Tuesday, March 31, 2009

March 31: On Compassion

Today's Kerouaction

We'll wrap up Jack Kerouac Month (proclaimed as such in this blog March 1, 2009) with an entry on compassion. Personally, I think Jack was a compassionate human being. I think perhaps to a fault. He saw the suffering in the world, wrote about it, suffered himself, and ultimately couldn't deal with all the suffering of sentient beings, including himself, on the planet. Turning to drink was his way of dealing, and it killed him.

In Jack's introduction to Lonesome Traveler, he says:
Am known as "madman bum and angel" with "naked endless head" of "prose."

Now that is the phrase from Lonesome Traveler that many are familiar with. It's inscribed on one of the pillars in Kerouac Park in Lowell. But the passage goes on and Jack says:
Always considered writing my duty on earth. Also the preachment of universal kindness, which hysterical critics have failed to notice beneath frenetic activity of my true-story novels about the "beat" generation.

When I was in Lowell, MA for Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! 2008, I met a man named Phil who knew Jack.

(c)2008 photo by Crystal Bond

He told me that when he knew Jack, he wasn't aware that he was a famous writer. I asked him what he remembered most about him, and this is what he said:

"He was nice to the shoeshine boys."

Your Kerouaction for this last day of Jack Kerouac Month: Show compassion to all sentient beings on the planet.

*******End of Transmission*******

Monday, March 30, 2009

March 30: On Spelling

Today's Kerouaction

What do you think Jack thought about spelling? He certainly invented words (like "respectaburban"), but he also took liberties with spelling. For example, in Dr. Sax he mentions "ragout d'boullette." A search for that phrase in Google reveals one hit: Dr. Sax. Now, if you would search for ragout d'boulette (one "l" in boulette), you would hit upon a number of recipes for this tasty French Canadian dish. Jack frequently misspelled the names of jazz greats (e.g., "Charley" for Charlie Parker). And so on....

Jack knew how to spell. Just look at his journals, in which there are very few misspellings. Did he misspell words in his novels by mistake or on purpose? He often fought with his editors over punctuation and the like. Maybe some of the misspellings in his books are mischievous. Or editing mistakes. Who knows?

Perhaps Mark Twain said it best:

"I don't give a damn for a man that can only spell a word one way."

Spell words however you want, as long as you get the meaning across.

Jack would approve.

P.S. Tomorrow = the last entry for Jack Kerouac month. After that, ...?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

March 29: On Sunday Comics

Today's Kerouaction

It's a Sunday during Jack Kerouac Month (March being duly ordained as such by proclamation March 1, 2009 here in this blog), and of course any real beat is going to read the Sunday comics in the local newspaper, afterwards, in true beat fashion (the beats being green before green was cool), saving the colored comic pages for wrapping paper to be used later -- maybe for a birthday present or a "just-because" present.

Back to the topic. What comics would Kerouac read? We know he watched cartoons on TV, as a previous post about Krazy Kat pointed out. We can assume Jack read the comics because he mentions them in his novels.

For example, in Dr. Sax, he mentions "Maggie and Jiggs funnies."

I remember reading the comic strip, "Bringing Up Father" by George McManus, which featured Maggie and Jiggs. Wow! Jack and I might have been reading it at the same time, at least between 1962 (when I probably started reading the comics), and 1969 (when Jack died).

Here's a link to "Bringing Up Father."

Read the Sunday comics. It's a beat thing to do.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

March 28: On Greetings

Today's Kerouaction

Jack made a big thing over greetings and farewells. They are important transition points where relationships are concerned. He often detailed his first words to a new girl or how he and a girl or a friend parted, like the time he wrote "MAY YOU USE THE DIAMONDCUTTER OF MERCY" on a thumbnail-sized piece of paper and gave it to Japhy as the two were saying goodbye for what would be a long time.

I got an idea for greetings from comrade m, who posted a response to my March 20 entry on new words. Once upon a time, I compiled a long list of unusual responses (i.e., interesting and seldom-used words) to the question, "How are you today?" My intention was to use a different one each day. I never remembered to do it. But now, thanks to comrade m, I am re-committing myself to the practice.

Here are some to get started.

Instead of happy, say: blithe, convivial, felicitous, jocund, propitious
Instead of sad, say: acrimonious, churlish, saturnine, taciturn
Instead of angry, say: choleric, irascible, nettled, splenetic
Instead of thoughtful, say: excogitative, pensive, ruminative, speculative
Instead of horny, say: concupiscent, lacivious (thanks, comrade m), libidinous, randy
Instead of anxious, say: agog, disquieted, fervent, keen
Instead of confident, say: cocksure, intrepid, sanguine, undaunted

Let us know if you come up with some other adjectives, or tell us about your experiences using them.

How are you today?

