Donating money generated from Kindle sales to charity

I suffer from depression. From suicidal depression at times. Officially, I’m diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Since my diagnosis, I’ve been on medication, which helps. But last year, before my diagnosis, things got dark—real dark. I ended up hospitalized for three days in the behavioral medicine ward.

So why am I telling you this?peculiar

Recently, I self-published a collection of short stories on Amazon—on the Kindle format. I wrote three of the stories in this collection at the height of my suicidal depression. Those stories still haunt me, and they haunt several people who’ve read them.

Since mental illness and suicide are close to my heart, I’ve decided to donate half of all proceeds generated from sales from my ebook, starting today and running through the month of September, to suicide prevention charities. If it’s successful, and if I can raise a decent amount of money, I’ll continue to do it.

This book isn’t just about me, or helping myself—it’s also about making money to donate to charity. If you can, and if you’re interested, will you help me spread the word?

Here’s a link to the book.

Thanks.

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Who’s On Hoth?

by
Daulton Dickey.

(With Apologies to Abbott & Costello)

Stormtrooper 1: Alright, now whaddya want?

Stormtrooper 2: Now look, I’m the head of the reconnaissance division for the Imperial Army, and we’re looking for the Rebellion’s hidden base, which we hear is on either Tatooine, Kashyyk, or Hoth, and we’ve been told that you know the names of the three divisions of the Alliance on each planet.

Stormtrooper 1: Oh sure.

Stormtrooper 2: So you go ahead and tell me some of their names.

Stormtrooper 1: We have Who’s on Hoth, What’s on Tatooine, I Don’t Know’s on Kashyyk.

Stormtrooper 2: That’s what I wanna find out.

Stormtrooper 1: I say Who’s on Hoth, What’s on Tatooine, I Don’t Know’s on Kashyyk –

Stormtrooper 2: You know the Alliance’s names?

Stormtrooper 1: Certainly!

Stormtrooper 2: Well, then who’s on Hoth?

Stormtrooper 1: Yes!

Stormtrooper 2: I mean the Alliance’s name!

Stormtrooper 1: Who!

Stormtrooper 2: The section of the Alliance on Hoth!

Stormtrooper 1: Who!

Stormtrooper 2: The rebels!

Stormtrooper 1: Who!

Stormtrooper 2: The rebels attempting to overthrow the Empire!

Stormtrooper 1: Who is on Hoth!

Stormtrooper 2: Now whaddya askin’ me for?

Stormtrooper 1: I’m telling you Who is on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 2: Well, I’m asking YOU who’s on Hoth!

Stormtrooper 1: That’s the division’s name.

Stormtrooper 2: That’s who’s name?

Stormtrooper 1: Yes.

Stormtrooper 2: Well, go ahead and tell me.

Stormtrooper 1: Who.

Stormtrooper 2: The division of the Alliance stationed on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 1: Who!

Stormtrooper 2: The rebels.

Stormtrooper 1: Who is on Hoth!

Stormtrooper 2: Have you got a data readout of the rebels on Hoth?

Stormtrooper 1: Absolutely.

Stormtrooper 2: Who does it say is on Hoth?

Stormtrooper 1: It says Who is on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 2: When you enter this information into the Imperial archives, who do you say is on Hoth?

Stormtrooper 1: Who is.

Stormtrooper 2: That’s what I’m trying to find out.

Stormtrooper 1: Who is on Hoth?

Stormtrooper 2: All I’m tryin’ to find out is what’s the rebel’s name on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 1: Oh, no – wait a minute, don’t switch ’em around. What is on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 2: I’m not askin’ you who’s on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 1: Who is on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 2: I don’t know.

Stormtrooper 1: He’s on Kashyyk – now we’re not talkin’ ’bout him.

Stormtrooper 2: Now, how did I get to Kashyyk?

Stormtrooper 1: You mentioned its name!

Stormtrooper 2: If I mentioned the alliance on Kashyyk, who did I say is stationed on Kashyyk?

Stormtrooper 1: No – Who’s stationed on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 2: Never mind Hoth – I wanna know what’s the name of the division of rebels stationed on Kashyyk.

Stormtrooper 1: No – What’s on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 2: I’m not askin’ you who’s on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 1: Who’s on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 2: I don’t know.

Stormtrooper 1: He’s on Kashyyk.

Stormtrooper 2: Aaah! Would you please stay on Kashyyk and don’t go off it?

Stormtrooper 1: What was it you wanted?

Stormtrooper 2: Now who’s stationed on Kashyyk?

Stormtrooper 1: Now why do you insist on putting Who on Kashyyk?

Stormtrooper 2: Why? Who am I putting over there?

Stormtrooper 1: Yes. But we don’t want him there.

Stormtrooper 2: What’s the name of the division of the rebels on Kashyyk?

Stormtrooper 1: What belongs on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 2: I’m not askin’ you who’s on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 1: Who’s on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 2: I don’t know.

Stormtrooper 1 & Stormtrooper 2: KASHYYK!

Stormtrooper 2: You got names of other rebellions on other planets?

Stormtrooper 1: Oh yes!

Stormtrooper 2: The rebellion on Dantooine?

Stormtrooper 1: Why.

Stormtrooper 2: I don’t know, I just thought I’d ask you.

Stormtrooper 1: Well, I just thought I’d tell you.

Stormtrooper 2: Alright, then tell me who’s stationed on Mustafar.

Stormtrooper 1: Who is on Hoth –

Stormtrooper 2: STAY OUTTA THE INNER RIM! I wanna know what’s the name of the division stationed on Mustafar.

Stormtrooper 1: What’s on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 2: I’m not askin’ you who’s on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 1: Who’s on Hoth.

Stormtrooper 2: I don’t know.

Stormtrooper 1 & Stormtrooper 2: KASHYYK!

Stormtrooper 2: The name of the division stationed on Mustafar?

Stormtrooper 1: Why.

Stormtrooper 2: Because!

Stormtrooper 1: Oh, he’s on Bespin.

Stormtrooper 2: Look, you gotta name for the leader of the rebellion?

Stormtrooper 1: Now wouldn’t this be a fine rebellion without a leader.

Stormtrooper 2: The leader’s name.

Stormtrooper 1: Tomorrow.

Stormtrooper 2: You don’t wanna tell me today?

Stormtrooper 1: I’m tellin’ you now.

Stormtrooper 2: Then go ahead.

Stormtrooper 1: Tomorrow.

Stormtrooper 2: What time?

Stormtrooper 1: What time what?

Stormtrooper 2: What time tomorrow are you going to tell me who the leader is?

Stormtrooper 1: Now listen. Who is not the leader. Who is on Hot –

Stormtrooper 2: I’ll disintegrate you if you say Who’s on Hoth. I wanna know what’s the leader’s name.

Stormtrooper 1: What’s on Tatooine.

Stormtrooper 2: I don’t know.

Stormtrooper 1 & Stormtrooper 2: KASHYYK!

Stormtrooper 2: You got a second in command?

Stormtrooper 1: Oh, absolutely.

Stormtrooper 2: The second in command’s name.

Stormtrooper 1: Today.

Stormtrooper 2: Today. And Tomorrow’s leading.

Stormtrooper 1: Now you’ve got it.

Stormtrooper 2: All we’ve got is a couple of days of the rebellion.

Stormtrooper 1: Well, I can’t help that.

Stormtrooper 2: Well, I’m a second in command, too.

Stormtrooper 1: I know that.

Stormtrooper 2: Now suppose that I’m second in command, Tomorrow’s leading my rebellion, and their heavy frigate blasts off.

Stormtrooper 1: Yes.

Stormtrooper 2: Tomorrow devises the space route. The heavy frigate escapes Imperial shields. When it gets into hyperspace, its pilot wants to know who to contact on Hoth. And I say to contact who on Hoth?

