THE GOLD STANDARD

“Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren’t turned properly; they come in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources.” ― William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways 

  • As his fans likely recall, the first edition of Blue Highways stayed on the New York Times bestseller list for 42 weeks in 1982-83. Not bad for a first book. Of course this was just the first of many for Heat-Moon.

It’s my pleasure to share a short interview with the prolific author, William Least Heat-Moon. Many of you know his work from the wonderful classic, Blue Highways. I recall reading somewhere that Heat-Moon was a “travel writer” because his books often focus on geography. But this isn’t remotely accurate in my estimation.

Heat-Moon’s books (including: PrairyErth, River Horse, Roads to Quoz, Here, There, and Elsewhere: Stories from the Road, Columbus in the Americas, and Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened, etc.) are an in-depth look at significant experience as framed by a certain geography. The “sense of place” is nearly a central character in many of his books, as he (birth name, William Trogdon) deftly weaves intriguing layers of perception and knowledge into a cohesive, often revealing, statement.

“Literature that keeps employing new linguistic and formal modes of expression to draft a panorama of society as a whole while at the same time exposing it, tearing the masks from its face – for me that would be deserving of an award.” — Elfriede Jelinek

WilliamLeastHeatMoon

Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Heat-Moon attended the University of Missouri where he earned bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees in English, as well as a bachelor’s degree in photojournalism.

“Memory is each man’s own last measure, and for some, the only achievement.”
William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways

  • I hope you enjoy the brief Q & A that follows.

1) Would you still become a writer IF you knew then what you know now … about the process, the time, the politics? Yes indeed.

2) When Blue Highways enjoyed such lasting success, how surprised were you? What did your success tell you about your readers, the world itself?

Beginning writers, in their innocence commonly imagine  their first effort as drawing massive sales. I was an innocent when BLUE HIGHWAYS appeared, but twelve previous rejections of the manuscript  tempered my expectations. The world of readers contains enough intelligent people who will seek out quality writing, even  quality writing that challenges. It’s agents and young editors who lack foresight about the possibilities of  a truly well-written  book.

3) Your book about writing Blue Highways is a wonderful take on the realities of the writing process. When you spoke about your commercial publisher not “getting” the book … I can imagine your frustration. Luckily, University of Missouri Press had a different vantage point. But in many ways, wasn’t this development simply part of the Blue Highways experience, as you continued to chart your own course regardless of what others labeled significant, important, or worthy?

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Big commercial publishers, especially today, are transfixed by the greed  to find a potential blockbuster (and that usually translates to schlock). Too often their goal is for fast, mega sales, even though history shows the longevity of a book to be the true gold standard.
SIDEBAR: I reviewed this book here in SunnyRoomStudio in 2015 in a blog post called FIRST OF MANY.

4) As you know, I have prairie roots in Dakota … geographic roots that evolved into spiritual roots, such that I wrote about in my book about prairie wisdom … which is really a kind of life wisdom. If you were to live in the middle of nowhere at this point in your life, would you miss the rest of the world? Or would you just sit down and write another book?

I’ve spent time in many places across America that could be called pockets of deprivation. For dozens of reasons, they are not for me beyond a  week or two–but that week or two can be highly informative and often damn delightful.

5) Last question, is writing a lonely and isolating occupation OR is it the grandest form of freedom available to us? Annie Dillard, in The Writing Life, notes: “I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend. During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders. I hold its hand and hope it will get better.” Does this description resonate with you, or not really?

