Friday, July 13, 2018

Pilgrimage

Many years ago I was at Powell's City of Books with an author whose name is lost to my shrinking memory cache. 

After the author's reading, as we were leaving, we came across a young writer gazing at a sign that was a line from a short story by Raymond Carver.

A brief meeting of the Raymond Carver Fan Club, Chapter 97209 was called to order.

The young writer told us he was on his way, that very night, to Port Angeles, to visit the grave of Raymond Carver. A pilgrimage of sorts. He was getting ready to start a new novel, and paying homage to Raymond Carver was his way of invoking the Muse, much as the ancients did before they took up the task of taming words into a story.

I was enchanted by that idea (as you can see, I've remembered it - albeit missing bits - for years). I wondered for whom I would undertake a pilgrimage. Who would I invoke to bless my efforts?

James Crumley would top the list. But I wouldn't visit his grave, I'd visit Crumley corner in The Depot, Missoula, Montana.




And if you don't know the work of James Crumley, I envy you. You now get to buy his books and experience the raw pleasure of reading an undisputed master for the very first time. Like how Keats felt about another writer who was known to invoke the Muse:


On First Looking into Chapman's Homer

Much have I travell'd in the realms of gold,
And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
That deep-brow'd Homer ruled as his demesne;
Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star'd at the Pacific—and all his men
Look'd at each other with a wild surmise—
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

Do you invoke a muse?
And for whom would you make a pilgrimage?

36 comments:

french sojourn said...


When my father taught engineering at the Maine Maritime Academy, he alway read McAndrew's Hymn to the midshipman. I think I would make a pilgrimage to the grave of Rudyard Kipling. For my father, who had two ships torpedoed out from underneath him during the second world war. And for Kipling, as he influenced much of my childhood with his wonderful stories.

CynthiaMc said...

All I have to do is go back home to Alabama to the Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay and the authors who call (or called) it home for at least part of the year. Winston Groom, W.E.B. Griffin (Mr. Butterworth), Fannie Flagg, Rick Bragg. Probably some others since I left there.

If you ever visit Fairhope, Alabama be sure to stop by the Page and Palette -part book store, part art supply store. Hope to have a book signing there someday.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

My pilgrimage, taken years ago but not to a grave.
It was to the black fence of spider webs in a Maine neighborhood. The barrier, surrounding a stunning home, in a row of stunning homes, no different than the good side of town in any other small city.

My husband's cousin was a teacher in that town and it was she, who directed me to the residence of the noble Mr. King.
After driving by at least twenty times she told me it's time to go. We've spent enough time here, to worship at the fence must come to a close.
Go home and write.
I did.

E.M. Goldsmith said...

The Eagle and Child at Oxford - where Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and the other Inklings met- I spent many an hour there in my University years hoping to soak up inspiration. Mostly, I soaked up ale.

In New Orleans, there is a haunted hotel called Hotel Monteleon where you can have a drink with the ghosts of Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, and Ernest Hemingway among others. That is on my lists of destinations. I love such pilgrammages.

Cecilia Ortiz Luna said...


Christopher Isherwood.

Many years ago, I bought his book "Christopher And His Kind" from a used-book bookstore in the Philippines for 2 pesos (equivalent to 1/4 of an American cent). For perspective, the Stephen King and Nora Roberts books started at 30 pesos. I didn't know who Isherwood was but the first page hooked me.

It changed my life.

Spare prose, commonplace words, uncomplicated themes of friendship and love. But, oh boy, his writing electrified. After reading that 2-peso book for at least twenty times, I started to consider the possibility that maybe I, too, can try my hand at writing.

My Christopher Isherwood pilgrimage would take me to the three places where he did most of his writing: Laurel Canyon in California, Berlin and Derbyshire, England.

Someday.

Kitty said...

Nora Ephron, without a doubt. From the opening line of "Heartburn" I knew I wanted to write like that. She died 6 years ago and was cremated and her "ashes scattered." I'd have to make a pilgrimage to her beloved Apthorp where she had an apartment.

In February, 1980, two months after the birth of my second child and the simultaneous end of my marriage, I fell madly in love. I was looking for a place to live, and one afternoon I walked just ten steps into an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and my heart stood still. This was it. At first sight. Eureka. Ten steps in and I said, “I’ll take it.”

