Great Airstreaming Blogs I’m Now Following

In the past couple of months, I’ve been meeting some great people and bloggers in the Airstream blogosphere and wanted to share them out so you can see what a great lifestyle it is. I hope to join them soon! In the meantime, I just drool over their adventures and travel trailers. Many of them have helped me promote my novel, AIRSTREAMING, and I deeply appreciate it!

Glamper – An Airstream Diary –  Anna Sullivan writes about a compendium of glamorous traveling and locales while taking amazing photographs!

Just Five More Minutes –  Monica and her family eating well across the NW and beyond, and relaying great recipes and stories. –  Women living simply in trailers of all kinds and loving life. Great website for traveling women and men alike.

STREAMING RG Coleman is well connected in the Airstream community and writes a great blog and maintains an important website in all things ‘streaming. She’s also a great writer!

Riveted – Great pictures and advice. Also on FB like most of the others, the information here is invaluable to RV peeps.

Where is Kyle Now?     Truly an inspiration, Kyle works and lives out of his Airstream all over the country and now Canada as a software engineer. You can follow him on Twitter as well for daily updates on where he is: @whereiskylenow

Boxfotos –  John and I had the pleasure of meeting Matt and Becky in Tampa, Florida. Their Flying Cloud triples as workspace, classroom and photography museum, not to mention a place to sleep. Their photography and artwork is amazing and their collection of art is something to see. Great people as well!

I’ll be adding more to this list as I meet more people.


On Photography and Mrs. Dalloway

When I was working on my MFA at Bennington College, a teacher there was reading some of my poems when he looked at me and asked if I was a photographer by trade. I laughed a little and said no, but that I had a degree in cinematography. “Interesting,” he said, “because your poems are very visual.” He didn’t know me very well at that point and so I took at as a sort of direction and validation of how I have put what is in my head to paper.

I am lousy at remembering names or numbers or facts. It borders on irrelevance to me. But images stick in my brain for years. I remember everything that way and reorder their timelines, density and clarity to fit the needs of what I’m writing. Lately, photography has been a conduit for creative output. Thus, the many photos posted on Facebook. In lieu of having the time to write and/or compelling myself to write, I’ve devoted myself to carrying around a camera everywhere I go, whether it’s my phone camera or the “good” one. I’ve been a picture taking fool lately, which has fed my head with wonderful imagery as I await the time to be able to write again.

A couple of weeks ago, my partner and I were watching the film, “The Hours.” I’d been searching for an idea for a new novel for many years as I finished up the third one. A key visual in that film, sparked the idea for a new writing project. It was interesting that it wasn’t anything anyone said, but something I saw, could process the granular light and shadow, and come up with, as Virginia Woolf had, that great first sentence of “Mrs. Dalloway.”

Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

From there you can conjure many things: self-reliance, disappointment that she was the one who had to do it, a flower shop full of flowers, the streets, Mrs. Dalloway getting ready to go out, her shouting to no one in particular, or to servants, a lover, a husband, who knows? The point is, that this sentence is rife with visual meaning, coming from a mind, who has sat for hours, even days, perhaps even years waiting on the one moment to create a line that an entire novel hinges on. It is one of the great first lines in literature.

I do not compare myself at all to Virginia Woolf, but to the experience of visualizing a sentence that can come out mathematical in nature and feeling, tonal setting, and with the click of meter. It is what starts most things for me when I write: That crucial first line. Because everything flows from there.

If you’re on Facebook, I hope you’ll enjoy the photographs in the meantime!

The Best Summer Read Ever

Can you remember the best book you read during the summer – or even the experience of it? Now that summer is winding down, or what little we had of it this year in Seattle, I was thinking today of a book that I read one summer that I remember so vividly the experience of reading it, that I had to mention it.

Vikram Seth’s, “The Golden Gate,” a novel in verse was such a pleasure to read that I read it in two days walking slowly up and down Black’s Beach in San Diego, CA. My friend, Sean Galland, and I would go there and spend all day and into the early evening there a couple of times every summer for awhile.

Written in Onegin stanzas (sonnets written in iambic tetrameter based on the Russian translations of Eugene Onegin by Pushkin) The Golden Gate concerns several young people trying to navigate their relationships in and around the San Francisco bay area. It’s a wonderful story.

I remember having trouble at first with the poetry, trying to figure out the rhyming structure to be able to enjoy the work as a novel, but then something suddenly clicked and I couldn’t stop reading. It was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had reading a novel as some passages were so beautiful to read, I had to go back and reread them several times just to savor them.

