Over the last few months, it has felt surreal at times to work on this program. I sometimes vacillate between feelings of triumph and defeat, as if going back to school after a few years working was either the best or worst decision I could’ve made. I recently had one of those moments though that reminded me of why I love what I’m doing, and why I’m happy I decided to go back to school after teaching for some time, that I’ll share here. So I was in Spain last Summer. I’d gone for the Running of the Bulls with my brother Aidan who is ten years my junior and my buddy Rob from Limerick whom I used to teach English with in Japan. We’d talked about it in Japan, and said that if I had moved to Ireland as planned, we’d do it. My brother Aidan being there was an added bonus, as I’d used that Summer as a way to connect with him and catch up, realizing that we really had had separate childhoods since our parents split when he was 7 and I was 17. Rob often tells me that I waffle on and on with hubris when I tell stories, so I was a bit nervous that my little brother would witness some scrutiny which took me down a peg in his eyes. It took me back to being a kid, when everyone would be fighting and I’d feel like being the oldest I’d have to be the one to keep everyone calm as the wheels flew off the bus hurtling down the proverbial mountainside road, as I always do when congregating with people I care about whom I know from separate circles.
It was last July, and the bus carrying us over hills an valleys from Pamplona to San Sebastian which was the nearest place we could find accommodation was hot, sticky, and cramped, reminiscent of the back of a Bradley* as I impressed all present with my precise skills of discreetly urinating into empty bottles as the bus bumped and jostled along, without spilling a drop in the furthest back seats. We were passing around plastic bottles of sangria, which sounded exotic but was really just the same kind of fortified wine drunk by tramps and 19 year olds back in America, just marketed to tourists like us. The adrenaline and endorphins were still being dumped into our blood vessels from our brains as we recounted the morning’s adventure, and planning how we would return the following day to make it in to the plaza following the run through the narrow cobbled streets. Ahead of us, a large group of Americans without discernible accents were talking about how they’d gotten on for the morning. They all looked about 20 or so.
They went to Notre Dame, and were mostly from the West Coast. We made small talk a bit, knowing that the bus ride was over an hour, and feeling friendly on such an occasion. Aidan made one of them angry when he made a joke about San Francisco (something implying that it was full of Yuppies who’d never done manual labor before). Her boyfriend became angry as well, and I could sense the tension on the back of the bus, and tried to change the subject, even though I laughed at the exchange, because the irony seemed lost on them that they all sort of seemed like the daughters and sons of start up Yuppies who’d never done manual labor before. But I didn’t want the day ruined, so we talked about books, because I’d told them about how I was getting ready to start an MA in English for Irish writing and film. I remember being surprised that they said they were Catholic, and I remember being surprised that they went to Notre Dame. I have to remind myself still that the world is not the same as our father’s generation, a memory of a time before mine and even my time is passing rapidly. I’ll turn 30 this weekend. Jesuits aren’t an automatic indicator of someone belonging to ‘our thing’ as the Italians used to call it, because there isn’t even an ‘our’ or ‘us’ anymore, though their institutions remain.
So six months back, on the bus, in the backseat, in Spain, I argued that Jack Kerouac was the greatest American writer definitely of the 20th Century, and possibly of all time, which shocked the young man I was talking to. I made arguments based on his life, and times, what he did, what he believed, how his philosophy and beliefs had evolved with time, and I grew louder and more bellicose, my olive branch turning to an arrow as I grew angry at their perfect pearly white smiles, and carefree young attitudes, and Rob and Aidan were getting a kick out of how worked up I was getting about everything once the sangria had run out in the back of the bus.
Just the other day, I came across this great biography of Jack Kerouac at the Boole Library, searching for Catholic and Irish influences on his life and writing (spoiler alert, there were plenty). In the forward of the book, there was a perfect quote by William Burroughs that I wish I’d had 7 months ago, riding in the back of a hot, humid bus after having run from bulls in the streets, connecting with my younger brother who grew up separate from me but still remembered there being “lots of Irish people around” and feeling Irish like me in America as a kid. It’s so perfect, and succinct, and because I don’t believe in coincidences, I thought I’d share the quote, and put it in my back pocket to save for a rainy day, and by that I mean the next time I have to have a heated debate over why I think Kerouac was the greatest American author of the 20th century certainly, and of all time, possibly. Because I have to learn to articulate myself, and my frustrations: otherwise, all the pearly-white-smiled children of startup yuppies the world-over will always win, and the people like me and Aidan won’t have to tap the Rob’s of the world’s shoulders and ask coyly and ironically if they can tell the difference between us, because our angst and frustration will make it all too obvious. I’ll just be an arrogant fool who waffles on, without being able to convince anyone that I have a good reason to do so.
“Kerouac was a writer. That is, he wrote.
Many people who call themselves writers and
have their names on books are not writes
and they can’t write-the difference being,
a bullfighter who fights a bull is different
from a bullshitter who makes passes with no
bull there. The writer has been there or he
can’t write about it. And going there he
risks being gored. By that I mean what the
Germans aptly call the Time Ghost-for example,
such a fragile ghost world as Fitzgerald’s
Jazz age…What are writers, and I will
confine the use of this term to writers of
novels, trying to do? They are trying to
create a universe in which they have lived
or would like to live. To write they must
go there and submit to conditions which they
may not have bargained for. Sometimes, as in
the case of Fitzgerald and Kerouac, the effect
produced by a writer is immediate, as if a
generation were waiting to be written.
Clark, Tom. Jack Kerouac: A Biography. Plexus, 1984.
JohnyCarcinogen. “PSA: If you ain’t cav, you ain’t…”. http://www.AR15.com, 13 January, 2015, http://www.ar15.com/forums/t_1_5/1706895__ARCHIVED_THREAD____PSA__If_you_ain_t_Cav___.html&page=3. Accessed 06, February, 2017.