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How often do you live an uncommon life?

Today is October 31 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you live an uncommon life?” Entrepreneur, real-estate visionary, and author Gary W. Keller noted “Anyone who dreams of an uncommon life eventually discovers that there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living it.”

Today’s reflection involves the strategy of living an uncommon life to navigate the chaos to translate dreams into reality. The group of artists known as Impressionists and the author Jack Kerouac both lived uncommon lives as they navigated the chaos of their respective times.

In 19th-century France, a jury chose the artists who could exhibit their work in the salon. Claude Monet, August Renoir, Edgar Degas, Berthe Morisot, Alfred Sisley, and several other artists, decided to live an uncommon life and in so doing chose to go against tradition.

Monet and the others decided they did not want to, nor could they afford to, wait for the jury to approve of their art to be exhibited in the salon for others to view. They all had experienced rejection by the salon jury and refused to wait a year between exhibitions and wanted to sell their art to earn some much-needed income.

To increase their chances of gaining recognition outside of the official channel of the salon, these artists banded together and used the uncommon strategy of holding their own exhibition. They pooled their money, rented a studio that belonged to the famous photographer Nadar, and set a date for their first exhibition together.

They called themselves the Anonymous Society of Painters, Sculptors, and Printmakers and were also known as The Impressionists. The Impressionists held eight exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. The first exhibition did not repay them monetarily, but it drew the critics who decided their art was abominable since it appeared unfinished. They called it “just impressions.”

The public, at first hostile, gradually came to believe that the uncommon Impressionists had captured a fresh and original vision, even if the art critics and art establishment disapproved of the new style. As Monet noted “It's on the strength of observation and reflection that one finds a way. So, we must dig and delve unceasingly.”

One such person that found a way through digging was novelist Jack Kerouac, who, in 1957, published a very uncommon piece of literature in On The Road. He is considered a literary iconoclast and, alongside William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, a pioneer of the Beat Generation. Kerouac is recognized for his method of spontaneous prose.

During World War II, Kerouac served in the United States Merchant Marine. While serving in the Merchant Marine in 1942, Kerouac wrote his first novel, The Sea Is My Brother. The book was not published until 2011, 70 years after it was written and over 40 years after Kerouac's death. Kerouac described the work as being about "man's simple revolt from society as it is, with the inequalities, frustration, and self-inflicted agonies." He viewed the work as a failure, calling it a "crock as literature" and never actively worked to publish it.

His first book to be published was The Town and the City, but he only achieved widespread fame and notoriety with the publication of his second novel, On the Road, in 1957. On the Road made Kerouac a beat icon, and he would publish twelve more novels during his life, in addition to numerous poetry volumes.

Thematically, his work covers topics such as Catholic spirituality, jazz, promiscuity, Buddhism, drugs, poverty, and travel. He became an underground celebrity and, with other beats, a progenitor of the hippie movement, although he remained antagonistic toward some of its politically radical elements. In 1969, aged 47, Kerouac died from internal bleeding due to long-term alcohol abuse.

Since his death, Kerouac's literary prestige has grown, and several previously unseen works have been published. His books remain in print today, including The Town and the City, On the Road, Doctor Sax, and The Dharma Bums. Kerouac wrote: “and I shambled after as usual as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes "Awww!"

  • How often do you live an uncommon life?

  • How often do you reflect on the courage it may require living an uncommon life?

  • The Impressionists did what no other group of artists tried when they when out on their own; have you ever tried to go out on your own to be uncommon?

  • Do you dream of an uncommon life? If so, do you remind yourself ‘there is no choice but to seek an uncommon approach to living?’

  • Is there anyone in your life who has lived an uncommon life?

  • How would you define living an uncommon life?

  • How often do you, like Kerouac, pursue the ‘ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, and mad to be saved?’


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