I first met Dean not long after my wife and I split up. I had just gotten over a serious illness that I won’t bother to talk about, except that it had something to do with the miserably weary split-up and my feeling that everything was dead. With the coming of Dean Moriarty began the part of my life you could call my life on the road. Before that I’d often dreamed of going West to see the country, always vaguely planning and never taking off.
Yesterday marked 50 years since those words were first published, the opening lines of Jack Kerouac’s famous novel, On the Road. It was a work that inspired the beats, and continues to send ripples through generations.
To celebrate, students at Naropa University, a Buddhist college in Boulder, Colo., gave a marathon reading of the novel – according to the AP, about 150 people attended the 12 hour cover-to-cover session, where fans and some close friends took turns reading.
My first interaction with Kerouac was with another novel, Dharma Bums, which hit a soft spot as I entered a coming-of-age exploration of religion at the tender age of 17, and was first flirting with Buddhist thought. As many others surely feel, Kerouac’s writing spoke to me in its own mad way, and I gobbled it up – next was On the Road, Desolation Angels, Satori in Paris and Visions of Cody. (The latter of which I will somewhat shamefully admit to having never finished, as the 100 plus pages of pure transcription from taped dialogue was too much for me to digest.)
The way Kerouac viewed his life has certainly shaped my own – he saw all these experiences out there, just waiting to be eaten up and lived. Though carefully introspective and aware of moral questions, he gave no heed to the daily concerns that limit most of us from really grabbing life by the balls, so to speak. He was a traveler, in the fullest sense of the word, roaming North America from East to West, down to Mexico City and across the ocean to Tangiers and Paris. He sought enlightenment from people, from music and from poetry – in my view, from all the right places.
If I had never read Kerouac’s works, I would surely be living in a more closed-in space. His poetry and novels gave me the feeling that I had a companion, in another place and time, who could help me break out into the full color of the world.