A. Jay Adler writes in all genres, publishing in poetry, fiction, creative nonfiction, essay, film criticism, and political and cultural commentary. He has written for the theater and won awards for screenwriting. He did his graduate studies at Columbia University, teaches English at Fordham University and Queens College, CUNY, and is Professor Emeritus in English at Los Angeles Southwest College. Academic specializations in literature for which he trained were British and American Modernism and James Joyce studies. Adler later developed specializations in rhetoric and composition and, drawing on his undergraduate concentration in philosophy, argumentation and critical thinking. Earlier careers were as an executive in the international air courier industry and a troubled soul. (The troubles passed, but the soul remains a lifelong challenge.)
You can learn more about him here. And here.
History of the blog
the sad red earth began as a blog of reportage about the sabbatical-year motor home journey that Adler and photographer Julia Dean took around the United States during 2008-09. Its focus was on their travels and work in Indian Country. With their return home to Los Angeles, Dean resumed full-time guidance of The Julia Dean Photo Workshops while Adler went back to teaching and continued to blog. Even while they were on the road, however, the blog always did address others of Adler’s fields of interest. Those fields – politics, culture, music, film, poetry, and some of his own creative writing – came to predominate on the blog, but Native America and Indigenous issues remain a special subject of interest.
If you would like a look back through time at how the originating motor home life and journey began with some necessary humor amid minor calamities, you can take a peek back here and here.
Because the blog began in the spirit of adventure and travel, reproduced below are its first two posts, intended to capture the passion for travel that Adler and Dean share. The first is about an experience during Dean’s five months in India in the early 90s while working on a photo book. The second is an excerpt of “The American Road: Route 66 at 80,” written by Adler and photographed by Dean, and originally published in the winter 2007 issue of Doubletake/Points of Entry magazine. First, though, the source of the blog’s name, followed, in Dean’s journal entry, with the inspiration for choosing it.
The Blog Title — from On The Road, by Jack Kerouac
In the spring of 1949 I had a few dollars saved from my GI education checks and I went to Denver, thinking of settling down there. I saw myself in Middle America, a patriarch. I was lonesome. Nobody was there – no Babe Rawlins, Ray Rawlins, Tim Gray, Betty Gray, Roland Major, Dean Moriarty, Carlo Marx, Ed Dunkel, Roy Johnson, Tommy Snark, nobody. I wandered around Curtis Street and Larimer Street, worked a while in the wholesale fruit market where I almost got hired in 1947 – the hardest job of my life; at one point the Japanese kids and I had to move a whole boxcar a hundred feet down the rail by hand with a jackgadget that made it move a quarter-inch with each yank. I lugged watermelon crates over the ice floor of reefers into the blazing sun, sneezing. In God’s name and under the stars, what for?
At dusk I walked. I felt like a speck on the surface of the sad red earth. I passed the Windsor Hotel, where Dean Moriarty had lived with his father in the depression thirties, and as of yore I looked everywhere for the sad and fabled tinsmith of my mind. Either you find someone who looks like your father in places like Montana or you look for a friend’s father where he is no more.
How We Named the Blog…
In 1993, I spent five months in India working on a children’s book and other photographic projects. I remember some pretty lonely moments. One of those times was during a nine-hour bus ride of heavy thoughts from Mangalore to Bangalore, alone in a third world country without another living soul aware of my whereabouts. This was years before internet and international cell phones.
This leg of my trip was unexpected. My film, sent from Nebraska to Mangalore, was sitting in the Customs office in Bangalore waiting for me to claim it. So instead of moving north up the coast in route to Bombay and my next magazine assignment, I boarded a pre-dawn bus, for an out-of-the-way ride eastward to the landlocked state capital.
I arrived early at the bus station and took great care in selecting my seat. At the last minute, a large Indian man sat next to me, his body overextending his seat into mine, touching my left side from shoulder to knee until he got off at his predetermined destination five hours later.
Our first stop was for breakfast. We all piled off the bus and into a restaurant where I sat silently with three men, feeling unsocial while I drank a cup of coffee and watched them eat with their hands. A shrill whistle sounded. It was time to get back on. I climbed over the fat man and stuck my head out the window. A young child with matted black hair thrust a beat up stainless steel plate at me with a few coins on it, gurgling sounds while she begged.
All day, I took everything in as our bus chugged up mountainous roads and passed other vehicles carelessly going down. My world was seen through a sequence of still images, captured in horizontal frames. It was a lonely day, a sad day. Everything around me seemed so depressing.
