Sweater: Mossimo, Target
Shoes: J. C. Penney's
Top: Frederick's of Hollywood
Skirt: Rampage, Macy's
Top: Candie's, Kohl's
Bag: Candie's, Kohl's
Years ago, I used to force-feed myself the classics. I didn't enjoy reading these books. But I thought that if I read enough Hardy and Hemingway, then some of their genius might rub off on me. Eventually, I gave up this charade, plunging instead into the rose-colored world of chick lit and biographies by comedians. So last week I was surprised to be eyeing a copy of Jack Kerouac's On the Road in a bookstore. I'd always wanted to read it (somehow it never made it into my self-imposed serious reading curriculum) and even had the novel's iconic quote on a magnet on my fridge:
"The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars . . ."
There was nothing for it but to march to the register, a decision, I confess, that was not wholly motivated by a renewed appreciation for lofty literature. No, the scales were tipped when it occurred to me that I could weave my reading experience into a future post, as the Southwest Sizzle Necklace would be a fitting (if lighthearted) tie-in to Kerouac's beloved American West.
So, just what is this book about, anyway? Sal Paradise, a twenty-something writer who wants more out of life than the view from his aunt's New Jersey apartment. Seduced by wanderlust, he sets off on a series of cross-country road trips, a mad ex-con named Dean Moriarty his ill-chosen muse. Dean asks Sal to teach him how to write, the first of many acts that establishes him as earnest Sal's fast-lane, fly-by-night foil. Sal is forever following Dean in the hope that catching him will reveal the riddle of life. It's a gritty tale, driven by the kind of hitchhiking, petty-thieving, drug-laced, wife-swapping joy ride to enlightenment that could be hatched in the brain of only the man who, however unwillingly, gave rise to the beat generation. I liked its nonconformist message as well as its quest for something real. But its inescapable seaminess unsettled me, and I cringed every time Sal and friends stole another round of sandwich fixings, my disgust only deepening when those same sandwiches began to spoil in the Midwest en route from San Francisco. Also, for all the importance ascribed to personal freedom in this seedy (albeit spiritual) story, I would be remiss in not mentioning that its treatment of women is downright appalling. I reminded myself to be less judgy about this, as the book is set in the late 1940s, a time not exactly known for feminism. Still, I found it upsetting. Almost as upsetting as the whole food spoilage thing. So I did what I always do in uncomfortable situations, which is to say, ferret out the funny. Here are some of my favorite snippets from Sal's journey:
"I went to sit in the bus station and think this over. I ate another apple pie and ice cream; that's practically all I ate all the way across the country, I knew it was nutritious, and it was delicious, of course." (14)
"I might have gotten a ride with an affluent fat man who'd say, "Let's stop at this restaurant and have some pork chops and beans." No, I had to get a ride that morning with a maniac who believed in controlled starvation for the sake of health." (106)
"At dawn I got my New York bus and said good-by to Dean and MaryLou. They wanted some of my sandwiches. I told them no. It was a sullen moment. We were all thinking we'd never see one another again and we didn't care." (178)
Now that I'm reading this over, I'm thinking that I should've said I ferret out the "food" instead of the "funny." Still, pie a la mode wasn't always enough to hold my interest. Classic or not, On the Road is just such a boy's book. One afternoon I divided my lunch break between reading it and window shopping, and I'm not ashamed to admit that I found the window shopping to be more fulfilling. Which shouldn't have surprised me, come to think of it, considering On the Road's anti-materialism agenda.
Nevertheless, I forged ahead. And good thing, too, because I happened upon a (non food-related) passage that really spoke to me. Oddly enough, it comes from that sad scoundrel Dean. He and Sal are riding along with a couple of strangers, and Dean sums them up:
' "Now you just dig them up front. They have worries, they're counting the miles, they're thinking about where to sleep tonight, how much money for gas, the weather, how they'll get there - and all the time they'll get there anyway, you see. But they need to worry and betray time with urgencies false and otherwise, purely anxious and whiny, their souls really won't be at peace unless they can latch on to an established and proven worry and having once found it they assume facial expressions to fit and go with it, which is, you see, unhappiness, and all the time it all flies by them and they know it and that too worries them no end." (209-210)
As an inveterate worrier, I was struck by Dean's description of people who allow anxiety to erode their lives - the very opposite of their unyawning, roman candle counterparts - namely, him. He tells us that fretting is pointless because things have a way of working themselves out whether you obsess over them or not, and that if you spend all your time worrying, then you end up worrying your whole life away (a sentiment, as it were, echoed by the great Jason Mraz). That's almost inspiring enough to put on a pillow. You know. If Kerouac was into that sort of thing.
I'm glad I read it. Partly because I get to cross it off my bookshelf bucket list (for a ghost of that overzealous bookworm squirms in me still), partly because it gave me a deeper understanding of my fridge magnet. That having been said, I think I'll go for laughs the next time I hit the bookstore. In the interest of keeping things carefree.