“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked, dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix…” and so begins one of my favorite poems, ever, one that has been cited for changing the direction literature was headed, one that has been named as the source of creating the San Francisco culture us gays know and love today, one that was put on trial, and the question of decent verse indecent was truly put to the test. Indeed, Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” is a classic, one that though my favorite I didn’t quite comprehend until today, now, in this very moment.
I used to have a rule where I would not go back and reread things. I believed that with so many outstanding books out there, how could one simply go back and read something they already were able to enjoy. That changed after I read “Catcher in the Rye” which I read when I first graduated high school, and again my first year after college, and now have re-read so many times I have lost count. Each time I read it I take something new from it, its a book that will mean something different depending where you as the reader are coming from.
It’s the same with “Howl” really. Certainly I was able to enjoy it in the past, but upon reading it again, I realized I have something that I didn’t have before: experience.
That’s the conclusion I’ve been coming to a lot lately. That I have lived. That I have seen things. That I have truly experienced some form living. I am no longer the naive child I once was. I know that there are true horrors in this world, that not everyone is kindhearted, that despite me wanting to believe that rainbows and butterflies do make up the world, that is not the case at all. The world is cold. Mean. Cruel.
Despite trying so hard to keep my innocence intact, that too is gone in many ways, replaced with “experience,” a jaded, harsh understanding that people are mean, love is rare and often bullshit, literature “is not a manual,” and at the end of the day, we’re all in this for ourselves.
It’s taken me some time to want to believe that this world could have such awfulness in it, but having come to that understanding, I realize that even with the dark shadows behind dumpsters, being so broke that loosing weight is more of an economic decision than a health one, even with all this “experience” – there is still goodness in the world.
For example, when I go back and read things like “The Feast of Love” by Charles Baxter, quotes that once stood out to me (such as: “What’s agitating about solitude is the inner voice telling you that you should be mated to somebody, that solitude is a mistake. The inner voice doesn’t care about who you find. It just keeps pestering you, tormenting you …”) remain incredibly true in many ways, but I now know that even in truth there are many, many lies.