May 28, 2012

10 Things I’ve Learned from Jack Kerouac. ~ Sion Lidster

Courtesy of Bryonie Wise

“I hope it is true that a man can die and yet not only live in others but give them life, and not only life, but that great consciousness of life.” ~ Jack Kerouac

1. Hijack the sacredness of any given moment.

First and foremost, Kerouac’s words have taught me to embrace every possible heartbeat of this life that I have somehow been graced with. His epitaph reads He honored life and through that statement my aspirations take seed.

All of his life he was surrounded by a milieu of sorrows, from the death of his brother to the constant guilt of leaving his mother alone while he traveled; yet he surged through his time with the gusto of ten men, hitch-hiking from coast to coast and spending lone nights at sea. From all-night jazz parties at the height of the beat craze to holy meditation on a sunrise mountain.

Yes, he had pain…but “Why think about that when all the golden lands ahead of you and all kinds of unforeseen events wait lurking to surprise you and make you glad you’re alive to see?

2. Take the leap.

Kerouac wrote “There was nowhere to go but everywhere, keep rolling under the stars.”

Two years ago, while living in the U.K. I met an American girl studying at a local university. On a mid-May rooftop night, with six weeks until she was set to return home, we decided to begin our long distance relationship.

There are times when you have to put your faith into life and take big chances.

Two months later, I was sitting on my suitcase under a three a.m. yellow moon, outside Newark International Airport. Alone and eager, having just landed (for the first time) on American soil with only a copy of Desolation Angels to keep me company on a 12 hour layover. The leap had paid off!

3. Know sadness.

When I first read the words “Accept loss forever,” I was overcome with a tremendous sense of vulnerability.

There’s an immense desperation in Kerouac’s literature that prepares a soul for wounding. This penetrable sentence carries truth as a burden but it is a truth nonetheless. With Kerouac, this loss is part of a whole world of possibility and there is no need to shy away from it.

Draw strength from sorrow. Accept sadness for it is as real as all the joys of the world.

4. The stars are always company.

Kerouac’s starlight analogies are prolific. Whether chasing the “mad ones,” who “burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” or battling his own exhilaration as he gets “all hung-up running from one falling star to another ’till I drop,” his frantic travels always seem to find company in the constellations.

To me, they conjure up the age-old image of the poet Li Bai, drinking wine atop a mountain, the moon building his shadow for a companion.

On a lonely night, you never know who is looking up at the same sky.

5. Remember the refuge of childhood.

In her biography of Kerouac, Ann Charters explains that throughout his fantasies of becoming a drifter, a railroad brake man or a holy mystic, there was only one vision to which he would always return—that “of being a child permanently cut adrift in a darkening universe.” 

It’s a sentiment that most will relate to, dreaming back to days when summer holidays seemed to last longer…but I feel that this nostalgia, this feeling of bustling naïve excitement, doesn’t have to be confined to the history books at all. As he wrote, “To the children and the innocent it’s all the same.”

Sitting in the back of a pick-up truck, driving through a foreign night under the skies, will bring all of that back.

6. Reacquaint with excitement.

I was walking through the small town of Sioux Falls in South Dakota with a grim shadow and a road-block in my head. The days before returning 6,000 miles home from visiting your long distance girlfriend can take their toll.

I took a stroll into this great little bookshop and browsed through some offerings when I found Door Wide Open: A Beat Love Affair in Letters. It’s a collection of energetic letters and postcards sent from all over the globe between Kerouac and his lover, Joyce Johnson.

It’s funny how destiny lands. A ball of energy for all the future possibilities grew in me.

I bought the book on the strength of the line “Come on, we’ll be two young American writers on a Famous Lark that will be mentioned in our biographies.”

7. Flaws can also bring greater love.

The flaws that we carry around can range from mental anxieties that wrench hours away, to the culmination of pushing your body within its mortal bounds. The deadly why and why nots, regrets abound, rattling insecurities and foreboding dread.

Kerouac knew this feeling all too well. I read Big Sur with the startling knowledge that he could have been writing my story. In one of his later novels, Satori in Paris, he reflects on his addictions wrought from life: “My manners, abominable at times, can be sweet. As I grew older I became a drunk. Why? Because I like ecstasy of the mind. I’m a wretch. But I love, love.” 

Let us not be dragged down.

Let us realize our flaws and accept them for what they are.

Let us stand on them to see further down that big open road.

8. Zen lunatics and Dharma bums.

Kerouac was the inspiration for my interest in Buddhism.

I am by no means a fully practising Buddhist (far from it) but I have come to realize that I have always practised some fundamental principles of the philosophy. “I reminded myself of the line in the Diamond Sutra that says, “Practice charity without holding in mind any conceptions about charity, for charity after all is just a word,”’ writes Kerouac about feeding a lone railway hobo in the opening pages of The Dharma Bums.

His vision of a rucksack revolution, a legion of bodhisattvas who wander and bless with kindness and compassion, sat perfect with my sights on the world. It opened the path to Gary Snyder, Chogyam Trungpa, Han Shan, Li Bai and host of other “Zen lunatics” who, in their fertile crazy wisdom, have played host to life enhancing scenarios throughout my time.

9. Write, with fever and truth.

Kerouac’s Rules of Spontaneous Prose are a lyrical jolt of inspiration to any writer; there’s a sense of tossing everything you know aside. “Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition,” he exclaims while encouraging the writer to “Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea.”

His words acknowledge that every person has their own version of every story to tell…so go tell it!

10. Indulge with the insistence of living.

Finally, to live.

Live with the almighty presence of holy guarantee; delve deep-breathed and heady into new phases of being; jump intoxicated on the notion that everything in front of you is new and as fantastic as you can will it to be.

Dream aloud.

In short, “Live, travel, adventure, bless, and don’t be sorry.”


Hi, my name is Sion Lidster. I am a fan and freelancer of all things wordy, currently residing in the mountains of South Wales and a B.A. Hons graduate of Film Studies and Media Production. I like nothing more than packing a suitcase gearing up for the next adventure or staring into a bonfire with an IPA in hand! I am an ‘encourage-able encourager’ looking to make the best of times with my girlfriend, friends and family from now until I’m too late! You can contact me through Facebook or my visit my blog for other mind ramblings! Have the best day yet…


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Editor: Bryonie Wise

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