At our next 10 minute stop, I scurried off in search of a bathroom, though it was closed for some reason. Overuse? There was smelly water covering the floor. A small boy was defecating outside, in front of God and everyone else. Hundreds of people were standing around, women in their brightly colored saris and men in their drab white, brown, or black attire. Everyone was headed somewhere, or nowhere, under the colorless light of the mid-day sun.
The fat man got off the bus and an old woman with a thick mustache and stubble of a beard took the seat next to me. Her skin was the color and texture of a piece of beef jerky. She reached across me with a frown on her masculine face and closed my window. Our eyes met briefly, and I proceeded to stare out at the passing landscape, my nose pressed up against the glass, immersed in my thoughts.
The scenery changed drastically from that with which I had become familiar on the coast: lush green rice paddy fields and groves of coconut trees. For brief moments it was as if I were in the Nebraska Sandhills with its rolling land covered by dry sagebrush; or in Arizona, where the earth is red and cactus line the roads. But there were sure signs that I was not in America: a water buffalo submerged in a pond, harnessed oxen tilling a field guided by a weather-beaten barefoot farmer, women washing their clothes under a communal faucet, while a naked young boy bathed.
The “movie” outside my window seemed to be stuck on slow speed. It felt as if our bus was the only thing moving.
I was reading Jack Kerouc’s novel On the Road during this momentous bus ride and came to the following line: “I felt like a speck on the surface of the sad red earth.” It was exactly how I felt.
We flew by what appeared to be a mirage in this otherwise dry, brown, lifeless environment, adding color to my dark mood: two small square pieces of irrigated land, one of bright green, the other a golden yellow. Between them, on a raised footpath, ran a woman wearing a sari that matched the yellow field, flowing behind her and aglow from the backlit sun.
Ah, there was life after all. My spirits were lifted.
Banning, California; November 2008
The Open Road
In the summer of 2006, the year of its eightieth anniversary, Julia and I flew to Chicago to drive the length of old Route 66 from its starting point at Michigan Avenue to its end at the Pacific Ocean in Los Angeles. Our article on the history of the route, and on westward travel in the U.S. in general, was published in the Winter 2007 issue of DoubleTake/Points of Entry magazine. This is its conclusion:
There will be the mesa you round, and the moment you stop and get out of the car to feel the silence, hear the stillness, listen to no wind blow through you. A deer will fright on a low crag across the road, start and stop, bound to the cliff top and lift its ears, run as the earth rumble grows. From out of the pass, the train will come, long and steady, brown cars, red cars, yellow, reminding you, as you stand and watch, that while you are always alone, you are always connected.
And then, finally – at last, you may think – curving and cornering through the mountain switchbacks on the stretch between Kingman and Oatman, Arizona, the old gold mining and western town where burros roam and Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent their honeymoon night – you catch sight of the wide, sweeping valley below, and still more mountains beyond, and you wonder, as they must have back in ’26, and on how many horses and wagons before: Does it never end? Does it go on forever, this country? Is there always another valley, another mountain, another plain? They say there is an ocean.
But you will arrive. And the road will return you to yourself, whether it is the route called 66 or another. Because Route 66, as Kerouac knew, as the makers of the TV series knew, is just the emblem of the open road, which is to say its essence. We are alone and connected, and the road tells us both.
In a world in which the daily coffee Americans buy may or may not enable a Guatemalan farmer to live, or the sport shoes we wear lead a Chinese child to labor 12 hours a day in a sweatshop; in a world in which the toot we put up our nose loses a child’s policeman-father his head in Rosarito, and the computer we buy starts a new life for a young woman in Bangalore (and the gasoline we put in our tanks fuels the terror against us) – in such a world of six billion people, to insist we can live by the libertarian ideals of an 18th century agrarian society of just under four million may seem a stretch of the common in sense.
And yet… And yet…
And yet, there are those who recoil to think they are born into an ant colony of genetically and socially contracted roles and regulations, that they evacuate the womb to be captured by government forms, numbers, and imprints before they are even really people. (Though the number that gets you cash from the Bank of America drive-in machine when you’re running low in Tulsa comes in pretty handy.)
On the road, at least – if not, soon, in Britain, at least still here – you can regain your anonymity, disappear into the human grove of earth at this overpass or that T, or along the “let’s see where that goes.” You can leave behind for awhile the Middle East, and Darfur, and Tamil Tigers, and the forgotten prisons of Myanmar – the my God, your God, whose God, no God – and try to remember something. Maybe you recall it in the Petrified Forest or great Meteor Crater of Arizona, maybe in the desert, maybe in a bar.
