It's a strange process putting things into words. It's like trying to play music out of random notes, hoping a melody or a theme or a purpose will show up. How can words convey an experience, the grinding squeal of the train's undercarriage as it thumps along the rails entering New York or the golden light, the smells, the breeze coming up from the river through aged skyscrapers and dirty brick and bridge scaffolding above the rock underpinnings of the city as you walk along, the almost sweaty breathtaking but slow emotions that meet the deli menus and the actual hustle and bustle, deal with all that, but remain as they are even in their guises. How can the beast make sense of anything, and no sense can be made but that some people have jobs, some people are making money out of money, and that some of us are poor wandering spirits waiting and wondering, what will happen of all this, and where could I possibly fit in.
I woke, slightly hungover, the sixth floor hotel room overlooking Roosevelt Park, the remains of a pastrami sandwich on rye from Katz deli in a plastic bag over on the desk, the birthday party done, myself to entertain. A good long shower, gather your things, check-out and then I go sit on the park bench, as a couple sits and eats dumplings of Chinatown with their basenji, a cherry tree in full bloom, young people in exercise clothes, and I think of Kerouac, the Holy Goof. My feet and legs are sore from walking down from Penn Station the day before in not the best shoes for walking on restaurant-cured caveman foot pads, but I'm up for walking, and I think of his closing lines for On the Road. Sitting on an abandoned pier, looking across the big river at New Jersey, thinking of the great land mass his buddy has just crossed and then promptly headed back over, nostalgically, he thinks of Dean Moriarty. And I would like to go find the spot, the scene for the last part of his long real life poem... I think of him reading that last passage on the Steve Allen Show, a shy man with expression and cadence and tone in his voice.
There is the house over on West 20th Street where he wrote the Scroll manuscript in his type writer, living there with his wife Joan Haverty. I walk slowly up from Chinatown, up along the Bowery past the homeless, past the better off having brunch, the light clear, a few clouds but the sun out. I walk eastward to take a glimpse down Broadway, but my feet are not up for the forty-five minute walk down to Battery Park. I pass up slowly by the Cooper Union, thinking of how Lincoln spoke there, up to Union Square in city bustle, Earth Day preparations in the park, and as I slow, by the time I hit 20th Street I have committed myself toward meeting my bus right above Penn.
Later, when I look it up, my visit coincides with the writing of On the Road, the intense burst of early April 1951, ending on the 22nd. And such things are a comfort, that if one is not, say, psychic, one might at least have such facts and figures and bits and pieces of knowledge and education tucked away somewhere upstairs, perhaps not even so much consciously addressed. Or is it that Spring is simply the time when men still with some youth in their veins take to writing out what they've stored up in their hearts, making the effort, oh what the hell why not... April, the month of Good Friday and Easter, of my kiss with the beautiful girl twenty nine years ago I was too shy with, April the month of my father's passing away and his funeral, April the time when the Earth comes alive and the dark gods of the underworld release their captive maidens... And Kerouac, what was he thinking, except that he was inspired and, yes, amped up somewhat on benzedrine, he put the scroll of teletype paper in his typewriter and began the actual moonshot, rising out of all his sketches, recalling them, having woodshedded and woodshedded, and then the writing of course had no editor looking over his back, 'you need to say that in 500 words,' no, each word having its little place in the great tale.
Practical, yes, practical, practical beings we forget such things, and push them away from us as we try to grow up and be adults. If we were writers we'd try to find some practical way--right?--to be employed, Joseph Mitchell coming to mind, kindred spirit.
I'm good and fatigued, tired and down and vulnerable, singing a line or two of Carikfergus as I wander my way to the grocery store Glen's Market to replenish supplies of meat and vegetable. Okay, I'll make a stew, and when I reheat it in will go the green vegetables. In a moment of lonely weakness I stop at the little bar for an O'Reilly's Stout from Pottstown, PA., energy for the chef who has to cook later on, now at 9:30 as people wind down their night with satisfying conversation. I plunk down alone at the counter looking away from the bar out the windows, too cold expect under the brasseries above yonder picnic tables, and pull out my phone, not bothering to take my windbreaker off. The good people at DC blogs have been extremely kind to mention along with all relevant blog pieces about life and events and happenings in Washington my own sketches of thoughts ambling out of visits with the therapist--a good enough literary endeavor, I think--and I take a bit of time to read through the passages written and published if that's what you'd call it in this format, and that, the reading, is satisfying. But the stout, tasty and creamy, dark and bitter, dulls the sad edge, dulls the Irish voice that wanted to sing ballads, and it is as if I've been pulled back in, even as I sit at the edges. I have written already this day, this afternoon, after I woke at four, so it's not the worst thing, just that maybe I should have just shrugged, admitted to lonesomeness, and walked on home with my groceries.
