Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Amy Ettinger & Dan White reading at the Martin Luther King Jr. library in San Jose

Hi, everyone.  I am very excited to announce that my wife, Amy Ettinger, will read with me on October 10, 7 p.m, at the Schiro Room, adjacent to the Martha Heasley Cox Center for Steinbeck Studies, located in Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at SJSU, not to be confused, under any circumstances, with  the Steinbeck Museum down in Salinas, although my mentioning of this distinction will probably cause even more confusion.  A reception will follow.

Amy Ettinger has written for the New York Times, New York Magazine, the Huffington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, Sierra, Backpacker and other publications. Her personal essays delve into issues ranging from parenthood, childhood, mortality, creative competition among spouses and growing up on "the other side" of Silicon Valley. She will read a selection from her recent work.

I am a former Steinbeck Fellow, an occasional teacher and freelance travel writer, the institutional voice of Sammy the Banana Slug, and the author of a nonfiction book, The Cactus Eaters: How I Lost My Mind and Almost Found Myself on the Pacific Crest Trail,  which I completed during my fellowship. So it's fitting that both of us will be back at the center when I'm reading from my as-yet untitled, still-in-progress, brand-new nonfiction project. If you want to find out more, you'll just have to be there in person.  Looking forward to this. See you  then. In other news, looks like I'll be teaching a second -and significantly longer writing class out here. More soon.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Cheryl Strayed at the Capitola Book Cafe: "My feet are fine. They’ve been restored to their original beauty. It’s taken a while for my toenails to grow back.”

Plus: Mary Karr sings and dances, and much more.

Well, it's been a very eventful month here in Santa Cruz, and since I always bring my little black notebooks to all these events anyhow, I figured I'd share a few journal highlights with you. 

Never, in all my years, did I think I'd get to see the great memoirist and poet Mary Karr shimmying, shaking her hair, stomping her boots and singing back-up vocals -- and in one case, lead vocals! -- with songwriting legend Rodney Crowell at the Rio Theatre right here in Santa Cruz. 

In a couple of instances, I had to pinch myself to see if I was hallucinating. Was Mary Karr really up there on the stage, enthusiastically harmonizing to
-->"It's Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night that Chew Your Ass Out All Day Long?" Karr, who must have very good genes -- she looked all of 23 years old -- did not seem to be the principle draw that night. I had a strong hunch that most folks were  there for Crowell. The fact that Karr's last name was spelled incorrectly on almost all the promotional materials, except for the publicity put out by the co-sponsor, Bookshop Santa Cruz, suggests the concert organizers aren't familiar with her legendary work, including her classic, The Liar's Club.  But Karr -- who teamed up with Crowell on a brand-new album called Kin, featuring an all-star group of performers --  proved she could 'kill' even with a crowd that, amazingly enough, seemed to have no idea who she was. Sad to say, I have temporarily misplaced the little black notebook with some of the funny, shocking, and all-too-true observations she made about family and memoir writing. I bet you it's under a pile of laundry somewhere, but when I find it, I'll go right back into this blog entry and fill in those details, so stay tuned. When I find the darned thing, I'll add an "updated" tagline to the subject heading.

Was the Capitola Book Cafe ever so packed as it was on June 21 when Cheryl Strayed was in town to promote Wild? She read from the Hobo Times reporter scene, which had the whole place howling. That evening she offered some insights about Wild's creation and why it resonates with so many readers. 

Among some of the questions she answered from various readers that evening:

Have you always been 'all in' when it comes to revealing raw truths about yourself on the page?

"It's always terrifying. But writing that interests me reveals who (the writer) is with all their humanity. When you are taking those risks --and the endeavor of memoir is to tell a universal story -- when you do that right, other people see and hear themselves. Why should we read about this person's hike? The goal is to obliterate the question so people know why you're telling the story."

Are you surprised by the reception to the book?

"I am stunned --completely shocked. The
-->hike I had back in 1995 was this wholly private thing." (She had a similar feeling of solitude during the early composition process.)  You’re profoundly alone with yourself. The only way to write a book is to go to a place of deep solitude." 

Later in the presentation, she answered questions about the PCT and the book's origins.

"The story in Wild began when I reached what I really thought of as the bottom. I didn’t know where I was going and there was so much I had to regret about where I’d been. It was really sort of by chance that I chose the PCT. There  was a blizzard and I needed a shovel. It was only later on when I realized, 'hey, that’s  metaphor.' I really needed to dig myself out. (Upon buying the shovel, she happened upon a PCT guidebook.) “(The trail) seemed so magnificent and incredible and big and everything I was not, everything I needed to attach myself to. My mother went from being perfectly healthy to dead in several weeks. I didn’t know how to be in the world without her. The question realy was, how could I live without my mother. For a long time, my answer was, I will not. I will do bad things. I raged against myself. Then I found out about the PCT. "

"I'd  never gone backpacking one night, which turns out not to be a good idea. I was a waitress. I had wads of cash. I spent it all on backpacking stuff. The REI people kept saying, you really ought to pack your pack. (Shortly before embarking on the journey), “I could not lift my pack. At all.
-->Those first week weeks were the most humbling experience of my life. I thought, “I can do this. I can walk. Then I got out there and I thought, what the *&$%$! was I thinking?  And that was within the first 15 minutes!”

The book signing line was humongous, but Strayed, in the spirit of a true PCT hiker,  stayed until the last dog was hung.


Monday, June 11, 2012

Mary Karr and Rodney Crowell at the Rio Theater

I live almost across the street from the Rio; how could I not go? If I have a spare moment I will try to give you a report right here.

Monday, June 04, 2012

Cactus Eaters reader photo of the week: reading in the highest peaks

Thank you, John Murray, for sharing this picture with me today (it's his daughter, Chelsea, reading my book out in the Himalayas. As far as I know, that is the second farthest point my book has ever traveled.) And thank you, readers -- keep those photos and messages coming.