Soul-searching through wandering (and reading Kerouac)

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Jack Kerouac, Lonesome TravelerI recently read Jack Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler. With a title like that, and knowing a bit about the beatniks from the 50s, I expected a lot of soul-searching through wandering. Kerouac, of course, came through:

No man should go through life without once experiencing healthy, even bored solitude in the wilderness, finding himself depending solely on himself and thereby learning his true and hidden strength. — Learning, for instance, to eat when he’s hungry and sleep when he’s sleepy.

For better or worse, one of the most important things I learned from my trip around the world was that I’m pretty damn important. My life, my rules, I want to do what I want. All that jazz (but maybe not so strict-sounding). Sure, I’m a Gen-Y’er so, according to the media, I’m supposed to be selfish and too self-confident. And while I think those stereotypes are exaggerated, I have no shame in stating clearly that I want to make the life I want to make.

I lived according to “societal norms” and did all those things you were supposed to do. And sure, I was happy and fine and life was good. But life got so much better when I finally had a bit more self-confidence, a lot more courage, and this idea that I can create my own world. I’m in charge of myself, my destiny, my life…

Kerouac’s Lonesome Traveler followed the same mantra—like most of his Beatnik peers. In this collection of short stories, he tries and does new things around the world, living simply and originally. Kerouac’s life was nothing if not exciting—working on steam ships, freight trains, working for the national forestry…. So many odd jobs and experiences around the world. All fleeting moments of his life, but the made up his fiber and his being.

Every little experience I have abroad has added something to my life. I’ve changed a lot, yes, but while I love traveling and want to see so so so so so much more of the world, I’m not nearly as much of a free spirit as a Kerouac or any other nomad. I still like my cozy comforts (and my skinny ties) when I travel…at least for the moment. In India I was happy to go months without shaving, to shower only on occasion, to hitch free rides on the train. But today, I’m quite content with a Berlin apartment, a closet full of jeans and other useful amenities.

Reading Kerouac’s stories from abroad, I was left with a desire for more adventure, more activity, more… more any & everything! Kerouac puts it beautifully by describing what he considers to be our six senses: “seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting and thinking.” Thinking! Why didn’t I think of that?

I’m always thinking thinking thinking… Kerouac spends some time on a mountaintop meditating and thinking, during which he discovers:

…silence itself is the sound of diamonds which can cut through anything, the sound of Holy Emptiness, the sound of extinction and bliss, that graveyard silence which is like the silence of an infant’s smile, the sound of eternity, of the blessedness surely to be believed, the sound of nothing-ever-happened-except-God…

I’m not about to pack up all my stuff again and hit the road long-term. It sounds nice and romantic, but I don’t think it’s me. But I do want to see and do more. Always more. But I also want to think more. Now how on earth do I make that happen in an economical and life-sustaining way?

For more of my favorite books, check out my mini book reviews.

Blogs published by Adam Groffman • Please note some posts do make me some money, but I never sacrifice my integrity in exchange for a favorable review. Read the full disclosure policy.

7 total comments on this postSubmit yours
  1. A most excellent read Adam. Probably one of the most important books of the 20th Century

  2. It’s a shame that 90% of travel bloggers will never take any risks in their writing, their self-promotion or their philosophies like Kerouac did. What a bland, bland, medium we work in. I like your ruminations though I have to admit.

  3. It’s a shame that 90% of travel bloggers will never task any risks in their writing, their self-promotion or their philosophies like Kerouac did. What a bland, bland, medium we work in. I like your ruminations though I have to admit.

  4. Insightful! Little experiences you have while traveling add a lot to who you are and what you want to do

  5. I’m a total book whore and love reading. I’m going to have to add Lonesome Traveler to my amazon wish list… those quotes you highlighted are fantastic! The one book on travel that has truly stuck with me is Zen & The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance. There was something about the romance of traveling cross country on motorcycle that resonated. Book wasn’t really about travel, but stayed with me anyways.

  6. Hi Adam,

    Have you read Xavier de Maistre’s Voyage around my Room? It makes me think about travel in different ways, about how ‘travel’ can be a state of mind. It also reminds me that we can become dulled to the things immediately around us so quickly and stop noticing how fascinating our lives are on a day to day basis.

    I know travel is a hunger, we always want more. Another plane journey, another arrival, the first smells of another city, the lights, the sounds of a foreign language. But sometimes we need to travel within too, to keep our lives interesting and also not to blow the bank account ; )

    There’s a cool game inspired by a film that’s showing in Tel Aviv now, The Exchange. You should try it in Berlin. I love the city so much! I stayed in Neukolln for two weeks last year. I’m very envious of you. Have fun on the busses!

    1. Go out into the street wherever you may be. Turn right and look for the closest bus stop.
    2. Take the first bus that arrives and go 11 stops.
    3. Get off the bus and turn left.
    4. At the third street you come to, turn right.
    5. Sit on the first bench you find and observe your surroundings.
    6. Take a picture of yourself against the backdrop of your location and send it to our Facebook page. Share your random city-wandering experience with us!

    (Ok, so you can post the pic to your own website!)

    • Okay THIS SOUNDS AMAZING. Thanks for sharing! Haven’t read that book either…will look it up for sure.

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