Stormtrooper 1: Now that’s the first thing you’ve said right.

Stormtrooper 2: I don’t even know what I’m talkin’ about!

Stormtrooper 1: Well, that’s all you have to do.

Stormtrooper 2: Is to say Who on Hoth?

Stormtrooper 1: Yes.

Stormtrooper 2: Now who’s going to tell him Hoth’s exact location on the star map?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally!

Stormtrooper 2: If I want Hoth’s location on the star map, somebody’s gotta give me the coordinates. Now who’s gonna give me the coordinates?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally!

Stormtrooper 2: Who’s gonna give me the coordinates?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally.

Stormtrooper 2: Who?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally!

Stormtrooper 2: Naturally.

Stormtrooper 1: Yes.

Stormtrooper 2: So I travel to the solar system, and contact Naturally.

Stormtrooper 1: NO, NO, NO! You contact Hoth and Who answers.

Stormtrooper 2: Naturally.

Stormtrooper 1: That’s right. There we go.

Stormtrooper 2: So I travel to the solar system and contact Naturally.

Stormtrooper 1: You don’t!

Stormtrooper 2: I contact who?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally.

Stormtrooper 2: THAT’S WHAT I’M SAYING!

Stormtrooper 1: You’re not saying it that way.

Stormtrooper 2: I said I contact Naturally.

Stormtrooper 1: You don’t – you contact Who?

Stormtrooper 2: Naturally!

Stormtrooper 1: Well, say that!

Stormtrooper 2: THAT’S WHAT I’M SAYING! I contact who?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally.

Stormtrooper 2: Ask me.

Stormtrooper 1: You contact Who?

Stormtrooper 2: Naturally.

Stormtrooper 1: That’s it.

Stormtrooper 2: SAME AS YOU!! I contact Hoth and who answers me?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally!

Stormtrooper 2: Who answers me?

Stormtrooper 1: Naturally!

Stormtrooper 2: HE BETTER ANSWER ME! So I contact Hoth. Whoever it is intercepts my communication, and contacts Tatooine. So I travel to Tatooine to try to intercept my communication before the leader gets it. So Who relays my communication and sends it to What, What sends it to I Don’t Know, I Don’t Know relays it back to Tomorrow. The rebellion wins.

Stormtrooper 1: Yes.

Stormtrooper 2: Another guy travels to that Solar System and gets intercepted by Because. Why? I don’t know. He’s on Kashyyk and I don’t give a damn!

Stormtrooper 1: What was that?

Stormtrooper 2: I said I don’t give a damn!

Stormtrooper 1: Oh, that’s the rebellion’s third in command.

A Bunch of Bullshit: A Brief Play

by
Daulton Dickey.

Jimbo: Oh, this is bullshit. Absolute bullshit.

Woman: I tole you it wouldn’t work.

Jimbo: What’s not to work? It was a foolproof plan. A foolproof plan, I tell ya.

Man 2: Oh, yeah; it was genius.

Jimbo: Well, I didn’t hear you come up with no better plan.

Woman [to Man 2]: He’s right. Where was your bright idea?

Man 2: Where was your bright idea? [points to Jimbo] Or his?

Jimbo: I thought it was a pretty good idea, myself.

Woman: It was half a pretty good idea.

Man 2: Pretty good …? Is ya’ll listening to yourselves? Break into a midget’s house, replace all his clothes and shoes with stuff from the big and tall store, make him think he’s shrinking? That’s your pretty good idea?

Jimbo: Indeed it was.

Woman: Well, I, for one, thought it was hilarious. At least in theory.

Man 2: Course you’d think it was hilarious. You still laugh at knock knock jokes.

Woman: I do not, and you know it.

Jimbo [to Woman]: Hey, that reminds me: Knock knock.

Woman: Not now, Jimbo.

Man 2 [to Woman] Don’t go putting on airs on my account. I know it’s all eating you up inside, wanting to hear that joke.

Woman: Like I’m going to sit here all tormented ’cause I can’t hear the end of a joke meant for toddlers. Puh-lease.

Jimbo: So back to the issue at hand: [to Man 2] My plan was not flawed.

Man 2: Making a midget think he’s a-growing?

Jimbo: You laughed when I presented it. And you sure as hell went along with it. It was the execution was flawed.

Man 2: The execution wouldn’t’ve been flawed if you’d a told us that little man owned a dog big as a house.

Jimbo: I’d a-tole you he owned that monstrosity if I’d a-known it myself. Besides, it twitterheader (2)wasn’t that big a deal.

Man 2: Not that big of a deal? [points to leg] You see those silver-dollar-sized holes in my leg? Not that big of a … I swear on the good book if that thing has rabies, I’m a-biting the holy hell out of you.

Jimbo: Hey, now: don’t go threatening to spread your rabies to me. I was just the idea man. Ain’t my fault, his dog …

Man 2: What you mean, “threatening to spread my rabies”? You know something I don’t know? Did that big sons a bitch have rabies?

Woman: Hey, Jimbo …?

Jimbo: Do I look like some kind of rabies detective, able to diet egg nog or whatever …

Woman: Diagnose.

Jimbo: Thank you. [to man 2] Like I’m able to diag … what she said, rabies on the spot?

Man 2: I’m not kidding, Jimbo. I ain’t messing around …

Woman: Jimbo. Hey …?

Man 2: You is in for a world of hurt and pain if that big burly bastard done infected me with the rabies.

Jimbo: I don’t see why I should be punished. Didn’t nobody force you by gunpoint to break into that little man’s house.

Woman: Jim. Hey Jimbo …

Man 2: Don’t matter. It don’t matter …

Jimbo: It most certainly does …

Woman [yells]: Jimbo, goddamn it, will you listen to me?

Jimbo: Tarnations, woman, what do you want?

Woman: Who’s there?

Jimbo: I did up.

Woman: I did up who?

Jimbo: Get it? Like “I did a poo?” Like “poop?” Like you shat yourself? I did up who? Get it?

Woman laughs hysterically. Man 2 stares at them. Long pause.

Man 2: I hate you both.

Off and On the Road: an autobiographical appreciation of Jack Kerouac

Off and On the Road
or,
How I Got Stoned and Became a Literary Junky
by
Daulton Dickey.

[Author’s note: this is an old piece, written about 7 years ago. I recently re-discovered it and decided to post it in its entirety, and unchanged, i.e. unrevised.]

Lee[1] blew into his hands and rubbed them together, trying to breathe life into his fingers. Scrunching his shoulders, he pulled his coat collar up and and squeezed the opening at the base of his throat, tightening the collar around his neck. A smile had attacked his face earlier and it refused to retreat, and he bared his teeth as breath escaped his nostrils and slipped out of his mouth. He looked beside him, at RCannabis-Bankay, and his smile widened.

Ray had a way of smiling with his eyes that seemed to inform his entire way of thinking, his entire worldview, and when he smiled at Lee, grimacing without showing his teeth, his eyes curled upward and mimicked what his mouth would have done—should have done—if he wasn’t so self-conscious. Ray shiver-stomped and jogged in place, half warding off the wind, half dancing in anticipation. Then he glanced at me and laughed. I was standing between them—if viewed from above we would have formed an asymmetrical triangle—and crossed my arms at my chest, burying my hands in my armpits, struggling, fighting, praying for heat to engulf me, to inject colors other than red into my hands and face.

“Man,” Lee said, “this is going to be awesome.”[2]

We stood between two houses, Lee’s and Ray’s, and looked to our right, toward the street, and to our left, toward the back alley. But no one showed up.

No one.

Not one fucking person.

We were waiting for Juan, Ray’s half-brother, to deliver our pizza, as we called it, but he was late. And I was worried.

“He’ll be here,” Ray said.

