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About Crooked Roads

Berkeley, CA

My Crooked Road
Chris Dingman

I grew up in the New Hampshire countryside, in a little town. A thousand people. Time was slow. Had about three friends. We rode bikes around the village common, played football with their older brothers, or war. I spent a lot of time in the woods. I wanted to see animals. They were magical to me. A brook ran behind our house. I fished for trout or caught crawfish in the summer and walked along it like a path in the winter. Shelves of ice on the rocks, quiet. I drew pictures a lot. That was my thing. Dad played guitar, piano and trombone. I plunked out some melodies I liked on the piano. Like “The Entertainer” and “Maple Leaf Rag.” Mom had Beatles records. They made me think that if there is a God, He’s speaking through these guys. That music was unbelievably bright, just bursting. Never thought about doing what they did.

Middle School. New town. More people, new kids. Trying to be popular, trying to fit in. Wear the right shoes. Played trumpet in the band mostly because Dad wanted me to. Things go on like this through high school. Magic dies.

College. Harvard to be exact. First time away from home. First time in the “big city.” Feel alone, lost. Engineering? Something practical. But something’s waking up inside. Take some philosophy, meet some interesting kids. Find I can write funny pieces and join the Harvard Lampoon, a humor rag. I kinda fit here. Decide to be a writer. Short stories.

Summer after junior year, I’m staying with my Mom in California where she moved. I put on Dylan’s Freewheelin’ record. Comes on like a ghost—from some other realm. Cuts right through everything. Also reading DH Lawrence & Nietzsche. Instinct. I learn some chords on the guitar.

Graduation. Real world. “Poetry” starts coming into my head and I write it down. Weird things that I don’t show to anyone, except once to Robert Bly. He likes it, says to work at it. I move to California, go to LA to write comedy with a buddy & we get a Hollywood agent, but I can’t take LA and move north. Write a comedy screenplay, option it to Warner Bros. Keep playing guitar on my own, write more screenplays, but losing interest. The screenplay money runs out & I get a day-job.

Eventually I write some songs. Melodies come to me, sometimes like magic, sometimes when I work at it. Mostly it’s the lyrics that take time. I want every word to matter.

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