Mar
31

Carl Hiaasen: The Funny Man Crusader

by Christine

Hello one and all. I have returned to New York to finish up this round of writers and schedule my calendar with the next group. As I was contemplating what to say about Carl Hiaasen I was struck by the notion that each writer in this series has his or her compelling differentia. Michael Chabon is a world builder, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is an anthropologist, Padgett Powell is a risk taker and Carl Hiassen is a crusader. Carl Hiassen's crusade has been fought on the pages of the Miami Herald and in his book of fiction for adults and young people. He also hosted along with Dave Barry a very funny video on the 2016 primary season and other humorous observations about life in America. If you have a moment and are in need of a laugh, I would encourage you to check to it. 

Carl Hiassen is a Florida boy who grew up during the time his hometown Plantation and South Florida were evolving from a southern economic hub to the "Capitol of the Caribbean". During my years as an undergraduate at Florida International University, we spent hours in the Political Science Department discussing and analyzing the challenges of the region as it managed growth, crime and a fractious Latin community. Hiaasen through his work - first as a general assignment reporter and then as an investigative reporter - learned of the deleterious and noxious side of politics and human nature. This is the material that makes up his genre of Florida crime fiction. An additional concern for him is the environment. His entire life has been spent in an area that has welcomed the onslaught of urbanization with little or no thought given to what that urbanization was doing to the area. Hiaasen's young adult fiction is his platform to entertain young people while highlighting the environmental issues facing Florida. 

During some lazy July or August, I may pick-up Bad Monkey or Tourist Season to read while sitting by the Lake but for this blog entry I choose to read his young adult book, Hoot.  The hero of Hoot is twelve-year-old Roy Eberhardt who fights off the angry bully at his new school, makes friends with an eclectic group of kids and learns how to fight corruption at the local fast food outlet. The story is appealing and I cared about the characters. The telling of this story is NOT pedantic or schoolteachery -I made that word up just now -as it shows how indifferent or corrupt people can destroy the environment. 

Hiaasen also has a love of the Florida terrain and landscape. He writes to help the reader see the beauty of Florida's natural world. In Hoot he writes: First he spotted the T-shaped shadow of the osprey crossing the pale green water beneath him. Later came the white heron, gliding low in futile search of a shallow edge to wade. Eventually the bird lighted halfway up a black mangrove, squawking irritably about the high tides.

The elegant company was welcome, but Roy kept his eyes fastened on the creek. The splash of a feeding tarpon upstream put him on alert, and sure enough, the surface of the water began to shake and boil. Within moments a school of mullet erupted, sleek bards of silver shooting airborne again and again.  You can see and hear the beauty of the momentHiaasen wants his readers to understand that the Florida Everglades and swamps are as important to us as a people as is the Redwood forests out west. 

I am a big fan of young adult literature and believe some of the best storytelling on the market today is aimed at that group. I encourage you to read Hoot but if young adult literature is not your "thing" then pick-up a copy for your the kids in your life. I am not the only one who feels this way about this book. Hoot earned the 2003 Newberry Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children and was on the New York Times Bestseller's List. Give him a chance; he might become your new favorite author. 

I am home watching the crocus push the soil aside as it races the daffodils and tulips in announcing the coming of spring. The narcissus were lulled into blooming early because of unseasonably warm temperatures only to be caught off guard as an arctic wind blew in and made the world an inhospitable place once again. Relying on the lessons of last year, I am plotting out for my garden that will include cherry trees and potatoes. I plan to continue the Pride of Place series but I will be researching author's closer to home. Stick around and we will welcome spring together. 

Hugs,
C

 

Mar
25

Plantation, Florida

by Christine

Writer Carl Hiaasen and Plantation, Florida are the next subjects on my Pride Of Place Tour. I drove from Cross Creek to Plantation in only a matter of hours but the distance between the two places was not limited to only the number of miles. If Cross Creek is a glimpse of Florida's southern past, then Plantation, Florida is the quintessential representation of Florida today. Plantation is one of 31 municipalities in Broward County. In less than a hundred years, Broward County has gone from being a major agricultural producer to an urban center with 1.839 million people.

