Earlier this week, I finished When I Was Cool: My Life at the Jack Kerouac School by Sam Kashner. I didn't want the story to end. But of course, they all do. They must; otherwise we'd never discover the new stories.
I discovered this book on the shelves of a local thrift shop, and my first thought was excitement. "Who else in this community is reading about this? I want to meet them. I need to meet them." In small, rural Southern towns like mine, like-minded folks are often few and far between. Then I realized if it was at the thrift shop, they'd given the book up and maybe weren't so like-minded as myself after all. I paid my dollar and hurried home. Sam Kashner, if you are reading this, sorry that your book was in a thrift shop being resold for a dollar but if it makes you feel better, I've discovered my own book in a thrift shop before too. Happens to the best of us. And being a paperback, mine was only fifty-cents.
But seriously, I hope, Sam Kashner, that you will read this post one day and know that your book was probably the best dollar I ever spent. I can't even put into words how much I needed to read it. Your honesty, at times brutal and at the expense of your own ego, I'm sure, made the experience more real for me, the reader. But it was more than that, and this is not a book review. This was what I would say to you, if I could, if I had been able to find your email address or ever run into you on the streets when visiting New York.
Your book woke something up in me that I didn't even realize needing awakening. It reminded me that, throughout all the difficult and often financially un-prosperous years, my art, in whatever form it takes - painting, poetry, my one ill-fated book (long story there but involves years of work diminished by a shady publisher) - is always worth doing. Despite the fact that it may never set the world on fire, it's my legacy, and what I was born for. And financial prosperity doesn't always equate real success. As you know better than most, many of the Beat writers were always one step away from desperate poverty. Yet they accepted this and kept on living in the only way they knew how. Kerouac's reaction to his success is legendary, and I always felt like it was because he never expected it, not really. When you are used to a very select few people understanding you, truly 'getting' you, it would be nothing short of overwhelming to suddenly have the world at your door, clamoring for an audience, just to say to you, "I feel/think about/understand the world the same way."
Reading about your experiences was engaging and even humorous at times, but the end, the last chapters were what affected me so deeply. This next part I'd have to actually tell you personally, because it's far too intimate for me to share with the rest of the world why I related so much to the last pages of your book, and why they might have inspired me so. But you know what you wrote.What I want you to know is how glad I am that you wrote it, that you had the courage to tell your story from start to finish, open and honestly. Again this isn't a book review, but nevertheless, your story will remain with me now, in some small way becoming part of mine.
This is why what we do - our art, our poetry, our writing - is always worth doing.