I wrote this in City Lights, a bookstore that used to be able to drive me to tears. Contrary to the tone of this I am actually having a very lovely time in California and on our road trip in general. It was just one of those times where you're in a deep place so you feel like you have to act deep and then you actually end up feeling shitty and therefore writing something deep. See below.
Me looking emo by Pier 39 in San Francisco
Me looking emo by Pier 39 in San Francisco
In all fairness, I was upset before we got to City Lights, made sick by lack of sleep and intense bouts of driving and Diet Coke. We drove 3,000 miles to a place where all of my expectations and nostalgia and desires hotly coalesce, forced forward by a magnetic pull emanating from the left coast. When I was 16 I would sit in my bedroom listening to records (yes, records, even then I was pretentious) and reading “Howl,” knees pressed into my bedspread so that they’d turn up crinkled and raw. I felt San Francisco in my bones. You could tell the way it made me feel just by watching me while I talked about it: my eyes took on a certain glow, my hands fluttered about in awkward gestures, attempting to scoop up my insides and explain what they meant with those few jerky motions. I loved the city long before I knew the Beats. I spent summers picking blackberries in my Aunt’s backyard and desperately trying to enjoy the taste of tofu. I’d walk their dog around Marin without shoes on, because that’s what you did in San Francisco: you went barefoot and ate organic fruit and read poetry and stayed up late watching foreign films rented from the Blockbuster down the street. So I did these things and I did them with such joy that it felt absurd, because in San Francisco I was happy and back home I almost never was.
I feel too much. Is that possible? I used to think feeling was the only important thing in this world, but now I’m not so sure. I loved the Beats because they knew how to feel. They knew how to feel and they they knew how to write about it in a way that made others feel too. I was too sad for 16. My life full ahead of me and I spent most time in bed crying or reading. Summers in San Francisco were a needed escape from all that: my parents’ divorce, my Dad’s remarriage, my consistent and unwavering desire to plunge headfirst into whatever would fuck me or fuck me up most immediately. I came here empty and I left whole. I forced my Uncle to take me to City Lights and Vesuvio and restaurants in North Beach. To me, at 16, City Lights was the most important place on earth. Here was my mecca, where I could lift books by their spines and lovingly smell the old binding, where I could stare wantonly at old men in the poetry room, certain that they were Beat leftovers still living the lifestyle. It was in that poetry room that I admitted I wanted to be a writer. 15 years old, a copy of “Naked Lunch” in my hand and I made that declaration to an old friend of the Beats who flirted with me in front of the stacks of Kerouac books. I dreamed of meeting my boyfriend there, of working there, of one day selling my own books there. I thought the Beats were geniuses, their drug consumption almost as impressive as their writing. I saw myself in their hunger for freedom, their lust for the open road and independent lifestyle.
So now to explain what I feel in this bookstore at 20. It seems that lately I am one by one deconstructing childhood excitements and replacing them with cold reality. Where once I saw heroes, now I see humans. It’s a good and bad thing: good, because ever since my well-publicized “disillusionment” with other objects of my admiration, I have been learning to admire people without putting them on pedestals. But it’s also bad, mostly because it feels bad, and I have always been fundamentally unable to allow things to impact me in simple, minor ways. I lack the necessary filter that allows people to walk around without wanting to laugh one minute and sob the next, depending on strangers’ emotions or physical surroundings or weather. To me, everything is the most amazing thing or the worst thing ever. At 16, it was more profound. At 16, everything was life-changing: a visit to a dinky book store in San Francisco, a first date, a poem. These things shook me to the core. Going to City Lights used to make my insides squirm with indescribable delight. I was going to be the one to start my own literary scene, piggybacking off the ideals of the Beats but catapulting us into a new stratosphere. It would be Beat 2.0 with less sexism and more coherent writing.
For now, at least, all those intense feelings for City Lights and the Beats are gone. I still appreciate the bookstore’s landmark value, its delicious collection of texts, its location: but the undeterred joy and excitement that used to stimulate every sinew and follicle has subsided tremendously. I see the neighborhood and can no longer ignore the fact that it’s overrun equally with hobos, yuppies and tourist traps and I can’t believe I ever thought I could singlehandedly reignite this thing, or even that I thought it was a thing worth reigniting.
Slowly coming to grips with reality: this is part of growing up. And in my mind, it’s the worst part.