It was cold, and I was tired of waiting. I could, I knew, back out and that would be that. I could simply walk away. Sure, they’d bust my balls, but I’d be lying on my bed in my warm bedroom watching television or fantasizing about being someone other than me—which was something I often did in those days; it’s something I do now, on occasion, though not as frequently as I once did. But I had the most to lose—fifteen dollars—and I had initiated this experiment, put into motion the overwhelming sense of curiosity that had led us to stand between two houses at nine o’clock at night on a weekend in the middle of a Midwestern winter.

Lee, still smiling, preempted my complaints by reading my eyes and laughing.

“He’ll be here,” he said. “Chill out.”

“It’s fucking cold,” I said. “I’m tired of waiting.”

“Bitch, bitch, bitch,” Ray said. “That’s all you do.”

“I fucking hate waiting for people. I’ve got shit to do.”

“Like what?”

I didn’t say. It didn’t matter.

The wind whipped us and beat us for ten more minutes before Juan showed up. He delivered our ‘pizza’ in a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag and flicked his wrist and unfurled the bag, revealing a quarter ounce of bright green bud. Smiling, playing the role of wise old sage, Juan opened the bag and held it out to us. We each took the bag and inhaled and commented on its smell, on how good and strong and powerful it smelled, though the three of us knew nothing about marijuana.

###

That summer, the summer of 1994, director Robert Zemeckis released Forrest Gump, a schmaltzy, syrupy, Forrest_Gump_posteroverwrought film designed to manipulate audiences and to win awards. I had seen the film with my family on opening night. At the end of the film, as the audience stood to stroll into the lobby and out of the building, women sniffled and men breathed through their noses, some trying to hide the fact that they were crying, others angry and annoyed that their girlfriends had so easily talked them into seeing such an appalling piece of shit.

I followed my family out of the theater, baffled, unable to comprehend or understand how people had so blatantly submitted to such a manipulative film. Even as a fifteen-year-old kid, I smelled the horseshit Zemeckis and company peddled, and I was disgusted and offended that so many people—an entire fucking auditorium—had eaten that shit with smiles on their faces.

###

About Lee’s house:

The entire upstairs had recently been remodeled and converted into one large bedroom. Lee and his brothers—one younger, one older—shared it. His brothers were gone and his parents were in their bedroom—his parents were always in their bedroom—and Lee, Ray, and I sat on the couch upstairs trying to assemble a bong made out of a 20- ounce plastic Pepsi bottle. After he’d delivered our ‘pizza,’ Juan had told us how to build a bong. We’d asked him to roll us a few joints but he had no zigzags, so we were forced to fend for ourselves.

With half-assed recollections of his instructions, the three of us sat around on the couch watching as the other tried his hand at building the bong. The contraption was a relatively easy machine to construct, but the filtering system stumped us. We 69’ed two bottle caps and glued them together, then we drilled a hole through them and screwed our Frankenstein lid onto the bottle. That innovation filled us with pride. It was, we thought, revolutionary; here was a homemade bong slapped together by three newcomers, and it was, we thought, although we didn’t really know, as good as any bong—homemade or store bought.

With the bong built, we broke up the bud—as Juan had instructed us to do—and stuffed it in the lid, but someone, I don’t remember who, stopped the fun and prolonged our anticipation by suggesting that we needed some kind of filter to insert between the bud and the bottle caps. This freaked us out for a minute, but it was resolved when Ray suggested that we cut a small circle from a window screen and use that as a filter. This, we agreed, was the perfect solution.

###

I’d bought my father a copy of the Forrest Gump soundtrack for his birthday. Even though the movie was atrocious, purchasing the soundtrack was a sound decision because my father was a baby boomer who’d turned twenty-one during the summer of love, and music from his youth filled the soundtrack, music he loved.

I came from a poor family and, even though this was the mid 90’s, no one in the house could afford a CD player, or CDs, so when I bought the Forrest Gump soundtrack, I bought it on cassette.

My father had listened to it once or twice before loaning it to me. But I was young and, I thought, hip and intelligent, and I wanted nothing to do with hippy music. Hippy music was, I thought, full of bullshit slogans and crybaby chants. I wanted real music, music that spoke to me. I wanted grunge.

###

I’d long been obsessed with the notion of getting fucked up. I’d been drinking since I was twelve, and I’d huffed gas on more than one occasion, infrequently but more frequently than any sane person should, since I was ten years old. To me, when I was younger, the notion of getting trashed was a foreign one. I remember as a kid hearing a news report about a man who’d gotten drunk and did this thing or committed that crime and I wondered what it was like to get drunk. More often than not, people accused of vicious crimes while under the influence play the blackout card and claim to have little to no memory of the atrocities of which they are accused. This thought intrigued me. Did one, while drunk or stoned, simply cease to exist? Did he or she become a different person? I tested this theory first with gas, then with booze, but neither put me in the state of mind I’d hoped they’d put me in. I was looking for a chemical or a concoction to send me into another state of mind. I was looking for a reaction that would eliminate the Daulton I was because I wanted to know the Daulton those chemicals or concoctions unleashed. So I tried gasoline and I tried alcohol, but neither offered the solution I wanted.

Pot was, in a way, for me at least, a last ditch effort. Gas and booze didn’t stifle the old Daulton, but, I’d hoped, perhaps marijuana would provide me with the relief I so desperately wanted.

###

I so desperately wanted to stifle that Daulton because he was a geeky neurotic who usually had things figured out before others kids. This, he often thought, made him a drag, and he wanted nothing more than to be able to shut off his brain and partake in the kind of fun kids his age were supposed to have.

###

That, I know, was a long-winded way of saying I was too smart for my own good.

###

This, I know, is a long-winded way of talking about Kerouac. But trust me: I’m getting there.

###

So anyway:

Seeking out and scoring pot was my idea, so I took the first hit.

I coughed and choked. It tasted strange—pot is the only thing I can think of that tastes exactly like it smells, if that makes any sense—and it burned my lungs and tickled and scratched my throat.

Lee and Ray laughed as I coughed and choked and fought through hit after hit. Then I passed the bong around and laughed as they in turn coughed and choked and fought through hit after hit.

The high kicked in before we finished the bowl. It came on fast and I hadn’t recognized it until I started laughing. I started laughing because the world became hazy yet perfectly clear. I diagnosed this peculiar ailment when, taking another hit, passing the bong back to Lee, I turned my head, slightly, and noticed that my eyes moved slower than my head, and that my brain moved slower than both my eyes and my head. This, I thought, was strange. Something was wrong. So, eyeballing the carpet, I craned my neck and swung my head to the right. The same thing occurred: the world slowed and pumped fog into the room; yet everything moved as it always had and the room was clear and free of fog. So I laughed. And laughed. And laughed. Soon, Ray and Lee were laughing at me, and then we all laughed for reasons none of us understood.

###

Here’s the thing about being a disillusioned young cynic:

You always want to get fucked up; you seek out ways of becoming another you. Everything you do is a means to that end. Young freaks either become burnouts or writers or painters or filmmakers or musicians. The techniques may vary but the results, the intentions, are always the same: to eliminate the part of you the public reproaches and to become a newer, better you. To simply express oneself isn’t a valid reason to explore drugs or art or sex. Expressing oneself is easy, and, superficially, it does exist; read poetry or prose written by teenage freaks and you’ll find plenty of self-expression; but the thread running through all such writings is a desire to become someone else; not to become normal, whatever the fuck that means, but to become a heightened, slightly exaggerated version of you—a version of you accepted by society. That, I think, is the goal. Certainly it was my goal. I was a dark kid. My mind leaned toward thoughts of death and decadence. That is simply who I became, how I developed.

In short: I was looking for a way out.

Hence the gasoline and alcohol. Hence the marijuana and, later, the literature.

###

Suffice it to say:

We got fucked up that night.

