Of the Long Distance Drive and Easy Rider

We just drove back to Texas from Florida over the last two days, a drive of 17 hours made worse by the fact that the battery needed to be replaced in Port St. Lucy.

Yesterday, as we powered through Alabama, Leo made a comment about traveling on I-10, and Easy Rider.  Adult daughter Tiara asked “What is that?”

“It’s this movie with Henry Fonda,” I say.

“Peter Fonda,” Leo corrects.   Easy Rider is an interesting case for writing reflections because Peter Fonda cooked up the concept and then they shot, basically without a script, using people they met on the way.  It’s an interesting idea for how to spark creativity:  Get yourself on location, and record.

“What happens?” Tiara wants to know.

“Well there’s these guys, hippie guys, they go on a road trip.  There’s Peter Fonda and this other guy … ”

“Jack Nicholson,” I say.

“No, the other one.”

“Dennis Hopper.”

“Yeah.  They made a cocaine deal.  They stuff all the money in the American Flag gas tank of a chopper … ”

“A helicopter?” asks Tiara.

“No, like a motorcycle with ape hanger bars … ”  Leo demonstrates.  “They go east until they get shot in Alabama.”

“For what?”

“Flipping some guy off, one of those red neck guys.”

“That’s all?”

“Well, yeah, that’s the movie.”

“You really only have to see it once,” I chime in.  “They do meet some people on a commune, and a guy who married a lady who won’t use birth control … and then they pick up Jack Nicholson but he gets killed pretty quick.”


“It’s not clear.  He’s a lawyer in the movie so maybe that’s why.  Or maybe it’s just the lifestyle … waking up and someone’s dead.”

Leo tells Tiara about when we were in New Orleans, when we went on the cemetery tour.  The guide said when he started doing the tours, he had never seen Easy Rider.  People kept mentioning it, asking about it.  So he watched it, and told the story, “So they’re right here, in the cemetery, and they’ve picked up these prostitutes and Dennis Hopper is shagging this chick right here in this alcove.  And then I’m like whoa,  what is this, and I ask ‘how’d they get permission to shoot this in the Catholic cemetery? And then I find out the Archdiocese of New Orleans says ‘we never knew they were in here.”  And that’s why to go in the cemetery now, you have to have a licensed guide, and pay an entry fee.”

Well, the movie was shot in 1969.  What do you expect?

Leo loads up Easy Rider on the cell phone, the opening credits.  “Get your motor running … head out on the highway … “sing Steppenwolf.

“Why are they dressed like that?” asks Tiara.  “Look at that fringe on his jacket!”

“Yeah, they’re hippies,” says Leo.  “Peter Fonda admitted that he couldn’t remember most of the shooting of the film.”

“Why, because he was taking so many drugs?” Tiara asks.

“Yeah,” Leo concluded.

“It was the time.  That was the way it was,” I finish.  “it’s lucky your parents survived it all.”

And we get the motor running.  And we head out on the highway.


Cheryl Strayed, People who Leave you at the Worst Possible Moment, and Two Links to Writing Prompts

I have been reading Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild and have found in her a fellow-traveler in more ways than one.  Not just someone who felt she had to go somewhere for spiritual exercise — in her case, a 1000-mile trek by herself on foot alone along the spine of the Sierras — but someone who had to deal with that old problem, life not happening the way you want it too, in a TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE WAY.  I’m not talking about getting a speeding ticket, people, I’m talking about people dying and/or leaving you, on purpose, for reasons that you simply cannot fathom.  At the wrong time.  Without, apparently, considering what their leaving could do to you.

It’s like that song by Randy VanWarmer from my youth, as in “you left me just when I needed you most.”


Okay, I’ve stopped crying.

This is a big issue, people who leave.  For another example, I was just reading K.E. Garland’s blog about her anthology Daddy, which considers the importance these men have on us and what happens when they don’t participate.  Strayed’s journey was undertaken to help her recover after her mother died suddenly and unexpectedly when Stayed was in her early 20’s.  My own current memoir project is about my father’s ongoing battle with Parkinson’s disease, but it’s really about my quest for forgiveness of his decision to throw me out of the house when I was 16.  No, I was not a rebellious child.  The problem seemed to be that he and his new girlfriend didn’t want me around.

People let you down, guys.  What do you do?

Well, if you are to take Wild as a guidebook, I suppose you must challenge yourself and take care of yourself and prove to yourself that you are worthy just as you are, no makeup, no embellishments, no relying on other people, learn to police your own shortcomings, and find your own meaning.

Another opportunity would be to write your feelings down.  Toward that end, I found two sets of Cheryl Strayed’s writing prompts.

These writing prompts are from Albert Flynn DeSilver’s Blog:


These writing prompts are from li.st and were linked by @CherylStrayed, who you can follow on twitter:


Now I will warn you:  some of these are tough.  “Write about a time when you were mistaken?”  Aw man, I don’t want to do that.

But it might be good for me.

Write as if you’re running out of time, because you are

John Keats, Poet
They say that John Keats was worried he would not have time to write the poems he dreamed of creating, yet in his short 25 year life he produced  “Ode on a Grecian Urn,”  “A thing of beauty is a joy forever,” and many, many other well-known works.

When you’re young the days seem so incredibly long.  As children we wrote plays, practiced them, and acted them out for our parents, all in a fraction of a single day. I can remember being 15 years old, waiting for a date on a Saturday evening, and how the white digits on the stove clock flipped infinitesimally slowly.

I can remember being a young mother, taking care of a newborn, how the clock crawled, except for nap time, and the time before the baby got up in the morning — then time flew.  I wanted to write, to read, to rest, and there was limited time.

Time was rushing on and I couldn’t stop it, yet I still thought there was plenty left. I kept house, had children, wrote things.  I was a freelance magazine writer, but my manuscripts always arrived at the editor’s desk late.  I started a novel but there was not quite enough time to finish it.  I would finish it later.

Or, I would have time to start another one, and finish it … later.

In a memoir about turning 40, I wrote, “time is an infinitely variable chamber.” By then time was something I  feared. I realized that while time might be an infinitely variable in how you use it, it was not infinite, at least not for me.  I might run out of time before I wrote the things I wanted to write …

Soon I had to “get a haircut and get a real job” as George Thorogood sang.  That ended my writing for quite a while.  But the desire was still there.  Several years later, over summer break, I started a blog about teaching.

And then this year I started this blog, and began a list of places to send personal essays.

Today, time seems not like a crawling snail, but a frightening steam engine rushing.  My parents have begun to have health problems.  It’s like the universe is tapping me on the arm and saying, “Excuse me, madam, but your time is limited.”

They say that Romantic poet John Keats feared time as well. Knowing he was dying of tuberculosis, he asked the universe for ten years to write, but got only five.  He never realized the impact his poems would have on the world, and told his friends to inscribe on his epitaph that his name was “writ in water” as a testament to his failed writing ambitions. Ironic to say the least.  Time seemed to have won.  But he only thought he had lost … he has since his death become possibly one of the ten most canonical poets in the history of English.

I think of Keats almost every day.  His amazing output from such a young man puts a slower writer to shame, not to mention the quality of what he wrote.  Still, he reminds me always: it’s time to write, my friends.  There are a huge, huge number of readers out there and they may need what you have … don’t put off for tomorrow what could be written today.  Don’t despair, like Keats — his effort was not, as it turns out, in vain — and whatever you do, don’t stop writing.