says, “The Earth we live on now is not the same planet that has sustained civilization for the past 10,000 years.” On Tuesday night, at a sold-out gathering at Miners Foundry in Nevada City, Calif. that included his host and mentor, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet/essayist Gary Snyder, and California Gov. Jerry Brown, he put it another way while receiving a warm welcoming applause: “It’s a great pleasure to be here. Probably greater for me than it is for you after what I’m going to tell you.”

McKibben was brought to the area by Ananda College and the Yuba Watershed Institute, which co-sponsored the special evening. The main forces, who deserve great credit for organizing McKibben’s visit, are Nischala and Nakula Cryer of Ananda College, and Gary Snyder.

Earlier that day, before students and faculty at forested, bucolic Ananda College, McKibben also had a few things to say. I’m going to spend the rest of this blog sharing a few of his comments and insights, and then devote the next blog to his organization, 350.org, and steps we can take collectively moving forward.

Four things struck me about McKibben: He is a gentle, thoughtful, caring man with a wry sense of humor to go along with one of the most serious messages anyone has ever delivered on this planet. He is extremely dedicated to what he is doing; he has been home very little in the past five years, going from Bangladesh to China, Europe to all pockets of the U.S., to call us into action to save ourselves. He is humble and unpretentious, absent of arrogance. He is a Harvard graduate and Sunday school teacher who lives in a rural Vermont community, not the sort of person the media and a certain political element would associate with “environmentalist.” In fact, if ever there was a man more reluctant to step into the ring and take up the fight …

But fight he is, delivering the most important message in the world, in my opinion: because his message is the present and future of this world. Talk about the ultimate purpose for an award-winning journalist and writer to undertake!

Here is the message, boiled down to five basic premises:

1) Global warming. This is not, as Rick Santorum tells us from the depths of the sand, where his head is buried,  “made up by scientists.” Nor is it just getting underway. It is game on. The planet’s temperature has risen 1 degree, with more increase expected. With each degree of change, the world’s grain harvests reduce by 10%. In a world where the population is now 7 billion and expected to max out at 9 billion mid-century, that’s a scary proposition. In fact, as McKibben notes, the words “global warming” are becoming passé. It’s time to wrap our brains around a new term: “climate change.”

2) Climate change isn’t the clarion call of future doomsayers. We are changing, right now. “It’s happening much faster and much harder than we would have thought,” McKibben explained. “We have 40% less summer ice in the Arctic than we did when most of us were in school, when kids like me saw the Apollo 8 ‘Earthrise’ photo, and the oceans are 30% more acidic. Just in the last two years, we had extreme floods in Pakistan, where 20 million lost their homes, the tornado outbreaks in the Midwest and South that killed hundreds, and the drought in Texas, which killed half a billion trees. Plus, in my home area, Hurricane Irene dumped more rainfall in one day than any other day in the 250 years we’ve been keeping weather records in Vermont — and broke the all-time record not by a millimeter, but by 25 or 30 percent.

“This is the exact thing climatologists said would happen if the earth warmed up — and now it’s warmed up by 1 degree because of human consumption.”

Apocalyptic fires. Droughts that kill 500 million trees. Diseases like mosquito-borne dengue fever that kill thousands. Pine bark beetle infestations that wipe out tens of millions of trees in the Rockies. Floods that put 20% of entire countries underwater and break 250-year-old records. Earthquakes growing bigger and meaner (In early April, one year after the cataclysmic earthquake in Northern Japan, there were two 8-point quakes in Indonesia and a 7-point quake in Mexico — on the same day). Tornadoes not forming in isolated cells, but by the hundreds. Rain measured not in inches per season or month, but by the hour. Fifteen thousand high temperature records broken in U.S. cities and towns in March – as part of the warmest global winter in history.

Welcome to our new climate. And the really scary part? “It is very important to remember that this is just the beginning of climate change,” McKibben said.

3) When the carbon dioxide concentration in the global atmosphere reaches 350 parts per million, according to the world’s top climatologist, NASA’s Jim Hanson, we will permanently alter the atmosphere that created the life forms and civilizations into which we were born. Guess what? Will is now: the current concentration is 393 ppm, and rising two ppm per year. “We’ve taken hundreds of millions of years of biology buried under the earth — plankton, plant life, dinosaurs — and spewed it into the atmosphere, most especially in the past few decades,” McKibben said. “That’s what’s causing the problem. It’s effects show in a matter of days as extreme weather events, but also over a little bit slower pace, such as the steady rise of sea levels.”

The 350 number is what McKibben and seven Middlebury (VT) College students took in 2008 as the name for their organization to call attention to global climate change and act on it: 350.org. Citizens of every country except North Korea actively participate; in fact, in 2009, they led a total of 5,100 demonstrations in 181 countries, what CNN later described as greatest single political action ever taken in the planet’s history. Much more on this vital work in the next blog.

