Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Going Down the Road Feeling Bad

Dear Dillard Chandler,

I hope this letter finds you well, and that you can find someone to read it to you.

The first time I went into the mountains, I clung to the side of a cliff while a group of boys tried to undo the rope as I hung there, suspended between them and the rocks below. Later, one of them pulled his pocketknife and threatened to use that same rope to tie me to a tree and leave me for bears. We hiked about half a day and when the night came down I knew I was as far from home as I’d ever been. That night a man enthusiastically offered to let me lay between him and his lover but instead I spent the night under a tarp at the base of two pines and sure enough, in the morning, there were bears in the camp.

The second time I went into the mountains, I camped at the base of a hill like a fool and shivered in a ditch as it filled with rainwater. A girl with hair the color of straw and dead blue eyes stroked my hairless cheek through the long autumn night while I thought of home. In the morning we hiked out by separate trails.

The third time I went into the mountains I met a girl who seemed like a woman because I was still a boy. She pined for me but I would not yield because she had someone waiting for her at home. It didn’t amount to much, anyway. She had a hammer inscribed with the words “Christ the King” and when she struck a blow it rang out with inexorable certainty. I wonder if you heard it. I stood on the roof of a shack in Kingsport, Tennessee1 and from that vantage point I could see the trail home.

There's a lot of other things I could tell you, but there's not much you can say to a man who says, "When I want a woman I go to town and fetch one up."

I can’t begin to guess whether your silent burrow in the endless gray waste of Sheol suits you. I imagine you sitting on the porch of your sparse infernal cabin, waiting for the Lethe to jump its banks. Not even a whippoorwill to break the silence.2 It gets to you. Have patience. Soon the underworld will open her throat and all the voices of the masses and all the loud-mouthed feasters will march down to join you.

See you around,

1Once in Kingsport they hanged an elephant from a crane in the railroad yard. It was just about five months after your ninth birthday.
2I understand you are not much of a songwriter, but I wonder if you might take a look at a song I’m working on. It matches the tune of your version of “Mathie Grove.” You can sing it if you’re so inclined.
"Oh I used to trail that girl around/like summer follows spring/but now I only get down on my knee to pray/ 'cause my woman don't want my ring.".

Thursday, October 8, 2009

I Want to be a Calvary Man, as my Father was

Dear Kaspar Hauser,

You were born at sixteen and so barely lived, ending with a knife in your heart at twenty-one. Your life was both truncated and delayed1. Cut thin and sparse.

At the beginning, you were alone and struggled with being alone for the remainder of it; for sixteen years, they - whoever they might have been - kept you locked away in the dark. Then, you shuffled dumbly into Nuremberg one day and refused to speak other than this: "I want to be a calvary man, as my father was." Did you even know what those words meant? You carried two letters penned in the same hand - one from your mother another from the man who kept you in your room; you hoped that was enough. If only you could get them to take you in.

Having been alone, you were strangely well-behaved. A man claimed you grew up in the wild, but that wasn't the case. You had grown up caged.

You were, at first, a curiousity. People kept you2. They visited you, which you enjoyed. Visitors had been hard to find. They had you speak, though you knew little German and less Hungarian (two words). They had you talk about the "dungeon" in which you matured: the beastly childhood.

Science took you in. Schoolteachers took you in. All of them at first enamored with a strange thought of educating you or learning from you - an even stranger thought. You seemed even to be affected by magnets - another lie, it would seem3. Some said you were a prince, lost in some way or hidden - and that explained the attempts on your life, in some way4.

Loneliness, which I'm projecting upon you though it may not have been the case, is a strange state. One that isn't immediately assuaged by company. Loneliness can and does exist in the largest mass. There are degrees to such a thing because once one thing is obtained there is always another to have. Human company to comrade to friendship to love to spurned love to enemy to nemesis. All of these.

There were lessons liar learnt, every liar but you, it would seem. To lie is to tell a story, and a good story is told without letting on that these are lies. You were too young to be any good at it. It takes age and experience to escape telling the truth. But you tried. You just went too deep.

