The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for being too organised


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Being too organised

Cure: On the Road by Jack Kerouac

An unfortunate side-effect of a busy life is that we can become so adept at organising our time, allocating segments of our days to a particular use – work, sleep, exercise, meal-time, errand – that we forget to allot any time to those aspects of life that don't involve planning ahead. Because what about: taking off spontaneously on a bike, without a map? What about: meeting someone at random and ending up playing chess on their narrowboat? If you want to avoid the realisation, on your deathbed, that you ticked off everything on every list you ever made but never actually just stepped out your door and let life happen, spend some random amount of time in the company of Dean Moriarty in Jack Kerouac's hymn to the generation that knew how to hang.

Nobody in On the Road does anything more than make a very vague plan. And when they go, they go immediately, jumping on a bus or on to the back of a flatbed truck, in response to a summons from the West. They don't take much with them – just a few possessions in a canvas bag, plus a Benzedrine-fuelled exuberance and a love of life's possibilities. Because Sal, Dean and Dean's "beautiful little sharp chick" Marylou are on a wave of American joy that sweeps them across the country in a spirit of reckless adventure, improvising to the beat of bebop, and yelling and talking non-stop. They are people that like everything, and when they get to Denver, or Chicago, or New Orleans, or wherever it is they're going, they'll do whatever it is that people do in those places, and find it wonderful.

Take it from these boys: being organised and planning ahead is not necessarily the best way to get the most from your days. If you want a truly intense, Kerouacesque kind of life, give yourself a shot of On the Road.