Sunday, March 11, 2007

(Un)Happy Kerouac Day!


Tomorrow, March 12th, would be Jack Kerouac's 85th birthday...but as most people are aware, he drank himself to death at age 47. But, in honor of my favorite writer, I wanted to write about him, his life, and what it all means for my own.

For years...from about 1990 through 2001, I kept hearing a faint whisper in my mind to read Jack Kerouac. I don't know why. But, I ignored it. In 1994, I happened to buy "On the Road" audiobook, even though I rarely listen to audiobooks. I don't know why I bought it because I actually didn't get around to listening to it until 1997, when I made my own cross-country road trip to move from Georgia to Provo, Utah for college. I listened to it in between my music tapes. One interesting moment of synchronization occurred when I happened to be on Route 666 in Colorado that leads into Utah, and I got to the part on the tape where Jack Kerouac claimed to have saw God pointing at him in that part of the country. It was weird, but cool.

But it wasn't until 2001 when I finally decided to buy a biography of Jack Kerouac, to shut up the endless whispering in my mind to "read Jack Kerouac." What happened then became one of the strangest experiences I've ever had in life. In fact, I hit the motherlode of coincidences between Kerouac and myself. I didn't realize how much he and I had in common. Like me, he had a brother and a sister. He always wanted to be a writer since childhood. He felt closest to God on the road. He was restless in always having to move around, could never be satisfied living in the same place all his life. Some obscure French words he used, I had used without realizing it...words like "farceurz", "surete", and another one which escapes me. Perhaps the most significant coincidence between he and I was from his last novel, "Satori in Paris." In that book, he talks about arguing with a French person about the correct pronounciation of a town in Bretagne named "St. Brieuc." The argument was over whether the "c" at the end was pronounced or not. When I read that, I was stunned. I had the same argument myself with a French person I know who lives in that town! I had met this French person, Yves Dulout, when his submarine visited the town of La Maddalena, Sardinia, where I was stationed in the Navy. Since my office was in charge of the the annual Submarine Birthday Ball, I had requested to sit with the French sailors, and thus began a friendship that continues to this day.

I've been to St. Brieuc about 3 times. What's even more striking to me is that Kerouac named the character of himself as "Jack Duluoz" in more than a few books. What an amazing coincidence between the names "Duluoz" and the French person I know, "Dulout". Who would have imagined it? The coincidences don't end there. I've thought of writing a whole journal on all the coincidences I've come across between Kerouac and myself, but most of my Kerouac books which highlight all the coincidences are in storage in Atlanta at the moment. Some of the ones I can remember include that he had written that August 22nd was a significant day for him, and August 22nd, 2001 was the date in which I had received what I call my most significant "enlightenment experience". I was ecstatically blissful from that day onward until the events of September 11th punctured through my spiritual ecstasy. In the book of his journals that was published a few years ago, he mentioned Coeur d'Alene (which I had passed through in 1999 on my way to Seattle and its beauty has struck me as being the most beautiful place I've seen on earth so far) and he mentioned a guy named "Tom Malone." The Tom Malone I knew remains as my favorite teacher, the one who had the biggest impact on my life.

But, the coincidences don't end there. One of the things that most fascinates me about Kerouac is that he had written a novel about the Navy which remains unpublished. It's called "The Sea is My Brother." My first novel is about the Navy and does show a certain kind of brotherhood that exists in the military. Although I was rejected by Kerouac's agent, Sterling Lord, I remain undeterred in finding an agent and publisher for my novel.

Kerouac and myself also have similar personalities...in that we both tend to be shy at first and uncomfortable getting attention. Kerouac's solution was alcohol, to lower his inhibitions, in which he became somewhat extroverted with people. I know the dangers of alcohol and never really liked the taste of it. Besides, I'm addicted to chai lattes and I'd rather spend my extra money on a book than a bottle.

So, when I read another Kerouac biography (I think I've read about 6 so far), I'm always filled with a sadness over a wasted life. But, I also see a warning there. He's like the forerunner of what I want to be. He paved the way. A lot of his books might be a mess and probably wouldn't be published today, it's still hard to ignore his contribution to American literature. He influenced a great many people, from Bob Dylan to the Beatles, and actors like Johnny Depp. But was he ever happy? His works have made the family of his third wife, Stella Sampas, wealthy but it was money that he never saw in his own lifetime. What is the point of all that restless running around? Perhaps he was running to avoid the demons in his head from catching up...but whatever it is, his life is an example. Both on how to achieve a vision for one's own life and on the dangers of self-destructive addictions.

Taking all that I've learned from his life, I am ready to be a published novelist. I'm ready for an agent to accept my work and sell it to the highest bidding publishing house. I'm ready for the controversy and the criticism of my work. One thing I won't do is resort to the bottle. The life of many visionary writers (like Kerouac, Hemingway, Fitzgerald) seems destined for self-destruction. It's a test I think I'm ready for. In the meantime..."Happy Kerouac Day!" everyone. Read a good Kerouac book this month ("The Dharma Bums" is my personal favorite). And be beat!

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