I read Jack Kerouac's On The Road and The Dharma Bums, and then other books, like Satori in Paris, and Desolation Angels, when I was 15, and that experience altered the course of my life, as though someone switched on a light. When I read On The Road, I wasn't going to school; I had like, a tutor who would come by once in a while and I would write some papers and I remember reading that book, and wow. The quality of that moment of discovery was so rich and bright, as the truly great ones are; for the first time I had a sense that a kind of life was a possible that I had not even known existed. I found a private school that would enroll me based on my entrance exam scores rather than my near-zero GPA, graduated early, moved to New York when I was 17, went to Loyola in New Orleans for a year to continue improving my grades, transferred to Cornell and did alright after that. Everything from going to San Francisco when I was 22, working in the labor movement, getting into Buddhism, poetry, publishing and more was influenced by that initial encounter. When I was profoundly burned out a month ago, I revisited The Dharma Bums, and was inspired to rechart my course once again, going to a two-week meditation retreat, and buying a ticket out to the West Coast for two weeks (I leave in a few days, and have only the slightest of plans, and no agenda whatsoever). The tales of rose-covered cottages in Berkeley sheltering serious scholars who know how to have a good time, singular girls who show up on bicycles and in enviable sweaters and embody goddess-like qualities, all-night parties in hillside shacks followed by black coffee and pancake breakfasts, sound so right. This passage sums it all up for me, particularly the last 10 years of my life:
"'Alvah, Princess says she's a Bodhisattva.'
'Of course she is.'
'She says she's the mother of all of us.'
'The Bodhisattva women of Tibet and parts of ancient India," said Japhy, 'were taken and used as holy concubines in temples and sometimes in ritual caves and would get to lay up a stock of merit and they meditated too. All of them, men and women, they'd meditate, fast, have balls like this, go back to eating, drinking, talking, hiking around, live in viharas in the rainy season and outdoors in the dry, there was no question of what to do about sex which is what I always liked about Oriental religion. And what I always dug about the Indians in our country... You know when I was a little kid in Oregon I didn't feel that I was an American at all, with all that suburban ideal and sex repression and general dreary newspaper gray censorship of all our real human values but and when I discovered Buddhism and all I suddenly felt that I had lived in a previous lifetime innumerable ages ago and now because of faults and sins in that lifetime I was being degraded to a more grevious domain of existence and my karma was to be born in America where nobody has any fun or believes in anything, especially freedom. That's why I was always sympathetic to freedom movements, too, like anarchism in the Northwest, the old-time heroes of Everett massacre and all...' It ended up with long earnest discussions about all these subjects and finally Princess got dressed and went home with Japhy on their bicycles and Alvah and I sat facing each other in the dim red light."