Monday, May 23, 2016

A Poem for Mr. Pooh W. Bah

I knew him a little
A dignified presence
Loved by his human, Richard,
like Jack loved Tyke (read Big Sur)

Goodbyes are hard
Planned as much as un-
The finality scrapes
us raw and reminds
of our own finality to come

How deep our love
runs for a pet
How deep our grief
runs for a friend

But we "accept loss forever"

Godspeed, Pooh

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Jack Kerouac and suffering



Jack Kerouac suffered in his lifetime. He lost his brother, Gerard, and laid bare his grief about it in the classic, Visions of Gerard. More than once he wrote starkly about the sad death of his father. He bemoaned the loss of his beloved cat, Tyke, in The Dharma Bums. He agonized over not being accepted as a writer (and then he agonized over fame when it came). He struggled with editors who wouldn't leave his work alone. He grieved about relationships he couldn't salvage, about being a good enough son to Mémère, about finding the right place to live, about the general misunderstandings of the concept of "beat," about his friend and muse Neal Cassady (a lot to unpack there but Daily Beat readers don't need specifics). He suffered over the irony of being born just to die (hence in part his affection for Buddhism but also Catholicism) -- wishing he could be free of that slaving meat wheel and safe in heaven dead. And on and on . . . .

Perhaps it's good that Jack suffered so. Without it, would he have produced the Kerouac canon we marvel at today? And yet, even as the biggest Kerouac fan alive on the planet (a subjective truth at best), I sometimes wish there had been more peace for that guy.

Suffering. It's been on my mind lately for some reason. Maybe because we just wrapped up reading The Dharma Bums in my Kerouac class at the University of Maine at Farmington, and I was once again immersed in reading and thinking about Buddhism.

One of the interesting things about on-line blogging is that you can revisit your thoughts about subjects from literally years ago with relative ease. I found the below post  about suffering in my LiveJournal (which I no longer post to) from June 18, 2006. Reading it today, 10 years later, I sound to myself as if I found the magic cure to suffering! Which, in fact, I did find but didn't implement and still don't. It's not that hard a concept to grasp intellectually, but living it out is another matter. The root of suffering is attachment, but the noble eightfold path away from suffering is a real bitch to walk.

So, I'm really no better than Jack Kerouac where suffering is concerned, but the saving grace is that it puts me in pretty good company: with Kerouac and the rest of the human race.


Here's that LiveJournal post:

Suffer. Or don't. It is entirely and completely up to you. And if you choose suffering, that is fine with me. Suffer endlessly and tirelessly and with abandon! Just don't expect me to suffer with you. I can and will empathize. But I will not sympathize. I don't want to feel what you feel when it is dark and self-absorbed and unconscious.

My father died of Alzheimer's. My brother died of AIDs. My mother is dying of Alzheimer's. I've been divorced three times. It's Father's Day and my son is 3,000 miles away. BLAH BLAH BLAH! Same goes for anything about me that looks like good stuff from the outside (read Edwin Arlington Robinson's Richard Cory for insight into the latter). Who cares? Shit happens to EVERYONE! Yours isn't any better or worse than mine or vice versa. It just IS what it IS!

Why can't people get that? Too simple, I guess. What would they identify with and attach to if not for their heartbreaking stories of woe?

THAT is what makes me sad. Not what happens. What people do with it. Yesterday I heard someone wailing like they had lost a limb. No. They had to make an extra trip to the store because they forgot something. And now we have Intermittent Explosive Disorder, another in a long line of psychological excuses for being a spoiled, undisciplined, unbearable brat of a human being. GROW UP! Grieve and get on with it.

I am not saying pain is fictitious. Anger, frustration, heartache. All are real, and quite equitably distributed among the population from what I can gather.

D.H. Lawrence wrote the following:

Self Pity

I never saw a wild thing
sorry for itself.
A small bird will drop frozen dead from a bough
without ever having felt sorry for itself.



If you heard this like a lecture (and an unsolicited one at that), I am wanting you to hear something else. Maybe you would be willing to re-read it in the spirit of loving-kindness in which it was offered?


I left this quote under the windshield wiper of someone's car the other day. Someone I love dearly. Maybe others will find it uplifting as I did.

"Risk! Risk anything! Care no more for the opinions of others, for those voices. Do the hardest thing on earth for you. Act for yourself. Face the truth."
--Katherine Mansfield


May all sentient beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.
May we be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May we not be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering.
May we dwell in the great equanimity free from passion, aggression, and prejudice. (Thanks, Pema.)


No regrets, no waiting, no ordinary moments....

