Of Time, Thomas Wolfe & Me

[The Thomas Wolfe House, Asheville, NC. Photo is mine]

“Each of us is all the sums he has not counted; subtract us into the nakedness and night again, and you shall see begin in Crete four thousand years ago the love that ended yesterday in Texas,”…

You, my readers, have no idea how long I’ve waited to use that quote in a blog or short story. Now, I sit in the 9th floor room of the Marriott Renaissance in Asheville, North Carolina. Just steps away from the hotel front door is Thomas Wolfe’s House. I can feel his presence. The quote puts into clarity the feelings I’ve always had about everyone’s shared history and the unbroken continuity of human relationships. I must be careful. I must be wary. Something I say or do, however small, will set in motion a chain of events that may not be apparent for a hundred centuries.

I grew up in Owego, New York, a small town in the south-central part of New York State. I am not ashamed to admit that I’ve had a difficult time coming to terms with the fact that that is not my home anymore. I’ve grown up and I’ve moved away. But something deep inside me tugs away and whispers in my ear: “You want to go home, don’t you?”

“A stone, a leaf, an unfound door; a stone, a leaf, a door. And of all the forgotten faces.”

The spare, nearly naked choice of words…the sentiment…I’ve felt this too.

Many years ago Bob Dylan wrote these words:

“…she opened up a book of poems

And handed it to me

Written by an Italian poet

From the thirteenth century

And every one of them words rang true

And glowed like burning coal

Pouring off of every page

Like it was written in my soul…”

–“Tangled Up in Blue”

That’s the way the writing of Thomas Wolfe strikes me. The man knows me. He understands me. He has seen into my heart and he writes words that are usually just out of the touch of my fingers, on the tip of my tongue or just behind my eyes, or only in my dreams…on the rare midnight hours when I do dream. Dylan, of course, has the same effect. But this post is not about Bob. It’s about how Wolfe’s books reflect my take on life. The titles of his most popular novels are ones I would have chosen.

-Of Time And The River

-You Can’t Go Home Again

-Look Homeword, Angel

[The Angel. The inspiration for Wolfe. Now located on a private plot (not Wolfe’s) in Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville, NC. Source: Photo is mine]

I’ve read a fair number of books on the craft of writing and I’ve learned how the story arc is supposed to play out in fiction. The secret to almost all stories is the “Hero’s Journey”. Most, if not all, great tales use the common archetype: The protagonist sets out on a journey, he/she must overcome challenges (conflict)…the ultimate goal? To Go Home. Everyone wants to go home.

[Cover of a new edition. Source: Google search]

Examples abound: Dorothy wants to go back to Kansas, Odysseus wants to return to Penelope in Ithaca and most of the characters in Game of Thrones want to go home, wherever that is. For many years, Owego, NY, was that lodestone. And to some extent, it still is. I was happy growing up in that small river town. The cemetery on the hill. The river. The backyards. The children attending St. Patrick’s playing in the school yard. Standing on the Court Street Bridge and looking down at the Susquehanna River ice floes crash against the abutments. The autumn leaves that covered the Bluestone sidewalks. The smell of the burning leaves, back in the day. The snow piles. The smell of newly mown lawns.

It’s been said many times: “You can’t go home again”. In my late middle age years I went home again, to live. It was an act born of necessity. But, I found the adage true. You really can’t go home again.

But the urge surfaces every so often, when I’m not looking, when I’m not listening. The urge to go home.

In the end, though, where is home for me? I don’t know. Perhaps that’s the root cause of my restlessness…and my loneliness.

Some Awesome Suggestions for Awesome Summer Reading

If you’re smart you’ve been vaccinated and now, mask free. And it’s summer! Time to dust off your Speedo or your polka dot bikini and head for the nearest beach. The nearest beach to us is Lake Clear…about five miles away. Normally I would avoid going anywhere near water. This is the Adirondacks and the summer is under control of black flies, gnats and mosquitos. But I do make an exception for Lake Clear Beach. There is a constant breeze from the lake that keeps the number of biting insects to a reasonable level, whatever that is. One is too many for this less-than-hardy soul. But it’s nature, it’s the Northern Forest and we should all make an effort to become one with our environment.

But I digress.

If you’re like me, stretched out on a Walmart Beach Chair, staring at the cumulonimbus clouds building to the west can get a little boring. What’s the solution? Read something. I’ve collected a few can’t put down books to serve as a guide to help you wile away the hours on the sand. So grab your Visa card and iPhone and Google Amazon to order these literary gems. Ready?

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

This is truly an awesome book. Unique and very original this novel imagines the grief of Abraham Lincoln just after the death of his son, Willie. Much of the narrative finds Lincoln making mid-night visits to the vault where Willie is buried in Rock Creek Cemetery on the edge of Washington, D.C. This story brought more than one tear to this reader’s eyes. Totally original and awesome. Makes for a great bed time read as well.

The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust (Moncrieff translation) Vol. V of In Search of Lost Time

If you can get past the cover you will be treated to one of the Masterpieces of Literature. Once known as Remembrance of Things Past this translation uses the updated title. It is often compared with the works of Jackie Collins or Nora Roberts. You have to start with Volume I of course. There are six books that make up this awesome piece of literature. Volume V (the one I’m reading is a mere 1,000 pages. I looked at Volume VI and was relieved to find it was only 700 or so pages long. This is a contender for one of the longest books ever written. To be honest, it’s not a real page turner unless you enjoy reading thousands of pages of nostalgia brought on by the smell of a Madeline cookie. [Note: Do not read this book in hardcover when in bed. The weight will crush a few bones in your chest and collapse your sternum.] Look, if after a few thousand pages you find that this is not for you just leave the book on your coffee table or carry it to Starbucks and stare at a few pages. It’s a real chick magnet and will impress the in-laws. Walk around with any of the volumes tucked under your arm and people will make way for you and give you more credit than you probably deserve. It helped me on my dates with a gypsy (Romani) woman named Tanya. We read to each other, cooked a chicken over an open fire, drank red wine and talked of going to Oslo. It’s truly an awesome book.

Mosquito by Timothy Winegard

This is a totally awesome book. It contains a complete study of one of the most dangerous insects. Malaria wouldn’t be a problem if it wasn’t for the tiny mosquito. Me? I just find them really annoying. Reading it brings out the urge to scratch my knee.

Ned & Ashtabula: The Erie Canal Hauntings by Patrick Egan

This awesome writer has given us yet another novel to move your soul and scare you silly. The author deftly weaves a tale of the mysterious happenings along the Canal in the 1830’s. A coming of age tale with foreshadowing and scary scenes. The author uses foreshadowing, metaphors and gratuitous nudity to weave a tale of dread. There’s magic in this book. Demons and a pretty young woman compel our protagonist Ned, to come to terms with his past and to face the future with a new found wisdom. Another awesome book by this gifted writer and is available from Amazon (paperback and Kindle).

Essential Muir

We all love Greta from Norway don’t we? Well pick up this collection of writings by John Muir who founded the Sierra Club. Nature writing from the Master. It is truly awesome.

A Freewheelin’ Time by Suze Rotolo

We all can agree that Bob Dylan is one awesome guy. This memoir by the woman who is shown clutching Dylan’s arm on the cover of A Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album. The book reflects the heady days in Greenwich village in the early 1960’s. It’s not a kiss and tell and avoids revealing the real Dylan. I could tell you more about this awesome book after I read it. Rotolo passed away in 2011.

So there you have it. A handful of suggestions from yours truly. Don’t blame me if you’re bored this summer. You could always go into your own lockdown if that’s your thing. Don’t forget the sunblock and have an awesome summer.