Waking up with stiff joints and a subtle grating feeling in my guts--yes, I've eaten dough last night in my adventures, the bun of the Sirloin Burger at the Dubliner to catch some live Irish music after the Amherst President's reception at the Folger Shakespeare Library, the two slices of 'Triborough' at Flippin' Pizza after the Metro back. My knee is reminding me of the Osgood Schlatter Syndrome I had long ago. I know there are skeptics about the Gluten Free business, but I've had it corroborated many times, and I have Type O blood and, oh yes, I even succumbed to a few french fries along the line. Ah, no wonder. Usually I'm pretty good.
I've woken up late, mid-afternoon already, irritated with myself. Colleges talk of diversity. (Liberal Arts beset on many gloomy sides.) "You have to step out of your comfort zone, and this is not easy." And oh, suddenly, yes, this seems like one of my own deeper problems and failings, I must admit. Why did I go back to my town, thinking of a poetic enough life with a pick-up truck and a dog. But nowhere is that open anymore, if it ever was, where you could be like a Faulkner, or even like Kerouac, where you wouldn't be an outsider passing through, observing. You'd have your friends, sure...
And my friends went off to the cities, and ultimately I had no other option, it seemed, so I did too.
But I wonder, as I try to think this thought out, that there is the element of similarity in all great books of a certain sort that the ending point is quite similar to the point of departure. The points have the same taste, the same tone. This is literally true of Finnegan's Wake, I am told, the whole story looping back on itself, Joyce being the master in his prose of time. There is in On The Road the same sort of wistfulness to my own ear, to the beginning, "I first met Dean..." to the end, "I think of Dean Moriarty." Chekhov stories can be like this too, even if a geographical location or a personal situation may have on the outside superficially changed.
Could it be, in the eyes of the greats, that we are the same, that we don't really change. Quixote is still Quixote, even with all he goes through. Levin is still Levin, he's just discovered a bit more and found a few contrasting styles of people along the way as if to highlight himself, the great journey of his great book exploring the human psyche about him. Hamlet, tried and tested, is still the same young man as he was at the beginning.
The great discovery of the modernists (by which I mean all the greats who've told us stories like the ones mentioned above), could it be the discovery of personality, that people, in some way do not change much, even as they learn things, observe things, go through life. Early Lincoln is the same phenomenon as the one who goes to the theater.
So how do we construe the great tale of being On The Road? What do we make of Jesus going out into the desert for forty days? What do we make of the life the Buddha, who begins as the young prince, becomes the seeker, and finally sits under the tree, is tempted by Mara and then overturns and dispatches all such evil... How do we define that?
Well, we could go off to the therapist and talk about things, to sort out first hand experience to see what might and might not be true. We put a label on things. "I did not step out of my comfort zone," we might say to ourselves. "This is clear when you look at my life events. I think it happened here, at this point, when this happened."
That is one way to look at it, and there is work to be done, sure.
But then there is that weight, the odd fact of a kind of individual personality different from the rest. One discovers what they, in essence, already know, that education is a process of awakening, as if to let nature tell the germinating sprout what kind of a thing, tree, or flower, or bush, species tulip, fern, it will arrange its cellular life into as it responds to the information of its surroundings, what kind of a thing it will be in the course of its life from embryonic state to maturity and beyond. Something immutable.
Melville's Ishmael does not change much in the course of how many pages; he observes a living fable (fictional, yes, but in fiction there is some truth, and in the details of the story there is a lot of reality that gets out) but serves as the observer, along for the ride, being who he is.
Kerouac does not change much. He's a sympathetic type, curious, poetic, observational, in some ways conflicted without being able to act so much. He's a doer, goes across the country, and yet, he can't tell Dean, No! Slow down! Don't barrel over the one-lane bridge... He can't get out of the Cadillac headed to a show and give his friend Dean a proper good-bye and his friends won't give the guy a ride to Penn Station even in the cold, and so the story ends with Sal Paradise 'thinking' on the 'old broken down pier.'
