The Dividing Line
It only took me fifteen pages into Kerouac’s, On the Road, to find a passage that perfectly connects my personal experiences to the overall theme of travel. Kerouac writes: “I woke up and the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was—I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen…and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. I was halfway across America, at the dividing line between the East of my youth and the West of my future, and maybe that’s why it happened right there and then, that strange red afternoon”(15). Although I will admit this quotation is rather lengthy, I felt that the entire excerpt was necessary for illustrating my point. Kerouac begins by telling us that his protagonist Sal “woke up”. More specifically, the act of waking up implicitly suggests that at some point prior to awakening, this individual went to sleep. Here lies a form of universal travel that is both intrinsic and essential for all of humankind. It is during this time that Sal spends asleep, that he allows his mind—his memory-- to reorient itself. It is by this process that when Sal awakes he is initially utterly disoriented—so much so that he is not able to recognize his surroundings, nor is he even able to recognize his own self. It is during these roughly fifteen seconds that Sal becomes a stranger within himself: a time frame that allows him to transform. With all pre-existing restrictive barriers of “the familiar” eliminated, Sal is able to confront the crossroads of his youth—his former self—and his future: the man he wants to become. It is through this disorientation of his physical placement that allows him to change. Here we see Sal’s physical or geographical journey play a major role in his ability to internally travel. Both forms of travel are working in tandem to achieve inner transformation.
Similarly, as we frequently discuss in class, a moment of disorientation in the tangible realm often inspires internal transformation or travel. This notion always brings me back to the time I got lost in Disney World as a painfully shy and otherwise mute child; and until this day, I am able to clearly recall almost every detail of the events that took place on that day. Specifically, I remember hiding under a rather ugly green colored bench and feeling terrified and alone. But I also remember thinking in that moment that if I didn’t at least try to overcome my fears, that I could run the risk of never seeing my family again; I was at the dividing line between the East of my shyness and the West of my orphanhood. Although I may be a bit dramatic, in that moment, at that age, being lost was earthshattering and by far the worst situation I could have gotten myself into (even though it was clearly my brother’s fault). However, despite the trauma and my overwhelming sense of “lostness,” I changed that day. In a moment of complete disorientation, I was confronted with the challenge of change and I prompted myself from within to rise to the occasion. For a brief period of time I observed an out-of-body experience; I became a stranger to myself. It was almost like a supernatural force had taken over my body and I was left to watch—a witness of my own travels. Even almost two decades later, this anecdote holds a lot of importance in my life; it not only serves as a constant reminder of my inner strength, but also as the first day of many (MANY) days in my fight against shyness. Just like Sal, I needed to be stripped and deprived of my comforts—my bearings, in order to find my new identity. I had to lose myself externally to find myself internally.