Category Archives: Thoughts
One of my favorite quotes is from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I have revisited it many times in my life after particularly meaningful experiences. (For example, I pasted it in the front cover of the photo album that I made after my semester abroad in college.) I have also re-read it at times that I felt my life was becoming a bit too bourgeois. In the time since my father’s death, I find myself returning to it again. My father was such a man…
But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes “Awww!”
Thoughts on learning that Miami students attending Luxembourg have modern creature comforts these days:
A very good friend of mine with whom I studied in Luxembourg is now studying the art of acting in London. She was unhappy to learn that another person from Miami University was also enrolled at the British theatre school.
My sister traveled to Hawaii for her honeymoon, and was unhappy to run into someone she knew from Miami (who was also on a honeymoon) at her hotel.
The bubble of unique experience in that collection of experiences that defines us was broken, and the six degrees for a brief time looked back at them from the mirror. But if I know them both, they shoved those brief intrusions into their subjective worlds into the backs of their perceptual closets — and cherished their unique experiences. A wise thing to do in my opinion, and something at which I am quite adept.
And so in order to settle an unrelated dispute regarding how old Miami University is (its the 7th oldest publicly assisted university in the nation), I was on the Miami web site tonight. I was drawn to the Luxembourg section, and was soon reading about the Castle at Differdange. The marketing material notes that the students will live in the castle — in a dorm setting, with all of the modern conveniences:on-site laundry, email and internet access, etc….
All experiences are unique since they are through our own eyes and interpreted through are own minds. The Rashomon journey of life is real to all of us who choose to look out the window — even when the person next to us on the train starts speaking English and saying “you guys!”. And I was struck by the fact that I am so happy that my particular experience in Luxembourg was prior to the “modern conveniences” that are now offered students. It is not only character building to walk to school both ways up hill in the snow, to chop wood for the fire and to read by candlelight, but it is FUN! The differentness of Europe (which admittedly was slight) was what made the experience for me into such a memorable one. That and the relationships that were formed.
I think that somehow my own experience would have been diminished had I lived in a dorm — a recreation of “Miami life” in a different land. If I didn’t wash out my socks at night. If I didn’t have to actually write a letter and WAIT to receive one. Internet and email access would have shortened the distance. The entire experience would have been an extended tap on the shoulder from friends and family back home — they all would have been there with me — with us!! The uniqueness — the differentness — the living with another family in another land — it would all have been gone.The host family with whom my sister stayed while in Luxembourg came all the way to Cincinnati to attend her wedding. That is a connection, an experience, that she would never have gotten had she been in the dorm at Differdange. Yes, she would have had other experiences. But to my biased eye, it would have been too similar to that which she had left behind.
And so my point is that the world is shrinking. That it had really shrunk incredibly by the time that I got here and that I have to keep inventing frontiers, and imagining that I don’t see the t-shirt shop at the top of my mountainous hike. My reward at the vista is the conscious ignorance that it has been done before and will be done many times over again. Just like our life on this planet without our archeological insight…
Differdange looks nice. It looks luxurious in a way. But I am happy, so very happy that I lived in one small room with no washing machines, no electronics, no party going on in the next room. And I am happy that I slept on church doorsteps, that I slept in trains, that I slept whereever I could find when I was locked out of the hostels at night. Because my experience is one that escaped by just the slightest of margins the world changing, world shrinking, world unifying force of the internet, of digital technology, of the falling of Eastern Europe and Germany to Smithian ideal. Because my experience had just a taste of the old world that I sought in Europe, a taste that I fear may be experienced today with only forceful discipline. Because, to be honest, email communication is a drug that is hard, so very hard, to refuse. Had I had it, I would have used it…who wouldn’t? I would have been privy to all of the gossip back in the land that I wanted to forget — if just for a little while.
And I am happy, of course, because it is MY EXPERIENCE and like everyone else I suffer the god complex of memory: it was always better when we were young.
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!
I haunt the beach in the evening when the snow birds have returned to their nests, and imagine that my spirit floats on the winds of the pelican updraft like an Apache on a vision-quest. I think how I recently wrote at a moment of reflection that I was “swimming in cool cerebral currents.” But I understand now, standing on this sand, listening to these unwavering waves, the power of the nature-nurture meme, and the universality of the scientific method. What is theory as the sand squishes between my toes? Close to shore a dolphin dives, and I find my thoughts pulled into the undertow. I hear the evolutionary echoes of the sailor’s siren song. I see the attraction of the aquatic ape. The fish-mammal pulls me down further and I see worlds born from the stardust of dying suns, and I see life, civilization, and humanity being reclaimed by these timeless tides.
The dolphin resurfaces for air — or to delight my sense of life and continuity – and I am self conscious of these seraphim moments when I sense the Buddha-nature of a person, a place, a thing or a time. I continue my solitary stride in the company of footprints that will soon be washed away by the sea…
There are days when my mind ventures into a nether world of dreams and fancy – when I exist mainly in a land of possibility and potentiality. Sugar coated days and licorice nights envelop me – a consummation of my internal wranglings – a feast of folly…Today is one of those aimless days where I present a façade to the world of industry and commitment – while I wither away the day in visions of life in motion and flow. I think perhaps Miller has once again infected my soul, his biological-life-freedom meme bouncing around in me like a pinball machine – I am alive with flashing lights and bells awhistle. “I love everything that flows!” from Milton to Miller…and today I hear it in an Irish voice being sung from the Leprechaun in my belly – “I lav ever’ting dat flose!” – at least for today, as I float in slow cerebral currents…