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1000 Black Lines

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Jack Kerouac

October 20th marks the 35th anniversary of the death of iconic American writer, Jack Kerouac. He did to literature what Kurt Cobain did to rock and roll. Maybe not the best American writer, Uncle Jack was truly an influential voice and a touchstone of his generation. Today, any coffee shop of reputation (which excludes most corporate chains) harbors the beatnik wannabes and counter culture fringe that read Kerouac's texts as the Sacred Books. Beatnik road trips became a desperate soul's pilgrimage into the spiritual significance of On the Road, The Dharma Bums and Big Sur. The myth is still believed as new converts abandon family and community and toss commitment to the four winds in pursuit of the deified vagrant way of living. Interestingly, Kerouac's novels discuss the transient lifestyle though he did not entirely endorse those thoughts. At one point in his life he declared, "I'm not a beatnik, I'm a Catholic." Did he unintentional spark a cultural revolution? Or was Kerouac an artist reflecting the culture around him and reporting/commenting on it via fiction?

"It is not my fault that certain so-called bohemian elements have found in my writings something to hang their peculiar beatnik theories on," Kerouac stated. Ideas have consequence--even in fiction. Once a pistol is discharged you can't stop the results of the bullet. Michael Woodring addresses this reality in regards to Anton Chekov by writing “In every child, there is something of the parent.”

Maybe traveling was a way of Kerouac escaping the loss of his older brother, a traumatic childhood event that haunted the rest of his life. Maybe his cross-continental journeys were an effort to bury East coast horrors in a West coast ocean. Maybe he was whom he hung around with--in essence, you live with the lame, you learn to limp. Maybe his writings were too personal for publication that once the masses consumed his words they stole his soul and left him empty. "Write in recollection and amazement for yourself,” he said.

The writing life can be a wonderful servant but a terrible master. Two-time Pulitzer prize winner, Jon Franklin, writes of his “love for words” and quickly follows with “respect for their power.” Sometimes a soldier’s life seems safer. A bullet wound can pierce the flesh, cause devastating pain and potentially destroy the body. But a bad idea slowly poisons one's life and robs a soul. For all who write or hope to write, your words will be worshipped either intentionally or unintentionally. Chose your words wisely.

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