Carl Hiaasen was born in Plantation, Florida on March 12, 2953 and Plantation was in incorporate on April 30, 1953. Hiaasen development as a writer and human being coincided with the "Out of the Wilderness, This City" (Plantation) as it grew to be a modern community in what Forbes reported to be one of the most corrupt states in Union. (Though candidly, if you research that statement further, you will find tons of statistics and opinions on how to measure corruption and as criteria changes so do the states on the list.)  I mention this fact because Carl Hiaasen worked for many years as an Investigative Reporter for the Miami Herald before he started writing opinion pieces for the Herald. I will bring all this together when I write about Hiaasen and how place shaped his writing. 

I spent a couple of days in Plantation enjoying local restaurants, taking morning walks, visiting the local library and chatting with the residents. I learned during my stay that Plantation is the perfect place for...CARS. Homes, commercial space and public spaces are well manicured and built around driving and parking ones car. Plantation has an abundance of sidewalks so each morning I headed out for my daily march. On the second morning, midway through my walk, I was in the middle of the intersection at the entrance to an office park when a young woman came hurtling towards the entranceway in her white SUV. She was attempting to take the right hand turn at 35 miles an hour and I was in her way. I kid you not; she released the steering wheel and threw both her hands in the air as she rolled her eyes at me in disgust and horror. This was an individual who was not accustomed to sharing the road with pedestrians. Involuntarily I started to laugh as one does when one comes upon a toddler on the floor in the grocery store in the middle of a temper tantrum. I thought better of my actions later as I learned that Florida is the #1 state in concealed weapons permits

About four years ago I participated in a writer's retreat in Montana. I met a man whose first words to me after finding out I lived in New York was "I hate New York". I was stunned at his bad manners and immediately felt pity for him because it was obvious the woman who raised him was a very poor mother. I couldn't even respond over my internal mantra, you poor, poor man. Unlike this man, I know very well that ones home is a special place for the person living there and I would never want to insult a place or its inhabitants so I will just say Plantation, Florida is not for me. 

As I age I want to walk more and drive less and Plantation is designed to do exactly the opposite. In all fairness others disagree with me about the livability of the place. In 2010 America's Promise Alliance once again named Plantation part of "100 Best Communities for Young People". And I loved the local branch of the Broward County Library in Plantation though I did have to go to the main library in Fort Lauderdale to get information on the beginnings of Plantation, Florida. It appears the history of Broward County and Plantation, Florida is not high on the list of the local library. Joseph Gremillion, a very thoughtful and kind librarian from the main library in Fort Lauderdale, did help me find material from the twenties and thirties on Broward County and I found that information hugely interesting. To think of South Florida as one big farm speaks to the farmer in me and it caused me to I wonder how Florida and the rest of the country will change over the next 90 years.

Thursday I will share with you the work of Carl Hiaasen and how I believe Plantation, Florida and South Florida influenced his writing. 

Until then...
C

 

Mar
22

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Oranges, Snakes & Hammocks

by Christine

The thesis is simple, place crafts and molds the individual generally and writers and artist specifically. Of all the writers I've studied to date, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is the one most influenced by a place. Cross Creek, Florida touched her soul and out of her love affair with the place and its people she composed a Pulitzer Prizing winning novel. The Yearling was required reading when I was in school and even today is considered a classic.

Rawlings wrote prodigiously about her years in Florida and her fifth book Cross Creek is a memior of her experiences while living in the Florida outpost. Rawlings made Cross Creek her home for thirteen years while she worked her orange groves, hunted indigenous game and developed friendships with cautious locals. I loved the book as it renewed and revived old memories of my youth. She wrote eloquently and expressively of working with a hired team to save her Valencia oranges from the freezing cold winter nights. Her description of her struggle to save her oranges brought back my memories of watching a somber news reporters standing in an orange grove with local Florida growers discussing the forecast of freezing temperatures and how they would warm the grove if the temperature continued to fall. In Ms. Rawlings books she shared her concern that the loss of her oranges might ruin her but during my childhood the news reporter warned the viewer that if the orange crop were destroyed then the entire state's economy would be ruined.

Rawlings was up for a challenge whether bear hunting or snake wrangling. Her description of living in peace with the many varieties of snakes in Florida could cause a shiver to go up the back of the bravest. She wrote of the first time she came across a coral snake. "The yard was desperate for flowers and greenery and I began separating the bulbs to set out for spring blooming. I dug with my fingers under the pile and brought out in my hand not a snake, surely, but a ten-inch long piece of Chinese lacquer. The slim inert reptile was an exquisite series of shining bands of yellow and black and vermilion, with a tiny black nose. I thought, 'Here is a snake, in my hands, and it is as beautiful as a necklace. This is the moment to forget all the nonsense' I let it slide back and forth through my fingers."  In this passageRawlings makes holding a deadly snake an enviable moment. 

