Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The Creative Process, Part Two, On The Road

I finally hit a wall last night with the writing--I think for so long I had to write as fast and furious as I could in between teaching and surviving, old habits die hard. I tend to write on tremendous binges, (what a surprise) and then crash for a couple of days. I have to work out this routine. I think I work that way because of the tremendous energy it takes to get to that place of channeling the writing, but like all things in my life, I have to learn a new way of pacing myself. For so many years I had the energy to push and push and push--I'm finding now when I do, my body begins to fill up with pain. Exhausted and still getting over the cold, I still could not sleep. Most of the night I read from 'Memory Babe', Jack Kerouac's  biography, and fortunately and unfortunately I reached the part where he is traveling around with Neal Cassady and Lu Ann, along with a cavalcade of other characters. I don't know how this biographer got this information, if its all true it is stunning information. So, the material for 'On the Road' is being experienced and gathered, and so I read through the night. I think right now because I'm in a position to 'just write', I've become increasingly aware again, of the way certain writers work. Kerouac and crew seemed to have this exhaustive energy, and of course there is the energy of 'being on the road', where no one can find you and the adventure is high. The writer who wrote this is very good at keeping the same energy in writing about it. And of course, with my own road trips past and present, I found myself sitting up in the bed, and then pacing around the room when something would happen. Its so interesting to read about these tremendous highs and (of course lows) along with the development of the philosophy that became 'the beat generation'. Of course, all of these travels are fueled with copious amounts of alcohol, weed, and other substances, and the writer really gets the feeling of this impairment. 

I once travelled from here to NYC to do a play with my friend, Kent, and we took the Southern Route. We drank our way across America, believing we could understand each city and its culture by spending the evening in the roughest places we could find. We had a high time of it, taking off the next morning with hangovers and assessments. We came close to getting 'our asses kicked' in Little Rock, ARK., and stayed around Nashville for three days, trying to convince a dancer we met there that she needed to come to NYC with us and do a play. We came close to convincing her,  but in the end, we lost track of her, but I still carry that number in my wallet as a memory. Richmond, Virginia was one of the strangest places, but after several beers  and whiskeys, we made friends. By the time we drove across the Washington Bridge to the city, we were spent. 

Thus began the new adventure with the play. As we gained energy from rehearsals, we found solace in 'The Coyote Saloon', (before it was famous) the most raucous honky tonk bar in the east. The smell of whiskey permeated the air as we walked in, sometimes in the morning. We drank in Irish pubs and made friends with Irishmen of dubious character, rode the trains up and down the coast with whiskey in our pockets. After three months, the play was over, we were all dead broke and drunk, and then the sky began to fall. When I left NYC, I had a plane ticket to Phoenix, two dollars for the bus and a couple swallows of whiskey. As pieces of the sky began to land on our heads, (and all of us going in different directions) there was a price to pay. I drank for three more months, (the only time in my drinking career I drank daily) mostly with a Croation man next door who once belonged to the secret service there. We talked fishing, fire arms, and vodka, and soon my girlfriend threw me out. I went to an A.A meeting the next day, homeless, and stayed sober for almost seven years.  The terrible thing about a connection to alcohol is that I missed it everyday, but my life begin to re-build itself. I rarely spoke at meetings, because I knew no one would believe my story, which I will have to write about in detail someday. Even though I think there has always been these kind of 'road scholars', I think 'On The Road' did mobilize a lot of young people pre-sixties. It was published in 1957, and did take awhile to catch on, but when it did, it did lots of justifying. I think though, that's the beauty of it, Kerouac, I think, in some part was saying, "get out there and have yourself some adventure, find out what life is all about."  I always felt bad that he couldn't find a power to save himself from such a young alcoholic death. He did move a generation. 

I'm so grateful that I found teaching as a tool to keep me sober and somewhat stable, and I hope all of those students, (some of who might read this) understand how grateful I am for that period of my life, and let's face it, teaching high school students is an adventure all of its own. There is a monologue in the play that I need to re-work some, that is a direct speech to all the wild boys and girls I ran with for so long, urging them to pick up the duffle bag and go on one last 'runner'. As I'm making this proclamation, none of them can look at me. So many did not find any kind of stable environment, many are dead, and many are just plain tired. I find in speaking to this metaphor of people, a sense of liberation in finding the need to talk about what we did and where we travelled. Of course, most were not writers, and most failed in the action of communicating what they were going through at the time, or for that matter, later in life. That is why its so embarrassing for most of them, they never got to talk about it like I did. Quote from the play: "George Bernard Shaw said, "Youth is wasted on the young.." Mason Lyman, (a friend of those days) said, "We're young, let's get wasted..." And that is exactly what we did. I'm not proud of those we hurt in our travels, but I am proud of the fearlessness we attempted. We rode bulls, drove our cars from Idaho to Mexico at a hundred miles an hour. We wrecked cars, fought whoever didn't see it our way, and learned what the inside of a jail looked like. I have to find a way of conveying this speech so it isn't over romanticized, because the price was so great. There are other ways of finding 'meaning in life', still, I'm grateful I lived through it and can now, write about it. The students that remember these, 'on the road' stories in class I hope remember me for giving my life experience temperance, and I hope I was a half-assed role model, even though the stripes in the character are never thoroughly removed. Now that I am not teaching, I feel more of a freedom to talk about some of these things, and perhaps in doing so can live to have, 'another adventure'. 