Friday, March 27, 2009

March 27: On Fun

Today's Kerouaction

Have some fun today in honor of one of the last days of Jack Kerouac Month (duly authorized on March 1 by me). Go to Facebook and take the "Which beat generation character are you?" quiz.

It's a quiz I created that asks you 7 multiple-choice questions and then tells you whether you are Jack Kerouac, Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, or Carolyn Cassady. Unfortunately, if you're not a Facebook member, you won't be able to take the quiz. Maybe this will motivate you to create a Facebook account?

If not, find some other way to have some fun today. Go see some live music. Hitchhike somewhere. Go somewhere you've never been before. Write a poem. Run around outside naked. Go for a hike in the woods. Learn a new song and sing it at the top of your lungs in public. Go up to someone and give them a $5 bill for no reason.

While you're deliberately living life today (and having fun), remember that there are a lot of human beings on this planet for whom fun is an unthinkable luxury right now. Let's all send them some positive energy and be thankful for our own situations.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

March 26: On Maps

Today's Kerouaction

Maps are cool. Here in Maine, everyone owns DeLorme's Maine Atlas & Gazetteer. In fact, everyone keeps one in each vehicle. It's just the way of things.

Jack used maps. Hell, he even drew maps. This one details his hitchhiking trip in 1947-48, which was of course partial fodder for On The Road.

Get a map. Use a map. Draw a map.

Maps mean travel. Go go go!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

March 25: On Rucksacks

Today's Kerouaction

If you're reading this blog, you already know this passage from The Dharma Bums:
...see the whole thing is a world full of rucksack wanderers, Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand that they consume production and therefore have to work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they didn't really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets, cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants and general junk you finally always see a week later in the garbage anyway....

And you know Jack traveled a lot with everything he needed in a rucksack.

What kind of rucksack would Kerouac use?

Well, that's an easy one. Here's a picture of his actual rucksack:

Your task: get a rucksack like Jack's. It's gotta be canvas. It's gotta look beat. But where? Goodwill or the Salvation Army or any local used goods store, of course. Or maybe a military surplus store. Or a Boy Scout supply store?

If you want to spend your hard-earned greenbacks, Duluth makes The Wanderer.

But it just doesn't fit the bill visually. But how about the Kakadu?

Oh, yass, my beat friends. That is a rucksack after Jack's own heart. And only $58.95!

Get over to the Outdoor Wares website and order one today! Be like Jack. Get a rucksack!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

March 24: On Shoes

Today's Kerouaction

What would Kerouac wear for shoes?

Believe it or not, European designer Hogan has a Jack Kerouac Collection. Jack would eschew such spendthriftiness (let alone that the shoes are butt-ugly).

Sanuk makes a Sidewalk Surfer called the Kerouac. I own a pair of regular Sidewalk Surfers. My son Jason got them for me as a present. I could see Jack wearing a pair, but, again, too expensive for what you get.

For sure, Jack would wear "old black railroad shoes," as described in his play, Beat Generation. So what are they in today's terms?

A little research on shoes for railroad workers yields . . . not much. Here's a definitive article on how to pick a work shoe: If the Shoe Fits the Hazard, Wear It.

Certainly, a railroad worker would want safety shoes. That is, ones with steel toes and rugged uppers, etc. Red Wing makes one called the WORX. Here it is:

Or maybe he'd wear a pair of Wolverines:

Then again, frugal Jack may go to Payless for the prices. Or better, he'd get a pair from the Salvation Army or Goodwill.

But I'd like to think Jack wouldn't skimp on shoes. He'd take his next royalty check and buy some nice Red Wings or Wolverines. Yass, yass. He'd walk 'em in good and they'd become old black railroad shoes fer shoe-ah!

Me? I'll stick with Keens.

Monday, March 23, 2009

March 23: On Youth

Today's Kerouaction

Jack didn't let his chronological age dictate his behavior, and neither should the rest of us. There are lots of examples in On The Road and The Dharma Bums where a character displays what society would probably label "immature behavior" or "juvenile antics."

Like sunbathing naked. Or sneaking aboard an abandoned boat. Or pissing off the back of a moving truck. Or dancing in public. Or inventing and playing a game. Or staying up all night.

If you want to do it, do it. Don't let age stop you. Stay young at heart.
Youth is not properly definable by age. It is a spirit of daring, creating, asserting life, and openly relating to the world.
~Malcolm Boyd

Well said, Malcolm.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

March 22: On Drinks

Today's Kerouaction

Today's post is participatory. Its intention is to answer the question, "What would Kerouac drink?"

Let's build a list of all the alcholic drinks mentioned in Jack's writing. I'm starting out the list with two drinks:

-double bourbon and ginger ale (Big Sur)
-poorboy of Tokay (The Dharma Bums)

Your job is to add to the list. Name the alcoholic drink, and name the Kerouac work.

