driving and thinking…about Kesey

What I think about when I drive around delivering the mail is so random that sometimes I can’t believe it.

Of course, the main topic of conversation inside my head is the accurate delivery of the mail.  That goes without saying. That is a given and needs no elaborate or further explanation.

But in the spaces in-between concentrating on something I do in the same way everyday, I think about a lot of things.

The other day I was thinking about trees…which led to logging…which led to this scene from an old Paul Newman movie…which led to Ken Kesey.

Ken Kesey wrote “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” in 1962…had great success with it…and then wrote the book that this movie was based on, “Sometimes a Great Notion”, in 1964.

Then, except for a couple collections of essays and a book of short stories and essays called Demon Box that he put out in 1986, he didn’t publish any other novels for almost 30 years after the first novel.

This second novel, “Sometimes a Great Notion”, was one I found in High School somewhere.  My barber had a rack of “strips”…books that had their covers removed so the bookseller could get a credit for the unsold copies by just sending back the covers.  The books are supposed to have been destroyed when the covers are ripped off…but for some reason my barber always had a rack full of these books.  From what I remember, I found my coverless copy there.

What a tremendous novel.  I have family in the Pacific Northwest, so the location might have had something to do with it, but I was pretty into this book when I first read it.

I think I could relate more to this book and its subject matter than the first book, which for the most part was set in a mental institution.

Salinger wrote some great novels and then retreated from the public.  He was a mystery…a recluse.

Kesey wrote some great novels and then seemed to be swallowed up by the counterculture.  He was out in the world, riding a psychedelic bus, doing the acid tests, living among the hippies (he did say that he was “too young to be a beatnik, too old to be a hippie”)…living in the moment…but…not publishing any novels.

Sometimes, I guess, a legend is cemented by what you don’t do as much as what you do. If you hit it hard with a powerful statement, and then don’t say anything else for years…you are remembered for your success.

You know, though…looking up YouTube videos of interviews with Kesey, I was struck by how many were about taking LSD or recollections of something that happened back in the 60’s, but I could not find anything about writing or creativity or art.  What the heck?

This guy is a great writer…but looking at these videos all I could think was that it was sort of a waste.  Maybe you become what people expect?  Maybe you play out the part that was given to you?  Maybe you just continue to ride that train that you bought a ticket for and then forgot how to get off?  I don’t know.

I used to think that it must be kind of cool to be a counterculture icon.

With a couple of years under my belt, it just starts to look like a wasted life.

If this video clip posts it’s a major spoiler.  It’s one of the most powerfully memorable scenes from a good movie made from a great book.

Ken Kesey had a lot more stories inside of him than “we got so high on a fancy school bus”.  Watching the video interviews made me wish he could have shared more of them in-between hits of acid.


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