Category Archives: Correspondence
Email to my father:
In the background: a PBS special on the Beats…in my mind: questions about my life…
How long will I live before making a connection? How did the Beat writers meet each other? Is their comraderie real or as artists do they romanticize an ordinary life? Can I romanticize my life? Is there any material to write about? Or am I lost in a helpless bourgeouis cycle? The lost generation: how did they get together? How do people of like minds meet? Do such relationships exist past youth? These old farts on PBS who sit around discussing their twenties and thirties… Was that their entire life? Even that though is enviable…But why did these anti-establishment types do all of these interviews with these old fuckers, these people who are so non-BEAT — how disgusting to see Steve Allen kabbitzing with Kerouac…They are compartmentalized as well as I am…even the heroes…
There is a reason why they are on TV now and I am in my underwear on the couch — two insights from that thought: the truth of most people leading lives of quiet desperation and that to seek a pinnacle is fine, but it should be recognized as a pinnacle and not a pickle, i.e., the ordinary; and two: you don’t reach a pinnacle by sitting on your couch in your underwear watching TV.
So much bores me, and so much excites me! Serendipity, serendipity, serendipity…I suppose I contradict you by seeking you…
To find an environment where I can be as strange as I really am would be bliss…
And his response:
Sounds as tho’ you’re wrestling with the paradox inherent in having a “balanced” life. In my opinion it is far easier to achieve ANY given end state if you are single minded – and if you are comfortable living primarily in the present.
For example, I don’t think the “lost generation” cared at all about their future state – so they could concentrate on the “today”. Most of these folk were NOT Hemingways, but faceless and forgotten habitués of Parisian sidewalk cafes. I lived for a time among many of these type folk whilst single in Mt. Adams. We hung out in the different bars until the wee small hours and philosophized about life in general, and getting laid in particular. They were colorful and fun to be around, but were pretty much wastrels. They were living hand-to-mouth, operating as non-union painters or on service disabilities to feed their minimal pecuniary needs. While they were sleeping late and heading to Dilly’s for morning Bloody Marys I was facing the other side of my existence by getting up and walking down the hill with my P&G face on. (Interestingly, McCord sent me an invitation to a Dilly’s reunion to be held this summer – many of the most memorable characters from this period in my life will be remembered “in Memoriam”.)
If you really cared about finding these folk, I’m sure you could – not just the “plastic hippies” of my youth, but also the current avant garde thinkers that represent today’s “beats”. However, finding and joining these folk must be the lodestone in your life – I’m reasonably sure it is in theirs.
I also think you might find many of them to be somewhat shallow (kind of goes with being single-minded.) They tend (or in my experience, tended) to be in active rebellion against the “establishment”. They stated this to be because they rejected the mores of same, but I feel that at least some part of this was sour grapes – they didn’t have the skills or perseverance to achieve in the establishment world. They couldn’t/wouldn’t: stick with an academic program to achieve professional degrees, put in long hours at work, travel to strange places when inconvenient, sacrifice themselves to do what is best for family, think about retirement, want to drive a BMW, care about their appearance of success, get satisfaction from strategic thinking, set and achieve “stretch goals”, make $100K before 30 (or ever!), etc., etc., etc.
You’ve mentioned several possibilities that to me ring true, and some that ring less true. They have romanticized their life – if they didn’t we wouldn’t find it interesting. And romance does seem to have most attraction to youth – and to us old farts reflecting back on, and romanticizing our youth.
However, from my perspective the people who lead lives of quiet desperation are those who are non-action oriented – those who think life happens to them rather than those who make things happen in their life. Also, successful lives tend not to have “a” pinnacle, but rather a series of “ups” which are more numerous than the “downs”. And lastly, sitting around on the couch in your underwear is a perfectly acceptable event – as long as it is not a primary behavioral mode. Look how introspective you became whilst doing so! It’s only “quiet desperation” if you don’t get off the couch, garb yourself and go do something!
The fact that you question. That you don’t know who you are. Or what you want to, or should be. That you seek. That you don’t just accept. That separates you. It makes you special, but not alone. The metaphors I enjoy most for the search are Herman Hesse’s: he refers to it as the Journey East or the Golden Road. Hesse has the ability to touch my core – to titillate my soul. He does it in flashes. It is interesting: I don’t really enjoy the novel or the story as a whole, but there is language in Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, Narcissus and Goldmund, & The Journey East that I return to often. He is like Emerson in his ability to touch me on an intellectually emotional level. I suspect that you are on the Journey East and that you have had glimpses of the Golden Road. And so you have uncertainties with many aspects of your bourgeois life. And you know that ignorance is not bliss, and are glad that Man was expelled from the Garden.
(From an email to a friend)