The New Preface to "The Rucksack Letters"

This book began a few years before it was actually lived and written. After college, I wandered from job to job for awhile before my friend Matt Corbin invited me on a surefire Alaskan fishing expedition that would wipe out all of the financial debts that had accrued during our reckless youth and early adulthood. The five month journey found the worst fishing season in eighteen years, a substantial break with my religious tradition, and an all-consuming infatuation with wanderlust.

A few years later, shortly after I scoffed at Matt’s newfound diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder, I met with him to discuss its implications. My job jumping had only intensified, and I found myself at the end of my proverbial rope. In discussing it with Matt, I found that, of the twenty diagnostic criteria, seventeen of them succinctly defined my standard operating procedure.

Researching it more and finding a therapist to make the  official diagnosis, I decided to make a documentary on the subject of ADD. After filming ten hours’ worth of material, my appetite for creative stimulation was still nowhere near satiated. And so, I decided to use the malady to my advantage and took to the road to write the book that you hold in your hands.

While it was largely my goal to simply travel for the sake of travel, I was also imbued with a yen to explore the deeper meanings of spirituality, society, community, and the American Dream. Before I left on my sojourn, I contacted a number of intentional communities from monasteries to hippie communes to at least give me a rough outline of what the journey would entail. And though the road often curved more than I imagined it would, every corner brought me new insights and a greater understanding of life on this rolling clump of dirt I call home.

When I began delivering these letters via email to the number of email addresses I’d collected over the years, the fact that I  addressed them with the epithet “Dear Jack” was a bit confusing to many. But I was deeply indebted to Jack Kerouac for the limelight that he brought to wanderlust, and the free flowing verse that enraptured a generation and has echoed throughout those that  followed.

The title of this book was inspired by Jack’s book The  Dharma Bums, from a passage where Ray Smith and Japhy Ryder discuss The Rucksack Revolution.

“…see the whole thing is a world of rucksack wanderers,

Dharma Bums refusing to subscribe to the general demand

that they consume production and therefore have to

work for the privilege of consuming, all that crap they

didn’t really want anyway such as refrigerators, TV sets,

cars, at least new fancy cars, certain hair oils and deodorants

and general junk you finally always see a week later in

the garbage anyway, all of them imprisoned in a system of

work, produce, consume, work, produce, consume, I see

a vision of a great rucksack revolution thousands or even

millions of young Americans wandering around with rucksacks,

going up to mountains to pray, making children

laugh and old men glad, making young girls happy and old

girls happier, all of ‘em Zen Lunatics who go about writing

poems that happen to appear in their heads for no reason

and also being kind and also by strange unexpected acts

keep giving visions of eternal freedom to everybody and

to all living creatures…”

It wasn’t until recently that I started to realize that Jack’s words may contain more than a bit of the prophetic. Meeting Aaron Heidemann and his American Dream or Bust project has given me a lot of hope in what may actually become The Rucksack Revolution that Jack discussed and I tried to lead. Aaron is hitchhiking to all fifty states asking people what their American Dream is. Florida was his thirtieth state, and we were able to spend three days together comparing notes and discussing the possibilities inherent in our generation.

We talked about the coming demise of capitalism as we know it and the possibility of a resource based economy that will create a more level playing field, thereby dissolving the hierarchical class structure that has held us captive for so long. He also informed me that there are a growing number of people taking to the road in search for a life outside of the faltering systems we’ve created. Could this be the beginning of what Jack saw? Could the letting go of our old ways of doing things and the sense of security that it brings open up the opportunity for the sustainable society we all long for? Only time and acceptance will tell.

Yet this is the beginning of the offering to the gods of revolution. When I started this venture, I realized that millions or thousands may not take the physical journey, but they would at least be able to experience a part of it through the words I left in my wake. If I could only step out in faith and answer the call I seemed to be given, the rest of the world would, in some way, be doing it with me.

The people with whom I chose to spend the year and a half of travel were eclectic to say the least. When I wasn’t wandering the highways and byways of America, I shared time with Buddhists, Hindu, Pagans, Unitarian Universalists, Anarchists, Taoists, Wiccans, Shamans, Kabbalists, Scientologists, Christians, Hippies, Radical Faeries, druggies, drunks, rapists, murderers, musicians, artists, city folk, country folk, and fellow wanderers. I think it was a pretty ample cross section of today’s America.

In each of the religious and spiritual paths I took the time to meander down, and even in the hopes of those with no conception of God at all, I noticed a common thread. Though ideological bricks and dogmatic mortar create walls that block the full view of unity they seek, the big picture does reveal each path leading to the same place of Truth. The filters of language and tradition cause some paths to be longer and more tenuous, but though the treads and paces vary, each path offers similar steps to an ultimate goal defined by the absolute being of peace, love, and bliss.

As the soul-deep similarities within these people were revealed, and new wisdom was found in books that opened themselves up to me, I noticed a global shift in consciousness that continues to intensify. From the allegorical prophecy of the Celestines to filmmakers questioning what the Bleep we really know, our society is awaking to the Secret that there is something greater at work here than the material forms which surround us. I still call it God.

As I traveled these American roads, even during the long waits on the easement, I was amazed at how often God granted me happiness. Though I owned barely a thing and was probably viewed as a derelict by the eyes that drove past, I found happiness in most every breath, for in each one, I was thankful for the opportunity to take it. I was thankful for two good legs that could carry me as far as I needed to go. I was thankful for a back strong enough to carry my load. I was thankful for two good eyes able to see the beauty of creation and two good ears to hear its song.

Throughout this endeavor, there was the hope that I would find my purpose in life. Yet in so many moments on the road, I found that the only purpose I could fulfill was to wait, to breath, to  be at peace, and to be thankful for the meager life I’d been granted. With no desire to attain any more than what nature and time offered me, I understood the revolution of which Jack dreamed.

Though you may find a large measure of folly in the words that follow, it is my hope that your eyes will also be opened to a greater understanding of your fellow man. Though we each must make our own individual journeys, at the end of the road we are all one. Finally, I hope that you come to realize that every spin of the planet brings revolution. It is up to us which way it spins next.

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One thought on “The New Preface to "The Rucksack Letters"

  1. Pingback: The 10th Anniversary of “The Rucksack Letters” | InkenSoul

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