Patti Smith spoke at a church in Berkeley and did an impromptu musical performance. Her self-deprecating humor was exquisitely charming. Her book, M Train, is about nothing. Really, on page one, first paragraph, first sentence, she writes, “It’s not so easy writing about nothing.” (Smith, 1). I devoured M Train. I was on vacation in New Mexico reading it, at my Aunt’s ranch, sitting on the porch, drinking coffee out of my deceased Uncle’s mug. Everything felt so connected, so immediately relevant. And yet, I suspect I would relate to this book and connect everything wherever I was while reading it.
Maya Angelou, (I realize and recognize she is Dr. Maya Angelou but I grew up reading her as Maya Angelou) died yesterday and I am truly affected by her death. I read her in high school and I quickly became obsessed with her and read everything she had written. Former President Bill Clinton nominated her as our nation’s poet laureate, and she read a poem she wrote for his inauguration. Regardless of what he does, for the rest of his life, I will always respect and admire his decision to ask Angelou to write a poem for the United States. He acknowledged how important art, and specifically, Angelou is to our country.
I have been going through my old books to see what I find. This is the third entry; I’m slowly combing through all my books. Sometimes it’s as boring as a muni pass or a receipt for the book I’ve found it in. Sometimes it’s something more, something I’d long forgotten, something that reminds me of who I used to be, and who I used to want to be.
This project is really fun but sometimes it’s a bit sad. It reminds me of things I’d forgotten, things I meant to forget. I’m not referring to this particular entry, just this project in general. We store things away to hide them because we can’t throw them out and yet we don’t want to see them anymore. And one day we find them and all those emotions reappear just as that item has.
Your book collection is a reflection of yourself, your tastes, your intellectual pursuits, your career, and your circumstances. Your books themselves can be unintentional markers of where you were or what you were doing at certain points in your life. And the items you use as placeholders instead of bookmarks can reveal another level of who you were or are. I started a new project, going through all of my books and photographing what was left in each book. I went through all the books in my apartment but have yet to go through the books in storage at my folks’ house. I started because I found two safety pins in a book. I can’t recall the book (I wish it was something appropriate like Legs McNeil’s Please Kill Me but it wasn’t). Regardless, I began to wonder what else I would find in my books.
There were too many items to include in this single entry. I still have more books to add for future blog posts. It’s fun to see who I was and what I was doing when I was reading these books. It’s interesting that many of the placeholders indicate an active social life while I’m sitting at home or on the bus reading a book. I have spent so much time out and about because if I don’t get out of my room, I’ll read or worse, watch tv all night. These placeholders reveal so much more than I remember about myself. Forgotten people, phone numbers. But they also remind me of how long I’ve known some friends, and how many states we have known each other. Whether that be physical states and mental states. They also reiterate the people that I’ve been friends with for many, many years. The ones that have seen me through going to shows like the Toiletboys and going to clubs ten years ago. And the ones that accepted my being a book nerd in the midst of a raging social scene.
When I was 22 I went on a pilgrimage to Lowell, Massachusetts to visit Jack Kerouac‘s home. It was ill planned, we were walking in the snow, there were no signs, and what was worse, no one had even heard of him! I would have given anything for a map with directions of where to go and what to do. Well, The Beat Museum and The Contemporary Museum (CJM) did just that. They partnered together to create a walking tour based around the history of the Beat Generation in North Beach, San Francisco, in honor of Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg at the CJM. More than fifty years after On the Roadand Howlwere published, a large group of people gathered to listen to their stories and to see their historical geography.
Kathryn Jaller, of The Contemporary Jewish Museum, kicking off the walking tour of North Beach with Jerry Cimino, Founder and Director of The Beat Museum