The life cycle of the outsider who moves to Florida: First, move to the Sunshine State, upbeat about the weather and the ambiance. Next, find yourself on permanent vacation, feeling at peace with your life and yourself. Soon, however, the tropical weather, the unfamiliar locals, the sand in your shoes -- it all starts to grate on you. Finally, you're so over it that you make plans to move to New York.
It happens to the best of them. No one is immune -- not even a literary giant like Jack Kerouac.
The Paris Review has published a report on Door Wide Open, a collection of letters between Kerouac and his novelist lover Joyce Johnson, written and sent in 1958, when Kerouac moved into his mother's rented bungalow in Orlando, Florida. They offer insight into Kerouac's struggles with his newfound fame as On The Road hit bookstore shelves. But to anyone who's moved to this state and wrestled with its sunny/shady dichotomy, they also sound awfully familiar.
Florida was, at first, a refuge for Kerouac, writes Vanessa Blakeslee of The Paris Review; it was a safe haven away from the social pressures of New York City, and a quiet place for him to write. (It's the site where he wrote the novel The Dharma Bums.)
It was also a site of economic struggle -- a place he considered at least partially inescapable for financial reasons. Though Johnson sent him money for travel to New York, Kerouac wrote that he had to spend some of the cash on food, and delayed his trip until his mother received her Social Security check. "After this trip, no more," he predicted.
When he returned from his trip -- with eight White Castle hamburgers, no less -- he was grateful for the escape. "Yes, I've found peace in Florida," he wrote to Johnson. But the cracks are already starting to show. It's "a little lonely down here," he admitted.
Still, for awhile, Central Florida was good to Kerouac. He became so immersed in his writing that he suggested Johnson stay away, lest she distract him. (This could've also been a passive break-up technique.)
When Kerouac resurfaces in New York a few months later, though, Florida has clearly changed him. He's drunk, uncharacteristically performing readings while visibly hammered. He hooks up with Johnson again. And yes, he starts making plans to move north.
By year's end, he's come full circle:
Ah, shit, I feel dreary, I'm telling you there are NO VIBRATIONS in Florida or anywhere in the south, the people are DEAD. Now I'm entering a period of mingling with human beings again, and leave the quiet night of woods awhile, I want to be back in the Nation of People, which is New York.
Don't feel bad about it, Kerouac. It happens to everyone.
Kerouac's Orlando bungalow was restored and added to the National Register of Historic Places last year. Today, it's the home of the Jack Kerouac Writers-in-Residence Project, which brings in four writers each year to work through their own feelings of love and hatred for this uplifting, soul-sucking state.
Follow Ciara LaVelle on Twitter @ciaralavelle.
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