And to Kerouac and his generation, they were the precursor to what became and continued in the sixties and seventies, and if you were looking for adventure, it was in full bloom. Kerouac did say one thing in the book that struck me if its true, "The only thing in life for me is to love God and write about it..." I thought that in his own way, he tried to do this, but alcohol always has a way of railroading any allusions of doing the work of a saint. The jury is out on that one...

Time to take a shower and go out into the city, another adventure, another something to see. 


Gerry said...

I found "Memory Babe" to be a very scarey book. The death of an alcoholic is a painful thing to read about. By the way when I was in San Francisco, Neeli Cherry who knows Gerald Micosia (?)what's his name who wrote it said that he is having a very hard time to get any money out of the publisher, after that gargantuan effort, but it was a book I could not stop reading even though it was a shocking one. I hope your life does not go along the path of Kerouac. He started reminding me so much of Pierre. Pierre's dad, who was French died on the streets of Montreal of acute alcoholism.

Grace said...

i've always loved the way you write.

TJ in Boulder said...

A related story: counterpoint. Not too many years ago while I was living in Montrose, CO - in a moment of weakness or foolishness (because I had absolutly no desire to return to the "good old days of high school) - I clicked on and entered some contact data. Within hours I received a query from an long forgotten chum. We traded stories. I wrote about the places lived (N.J. , Maine, Nashville, TN, Lexington, KY, OR, rural KY and Colorado and various travels. A multitude of jobs. Different colleges. My second marriage. Life in general. I received in reply what I considered one of the saddest statements I have ever heard. The chum lived less that 25 miles from where we grew up. He went to college and was still working for the same company in the same location that he started almost 30 years before. He had never been married. One relation failed after 7 years, because he just couldn't make a committment. It sounded deadly dull and scary. I couldn't respond because all I wanted to say was YIKES!
Get out there! Our life is a gift and it's really all we have. As we age, what makes us complex and interesting is the experience we have accumulated and how it relates to the other pieces of knowledge we pick up from conversations, theater, reading, etc. Live or die.

caroline said...

though you are living in a room and that's planted to some extent, I'd say what you're on the path of now is a road trip by Kerouac's or anyone else's standard. At a certain point in my life (early 80's, me in my late twenties) I read everything Kerouac and his compatriots had ever written and much that was written about them. Drug and alcohol sodden though it may have been, what they themselves wrote was infused by a genuine searching. And that's something this roadtrip of yours has. That you've mercifully left the alcohol out of it sharpens the edges. that's partly why I keep urging you to be gentle with yourself lest you cut yourself on the sharp edges. be easy.

DB said...

I read "On The Road" in 1958 right after it was published and hit the road. I've been on the road ever since. I was one of the first. Not writing but acting, all over the country, planting my apple seeds in the minds of the young about not settling for the inane and mundane, a vagabond for life. Thank you Kerouac and Ginsberg.

DB Vagabond Journeys

Larena said...

Well Raymond if you can write such great blogs I guess I can re-write my comments again to try to actually get it to post. I'm always very interested in hearing what people have to say about their wild and reckless adventures while going along freely with the addiction to alcohol. I am so grateful you managed to save yourself, and find that life could be a wonderful adventure while working to stay sober. Of couse, there is a great saddness in my heart forever that my Terry could not find a way to at least save his life. His best friend Robert Shaw has now died and I think all of you boys friend Mason Lyman may not be too long for this world, by the way he looks, unless he can find another way to live his life.

I think your idea of starting an AA group in Boulder this Summer;f be great.(You need another project of course) Even if a few joined and were able to find the way to live longer and more productive lives it would be suck a blessing.

I was very moved by your blog about your Father. Now I will always think of him as the 'poetry man'. His death in such a strange way has haunted a lot of people, especially at this time of year, and i think the exceptional job of honoring and remembering him is quite remarkable. What greater gift could you give? I always felt for a father to give his son the gift of music was special. Now hi is being repaid.

Best of luck in all your new adventure. Love, Aunt LaRena

Rick Dale, author of The Beat Handbook said...

Enjoyed your post!

Maybe you'd enjoy my Kerouac-inspired blog at