So what is life, what are such portrayals, about? They seem to be about self-knowledge, maybe of different kinds. They seem to be about some sort of enlightenment, some way of seeing, not this changes any of the outer realities of life, not that this grants anyone the slightest power to change even. But there is the development, of which Christ is an example thereof. He comes and says the things and observes the things he is given, reading his own story. The catechistic story focussed on the end, of what people do to to him, rather than the focus on his teachings, seem a bit beside the point, though it has to be included, I suppose, in order to satisfy something we seem as readers to need, as if we needed to tag him with a radio transmitter to follow his secretive movements off into the wilds. Better to remember what it was like glimpsing the animal himself, the way he might have gently smiled, or turned around, or shrugged.
The Buddhist see the matter with an eye for the appropriateness of things. The babe with the inner reality of a great composer was born into a certain family. The deeper reality of the place where you went off to school, up on a hill across from the hill the Emily Dickinson houses sit below, the particular teachers you might have had with the echoes of Robert Frost in them, might too be construed as significant.
There is some significance in Kerouac's meeting Neil Cassidy, and some deep spiritual depths in what he wrote, even as he, a true mortal, could not perfectly transcend to them, just as no one, I suppose really can (unless maybe you are really really really good, and the universe obeys.) There is the resulting learning, the wisdom that comes partly through what might be like abusing yourself a bit, as Kerouac suffered. But there is in Kerouac the birth, of the continuation, of a kind of prose comfortable with itself, comfortable with its human bearers. (For which Neil Cassidy, via his famous letter to Kerouac, deserves credit for, even in his craziness, embodying.) The revelation of how we think, the way words go about their business in our electric little minds. Such as in a way that they might carry some form of a kind of truth, the same we might credit the statement "all men are created equal" with a bit of it.
And so our own little picaresque probably more boring as far as details story's appropriateness toward telling the story of humanity, if we are born to be story tellers, reveal some form, some possibility, yet without economic label, of human character, of the goodness of our own little vehicle on this larger vehicle the planet Earth. Not simply as failures, as Quixote is a failure, his victories imagined, not off this earth, forlorn things, then would we see them as, but as some further opportunity to, as we learn hopefully, go out into the desert, and come back having figured out how to say no to distractions and other things that prey upon the mind.
Followed by a great utterance of the true Self we all can share in, even if such were separate from the workings of the world of so-called reality.
But we all have our own little endings of our own little On the Roads, our own personal version, quite possibly often changing, mirrored in the last line, and I'll write it out here:
I think of Dean Moriarty, I even think of Old Dean Moriarty the father we never found, I think of Dean Moriarty.
Perhaps the very title, plain, meaningful, should tip us off, of deeply meaningful things going on, heroically, within.
As a footnote, yes, I would imagine, it takes a generous person to take such things on as a professional hobby, no promise of the tangible rewards we beings might reasonably seek, putting one's self into forms of harm's way, for the purpose.
I like an Irish pub, a real one, legitimate, with history. They are plain and simple places, of generally good hospitality. The Dubliner has walls of deep green, a faded painting of inside the Post Office from the Easter Uprising of 1916. I had walked in without intending to drink anything more than soda water, having been good at a collegiate reception, but once sat at a stool, well, of course, I'll have a Guinness. There was a man with a guitar, and I wanted to check him and the place out, as a way of gauging my own musical efforts toward the direction of Irish music.
Sitting next to an affable chap of white hair, I ask him if he is the musician, as the barman treated him deferentially--I come in a lot, he explained, nudging over the red faced man seated at the table with a group of friends--and soon I'm singing along with The Irish Rover and other songs I have a gist of the words for. One stout, nursed slowly, is followed by another, and the man on the stage is taking requests.
