Dancing Barefoot with Patti Smith
For me, reading Patti Smith is a spiritual, enlightening experience, and I know that sounds like a tall order, but her words and music have always resonated with me in a way that makes me feel vulnerable and alive. For example, her sound “Cartwheels” accompanied me on many walks through the streets of Los Angeles, and “Because the Night” was my theme song for a while when I drove the long, endless roads of Ohio deep into the middle of the night.
When I read M Train a few years ago, it broke my heart in the most beautiful way. I quickly tracked down a signed, first edition of the book, and then I bought a ticket to hear Smith read from it at the Carnegie. We were all gifted another copy of the book—this one with more of her photography—and then she sang and read and talked to us most of the night and god, I just felt there. So often in life, I feel like I’m coasting, like I’m giving one lecture after another, grading paper after paper, I’m up and asleep and then somehow back in my car again all in one blur. So for me, to sit down with something that hits pause on my life and lets me taste and smell and feel and explore the beauty of everything around me…that’s some power, baby.
I picked up Year of the Monkey a few weeks ago at Barnes and Noble. I told my husband that I felt stuck and burnt out, and that I needed something to jolt me back into why I became an artist in the first place, and then right then and there, Smith’s book was staring up at me. Of course I had the book on my radar ever since I heard about its publication, but honestly, I’d forgotten about it in all hustle and bustle that is my life now. Seeing it there was like a breath of fresh air. It was like seeing a friend that you haven’t seen in a long time. It was refreshing and I immediately bought the book, hoping that once again, Patti Smith would remind me about the poetry that swims through my blood.
I read Year of the Monkey in a few sittings, which is actually a lie because I read most of it while I was walking on the treadmill at my gym seeing that multitasking is the name of my game. It was an ethereal, dreamlike experience that was written in an almost stream-of-consciousness type of prose. I found myself laughing and crying and connecting with her words, because honestly, I have yet to find an author that writes about grief as beautifully and honestly as Smith. But even still, what I love most about her work is how it gives power to small, quiet moments: a cup of coffee shared with a friend, the spray of saltwater on your face while standing next to the sea, the way a motel sign looks framed by the clouds.
When I finished the book, I felt alive again, like someone had taken my hand and reminded me that the world isn’t about a paycheck, that life isn’t about making the next appointment, and answering all my messages. Hell, at one point in the book, Smith lets her phone die and stays away from everyone for days at a time and I found myself so envious of her space, of the boundaries and freedom she set up for herself. I want that, and this book reminded me that it was okay and necessary to gift myself that time when I need it.
Needless to say, if you haven’t picked up this little piece of magic yet, I can’t recommend it enough. In fact, pick up M Train and Just Kids, too. It’s worth it and your soul will thank you later.
I give this book 4 out of 5 cups of coffee.