“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
~ Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums
Despite the briskly falling snow in New Hampshire, the new year brought temperate weather
uncharacteristic of most January firsts. In Sugar Hill, there was not enough fluffly ground cover for the tread of our cross country skis and, certainly not, for our snow shoes. Our cargo carrier remained unopen the entire weekend—all the winter sports apparatus untouched.
Rain fell on Saturday concocting a mud-slush, so we drove into Littleton, had lunch and poked around in Main Street's shops. It was there, in just L, an intriguing little shop that sells vintage-mod furnishings and accessories, that I found a collection of pastel linen-covered children's novels, like Little Women, The Heart of Dog, Kim and The Water Babies, that charmed me for some time. I wanted to pull them from the antique bookshelf, but they were all so delicately pretty that all of them, all of them, spoke to me so, reminded me of the children's book I'd always wanted to write, and I fell into a gentle trance that precluded the stroke of my fingers upon their spines.
* * *
On our route from Rhode Island to New Hampshire, a portion of the highway we travel cuts just below Lowell, MA—an old mill city where Jack Kerouac was born. Each time we drive below Lowell, I think of Kerouac. I wonder what he may have written had he lived more than his too short forty-seven years. I think about his travels, his search for the Absolute Being, for God. And as I write this passage, I think how I may never, ever, remove from my writing literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,* and how I often feel that what I'm writing may never, ever, be as original or unique as anything Kerouac put out for the world, and wonder why I can't stop fretting over perfection of sentence and paragraph, all too aware that it threatens every work on which I embark.
Except for one piece: the children's book I'd always wanted to write, which I wrote (the project I mentioned here), finally, and which my son illustrated in one crazed month between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (Hence, my long absence.) I didn't, per se, have a specific story I wanted to write, but I had a long standing vision that I would, at some point in my life, get to a children's story. Christmas, and my young nephew, gave me the impetus—and those of you who read me know I work better (or shall I say, work with more discipline?) with looming deadlines.
And I think the words are fairly simple! (To get there, though, my son had to drop a few hints about some of my word choices.) Though the process of writing this book, the research, the illustration work, the water colors over Max's illustrations by myself and my dear friend Linda—whose water color over Max's pencil sketches is shown above on the cover and on the second and third photo (you can see the difference in her skill level versus mine)—consumed a multitude of hours, and was much more work than I had anticipated. There were a few mistakes, setbacks and frustrations, like technical glitches converting the project to a printed book, and not using the proper paper for water color. Learning how to water color, alone, was quite an undertaking, and I owe Linda more than just a few paint brushes for her kind tutelage and expertise. I was not only surprised by the sheer amount of work that was required, but also, by how much I enjoyed the process. I have to admit, too, that I was surprised that the book was finished in time (by the skin of my teeth) for Max and me to give it to my nephew as a Christmas present.
Who knows, I may just attempt it again. But perhaps I'll give myself more than a month's time.
Anyway, that Kerouac quote above, that's my resolution for 2012. I'd like to make it stick.
Happy New Year!
* Jack Kerouc, “Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials” from a 1958 letter to Don Allen, published in Heaven & Other Poems, copyright © 1958, 1977, 1983. Grey Fox Press.
The accompanying Klute doll, made from an old sweater and felt scraps. A (very) limited edition. ;)