Let's shoot for a long, accurate, comprehensive list.

Good luck!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

March 21: On Live Music

Today's Kerouaction

Jack's spontaneous prose style was heavily influenced by jazz, specifically the bebop of Charlie Parker et al. His and the beats' particular writing style is sometimes called "bop prosody." Here's an interesting article on the subject: "Jazz America": Jazz and African American Culture in Jack Kerouac's On The Road".

Jack frequently sought out live music and then crafted detailed scenes in his novels, using a bebop style to describe bebop.

The Kerouaction? Support live music, especially in your local area. It's Saturday night! Find a venue and go. It doesn't have to be jazz. It could be reggae, rock, blues, bluegrass, harana, folk, Irish, aboriginal, country, world music, rap, ska, klezmer, classical, bhajan, whatever . . . .

Dig the ride!

Friday, March 20, 2009

March 20: On New Words

Today's Kerouaction

Jack liked to invent new words. There's a word for a new word: neologism. Kerouaction is a neologism I created. It refers to the answer to the question, "What would Kerouac do?" The answer is a Kerouaction.

Where do new words come from? Sometimes we invent them, like Jack. Other times we learn new words. Either way, words are a writer's most important tool, so where they come from is not as important as wielding them.

I recently learned that babblative means pointlessly or annoyingly talkative. Having recently met someone who epitomizes that characteristic, it was nice to have a precise adjective to deploy when describing her.

I have favorite words. For some reason I particularly like brigand and blackguard.

Of course there are websites that are devoted to Interesting Words.

Your Kerouaction for today is to invent a new word or learn a new word and use it in conversation at least once. If you invent a new word, please let us know here at The Daily Beat. Perhaps we'll adopt its usage.

Right now I must absquatulate.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

March 19: On Life Being Holy

Today's Kerouaction

In On The Road, Sal Paradise (Jack) says, "Life is holy and every moment is precious." It goes without saying. Doesn't it?

Or do we walk through our daily lives passionless, waiting for that big moment when things will be fantastic once again (or maybe for the first time)? Do we sleepwalk our lives away, unconscious, routinized, dead to the reality that any second could be our last?*

Do you really think on your deathbed that you'll be fretting over things you did? Or will you be regretting things you neglected to do or won't be able to ever do again? You'll wish you'd taken that trip to New Orleans you canceled because "you couldn't afford it." You'll wish you'd quit that lousy job and not wasted 20 years of your life being miserable. You'll wish you'd learned to play the piano. You'll wish you could walk on the beach barefoot one more time. You'll wish you could have one more bite of your favorite food. You'll wish you could tell everyone in your life how much they meant to you before it's too late.

Krishnamurti said, "If you had only one hour to live, what would you do? Would you not arrange what is necessary outwardly, your affairs, your will, and so on? Would you not call your family and friends together and ask their forgiveness for the harm that you might have done to them, and forgive them for whatever harm they might have done to you? Would you not die completely to the things of the mind, to desires and to the world? And if it can be done for an hour, then it can also be done for the days and years that may remain.... Try it and you will find out."

Right now, whatever you're doing, whether you're up, down, or sideways, take a second and acknowledge that at least you're alive.

Life is holy and every moment is precious! Act like it.

*This post was written yesterday, and this morning I read in the newspaper that actress Natasha Richardson has died from a fall on a beginner's ski slope. You never know....

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

March 18: On Influences

Today's Kerouaction

Your Kerouaction for today is to read some Walt Whitman, who was a significant literary influence on Jack Kerouac. The following is an oft-quoted Whitman passage from the Preface to Leaves of Grass:
This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul; and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency not only in its words but in the silent lines of its lips and face and between the lashes of your eyes and in every motion and joint of your body.

Here's the website with the entire Preface. The whole thing is astounding and I commend it to you, length-be-damned. Gosh, that man could write!

And so could Jack.

Influences matter.

Who are yours?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

March 17: On Travel Destinations

Today’s Kerouaction

First of all, since Jack Kerouac was Irish, Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! I hope you’ll drink a pint to Jack at some point during this grand day.

Speaking of Ireland, that is one of the places Jack said he’d go as a young man in 1941 in his short piece, “If I Were Wealthy,” which is included in Atop an Underwood: Early Stories and Other Writings.

If we mutate “What would Kerouac do?” into “Where would Kerouac go?”, we get a list of travel destinations (and behaviors) from the piece as follows:

-moil amid the reeking masses of the Orient
-mush to the Arctic
-tramp through the jungles of Brazil and Africa
-have women in Capetown, Singapore, Port Said, Istanbul, St. Petersburg, San Francisco, Havana, Liverpool, Shanghai, Morocco, Sydney, Sumatra
-lope along strawberry roans in Arizona
-stride along little roads in France, England, and Scotland
-loll among the green green hills of Ireland
-yawn whole afternoons away along the Mississippi in New Orleans

You might want to use the above as your beat travel checklist. Just being there is Kerouaction enough – you don’t have to perform the described behavior (unless you want to accomplish a “double Kerouaction”).