Descriptions of the land and wildlife are recounted in the language of a poet while life on "The Creek" is chronicled clearly and factually. I hungered to read about the people and hear their voices. Rawlings relayed stories that made life at Cross Creek fascinating and gripping. But I was also uncomfortable with some of her descriptions of the poor and black. Life on the creek was feudal. I took away from Cross Creek a life under a hierarchy based on money and skin color. Rawlings also believed and perpetuated some of the bias of that period and writes openly about her perceptions. At the risk of being accused of justifying her prejudice, her bias truthfully portrayed the time and the place. To do otherwise would be the same as failing to chronicle her participation in hunting wildlife that today is illegal to kill. 

Cross Creek is a beautifully written book about a time and place that is no longer in existence. If you would like to time travel and hear the voices of the people from the past, Cross Creek is a lovely read. I could not find a hard copy but I was able to download it to my Nook for only $2.99. 

As a footnote, after the publication of Cross Creek, a friend who was highlighted in the book sued Rawlings. The "right to privacy" lawsuit took five years to work through the court system and ended up being argued before the Florida Supreme Court. Rawlings lost the suit but the justices signaled their opinion of the issue by fining her just one dollar and court cost. The message was clear the court felt no harm was done to Zelma Cason but ultimately the real damage was to Rawlings as a writer. The fear of being sued inhibited her ability to write until her death in 1953. 

From here I head to Plantation, Florida to learn more about South Florida and Carl Hiaasen.

Until next time...
Hugs,
C

 

 

 

 

Mar
16

Cross Creek: A Trip Back In Time

by Christine

I love Florida. There I said it. And just like a teenage girl defending her bad boy sweetheart to her skeptical parents, I declare to you, you don't know Florida. The Florida of my youth can be found today but one must get off the beaten path and venture beyond Orlando and the coastal cities. Our next author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings moved to Cross Creek, Florida in 1928 well before my family moved to Jacksonville in 1955 but we both found the same Florida. 

As I turned onto this road a sense of peace washed over me as one who was finally home. I remember this Florida. I had begun to wonder if the canopy of oak trees and dappled light that painted the roads of my childhood was a dream. As a girl had my family really driven down such a road on Sunday's after church to buy oranges at the local fruit stands?  Up ahead I could see the remains of a time that was my Florida. The oak trees on the right have been butchered as happens to many an indigenous inhabitant once a conqueror decides to settle new land but traces of the former still remain.

I made my way to Cross Creek from Gainesville to visit the Florida home of Charles and Marjorie Rawlings. Marjorie believed as I do "there is of course an affinity between people and places".  She also wrote in her book Cross Creek "along with our deep knowledge of the earth is a preference of each of us for certain different kinds of it, for the earth is various as we are various". Cross Creek and it rustic charm did not suit Charles so he left signaling the end of the marriage. Marjorie remained behind and flourished as a writer. During her thirteen years in Cross Creek she wrote multiple novels -including her Pulitzer Prizing winning novel The Yearling- short stories and letters. 

The home she lived in is pretty much today as it was when Marjorie lived there. That fact is more due to luck than planning. She willed the home and land to the University of Florida at her death believing that it could be used as a writer's retreat by up and coming young writers. Marjorie's vision was never realized by the students or faculty of the University of Florida and it fell into disrepair. Eventually the State of Florida took over the place as part of its Historic State Parks program. Today you can tour the grounds and take a tour of the home with a knowledgeable docent. 

Donna Wright led our small group of out-of-towners through the house regaling us with stories about Mrs. Rawlings and her life at Cross Creek. Ms. Wright is a petite woman who lives locally and is a Rawlings enthusiast. She and I talked about Mrs. Rawlings' independent streak and our mutual love for Old Florida. I had a thoroughly wonderful time discussing gardening, cooking on a wood burning stove and the joys of indoor plumbing with the other members of the tour. We learned on the tour that Mrs. Rawlings spent much of her first royalties putting a bathroom indoors and celebrated with friends by using the newly installed facility as a bar complete with a congratulatory flower arrangement. At the risk of sounding wistful for a time when less was actually less, indoor plumbing was a cause for a major celebration. 

