It seems like an oddly appropriate time to examine the writings of the beat generation as many parallels can be drawn between the current political climate and the 1950's. The fifties are popularly remembered as an age of conservatism and conformism. A black and white world where the "square" was king. Into that world came the beats, a subculture that mainstream America didn't understand and at times openly mocked. In today's world, those of us with a liberal bent are seen as out of touch with mainstream America and the conservative majority can't understand how we can hold the views that we do. Perhaps completely unbeknownst to me, even my clothes are considered odd to the mainstream like I would view someone walking by in full hippie regalia. However what if the leader of the beat generation secretly wanted to be part of the mainstream his writings seem to reject? Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947- 1954 reveals how much Jack Kerouac desired the comforts of the average working man more than the legacy of a literary revolutionary.
The first half of Windblown World is a collection of journal entries from the period of time in which Kerouac was writing his first novel The Town and the City. The journals reveal the extreme discipline of Kerouac's writing habits. He carefully tracked the number of words he wrote each night like most writers and was able to crank out between 1,000 to 5,000 words a night. He also created an elaborate formula mimicking a batting average for tracking the typing and editing of his manuscript. He set a goal of maintaining a .400 batting average on par with Ted Williams. Kerouac carefully tracked the word count to help him determine how long it would take him to complete the novel as he was desperate to publish it and prove himself a writer.
Although he served in the merchant marine during WWII and had a very short marriage after the war, he did not believe he could truly consider himself a man until he successfully published his first novel. Kerouac would fantasize about his life after publication of The Town and the City. Once he was published he thought he would be deserving of a wife and family. He believed he would make enough money to move his family and friends to a ranch in Colorado and combine a working man's life with a writer's life. These dreams of ultimate success where combined with nightmares of self doubt. Nearing completion of his novel he began to fear submitting it to a publisher. Wondering whether it would be seen as a breakthrough piece of literature or just hundreds of thousands of words marking the incoherent ramblings of a mad man.
Kerouac suffered many moments of depression during the writing of The Town and the City. He attempted to quit drinking because his benders in the city would take him away from his writing for days at a time, but ultimately failed. Although he considered Wolfe and Dostoevsky great influences on his writing at one point he lashes out at them for spending their lives locked away writing and not experiencing life. Instead he embraces Mark Twain as the ideal of a writer who also experienced life. At certain times Kerouac viewed life as a fulltime writer as a less than respectable career, but at other times viewed himself as unworthy of the title of writer.
Kerouac's relationship with his core group of beat friends including Ginsberg, Cassidy, and Burroughs also suffers through turmoil. His mother warns him of their bad influence and many times he agrees with her. They often lure him away from his writing and don't understand his desire to be accepted and successful as a paid writer. Several times he vows to never speak with them again because of their lack of understanding of his writing or his desire to continue to publish new works rather than spending time refining his first novel.