4) Hydrology. This is the scientific study of how water moves through the atmosphere. The math is simple: the warmer the air, the more water evaporates and populates the atmosphere. After seven days, it has to come down — and it’s coming down, hard. “We’ve loaded the dice for droughts and floods, and we’re seeing both in epic proportion,” McKibben said.

5) It’s Time to Act. If we don’t act on a global as well as individual and community level, bad will become catastrophic. It already is, in many countries. Deniability is not an option; the science is irrefutable. As McKibben puts it, “Some of our greatest support comes from third-world countries and places like Pakistan. They get it. They’ve been swept out of their homes.”

In every sinister story — and unfortunately, we’re all participants in this sinister story right now, entitled “Survivability and Sustainability” — there is a culprit or an antagonist. McKibben minces no words in identifying that antagonist, the one industry that has single-handedly altered the course of the planet — the fossil fuel industry. “While scientists have been warning politicians in one ear, the fossil fuel industry has been bellowing in the other. Their 20-year effort to make sure absolutely nothing changes has been very successful. It’s hard to go up against them; last year, Exxon made the largest profit in the history of money.”

In this part of the discussion, he brought out some good news — temporary though it may prove to be. McKibben and 350.org undertook massive action to stop the entire Keystone Pipeline from being built. They won their fight by two Senate votes last November — but only after enormous activism and education, a few nights in jail for civil disobedience, and forming a five-deep human ring around the mile-long perimeter of the White House — with people carrying signs that contained President Obama’s own words from the 2008 campaign, a reminder of what he said he would do to protect the environment and fight climate change.

At issue? The oil beneath the tar sands of Northern Alberta, Canada. When McKibben discusses it, a horizon of realization opens up that you won’t find in any of the countless TV commercials Exxon, BP and the others are airing. “The tar sands hold the second largest pool of carbon on earth. Only Saudi Arabia’s oil fields are bigger. If you take the damage the gold rush people did to the mountains in the Sierra Nevada foothills (in the late 19th century), and multiply it by maybe a billion, you will see the incredible amount of earth they’ve moved to get to maybe 3% of Alberta’s available oil. The amount of earth moved is more than the combination of what it took to build the Great Wall of China, the Suez Canal and the 10 largest dam projects on earth. If you don’t believe me, go to Google Maps. It looks like a giant scar on the face of the planet — and it costs more in orders of magnitude than the oil is worth.”

That led to one of McKibben’s most provocative comments — one that rolls right into my long-held disdain for this country’s ridiculous “liberal” vs. “conservative” labeling of divisive dialogue. If only people would look at the etymological roots of these words, see what they really mean, and examine their lives … well, that’s another subject. Which is why I loved the way McKibben used words like “extremist” and “radical,” a way that might surprise you:

“If you really think about it, the true radicals are those who work at oil companies and make the decisions to keep drilling and drilling some more. If you’re willing — and eager — to get up every day and change the chemical composition of the environment in a way that is extremely harmful to your fellow human beings, that’s never been done to a civilization, then you’re a radical.”

As for where I stand? This blog is my first action in awhile outside my own lifestyle, community interests, and poems and essays. I’m back in the ring. This planet and its people are far too important to waste — and that’s what is happening. Thank you, Bill McKibben, for reigniting the fire.

(NEXT: More from Bill McKibben’s talks, a closer look at 350.org and future community building, and what you and I can do, right now, to help slow down climate change).

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10 Random Thoughts About Writing

While watching snow fall the other day in mid-April in the Sierra Nevada foothills — what some would call a highly unusual occurrence, what I would call part-and-parcel of the new climate in which we live —  a few random thoughts about writing, writers and our love of putting feelings, thoughts and observations to words:

1)   With the Boston Marathon’s latest running Monday (an event I’m proud to say I have raced three times), I always think of the similarities between running a marathon and writing a book. Both are long processes that we start with tremendous expectation and energy – sometimes, too much energy. How many potentially good books have fizzled out because we put everything we had into them in the beginning, only to burn out? Runners who started their marathons too fast can answer that question. How do runners deal with those middle miles, the 10- through 20-mile marks, after their initial adrenalin wears off and they need to push forward and conserve energy at the same time? Writers can let them know; it’s called the middle chapters.

And finally, how do you tie up the loose ends and conflicts in your narrative, and bring the book to its conclusion? Ask any marathoner who has successfully covered the final 10K of the 26.2-mile race; some even say “the race begins at 20 miles.” I agree: for running and for books. No matter how tired we are, how sick we are of the material, we have to summon our deepest reserves of creativity and energy, focus even more intently, and write or run to that finish line — well.

