Saturday, January 20, 2007

This was an interesting assignment: read the assigned novel and analyze the passages that affected you the most. Write about why they affected you. My book was "On the Road" by Jack Kerouac.


Little Boxes
Malvina Reynolds

Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.
And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there's doctors and there's lawyers
And business executives,
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.


And they all play on the golf-course,
And drink their Martini dry,
And they all have pretty children,
And the children go to school.
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
And they all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same

And the boys go into business,
And marry, and raise a family,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

Ah, the American Dream—according to the WASPs who governed the nation in the beginning of the 20th century (and still wield a powerful amount of guilt and judgement). The dreamers, the poets, the mavericks—well, they just needed to conform, because the American Dream is about being successful, and success is defined as having the right amount of money, working 40 hours a week, driving the right kind of car, living in the right place, being married by the right age, having 2 kids (one of each gender), going to the right church once a week, and paying your taxes. Sal Paradise, having attempted to live the American Dream and failed, has nothing to lose and everything to gain by following his star, or any star, across the country to breathe life into his dead, cold life ( Kerouac 5). Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road documents his journey across the United States in search of “girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me (11).”
What makes a person up and walk out of a life that has already been written? Was there a day when Sal woke up and decided it’s time to go (10)? Did someone tell him “You can’t,” and in a moment of heathenism he thought, “Why not?”
There was that day that someone pounded the table in front of me and yelled, “You don’t matter! What you want doesn’t matter! How you feel doesn’t matter! What I say matters! What I want matters! How I feel matters, what I say matters, what I want matters because I am the man and God made me the master over you!” My life had been written by a religious psycho and I was the only one who could rewrite it. And so I did. I followed Sal on the road. I got three daughters, visions, everything; somewhere along the line, the pearl was handed to me.

When mavericks and dreamers are pasteurized and canned into ticky-tacky spaces, they eventually explode like a bad batch of jam, catapulting across existence into spaces where they can dance and sing and jam and just dig everything that is going on around them. I sing the same song as Sal when he confesses that when “they danced down the streets like dingledoodies, … I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, 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 and in the middle you see the blue enter light pop and everybody goes ‘Awww (9)’!” I looked at my mother, my two older sisters, my grandmothers, my aunts, the church ladies, the mirror and saw “her great dark eyes (that) surveyed me with emptiness and kind of chagrin that reached back generations and generations in her blood from not having done what was crying to be done—whatever it was, and everybody knows what it was. ‘What do you want out of life?’ I wanted to take her and wring it out of her (200)….She was eighteen, and most lovely, and lost (201).” It didn’t make sense until someone screamed it in my face and in a moment of heathenism, I thought for the first time, “I matter.” And I ran like my hair was on fire.

My mentor was a midwife who had been divorced twice, had lived with numerous men, had one baby out of wedlock, encouraged sexual experimentation, and questioned the existence of God. She smoked pot, drank when she felt like it, and was the head of her household. She was hellbound for sure. She fascinated me the way Sal’s hitchhiker friend fascinated him, “not because he was a good sort, as he later proved to be, but because he was enthusiastic about things (17).” I married her brother—after getting pregnant and being kicked out of my church. Then I met her sister-in-law, and we were all sisters now, a sister and two women married to her brothers who were asses in their own right by loving their children to distraction but having scars from their own crazy ranting bipolar mother and seeing us as crazy harpies when we would say “Why won’t you listen to me?”

God, what were You thinking when you made us blind with desire? Sal’s aunt could teach them a lesson; she believed that “the world would never find peace until men fell at their women’s feet and asked for forgiveness (101).” Don’t men get it? But, no, Sal's friend Dean speaks for the all of the men I have ever known when he declares that “I’ve pleaded with (his lover) Marylou for a sweet peaceful understanding of pure love between us forever with all hassles thrown out—she understands; her mind is bent on something else—she’s after me; she won’t understand how much I love her, she’s knitting my doom (101).” And Sal, a man raised by his wise aunt, nails it when he replies “The truth of the matter is we don’t understand our women; we blame on them and it’s our fault (101).” The hassles Dean hated were monogamy and responsibility. After he encourages Sal to “hook up with a real great girl if only you can find her and cultivate her and make her mind your soul as I have tried with these damn women of mine… (154),” his current girlfriend and mother of one of his four babies kicks his ass to the curb, as did both my sisters-in-law did their husbands. My husband did fall at my feet and ask forgiveness. I think I’ll keep him—for now.

Is this all just smoke and mirrors? Do we make up a story about God to answer our own egocentric questions of existence? Can we find Him? If nobody loves us, God will. If we feel like shit, guilty and ashamed, unforgiving and hopeless in our own life, God will redeem us. Really?
I wondered until met my daughters. “Look at those eyes….notice how (s)he will come into
(wo)manhood with (her) own particular soul bespeaking itself through the windows which are (her) eyes, and such lovely eyes surely do prophesy and indicate the loveliest of souls (234).” Dean and Sal encounter this new life and move on to a whorehouse, their definition of glory. They find their “pornographic hasheesh daydream in heaven (238)” in Gregoria, Mexico, but there it stays with those pubescent multi-racial girls.
I encountered this new life and it stayed my heart, kept me in my life where I belong. When my hope couldn’t stretch any further to catch me, my children’s innocence and need became my hammock, my soft place to fall until I could get up again. To this day, when I can’t do something for myself, I can do it for my girls. Even when those “friends” have gone away, waving good-bye and handing out the standard "All that again, good buddy. Gotta get back to my life. Wish I could stay with you. Pray I can come back (249),” like Dean said to Sal when he left him sick in Mexico, I can do what needs to be done all by myself—because that’s how I got here anyway.
I look at my yellow tattered teddy bear that kept me company in the hospital when I three years old—he is the only thing I have from childhood that doesn’t make me cringe—and I hear Sal ask “Don’t you know God is Pooh Bear (253)?” and laugh, and say the same thing to someone who will laugh, too. She looks a lot like me, only innocent.

Kerouac, Jack. On the Road. New York: Amereon House, 1983.

5 comments:

bobbie January 21, 2007 at 4:12 AM  

the second time in 15 minutes that you astound me!

oh this is so beautiful patchouli - i'm so sorry you had to endure that. it reminds me of madonna's song - live to tell - thank you for telling - you are so very brave!

Patchouli January 21, 2007 at 8:54 AM  

Brave? I'm shaking in my boots! But, yes, I AM enduring and will continue to walk in grace and dignity, laughing at the days to come. Our stories, our lives can be the path to freedom for so many others who are hurting when we TRUST Jehovah--as you have and continue to do.

wilsonian January 21, 2007 at 12:58 PM  

You have the most amazing skill, whether with words, photographs or paintings, of giving grace tangibility.
It is the very thing Jesus has called us to do, but few it seems, have the necessary courage.

Milly January 22, 2007 at 1:53 PM  

Wow.

codepoke January 24, 2007 at 3:27 PM  

Kickin' butt, aren't you. :-)

I like refined and shocking writing. This is great. And all the better and harder because it's true.

Press, sister. Press on. Find what your marriage should look like, and press to get you both there. I know you can see it. You can make it happen, or something close enough to be worthwhile. What's it look like without the ticky-tack?