We giggled and cackled our way through another bong load, and then I headed home. It was late and Lee’s parents rarely allowed his friends to stay too late, so Ray and I hit the road, so to speak, before offering Lee’s parents the opportunity to kick us out—even though they stayed in their bedroom most of the time, Lee’s parents had a preternatural instinct for determining who was in the house, and they always managed to sneak upstairs and surprise us.

So Ray and I sat on his front porch, cackling and staring at the ground, trying to stifle our mania. Ray couldn’t take it, the waiting, the giggled, so he went inside and hid in his bedroom. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was an ailment that would afflict us all, some more frequently than others, over the coming years: we’d smoke pot and hide in our rooms to enjoy the euphoria alone—though not always: I have plenty of stories about being young and fucked up and living dangerously, but that is not the point of this little number.

###

Kerouac is the point.

###

So I suppose now is as good a time as any to explain how I discovered Kerouac, and how he gave birth to my love of literature.

###

But first:

I’ve got to finish the Forrest Gump thread.

###

If you’re still reading this and sighing, thinking, “Fuck, man, get on with it already, for fuck’s sake. Fuck. Fuckity fuck fuck fuck,” fear not: the Kerouac thread eventually intersects with the Forrest Gump thread.

###

So shut up already, you damn impatient bastard.

###

Christ. Attention spans are an increasingly rare commodity these days. If a man or woman, adult or child, isn’t delivered the point now now now and on a fucking silver platter with cardboard signs attached to the sides portraying giant fucking arrows gesturing to the point of any given film or book or poem or article, people don’t want it. Most people would rather gag on the spoon feeding them than enjoy the fruits of the labor—if I may use such an ugly cliche, a phrase that hits the ear with a thud.

###

But anyway:

###

Here I am bitching about peoples’ attention spans while my attention is seemingly all over the map.

###

So … as I was saying:

###

But anyway:

###

I left Ray’s house after he went inside and stumbled to my house and somehow made it into my bedroom without having to sneak past my parents. The thought of trying to communicate with them and pretend that I was a-okay had troubled me, and nearly killed my buzz, but when I reach my bedroom, unnoticed, I flopped onto my bed and closed my eyes and dug the high.

At first the sensations were intense, and somewhat nauseating: a million pinpricks seized my arms and back, as though I’d been groped by a four-armed monster whose arms were made out of acupuncture needles. The pinpricks massaged me, then they pulled me back, back, back, and it felt as if I were flying through a tunnel.

The sensations amazed me. I’d never felt or even conceived such sensations. Occasionally they made me laugh. More often than not, however, they sucked me into a void so fully and completely devoid of thought that I simply hovered over the mattress, consumed by the drugs devouring me.

But soon the void cracked, and I instinctively understood that there was only one way to fill that crack. Music. Music, I knew, was the calk used to erase cracks in euphoric, marijuana voids. How did I know this? I didn’t know. I only knew that it was the most sensible and obvious solution to my problem.

So I rolled onto my side and reached for the boombox beside my bed. My head still hollow and floating toward the ceiling. I turned on the boombox and slammed the play button on the cassette deck. Grunge music blasted from the speakers. It was loud and metallic and disturbing. So I popped out the cassette and, rushing, looked through my box o’ tapes, as I called it, and couldn’t find anything comforting or soothing. Then I found it. I found that goddamn Forrest Gump soundtrack. Dad had loaned me, and I more or less shuffled it away. Only it wasn’t so god-damnable now that I was stoned. I suspected the soundtrack, something I’d balked at for weeks, would prove to be the ultimate in weed-void repairs.

Most of the music on those cassettes was as I’d expected: lame hippy shit.

But the songs were mellow and sonic and sent my head into orbit, so the tape stayed in the deck.

Then the song began, a song that would change my life: Break on Through by The Doors. My body jolted as the rhythm pulsed and Jim Morrison’s crooning shouts leaped from the speakers and into my ears. The song sent me into the atmosphere, into the stratosphere, across the galaxy and back again. As soon as it ended, I rewound the tape and listened to it again. And again. And again. I listened to that song until my high wore off. And then I listened to it again.

###

I was desperate to hear more music by the,, so I rummaged through my father’s cassettes, but he didn’t have any tapes by The Doors. Still desperate, and forever broke, I looked in an old cabinet long abandoned by the family. The cabinet, a large wooden box with midget morrisonlegs and sliding doors, housed my parent’s respective LP collections. I dug through the hundreds of LPs and set a few aside, albums by Hendrix, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, and then, digging through the final dozen or so, I hit it big: among my father’s albums I found not one, not two, but four Doors LPs: their self-titled debut, the Soft Parade, LA Woman, and Other Voices.

###

Other Voices was crap. It was a post-Morrison catastrophe that I won’t even bother to get into here, but the other albums, oh, the other albums had a permanent effect on me. Here were collections of songs running the gamut from enigmatic—The Crystal Ship, Riders on the Storm—to dark, brooding tours de force—The End, LA Woman, The Changeling.

I listened to those albums over and over, both sober and stoned. While stoned, they affected me psychically; I could feel my brain turning, my thought processes stretching, adhering to the band’s rhythms, copying and retaining Morrison’s imagery and poetics.

###

At this point in the narrative, I’m sure you’re yelling, saying, “Get the fuck on with it, dickwad. How the fuck did we get onto The Doors, for fuck’s sake? I thought this thing was supposed to be about Jack Kerouac. We’re already more than halfway through this story[3] and you still haven’t hit on Kerouac.” To which I will respond: “My newfound love and passion for The Doors and Jim Morrison led me to attempt to read my first book, No One Here Gets Out Alive, a biography of Jim Morrison by Jerry Hopkins and Danny Sugerman.”

In the book, as it detailed young Morrison’s development, it traced his literary influences and detailed how the young Morrison responded to each book and author he devoured. Of these books, one stuck out. It was On the Road by Jack Kerouac—a book I’d never heard of by an author whose surname the fifteen-year-old Daulton didn’t know how to pronounce.

According to Hopkins and Sugerman, Morrison consumed On the Road vociferously, and even took to imitating Dean Moriarty, even down to his cackle.

###

This, of course, intrigued me. So I abandoned No One Here Gets Out Alive—to this day that book remains mostly unread, even though I still own that copy—and located my old library card—something virtually unused by me up to that point—and rushed to the local library and checked out the book. Although I’d read about it, I still wasn’t certain what it was about. I knew that it was about a man taking a road trip across the country, but I wasn’t familiar with Kerouac or his style, nor did I know that a man could have published what would become a monumental novel that is seemingly devoid of plot.

###

I had a surplus of free time because I’d recently dropped out of school for reasons I won’t explain other than to say that school was something others did while I was out getting fucked up. So I devoted much of my time to On the Road.

###

The opening of the novel failed to grab me. Even though this was my first exposure to literature and one of the first real books I tried to read outside of school, I somehow sensed that the first chapter felt hurried and wasn’t fleshed out. ontheroadCharacters’ names were dropped without context or introduction, and the prose flowed in an unusual cadence—it read less like ‘literature’ and more like oral storytelling. I now recognize that Kerouac’s voice in On the Road is closer to Homer than to Hemingway or to Fitzgerald. What Kerouac has in common with Homer is that both authors’ works are meant to be spoken and broken as the reader—also, in Kerouac’s case, the writer—breaks out into impromptu riffs. But then it felt slow, and I wasn’t certain where he, Sal Paradise, the narrator and Kerouac’s avatar, was taking me. Then Sal hit the road. He dared to dream and left, but his dream wasn’t well thought out. He’d intended to take Route Six across the country in a single bound, from New York to Denver to California, but his plans disintegrated and he was stranded beneath an awning hanging over an old gas station in the rain. His plans forced him to take a bus, and he lamented his stupidity. Then the actual road trip began, and this is where Kerouac won me over. As Sal comes into his own as a traveler, the prose switches gears from fragmented exposition to raw energetic proclamations. As Sal traveled and befriended fellow travelers and fell in love and found himself stuck in ruts working shitty jobs trying to get by, I felt what he felt, felt the raw, intense yearning for life, the desire to break the mold, to do something different, to dream, and not to give a fuck about what others—authority figures—thought about my dreams.

