The first book by Kerouac I read back in the day of Colorado was Dharma Bums and the long romantic descriptions of travel and release from who you are in exchange for who you want to be caught me by surprise. I won’t go in to where I first read it but then I read On the Road and then the Subterraneans–then I read Town and the City after a few abandonments but then I read Maggie Cassady and then Tristessa. I read most of Kerouac’s work. I love these books so much. And in a way I find myself so fortunate to be able to teach On the Road in the novels course. I try to speak calmly and stay professional but I want to be able to explain anecdotally how the writing spoke to me and saved me really in the way only a few books have–back in the day when I was a young moco and full of sadness and anger. Only Salinger and Jack London saved me from my own horrible thoughts as a kid. I hate to say it but the stories and language was so accessible to my young mind I find myself lost in the stories–so immersed in Kerouac’s journal-like writing and travels. To travel without ammenity or comfort was romanticised but also presented filled with possibility.
Since those early readings I have been lucky enough to travel to New York State and City as well as the West Coast–Riverside and Pasadena for work and of course Oregon and Washington while in school. (I only seem to have missed the south–New Orleans and Texas. Southern Illinois down to the Kentucky border along the Ohio river is the farthest south I’ve traveled.) Oh and I have never travelled to Europe though thanks to Stine I have received postcards nor have I travelled down south to Mexico–I’ve only been as far south as San Diego.
And as I write this I feel this text may not have a failed audience in my class. On Friday I was late for a 3pm meeting because my students were excited about Kerouac’s On the Road–or at least a few were. They seem to be attracted–or at least by my lecture–to the irrational. I find Kerouac’s writing interesting for the idea that his character Sal seems to choose the irrational because he was human–including Dean Moriarity as a friend and brother even though that might be the most irrational friend to choose. I tell my students that we are human and make decisions of love and passion and not just common sense or of self gain–status. Sometimes the mad or irrational people are the most interesting to follow. I can name quite a few decisions in my life where I have chosen the irrational–chosen the uncormfortable. Perhaps that is why I love this book so much.
A few summers back I found myself in San Francisco after an incredible train ride across the country and found CIty Lights Bookstore the famous meeting place of my favorite Beat writers. I was in San Francisco for two days and went there each of those days to sniff around the basement and the second floor where the readings take place. And I’ll never forget but up on the third floor I found the back window open and a homeless man screaming as some restaurant owner was asking him and then ordering him to leave. The man kept yelling he was a man and that noone should order him around. He sounded crazier and crazier and I loved it–the spirit or the voices of the world came in from the window to my polite quiet self browsing books and the cheesy, touristy posters.