mother and Jack Kerouac

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 mother and Jack Kerouac

jack

Reading their love letters from before I was born is an eerie experience.

My mother met Jack Kerouac on a blind date arranged by Allen Ginsberg. It was January 1957. Kerouac at the time was penniless, 34 years old, burned out from frantic world wandering. My mother, Joyce Johnson, then 21, worked in book publishing as she slowly wrote and revised her first novel. Years later, in his novel “Desolation Angels,” Kerouac called her “an interesting young person, a Jewess, elegant, middleclass sad and looking for something.” He also wrote, “I still love her tonight.”

The correspondence between them, collected in the new book “Door Wide Open,” starts a few months after that first meeting, when Kerouac characteristically splits for Africa, then San Francisco, Mexico City and Florida. As he speeds from place to place, he sometimes asks my mother to join him, then abruptly changes his mind. “I admit I’m flipping and am bugged everywhere I go,” he writes from Berkeley, Calif., distraught as each new place offers no refuge, no vibration, no new vision.

When “On the Road” was published late that year, the Beats quickly went from underground cult to mainstream clichi. But the success of “On the Road” only increased Kerouac’s sense of isolation and despair, hastening his desertion from the cultural revolution he helped to invent. In the letters, he comes across as a mad, ruined genius, swinging between the “starrynight exstasies” of his writing binges and the squalid excesses of his alcoholic binges.

My mother’s letters radiate precocious self-awareness and tenderness. She seeks to lure Kerouac closer without frightening him away with any hint of commitment, and she also tries to dissuade him from his “desperate, gluttonous drinking,” his bitterness and the other demons that threaten to destroy him. “I remember the first party we went to last Fall,” she writes. “You said, ‘Protect me,’ and I wanted to with all my heart, but didn’t do a very good job, having all my old shynesses and especially my strange shyness of you.”

I feel a kind of shyness approaching these documents. My mother’s relationship with Kerouac ended six years before she met my father, painter Peter Pinchbeck, and eight years before my birth. There is something eerie about reading a parent’s early love letters; it gives you a vertiginous glimpse into the accidental processes that led to your own creation. Covering a span of less than two years, the letters not only suggest huge worlds of possibility that my mother could have lived, they also make me aware of the various ways these distant events shaped my own consciousness.

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About hobo hippie

Hi I am an old hippie, a "beat" poet and novelist, and digital artist. I was co -editor and publisher of "Alpha Beat Press" alpha beat soup, bouillabaisse and cokefish and cokefishing in alpha beat soup with my late husband Dave Christy. My novel "eeenie meenie minee moe is for sale on amazon books. my other blogs are http://tilliespuncturedromance.wordpress.com about humor and the weird. The blog is named after a Charlie Chaplin movie. http://concretebologna.wordpress.com a blog about world art.

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