Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac?

Neal Cassady Jack KerouacHumanity, at its most raw, is heroic. We celebrate those among us who live the glamour of our extremes and brave the consequences. When sensations and emotions are freed from social conventions to engage with the paradoxical poles of existence in an honest dialogue… well, you get On The Road.

Jack Kerouac typed his seminal Beat scroll in three mad benzedrine fuelled weeks in 1951 after seven years riding alongside its hero, Dean Moriarty – his friend Neal Cassady. Through chronicling Cassady’s untamed (let’s be honest – adolescent) humanity, Kerouac became our hero. For more than 50 years we’ve been wanking off to Kerouac’s rhythmic angst and Cassady’s inspirational intensities. But what happens to our heroes?

Jack Kerouac drank himself to death hiding away with his mother. Neal Cassady stumbled into oblivion… literally! Words have caught them at their most luminous, in that one brief brilliance when an exceptional adult intellect can sing true to its child’s soul, before the brain is forced to mature or push its truths into death. Awful, really.

Sensitive? Overwhelmed? Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac? Do you live your extremes or document them? Do you give of yourself, or your production? The pain is the same, and the joy, but the difference is what is offered up to time and to the broader human system. But here’s the thing. Our heroes don’t give a shit – not about legacy, humanity, or even (through legacy and humanity) immortality. Their brains care about feeling good and whatever story supports that truth – just like ours. But fame and fortune don’t matter to our heroes, social awards and ‘doing the right thing’ don’t feed or sustain – that’s why they’re our heroes!

Maybe we don’t have to choose. Maybe there’s another way. What if we make the exploration of our humanity the article of production? What if the act of life without limits becomes a chronicle in real-time that can only exist with continued participation of that life? What if we take Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle into our own systems? What if “look what I did” becomes “look what I am”? What if we let the act of writing, the mood of the day, even the choice of outfit, build our stories?

What if we dare to become our heroes?

7 thoughts on “Are you a Neal Cassady or a Jack Kerouac?

  1. Definitely Kerouac! I document everything… When it comes to blank canvas thinking, Kerouac HAS to be one of the greats – that technique he used to write ‘On the Road’ (one of my all-time favourites) was stunning. I don’t know that anybody’s done it quite so well since.

    Kind of curious if you think about it – today, thanks to word processors, we always write on an endless scroll. No pauses, as Kerouac had, to tape on more paper or to bash the carriage return back. A ‘super-Kerouac gift’ thanks to tech… but has anybody thought laterally and exploited that? I keep seeing books with paragraph and chapter breaks (sigh)…

    I think, without question, that our mood, our writing tools – everything – frames what we express. I remember as a kid, being given a new typewriter – bam! off I went with a new story, which I might not have written had I still been using the old typewriter. Today, everybody unconsciously frames writing with their computer monitor and the capabilities of the word processor. It’s ubiquitous and insidious – nobody realises that they are even being constrained.

    How to break clear? That’s where blank canvas thinking comes in, of course… 🙂

    • Awesome comment, Matthew! “Nobody realises that they are even being constrained.” Scary, but so true. Even getting a different set of pencil crayons changed my drawing style… kinda creepy when you think about it. Our only defense is awareness, which I believe comes from exploring historical paradigms of technology and thought. I’ve consciously continued to draft my fiction using notebooks and pens – ol’ school baby! I find this method is the closest representation/reflection of my internal process – visual, physical, rife with emotional texture, + shows my ideation history.

      What a fascinating connection! The Kerouac scroll becomes our commonplace medium. But so few of us will ever use that medium to write with the passion, rhythm and naked humanity of the master. Not that I would want to!!! Because I’ve asked myself, many times, over the course of my research “what kind of brain would write this?” The answer is pretty terrifying. We can put the book down, but its author couldn’t turn it off his internal monologue… except with seclusion and alcohol. A bum deal if you ask me.

      I’ve explored letting the story dictate the medium/format alternating organically between screenwriting, graphic novel, narrative chapters, and poetry. But once I discovered I wasn’t the first to try this, I got pouty and drawered it. I’m curious, what would a Matthew Wright lateral literary experiment look like?

      Ps: thanks for using ‘blank canvas’ lingo in your comment… warms the cockles of my heart 🙂

      • Good point – what WOULD a lateral literary experiment by me do? I’ll put my thinking cap on…I have been so focussed on non-fiction this year that Das Novel has been languishing in (virtual) dust. But it needed totally re-writing anyway, it wasn’t lateral enough (you can see where this is heading…) 🙂

        • …sideways? Hehee – course now the pressure’s on to take the theoretical into the physical… piece-o-cake… sure. My own Das Novel draft is literally sitting right beside me on my desk… leering at me. Best of luck for both of us!! Who am I kidding… Best of hard work!! (doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?)

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