Now that Labor Day is upon us (and Seattle is already feeling Fall-ish), I encourage you to buy this book and give it the chance to wrap itself around you, like it did me.

The Historical Lyricism of Josh Ritter

By Kevin Vowles and Tom Schabarum

Josh Ritter has taken transparency to a new level in the business of making music. He’s writing it all down for others to take heed and learn the triumphs and pitfalls of making a career as a singer or a band.

It’s taken him years to get to where he is now and his blog is a good place to start if you’re hungry for a music career, or just want to see how Mr. Ritter does what he does and still keep his winsome smile bright onstage every single night – even when you know his heart must be bursting. What comes through, however, is that Mr. Ritter is a singer/songwriter and performer of rare intensity.

Naturally, you’d want to start an article about a singer at the beginning, when they first heard a piece of music that inspired them to want to do that thing that rips them open night after night in front of countless folks intent on being moved and shaken. But it’s probably better to start at the now with Josh Ritter – the now that sees him crisscrossing the country and Europe with his band, and putting a new novel out called Bright’s Passage that is another expression of who he is, and the dialogue he’s having with himself and his fans, be it musical or literary or, as many have noted, a combination of both. Words must tumble out of him so fast some times, it’s most likely hard for even him to get it all down – to get at the core of the image he’s trying to create against a musical metaphor. The first chapter of Bright’s Passage is vintage Josh. Words are jangled together beautifully, compelling the reader forward. It must have been hard for him to slow down and explode a story out in pages rather than verses or it might have been just the thing that came more naturally to him, paring the poetics of character and detail, then creating a whole world for them to exist in outside of rhyme and meter.

Pain and suffering are at the heart of any creative force, but when you watch him, it doesn’t seem as if he’s suffered at all. The internal struggle is there in his lyrics, but when you see him sing, you’re hard pressed to figure out if he’s ever had a hard day in his life until you realize that here’s a man who is truly in love with the work he does. His audience is left standing there, and it’s probably why he’s gaining such a huge following, saying to themselves, “Damn, whatever he’s on, I want some of that.”

Josh Ritter started making music at a young age, and became more serious about the process after having left home, while at University. With a collection of songs under his belt he took it to the studio himself, where it was produced. Josh then went on to market, distribute and promote his music. His success grew organically from the ground up, as he sang and toured the songs he painstakingly perfected in his first self-titled album in 1999. With brilliant poetry shining through, fans were struck by verses such as “Like leaves and kings, all things must fall, No diamond ring’s gonna cut through it all,” referring to lost love. Fans from as far afield as Scotland and Ireland, as well as aficionados of Americana folk music, were entranced and hooked by Josh’s sincerity, originality, poetry and fresh feel. It could easily and safely also be said that fans were drawn to a brilliant artist expressing his enthusiasm for life both with words and remarkably humbling stage presence. Mr. Ritter’s organic emergence into the world of folk music proved a natural to him, as natural as the study of neuroscience was to his parents.

Narrative storytelling is at the heart of his music. In fact, while studying neuroscience at Oberlin College, he changed his major in school to “American History Through Narrative Folk Music.” And his interest in poetry is evident in his inclusion of the poet Mark Strand in performance at a show in New York, whose work is distinctly American and melancholic. His taste in literature leans toward the dark and sometimes macabre with the likes of Flannery O’Connor, Philip Roth, Dennis Lahane and even Stephen King. He even mentions the politically profane, Christopher Hitchens. All of these people are distinctly literary and yet, for So Runs the World Away – a title he borrowed from a line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, he states, “this album felt like a play… and Hamlet is much like all of us in a lot of ways, very mercurial, confused…”, which he acknowledges as a state he was in after he was experiencing his first bout of writer’s block. A breakthrough occurred one night in his bathroom and a key song from the album, “The Curse,” that mixes longing, love, Egyptology, anger and loneliness together in a ballad stretching over eons was the result.

Ray Bradbury once said in a lecture that influences are like popcorn that you feed into your mind and, after awhile, they heat up until the kernels begin popping and bouncing against each other. You can imagine after many years of writing, touring and performing that Mr. Ritter needed a break, whether he knew it or not, so that all of his influences could coalesce to create something new that was meaningful to him and was at the heart of his art.

