Tuesday, May 13, 2008

From the Basement to Coney Island

My basement needs work! I want to be able to make full use of it by next winter, so space by space, I am attempting to organize. This is the "office" where I spent many hours locked away writing draft after draft of my Master thesis with the scintillating title "A Descriptive Study of Students' Attitudes Toward Authentic Assessment Verses Traditional Testing." A bound copy of that classic rests on one these shelves, although I was expected to donate it to the library of the institution that granted me the degree.
The 170 + pages, filled with charts, graphs, and educational jargon is snuggled between a galley copy of Harry Potter and The Sorcerers's Stone, and a beat up edition of Viola Spolin's Improvisation for the Theatre. The HP galley has a nice, high price tag in the collector world. I picked it up at a trade show about a year before the official release. Actually, the Scholastic rep had to lure me into her booth with chocolates in order for me to consider adding yet another book to the load I was already carrying as I pathetically limped through the exhibition hall. She said it was destined to be a big seller. "Ya, sure," I mumbled and added it the stack. I decided to kid test that galley by giving it to a friend's son. This family respects books, so I was surprised when the galley was returned in a mangled heap. It seems the boy enjoyed it so much, he fell asleep with it...and he obviously had a restless night. Consequently, my galley, that could have propelled me into a comfortable retirement isn't worth a cent!


Speaking of tattered old books, while I was weeding the basement bookshelves, I ran across my ratty old Jack Kerouac and Larry Ferlinghetti books. I flipped though A Coney Island of the Mind, then moved on to another collection. I got stuck on Ferlinghetti's Underwear. He really was my favorite among the beat writers, and this poem moved from tongue- in- cheek humor, to the state of politics, to the universal condition of man. Thinking on that whole movement, I was again struck by the miracle of so many like minds concentrated in close proximity. That treasury of writers and thinkers laid the foundation for, and can be directly connected to so many important cultural, philosophic, and political movements. They evolved from beats into hippies into yippies. They influenced Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Buffy St. Marie, surrealist painters, and the Chicago Seven. They wrote and sang about injustice, war, materialism, idealism, community, and the dignity and necessity of the search for self.
So, it seems we have returned, in part, to a time of poetry slams and urban prophets. Some will be forgotten no doubt, but I wonder what magnetism there is yet to be discovered. Will a perfect storm develop drawing elements together that will stir a kindred revolution powered by America's new artists? Artists are the spokespersons of a generation; they preserve a culture in a way that history books cannot. I try to stay open to fresh, experimental offerings. Jack Kerouac created a "Do" list of techniques for writing prose. This simple suggestion covers much more than writing, "Submission to everything, open, listening". Shh.
I have some awesome sales reps. When Harry Potter 6 came out, Vicki, my Scholastice rep, sent me a delux copy, autographed!
Today, I received another surprise from a different rep...an autographed copy of Barbara Walter's autobiography Audition. Life is good!