Of the 22 locations mentioned, in how many have you been? My answer is “not enough” (real answer = 4).

Monday, March 16, 2009

March 16: On Personal Hygiene

Today's Kerouaction

I've been thinking about personal hygiene for some reason. Maybe it's because I've been sick as a dog since Thursday and haven't paid much attention to such matters (sorry, Crystal). There's one entry in The Beat Handbook titled On Hygiene (Day 98). Generally, I don't recall Jack writing about hygiene issues very much.

It does seem that the beats are probably painted with a broad brush of anti-hygienic tendencies. If you Google "Jack Kerouac's personal hygiene," you'll find this interesting page about Bohemianism. It says the term bohemian "carries a connotation of arcane enlightenment (the opposite of 'Philistines'), and also carries a less frequently intended, pejorative connotation of carelessness about personal hygiene and marital orthodoxy."

The article goes on to say that there are 5 types of bohemians, beats being one of them:
The Bombshell Manual of Style author, Laren Stover, breaks down the Bohemian into five distinct mind-sets/styles in Bohemian Manifesto: A Field Guide to Living on the Edge. The Bohemian is "not easily classified like species of birds," writes Stover, noting that there are crossovers and hybrids. The five types are: Nouveau, Gypsy, Beat, Zen and Dandy.

Certainly, the beats didn't worry about hygiene like many of us do. They'd be more inclined to skip the daily shower routine, favoring a quick swim in a lake over a shower. Soap would likely be an option versus a necessity. With the cost of soap these days, using a little less wouldn't hurt the ol' pocketbook. A middle-of-the-road idea might be to take your daily shower but just wash your armpits and nether-region and hair. I bet you'd find that's sufficient! And maybe that dry-skin problem you've been having would clear up.

While skipping showers and cutting down on soap are Kerouactions you might consider where personal hygiene is concerned, I admit I'm shooting in the dark here given the dearth of hygiene references in Jack's novels. Or maybe I just missed them?

Anyway, I do know Jack shaved, because he almost always appeared clean-shaven. But I bet his razor didn't vibrate. Or his toothbrush.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

March 15: On Connections

Today's Kerouaction

Jack made connections in his writing. Literary. Spiritual. Sociological. Philosophical. Psychological.

He often dropped references to other authors, their works, their concepts.

Making connections is a beat thing to do. Sometimes you get somewhere you never expected. And it's the process that's important, not the outcome.

For example, I was trying to make a connection between Jack Kerouac and the Ides of March, which today is (you know, the day Caesar was assassinated). Right away, Googling brings up this article: Did you say Ides of March?. But it's a sketchy connection.

However, a little more research reveals that American author Thornton Wilder (famous for his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Bridge of San Luis Rey) wrote a novel called Ides of March. Wilder wrote a play titled "The Skin of Our Teeth" that Joseph Campbell and Robert Morton Robinson claimed was a result of unacknowledge borrowing from James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake.

I can't establish a direct Kerouac-Wilder link, but Kerouac named Joyce as one of his most important influences. Also, Wilder hung out with Hemingway, a Kerouac idol. Finally, it's generally acknowledged that Wilder was gay, another possible Kerouac connection.

Kerouac and Wilder were contemporaries. I suspect they were aware of each other and of each others' works. They may even have met, but I'm not sure.

Make some connections - it's fun and it's definitely a Kerouaction, plus you'll likely learn something along the way!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

March 14: On Clothing

Today's Kerouaction

Today's Kerouaction is about dress and comes from Big Sur, in which Kerouac describes the clothing of Ben Fagan (in real life, Philip Whalen):
...Ben Fagan walks away to get the bus on the corner, his big baggy corduroy pants and simple blue Goodwill work shirt....

The Beat Handbook includes a number of clothing tips, but not this specific one (since it only focused on The Dharma Bums and On The Road). Run out to the nearest Goodwill or Salvation Army store and score some baggy corduroys and a blue work shirt. While you're there, drop off some clothing you haven't worn in a year.

Friday, March 13, 2009

March 13: On Spontaneous Writing

Today's Kerouaction

Kerouac developed what he called "spontaneous prose." In "Essentials of Spontaneous Prose," describing what he called "LAG IN PROCEDURE," he said, "No pause to think of proper word but the infantile pileup of scatological buildup words till satisfaction is gained, which will turn out to be a great appending rhythm to a thought and be in accordance with Great Law of timing."

Today, in your journal, do some spontaneous writing. Put pen to paper and write for 5 minutes, non-stop, no editing, no stopping.