Take care of yourself,

1 It was and still remains believed by many that Hauser's account of his childhood was truthful, however, mostly as myth - as one likes to believe something so unbelievable. The absurd conditions of his life (and death) are implausible; everyone knows that. Hauser described a small room with no room to move and hardly to stand, a pile of hay on which he slept, and total darkness. Every morning he was fed bread and water, which he would later request solely. Drugged every so often, his hair would be trimmed and nails cut and hay exchanged when he woke. Undoubtedly, though, a knife was in his chest at twenty-one as he stumbled from a garden.
2 Hauser was at first kept in the Vestner Gate Tower then with a series of philathropic keepers who had taken an interest in him. One by one, they came to believe he was a hoax, a series of lies; one eventually complained not only of his lies but of his intense vanity.
3 Freidrich Daumer was entrusted with Hauser. Daumer included magnetic studies in Hauser's education. It has been described that when the positive side of a magnet moved across Hauser, the boy held his stomach and claimed he was pulled forward slightly and just the opposite with the negative - a wind blowing him back, as he said.
4 Each of these attempts on Hauser's life have been arguably self-inflicted, including the one leading to his demise. For instance, while at the porcelain sink, a cloaked man apparently appeared from no where, as Kaspar washed and watched in the mirror; he suffered a cut along his arm.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Horselover Fat 1

Dear Philip K. Dick,

Your work is disjointed, so much so that I don't know what to say to you now that your mind has, most likely, been healed. Maybe you won't understand. I'll try to explain.

Your mind was open, if nothing else. It was so open at times, it troubled you. It gave you trouble. People - all sorts of people - acknowledge the relationship between madness and brilliance. It is only one small step most often. And so there were times your very intelligence drove you mad. At times, you were in ancient Rome, while you were elsewhere, maybe watching television, probably watching television, bring another pot to boil.

It isn't without sadness that one reads your books; your major works are laden with multiple languages (Latin, German, French, and Spanish etc), conspiracy theories spanning thousands of years, Gnostic research, religious fervor, madness, and existential awe. And, yet, so taken with lofty ideas, your writing is clear and succinct. There was skill in your net casting, dragging in everything and anything - almost desperately, as you tried to find something that might explain anything, anything at all; everything was unreal.

Your writing was bizarre and fitful but beautiful and convincing. In Ubik, a spray-on reality shifter was beside a Latin conspiracy regarding the birth of Christ. Or, Valis: truths in truths in truths. And The Transmigration of Timothy Archer begs for what it means to even be alive.

Some people are unaware a science fiction author existed such as you. However, you were never sure where to point your fervent beliefs. That is clear.

You had visions - visions which included ancient Roman landscapes and obscure religious symbols; that seemed to tell you that this world was not reality. Diagrams of light and geometry came into focus. In a dream, you search for that magazine. You push aside issue after issue. You say to yourself, The empire never ended. Over and over, you say the same thing. You are a Roman guard, a slate-tongued whiner.

More than anything else, you wanted to become a mainstream author over one devoted to science fiction2. You struggled all your life with this, giving up and taking back. You constantly fought against your place in the science fiction world, wrote books split in two: the crack artist and the genius. You never knew which to believe. And your own mind split in two. But,
unlike others who may have suffered, you were able to dissect and stand apart from your madness3. And now I read your books when I can't bear the thought of reading Thomas Mann or any of your idols. I'm so sorry.

Take care of yourself,

1 Horselover Fat is one of many pen names Dick used. Horselover is derived from Philip, which, in Greek, appears as Phil-Hippos commonly, meaning horse lover. And dick is German for fat. Horselover Fat is the eponymous narrator of Valis. Other pen names included Jack Dowland and Richard Philips.
2 Dick composed several non-science fiction books in the beginning of his career. They were quickly rejected. Confessions of a Crack Artist was the only to be published in his lifetime.
3 Dick suspected he was schizophrenic.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Jung at Heart

Dear Carl Jung,

I have had this awful feeling lately1. But I have also had this undeniably good feeling2. And that is about right.

