I was in a Himalayan Java in Pokhara, Nepal. A dog-eared copy of Howl lay on the table, while an old essay of mine, “My Modern Day Beat Experience,” was up on my computer. Reading Howl had reminded me of the piece—one of the first things I’d ever felt truly “compelled,” “driven,” or “called” to write.
It was decent.
The writing sounded immature, even to myself. But that’s exactly what makes the piece worthwhile, I thought. It captures a moment in time.
Holly had liked it, when I showed her. She had been one of the few people in my life I could show my work to. But once we started dating, suddenly I couldn’t show her anything. Why was that, I wondered.
Truthfully, I never could write in a relationship.
The vast majority of the pieces I found even halfway decent came in the one-year period between breaking up with my last girlfriend, and starting to date Holly. In that odd, miserable and mercurial year, I had produced 60,000 words of a book manuscript, one short story with promise, and a handful of nonfiction essays I considered at least decently complete efforts.
In the past two years of happiness? Just one piece of any merit. And I wrote it while I had a concussion, for whatever you can take from that.
The piece seemed a bit cliched, reading it now. Then again, here I was reading Ginsberg in Nepal, escaping my problems in a foreign country just like on of my literary heroes. I could be a cliche, I thought.
“Burroughs is in Tangiers I don’t think he’ll come back”
The Beats were intimately tied to the life of vagabonds and expats. They were adventurers who crisscrossed the country, the globe, and their minds. They drove classic American cars, sketched their lives in great mythological arcs on the page, and muddled their minds with drugs beyond measure. They rejected the idea of America as a monolithic entity, the America of white suburban fences and sprawling industry and anti-communist witch hunts.
They were, in a word: everything that the millennial generation aspires to be.
“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing” Ginsberg wrote in Howl. “America how can I write a holy litany in your silly mood?”
Such severe thoughts didn’t run through my head at that moment, sitting in the sun in Pokhara. I didn’t have the alacrity to think those things. I was sluggish, sad and slow. But an undercurrent of those sentiments had brought me here; some part of me knew.
I couldn’t attribute any sort of meaning to the sad parade of mistakes which had landed me here. But still, I supposed, it was a better place than most to be morose.
I looked up from my table, and out across the lake.
A few corrugated steel shacks stood nearby, hidden from street-level view with a cement wall, but easily exposed from the second-level terrace of the coffee shop. A few cows grazed absentminded; a Nepali man carried something heavy from a shed to a nearby building. Broken down walls and shattered bottles were piled here and there—the detritus of the developing world.
For all the debris though, the scene was peaceful. It seemed calming, relaxing, and at one with itself. A few boats lazily drifted across the lake. The grumbling of cars and trucks could be heard in the distance. I looked to Sarankot in the distance. The Annapurna Range still was not visible—not that I expected it to be—but there was something unique about the view. Dozens of birds were circling around the high point of Sarankot, winding their way slowly down. They looked like vultures circling a carcass, scoping out the situation before landing. I wondered briefly if something had died. Then I realized: the little black dots weren’t birds.
They were people.
if you feel like picking up a copy of Howl (or any other Cyber Monday shopping, actually), you can do so via this link and I’ll earn a few pennies. Cheers!