Ahh, what was I going to do with my night anyway, but get back to Dupont, pick up a bottle of red for insurance, cook, read... Living alone, that doesn't sound too exciting. Maybe I'd play through my songs, myself, keep them in practice. Get out of your comfort zone. It's nice to have a new experience, something I never do, in a different part of tone. The bar is relaxed. No biting off more than you can chew on the part of a restaurant.
To the writer, time is ever a foreign substance, and so, like sands through the hourglass, or shadows cast by the sundial, time seems handily measured out by pints of Guinness, by the songs that pass from the stage out over the audience, until a burger, the paying of the check, the final chats with neighbors, then the Metro. But what else would you do with time, but spend it in some idyll, some dreamy observational walk, the writer cannot help see it otherwise. In time, proper, there are meetings to be met, the seizing of occasion to nail things down, the mysterious equation of time being money and opportunity for the things you'd really like to do, the way you'd really want to purposefully spend the God-given years of life. But for the writer, what to achieve, but to write as one can write what one is given to write, such mystery to think over like a statue.
Oh, there's groceries, the bottle of wine to procure, for that end of the day and relaxing. Missing in life is the cheap public space, comfortable, not too noisy in a harsh way, not too amped up by large television screens, and with the proper lighting and staff attitude. In the consumer world of the city, these are hard spaces to come by, and each offers its own purchased distractions. You got up too late to go to the library, and that can get dull anyway. There are birds, robins, rustling in a tall thicket of bamboo.
The writer, totally, is a wanderer, semi-aimless, ready to answer questions wisely, and described so well by Kerouac's sketch at the beginning of On The Road's final chapter, of calling up to a flat where he thinks friends are having a party and out of the window a pretty girl sticks her head out the window, asks who he is, and then says come on up for hot chocolate... "We agreed to love each other madly." That's how it is for a writer, perhaps because he, or she, knows the ultimate reality, that we alight as birds on a tree, build our little nests, do our thing according to nature and that, my friends, is life. There's nothing really to write about other than that, is the truth. So why go blustering around to fancy and foreign places when it's all right there in front of you, just that you have to relax, and put up with it and live gently and peacefully. That's not, apparently, for everyone, nor their cup of tea. 'Look at me, I'm doing things!' Okay, says the writer, less enthusiastically, for some reason, fearing that one day the friend will get bored with you or move off to create their own world around their own illusions of self while you write away and think your thoughts. They'll jealously guard their own things, it does seem, perhaps until the final realities dawn upon them too, and then they'll be okay with you, finally. Thus the singular devotion writing might take, finally, who knows.
Is life really that random? Can you, Mr. Writer, really not stand up for anything? Do you have any sort of opinion, or thing to say? To which the writer will secretly feel like he's already said it. Defend yourself, idiot! Uh, I think I'll go for a walk. Would you like to come? Maybe?
Oh, such is life out on the road. You're happy with simple things, like the piece of apple pie with ice cream that gets you across the country...
Maybe this accounts for the sweet sadness that goes with meeting all the incidental people of the world, the thought of which makes the writer shy, having to act, to go buy your bottle of Pinot Noir down at the shop or look for a good book at Kramer's, that feeling like you are a child, but thankfully encountering the same shy kind humanity in other people as they too go about their business as easily as they can. A conversation always starts, and the writer handles it as well as anyone, and there's humor to be had in life's vagaries, in its haphazard randomness organized into things like wine shops and book stores through which living beings pass, having sprung out of nature themselves, awkwardly enough, beautifully enough, with as much right to occupy space as any other things. Like Buddha says, gesturing to Mara, by touching the earth, I have a right to this space, in one of the most radical utterances humanity has ever come up with. Ka-bang.
Feelings, I suppose, are a bit beside the point. What can you do, but suffer and at times enjoy them. But in letting them flow through, letting them come and go, is the proper way to hold on to them. Chagrin, wistful and familiar friend, I think of her quite often, and that's just the way it is, no need to put dirty words on it, judgmental terms.