It’s August, and if you’re lucky or European, that means evening out your tit-tan and finally putting some quality hours in with those books you’ve pretended to have read for so long. Well, call me Amelie or Emilia because I’m as colored-blocked as a Rothko and my library overdue fines are just skyrocketing. Thanks to my woeful underemployment/ entitlement granted to me the day I was born in 1980s America, I wake up every day (not before 11, obviously), pour yesterday’s french press down my gullet and get to work on the porch with a stack of books and a dictionary (a real live paper Websters, guy) while ignoring the influx of phone calls and mail that my student loaners shower me with every day (seriously guys, I never loved you. We don’t owe each other anything. Let’s move on) (and stop threatening me with the notion of “bad credit” which I can TOTALLY see through as a tool of State control DUH).
I’ve been reading Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon (naming my first born Heat-Moon, obviously) for a few months, slowly only because I don’t want it to end. Perhaps it’s because I’m feeling all too stationary, but his journey through the back roads of America is filled with quiet wisdom and wry wit, and a worthy one to live vicariously through. The book itself is an extended meditation on modern America through the eyes of its roads and the people on them, and what it means to be a human living on this land mass of incidental nationhood.
Least Heat-Moon encounters a young Hopi caught between tradition and striving for success in the white man’s world: “my heritage is the Hopi way, and that’s the way of the spirit. Spirit can go anywhere. In fact, it has to go places so it can change and emerge like in the migrations.” College students in Portland incite Least Heat-Moon to “give up on the times”: they believe that “(a) anything less than more than enough was not enough; and (b) anything not taxable was of dubious use: community, insight and so on.” Thirty years after the publication date, America continues unabashedly toward the same end. Jesus freaks, teen runaways and the old and heartbroken color the rest of Least Heat-Moon’s highways.
Whitman provides the soundtrack to Least Heat-Moon’s journey (O public road, you express me better than I can express myself) and our narrator provides sage poetry of his own: “If a man can keep alert and imaginative, an error is a possibility, a chance at something new; to him, wandering and wondering are part of the same process, and he is most mistaken, most in error, whenever he quits exploring”; “Take the land, take the old ways, Christian soldiers, but please, goddammit, leave me my soul.”
The library set up a “Mad-Men” themed display ostensibly to trick the masses into reading (marketing degree at work, folks!), and it worked because I found Women of the Beat Generation: The Writers, Artists and Muses at the Heart of a Revolution by Debra Knight. The following statement is an exercise in redundancy, but I picked up the Beats in college and fell in love with Jack, Allen et al. In fact I’m probably still suffering from a post-adolescent wanderlust that’s since congealed into a pathological aversion to commitment of any stripe that the Beats first awakened in my then-nascent sense of life beyond the ideals I’d been (silver-)spoon-fed from day one. I hesitated to pick up the volume, as my teen crush on the Beats is now a bit of an embarrassing cliche if not an outright personality disorder, but the female angle intrigued and guilted me into picking it up. Little did I know this little book would validate all my life choices! From the intro: “…the liberal arts educations these young women were given created a natural predilection for art and poetry, for a life of creativity instead of confining it to an occasional hour at the symphony. Nothing could be more romantic than joining this chorus of individuality and freedom, leaving behind boredom, safety and conformity.” Thanks Diane Di Prima, Kerouac’s ex-wives and all the rest! Y’all are beautiful.
Next! Water crises! Sex scandal! Semiotics!