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Alum Shares Inspiration for New Book “Meditations at Midnight”

By Lizz Panchyk

Gary Jansen ’92 started at Adelphi as a business major. His intrigue into the world of publishing began with taking Professor Judy Baumel for an elective class called “The Contemporary Moment,” a poetry class not just for reading but for writing as well. Baumel complimented his writing, which then inspired him to take his next step: switch to an English major in his sophomore year.

Gary (second from left) with his wife, Grace, and his two sons, Charlie and Eddie, at the recent Long Island Poetry Festival.

Jansen is now an accomplished author, his first book being published in 2008 titled “The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved,” but it was his 2010 book, “Holy Ghosts: Or, How a (Not So) Good Catholic Boy Became a Believer in Things That Go Bump in the Night” that really opened a huge door for him in terms of writing.

His passion for writing really began in middle school, creating books out of marble notebooks and writing Stephen King inspired horror stories. Being a writer was something that he had always wanted to do, and when he got to college, he toyed with the idea of being a journalist, which then brought him to The Delphian. As a staff writer, he most enjoyed writing music and album reviews. He eventually rose to become assistant news editor in spring of his sophomore year, alongside Lisa Bergendahl.

Early in Jansen’s start, he had help from Bruce Bawer, an essayist and poet who was brought in by academic attainment and acted as a writing coach. “He was a huge influence in my life and helped me get my first article published,” Jansen said. He managed to get articles published in both “Newsday” and “USA Today.” 

Meditations at Midnight, a book in five parts

After he graduated from Adelphi, Jansen went on to work at what is now Penguin Random House. During this time, he also decided to get his masters in English. He graduated from Queens College in 1996. His literary experience in grad school and fascination led him to go to Florence to study Dante, a major point of interest and inspiration for Jansen. He came to the conclusion three years into his career that he’d quit his job and take off for a study trip which took 40 days. He went from Italy to Austria to Prague to Poland to Germany to Paris where he finally flew back home. After a little over a month being back, his previous boss called him  and asked him if he’d like to come back and take on a promotion. He agreed and continued to work there for 25 years.

His new book, “Meditations at Midnight,” which came out on March 19, was inspired by a multitude of authors and stories, including Dante. The book has five parts: “Via Dolorosa,” which is about suffering, “Vita Vitae,” which focuses on wandering, “Via Cordis,” which is about love, “Via Memoria,” about memories (a nod to Dante’s La Vita Nuova) and the last part is “Coda,” which brings all of the sections together. Each part is marked with a constellation illustration, which lines up to the meaning behind each part and their contents. 

Jansen most enjoyed writing and creating this “coding system” that he used. “There’s a lot of references to different types of work, different nods to different artists and writers – that was so much fun to do,” he said. 

While he was working on it before Covid in 2019, he didn’t pick it back up again until 2023 and really went for it. The multi-layered-ness of it took some time, but that was also the opportunity for Jansen to do something poetic and creative.

His advice to future writers is not just to write, but write more. “In 2005, January 14 actually, I made a commitment to myself that I was going to write and write every day,” he said. “Sometimes people have to ramble before they finally get to the point and the meaning. So allow yourself to ramble and be free and to have fun and take chances.”

Find “Meditations at Midnight,” a book of poems and prose, at Barnes and Noble, Amazon and even Target (and other websites) and see if you can figure out the codes within the five parts. 

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