Your idea of life: that one hand can be bludgeoning the dog while the other caresses it - as one is (outwardly) supposed to do3. You were accepting of this gap between what was
meant to be done (according to society, morals, religious proclivity etc.) and what might be the physical urge, which includes any number of things: mental, emotional, spiritual. Life was cleaved; on one side, there was yourself and, on the other, yourself again. When you look into a steamed mirror, one is looking in at the other - though both perhaps are looking out. You couldn't say. There were two of us.

You were a dualist. I imagine you hated yourself for saying so, that you wished to keep it a secret but knew you could not - it was wrong (the moral right to say so) and, once you realized you knew, someone else, somewhere in the world, realized it too. A dirty trick really.

You, sitting in your lush-green garden behind your house, your hands, Carl Jung, folded in your lap and your glasses resting beside you on the arm of a wooden chair a distant relation made for you. From there, you cursed yourself many times. A young woman approaches you by pushing aside a fan of palm leaves with the back of her hand, she smiles at you, pouts in an incredible way not out of sadness or distress but love for you, though you have no idea what her name is or where she came from. She sits down in the matching chair beside yours; your relative made several chairs for you. Then you ask her who she is, though every part of you tells you not to ask because then you'll ruin it and you want nothing else but to not ruin it, whatever it is. You curse yourself again, your head cast back against the chair top.

You never admitted death was an end. In fact, you believed that it was not an end4. You were criticized for secular beliefs, your combination of scientific facts and religious facts. You said, "Because, you know, there are these peculiar faculties of the psyche that [aren't] entirely confined to space and time. You can have dreams or visions of the future... Only ignorants deny these facts." And this is what amazes me.

I imagine you sitting in the dark, contemplating the very depths of yourself, of your friends, of your neighbors and enemies, and you had time still to contemplate what you still didn't know. This, in general, has always amazed me - and not only about yourself: the human need to see beyond and beyond that. This is not about death but what is very present in the day-to-day. How does one address himself last in all the things in the world? You took the logical path, the internal struggle of identity, and exploded it into a personal disaster - as one might call death - but simultaneously redefined it to be the complete and eternal opposite: birth. Well, done.

I wonder sometimes how deeply some personal ponds run. I mean by this, specifically, that I wonder how often co-workers contemplate themselves, their lives, the people they love, and what that means5. Sometimes I become overly concerned with this. What if they are not considering themselves at all?

You believed that the mind of men is
naturally religious. You claimed art, philosophy, religion, music - everything - could be linked to man's well-being. I listen to people speaking, to music in other offices, and imagine these words and sounds penetrating the skin and bumping up against some flimsy, ghost asleep inside. How could I not laugh?

Take care of yourself,

1 I will be fired at any moment, I will be framed for a brutal crime I wouldn't dare commit, I will fall from a considerable height onto the top of my head and not die, I will comically slip in front of everyone, I will be caught lying about something not worth lying over, I will overhear someone say something awful I would feel guilty not telling someone else etc.
2 I will be informed by telegram of anything, I will hear of a disaster well before it happens so that I might easily stop it from happening, I will be invited to appear on live television and have a prior engagement, I will wake up one morning with incredible agility and athleticism etc.
3 Jung advocated the dualism of almost every aspect in life - every action was both good and bad, in a way.
4 Jung proposed that death was just as important psychologically to a person as his own birth. Therefore proposing that death was not an end of consciousness but a beginning of a new sort. In this matter, one might view life as preparation for this end or beginning. So, how should one prepare oneself for a birth so great, it requires years of practice? I ask this while looking across the hall to a man asleep at his desk, one hand grasping loosely a pen, which is aimed over a half-completed crossword puzzle.
5 Through the cubicle halls, I can often overhear any number of shameless phonecalls. How am I supposed to feel when I hear a young man, not much older than myself, scolding his girlfriend for not doing the laundry or the woman complaining to the government for alimony and child support unpaid or the general yelling that is done?