Annie’s description does not resonate with me except by reversal: I see writers as midwives helping new life come healthfully into the world. If I become hospice care to what I’m writing, then I need to find an undertaker for my writing. ~
TO READ my review of Writing Blue Highways: The Story of How a Book Happened, here’s a link to FIRST OF MANY.
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Photo by Don McLeer, Missouri River
“All of those things – rock and men and river – resisted change, resisted the coming as they did the going.
The nature of things is resistance to change, while the nature of process is resistance to stasis,
yet things and process are one, and the line from inorganic to organic and
back is uninterrupted and unbroken.” ― William Least Heat-Moon
  •  I began this shiny new year in SunnyRoomStudio by considering how smallish changes can deliver significant impact … often in ways that surprise us with their staying power. Looking upward more frequently to study the sky, for instance, can yield a needed change in perception, a calming pause in a hectic day, a chance to connect with nature and something beyond our immediate environment. It doesn’t require a financial investment or ask to be scheduled into our day.
  • So, today, I wanted to mention another smallish change with wonderful potential. Give something away as often as possible. Big or small … make it a spiritual practice. Find things around your home that someone else needs more than you do. Letting go of “things” can remind us of the temporary nature of life, and help us build a bridge to others at the same time. Let me know how it goes, what ways you find to extend or refine this idea. Small changes are the magic of our lives!
Book update … 
My memoir, The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone, will be available in KINDLE format February 10th, which is my son’s birthday. The print edition has been released.
A poignant, courageous narrative; a book for all seasons that forges lasting
bonds of connection and understanding; a determined and inspired spiritual journey.  
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“When I began writing this book I wondered what was left to say, to do, after a sudden death.
When everyone had returned to schedules, routines, and responsibilities that were insistently framed by
calendars and clocks, not by the stirring passion of grief–and I felt alone like never before.
Is that where the conversation ends, I’d wondered.”

  • Thanks so much for stopping by.
  • I’ll be back on Friday, February 19th with another smallish change that holds the promise of something more.

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About my 2014 book release …

Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this is a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s only a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~ D.A. Hickman

TRUSTING EXPERIENCE

I AM FAIRLY certain most of us begin a new year with mixed emotions. Whenever we grapple with elements of time, the emotional back and forth–the reluctance to let go and move forward, coupled with excitement about a new year–is there. Most of us probably enjoyed a break from routine in December, and now we are faced with returning to that routine in whatever form it manifests in our lives. A little reluctance is normal. Maybe even necessary. Maybe we should be asking ourselves, in fact, how much of our routine can be updated, revised slightly, or even greatly modified. But sometimes it’s the smallish changes that surprise us the most, offering more impact than anticipated.

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So I’m starting off a new year with one very simple change … I am going to look at the sky more often each day. I hope you will join me! A sky view is always expansive (as opposed to narrow, or based on fuzzy logic or past conditioning) and, nearly always, beautiful. Even if dark storm clouds threaten, there is MUCH to see … when we pause to look.

And though the sky itself may feel mysterious and magical and mystical all at once … it’s always there for our eyes and souls to consider whenever we take that deep breath, that deep pause. In the spirit of slowing down … even this can make a big difference.

We are living with a grayish winter sky these days, but maybe this is the sky of “hope” … knowing the light is there, just not revealed through the eyes.

“I can see the sun, but even if I cannot see the sun, I know that it exists. And to know that the sun is there – that is living.” ―Dostoyevsky,  The Brothers Karamazov

Best wishes to everyone as we venture into uncharted territory this year. May you find inspiration, joy, and peace in the days ahead. And let me know if you are considering any smallish changes that hold the promise of something more. –dh

  • My memoir, as many of you know was released in December. KINDLE edition now available for pre-order, forthcoming February 2016.
  • You can also visit my book page here in SunnyRoomStudio or visit Amazon to learn more about THE SILENCE OF MORNING.
  • The Silence of Morning, a compelling story of life and loss, culture and society, reveals why the author, in the face of profound tragedy, decides to confront the mysteries of existence in search of deeper understanding. For one thing, as a spiritual thinker with a sociological bent, Hickman’s looking for the universal message … a path through the wilderness that speaks to every living soul. But the author is also seeking safe, even fruitful, passage through the throes of intense grief.
  • EACH LIFE is a reflection of the many mysteries we are born into. Mysteries lodged in silence. And ambiguity. Yet this fascinating memoir manages to penetrate that silence, as the author initially survives its fierce echo in the face of her son’s sudden death, and then realizes she must, one day, embrace it. Hickman notes, however, that she wasn’t remotely prepared for the curious demands of loss. But then, who is, she wonders. Would a saint be prepared, someone braver than I, perhaps, or someone who simply moved on with a heavy shrug of the shoulders, a fierce sigh, a wistful expression? 

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Thanks for stopping by. I’ll return by Friday, January 29th with another smallish change that holds the promise of something more.

Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this is a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s only a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~ D.A. Hickman

ONE DESTINATION

THERE is no path to tomorrow, not really. Rather, there is only the path that leads to deeper awareness of this, and each, moment. I’m not sure how or when I became fully aware of this, but it was somewhere along the way. So as we gather ourselves anew for 2016 … perhaps this is something to keep in mind. That no matter how fast we run–no matter how much urgency we affix to goals, plans, schedules–there is only ONE destination: and that is the one within.

