I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.”
— Jack Kerouac
The first time that I read On the Road, it took days for the roar to subside. The world Kerouac painted was wild and rich, filled with lust and love and discovery and meaning that felt like they were waiting just outside the edge of my life. I was 16. I’d already made my own trip across the endless roads of the country with a friend two years before. What we had experienced had overwhelmed our senses; Kerouac’s mad rush of words made some of it make sense.
Here’s the thing I found out as I went out into the world and gathered facts and experience. The restless race to bust open the world took its toll on fragile genius. Kerouac retreated to his mother’s den, a drunk filled by a dark lassitude, impotent once the bull-rush of words got spent.
There was love around him, this handsome and athletic young man who went to college in New York ready for an all-American experience, and whose curiosity and passion led him into the underbelly, where he found rapture and laughter, wisdom and irony. Too sad, that love was beyond his grasp, and he spent hundreds of thousands of words, writing in ever tightening circles, to try to grab on to it.