I grew increasingly excited as I plowed through the book. The energy of his prose seized me, filled me with dreams similar to Sal’s. I didn’t necessarily want to hit the road at first, but I did want to find myself. I wanted to find myself because, even then, I realized that I was nothing. I had little ambition. I’d always wanted to do something, to be something; at that time I’d dreamt of becoming a world-renowned comic book artist, but Kerouac and his lust for life, and the energy and excitement his prose exuded, changed that. No longer dreaming of becoming an illustrator, I wanted to become a writer. I wanted to live life according to my rules and to live to write about it, to stop living my life only to document what I’d already experienced.

###

1994 was the most crucial year in my life, and the number fifteen will forever inspire and haunt me. In that year, I lost my grandmother—the first person close to me to die—and developed a fear and obsession with death; I dropped out of school; I began to read and to write; I became an obsessive Kerouac and Jim Morrison freak; and I discovered the wonders of weed. Most of my friends were dropouts or naïve waifs like me, and on any given night you could find us roaming around town, shoplifting or spraying graffiti on walls, mugging other kids and doing whatever it took to score cash to buy some weed. We were always doing something, sometimes stupid and criminal, sometimes more or less innocent, and I’d developed an already-strong memory into a recording device. And when I had downtime—when I was home during the day or night in which my friends and I didn’t get together—I set down on paper, Kerouac-style, our life and crimes and adventures.

###

I read others in those days but I always came back to Kerouac. I read and re-read On the Road and soon discovered his other books—The Dharma Bums, Tristessa, Big Sur, Desolation Angels, Old Angel Midnight, Lonesome Traveler, to name a few—and devoured all of them, but none affected me the way On the Road affected me. His later novels lacked the energy and the desire to live that made On the Road the novel it is today. The novel still inspires because it is pure and inspired; it expressed more than any of his other works the pre-“King of the Beats[4]”-Kerouac’s unequivocal lust for life.

###

I tried to convince Lee and Ray to read Kerouac but they were more interested in getting stoned than reading, so our friendship devolved to thekerouac point where I couldn’t be around them unless I was stoned. We still had great times together, but I was quickly bouncing past them. I was devouring every book I could get my hands on; I was yearning, like Kerouac, to live, live, live. I didn’t want to sit around and smoke pot. I wanted to smoke pot, don’t get me wrong; I just wanted to go out and experience new things while I did it. I wanted to express my lust for life with as much energy as Kerouac had put into his prose.

###

My friend Bill Simmons[5], a kid my age but who was infinitely more experienced than me—he moved and acted and lived and even slightly resembled Neal Cassady, and I often expressed that in amazement—had come back to town after famously disappearing—Bill always disappeared in those days, sometimes for days, sometimes for months or even years, and when he came back he rarely talked about where he’d been or what he’d done.

Bill was, I knew, the moment he returned, my perfect ally: he was intelligent and always desperate to learn and do new things. So I turned him onto The Doors and I turned him onto Kerouac. He and I became best friends and we’d get stoned and read aloud from On the Road and daydream about leaving, about striking out on our own and living life as Kerouac and Cassady, Sal and Dean, had lived.

###

But something came up. As we aged and made plans to leave, something catastrophic always blew our way and derailed our plans.

###

In 1999, when Bill and I were twenty-years-old, we sat around talking one night and finally made definitive plans to leave. Stoned, we talked for hours, cramped in his tiny room listening to music, flipping through my beat-up, dog-eared copy of On the Road, and we dreamed.

###

I was smart enough, or fortunate enough, whatever the case may be, to have scribbled down some of Bill’s conversation that night, on old paper I still have. In addition to writing—sometimes shorthand—what he was saying, he and I typed out a pact and signed it, agreeing to leave that summer, to finally follow Kerouac’s lead—other than writing; to live, live, live.

###

“its adventure jus u & friends
sittin back cruisin radio blastin friends
lookin behind you watchin your back
jus go—s’pose it does work—s’pose
it is great & you’re afraid to go—imagine
the poetry—& I’m not sayin gone forever
just a bit—if we don’t like it—come
back—but what if we do like it? What
then (looking for atlas)

“my friend daulton the big shit talker
talkin shit all day (finds cigarette pack w/
roach in it, pink floyd playing in bckgrnd.) Aww
man. Aw man! Will you look at that (presents
roach; leaves) I’ll be back (seconds later;
enters) writin somethin good (pause) Hurry
up an write—I wanna talk to you

“I’m jus sayin you got u’r family
you can go home right? Feel like
I’m being dictated…listen…listen look man
Look u know what I did one time
I made a woman cum in my hands—
By convincing her she was somewhere else—
I wanna go—u wanna go—you’re scared—
I’m scared—but guess what (throws a
copy of On the Road) is that true or bullshit
is it—its true in his mind—he was
scared shitless—you’re a puss—not
a bitch—a puss—scared” (leaves)

###

July 15 1999
Bill & Daulton
On a search
To find the true
America

(signed)
I am still intoxicated
Bill Simmons
Daulton Dickey

2.23.99
(a.m.)

###

We never left.

###

I found these a few days ago and felt a flutter in my stomach as I read them. It’s been nearly a decade since Bill and I made that pact. In that decade a lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same. I sometimes wonder if I did Kerouac a disservice by doing as he said—devoting my life to writing—and not as he did—striking on out my own to find my life, to live by my rules.

###

It’s been years since I’ve read Kerouac, or really even thought about him. On the Road has been in the press lately because this year is the 50th anniversary of its publication. To commemorate its 50th year, Viking published a hardcover commemorative edition and finally released the unedited Scroll Version. So, inspired partly by my rediscovery of my pact ontheroadscrollwith Bill, I’ve decided to re-read Kerouac for the first time in at least seven years. I fell out of favor with Kerouac when I discovered Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Joyce, Lethem and Eggers and Chabon and Foster Wallace. To me, then, having read the masters of old and the current crop of future masters[6], Kerouac wasn’t all he was cracked up to be. His spontaneous prose method was, I thought, a waste of time and a squandering of the man’s natural talents. But now as I re-read On the Road, I remember who and where I was when I was fifteen, when I first discovered the book, what I thought and what I felt, and simultaneously, I feel that same sense of wonder, of energy and excitement, and even occasionally stop to wonder where my life would be now had Bill and I hit the road. Perhaps we would have failed and wound up back home a few days later. But what if we had succeeded?

###

Much hype has been given to On the Road over the years, and most of it centers on Dean Moriarty, and how Sal Paradise is simply running around to catch up with his model for a new American hero. As I read the book now, I realize that Dean Moriarty is, at least to me anyway, the least interesting character in the book.

At its heart, On the Road is a classic bildungsroman, a novel about a character, in this case Sal Paradise, coming into his own—spiritually, intellectually, morally. This isn’t a novel about a disparate group of wanderers searching for meaning in a post-war generation generally thought to be devoid of meaning; instead, it’s a novel about a man searching for a simpler life, learning to exist on his own merits and to appreciate the world around him, and to appreciate his place in it. Too, it’s about fun, about living as wild and varied a life as one can live in the time each of us has been allotted on this quivering wheel of meat conception—if I may plagiarize a Kerouac phrase.

