Saturday, May 31, 2008

Reaction to Big Sur

Big Sur is an interesting contrast to common experience. It begins a simple story about getting away to clear the mind and turns into a horrifying, confused disaster of a trip to the other coast. Kerouac is supposed to go from New York or New Jersey wherever he is living to the Big Sur, which is a rural canyon in California, stay in his friend’s cabin alone to get away from his fame and people wanting his attention. He is perfectly successful, he has achieved his goal of being a great author but this seems to offer him no peace or contentment. He has money yet lives with his mother while people stand around outside the house waiting for him to acknowledge them. He wants to get away from that.

Go to Big Sur and stay in a cabin alone, secretly, to get away from all of this. Yet Kerouac sabotages this immediately by getting drunk and showing up in San Francisco to party with all his friends. He eventually gets to the cabin by himself then can’t stand it. He meets back up with Cody with good intentions and there’s lots of other characters that show up. Kerouac intended the trip to help him clear his mind and feel better but he just recreated the same thing he had previously. He ends up back and forth from Big Sur with different groups of people muddying the intent of ever going there and getting drunk.

This book has a great start. The writing is so entertaining to me, especially the first 50 or so pages. After a while he really starts rambling a lot, which I’m sure some people consider the genius of the thing but I find it hard to follow and hard to keep myself into. I slogged through the second half the book going crazy with Kerouac. It was a glimpse into being really crazy, where there’s no logic or rationale to what’s coming out. This was pretty interesting but frustrating. The entire thing culminates with him back at the Big Sur with some people who are expecting to have a great time out there but he goes crazy and they just deal with him. He is running around all night while they sleep, he can’t sleep. Finally they are going to leave and let him get away from them (as if they are the reason). Right before they leave he is finally able to sleep in a chair for a minute and it clears up his entire madness. Sort of a happy, this-is-the-end-of-the-book, ending. Funny in the end he is wanting to back to exactly what he was trying to get away from.

This guy is really an interesting character. This was the third Kerouac book I’ve read, all within the past year (I’m really picking up the pace).

Anyway Kerouac is really an interesting character battling his own psyche and withdrawing from reality through alcohol and drugs. Some of his craziness seems to be totally mental but it’s unclear whether he’s also nutritionally imbalanced, which contributes to the problem.

This Kerouac stuff was really appealing to me at first because I saw this freedom he appeared to have. In On the Road, especially, he seemed to just be going from place to place, having experiences and disasters and great times and leaving it behind for the next place. (Finishing off that huge iced coffee has my fingers racing right now.) I’ve never had that type of experience. I play my life to the normal expectations where I lived at home and was a good kid until I graduated high school, then went to college (straight through the five-year program…but I never did any sabbatical or drop out and reenter or going away or anything…I was just on the path I was supposed to be on) and after I graduated from college I had the first chance to do something different since I had no job or obligation. I didn’t do anything. I just sat in my apartment. Two months of nothing until I got a job back at the same college doing the same thing I was doing in college and back on the straight-and-narrow path counting my money and climbing up the corporate (non-profit) ladder feeling like I have to have a job all the time and not knowing if it's good or bad. By the way it's four years later and I'm still sitting in the same apartment.

So I’m starting to get that maybe the Kerouac writing appeals to me less because I want the actual freedom but more because I just want to throw in that experience while keeping my path going in the direction it has been. It’s a contrast. I’m not really going to quit what I’m doing and jump in a car and drive across the country until that stops working and then move on to the next thing while getting drunk the whole time even though that idea appeals to me. I can read this thing and experience his insanity and see how my insanity is pretty sane in comparison. Want to change some things maybe though. Socially. My career is taking care of itself because I’m great at that stuff. Not great at advancing in other areas but it's easy to look at the career and say that's success.

Final thought here is that Big Sur is an interesting read; it’s not a nicey nice story that’s going to make you feel good or anything, just a look into this guy’s brain during a time in his life which wasn’t so easy going.