Donnaeve said...

Let's see, I've been to William Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, a few times, walked down that bumpy little path, into the home, where I tried to absorb a writerly vibe.

I've been to Hemingway's home in Key West.

Coming from NC, and living here still, there are plenty of writer's homes I could go visit, but there is this one place not tied in with any one author in particular I would view as a possible muse, much like the place you mention in Montana. It's called Crooks Corner and it's actually a restaurant. Crooks Corner has a deep history, part of it involving it's at the location of the unsolved murder of Rachel Crook who used to run a fish market in the 1940s in the same location. The food there is recognized as “sacred ground for Southern foodies” (NY Times). It is also the only known restaurant to sponsor a literary award, called The Crooks Corner Book Prize, which chooses a debut novel each year, set in the south.

Food and support of the literary community = win/win.

Amy Johnson said...

For what I'm thinking about, it would be better for me to use the word "inspiration" instead of "muse." :) Each time I sit down to write, I try to remember to pray--for help creating something useful (even if light-hearted), to do what I'm here to do, etc. So, God is my inspiration.

I'm not sure I'm the make-a-pilgrimage sort. I think going outside for a while makes my writing better. I'm guessing it's something about my inspiration's creation inspiring me to be creative.

Kregger said...

Robert Jordon is my muse for the twenty years I spent peering (figuratively) over his shoulder while reading his Wheel of Time series. It was a sad day for me when he passed. It was shortly after that dark day, I began to consider my own mortality as parts of my aging body silently quit. I mark the day of his death as the starting point of my own writing journey.

Someday I will search out his resting place.

Craig F said...

Zelazny

PAH said...

If we're going to graves / historic homes / statues, I think I'd most want to hit up a GK Chesterton pilgrimage.

Maggie Maxwell said...

Terry Pratchett, no doubt. He was my inspiration and my driving force, the books that brought me back from the brink of giving up. If I ever make it across the Atlantic, I will absolutely make a stop where I can to pay tribute.

Melanie Sue Bowles said...

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. We lived in the Sarasota area for over 30 years. Cross Creek is three hours north. A delightful drive through diverse flora and fauna unique to the interior of Florida - and an entirely different world than the coast.

It's difficult for me to describe the way I felt when I first saw Ms. Rawlings' home. I'm not the sort who gets starstruck by celebrities. But I walked the rooms of her little Cracker cottage with a reverence. When the wood floors creaked I wondered if that very same spot creaked when she walked these rooms. And when I stood in front of her desk I had to remind myself to breathe. I didn't need the tour guide to tell me what year she left NY to move to Florida or that she was an exquisite cook or that she had a temper. I knew all that. In fact, I wanted the tour guide to stop talking altogether so I could listen for the sound of Marjorie's spirit.

RosannaM said...

If I were to be honest, (and I try to keep my lying to my writing, only then I call it making it up!) I would have to answer no to both.

I think I am more like Amy Johnson.

But it is an interesting subject to ponder, and like an earlier blog post about locations/destinations, I might just have a TBV* list as well as a TBR pile.


*To Be Visited.

CynthiaMc said...

Melanie - I just did a search - Marjorie's house is 1:49 north of us. Might have to check it out.

John Davis Frain said...

Poe.

For all the reasons.

J. F. Constantine said...

I really enjoyed this post. I relate to it so well. I have done this.

I went to San Francisco a few years ago after my mother died. It had been a long and terrible illness for her, and I was reinvigorating my writing, and myself after such a horrible time. Outside of Austin (my home town), I love San Francisco the most. I have long said it is "magic".

I needed to reconnect with my favorite writer, whose works and journals have kept me going in good and bad. He drank and cursed and wrote about things that mattered. He was brilliant, in my opinion. He even changed our laws regarding migrant farm workers - with one book. We could use him now - or maybe we just need to remember what he said about human beings.

I rented a car and drove down to Salinas, the hometown of the great John Steinbeck, whom I had admired since junior high English class. One of my favorite short stories of his is one called "The Chrysanthemums" from his collection "The Long Valley". It is set in Salinas. It is a standout for me for my own reasons.