###

The novel won’t change me now as it once did, but it has renewed my appreciation for Kerouac, and it’s renewed my appreciation for my own squandered youth. Every decision I made back then was a bad decision. And for years I’ve dismissed everything I did. Back then, to me, the present meant everything. I didn’t look to the future or consider consequences. I lived for the moment. Inspired by Kerouac, I wanted to hear, taste, and see it all, and while fear and inhibitions prevented me from truly hearing, tasting, and seeing it all, I realize now that the things I missed out on aren’t relevant; only the things I did—for good or ill—matter. Back then, of course, this was a moot point to me. I lived in the moment because the moment was all I had; my future was, as it is with every teenager, an abstraction. But now that the future is here, and now that I look back at my teenage years, as seen, finally, through the lenses of Kerouac’s On the Road, I’m not as ashamed as I should be. So I owe my passion for literature and my desire to write to Kerouac, and it is for that, if nothing else, that I am thankful.

[1] All names have been changed to protect the innocent.

[2] Although non-fiction, it should go without saying that all dialogue is simply an approximation of what was actually said. These are old memories and some of them are hazy. I’m doing the best I can, folks.

[3] This story. There will be others. Consider this the first chapter of a memoir in literature, of sorts.

[4] A title Kerouac hated.

[5] Name also changed.

[6] Perhaps. At least one of the latter four will be remembered as such. Maybe not a master, per se, but an author of classic proportions.

Book Review: Primordial: An Abstraction—D. Harlan Wilson

by
Daulton Dickey.

Primordial: An Abstraction
by D. Harlan Wilson
Anti-Oedipus Press • September 3, 2014
Paperback: 167 pages • 5×8 • $13.95 • ISBN 978-0-9892391-5-8

In “Giles Goat-Boy” (1966), John Barth used universities and academia as the launching pad for an allegory of the cold war. Written in the style of a hero’s journey, and injected with liberal doses of absurdity, Barth’s story stomped across and skewered the cultural expectations, and evaluation, of academic and university life—which in his case doubled as the factionalism and jingoism of competing ideological and military powers.

Where Barth’s novel was a comic, absurd, metafictional romp through a city-sized university, author D. Harlan Wilson’s “Primordial: An Abstraction” is a more visceral—though equally absurd and darkly funny—evisceration of academia and college life, and the strangeness of life in general. It is unrelenting in its absurdity, it’s vitriol, it’s energyprimordialfront—and it’s also a meditation on the redundancies of life, of academia, and of intellectual and individualistic pursuits.

“Repetition is just as good as karma,” the narrator tells us. “Once you embrace it, once you ingest it—you’re bound to wallow in it.” (Wilson: 151)

The story is relayed in the first person by an unnamed professor and academic whose Ph.D. has been revoked. He had been “practicing a questionable mode of pedagogy […] writing a toxic strain of theory.” (Wilson: 11) Without his degree, without his work, he has admittedly lost his identity, so he must return to university to regain both.

This is the coil around which the story is wound, and from it springs humor, farce, and social and cultural commentary, and even brief didactic and philosophical asides. It is a short, minimalist novel told in deceptively simple yet beautifully rendered and subtly complex prose.

From his tyrannical control of his roommates, to his dismissal of his professors, the narrator flows from one facet of college life to the next. But this isn’t your average novel, and it’s not a detailed account of the ins-and-outs of college life. Instead, it is, in a way, an evisceration of academia-as-bureaucracy.

It’s also a book willing to take jabs at boring or uninterested—probably tenured—professors. And it takes a few pot shots at the sexually promiscuous culture, too, in which the students at this university forego casual sex in lieu of making pornos—in the library, the cafeteria, everywhere; a logical progression of sex obsessed, and sexually explicit, youth culture.

“Primordial: An Abstraction” is, in some ways, a Kafkaesque jab at bureaucracy where the acquisition of knowledge, even trivia, becomes the narrator’s castle. Through inquiring about details of his courses and his curriculum, the narrator is confronted with confusion and scorn without getting the answers he requires. Like Kafka’s doomed K., the narrator here can’t even get a straight answer when seeking trivia, in this case about a long dead pop star:

I say, “Did Mama Cass really choke to death on a hamburger?”

The grad student looks at the Professor. The Professor looks at the Dean. The Dean looks at another Dean. The other Dean looks at another Dean. That Dean looks at the Provost. The Provost looks at the President. The President looks at his mom.

His mom shrugs.

I say, “Well what good are you people? What good is any of this?” I gesticulate at the University. (Wilson: 94)

One subtext that sticks out is the juxtaposition of violence and academia, as if Wilson—or the narrator—is lobbing complaints against the diminished cultural stature of intellectualism and academia in favor of violence and war. The violence is also what you might expect when you force a brute—whether it’s a homo sapien or a simian—into a rationalized, institutional setting.

But in “Primordial: An Abstraction,” the violence largely springs from the once-and-future academic himself: the unnamed narrator. Muscular, he can bench 300 pounds, and he sticks to strict exercise and dietary habits. He also possesses the temper of a banshee on meth.

In many ways, he’s like a cross between Raoul Duke, Henry Rollins, and Jacques Lacan. He possesses a fiery intellect and an inability to refrain from ridiculing—or even assaulting—those he feels worthy. He is, in a sense, the muscular, short-tempered incarnation of Ignatius J. Reilly—if Sam Peckinpah had directed an adaptation of “A Confederacy of Dunces.”

But despite its aggression, the book is funny, with dialogue veering into Marx Brothers, Monty Python, and Donald Barthelme-esque territory—but devoid of puns or other cheap humor. It’s farcical but not whimsical or—the dread of all dreads—zany. It’s funny the way Hunter S. Thompson was funny: vicious, cruel, aggressive. But this book possess the spirit of farce absent fdharlanwilsonrom the works of a writer like Thompson.

Also, like the works of a writer like Thompson, or even Anthony Burgess, much of the humor is born out of a combination of the situation and the character of the narrator himself:

Sometimes, when I am revising my manuscripts, I forget to breath. My roommates have to remind me. I don’t like it. I don’t like them to talk at all. But they see my face go red and then gray and finally purple and despite how much they hate me they can’t shoulder the burden of my potential death. Stockholm Syndrome.

Some of them enjoy it when I flog them.

One of them asks for it.

I don’t enjoy flogging people. Not for any reason. But the Law is the Law and somebody must uphold it.

I use a cat o’ nine tails that I purchased as a Boy Scout. I can’t remember where I purchased it. But I had my uniform on when I gave the cashier my bills and coins.

I never stop flogging my roommates until I draw blood and they are sufficiently terrorized, i.e., happy. (Wilson: 73)

School life and the rigors of academic pursuits are presented vaguely—an abstraction. Work is never mentioned in detail. Classes are never mentioned in detail. This vagueness is possibly a commentary on the routine—the redundancy—of college life; or, perhaps the narrator is too narcissistic or solipsistic to dwell on anything other than himself: this is a fiercely subjective narrative.

Classrooms, although presented vaguely, are still presented as farcical—where the farce is the product of the narrator’s aggressive personality and the professors’ tired routines. He beats and bullies teachers, he dismisses or bullies students; and when he gets on with students, he ignores everything around him in lieu of conversation, even if it disrupts class. Also throughout the novel, there’s an underlying shot at the state of the hierarchy of modern, corporate-influenced universities.

In the hands of a lesser writer, a book like this might be bloated and long winded and tangential. But in Wilson’s hands, it’s navigated brilliantly and smoothly by Wilson’s mastery of the craft and his sparse, concise prose.

None of the faculty retire. They work until they die, often in the middle of lectures, barely able to articulate a coherent sentence or even stand up straight.

Administrators typically retire after two or three years, at which point they generally become fulltime Rotarians, spend more time on the golf course and the tennis court, and live forever.

This is not the case with the President, Provost, and several other kakistocrats.

They never retire.

They remain in office until somebody shoots them and claims their thrones.

I don’t know what happens to the staff. They lack one of two vital ontological components: the power of capital or the awareness of intelligence. Hence nobody at the University cares about them. (Wilson: 130)

Through its jabs at university life, through its invocations of violence, through its didactic tangents, brief as they may be, something close to humanity punches through every now and then, and the narrator is cast as more than an aggressive bully.

