I must get back that copy of Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums that I lent to my friend Tobias. I keep thinking about it – it’s one of the most significant books I’ve read recently, and here’s why: it cured me of my facebook habit. For the two or three weeks it took me to read (I’m a slow reader) I felt less and less inclined to check in to that ubiquitous forum of trivia and interpersonal grooming that Mark Zuckerberg created.
If you haven’t read it, The Dharma Bums is basically On The Road in the mountains. Instead of Sal and Dean (based on Kerouac and Neal Cassidy), we follow the exploits of Ray (Kerouac again) and Japhy (based on the poet Gary Snyder), two friends bonded by a shared mission to explore the inner frontiers of the soul.
Like in On The Road, there are wild parties, poetry sessions and girls, but inbetween the bouts of revelry, Ray and Japhy trek into the mountains of Washington State to meditate and commune with nature.
Japhy is both a best friend and a guru to Ray. As a follower of zen buddhism, things like status, possessions and career advancement are unimportant to him – his goals are spiritual. Ray hopes to learn from him, but often the way is hard, and eventually they go their seperate ways.
When I say Kerouac cured my facebook habit I’m exaggerating. I didn’t avoid the site altogether, but while I was following Ray and Japhy’s quest for spiritual bliss, my reliance on those transitory little hits of happiness went right down. I was on – dare I say it – a higher plane.
Yes, I’d like to get that book back; I want to re-read it. And it’s got me thinking about the other things that left my life – on loan – never to be returned; the Patti Smith autobiography, the Ramones album and several other items that now live on other peoples’ shelves and bedroom floors.
These things meant something to me, and now the cultural library that I have gathered over time seems incomplete. When I think about this I feel indignant at the inconsiderateness of people, that is until I start looking through my shelves and cd stack. Where did that Michael Moore DVD come from?
Oh, I remember; Denny lent it me a couple of years ago! The book by Thomas Mann? I borrowed it from an old girlfriend that I don’t see anymore…
Yes, I’m as guilty as anyone; and I hope nobody asks for anything back!
When we’ve been affected by something, it’s comforting to have it around. After a while the books and records on our shelves become a physical embodiment of our identity, even if they weren’t originally ours. I like the way cultural goods and clothes migrate between friends in this unplanned way; it’s a kind of unconscious gifting. We rarely miss these lost things unless we are suddenly reminded of them. In any case, there will always be new ones coming our way…
When we form relationships, there can be few stronger expressions of love than pooling what we own with our partner as our lives merge. Conversely, there is nothing to match the sordid experience of seperating your possessions when the split eventually comes. Retaining your dignity can be harder than regaining your stuff.
Maybe we should share more actively, with the knowledge that what goes around comes around – what Japhy would call the law of Karma. Giving something up often lets light in from an unexpected angle.
In the end, physical objects don’t matter. Wisdom matters, and it needs to be passed on. But I still need to read The Dharma Bums one more time – so I can learn to really let go…