Preface to The Rucksack Letters

My second book, The Rucksack Letters, 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. 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 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 I reached the end of my road that I realized Jack’s folly, the self destructive lifestyle that eventually led to his death at the age of 49. And though I adopted many of his more reckless traits as my own, I also managed to adopt some of his strengths.

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.

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