From there I moved on in search of a copy of Mrs. Rawlings' book Cross Creek and lunch. I was promised both at a restaurant by the name The Yearling. A copy of the book was not to be found but I did get a yummy lunch of fried green tomatoes and collard greens. As I ate I listened to eighty year old Willie Green sing the blues song Going To New York and tell stories about his life. 

Mrs. Rawlings was inspired by and wrote about the events, people and nature that surrounded her while living in Cross Creek. She captured an attitude, a time and a place that no longer exists. When I was in school, I read The Yearling; it was required reading for all Florida students.  Instead of rereading the book for the Pride of Place tour, I read her book, Cross Creek. It is a better choice given Mrs. Rawlings own sentiments about the pride of place. 

Until next time,
Hugs,
C

PS: A personal thank you to Donna Wright and the other volunteers at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park who lovingly give of their time and energy to preserve Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Cross Creek home and Old Florida. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar
14

Padgett Powell: Something Is Always Happening

by Christine

The rhythm that drives Padgett Powell's novel, Edisto, evokes the nonsense syllables of scat singing performed by the greats like Ella Fitzgerald or Mel Tormé. Powell - like Ella or Mel - uses words as an instrument to capture feeling and emotion. If a word is lacking, he makes one up. In Edisto, Simon thinks, "Well, I'm in these ugly mediations when the Doctor gets up and announces we're going to church. We do that about twice a year; once if it rains on Easter. I'm 3 a.m. fugued out anyway, so I sport up and we head out." I love the phase "fugued out". Fugue refers to music or refers to a psychiatric concept surrounding the loss of identity. But the meaning also included interweaving repetitive elements. The words are lyrical and embody the emotion of loss and the feeling of the repetitive elements in life. The cadence of Powell's language builds to the finale as Simon comes to understand that there is more to the world than he understands. 

Never to forget that, dull as things get, old as it is, something is happening, happening all the time, and to watch. That is the admonition of twelve-year-old Simon Everson Manigault as he said goodbye to life in Edisto. Dan Halpern in his New York Times piece, Southern Discomfort, declares Simon a "linguistically precocious 12-year old" but from page one I struggled with the "voice" of our hero. His speech and observations felt like ones of a fifty-year-old man stuck in the body of child, a child who is chained to the floor of Plato's cave and forced to draw conclusions from shadows on the wall. 

The novel is funny and disturbing at the same time. Simon finds himself between a father who is a philanderer and a mother who is an alcoholic. The Progenitor and The Duchess have become "free range parents" as their focus turns to the one-upmanship of separation. Taurus - a name anointed by Simon on his caretaker - is hired to be nanny, bodyguard, mentor and father figure to Simon. Again, more is going on than Simon "sees".  All the characters are likeable including Simon's parents because in Powell's world ones weaknesses are also ones strengths. 

While Powell's themes are universal, I feel his sensibilities are Southern. Feelings run deep under a layer of good manners that keep society in check. His description of life in the south comes from someone who is more than just observant; he is from around there. He could only write this sentence because he knows what an oak tree in South Carolina is "suppose" to look like. "Living in a joint where the oaks are robbed of their moss and amputated of their little limbs..." That sentence takes my breath away; I see those trees in my minds eye and feel the sadness at their denuded and maimed limbs, reaching to the sky without hands. 

In 1986 Powell was the recipient of the Whiting Award and over the last 30 years has written six novels and three story collections. He writes honestly about the South and as he says "I make comments that are risky" in reference to "racial things". Powell relayed that "Saul Bellow pointed out to me once that I'd be in big trouble if anybody ever read me." I guess that is writer's humor because Edisto was excerpted in The New Yorker and nominated for the American Book Award. 

As I wrote last week Powell was born in Gainesville, Florida and as he stated raised in Jacksonville, Florida but he also moved around quite a bit as a young man before settling down once again in Gainesville. I was amused to read a piece in bombmagazine.org where he said, he "had the wit to conceal during the interview" that he was from Gainesville as he was being considered for a job with the University of Florida. His comment made me think of the quote "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown" and apparently that applies to writers too. Powell is now part of the core faculty at the University of Florida in the Poets & Writers program

I recommend Edisto but be forewarned, you will need to sit quietly and pay attention. The book I am most excited to read by Padgett Powell in the coming weeks is The Interrogative Mood. The novel is completely comprised of questions and I look forward to learning how he tells a story by asking questions. I head next to Cross Creek and go back in time to learn about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. 

