“The Holy Contour of Life”: Channeling Kerouac for Inspiration

When I was in college, I earned my one and only A+ grade on anything I did in those years for a paper I wrote for a class called Modern American Thought and Culture.  The paper was titled something like “On the Road: The Life-Giving Search of Post-War America.”  (That’s not exactly it….but it’s close enough.  It’s around here somewhere.)

Doing research for this paper was when I discovered Jack Kerouac, and neither I nor my approach to writing has ever been quite the same.  For those gearing up to write an essay for Esse Diem, as well as for anyone else seeking inspiration, it doesn’t get much better than this from the Road Warrior himself.

Yes, there is not much doubt that Jack consumed a tremendous amount of alcohol, and I can’t exactly advocate for that.   But the man was true to himself, and that I can whole-heartedly recommend.  Some of these lines I just want to carve on my heart.

    List of Essentials 

    Jack Kerouac
  • Scribbled secret notebooks, and wild typewritten pages, for yr own joy
  • Submissive to everything, open, listening
  • Try never get drunk outside yr own house
  • Be in love with yr life
  • Something that you feel will find its own form
  • Be crazy dumbsaint of the mind
  • Blow as deep as you want to blow
  • Write what you want bottomless from bottom of mind
  • The unspeakable visions of the individual
  • No time for poetry but exactly what is
  • Visionary tics shivering in the chest
  • In tranced fixation dreaming upon object before you
  • Remove literary, grammatical and syntactical inhibition
  • Like Proust be an old teahead of time
  • Telling the true story of the world in interior monolog
  • The jewel center of interest is the eye within the eye
  • Write in recollection and amazement for yourself
  • Work from pithy middle eye out, swimming in language sea
  • Accept loss forever
  • Believe in the holy contour of life
  • Struggle to sketch the flow that already exists intact in mind
  • Don’t think of words when you stop but to see picture better
  • Keep track of every day the date emblazoned in yr morning
  • No fear or shame in the dignity of yr experience, language & knowledge
  • Write for the world to read and see yr exact pictures of it
  • Bookmovie is the movie in words, the visual American form
  • In Praise of Character in the Bleak inhuman Loneliness
  • Composing wild, undisciplined, pure, coming in from under, crazier the better
  • You’re a Genius all the time
  • Writer-Director of Earthly movies Sponsored & Angeled in Heaven

As ever,

    Jack Kerouac “Belief & Technique For Modern Prose: List of Essentials” from a 1958 letter to Don Allen, in Heaven & Other Poems, copyright © 1958, 1977, 1983. Grey Fox Press.

    Post reference/source:  Creative Writing Exercises to Cure Writer’s Block via StumbleUpon.  I’m not personally a big fan of “writing prompts” but I found this on my first foray into StumbleUpon and I have to say I’ll be back!  Consider www.languageisavirus.com as a new bookmark.

    8 thoughts on ““The Holy Contour of Life”: Channeling Kerouac for Inspiration

    1. Hmmmm. I too wrote a paper on something about the transforming power of the road for Modern American Thought and Culture. I wonder how many of those papers he got a year. He told me I had to watch Easy Rider. I did not get an A on that paper. I like Jack better now than I did then.

      • There seems to be an implication that watching Easy Rider would help you appreciate something…. but I’m not clear what. That was a great class. I won’t lie, that paper I wrote was top shelf fantastic stuff. Changed my life. One thing I think that pushed it to the top was an exploration of why many elements of life”on the road” were very negative and destructive. It’s easy esp. for young people to be enamored with the romantic themes, but it was actually a complete mess. Kerouac knew it. I think the book is such a classic because of the way he swings back and forth between his affection for the lifestyle and the freedom, and yet can see clearly that the car is careening nearly driverless into an abyss.

        Would that more Americans today saw the edge like he did, even if he couldn’t always grab the wheel.

    2. Haven’t read any Kerouac since The Road, and that is one of my very favorite books- totally lives up to the hype. Guess it’s time to break out another of his books once I digest this list. Problem is, when I do set aside time to read I reflexively go for HS Thompson. A good/bad habit. That’s my natural impulse, but it’s good to get that Beat flow in my head occasionally.

    3. the only thing i remember about on the road, read it maybe 45 years ago, was that he and someone he was arguing with stopped the car, got out and kneeled down on the yellow center line in a curve on the highway and put their foreheads together and looked into eyes. I think it was to get it all in perspective.

    4. I had some on the road times hitchhiking up and down the west coast and across Canada and to Beria and Indianapolis, and New Brunswick to North Carolina and Morgantown to St. Albans and on a lark in high school three of us hitchhiked one day from St. Albans to Point Pleasant down to Huntington and back to St. Albans. And there was the eleventh grade hitchhiking to the Indy 500 with $3 in my pocket. That’s what I need to do–a hitchhiking memoir–On the road with my thumb out.

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