At its core, the novel is an existential examination of life, knowledge, and the pursuit of what once seemed graspable. Memories pop into the narrator’s mind, and they tend to show him as vulnerable, naive, uncertain. On the rare occasion he lets down his guard, he reveals himself as confused and as vulnerable as everyone else. “I write because I’m weak!” he shouts at one point.

And though, like K. in Kafka’s “The Castle,” or like George Giles in Barth’s magnum opus, the narrator continues to pursue a goal not likely attainable, and although his anger and aggression more often than not defines him, he continues his quest. For, in the end, the quest is all he has. It defines him. After losing his Ph.D., his identity, what does he have left?

“Most of adult life is spent discovering the mystery of how very little you matter,” he says early in the novel. And it’s a profound line smuggled into a fierce, aggressive, and philosophical gem of a novel, which is one of the best books of the year.

Click here to buy the book (and you should buy it here; this is an indie publisher; support them directly)

The Role of Expectations in Kafka’s “A Country Doctor”

by
Daulton Dickey.

“I was in great perplexity”—or so the narrator of “A Country Doctor” tells us at the start of the story. On the road to visiting a patient, with a gig and without horses, his perplexity is understandable. He is a doctor, after all, and he is in need of transportation to visit a potentially sick patient. 

The story, it is worth noting, is written in the past tense, so the narrator is recounting these events from a vantage point sometime after the events he describes. It is possible that the opening statement—”I was in great perplexity”—is an expression of his state at the time the story begins; however, it’s also possible that the statement is an expression of something we would now call existential angst. 

From where does this “existential angst” spring? The nature of roles and the perception of roles might supply an answer.

As frameworks for viewing the concept and consequences of roles, we can appeal to two thinkers: the sociologist Charles Horton Cooley and the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. Cooley, working in the early decades of the twentieth century, posited what he called “the looking glass self.” Briefly, the looking glass self is a theory suggesting that our personalities are derived from how we perceive others perceive us. As Cooley once remarked, “I am not what I think I am and I am not what you think I am; I am what I think that you think I am.” (Hood :72)             

In his philosophical treatise Tractatus-Logico-Philosophicus, the Austrian philosopher kafkaLudwig Wittgenstein delineated an ontology that might be useful in viewing the concept of roles objectively. In the Tractacus, Wittgenstein distinguished between things in the universe and the language we used to describe those things, arguing that the language used to describe a thing does not equal the thing itself. To put it simply, the word “matter” is not a component of the thing it is meant to signify; instead, it is a picture of that thing, distinct from it.

We, each of us, play roles. Life is a series of theatrical stages onto which we are thrust, and the roles we play depend on the situation and on the audience, so to speak. Anecdotally, I am different in isolation than I am at work, as I interact with other people. Using “me in isolation” as a baseline, then we can say that I am different at work and different still around friends. Given the situation, given the people with whom I am surrounded, my personality shifts from situation to situation. 

This phenomenon is not unique to me. It occurs to each of us. How we encode and retrieve memories, how we select information, how we spin information to loosen the tension of cognitive dissonance too often blinds us from these situational-personality shifts.

Anticipating Cooley’s “Looking Glass Self” theory, the poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau once encouraged us to embrace the way the public reproached us because, he claimed, their reproaches came closer to signifying who we really are.

In “A Country Doctor” we find several roles cast, and too often we find expectations met and affirmed, by either the people cast in those roles or the people casting those roles.

Having kicked open an uninhabited pigsty, the country doctor discovers a man inside. The man crawls out on all fours—animal-like—and asks, “Shall I yoke up?” (Kafka: 220) This behavior might be a joke, it might be a gag, but to a man in search of a horse, and to man living in a pigsty, it is an interesting pun on roles.

Expectations of roles play a part in this scenario as well. A few minutes later, when this man is helping to yoke real horses, he lashes out and bites the doctor’s servant girl on the cheek, leaving visible teeth marks. The role he had earlier cast himself in, and the role the doctor might have unconsciously cast, brought about subhuman behavior from a man living like—and joking about being—an animal.

We are who we think other people think we are—if this proposition holds true, then it can help shed light on the man’s behavior, on why he bit the servant girl: he was playing a role, that of a horse, and he was performing as he, or others, might expect him to perform.

Calling on Wittgenstein’s ontology, let us distinguish how things are from the language we use to describe them. For the sake of argument, let us presuppose that this story is true. Now consider the following: seeing a man living in a pigsty, crawling around like an animal, how would you expect A-country-doctor-by-Franz-Kafka-213x300him to behave: like a civilized dandy or like an animal? Assume the latter. Then assume that he picked up on your expectation: now how would you expect him to behave?

Before the man joked about yoking up, before the man bit the woman, he saw the doctor and the doctor’s serving girl. In a class system, a man living in a pigsty undoubtedly underwent social and culture training inculcating subservience to a person of a higher class—even if it is a doctor. It is possible that the man recognized this, and it is possible that it offered another role for him to perform: servant. So, “of his own free will” (Kafka: 220), the man assisted the doctor and the servant girl in yoking the horses.

The language you use to describe people, even if the language you use is nothing more than body language, even if the difference is perceived class differences, can affect how a person behaves.

On biting the servant girl, the man reverts again to his role as animal when it is implied that he is going to possibly rape the servant girl, who runs into the house and locks the door. The man smacks the doctor’s horses, and the horses race away as the man broke down the door to the house and bolted inside.

We are, each of us, a looking glass. The language we use to describe ourselves does not necessarily reflect our personality or behavior. The language other people use, or, specifically, the language we think they use, can and does affect our personality or behavior.

We can find evidence for this, within the context of Kafka’s story, if we jump ahead in the narrative.

Having arrived at his patient’s house, the doctor is rushed inside by the patient’s family. Lying in bed, the patient says, “Doctor, let me die.” (Kafka:221) The patient’s family doesn’t hear his plea; instead, they watch intently, expecting the doctor to heal their son and brother.

The doctor’s role is one in which he cast himself, but his expectations of this role differ from the expectations of those who do not belong to the medical profession. Here, the patient himself has peculiar expectations for the doctor: by pleading with the doctor to let him die, the patient seems to presuppose that the doctor can save his life—which may or may not be the case.

Yet the doctor has cast himself in another role as well, that of master and protector of the servant girl. While he prepares to attend to the patient, his role as master and protector occupies him, and he contemplates fleeing to save his servant from the clutches of the animal-like man.

We each play roles. Roles dominate our lives. In every second of every day, we play roles, we perform. Do these roles, do these performances, lead to existential angst?

To answer this, we can appeal to the philosophical movement known as existentialism, which in its reduced form makes the following claim: “meaning” is a human construct; it is not a thing that exists independently of human beings; and in lieu of latching onto meaning that exists outside of us, we are free to make our own meaning.

To the country doctor, this triggers an interesting question: what does hkafka complete storiesis role mean, a role perceived by himself and others?

The townsfolk view the role of doctor as almost superhuman, or mystical–or magical. Having surrounded the doctor and stripped off his clothes, they sang, “Strip his clothes off, then he’ll heal us,/ If he doesn’t, kill him dead!/ Only a doctor, only a doctor.” (Kafka: 224)

The role the townsfolk cast is unrealistic, as unrealistic as the role the patient himself cast when he implored the doctor to let him, the patient, die. It is the case such that a doctor might cure people, or at least ease their suffering. This, however, doesn’t necessarily translate to the doctor as the hinge on which life and death always turns. In some cases, it is possible that a doctor can cure or heal someone. It is not the case, however, that, in all cases, a doctor is able to cure or heal someone. Yet these townsfolk seem to assume the latter. Punish the doctor, say, if he does not give us what we want, if he does not fulfill the role he is expected to play, which is the role of superhuman healer.

