Reaching in, pulling out. The great divide is conquered; and there lies an ever-evolving mission to extract meaning from chaos. This, then, is where it resides, the theater of the soul and the heart.
In rewriting my biography of Jack Kerouac, I found that the only way to revisit that book once again was to take all of Jack Kerouac’s epic letters to Neal Cassady, all of Cassady’s to Kerouac, all of each to the other, and then enter Carolyn Cassady and Allen Ginsberg and type them all out chronologically, thereby reinvigorating a field long-dead to me. I effectively recreated the great epic book that will never reach the marketplace and thus provide me a heart-gasping perspective from which to examine Kerouac’s life anew.
There has been much dross strewn over the meandering shelves of the marketplace; long dead shadows drape the landscape of all-things Beat. Hacking truth from myth belies the true import of its larger meaning. Voices then enter the fray, beseeching others, seeding the violent will at hand. We are beset by false doctors and traders. As in life, they are content to seek peace and health from those groaning for it themselves. They sell what is precious for rocks from a river bed. Sunk in the recesses of pleasure, they are weary of its comforts. They are soldiers robbed of vision forever marching in unending flight.
I’ve known demons. I have fought with them plenty. In rewriting this book, I have come to long recognize those demons residing in Kerouac. I empathize with his weariness as a component of truth within a world worshiping amoral success. Kerouac found that seizing that truth was only truly possible in literature. In life, grasping it was like smoke slipping through one’s fingers. Kerouac was battle-fatigued by his own hungry mind; ever-searching, ever-longing, lost in a forest of words. He was like a monkey jumping from one tree to the next, searching for its fruit and ending up at last without fruit, leaves, or even shade. His appetite grew with each disappointment. Regardless, he was free to swing endlessly, to go wherever he pleased, wandering the road, literally and figurativelly, as “free as a bee.”
Society places stones in that long path we tread on. The world offers to give us what we want, offering to dispense good fortune. Instead we are left with dust and straw. Kerouac listened to nobody, only abiding by the voices in his head, enraptured by the symphony of sounds from his heart. Why listen to those who are too fearful to do it themselves? The life they refuse, they place a curse upon it. They do not want others to have that life either; they tried unsuccessfully to bar the way to Kerouac’s wayward Buddha-Christ world.
Kerouac abided by the credo of Indian piety. Opening the pages of Lin Yutang’s The Wisdom of India, a text long-nurtured since his youth, Kerouac found its prayers reassuring: “Even the heaven and earth bow down before him, before his very breath the mountains tremble.” The mighty have not fallen, but remains strong, invincible, gasping at the velocity of its power.
As I typed these letters fresh into a Word document, I tempered Kerouac’s strength in words through my own fingertips, no longer just passively reading it, but experiencing the virtual power and thrust of his linguistic energies. This then be a sensation lost on those breast-fed from the culture of computers, television and film. They may have the papers, but they do not have the tongue.
So where to go from here? Each road multiplies into the next, where there are so many ways to go wrong. Each parts not just once, but endlessly! Whence then will we be restored to our rightful spirit?
Kerouac thirsted for life, for love, and each time he was thwarted, he harbored yet the heat within the night-chilled stone of his heart.
Can we learn a lesson then from Jack Kerouac?
Of how not to build a wall between our selves and life?
It is the “moor of myself” as Kerouac labeled it as a mere 18-year old boy. He taught us to not be like a snail reeling within its hard shell, creeping beneath wet leaves, melting away in a wandering silver track. The lesson he taught me is to accept the task at hand and not refuse it. To refuse it is to wonder why, with each passing day, we did not begin. Though others may not take notice (and if they did, they probably wouldn’t understand) what you are or are not doing, it will ultimately become the last refuge of our conceit.
It is an extraordinary failing.
We must not flounder, but instead flourish in what Kerouac called the “great consciousness of life.”
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