It’s like Buzz used to say over the credits each week, as he and Tod would first set out all over again in their Corvette: “Goodbye Pittsburgh. Hello world.”
There may be troubles behind and uncertainty ahead. But there is possibility too. And while your destination lies before you, for now there is the journey. Winds come up, and they cease. Islands of white cloud hang suspended in the blue. Fields go by. Towns go by. Rivers and bridges. Mountain. Valley. Mesa. Butte. In what seems a dream of life, and not life, which is to say life at last, and not a dream, the rhythm of the road, the quick of perception, both lull you and drive you on. You are individual and alive, and everything that passes catches the sun.
And so we begin.
Banning, California; November 2008Follow Me
24 thoughts on “About”
What i don’t understood is in fact how you are no longer
really a lot more neatly-liked than you may be now. You are very intelligent.
You already know therefore considerably in relation to this topic, produced me individually imagine it from numerous varied angles.
Its like men and women aren’t interested exdcept it is something to do with Woman gaga!
Your own stufs excellent. Always maqintain it up!
A question, Jay: I just read that Julia went to RIT. Does she know the photographer, Denis Defibaugh, who teaches there?
She says no, Rob. I checked, and he arrived after her time.
I did a two week service trip to Zion in 2003 and he was living in the park for a few months while leading a course. He trekked into Kolob Canyon with us for four days. We were armed with shovels, rakes, sledgehammers and other implement of destruction, while he lovingly lugged in a beautiful wooden box camera and tripod. Later on, he showed me some of his beautiful work from Mexico. Never got to see those shots from Zion, though.
Hello Mr. Adler,
I was just looking at the pingback to my blog’s Dave Brubeck post from your site, and I was immediately struck by the beautiful photo of Monument Valley. Gorgeous! I enjoyed reading your About page.
Have you ever had a chance to meet Charlie Whitehorse? I went on a trip to Monument Valley with my two sons and some other people a few years ago, where we met Charlie and some of the people who live there and to help out with some projects. It was an amazing trip. It’s sad to see and hear about how desperate people’s situations are there.
If and when you get a chance, here are some memories of mine from our trip that you can read as well: http://viewfrommiddleclass.wordpress.com/2012/02/01/remembering-charlie-whitehorse-and-a-mission-trip-to-monument-valley/
Keep up the great work!
Thanks for the visit and the comment, John. Monument Valley is one of the great natural sites of the world, a kind of living cathedral. I enjoyed the photos of your time there, and reading about your background at your blog. Continued good luck with it.
Thanks for your cogent thoughts about the continue genocide of American Indians. Please check out my own book, published in 2006 by the University of Texas Press, entitled, Unlearning the Language of Conquest: Scholars Expose Anti-Indianism in America.
Also, see my newest book, my first novel, Last Song of the Whales and please share with your friends my website that lists other books and chapters I have written on the subject you are confronting. Wopila tanka,
Four Arrows, thank you for visiting and for sharing your information about your work.
Yes, down the rabbit hole of google I have stumbled and find myself here. I may never want to leave, as the content is fascinating and there are many serendipidous connections. Good fortunes, Dean & Adler!
Bruce, thanks for your kind words and good wishes. Welcome. Here on the sad red earth, we’re partial to rabbit hole visitations.
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Thanks for this blog, it is inspiring and compelling. I stumbled across it when I did a Google search for the Mentality of the Conqueror, and I read The Dominating Mentality of Conquest, which you wrote, of course. I am studying to be a psychologist/counselor and we are currently doing a Racial Diversity class. Your writing engenders thought, which can produce knowledge and wisdom. So many people lose track of who they are, or never knew in the first place. Knowing who we are, where we came from, our motives, and where we are going next is an incredible journey in discovery. I am descended from only about 700 Cherokee people who stayed in the East to live among the white conquerors, and I never knew that part of myself until I hit that “open road” literally and in my educational journey, and headed out to find my dreams and myself. Now I can tell my story. I appreciate yours.
Kimberly, thank you for your kind comments. Continued good luck on your journey and in telling your story.
Not sure what to make of this site.
Of all my years of living in “Indian Country”, my encounters with anti-Semites amongst them has been pretty consistent.
I was all for “Native American” cultures and such, before moving to New Mexico, but was saddened by the hate and ignorance so prevalent amongst these people.
If I was feeling an outsider amongst other groups before, things are much worse now.
My only wish is to gather enough money to move from this dreadful place and finally seek some semblance of peace.
