A Staunch Traditionalist With A Gypsy Heart
I struggle with a painful sense of filial piety.
I have a love of tradition, a love of my parents, and a love of my heroes. Everyone who knows me expects me to bring up Flannery O'Connor in every conversation. She's an author who speaks to me in a way few people ever have. Both in her fiction and in her essays, she takes on the importance of tradition for the writer. She sees writers as writing within the context of a certain culture, and human beings as living within the context of cultures. Therefore, she concludes, the writer has to write with their culture. If they do not, their writing will be unrealistic, too general, too abstract. It lacks grounding. It is not concrete.
I've been living my life this way for the past four years. I was convinced by her argument, and in many ways I still am. But I was unhappy, and in similar ways I still am. The reason is because I have a gypsy heart, and although I was raised in the South I was born in Mexico and constantly find myself so between cultures. Sometimes, I feel alienated from both. My best writing takes place within 50 miles of where I was raised in South Texas, so her advice works and I can't deny that. However, I enjoy my other writings more, which are less culturally determined and more fantastical. After graduating high school, I spent one year traveling through the United States, then to Australia then more of the United States. I felt more comfortable on the road than I ever did in Portland, Texas. I was happy, and I never really was in Portland.
But I had to reject the Jack Kerouac in me. Mr. Kerouac is another hero of mine, although I killed him after graduation. While I was trapped in my little suburban/rural town, I longed for the road and drowned myself in dreams of Dharma Bums and Visions of Gerard. While I was on the road and lived it myself, I realized that sort of life bore no fruit. I collapse onto Flannery O'Connor because she gave me things Jack Kerouac could not give me and taught me things he could not teach me.
The fight between these two influences has continued, although Flannery had been the reigning champion for some years. What changed was my Senior year of college. Seniority gave me the right to be myself. I became a beatnik again. Then I met a professor who shared post-modernism with me. Mr. W., whose tie is always tied incorrectly, whose suit is always loose, who questions choices in our school's curriculum, would discuss Jack Kerouac and Poetry with me. Like me, has saw the shortcomings of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burgess and had to reject them. Like me, he felt as though he was cheating himself of something when he did.
I spent the past three days on a road trip with some friends. First, we went up to San Francisco. I spent time in my favorite book stores, coffee shops, Ethiopian restaurants, etc.. I needed that break. I started feeling like myself again, instead of like the conservative Catholic I've been trying to brainwash myself that I am. I started to figure out Mr. Kerouac's place in my life.
Then we took highway 1 down through Big Sur. We hiked in Muir Woods and along Pfeiffer State Park. Despite any love of postmodernism, I was happier in the forests than I was in San Francisco. I felt like I was more like myself as a beatnik in the city. I felt even more like myself as a hiker in the redwoods. I discovered an author, an essayist really, named John Muir. Every Californian I know seems to have heard of him. They all have vague recollections of his name being thrown around in grade school. He was one of the naturalists responsible for the establishment of the national park system. I found a few books by him, and the prose is incredible. There is no lacking of the concrete. "In a few months the wonderful flowery vegetation is in full bloom, and by the end of May it is dead and dry and crisp as if every plant had been roasted in an oven."
I think John Muir gave me the solution to my dilemma. The dilemma stated explicitly is this: what does a traditionalist do when he suffers from a gypsy heart? How does he feed his wanderlust without running away from who his culture wants him to be?
The answer: adventure. Not vagabonding, (which was Jack Kerouac's answer, and might work for some but makes me feel split in two), but adventure. Seeking to discover the mystery of parts unknown when an opportunity arises.
This is still a crude thought and not very fleshed out. That's fine. The blog doesn't exist to state truth, the blog exists to explore ideas. This is one exploration which is just beginning. I have decided I want to be an adventurer. I don't know what it entails, but I know I want it. Hell, John Muir probably didn't know when he started either. Either way, it's time.