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On a Too-Short Road With Jack Kerouac

There is this one life we are given. This we know. All the rest of it—the heavens, the reincarnations, the other life-as-rehearsal scenarios—let us set those aside for the moment and concentrate on the indisputable facts staring at us: We are born, we live, we die.

And most often, even if we are fortunate enough to ripen through the full flesh of our cycle on this earth, we will say it has passed too quickly, as unto a dream.

The grains. Through the hourglass.

Jack Kerouac has been pushing his response to these essential facts since he wrote his cultural icon of a novel, On the Road, at the cusp of the 1950s. (It wouldn’t see publication until 1957.) Dead since 1969, Kerouac maintains a living, throbbing literary identity, his spirit among many that hover barely behind our dead-of-night, ceiling-staring queries:

Is how I’m living worthwhile? Is this how I want to spend my time? What would I be doing,...

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