Want to leave me some feedback? Here's some ideas: (1) What am I your f-ing English teacher? (2) You're boring, thanks for wasting my time. (3) You get an 'A' on that homework assignment!

One more book knocked off the reading list. One Few Over the Cuckoo's Nest is up next.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Laughing on the T

I finished off Gatsby a few nights ago and went one night reading Sports Illustrated and the newspaper before I got bored and picked up Big Sur by Jack Kerouac. Now I'm only on page 27 but this book already has me laughing out loud a couple times on the subway so people sitting around me think I'm an idiot and not paying attention so I almost fall when the driver hits the breaks. I focus on a couple shockingly funny lines from my commute home that a teenage boy would laugh at.

So I feed Alf [a mule] the last of my apples which he receives with big faroff teeth inside his soft hairy muzzle, never biting, just muffing up my apple from my outstretched palm, and chomping away sadly, turning to scratch his behind against a tree with a big erotic motion that gets worse and worse till finally he's standing there with erectile dong that would scare the Whore of Babylon let alone me.

A few paragraphs later...

Even when a rancher car goes by I day dream mad ideas like, here comes Farmer Jones and his two daughters and here I am with a 60-foot redwood tree under my arm walking slowly pulling it along, they are amazed and scared, "Are we dreaming? can anybody be that strong?" they even ask me and my big Zen answer is "You only think I'm strong" and I go on down the road carrying my tree––This has me laughing in clover fields for hours––I pass a cow which turns to look at me as it takes a big dreamy crap...

Man I can't get enough of this rambling. I think if I ever get around to writing something up for myself like I've been talking about forever it will be in this Kerouac rambling style the first time until I realize that's Kerouac's style not Simon's style and I try something different the second time. I didn't even know what this book was about until I started reading it. Seems all about getting away to be alone and be pure except Kerouac alludes early that he goes crazy after three weeks. Being alone is never lonely because you're always with yourself, right?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Gatsby and my book list

Finally finished off The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Most people have to read that in high school but apparently you can get around that at AHS. Anyway I was fascinated by the descriptiveness of the writing. The style was its own entertainment regardless of the story. I should have kept track of my favorite quotes as I went but here's one that stuck out...

Gatsby, his hands still in his pockets, was reclining against the mantlepiece in a strained counterfeit of perfect ease, even boredom. His head leaned back so far that it rested against the face of a defunct mantelpiece clock, and from this position his distraught eyes stared down at Daisy, who was sitting, frightened but graceful, on the edge of a stiff chair.

So I can cross that one off my reading list. I've got some feelings of inadequacy about how many books I have (not) read so I'm working on that. After failing miserably at matching famous characters with famous books during a trivia contest, I came up with this reading list...

To Read:
Ulysses, James Joyce*
Big Sur, Jack Kerouac*
1984, George Orwell
The Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac
Middlemarch, George Elliot
One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Ken Kesey
The Subterraneans, Jack Kerouac
Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe
Brave New World, Aldous Huxley
Endurance, Alfred Lansing*
*sitting on the shelf waiting for me to pick them up

These were on the list (read 'em):
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
This is probably one of my all-time favorites already. See above.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
I may have read this in the past. I certainly read parts of it but I'm not sure if I ever read it all the way through. Either way it was worth taking off the shelf and getting into. It doesn't need any compliments.

Other books I have read recently:
American Miler: The Life and Times of Glenn Cunningham, Paul J. Kiell
This was given to me by a friend. It's okay. Cunningham is an interesting guy but this book isn't written too well. If you're a fan of track & field I'd recommend it.
A Drinking Life, Peter Hamill
This is a great read. It's very entertaining and certainly made me take a look at my night life, what excuses I make and what priorities I think I should be setting.
On the Road, Jack Kerouac
Great stuff. This book made me re-evaluate whether I should be sitting here in this same job and same apartment trying to build some kind of nest or whatever my goal here is...making money? I still don't know but I don't have the balls to quit it all and run off. I think about it sometimes though.