On the Heels of Jack Kerouac

Recently, while preparing for a trip out West to California (my first visit to the state), I packed Jack Kerouac’s On the Road to read over the two bus trips and six flights that constituted my overall journey there and back. What better reading material to accompany one on an excursion  cross-country, right?

I had hoped that Kerouac’s lucid and breathless prose would help immerse me in a Zen-like appreciation of the essence of moments, a state of mind that I find conducive to any kind of adventure, whether it’s one that I’m involved with at my computer while composing another strand of my fiction or out there in the wide world.  All is sacred in the world of On the Roadwhether it’s a casual conversation in a diner or a meditation upon the nature of mortality; and that sacred sense is a good thing to carry around with you, I think, as often as you can grasp and hold onto it.

My sister, her husband and my two nieces live in Oakland, and the second paragraph that I had the opportunity to read from the book – the day after arriving there, during a rare quiet moment – began thus: “In Oakland I had a beer among the bums of a saloon” {…}

Many more ‘coincidences’ were to follow over the course of my week-long visit. Passing Alcatraz on one of our drives, I was reminded of a chapter that I’d read mere days before, wherein Kerouac, out of desperation, works for a few weeks as a cop in some barracks and nicknames one of his co-workers “Alcatraz” because of the man’s overly-zealous attitude towards his job. And while hiking in Muir Woods (where I saw the venerable Redwoods for the first time) we took an escalating trail that eventually brought us to a high vantage point. The next day my sister, having done some online research, said, “You know that part in On the Road where he says that he promised himself he wouldn’t leave San Francisco until he’d climbed that mountain? That was the mountain we were on!”

After so many synchronicities, I finally gave myself over to the evident ‘theme’ of this trip and decided to consciously cooperate with it. Over the weekend we paid a visit to the legendary City Lights Bookstore in S.F.

and, the following day, The Beat Museum.

All in all, it was an essential and sacred pilgrimage, one that fired my mind once again  with passion and fascination for the ways in which ideas can become absorbed by the culture to such an extent that they become living myths. “That store {City Lights} will thrive for so long as its doors stay open,” I observed at one point. “That’s the power of myth.”

This particular myth was founded upon the poetic sensibilities of “first thought, best thought”, of letting Wild Mind run free and unfettered by social conventions or personal insecurities. This was a profound influence for me throughout The Edge of the Known series. In What Casts the Shadow? I paid homage to Kerouac’s exuberant cadences in passages like this one:

I was aching for the sensation of movement. Nothing fires the creative imagination quite like the spectacle of new environs emerging and then vanishing behind: the constant plunge towards the novel moment. Whoever could decipher the pulse of life out there and set it down would be the true poet. It’s not a matter of trying to see the future, of attempting to fix in place what must always be in flux. To the visionary, there is no future to foresee. There is a now of infinite possibilities, and the trick is to be awake for it.

We were just brimming with too much raw energy, enthusiasm and reckless spontaneity to be still any longer. We’d given birth to our songs; and now those songs needed to breathe under wider skies. All my being was focused upon arriving onstage, in some strange town, and letting the Genie out of the bottle. New landscapes, shattered taboos, confrontations with proscribed limits and morality and law… goddamn it, the status quo had always been just too suffocating for me; and now I saw a way to forge my own raw life on my own terms.