Until next time...
Hugs,
C

 

Mar
09

Gainesville, FL-Football, Red Brick & Padgett Powell

by Christine

I rolled into Gainesville on one of those days that the Chamber of Commerce highlights when trying to convince new business to set up shop in its town. Glorious weather and spring break coincided making Gainesville the perfect place to spend a couple of days researching writer Padgett Powell and leisurely strolling the grounds of the University of Florida. Folklore has it that the University of Florida and Florida State were built in Gainesville and Tallahassee respectively because land was cheap and educators wanted to keep the young people isolated and focused on their studies. Amazingly both schools continue to land in the Top 20 of Party Schools in the United States; as you can see, the goals of professors and students don't always align.

The Gators and the Seminoles continue to be the football powerhouses in Florida. They are like the two older brothers in a large family who taunt one another until a wrestling match breaks out while the rest of the siblings are forced to stand around and watch. University of Florida football has produced Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow and hundreds of millions of dollars for the school. The school is also the birthplace of Gatorade - the original sports drink- formulated by scientist at the College of Medicine to help the football team replace body fluids while playing football in the Florida sun and humidly. PepsiCo now owns the beverage and sells it worldwide. In 2012, Forbes valued Gatorade at $4.8 Billion and number 86 on their World's Most Valuable Brands list. Not too shabby. 

I spent my two mornings in Gainesville exploring the University and the town on foot. Both are very walkable and since it was spring break I virtually had the place to myself. An occasional runner or security guard would jog or drive passed me as I enjoyed the morning light from the rising sun. The University is comprised of sturdy looking buildings made of red brick. I got the feeling this was a place that educated people to "do things" and then sent them out in the world to do them. University of Florida architecture is not inspirational. It is practical, well cared for and houses some of the best public research groups in the country. Red brick is one of my favorite building materials. Buildings made of these long lasting extruded clay bricks were a staple of the industrial era and are found up and down the East Coast. Today many of the shuttered manufacturing plants are being given new life by developers and community leaders who appreciate the beauty of red brick, high ceilings and large window. 

Gainesville is home to an estimated 127,500 locals and when the University is in session 52,000 students infuse the area with energy and money. As I walked University Avenue, I found shops like The Boardr, Unified Training Center and BodyTech closed in honor of spring break. In case you are wondering, Boardr is a store with all things skate boarding, Unified teaches fencing and BodyTech specialized in tattoos and piercing. I spent two evenings enjoying the company of the locals along with fellow travelers while continuing my study of the great mimosa migration. I was surprised to learn Frank Meiser invented the mimos circa 1925 in the Hôtel Ritz Paris. Midmorning I searched out and found Maude's Classic Cafe, a local coffee seller. I am also surveying lattes on the Pride of Place tour and while Maude's was tasty, the best to be found is back home at the Peekskill Coffee House. 

All this brings me to our next author, Padgett Powell. Mr. Powell was born in Gainesville on April 25, 1952. A time before Disney moved in and bought up all the orange groves and built a theme park. He is a rare citizen of Florida in that he is native to the state. As a native Floridian he witnessed Claude Kirk get elected as Florida's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, the Miami Dolphins play a perfect season in 1972 and the development of Gatorade at the University of Florida in 1965. Like me, he states he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and hung out with the Lynyrd Skynyrd crowd in high school.  I continue to be a fan of Southern Rock particularly the further north I move but in my high school days I was all about the English Invasion, Beatles, Rod Stewart and the Small Faces and the Yardbirds.  Today Powell is a Professor at U of F in its MFA Program.  Mr. Powell has clearly decided ideas about being labeled a Southern writer and I have been reading his novel Edisto looking through that lens. More on that tomorrow. 

Hugs,
C

 

Mar
08

Rocky Mount, NC

by Christine

As with most things in life, traveling alone has its pros and cons. I have come upon people and places on this journey that caused me to wish Marty were with me to share the moment. Conversely, alone I am able to do what I want, when I want and that freedom is what led me to stop at Rocky Mount, NC for the night. Rocky Mount is at exit 138A at US 64 on the I-95 corridor between Roanoke Rapids and Lumberton. I've driven under the large, green and white sign on I-95 that points the way to Rocky Mount multiple times and this time I gave in to my urge to stop. 

In my mind, the name conjures up visions of Mayberry, Andy Griffith, Opie and Aunt Bee. Mayberry was the fictional town in the 1960s TV show, Andy Griffith, which was actually based on the North Carolina town Pilot Mountain. So as you can see, there is no reason for me to believe that Rocky Mount is similar to Mayberry but I refuse to allow a fact to get in the way of my belief. 