More straight from Jack:

"Begin not from preconceived idea of what to say."

"Do not afterthink except for poetic or P. S. reasons."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

March 12: On Jack's Birthday

Today's Kerouaction

Today is Jack Kerouac' birthday. Happy Birthday, Jack. We wish you were still around writing new adventures for us to read. You'd have been 87 today.

In honor of this most special occasion, the Kerouaction for Jack's birthday is to take a moment some time during the day and read a favorite Kerouac passage or two. Out loud would be good. Out loud and drunk would be even better.

I put together a little photo tribute as a way of honoring the occasion. It includes my 1957 copy of On The Road, my journal, a pen, The Beat Handbook, a bottle of Jack, a red flannel shirt, my hiking boots, and, of course, my cat Karma (who would not cooperate!). I sold my old typewriter to Kerri or that would be in the picture, too.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

March 11: On Driving

Today's Kerouaction

According to Simple English Wikipedia, Jack never had a driver's license. Imdb.com says "he never had a driver's license, and was envious of any skilled driver, his friend Neal Cassady in particular. Apparently made his peace with driving coming back from a Mexican trip, when he had to take the wheel part-time over long stretches of desert, as he described later in 'Desolation Angels.'"

Jack never needed a driver's license because he found other ways to get from point A to B. When he was a railroad brakeman, he walked and hopped freights to his station. He got to his firestation on Desolation Peak by horseback and needed no transportation once he was there. To travel cross country, he hitchhiked or used public transportation or a car service (in the latter case depending on Neal or others to drive). When a car was absolutely necessary (for example, when moving Memere and himself and their stuff multiple times), he had relatives or friends or hired drivers do the driving.

So except for some sporadic - and illegal - driving he did later in life (some sources say he never learned until he was 34 in 1956), Jack Kerouac, author of On The Road, had no need for driving. Amazing!

Yes, it was a different time, but it's still possible to craft a life without owning a car or needing to drive. That would be a very beat thing to do, and a definite Kerouaction.

If you're reading this and don't have a driver's license yet, forget about getting one. You don't need it. If you already have one, think about not renewing it. In either case, figure out a way to get where you need to go without driving. Think of the money you'll save on car payments and repairs and excise taxes (in Maine!) and insurance. Besides, the things you own end up owning you, and cars are the best example of that maxim.

Indeed, to forsake driving and car ownership is a great strategy in these dark economic times!

And on top of that, it's the beat thing to do.

Be like Jack and don't drive. Look at it this way: if you never drive, you can never get in trouble for drunk driving. Since drinking is an inescapable Kerouaction, not driving is probably the only way not to make sure you never mix the two.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

March 10: On Wine

Today's Kerouaction

So what kind of wine would Kerouac drink? He mentions Tokay in The Dharma Bums:
Pretty soon we headed into another siding at a small railroad town and I figured I needed a poorboy of Tokay wine to complete the cold dusk run to Santa Barbara.

The Beat Museum says the following in a Kerouac bio:
His drink of choice was a jug of the kind of cheap, sweet wine, Tokay or Thunderbird, usually preferred by winos.

So what is Tokay, and can we still buy it?

Answers.com says that "tokay" means "a large, oval California table grape (also called Flame Tokay) with a thick red skin and bland-tasting flesh with seeds. Tokays are available from August through December. They're also sometimes used to make wine of the same name." It goes on to say it is also the name of a sweet white wine from Hungary's Tokay region. I doubt Jack was referring to the latter.

Given his affinity for living on the cheap and hanging out with bums and winos and tramps, etc., a cheap table wine from California had to be what he was talking about.

Can we still get Tokay from those California grapes?

Well, yes. But now it's called Muscadelle because of an action by the Hungarians (according to Wine Exchange).

Wine Dictionary says, "Some Muscadelle is grown in Australia, where it's known as Tokay and often used in dessert wines called liqueur Tokays. Small amounts of it are grown in California, where it's known as Sauvignon Vert."

Appellation America confirms that the what is called Sauvignon Vert in California is a Muscadelle, and this grape is experiencing decreasing acreage in California.

I'm no wine expert, but it seems like the modern version of Jack's Tokay is most likely the Chambers Muscadelle Tokay (the only brand I found on-line). Today's Kerouaction: Get your hands on some today and drink some wine that Jack favored.

P.S. Don't ask me what a poorboy is. I thought it was a New Orleans sandwich. What Jack meant is anyone's guess.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Why Kerouac? UPDATED August 24, 2015

Here is a link to a guest post I wrote for the blog, Words Are My Power: Why Kerouac?

UPDATE: August 24, 2015
The above link no longer works and I have no idea how to contact the owner of the blog. Fortunately, I kept a copy of the text, which I have pasted below. I have not updated it from 2009 and would likely have a few more things to say these six years later. But, I'll save that for another time.

