I want to be a significant writer and I also want to live in a vast and significant way like Twain almost. That’s my present feeling, no Faustian torments that swirl futile and self-destructive around oneself, but a life that reaches out to others like two arms.
Kerouac’s journal, April 12, 1948
Because I want to live and work and raise a family.
April 17, 1948
My life is botched up because, at 26, I’ve yet to earn a steady income, I’ve yet to really help anyone in the world, including really taking care of myself, and I’ve yet to love a woman with any consistency of purpose.
May 6, 1948
“The kids thought he was promoting leaving home and dropping out of school and taking drugs. And of course, he wasn’t.” She sighs. “He was so devastated by that interpretation that he vowed to kill himself and he did.” Kerouac died in 1969 after a hemorrhage caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking.
I’ve been reading Kerouac’s journals (and rereading) for my western book which is about Alaska and how many of its myths are built on older western myths and how all of them are largely about reinvention, the eternal search for a fresh start and how many are rooted in Thoreau and London and Kerouac and how misinterpreting what they meant is as much about that myths as anything else. (And how Chris McCandless was the king of those misinterpretations and how the ripple effect of his death has made these myths even bigger.) (And don’t even get me started on the many hours of Alaska “reality” tv we now have.)
My Uncle Ben told me last year when we talked about Kerouac that more than anything he was about wanting to go home and be at peace at home. I had to step away from a lot of other writers in order to find that Kerouac and when I did he was very familiar. He reminds me of a lot of people in my family who came from the same place he did, especially my father. I don’t know how much “home” is a specific place though or if it is your family or if it is just some sort of peace of mind. But I have found what Kerouac said about himself and what he wanted to be incredibly different from what everyone who followed him (as Carolyn Cassaday mentions) believed he meant. He wanted the conventional life his parents had, but with literature and music and adventure. He couldn’t seem to resign the two however, or his desire for them after ON THE ROAD blew everything up.
And my father couldn’t resolve what he wanted either, not really, which is why he was sad for a very long time even though he never knew why. (It’s times like these that I really miss him because we need to have serious discussion about Kerouac.)
This book – it’s order – is coming to me slowly. But the order is forming itself and the people it will contain are all here (with the exception of some lesser characters to be added as I go). I am continuing the Carpe Diem plan of professional writing. It’s going very well – thus far. There are three books left to review and two books left to read & review for my March column. I have one book reviewed for May and one for July already. And I know what books I’m planning to review through September (depending on if they all show up or not). None of this the most significant writing I need to do but worthy and expected writing. My revised chapter on Eielson for MAP is coming along and so is the outline for the western book.
Writing is work but reading about how much Kerouac struggled has made me work even harder. I know the place that he came from – it is achingly familiar to me – but I didn’t expect to recognize him as a writer, or even a man. If nothing else, this project has brought him to me and that is a very good thing.