“He just stopped coming one day,” R.C. said. “He said, ‘I gotta go on the road.’ And he did.”
The college reading group was in the middle of discussing Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. This morning, before the meeting, I Googled the Beat writer, brushing up on his life in preparation for the discussion. Wikipedia noted his 30 steps to better writing. I paste them below.
- Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
- Submissive to everything, open, listening
- Try never get drunk outside your own house
- Be in love with your life
- Something that you feel will find its own form
- Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
- Blow as deep as you want to blow
- Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind
- The unspeakable visions of the individual
- No time for poetry but exactly what is
- Visionary tics shivering in the chest
- In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
- Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
- Like Proust be an old teahead of time
- Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
- The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
- Write in recollection and amazement for yrself
- Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
- Accept loss forever
- Believe in the holy contour of life
- Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
- Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
- Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
- No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
- Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
- Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
- In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
- Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
- You’re a Genius all the time
- Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven
I don’t want to be good any more. I want to write without editing, without censoring. I’m afraid of words in ways I never used to be. Locked myself away from the freedom of them, wrapped in rules, in advice, in teaching “how to.” I used to just write. Goddamit I want to write like that again. But there’s ice there in the place where the words reside. I want to be warm. I’m tired of winter. It all pulls, this way, that way this way that way this way this way this way no way. No way.
Too much comfort. One paper left to grade, and grades to post, and then the break, and a workshop to get ready for, and two new class preps, and ice in my throat, melting from too much comfort.
“Here,” he said in my ear, softly. “Right now.” Years ago, a dark stairwell, his hand, light filtering from behind a grill that blocked our way. The warehouse mall behind us, around a corner shoppers and security guards. The dark our blanket, but for that one glimmer ahead of us. I remember. I am in the center of remembering when the Old Guard speaks.
“I’ll take your recommendation any day,” he says, this crusty man who grumbles about everyone’s choices . He’s taught where I teach for more than four decades. He sat in on a class on Irish writers I taught when I first started there. “Those books in your class, they were excellent. I’ll go with your recommendation.”
I’m surprised. They’re all longing for Kerouac’s wildness to bring them back to freedom, to the illusion they can live in that melancholy wild desperation till they die, and that it will be romantic and beautiful even as their livers explode from cirrhosis. I think, There will be angels. I love that title: Desolation Angel. The only kind. But now they turn and look at me, the good girl, and I have the power to decide for the group. I don’t know what to say. Someone prompts me. “You’re the expert,” he says. “That’s why I thought we could do a Barry book.” The expert.
I know the author, went to dinner with him, interviewed him, wrote an article that was published in the Irish Literary Supplement. He called it a humdinger of an article. I love that he’s a mystic about his writing. I love the way he is “submissive to everything, open, listening,” the way he is a “crazy dumbsaint of the mind.”
Expert. I laugh. It’s not true. I haven’t read his most recent novels, not for lack of desire, but for lack of time and energy and the compass that points me. But still. “Yes,” I say, and suggest, and they accept my suggestion.
I am obtuse. I know it. If you want more, you can explore. The clues are there. But none of that matters. I just want to write, to not be good, to confess.