Why Kerouac?

I’ve been invited to write about my affinity for Jack Kerouac and the beats. I’m going to focus on Kerouac, since any affinity I have for the beats in general is a direct offshoot of my affinity for Jack. This post started out in my mind with a scholarly bent, and then it veered into a mostly personal perspective.

I received an excellent high school and undergraduate education, yet where literature is concerned, I don’t remember encountering Kerouac. Maybe I was exposed to beat literature and it just didn’t “take.” The first exposure I remember came in 2002, courtesy of my great friend, Keith – a huge Kerouac fan – who encouraged me to read On The Road. I was living alone at the time, reading voraciously, and frequenting the local tavern much more than necessary or healthful (living like Jack?).

A number of things in On The Road spoke to me. I’m reminded of Bob Dylan’s description: “Someone handed me Mexico City Blues in St. Paul [Minnesota] in 1959 and it blew my mind. It was the first poetry that spoke my own language.” I guess Jack’s was the first prose that really spoke my own language: the spontaneity, the passion, the freedom, and of course the style in which those were conveyed grabbed my attention and held it, and holds it to this day (I’m currently reading The Subterraneans). Jack’s was the first prose I’d ever read where it seemed as if comprehension was only part of the ride. I could read entire passages, enjoy them, and not really know exactly what Kerouac was talking about.

In a comment on my February 22, 2009 post on my blog, The Daily Beat, “the right guy” said about Kerouac, “reading his work is more like experiencing something than reading and digestion.” Yes! That is what I love about reading Kerouac – it’s an experience!

The second Kerouac novel I read was The Dharma Bums. I must admit that I preferred it – and still do – over On The Road. I know that statement probably amounts to beat anathema, but it’s the truth. My truth, anyway. I think Bums originally appealed to me because I was coming off a heavy Buddhist kick at the time. Bums had many of the same features as Road, but with a more explicit spiritual theme.

Next I read Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac by Gerald Nicosia. I became fascinated with Kerouac the human being: driven, questioning, passionate, flawed. I related to his trials, envied his exploits, and empathized with his losses. There are just some eerie parallels between our lives. I grew up in the Northeast. I had lost a brother, too, not young like Gerard, but young. My brother was gay, so I could relate to Jack’s homosexual exploits. I’d been married three times (so had Jack). My mom was born two years after Jack, but my dad was born in 1904, so I had a mixed cultural experience where generational issues are concerned. In Jack’s essay, “The Origins of the Beat Generation,” he lists a number of things that the beat generation “goes back to.” Following are some items directly from Jack’s list:

W.C. Fields
The Three Stooges
The Marx Brothers
Krazy Kat
Laurel and Hardy
Count Dracula
King Kong
Basil Rathbone [as Sherlock Holmes]

If I independently created a list of cultural influences from my youth, I would have included those same influences.

Jack’s oft-quoted “the only people for me are the mad ones . . .” has been a theme in my life, yet I never thought about it until I read that passage in On The Road. I don’t know where that character trait had its seed, but I suspect it may have come from growing up living in a hotel where my dad was the manager. I was surrounded by characters at all times, from the guests to the bellhops to the front desk managers to the chefs in the kitchen. I remember one time my friends and I were teasing the prep cooks – as we often did – down in the vast kitchen prep room in the basement. One time, several of the cooks grabbed my friend Joe and threw him on the prep table, started the meat grinder, and pretended they were going to run his arm through it!

Like I said, I grew up around some very interesting characters.

At the same time, I experienced quite a strict upbringing courtesy of my mother (undue motherly influence – another Kerouac similarity?). I never really cut loose until college, and even then my conditioning for 17 years kept me fairly constrained. I went the conservative route, true to my upbringing, until a classic “mid-life” crisis in my mid-forties resulted in me dumping my marriage, career, lifestyle, everything. That was right before I discovered Kerouac, and the freedom he espoused and lived strongly validated the radical changes I’d made in my life.

I admire Jack Kerouac for his dedication to craft. He was a writer because he wrote. He said, “Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.” Think about that. Even a famous author is only read by a small percentage of the human beings on the planet. Much of what writers put to paper (or hard drive or blog) never gets read by anyone except the writer. Ultimately, you are writing for yourself out of some innate drive to do it. You see yourself as a writer, so you write.

I’ve posted about how a writer needs three things: something to say, a way to say it, and someone to say it to. I’ve always felt like a writer, even excelling at it in school, but the “something to say” part stymied me until I encountered Kerouac. He wrote what he knew. That inspired me. I knew I could write, and I knew there was an audience for good writing. All I needed was something to say.

Jack provided me with the latter. His two books, On The Road and The Dharma Bums, became the fodder for my first book, The Beat Handbook: 100 Days of Kerouactions.  

