Sometimes a Great Notion

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I first read Ken Kesey’s Sometimes a Great Notion, one of my all-time favorite novels, just after I moved to Seattle in 2007. It wasn’t easy. The reading, the dreaming, the living. But, looking back on it, Kesey’s depiction of the Pacific Northwest (specifically Oregon) was the perfect introduction to my new geography. I, too, dreamed of moss covering my eyelids in my sleep. I, too, watched rust appear on metal objects even though I couldn’t remember ever seeing rain. Yes, that lumber-cutting, slumber-abbreviating, log-chipping, calf-rearing, Hank’s bell-ringing, bootless book I assume was both only ever written and read in the dark got me good.

Of course, I wasn’t wading through any rivers or hauling lumber or even sleeping under the stars. I was eating trail mix in a dorm room and tossing textbooks up to my top bunk and passing out without remembering to remove my glasses. But at night–and in the mornings when the sun took its sweet time to rise–I thought I knew exactly what he meant.

I was reminded of Kesey’s novel when we passed through Oregon and stopped to visit my brother, Tim, in Ashland. Sometimes because of the scenery, but more often because of Kesey’s braided narratives; the swift switching of first person between characters done so seamlessly you lose yourself in a melange of thoughts and voices that eventually become one tired, restless mind in the wilderness.

Years from now, looking back on this trip, I don’t expect any of us to remember who said what. Llama Del Ray or fairy ponds? Pot-holed, backwards truck rides into town? I don’t know. But I am fairly confident we will recall how we all felt, in this place, in this time, all braided and bound up together in Ashland with Tim.

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“Look…Reality is greater than the sum of its parts, also a damn sight holier. And the lives of such stuff as dreams are made of may be rounded with a sleep but they are not tied neatly with a red bow. Truth doesn’t run on time like a commuter train, though time may run on truth. And the Scenes Gone By and the Scenes to Come flow blending together in the sea-green deep while Now spreads in circles on the surface. So don’t sweat it. For focus simply move a few inches back or forward. And once more…look.”

– Ken Kesey, Sometimes a Great Notion

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