What is this 420 holiday? I know it is a celebration for marijuana, but I really don’t know why. I mean, when I was in college there was, I guess we can call it, a celebration of this activity often (not every day though. I had to find time to drink, I mean study). So to find out, I did what any good stoner would do, have somebody else do the work while I waited and munched on chips.
I asked my dear friends, past stoners like me, but who will also allow themselves to indulge in a brownie especially the ones laced with edible dope or just fudge (they’re not picky), what they knew. They sent me the article from The Huffington Post that describes how this holiday was birthed. Long story short, in 1971 a group of friends would meet at 4:20 after school to smoke. They would say 420 to each other as code for weed. Then one of these kids had a brother who knew someone in the Grateful Dead, thus a flyer was handed out at a concert urging everyone to smoke on this day, at this time. The High Times magazine published the flyer and in the late 90’s a holiday was born.
What impresses me is that this ever got done— from the commitment to the meeting at 4:2o to the flyer to the holiday. When I was stoned, I sure did have a lot of great ideas (I think) but I was never motivated to do anything except just watch the world around me. Now, I don’t need to get stoned. I just have to make it to Sunday. On Sundays, I feel the same way—unmotivated for all the greatness I planned for my weekend, and kinda content to watch the world around. At least on Sundays, though, I don’t get the munchies. Actually, strike that—I always have the munchies.
After coming off of a recent brownie high one of these friends asked, “How do people do this every day? How do they operate?” I really don’t know. I certainly didn’t in college and so I stopped. But, what I do know is that I would much rather be in the company of stoners than drunks. Drunks are usually fun for the first few moments until they turn annoying, belligerent, and pukey. Stoners are “Submissive to everything, open, listening” (Kerouac, Jack Belief & Technique for Modern Prose).
So let’s give a real chill welcome to In Vain, a poem by the dude just quoted above, Jack Kerouac, one of the fathers of the Beat Movement (a term he coined). This movement encouraged the use of drugs to help get to a higher state of mind. The Beat Generation also practiced and promoted meditation and Buddhism. Emerging in the 1940s, they protested for social justice in America and fought against tradition in literature.
Quickly you can see the Beat’s influence in the title, “In Vain.”
All the following definitions found in The Free Dictionary defining vain, help support the speaker’s belief that it’s all (living) is just in vain.
adj. vain·er, vain·est
1. Not yielding the desired outcome; fruitless: a vain attempt.
2. Lacking substance or worth: vain talk.
3. Having or showing excessive pride in one's appearance or accomplishments; conceited.
4. Archaic Foolish.
1. To no avail; without success: Our labor was in vain.
2. In an irreverent or disrespectful manner: took the Lord's name in vain.
The stars, Hamlet, Mother, Lincoln, Aztec empire, writing, the bible, the bear, and Buddha are all these things that are supposed to mean something. We are taught, filled with knowledge, and guided by these things. The speaker was as well, but, to him, it’s all foolish.
“The stars in the sky
The tragedy of Hamlet
The results show not the success he thinks they warrant. Lincoln freed the slaves, but we still live in a racist society. So, was
We try to shed light on important ideas, but there is often no follow through.
“The lamp in the corner
We work on being enlightened. We search doctrines for answers on how to follow, but it is in vain. It’s foolish that we do not think for ourselves.
Here is the Buddhist influence on Kerouac. According to Zen Buddhism, “Zen is not a moral teaching, and as it is without dogma, it does not require one to believe in anything. A true spiritual path does not tell people what to believe in, rather it shows them how to think; or, in the case of Zen - what not to think.” (http://www.zen-buddhism.net)
The bear in the woods
The Life of Buddha
The poem ends with one part of a parentheses “)” as if it is the ending and beyond the poem is a new start. It’s as if the speaker has rid himself of his ego.
And that’s another reason I like the company of stoners over drunks, they are open to going beyond the limits of their minds. They are working on how to think. Drunks, on the other hand, are so vain that they will tell you just what they think and why—whether you asked or not.
But, if you are really looking for a spiritual awakening, the worthiest bunch of all to hang around are the poets. They tell the true story of the world, no matter what. That’s the best high.
Now, if you want to (or not, whatever, it's cool) read the poem in its entirety, you can find it here: