I 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.