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Kerouac learnings redux

Here is another end-of-semester response to my request for a creative piece expressing some learning from my Spring 2016 Kerouac course at the University of Maine at Farmington. Reprinted with permission of the author. Thanks, Lydia!



We’re All Dharma Bums Now!
By: Lydia Violette-Lee

Though the Class is Kerouac,
We learned the Beats.
Wide eyed wandering into that little back alley
Just like he wrote, Cassady, Ginsberg, Burroughs.
They were waiting for us, between those pages.
They felt IT,  we felt them, and they knew time.

We learned,
the nature of travel, experience, freedom.
It was the creation of the Rucksack Nation.
Spontaneous Prose, nobody knows.
Jazzy Jazz, and the world goes
Hitching, Hiking, the Nature that surrounds.

The Beaten Path, it travels on and on.
Yet those Beats are even better than Keats.
Though they keep searching,
The True meaning of life is lurking.
Lurking inside the
campfires, meditation.
Life’s pure Intoxication.

Need Clarification ?
Lets all hop on at the local train station.
To feel the laughter and joy
To feel the fear of what if and what not, Oh Boy!
The B-E-A-T-en path is just one road not yet taken

We’re all Dharma Bums now
Or we could be, anyhow...

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy 86th Birthday to Gary Snyder



Gary Snyder (Japhy Ryder in The Dharma Bums) turns 86 today.

Happy Birthday, Gary!

In his honor, read some of his poetry. Here's a link to get you started: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/gary-snyder#about

Kerouac learnings

I asked students to create something in their preferred medium (prose, poetry, drawing, painting, etc.) to express some things they would take away from my Jack Kerouac course at the University of Maine at Farmington this semester.

Drew Kelso made this Wordle and gave me permission to post it here on The Daily Beat. Thanks, Drew!


Summer 1956: Jack Kerouac and Edward Abbey alone together in the American wilderness




I've been reading David Gessner's All the Wild That Remains, a half memoir/half biography of Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner. Abbey has been, for over a decade, one of my favorite authors. His book, Desert Solitaire, is a towering achievement and worth re-reading at least once a year (preferably in the southwest, most preferably in desert wilderness if  you can find any left). It's a book inspired by Abbey's time spent in 1956 and 1957 as a seasonal ranger for the National Park Service at Arches National Monument near Moab, Utah. While he was not always alone -- there were a few hearty tourists who frequented the place at the time, whereas now it's over-run, and apparently his wife and young son occasionally lived with him in his seedy trailer, a fact he fails to mention in Desert Solitaire -- Abbey was able to spend significant time alone and communing with his beloved desert. The book is quite simply an American masterpiece and you absolutely have to read it if you haven't already. If  you have, read it again.

My Kerouac sisters and brothers probably know where this is going. Abbey's tenure at Arches National Monument lasted from April to September each year. While he was experiencing nature in its rawest form and writing about it in the summer of 1956. our own Jack Kerouac was living alone as a firewatcher in a shack on top of Desolation Peak in the North Cascades in Washington State, an experience he wrote about briefly in The Dharma Bums (my favorite Kerouac novel) and extensively in Desolation Angels (and in Lonesome Traveler, too). 

This means that two of my favorite authors wrote two of my favorite books based largely on journals they kept during the summer of 1956 while working for the National Park Service in totally or semi-isolated jobs in the middle of starkly beautiful and remote wilderness locations.

Read that paragraph again. How synchronistic is that?

Now, forever, when I think of Jack Kerouac's time on Desolation Peak, I will think of Edward Abbey 1,200 or so miles away in Arches National Monument, both of them engaging firsthand with the beauty of nature and creating written descriptions of their experience that will stand as testaments to the wilderness for all time (or until Abbey's fears come true and our assault on nature results in our own demise as a species).

P.S. No need here to bring up the famous Abbey quote wherein he was quite critical of Jack. Abbey had his serious personal flaws, too, and we'll just leave it at that.


Sunday, May 1, 2016

Name the Jack Kerouac source....

See if you can name the source of this text without doing any research. It's from a Kerouac stand-alone book, and your first impulse may be wrong.
Think happy thoughts of the Buddha who abides throughout detestable phenomena like lizards and man eating ogres, with perfect compassion and blight, caring not one way or the other the outcome of our term of time because celestial birds are singing in the goddam heaven. In the golden hall of the Buddha, think, I am already ensconced on a tray of gold, invisible and radiant with singing. by the side of my beloved hand, which has done its work and exists no more to tone up the troubles of this birth-and-death imaginary world --

Post your guess as a comment. After a day or so I'll confirm the correct answer.