If 21st century technology has evolved faster than any other in human history, creativity is making similar leaps and bounds as singers push the boundaries of poetic originality and quality. Josh’s creative roots and drive; his ability to invent, take risks, break rules, subdue self-despair and doubt, have fun, make mistakes, grow, and above all else, explore, are all fundamentals of creativity. It seems to be an art form Josh has no trouble mastering, composing lyrics which stick to the human psyche. You might be walking down the road and find yourself humming classical songs of protest such as Girl in the War, wondering how the world got to this place…of war, chaos and greed. It’s not a world meant for people to live in the state of taking from one and another, sings Ritter, even though he makes a point of not using his creativity to preach but only question.

Josh Ritter has been compared to the likes of Bob Dylan by many people, as much for his significance to music as for his sound. He’s been adopted by the anti-war movement as an unofficial spokesperson, despite the fact that Josh has publicly stated he does not wish to be seen as such an outspoken critic. Perhaps finding the musician who calls a spade a spade a little too preachy, Josh understandably clearly wishes to take on the role of an artist who questions through his art form. With songs like Thin Blue Flame, which asks why people fight in the name of God, or Girl in the War, which causes us to put ourselves in the shoes no one wants to be in, Josh’s questioning takes us deep into the abyss of honesty that no one can avoid. Would anyone want their daughter dodging bullets? Would anyone want bombs raining down from the sky or nuclear material in the water? By way of Josh’s poetic lyrics, he proves that simply asking the question can be as effective as giving the answer.

But how do you create a show that takes people on a journey, or elevate an album’s worth of material into a transcendent night? Mr. Ritter moves easily between ballads and foot-stompers, sometimes stringing together a set of three all out assaults with songs from The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter and then asking the audience to join him in a call and response to such a beautiful song as Wait for Love that he sings off mike at the edge of the stage. With a sense of drama, he’s crafted his shows over the past few years into dynamic experiences that have seen his following grow exponentially. Much like, as earlier stated, he’s created a play in which his songs play parts that make up the whole. Recently, at a larger venue in Seattle, he had people of all ages transfixed by the quiet of Another New World, which stretched past the 8-minute mark and then launched into an updated version of Harrisburg that contained bits of Chris Isaak over another 9 minutes. It’s daring in a live show, it’s daring on record, but Mr. Ritter pulls it off easily with his newly named troupe, The Royal City Band, that has been playing together for many years now. He’s never afraid of trying new things and continues to refine a live show that rivals the best.

Josh Ritter launched the Valentine’s Day Brawl tour in early 2011, with fantastic shows in Philly, Boston, New York and Washington. Candlelit stages, slow dances, roses, and romantic meanderings highlighted touching and energetic performances. The energy has carried west with great momentum, as Josh urged audiences in Seattle and Portland to turn to the person next to them, be bold and fall into a slow dance, or perhaps even make a bigger leap…

As people end significant relationships, many fall into a hole of despair, or exploration of self, giving up on love, while some are more convinced than ever that love exists. In the wake of his break-up with fellow musician Dawn Landes, Mr. Ritter certainly appears to be in the latter category. The grin is as big as ever as he enters the stage, and his enthusiasm for music and life clearly hasn’t waned in the slightest. Was the Valentine’s Day Brawl and subsequent tour his way of telling the world that he’s still got faith in love? Maybe. Whatever the case may be, the 2011 Tour of So Runs the World Away proved to be filled with unbridled enthusiasm and the quality fans have grown consistently accustomed to. Josh Ritter and The Royal City Band continue to push the boundaries of creativity with each passing album and indeed performance. The intensity is consistent, ever present and unwavering. What does the future hold for this bright and lively troop of musicians? Mr. Ritter has alluded that he hopes to be making music for another 30 years if not longer. With the release of Bright’s Passage, we are clearly entering a new era in which fans will have an even greater insight into this musical prodigy, bringing the realization that the future has no limits or ceiling.

On Colum McCann

I have a thing for Irish writers: Joyce, Jamie O’Neill, Oscar Wilde, Yeats, the list goes on. Add to this the discovery of Colum McCann this year, mostly writing about New York in the books I’ve read, “Let the Great World Spin, This Side of Brightness, and Ireland, “Everything In This Country Must.” Beautifully written books; each sentence elegantly crafted and stuffed with meaning. I’m going to go through his whole list before it’s all said and done, but his is an amazing voice, and while there is some dissent over his latest, the character’s stories, held together by a tightrope walker’s daring crossing between the twin towers of the World Trade Center, are quite moving.