Along my path to self-publication (which I will detail in a future post), the words of Sylvia Plath kept me moving forward: "And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

I owe Jack Kerouac a true debt of gratitude. Without him, I would not be a published author. It’s that simple. And it’s that complicated.

March 9: On the Beat Diet

Today's Kerouaction

"What would Kerouac eat?" is simply a permutation of "What would Kerouac do?" If you're with me this far for Jack Kerouac Month, you already know that I am attempting to create a new Kerouaction (my term for the answer to the latter question) every day in March. Readers of the The Beat Handbook know that I included a number of entries about "The Beat Diet," all based on foods eaten by characters in either The Dharma Bums or On The Road.

Here's a food entry from The Dharma Bums that I didn't include in The Beat Handbook:

I went into a supermarket and bought some concentrated orange juice and nutted cream cheese and whole wheat bread, which would make nice meals till tomorrow, when I'd hitchhike on through the other side of town.

"Nutted cream cheese"?

Never heard of it before, but sure enough Philadelphia makes something called Honey Nut Cream Cheese.

And did he make up the orange juice to drink or smear it on his bread along with the nutted cream cheese?

I'd like to think he did the latter. Sounds yummy!

Next time you're at the grocery store, you know what to do . . . .

Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 8: On Keeping a Journal

Today's Kerouaction

Jack was dedicated to the craft of writing and kept a journal with him at all times. That's one sticking out of his pocket.

In "Belief and Technique for Modern Prose," he said, "Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy."

Your Kerouaction for this day is to get a journal and keep it with you at all times (along with a writing utensil!). You have many choices. A cheap spiral-bound like Jack has in his pocket is fine. Or you could spend some of your hard-earned dough on a leather Celtic-knot embossed journal like the one I took with me all over Ireland and use as my daily journal (left in picture below). It's from Oberon Design. I carry this one with me wherever I go. Another choice is a Moleskine, seen below on the right. I keep this one in a pocket of whatever coat I'm using for the current season, so it's always close by even if I neglect to carry my main journal. (By the way, it's pronouned mole'-skeen.)

Why spend a little more money on a journal (as I have done and many people do)? If you value your journal for its beauty (let alone its cost), it's more likely you'll keep it with you. Then it's handy for all those times the writing muse strikes.

Oh, don't forget to keep it at your bedside for those foggy just-woke-up thoughts. Sometimes those are the best - Jack wrote Book of Dreams that way!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

March 7: On Solitude

Today's Kerouaction

Jack said, "No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength."

Today's Kerouaction - experiencing solitude - may not be something you'll do today, but you can put it on your list. And you don't have to spend months on Desolation Peak like Jack did (although that would be a very beat thing to do).

The point is solitude. Crystal gets some at camp. I get some on solo hikes or camping trips. Being in the wilderness is an advantage because you're less likely to see other people, which is part of the point. What? You're in the city and there's no wilderness? You can find someplace no one hangs out - an uninhabited building, a rooftop, under a bridge, the sewer system, the far end of the railyards, an abandoned factory. If all else fails lock yourself in your bathroom for a few hours! Where isn't the point. Solitude is.

When you undertake this Kerouaction, remember to leave your cell phone at home or at least turn it off. It's okay to read, but journaling would be better. Connect with your surroundings and your own existence. Be dependent on yourself for a time - an hour, a day, a weekend, a month.

This is one Kerouaction that's foolproof, yessir. If you experience some real solitude, you'll better understand Jack's quote above.


Friday, March 6, 2009

March 6: On the Railroad Earth

Today's Kerouaction

I don't know what Jack would think about Railroad Earth's music, but I bet he would be honored that a band took their name from his short story, "October in the Railroad Earth" (which I highly recommend, by the way). Their music is eclectic for sure. This article describes them as a "bluegrass, rock & roll, country and eastern jam band."

My band, The NitPickers, does a Railroad Earth song called "Dandelion Wine."

For today's Kerouaction you have choices. Read some of Jack's short story, listen to him reading from it, or listen to the music of Railroad Earth.

All in honor of Jack Kerouac Month!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

March 5: On Reading Out Loud

Today's Kerouaction

Readers of The Beat Handbook* know its premise was that to answer the question "What would Kerouac do?" (which I dubbed a "Kerouaction"), one only needs to look to the actions of the characters in his autobiographical novels. However, The Beat Handbook focused on only The Dharma Bums and On The Road. There are many more Kerouactions looming in his other novels.

For example, I'm reading The Subterraneans. I thought I'd open to a random page and see what Kerouaction I'd find. I found this:

The time we read Faulkner together, I read her Spotted Horses, out loud....

In honor of Jack Kerouac month, read something out loud today, preferably some William Faulkner, preferably from Spotted Horses (which I have not read, although I was a huge Faulkner fan in high school and still remember the short story "Barn Burning" - good luck finding it online - thanks to my excellent English teacher, Brian Stahler), and preferably to your sweetheart.