"Typing," Capote caustically remarked of the poor great man's spiritual effort of words. I don't think so. Or, if so, you'd have to condemn us all and never read again. So much baloney in the world, so much snare and delusion bait and switch, crafty promises that lead toward disappointments; this you realize as you grow up, and there is only your self to listen to, though, Lord knows, Kerouac too, we all get distracted, and I myself know this very too well.
Kerouac would have found his own disillusionments. He would have had enough of Neal Cassidy, later if not sooner, and after the publishing of On The Road, their relationship was never the same, and maybe Kerouac would have had the good sense to say no to crazy, for his own poor health. Fame was enough of a devil, riding the temperate "King of the Beats" into indulgence as he sat trying to write in his mom's basement on Long Island.
But there was, yes, the famous letter, from Cassidy, which inspired Jack Kerouac, giving him the sense of a new form, a new way to write, the novel as an uninhibited letter to an old friend, in doing so giving birth to what he called 'spontaneous bop prosody.' For that Cassidy deserves some credit, though, yes, maybe he was just Cassidy being Cassidy. Enabler of a Whitmanesque vision that had to come from Kerouac himself, and that he alone could carry out.
You have to give Kerouac credit for that most writerly of things, which is a reasoned diagnosis of his own human condition, the illness for which one must by thine own physician, to first realize them, and then, through writing cope with them, to take that which is not good health and make good health of it, best as one can. To these ends he was rather scrupulous, doing headstands for phlebitis and general health, for his deep interest and study of Buddhism, and of course for his writing habit. For his efforts, he deserved praise and also support. Did he shy away from that support? Could one not see him asking for it? Was he too removed from any offer, keeping up his writing habit protectively...
Narrative fiction, like the newspaper or magazine piece, needs a melody pulled out of the random notes an author puts down, so it seems, if you want to get published. It needs shape and form, so it is believed. Who can disagree with that? And yet, the writer is his own form, his own story, and should not be taken off his natural track.
It's only through being himself that he can get at the moments he needs to write down, moments natural to him, an extension of his emotion, his artistic eye. And there are, in Kerouac's own chosen form, a plethora of rich moments. They are not the made-up creations of theatrical fiction, Shakespeare's genius playing with borrowed plots and characters, which of course has an edge on reality itself for ripe offerings, but they have a place of their own worth homage.
You can overcome anything, even the deepest of shame, I would think, if you write, if you enter the complexity of human emotion. It's like Tolstoy: write and you won't be throwing yourself under any trains, ha ha ha. Or course, writers may be a bit peculiar for the way they share their emotions, but it's better than nothing anyway... Interviews with the self. Maybe they go nowhere, or maybe they do go somewhere, into some privileged space in which participants honor each other. And it is a brave act, to put forth a way, in some ways a new standard for human communications.
The world is too busy going about its selfish business to stop and ponder the possibility of a way, a new form, of improving or expanding human communication. But young minds, growing minds, they are fairly open to such things, and for good reason and for benefit Kerouac is read.
But yes, Doctor, I wrote and I wrote, long after any sensible person would have packed up his stakes and moved on to a better job and things. I wrote without sense of a purpose or a particular project. Maybe I became addicted to it, I mean, in the sense that there are perhaps more healthy things to be engaged in, particularly when you have a lot of worries on your mind. I wrote as a kind of way to explain myself to myself, to understand, to feel better about things. Yeah, I kept at it, and doing so meant the same four shifts over and over, the same job, the same night shift hour rhythm and lack of daylight. Maybe the depressive effects were self-feeding in a way, I don't know. But what's the original condition, that makes you who you are. You don't really seem to need any labels, when you get down to it, even if the world's full of labels and judgments ready to say your this or that for what you do or the way you act...
Get up in the morning, and do your thing. Avoid overly direct contact with the outside world when you're writing. And then there becomes not much difference between happy states and sad states, if you have the time to meditate over them. I guess that's a good thing, right? Well, it keeps you from getting excited at the next offer, and the supposedly fun thing I'll never do again, in David Foster Wallace's terms. All the wiser. And if you can write, you know, you can deal with the darkness. And that's who I am, or all I am. I'm just an honest guy, and that's about all I'm worth. And I think you're brave if you write, rather than just try to gloss everything over. We're human, we make mistakes, we have our character, mixes of good and bad, and there needs to be a way of dealing with all that, and Lord knows, I've made enough mistakes.
And this was the thing with Kerouac, not that I would know, but that it's a back and forth between good healthy things and writing on the one hand, an boredom on the other.