In any regard, driving through Lowell and seeing the working-class neighborhoods triggered a deep memory, and I had to wait until I got back to Wikipedia to confirm: Jack Kerouac was born in Lowell. I had worried it was just random neuron corruption in the twenty-five years since I wrote my senior honors English paper about On The Road.
I was kind of a wannabe beatnik in high school, as much as I was anything. I didn't really understand it, but I was drawn to Ferlinghetti and Kerouac's bebop writing styles as a kind of rebellion from the homogenized corporate blandness of the middle 80s... Ronald Reagan's "morning in America" was my teenage angst-y dark night of the soul.
At a core level, of course, I referred back to the journey of Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in planning my own trip, though not in the sense of a wild odyssey living by my wits and having random drug-fueled adventures. Joseph Campbell talked about the monomyth, the heroic journey common to so many Eastern and Western mythic tales. Campbell broke the fundamental structure of this ur-myth down into stages, including:
- A call to adventure,
- A road of trials,
- Achieving the goal or "boon",
- A return to the ordinary world,
- Applying the boon
A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.
Anyway, I don't know if I faced any real "trials" in my own journey, though I did see a fair share of "supernatural wonder." So I'm still pondering what "boons" the "fabulous forces" may have bestowed or will yet bestow on me, though I certainly gained some real clarity about my life, if for no other reason than for the simplification of my life into the very immediate experience of a series of moments.
I feel like I experienced something somewhat akin to the apotheosis discussed by Campbell in my time alone in the Grand Canyon, with the culmination in the blowout conversation with D on the way to New Orleans. I definitely felt a fundamental shift after that experience, and I'm now kind of struggling to integrate it. Campbell also talks about the hero's reluctance to return to the ordinary world - and I'm certainly feeling that when I contemplate going back to the world of work.
I felt I wanted to keep the insight I received in the Grand Canyon to myself at the time and still kind of feel protective of it. The substance of the insight is really hard to communicate in words; though I did get a very clear flash that I "heard" in my mind as if it were coming from somewhere beyond me: "that which you seek, you have within yourself - what you have to do, you must do with others." I'm not going to try and speculate on whether this was God talking to me, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the hash browns I had for breakfast. It was what it was, and I've been carrying it along with me as well as the nonverbal part of the insight I received.
It's been very clear to me for a while that my quest was for a meaningful life, as I expressed in my Pursuit of Happiness post before I took off. I've often thought I would find this meaning in activism, as I see all the wounds of our world and society around me. The question of how I can make a dent in the many problems we face as a country, as a race, and as a biosphere, however, is murky at best.
The journey still continues inside me, and this may be the trickiest part. How I negotiate the twists and turns of my return to "the world" will certainly determine how I live the next phase of my life.
Meanwhile... at the end of August, Penguin Classics will be releasing the original draft of On The Road that Kerouac typed on the long scroll of tracing paper back in 1951, before Viking made him change everybody's names and edit out the sex and drugs. So, I'm going to wait to reread the book until then.
And who knows. Maybe old "Ti Jean" has something to teach me yet...