As I approach the Rocky Mount I-95 exit I see a billboard that declares, Rocky Mount: The place you stay on your way to someplace else. My first thought was, "Oh honey". That is what my daughter says lovingly when someone, particularly a family member, shows a blatant lack of self-esteem or has gotten his or feelings hurt unnecessarily. She will also give out a hug and then tell you in a very nice way to get over yourself. 

I quickly learned Rocky Mount has a clear understanding of its value to the travelers on Interstate 95. Every conceivable moderately priced hotel and chain food restaurant is clustered together waiting to welcome the weary traveler. Comfort is found through the familiar. The kind gentleman behind the desk at the Hampton Inn gave me a list of restaurants in the area and of the 53 on the list only one was local. If traveling is really about the journey and not the destination, then Rocky Mount wants you to know this part of the journey is safe and predictable. 

Much to the surprise of the desk clerk, I asked for directions to the town. In keeping with Hampton Inn's policy to be friendly and helpful, he gave it to me but I could tell he wasn't happy about it. He so wanted to say, "How about going over to the IHOP and have breakfast for dinner or better yet, head over to the McDonald's where they have soft serve ice cream?" But I was determined to explore the area before hunkering down for the night. 

Since moving to New York, I have become interested in how small towns survive and I wanted to get a feel for Rocky Mount. In 2015 more people were leaving the State of New York than were moving into the state. The only place exempt from this shift is New York City. I've watched as small towns in New York struggle under massive tax burdens with no plans to attract new business or increase population growth. 

As I drove to Rocky Mount's town center I noticed retired red brick factories that have been converted to other functional spaces. Restaurants, offices and retail shops now inhabit these great old buildings. Next, came the large homes with wrap around porches that are reminiscent of another time. The houses looked a bit worn but at least they are standing. So many neighborhoods like this have been bull dozed to make room for more "modern" buildings. 

My favorite place in the whole town was the train station. The building, the loading area and the grounds are immaculate with original pieces of art decorating the public space. Next to the train station is a strip of retail buildings that face hopefully towards the railroad tracks. These refurbished storefronts sit side-by-side like lovely young girls at a spring cotillion. Each store is unique in design and updated to reflect today's taste while honoring the history of the area. 

My brief tour of Rocky Mount convinced me that the citizens of RM understand what is of value in their town. I am glad I took the time to visit. I encourage you to stop by Rocky Mount, NC the next time you are traveling I-95 or if there is a place that calls out to you, take the time and stop!

Hugs,
C

 

 

 

 

Mar
07

Let's Start At The Very Beginning

by Christine

As the song says, let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start. How did I select Michael Chabon for my Pride of Place tour? Just lucky. I was compiling my own list of authors - particularly down south where it is sunny and warm in February and March - when I came across Business Insider's compilation list, The Most Famous Authors From Every State. Chabon took the Washington, DC. spot though my initial response was to challenge his designation until I read the comments at the bottom of the article. It seems that everyone had a favorite to put forth so I let it go. (Yes, apparently I am communicating through song lyrics today.) Embarrassingly, I admit I did not know who he was nor had I read anything by him. I decided to take this opportunity to learn about the author BI designated as the Most Famous Author from DC.

I did learn as I continued my research that I knew of his work. Michael Chabon is a prolific writer and storyteller. As I sit around complaining about the angst and anguish of writing, Michael Chabon writes. He writes novels, he writes screenplays, he writes magazine article and honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if the man writes out his family's weekly grocery list. What is the best part of choosing MC as my first author? He has written extensively on growing up in Columbia and what it meant to him. His piece Maps and Legends is a thoughtful look at how his childhood and Jim Rouse's "Grand Experiment" coincided and then after his parent's divorce, diverged when he moved away from the area. Chabon declared Rouse's grand experiment a failure and expressed his anger at learning the "bitter truth" about the world after leaving Columbia. I do empathize with him. I come from a generation whose parents told us we "could be anything we wanted, including be President of the United States". Our parents failed to mention, anyone could be President if they had an Ivy League education, access to great sums of money, willing to accept all manner of libelous and false utterances about their character and were male. 

