From time to time, different Kerouac House alumni will write in and tell us what they’ve been up to, or how their residency helped prepare them for the writing life. This month, we hear from Summer 2022 resident, Rachel Kolman.
On the Road to Jack’s House
By Rachel Kolman
How persistently loud the bugs are, at sunset, on a June night in Florida. Their cacophony echoes through the trees as they welcome in the cooler temperatures the night brings, rejoicing that another day full of scorching heat has ended. There is something intoxicating about a Florida night. That familiar thick heat is cut by a breeze, carrying mischief.
From the patio of Jack Kerouac’s old house, I listen to the bugs’ screams, telling me its soon time to head in. Even the citronella candle on my small glass table is not enough to stop their onslaught, their nipping at my skin. Sitting on that porch, I think of the girl who once called Orlando home, who once welcomed these warm summer nights and any nipping at skin. Of longings that feel relit in these warm summer nights. How many nights and days I spent on that porch, considering the girl who once called these streets of Orlando home. How far I have traveled in my life, to once again be in my own backyard.
I left my hometown much like Jack left New York: in a rush of adventure, and then, eventually, sick to return. Even Jack, consummate traveler, knew home, felt it in his bones, calling out to him. “I was going home in October. Everyone goes home in October,” he writes in On the Road.
I love that line. The sureness in it. I am always wondering when to leave or when to stay. It is kismet that I am in Jack’s house as I work on this book. I love Orlando and feel homesick for it often, but I can never capture what exactly I am homesick for. I spend a summer thinking about it, thinking of escapes, of adventure, of the thrill of something new, always.
Most days, I start early on the porch for a few hours, before the temperature hits the 90s. When I can’t look at words, I go on walks and bike rides. I swim laps. I go to readings and dinners with old friends. I read a lot, devour books in weekends. I do yoga on the creaky floorboards. I think about working on my YA novel, but I only open it once or twice all summer. I cut thousands of words from the essay collection. I grow sad about the state of my essay collection. I get a few essays published and think, see, I just needed the time and space, I can publish. I brainstorm what else my essay collection needs to stand out. I do not find the answer. I write less and less. The Orlando summer makes me weary.
The bugs are no quieter by August when it is time to leave. A few days before my departure, I spend a long afternoon reading through ten years of guest book entries from other Kerouac residents. I soak in their words, their version of this journey. My heart aches at the recommendations to visit places now defunct: Peacock Lounge, I-Bar, Natura. In these pages lies the ghost of Orlando in its heyday. It has been one of the sneaky joys this summer: to relive the Orlando of my memory through these words, through this heat.
I am realizing that I have a connection now to Orlando in such a new, unique way. This experience will always be a part of my Florida story. They, too, all have a Florida story. I realize then I have not been inspired just by Jack’s spirit, but those who have lived here before me.
And this, I think, is the secret I’ve been after. In all my wandering and searching, I have to realize, a place alone can never give me what I want. Why is this a lesson I keep forgetting? Home is found in hearts, not places.
Rachel Kolman is a writer and editor based in Seattle, WA. She is the 2022 Summer Writer in Residence at Kerouac House in Orlando, FL. She has her MFA in fiction from the University of Central Florida and an MFA in nonfiction from Rosemont College. She writes content by day and plays video games by night.