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Seen Together on the Weekends

Dear Eva Braun,

I took a book about your life out of the library so I could try to understand you. I had always held that you were misunderstood. I took on loan two other books that I'd already read because the young librarian seems to be interested in what I read, though more so because I often wonder if there is a flagging system in use - one that would mark me as potentially deranged, politically noxious, a dilettante, or Catholic etc. These additional books, which I immediately returned through the drop-box outside - to the confusion of those watching my account - were to guise my historical interest. Reading about American prohibition informs global teetotalers via flashing red lights on their desks, I know.

You were - I learned - a free woman, only trapped by your own doing, your own ends, your own humble ambitions, one of which was your own death, in fact1. There isn't a more humble, attainable ambition. But it couldn't come fast enough for you, not at times.

You were thirty-three when you killed yourself in his bunker. And, in those thirty-three years, that was not the first time that you wanted to end your life but the first you succeeded. I wonder what it was like to knowingly enter that bunker, aware of what was coming for you, what you, by association, justly deserved, and be happy about that, smiling your winning smile because you had, in the end, gotten exactly what you wanted and won. That is true despair, one that hides behind a content, photogenic grin.

I learned your parents had comedic name: Fritz and Franny2, like a stand-up duo, one tall and sickly thin while the other is short, fat, stupid and well-fed. It surprises me how much of your life can be considered comedy though it was often so tragic - but the truest form of comedy is often tragic, true, and absurd. I imagine the first meeting between you and him, the awkward silences that were never filled, the tea shared in an office of all places, and the strained distance of letters3 - especially in such a time when the world seemed so small, so insignificant that people could all be gathered, cornered, and taken. And then that stiff, cartoon-like walk, and you flowing beside it like a fun-house mirror to his gait.

I believe you when I imagine you sobbing it into your bedclothes and saying no one would understand you even if you had lived and tried to explain - for whatever that would be worth. You had taken a liking to death - in so many ways - even early in life, when you tried to shoot yourself in the neck4 and, later, when you had trouble sleeping5. Neither of those worked so you attached yourself to death in your own life in a way, attached yourself as inextricably as you could, killing yourself in that way too. You were so dedicated to death and dedicated to death himself that you followed him underground, burying yourself as it were, walking headlong into your own grave. And I imagine again that smile.

You, Eva, walking through the forest, walking a large dog that strains on the leash, a bit of makeup on your face - though he thought that wrong - and a lit cigarette wedged between the first and second of your fingers - though he disapproved of that too; you didn't care. And by the beach, you take off all your things and lay there, the sun beating down on you - this was the way you liked it. The dog breaking the slow, lapping waves of some hidden lake, yapping as they came to meet the shore. The sunlight attaching itself to you. And no one knew.

I know someone who is talented at solving the Rubik's Cube. In seconds, he can rearrange the cube so that similar colors are all sequestered to one side. But he approaches everything in life with the same concept he uses to solve the problem. He memorizes the possibilities, the combination, the equation to exactly undo what a mess the thing has become. Everything must fit into a place and be surrounded by like things, but I don't believe that's right. You must be surrounded by everything, like or not. You were just on the wrong side, surrounded. You were a laughing photographer, and they were not.

Take care of yourself,

1 Eva Braun attempted to kill herself on numerous occasions, both before and after she met him. Her final and most successful attempt was begun that very moment.
2 Freidrich "Fritz" Braun and Franziska "Franny" Kronberger.
3 Their relationship began innocently enough in her place of business: a photography shop. Together with the shop owner, Eva Braun would dine with him.
4 At the age of twenty, in 1932, Eva Braun attempted to kill herself in this manner.
5 Three years later, she tried again, this time with sleeping pills.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Thirty-Three Year Old Man

Dear John Updike,

The other week, I was looking at a photograph of you. It was on the back of a book you wrote called
The Centaur, which I've, to be honest, never read. In the picture1, you are smiling very widely and covering your eyes with your fingers, which are spread wide into fans. Your wrinkled eyes can be seen between the third and fourth digits of each hand. It's the sort of photo that comes with sound; when you catch it out of the corner of your eye, you can almost hear a quick bit of laughter. Perhaps the photographer made a joke you liked.