So how do I know his work even though I hadn't read his books? MC, world builder extraordinaire, wrote the screenplays for Spiderman 2 and John Carter. I am HUGE film fan and viewed both these films in the theater. If you haven't seen John Carter and many people haven't, some rainy Saturday or Sunday afternoon tee up the movie and enter the world of a swashbuckler in space.

I was in a chronological mood when I choose to read his first novel The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. After MC's parent's divorce his father moved to Pittsburgh and Michael spent his summers there with his dad. The Mysteries of Pittsburgh explores, Pittsburgh, sexuality and the relationship between a son and his father. The reader takes the journey with Art Bechstein as he comes to understand what it really will take to be his father's son. 

In the following section from The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Chabon creates a mise-en-scéne that captures the warm glow of summer and the desires of youth. 

Arthur and Phlox, side by side, approached from the direction of the library. Phlox wore pearls, a strapless white dress patterned with blue flowers, and a pair of high-heeled white sandals; Arthur, light-gray trousers and a powder-blue blazer, with a tie, and oxfords without socks, like Prince Philip. They were still far from me, and I watched as those they passed turned admiring heads; they drew near like an advertisement for summer and beauty and healthy American sex. (Page 84)

Each time I reread that passage I physically feel summer and remember being young and oblivious to time. I see these people. I know these people. Ultimately, we feel the tinge of sadness over the path not taken as our reluctant hero takes charge of his life. 

Michael Chabon earned the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for his novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. I have added that book to my must read list. I am part of a book club with people of varying levels of interest and commitment but I think Michael Chabon's novels would be a good read for book club groups. His use of language is rich without being pretentious and his characters are masterly drawn. (The song has a good beat Dick and I think the kids will like it so I gave it a 90)

Time to move on to our next writer and I have chosen Padgett Powell. Again, another writer that I had not heard of or read anything about prior to the Pride of Place tour. Until next time...

Hugs, 
C

 

 

 

Mar
04

Will-To-Bigness

by Christine

The trees are bare and the landscape is brown in February in Columbia, MD and yet, the buildings still recede into the background. I arrived to open spaces and wide roadways that are immaculately maintained by groundskeepers dressed in matching green uniforms that mirror those of suburban mall groundskeepers. That should come as no surprise since Columbia was manifest by developer James 'Jim' Rouse out of 14,178 acres of Maryland farmland. A case can be made that Jim Rouse is the father of the suburban "Mall" though others in the field are put forth for that honor too by their proponents. My first response is to say that Jim Rouse was more than a Mall developer but that would impinge a concept that changed the face of suburban living. "Hanging out at the mall" was and is the favorite pastime of teenagers all over American and seniors have created walking programs that are centered in their local malls. In suburbs all across the United States, the mall is the town square, the city center.

Jim Rouse was a man of vision and an individual who had the drive and resources to erect an entire city where none had existed before. As a young boy Michael Chabon, creator of literary worlds, watched daily as a city sprung from the abstract to the concrete. According to Business Insider, Michael Chabon is Washington, DC's most famous author and while Chabon was born in DC, he claims Columbia was the place that made the most impact on him growing up. Chabon plans and creates stories of texture, color and meaning out of his imagination. He watched as Rouse created a city out of brick and mortar from his imagination.

In 1967 Rouse put into motion a plan for a city that was remarkable for multiple reasons. The racial unrest of Baltimore specifically and the decay of American cities generally formed his vision for another kind of city. Columbia was to be privately funded and as such followed a corporate structure in its development. A vision statement, private management and the idea of citizenship and personal responsibility came together to form the vision for Chabon's childhood home.   The vision statement crafted at its inception included commitment to green spaces, racial diversity and to "provide the best possible environment for the growth of people". These are certainly lofty goals when most towns and cities are mainly focused on getting the garbage picked-up.

Chabon's father was the first to receive a VA loan to build a home in the new city. The local paper covered the news with excitement as Columbia was taking form.  I smile as I think about today's social media gurus who tout branding and marketing as though it were a current day creation. Rouse understood the need for personal and professional branding and marketing as a tool to reach a goal. In 1970, seven year old Chabon moved into his new house and neighborhood along with hundreds of other like-minded families. I can imagine the excitement of making new friends and being at all the "firsts". The first day at a new schools, the opening of the first centrally located library in Columbia, the first office building and all the other first that were witness by Michael Chabon and his family and friends. 