This is a role he cannot play, this is a role he does not want to play—the situation created for him has spoiled his role as doctor, and now he wants to finish his business so he can escape. However, he must finish meeting with his patient, who is cast in a role of his own: miser.

To illustrate this, pay attention to how the patient behaves when he finally has the doctor’s attention:

“‘Do you know,’ said a voice in my ear, ‘I have very little confidence in you. Why, you were only blown in here, you didn’t come on your own feet. Instead of helping me, you’re cramping me in my deathbed. What I’d like best is to scratch your eyes out.’ ‘Right,’ I said, ‘it is a shame. And yet I am a doctor. What am I to do? Believe me, it is not too easy for me, either.’ ‘Am I supposed to be content with this apology? Oh, I must be, I can’t help it. I always have to put up with things. A fine wound is all I brought into the world; that is my sole endowment.'” (Kafka: 224)

A sense of duty compelled the doctor to visit the patient, duty derived from his role as a doctor. The threats of the townsfolk keeps him by the beside, despite the threats from his patient, despite his patient’s lack of interest in living. The role the doctor plays is as both author of his circumstances and victim of his circumstances, and the expectations he has of himself, and that others thrust onto him, transform his looking glass into a magnifying glass through which rays from the sun pelt and assault him.

His role has thrust him into this circumstance, the expectations others have of him have heightened his circumstance, and he cannot appeal to his role to save him. After all, as he told the patient, “I am a doctor. What am I to do?”

 

Bibliography

Kafka, Franz, The Complete Stories (Schocken Books, 1995)

Hood, Bruce, The Self Illusion: How the Social Brain Creates Identity (Oxford University Press, 2013)

Wittgenstein, Ludwig, Major Works: Selected Philosophical Writings (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2009)

Bertrand Russell—A Prose Poem

by
Daulton Dickey.

Soft tiled tissue of longing and regret shoot from the prism of circles folding inward from cackles distorting our eyes. Merry go rounds spurt with the juice of ten thousand angels martyred and hung and forced to spend the rest of eternity* spinning in endless circles. Through caves in the universe emerge miasmas of rock and salt, of thoughts brimming with annihilation, and through circles in time, through gaps, they slip in and devour the moment without expression.20140817-163629.jpg

Slurp slip sloop, the heavens cry as they distend and droop into the flowers and soil below. And the stench of honeydew permeates the air before flames disintegrate the spirit of neglect. The worlds in the silence of the motion of atoms hum and hem and haw and drum slowly the output of trillions of neurons and sketch flames into the canyons of organic machines too blind to notice the empty gazes in their reflections.

Where concrete and gold flow into the wombs of pregnant cultures, corruption creeps into the smiles of the machines, each of whom trade gold for reflections better suited to their images of hungry and explosive gazes. But nothing is ever complete, and grapes hang on vines and pop and bleed onto the ground; fire ants hatch from the cells of traipsing blood and scurry along the grass, trying to evade their inevitable rise. And sure enough: they do rise. Each ant shifts and evolves and transforms into musical notes and soars onto the tablature of the moment as it skips along the tremolo of the spinning planet.

And we’re left alone, deaf to the songs played by the wind and blind to the black holes devouring our reflections.
________

*’The rest of eternity’ is, of course, a pun: you cannot quantify that which does not end. Men have tried, and they’ve exalted in the fountains of their newly found neuroses.

[copyright 2014 Daulton Dickey]

Charles Blackstone: The Proust Questionnaire

by
Daulton Dickey.

The Proust Questionnaire is a notorious questionnaire meant to gain insight into a person’s psychological makeup. Although the writer Marcel Proust didn’t invent it, he is purported to have provided the greatest answers to it on two separate occasions, which is why it now bears his name.

The second subject to answer the Proust Questionnaire on Lost in the Funhouse is—drumroll please—Charles Blackstone.

Charles Blackstone is the author of Vintage Attraction, a novel, and the co-editor of The Art of Friction: Where (Non) Fictions Meet. His recent prosblackstonee has appeared in Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row Journal, Fiction Writers Review, and The Millions, Currently, he serves as managing editor of bookslut.com.

Visit his website at www.charlesblackstone.com

And if you want to follow him on Twitter (you should definitely follow him on Twitter. I mean, seriously, why wouldn’t you?) his handle is @cblackstone

1.What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I’m not really a fantasist. I’m pretty okay with real life.

2.What is your greatest fear?
Heights?

3.What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I can’t like what other people like.

4.What is the trait you most deplore in others?
Insincerity.

5.Which living person do you most admire?
Martha Stewart.

6.What is your greatest extravagance?
I eat out a lot.

7.What is your current state of mind?
C+.

8.What do you consider the most overrated virtue?
Smalltalk.

9.On what occasion do you lie?
Perennially.

10.What do you most dislike about your appearance?
My giant Jew nose.

11.Which living person do you most despise?
Too many to list.

12.What is the quality you most like in a man?
Giving a shit about me.

13.What is the quality you most like in a woman?
Giving a shit about me.

14.Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
Shit. Fuck. Ostensibly.

15.What or who is the greatest love of your life?
My pug.

16.When and where were you happiest?
Right now isn’t so bad.

17.Which talent would you most like to have?
I’d like to speak French.

18.If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Speak French.

19.What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I’ve made it this far.

20.If you were to die and come back as a person or a thing, what would it be?
A pug.

21.Where would you most like to live?Vintage-Attraction-front_WEB2
Here, in New York.

22.What is your most treasured possession?
My computer?

23.What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Mediocrity.

24.What is your favorite occupation?
People who know how to sell shit really well.

25.What is your most marked characteristic?
I don’t think I have one. You’d have to ask a marker.

26.What do you most value in your friends?
Authenticity.

27.Who are your favorite writers?
Cheever, Carver, McInerney

28.Who is your hero of fiction?
Celeste Price from Alissa Nutting’s Tampa

29.Which historical figure do you most identify with?
Kurt Cobain.

30.Who are your heroes in real life?
Martha Stewart.

31.What are your favorite names?
Hunter Flanagan, Peter Hapworth

32.What is it that you most dislike?
Food you have to process yourself, like peel-and-eat shrimp or shelled peanuts.

33.What is your greatest regret?
Not reading as a child.

34.How would you like to die?
Dramatically.

35.What is your motto?
In medias res.

Click here to read The Proust Questionnaire answered by author Jacopo Della Quercia.

Robin Williams and Suicide

People who say suicide is an act of cowardice or an act of weakness lack empathy. People who say that suicide is neither an escape nor a solution lack an understanding of the darker sensations experienced by human beings.

Suicide was the spring that released the tension coiled around the Thing devouring him.

Suicide isn’t a solution, it isn’t an escape—it’s more like a painkiller.

People who don’t suffer from suicidal depression can’t understand how thoroughly it devours you.

Hollowness and emptiness, grayness and death, ashes and isolation; nothing feels real yet everything feels hyper-real; everything is bleak and bad, destined only to get worse: these thoughts, these feelings, these emotions consume you until they become you. They soak through every fiber of your being.

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Every minute of everyday is a struggle to put off that overwhelming sensation to end it all, and to function. Every action that keeps you functioning is an act of resistance. Every action that keeps you functioning is a skirmish meant to overcome the urge to kill yourself.

A person suffering through this wages the battle on a second-by-second basis. But it takes its toll, and it wears some people out, and they become too exhausted; they can’t resist the overwhelming urge any longer.

We shouldn’t view suicide as cowardly—or ignoble. We should, instead, view it as the tragic culmination of years—sometimes decades—of a seemingly endless battle, the final bugle call screeching over the remains of an internal battlefield.

We shouldn’t pity or condemn him for how he ended his life. Instead, we should praise him for how long he managed to successfully wage his battle.