2)   In 1987, when Guns N’ Roses burst onto the national scene as the best American rock band since Aerosmith (and, some would say, better), who would’ve thought that their tall, rangy, rowdy bass player would evolve into a fine, evocative writer? Yep, you’re right: I didn’t raise my hand, either. But sure enough, as G&R takes its long-deserved place in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, bass player and ESPN.com columnist Duff McKagan releases his memoir, It’s So Easy … and other lies. If you want to read a hard-hitting memoir about the rock music world and its excesses, actually written by the musician (and written well), grab this book. You will be delightfully surprised. Duff is one of the true success stories in rock music – as in, he successfully navigated some perilous waters to enjoy the life he now experiences with his wife and two daughters. The opening chapter alone is priceless — setting up his daughter’s 13th birthday party — and finding out he’s gone from rock star to “I want you to remain invisible from my friends.”

3)   There’s another Imagebook we need to read, not only because of its fine, incisive journalistic reporting with a crafty narrative non-fiction writer’s voice, but because of its pressing subject matter: Eaarth, by Bill McKibben. I’ve been reading articles and occasional books by McKibben since he wrote End of Nature in 1989, when I was doing some environment and food-based work for Earth Save. Eaarth is something quite different; it speaks of what has already happened to the planet from global warming and our addiction to fossil fuels, and what is coming. What struck me, through the tremendous writing and journalism, was not that McKibben was sounding the same warning call we’ve heard for years from others — but that the time is at hand. All you have to look at is the month of March: 15,000 high temperature records were set in the U.S. alone. Gas is $4 per gallon. What polar ice caps? I can’t wait to see him at Ananda College, where I teach, on Tuesday morning, and at his appearance with poet Gary Snyder Tuesday night in nearby Nevada City. As writers, we have the power to help create a more sustainable future with our hands, in more ways than one. This is a great and necessary read.

4)   The other day, I was talking to my advanced writing class about what really matters in education and in teaching the subject of writing. With so many great books on writing readily available at Whispernet speeds, it’s silly to constantly try to reinvent the wheel of material — though I can give it shot through two writing books of my own and 35 years of in-the-trenches journalistic, writing and editing experience. We hit upon two of my most near-and-dear perspectives on the teaching of writing, and of education at large:

a) The greatest task – and accomplishment – of all teachers is to instill a lifelong love of learning in their students, reinforced and expanded daily; and

b) Any good writing teacher meets the student at their present stage, takes them by the hand, and expands their horizon and possibility — and shows them how to continually take chances that tap the treasure of the truly insightful, innovative and meaningful. However we do it, that is our goal. Nothing less.

5)   I’m now wrapping up the novel that’s taken me forever to finish, Voice Lessons, about a rock music legend/legacy from the late 1960s whose reformed band becomes huge once again, in large part because of the protagonist’s daughter, a great young singer. In the midst, his other daughter, a love child lost to him in the early ‘70s, reappears in his life. This has been an incredible experience, as I wove through my characters through two quite separate but equally rich experiences — a fifty-year swath of American music and its deep-seated place in our culture; and what happens when relationships break … and then mend many years later. Will be shipping it off in a few weeks … look for it in 2013.

6)   Am getting ready to write a narrative nonfiction piece on the place where I teach college — the heart of California’s Gold Rush Country. What has struck me is that, from where I sit, there are four types of gold in these thar Sierra Nevada foothills: a) the gold that ignited the fever that changed this place, and America, forever (and there’s still plenty in the rivers and quartz veins); b) the inner gold, with some deep spiritual practices informing many residents and communities here; c) the intellectual gold, in this area where many scientists, educators and thinkers live simple, land-based lives; d) the literary gold, brought forth by numerous authors. Really going to have fun with this one.

7)   We’re having one of my favorite activities here at the college on May 8: our second literary night. If every elementary, middle and high school would have one or two of these nights per year, in which students read their writing to a receptive audience, then I feel more kids would get into writing. The written word comes alive when you put voice, emotion and presence to it, and nothing does that more than live readings. Four of my students will be using literary night for their oral final; that’s how important I feel it is. We’ll also have other readers from the student body and faculty. More than anything, we’ll celebrate our stories, poems and the beauty of writing itself.

8)   A fantastic writing book to pick up, if you want to work on diving deeper into the essence of your stories, characters, subjects and yourself: Ensouling Language, by Stephen Harrod Buhner. What a gem.

9)    If you haven’t already joined, welcome yourself into our Word Journeys — Resources for Writers group on Facebook. This is a great group: more than 400 authors, editors, publishers, publicists, agents and educators sharing their love of writing, along with a diverse array of traditional and digital publishing tips. Best part of this group? Since I know just how tough it is to market books, you can post your new releases in the group and give us links to them – as long as you don’t go advertising billboard on us! We’d love to see you there.

10) Finally, a challenge to all of you to literally write the spring: Write about green subjects, growth, expansion, spirit, community, friendship, love … all the subjects that cause mind and heart alike to expand in both depth and perspective. See if you can tap into the energy of the spring and write pieces that resonate with growth, promise and bounty. 

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