How does a place shape a child and what values will he or she inculcate regardless of what is said by the adults around them? As parents, educators and therapist that question is asked daily and we look for "signs" to give us insight. In Michael Chabon first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Art Bechstein, the reluctant hero of his own life, struggles to put into words the goal of "evolution, of men and of women" by simply stating "a manifestation of the will-to-bigness". Rouse wasn't going to just build a planned community; he was going to do what no one had done in the United States before, build a planned city from scratch. As a writer, Michael Chabon wasn't just going to tell a story, he was going to create a world. 

I am going to write more about Chabon's, the writer, tomorrow but first I must go clothes shopping. Yes, I am letting you see behind the curtain. I was born in North Carolina and raised in Jacksonville, Florida but I am surprised every time I come south in the winter how warm and muggy it is. I have two bathing suits with me but no other warm weather clothes. On the plus side the humidity evens out the small wrinkles, though I do have a few wrinkles that even putting my head into a bucket of water wouldn't help. Until later...

Hugs, 
C

PS: Bloggers are given a good deal more freedom than traditional journalist and educators when writing for the Internet but I am uncomfortable not sourcing some of the things I say. I also don't want to sound like a textbook so I am going to attempt to land somewhere in the middle. Most of the facts and dates on Columbia in this piece came from the booklet COLUMBIA AT 20-A Renewed Idealism March 22, 1987 6:00 PM The Kttamaqundi Room, The Rouse Company, Columbia, Maryland. Some very nice people at the local library found this for me in the reference area along with other materials. You may have a little difficulty finding said booklet - unless you want to take a road trip - to fact check this piece because you will need to go to the Howard County Library System-Main Branch to secure the hardcopy.  Also I met with a lovely woman by the name of Barbara Kellner at the Columbia Archives and together we discussed Columbia, its history, Jim Rouse, urban planning and planning for the Fourth Quarter of life. 

Mar
01

On The Road 2016 Style

by Christine

Simone de Beauvoir, Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck's French poodle, Charley, all took the quintessential road trip to discover America. Their discoveries revealed as much about their fetishes and ideals as it did about America in their day. I vaguely remember a TV show from the early sixties, Route 66, that showcased its generation's McDreamy and McSteamy as they followed route 66 looking for the perfect place to settle. Maybe I don't remember the TV show at all, memory is an illusive and deceptive human faculty, my true recollection of the TV show is the music, a Nelson Riddle composed number that is brought to life by Ray Sherman on the piano. 

As I shift into gear I begin the self-talk necessary to unlearn years of training by a father with a heavy foot and a race care driver's mentality. I repeat over and over again that it is about the journey and not about the destination. In our family we took personal pride in setting a stopwatch at the beginning of a trip and then discarding all reason as we attempted to break our previous time record. Bathroom breaks were tied to the needs of the car, if the car could travel six hours on a tank of gas, our bladder was expect to do the same. We zoomed passed famous landmarks and dramatic landscapes at speeds that made everything a blur. Ours was a single focus, to shave off ninety seconds from our previous time. 

Long distance car travel is different today than it was when I was a child. State roads littered with Stuckey's and pastel pink motels have given way to the modern Interstate Highway System. President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 putting into place the Greatest Public Works Project in History. I've always admired Eisenhower because as a child I thought he built the Interstate System for me so I could quickly make the trip from Florida to North Carolina to visit my grandmother. As an adult I learned that General Eisenhower, after fighting a ground war in Europe, felt our road system would be inadequate if we were ever forced to move troops and supplies around the country. As I drove south on I-95 I couldn't imagine seeing large contingents of troops, tanks and Humvees in motion in the left lane heading to fight a ground war in the United States. Admittedly I did not imagine the potential for 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing either. Eisenhower also warned of the military-industrial complex and the Holocaust Deniers. I believe experience bestowed him with insights to human nature that have benefited our country. 

I reached Columbia, Maryland, the childhood home of author Michael Chabon,  in a rational time stopping at reasonable intervals. Up North Mom and Pop restaurants and two pump Texaco stations have given way to service plazas. These brightly lit oasis house Starbucks, McDonalds, Cinnabon, gas and clean restrooms. With just a bit of embarrassment I confess that I like the new service plaza in Delaware and stop each time I am on that part of I-95 for a bio break and gas. If you have friended my Instagram, you will see the photo of the hot pink, I love Pope Frances tee shirt. I have promised to discuss America's authors and the places that helped shaped them but sometimes today my thoughts were more about the journey instead of the destination. 

Hugs,
C

 

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