I am Greek-American, and while Chrysanthemums come in several colors, this name roughly translated from the original Greek means "gold flower". That's important to remember.

I drove through Salinas (south of San Francisco) and on into Monterey (close by), where I motored through Pacific Grove and found the house where Mr. Steinbeck had at one time lived.

I went back into Salinas to find his childhood home and to visit the Steinbeck National Museum there, but FIRST, I was going to visit his grave in the local cemetery, and pay my respects.

I needed flowers for this. I drove down Main Street, having no idea of any flower shops in the area, when I saw one called "Flower Magik" (sic). Unfortunately, that shop is no longer in business.

I did not know what I wanted so asked for the woman's help in getting flowers to put on a grave (I did not tell her who it was). The deceased was a man, I said, and a "friend" so I wanted to pay respects.

She took me to the refrigerator in the back where she had fresh-cut flowers, and pulled out the yellow chrysanthemums, and asked me if I liked those. I stood there for a moment. It was the first flower she went to, out of a case full of flowers of all types and colors. I said "yes" that was what I wanted and she made a bouquet of the same.

I left the shop, went to the cemetery and found his grave, where I laid the yellow chrysanthemums, and said some Greek Orthodox prayers of thanks and blessings. I lingered for quite a while and then left.

It was extraordinary - a flower shop on the main avenue, with a "magik" name, and yellow chrysanthemums (gold flowers) to pay homage to a writer whose work I loved - and the first flowers offered to me at that "magik" shop were The Chrysanthemums.

You can say what you like, but I will forever think it was a sign of some kind - a connection. I don't get more specific about its feeling than that, because it is special and no further analysis of it is wanted or needed. The whole trip was magical.

BrendaLynn said...

Warning: Entering Uncharted Waters. No one knows how superstitious I am (not even the guy who snores next to me).

Years ago, when I decided to take my writing seriously, I went to a long, thin coffee shop to meet an acquaintance. She was a Real Writer, publishing a monthly humour column in a half dozen or so papers and magazines. I disguised my midnight ramblings in a plain brown envelope and watched her half slide it into her purse.

I immediately regretted my audacity, my writing, and my life.

The envelope agreed, peering up at me out of her purse, begging to return to the shadows.

She went to the loo and I contemplated making a run for it (contraband in hand, of course). When I left, I circled the block pondering the Canadian penalty for purse snatching (likely an abject apology and a donut shop gift card).

She is still my first reader and a very dear friend. When I’m well and truly bogged down I return to that narrow coffee shop, sit quietly, and remember that envelope. Its writing was abysmal, its concept was staid, and it’s grammar was faulty.

But a Real Writer liked it and, maybe...someday...a Real Publisher will, too.

John Davis Frain said...

J.F. Constantine, that was some magical prose. Thanks for taking us on the same journey.

Great post, Janet.

Claire Bobrow said...

I'd like to pay my respects to naturalist/author Gerald Durrell at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust on the Channel Island of Jersey, where his ashes are buried. There's also apparently a time capsule buried there, underneath this quote:

We hope that there will be fireflies and glow-worms at night to guide you and butterflies in hedges and forests to greet you.
We hope that your dawns will have an orchestra of bird song and that the sound of their wings and the opalescence of their colouring will dazzle you.
We hope that there will still be the extraordinary varieties of creatures sharing the land of the planet with you to enchant you and enrich your lives as they have done for us.
We hope that you will be grateful for having been born into such a magical world.


Claire Bobrow said...

Agree with John Frain: great post, Janet, and thank you, J.F. Constantine, for that beautiful description of your visit to Salinas. Wonderful comments today - thanks, all.

Barbara Etlin said...

I've been to Hemingway's house in Key West and loved it. I bought a poster of a painting of it which hangs on my office wall. I've definitely felt Steinbeck's presence in Salinas and in the entire Monterey Peninsula.

I am definitely inspired by places, maybe more than writers who lived there.

But for muse-level inspiration, I think I need to visit a certain cottage in Stratford-on-Avon, England.

Barbara said...

I would make a pilgramage for Rod Serling. For me, he was a person who understood people, and that left to our own devices, most people are good and kind and want to be. But he also understood human nature, and how frail we really are, and how little it takes for the good inside us to crumble.