And on and on we walk … always into a deeper version of ourselves.
The Silence of Morning: A MEMOIR OF TIME UNDONE

So, today, I thought I would share this wonderful red bench photograph by Mary T. Hercher.

redbenchMaryTHercherphoto

Hercher’s focus is on capturing the never-ending, natural beauty of western
South Dakota, her lifelong home via Wind Spirit Photography.

Time confuses us sometimes … when we believe in it, giving it absolute power over our lives. But once we see through it … we are released from its steely grip. We realize that its influence conceals and reveals, but like a magical mirror, it isn’t real. I wrote about time a great deal in my memoir (just released) about loss, culture, and the human condition. Understanding time can reduce our suffering; it can lead us to the deeper mysteries of mortal existence — to the more profound aspects of life.

“Time is an illusion.”

― Albert Einstein

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A last Christmas with Matthew, the son I wrote about in the memoir.

  • Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again soon Sunday, January 8th. I’ll keep you updated on my memoir … reviews, availability, and so on.
  • If you read THE SILENCE OF MORNING, please let me know if you found it to be meaningful and, hopefully, memorable.
  • Most of all, best wishes for the winter season. May you find inspiration, joy, peace in the days ahead.

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  • When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.  –dh
    Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this may be a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s just a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~ d.a. hickman, 2014

THE HOLIDAY GLARE

HAVE you ever felt slightly perplexed by the holiday glare this time of year? Fun, tempting, colorful, joyful … and … a tad bit overdone, perhaps? I’m not sure I noticed this much until I marched through several holiday seasons without the son I’d buried in June of 2007. Maybe I was sleepwalking through life until then, or at least somewhat. With the release (print), eBook formats forthcoming, of my memoir, THE SILENCE OF MORNING: A Memoir of Time Undone, I sat down and read the book again. With a release … authors tend to celebrate, worry, and question their work anew.

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Will readers find the deeper meaning in the book?
Will readers find themselves, the universal message, in the 350 pages that took some 7.5 years to develop into a publishable work?
Will the “me” that started that book … in any way resemble the “me” that finished the book?
Will the story be clear and meaningful, effectively pointing to deeper truths within the vast mystery of life?

  • Most of all, did I answer the central question that drove me to write the book?
  • “When I began writing this book I wondered what was left to say, to do, after a sudden death. When everyone had returned to schedules, routines, and responsibilities that were insistently framed by calendars and clocks, not by the stirring passion of grief—and I felt alone like never before. Is that where the conversation ends, I’d wondered.” —The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone

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After reading the book again this week, I felt that I had come to terms with that huge question (like a massive blank wall) — the one we all must face after a profound loss. But all of you who read it will be the best judge of that. It’s difficult to  be objective about our own work and life experience, isn’t it? And such a question is never truly answered once and for all, because we are continually evolving … new depths are plumbed, new insights come to light, we grow … we change.

And, realistically, many may not be able to articulate that massive, burning question after loss. Instead, it may hover in the air like an annoying fly or mosquito, before we decide to acknowledge its burning presence within us. Before we turn within long enough to realize the maze-like question MUST be answered … eventually. It holds our feet to the fire until we do … and while the holidays are upon us, many have other things on their mind. Big questions like this. Stories of time undone, for instance.

What led to unexpected tragedy? How did society and culture impact my son’s life, and mine? What are the deeper reasons our world seems determined to produce addictive patterns that flow from a multitude of external sources? Why is this trying issue seemingly intrinsic to the human condition? 

Wading into seem deep waters with my memoir, in other words. For anyone weary of surface chatter, I hope this book is a small gift to each and every one of you. We need alternatives to the nightly news. We need new ways at looking at habitual patterns of human behavior. We may even need a spiritual nudge — a catalyst we can’t ignore.

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  • I remember how the holiday glare got to me one December … in the aftermath of sudden loss from my son’s suicide during a major relapse from drug addiction.
  • Here is the poem I wrote that year … it was originally called “Red Yarn.”

UNDER THE GLARE

Tucked in stockings of red yarn … gifts appear,
as under the proud evergreen with its lights,
tinsel, tempting ornaments of gold.

A whirlwind season, a rush of old against new,
a collision of family and friends, turned wistfully
towards the sparkle, the dazzle, of glistening snow.