Bob, thanks for stopping by. One thing you might make of the site is the notion that the justice due American Indians is independent of any Antisemitism you may have found among those you have met, or whether American Indians are any better than any other people, many of whom have also demonstrated Antisemitism over the millennia. Since you live in New Mexico, you might find it interesting to take a trip to Tombstone, Arizona, where, on Boot Hill, the long abandoned and segregated Jewish cemetery was restored by Judge C. Lawrence Huerta, a Yacqui Indian in 1983. A monument was dedicated.
Very pleased to hear from you Ernie. You’ve written an immensely important article, and I will be talking about it more here at the sad red earth. Thanks for it, and for writing.
Hi Mr. Adler,
By the magic of goodle, I found out this morning that you referenced Judeosphere’s excerpts from my article. “Purigying the World: What the Radical New Ideology Stands For.”
The article makes the point (among other points) that the strange coalitions that fall under the anti-Empire movement movement depend for their tenuous solidarity on hatred of an “enemy of humanity” –and once again it’s Israel, the collective Jew. It’s this common hatred that alows bizarre commonalities between Neoprogressives and various brands of theocrats, fascists and totalitarians. The article is in the winter 2010 issue of the journal Orbis.
For those who may want to check out the whole piece, I’m attaching a link to a PDF: http://spme.net/library/pdf/PurifyingtheWorld.pdf
The whole journal is at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/00304387 (but this is an electronic version–not formatted like the printed original.)
I expect to be writing more on the matter and appreciate critical or constructive comments.
yes its still there, its all white niw, i remember it was painted a sky blue when i lived there.
I’d LOVE to find the floorplan of that house, i’m a computer modeler, and would love to render that house
drop me a line: email@example.com
Joe, well, then you’re like a ghost of the past! I was living next door ten years earlier, though I was still in Rockaway then.. I drove by about four years ago and saw the building I lived in next door, but can’t recall if the hose was still there. Glad, now, I didnt go any farther. Amazing that you found my post.
“So there was the “haunted” three-story Victorian right next to our modern red brick apartment house, with which the act of bravery was to run up onto the porch and knock on the door.”
OMG..I used to LIVE in that house in the early 70’s, and it WAS HAUNTED! The walls would look like they moved in and out like someone was breathing
My apology for such a delayed reply. Yes, the characters I wrote about are real, and those were their names. Funny that you were searching for a Kenny Robbins, when I knew a Kenny Robinson, but you were several years ahead of me, as I was class of ’70. I went to PS 104 from 4th to 6th grades and junior high school in Jamaica before we moved back to Rockaway and I entered Far Rockaway High. Far Rock was a fun and exciting place to be a teen and young hippie in the late 60s (though, of course, I hated the one-horse world-unto-itself and was dying to leave). The beach enhances everything. We even had our own anti-war strike, complete with closing down the school and a police riot during the march down Central Avenue. I moved into Manhattan in ’74, but I returned regularly for fifteen years to visit my parents. By then my parents had moved to Rockaway Park, further out on the peninsula, and it is probably close to thirty years now since the usual white flight from an arriving poor black underclass completely changed Far Rockaway. The town has long been a shell of itself, many of the stores empty, all three movie theaters closed. There was a 100th anniversary reunion of all classes for FRHS that I did not attend, but FRHS was officially terminated as a school a couple of years ago, with, I think, three separate “academies” now operating out of the building. You can find what has to be among the more extensive and impressive high school and community reunion sites at http://www.farrockaway.com/. (You may recognize the front image of FRHS, of which I made use in one of my posts.) And now, among other luminaries we have Bernie Madoff of whom to be proud.
Jay: Somehow I found your writing when I googled “Kenny Robbins” a kid I went through school with in Far Rockaway, from ’57-’64. I guess I met him in the 6th grade when I moved from the Bronx, and I just looked back at our Far Rockaway H.S. yearbook, The Dolphin (!?) and saw his entry saying ‘ we were rivals all these years,but our friendship survived.’ I wouldn’t have characterized our relationship that way. It’s curious he did. Then I came across your writings and photographs of Far Rockaway back then. It took me back, but I don’t have much of a feel, and little knowledge of Far Rock. in the late ’60’s and on. When were you there, are these characters names real? Please do let me know. Ken Bernstein, P.S.104, J.H.S. 198, Far Rockaway H.S., ’64.
i realize this is your “about” page. i just really dig what u wrote.
this is some of the most amazing writing i’ve come across in a long time. thank you!