I think that was why he was so prolific. Stories are about people, and if you "get' people, it seems the ideas would come easily.

I've been a fan of his since I saw my first Twilight Zone episode. In my mind, he said so much about the human condition in everything he wrote. His stories said 'This is who we are. We may not be perfect, but we try.' The world lost something good when we lost him.

Adele said...

I suppose it's not a pilgrimage if you didn't go there on purpose, but I was wandering around the Old Town in Southampton (England), just because I love me a little medieval architecture, when I came across a plaque identifying an old stone row house as a place where Jane Austen had lived for a time. Instantly transported back two hundred years, I saw the streets as she would have known them, and I spent a glorious couple of hours walking those same streets, finding other buildings and other scenes she would have known. (who needs AR when you have imagination).

Karen McCoy said...

After I graduated with my Master's, I took a few side trips on the way back west. One was to Emily Dickinson's house, and the other was to Edgar Allan Poe's memorial in Baltimore. Both of these experiences left me breathless.

I had the same experience seeing the Book of Kells and Trinity Library while in Ireland.

As far as a muse goes, any place that allows for brain space is always best. A beach. A hiking trail. A forest.

These days, I make pilgrimages to see published authors at book events. Actively feeds the muse, and I always learn something new.

RosannaM said...

I am glad I checked back here today. Thank you J.F. Constantine for a lovely, magikal story. And Claire's for the magical quote.

Good stuff to close out the week.

Craig F said...

Claire or anyone else with a fondness for fireflies, google Mofro's fireflies and give it a listen. Or use this:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eTYvqYfQmts

Have a good weekend y'all

Claire Bobrow said...

Thanks, Craig!

MA Hudson said...

I visited Jane Austen's burial site in Winchester Cathedral when I was fresh out of high school and still scarred from having to study 'Emma' for my High School Certificate. I was not a fan. I thought it was the most boring tosh ever, the language was so lah-di-dah, and the age gap between Emma and Mr Knightley beyond disgusting.
Well, I think Ms Austen's ghost must've followed me home to Australia because it wasn't long after that I read Pride and Prejudice and thought it was hilarious and THE BEST BOOK EVER. Still my favourite. I can reread it anytime, enjoying it just as much as the first time. So clever, so funny, and so entertaining. In my head, I regularly bow before Jane Austen's burial stone in Winchester and pay the respects I was too ignorant to bestow in my youth.

Timothy Lowe said...

Wesley G. Lowe, author of the most filthy poems and limericks I'd ever hope to read. I'm not sure where his ashes got to, but I'd love to visit.

AJ Blythe said...

Re-read Claire's answer and you will have mine. Gerald Durrell inspired in more than one way. I love his writing (his humour and descriptions are amazing) but I also followed in his path as he (along with David Attenborough) inspired me to study and forge a career in Environmental Science before it was a thing.

Lisa Bodenheim said...

What beautiful stories here.

In high school, I was introduced to the U.K. by authors Mary Stewart and Georgette Heyer. Since then I've been an enthusiastic afficionado. As an adult I thoroughly enjoyed the Jane Austen movies. When I lived in Scotland, my sister and niece came over to visit me. We took a bus/train trip on a rain-filled day to visit Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, a setting from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice movie which also had the sculpture gallery with the veiled woman.

Claire Bobrow said...

AJ! I love that!! We will have to make the pilgrimage together :-)

roadkills-r-us said...

First, thanks to J. F. Constantine [1] for that lovely trip down memory lane. I could feel it.
No muse besides God (and let's face it, if I'm made in his/her image, what better muse?)
Pilgrimage? It would almost have to be associated with Oxford or somewhere C.S. Lewis or J.R.R Tolkien lived, or somewhere Andre (actually Mary Alice) Norton lived. I have a lot of influences, but those three made a huge impact on me. And maybe where Edgar Allen Poe died. Because Poe.


[1] My wife and I live just outside Round Rock.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

My characters are my muses.

I would go on a pilgrimage for Ellis Peters, also known as Edith Pargeter, author of the Brother Cadfael series the Heaven Tree trilogy.

Jennifer Mugrage said...

AND the Heaven Tree trilogy. Typo.