I looked at this particular noisy picture while on break
2. Then there was harsh, warm rain. I ducked into the breakroom, which was crowded as usual but even more so because of the miserable rain. All of us stuck inside. It has been raining for days now since. One of my female co-workers3, with whom I had never spoken and with whom I have not spoken since, thinks you are a very attractive man. She said, pointing to your author photo, "Oh, look at him! What a cutie!" I don't believe she was being facetious.

I still haven't read
The Centaur but will soon.

She asked who you were, which might slightly cheapen the compliment she previously gave you through me. I always find it inappropriate when compliments are imparted so haphazardly and in this way.

You probably don't remember me, John Updike, but we met once. We even shook hands. An electronic billboard displayed your name outside the library, and a long line stretched past the first corner of the block. Doors were opening in an hour, and I was waiting on some friends and friends of friends of friends, who were all late. They never showed up, but I waited in another line inside to have you sign a book, which you had also written though it was not
The Centaur4. You sat at a table, which was a modest folding kind, and you had sunk into the matching chair very comfortably as though the hall of the library was your study and not a cold, sterile, vaulted room. We shook hands over my signed book; it was all nice and formal as though I was meeting an astronaut or foreign diplomat. And when you laughed at someone's joke, it filled the room.

I read somewhere that everyone in heaven5 is thirty-three6, even babies and old women, and everyone has nice hair and teeth, which no one needs to upkeep or brush or style and whiten. And their nails don't grow any longer or get dirty. And if you lose a daughter in the grocery store, she will appear in your arms when you yell her name, and, despite being thirty-three just like you, she isn't heavy in your arms; in fact, she weighs nothing. But you being thirty-three again seems to fall, in my eyes, within your ideals; you are young, virile, fit, and willing. You nod meaningfully toward dead women. How is that going for you? I can picture you and your friends cracking up over innappropraite jokes there now because some things never really get old. Perhaps you have drunk the others under the table, and their thin, young (thirty-three year old) wives disapprove (though more of the others and not you; you have a way about you...); they love you: the women and your friends. But no one is really drunk; they only roll around on the cloud-strewn floor, laughing because you told a good one. And all the women, by looking over their shoulders as they walk slowly across the heavenly dance floor, forgive you for whatever it is they said you did wrong with your writing down here.

Take care of yourself,

1 The other night, I was dreaming of a man who resembled you, at least in the way a much younger brother resembles the elder, and this man who resembled you and I stood on the edge of a very low and long valley, green with trees forever and a blue veiny river trekking through the middle. I looked at this man: white-hairs, smiling, peering at me through the fingers he had covering his eyes. It was that photograph of you, from that back of that book. That's how I knew it was you. And this man told me in my dream about the most painful torture device he had ever imagined, once, while lying in bed, up too late at night and thinking, when he said his mind most often wandered to such things. Then the man expanded and filled and became my boss, a fat man in fat man's clothes, and the dream was then over.
2 I work in a cubicle, which is attached to other cubicles on three sides. The fourth side lets out onto a hall, which is narrow. On the other side of the hall, there are more cubicles. If I walk slowly enough down this hall, it's like visiting a wax museum; everyone is very still and staring at you, not very much alive.
3 She works in accounting as far as I can tell.
4 It was an old copy of Couples.
I've been told that heaven is real since I was little, but it seems to me that it is only something I will believe in when I'm older, when I need a place to put things that I've lost more often.
6 They say this is the age at which Jesus Christ was murdered. That is their reasoning.