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Rise like lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "The Mask of Anarchy,"* 1819


The curse of detachment is the failure to engage. The problem with engaging is you can't detach. Only the Bodhisattva does both.

Not that your 'umble is making claims to Buddha-hood, you understand.

Kerouac-hood, perhaps.

The blessèd Jack was a lousy brake-man on the San José railroad, and if truth be told not much of a hitch-hiker either. He couldn't stand hippies and he withered away as an awful old drunk, by all accounts.

So what.

He wrote the Great American Novel, isn't that justification enough?


What made him great – still does – is not what he wrote, not what he did, not even what he thought or believed. It's what he felt. Whether he knew it or not. He tried. And if the bastards ground him down at the end, that's not his shame, it's theirs. Everyone who boxes him up and puts him on a shelf and labels him as literature (good or bad) is missing the point, and that includes (natch) dear old Duluoz his very own self. He was a fucked-up All-American football star literature major, and remained so even after he tossed all that out of the window, along with conventional plot and editing and character development. He never killed the urge to detach, even when he was most engaged.

Poor sod.


All of us are both when just we dare. The travelers on the hippie trail, the politicians in the streets – never think they're not self-conscious, never think they think they are. It's not the doing that really counts, it's the feeling that makes the deed inevitable.

Never learn in order to write, write in order to learn.

The author of this book, with whom I share body and brain, is nevertheless not me, though I fear I chose most of the epigraphs. For example, I consider Bob Dylan to be the greatest artistic genius of my lifetime, which roughly coincides with the second half of the twentieth century, while the author is clearly a Deadhead; moreover, I was a Beatlemaniac from November '62, while the author is a Stones fan (it used to matter). From a nineties perspective, Dylan permeates the culture and the Beatles are still behind almost everything vibrant in pop music (not to mention their necrophiliac chart-topping; sure, I bought 'em, even kinda like 'em), so of course they show up, but when I sat down to write, the first step was generally to put on Workingman's Dead. God knows why, the God of (Searching for) Solid Ground.

It's not important, it's just vital.

*Shelley was clearly an anarchist by modern standards – a hippie, actually, a free-loving, dope-taking, pacifist vegetarian pantheist of poetic genius – but in this apocalyptic poem he uses the term 'anarchy' to convey brutal and bloody lawlessness, which the people of England, inspired by Hope, can lay low with the other Destructions disguised "like Bishops, lawyers, peers or spies."