March 28, 2020

30 Tidbits of Life Advice from Kerouac during a Pandemic.

Check out Elephant’s Continually-updating Coronavirus Diary. ~ Waylon


Ramblings about Kerouac, by a woman on her period, at 6 a.m., during a pandemic.

It’s 6 a.m. and I’ve been up for the last two hours, laying on my couch with my arms clenched around my guts as my partner and step-daughter sleep soundly in their beds upstairs.

Ugh, periods suck. 

I tried reading a bit of Kerouac, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks, to distract myself from the pain. I love his rolling, run-on sentences. His matter-of-factness. His lack of shame as he tells me about his week-long benders, and waking up in a dirty alley with a hobo, and his need to shower and escape, and disappear into nature. To just be, for a week, or a month, or a year. With the trees, and rocks, and moss that is growing on the north side of everything because it is cold and damp and that is what moss does.

I imagine that I am a bit like him. Or I would be, if I drank a bit more, and wasn’t a woman, and didn’t live a stable domestic life in L.A. with a partner, and a step-daughter, and had a better grasp of language, and rhythm, and knew a few more words.

As I said, it’s 6 a.m. and I am on my period, during a pandemic, and unfortunately, Kerouac’s run-on sentences and drunken adventures aren’t helping. If anything, they are making me want a drink, but my 10-year-old will soon bounce down the stairs, knitting needles in tow, with a ball of chunky orange yarn because I taught her the basic stitches yesterday, and we are on a Stay-At-Home Order, which means no school, so now she is making a scarf. Or something that resembles a scarf. 

So I can’t have a drink. Or I could. If I wanted to.

Kerouac would have a drink, he’d say f*ck it and he would have a drink, whether it was 6 a.m. or 10 a.m. or noon. But he had a problem. Which eventually led to his death. In ’69. At 47. An abdominal hemorrhage. Caused by a lifetime of heavy drinking. May he rest in peace.

One of my favorites quotes of his is from Dharma Bums: 

“Happy. Just in my swim shorts, barefooted, wild-haired, in the red fire dark, singing, swigging wine, spitting, jumping, running — that’s the way to live. All alone and free in the soft sands of the beach by the sigh of the sea out there, with the Ma-Wink fallopian virgin warm stars reflecting on the outer channel fluid belly waters. And if your cans are redhot and you can’t hold them in your hands, just use good old railroad gloves, that’s all.”

We should all live like Kerouac in these uncertain times. Not the drinking part. Or maybe the drinking part if that strikes a chord but most certainly the living life to the fullest part. And the shamelessly discovering and accepting all-sides-of-one’s-self part. And the writing about it part.

Because, as I said, these are uncertain times.

Most businesses are shut, for now, until who knows. Horn-honking, tension-filled freeways are now empty. And people filled sidewalks and neighborhoods are now quiet. 

This is an opportunity. 

An opportunity to take off our shoes and roll up our pant bottoms, and rustle up our hair and run to the nearest mountain top, or swagger, or skip. And dig a divot in the shape of our body in the soft earth, with our hands, and lay down in that divot and feel the cool dampness beneath us. And close our eyes, or leave them open, and listen to the wind as it blows through the swaying firs above. 

This is an opportunity to scream at the top of our lungs on that same fir-covered mountain, until there is nothing left to scream about. And so, we stagger for a few steps and then drop to our knees as a few tears stream down our warm cheeks, in the dark because the entire day has passed and we are tired. And now that all the anger and fear is gone, we feel a bit empty. And sad. And maybe we stay there a while, propped up against a thick trunk, until the tears stop and we are calm and then we make our way down the mountain, and on home, where we pull out a chair and sit at our cheap unstained pine Ikea desk, or antique roll-top desk. And, with a pen and paper, we write about what it feels like to be us in that raw, depleted moment.

Or maybe we don’t do any of those things because I am, after all, just a rambling, sleep-deprived, woman on her period, at 6 a.m., during a pandemic. 

But if we do decide to do those things, or some version of those things, may Kerouac’s “Belief and Technique for Modern Prose” below be a guide for us all, both in life and on paper:

  1. Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for your own joy.
  2. Be submissive to everything, open, listening.
  3. Try never get drunk outside your own house.
  4. Be in love with your life.
  5. Something that you feel will find its own form.
  6. Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind. 
  7. Blow as deep as you want to blow.
  8. Write what you want bottomless from bottom of the mind. 
  9. The unspeakable visions of the individual.
  10. No time for poetry but exactly what is. 
  11. Visionary tics shivering in the chest.
  12. In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you. 
  13. Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition. 
  14. Like Proust be an old teahead of time.
  15. Telling the true story of the world in interior monologue. 
  16. The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye.
  17. Write in recollection and amazement for yourself.
  18. Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea. 
  19. Accept loss forever.
  20. Believe in the holy contour of life.
  21. Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind. 
  22. Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better. 
  23. Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in your morning.
  24. No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language, and knowledge. 
  25. Write for the world to read and see your exact pictures of it.
  26. Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form. 
  27. In praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness. 
  28. Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better. 
  29. You’re a Genius all the time.
  30. Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored and Angeled in Heaven.





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