Reading out loud is a beat thing to do!

*What? You don't own it yet? What's the hold-up?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March 4: On Visiting New Places

Today's Kerouaction

According to the Cosmic Baseball Research Association's Jack Kerouac chronology, March 4 is the day that Neal Cassady left New York City after his first visit there (and meeting Kerouac, Ginsberg, et al.). It is widely accepted that Neal was a huge influence on Kerouac's spontaneous writing style, perhaps the singularly important influence (see in particular my January 4, blog).

Jack meeting Neal was monumental: Neal inspired On The Road, the defining novel of the beat generation! No Neal, no On The Road. Think of it!

Your Kerouaction today is to go somewhere you've never been. Maybe you'll meet your Neal Cassady. It doesn't have to be another country, state, or even town. Have a beer at a bar you've never been in before. Eat a beat meal at a restaurant you've never patronized. Go to that museum you've always threatened to visit.

The point is, go somewhere new. Today.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

March 3: On Television

Today's Kerouaction

Given that some of us here in the northeast are snowed in pretty good, and that yesterday's Kerouaction was about movies, today's will be about television.

What did Jack watch? Well, one thing we have documentation of is that he watched The Beverly Hillbillies. We don't know why, but it's documented that he was watching the show and slugging whiskey during the second of only two times his daughter Jan ever met him (see The fight over all things Kerouac). Maybe it was an escape (Crystal's idea). Maybe he secretly liked bluegrass music (the legendary Flatt & Scruggs made some appearances).

Without question, the young, nomadic, vibrant Kerouac wouldn't have made time for television. Maybe you don't, and that's really the beatest approach. But if you do watch television, watch what Jack watched: The Beverly Hillbillies.

Monday, March 2, 2009

March 2: On Movies

Today's Kerouaction

For today the assigned Kerouaction is to watch a movie. But not just any old movie. You are to watch a movie that Jack watched, and on the same date as he did (only this will be 2009, not 1948).

You have two movie choices. You can either watch Diamond Jim (1935) starring Edward Arnold, or The Spoilers (1942) starring Marlene Dietrich. According to Douglas Brinkley's Jack Kerouac: Windblown World (2004), Jack watched both of these on March 2, 1948 in New York City.

During his trip a blonde in the subway tried to make him but "like a fool" he "didn't check on it" (p. 57). If you get hit on during your trip to the theater or video store, don't be a fool!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Jack Kerouac's "lost" first novel to be published

Naturally, as soon as I commit to posting a new Kerouaction every day for a month, the news about Jack will start coming in like a raging tide.

And I will keep you posted on it regardless of my other efforts!

To wit, here's a piece from Guardian announcing that Harper will be publishing Jack's "lost" first novel, The Sea is My Brother, which he wrote during his time as a merchant seaman.

Yippee! More new Kerouac to read!!

February 2009 free book winner

Congratulations to pugetopolis for winning February's free book for his February 15 comment referencing a cleave poem he wrote about Kenneth Rexroth. I struggled a bit with picking a winner this month because this post was a reference to another blog. However, that aside, a poem about Rexroth - and a cleave poem at that - wins the day.

Pugetopolis' blog is called Snarke. Check it out.

I've left him a comment asking for his snail mail address, and then I'll be sending a copy of The Beat Handbook his way. As always, in return I only ask for a 5-star review on Amazon (if he wishes).

March's contest is under way. Good luck!

Jack Kerouac Month!

I hereby proclaim this Jack Kerouac Month, given that Jack's birthday was March 12, 1922. I recently learned that a couple of different people I know celebrate the entire month of their birth, not just the particular day. Doesn't Jack deserve equal treatment?

I think so.

In honor of Jack Kerouac Month, I am going to attempt to put forth a Kerouaction for each day of March. Of course on March 12 we will have to post something special in honor of his birthday. As you know, The Beat Handbook contains "100 Days of Kerouactions," the latter being my neologism for the answer to the question, "What would Kerouac do?" My effort this month is to come up with 31 new Kerouactions (that is, they were not in my book).

This is going to take Herculean effort on my part, but I think I can do it.

Let's turn our attention to this day.

March 1: On Early Influences
Today's Kerouaction

For today, in honor of the start of Jack Kerouac Month, read some of Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel. It's early in the month, and this was an early and significant literary influence on Jack. You can especially see Wolfe's influence on Jack's first novel, The Town and the City.

The link to Look Homeward Angel I provided in the previous paragraph is from Google book search, and doesn't include the entire novel. For that, try Project Gutenberg Australia. However, it's illegal as Hell to go to this website from the U.S., so there's another Kerouaction: breaking the law just a little bit. Don't blame me when the copyright police show up at your door - you were warned!