Yet, reflecting on expectations of greeting cards,
gifts, cookies and more, I wonder how to make
the experience unique, new again somehow, or
at least more meaningful.

A sizable challenge, but offering the potential
to transform my sagging holiday spirit into the
perfect storm: a blissful state of creative
confusion, lingering sighs against treasured
moments of peace.

A sage at work drumming up holiday lore,
or maybe a mere poet, unsteady under the
glare of twisted strands of holiday lights —
too bright, blinking at speeds unknown.

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So, now, as I mull over every sentence, every thought, shared in my memoir … wondering what others may glean from the story that is memorable … I am also humbled by the poignancy of the moment.

An unexpected rush of emotions that returned when I read the last page of the book. The slight reluctance to let go of my story. Even though my son wasn’t a saint by conventional measures …

everything he experienced is a reflection of the human struggle to somehow right itself against the rocky waves of time. So, I have to wonder, how are we all doing?

A key question posed on the back cover of the memoir is a good one to keep in mind this time of year … or any time for that matter. Despite it all, how do we deepen our perspective … committing to sustained personal growth? Maybe this question can also guide us into 2016.

Do you have thoughts on this? I’d love to know your suggestions, because this “deepening of perspective” is the key, I sense, to many aspects of life.

Released December 3, 2015.
Now on AMAZON (print copy), eBook formats forthcoming along with general availability on other bookstore sites, i.e., Barnes & Noble.

PLEASE enjoy a safe season, and don’t let the holiday glare distract you from a timeless, inner peace that knows no boundaries, calendars, or contingencies. Wishing you all good cheer and the incredible warmth of connection. ~ dh

  • Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again soon (December 20th), as I continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all. I’ll also keep you updated on my memoir … reviews, availability, and so on.
  • If you read THE SILENCE OF MORNING, please let me know if it offered something helpful and meaningful and, hopefully, memorable.
  • And most of all, best wishes for the winter season. May you find inspiration, joy, and peace in the coming days!

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  • When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.  –dh
    Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this may be a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s just a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~ d.a. hickman, 2014

READING THOMAS MERTON

I like to take my time with some books. The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton is one of those. I started reading it in 2014, and am finally, almost finished. I’ve read many other books during this time, some in a few days. But this one (first published, 1948) seems best taken in small gulps, while weaving in the demands of everyday life. Merton’s journey to find his spiritual truth is almost like a guide to living. For one thing, he doesn’t give up, despite countless setbacks. And he refreshingly notes how his personality, his past, and his dogged uncertainty follow him around like dancing shadows he can’t quite penetrate.

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to the violence of our times.” ― Thomas Merton

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In the spirit of Merton’s journey, the main thing I wanted to communicate via this brief blog post is that regardless of your particular life situation … whatever inner struggle you are experiencing … wisdom is everywhere. Seek it out, especially in books that are a “slow read” … because they are so full of life!

“The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” ― William Arthur Ward

Above all, Merton was a teacher. And he is still teaching us, should we choose to tune in. It’s not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing with him … it’s a matter of appreciating his process to get to a place of peace in his life. That process is as relevant today as it was when he was experiencing everything he wrote about. As autobiographies go, this life story is one to sink into for as long as you can … letting Merton’s style, compassion, and understanding seep into your day.

Merton’s process IS the point.

His story probably could have been told in fewer words, no doubt. But then we would miss the intriguing layers of tension, the unresolved struggle in his life to measure up (in spiritual terms) so that he might realize his higher dimension. The depth of his anguish … the depth of his joy … would all be missing. That is the real beauty of a book like this. We feel like we “know” this man as we read on … really “know” him. That alone is a very good reason to read Merton … probably more than once. ~

“The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental
and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds.”
Thomas Merton

  • Thanks for stopping by. Hope to see you again next Friday, as I continue to focus on memoir — the genre, the path, the point of it all. I’ll also have an update soon on the release of my forthcoming memoir: The Silence of Morning — A Memoir of Time Undone.
  • When we value the journey itself, new realities are revealed amidst the old.  –dh

    • Always Returning: The Wisdom of Place is about digging into our surroundings to unearth an organic, timeless wisdom. If you’re looking for inspiration or want to lean more about a landscape, a place, that helped me to unearth my spiritual roots, this may be a book you’ll enjoy. We are much wiser than we imagine; it’s just a matter of tapping into what we already know. ~

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