The American Book of the Dead: 07.04

Monday, July 26

Time Travel

Before I go on, I have to talk a little about time travel. People wonder if I am really from the year 2020. For the sake of argument, let’s say this story is being written by a writer in the year 2004. Even if this is true, could it not be possible that he is channeling information from the future? Those of you who think a time traveler needs a "machine" are still caught up in a Newtonian, materialist view of the universe. In the future--that is, my time--there has been an evolution of consciousness. Past experiments with remote viewing have touched on it. If someone can travel across the world and back inside their own mind, why could they not travel back or forward in time--it has nothing to do with black holes or the quantum foam--unless you agree that they are a form of consciousness.

I really don’t want to get too intellectual about the time travel story. So let’s say this is being written by someone in 2004--the younger version of myself. He is just starting to write a book. It will take him years to complete and only parts of it are true. Which is where I come in. I take this flawed young man’s rough draft and revise the shit out of it, a complicated form of self-criticism. He has no idea it’s happening because I am like a ghost. I am both a product of his imagination and a mentor. Nobody ever said inspiration could be defined.

So this blog is a form of possession. I am still sitting in the year 2020--the product of everyone I have ever been. I am sitting at a desk in 2004, a young man with a new daughter, trying to make ends meet. I am also a man of fifty, a professor, waiting out the apocalypse. I am also a man of indeterminate age feeling sagely and satisfied. A triumvirate of past, present, and future. A trinity even, but evoking the Bible can be both boring and overblown.

Am I really from the future? The short answer, Yes. I am really not interested in answering the debunkers. "See, he’s not real," I can hear them say. Debunkers deal in facts. They need pictures. It takes a devout sort of cynicism to always need proof. My story must take an act of faith.

Wednesday, July 21

Science Fiction

I’d always had thoughts about writing a science fiction novel. I had grown up on "Star Wars." My father was a novelist who wrote the occasional science fiction novel. His father was a lover of science fiction with an encyclopedic memory of everything he’d read. So it seemed inevitable that I should try my hand. My idea was to write a sci-fi novel with the scope of The Brothers Karamazov or Magic Mountain with the energy and lyricism of Kerouac or Henry Miller, the self-obsessed literalness of Thomas Wolfe. Remember, I started the novel when I was thirty and I still wanted to be a giant. I wanted to write science fiction novel that read like literature. Lofty goals better suited to a freshman in college but I still felt it was important to believe in certain kinds of elevation--beauty, truth, art, God. At this stage in my life, writing was my only religion.

My feeling was that the giants of science fiction were generally bad writers. Asimov, Clarke, even, I’m sorry, Philip K. Dick. You can’t write complete thoughts on speed. I thought it would be interesting for a traditional novelist to try his hand at the genre.

I was trying to infiltrate an entire genre. I was never a science geek. I had never read all the science fiction I could. I hoped this gave me a better perspective. First, though, the plot of the novel I was proposing. A writer, teaching at a university, through his research and imagination uncovers the secrets of the UFO conspiracy, secret societies,and life after death, all of which lead to World War III spearheaded by a fundamentalist Christian President. In short, everything that actually happened. Except I got the President’s name wrong.

I enjoyed writing the book more than any I had written in the past. It was coming easily which was always the best sign. A case of Platonic anamnesis: remembering something that had never been known but had always existed, plucking it out of the air.

There was some difficulty. As I’ve mentioned, a writer has to believe that what he is writing is true or else what would be the point. If so, what did it mean if I was writing about aliens and nuclear war? Everywhere I saw both the potential for God and the potential for apocalypse. I was believing UFOs were everywhere. I was believing in the imminence of war. I was believing that humanity was primitive, ignorant, past saving. It was a profoundly alienating experience. All in all I was not such a good man to be around.

They say the best time to write about something is when you have some distance from the subject. I was assigning myself the immortal task of being objective about something that was enveloping me. I kept going though. I felt like I might be on to something, an archetype maybe. At the very least, a good story. Little did I know that I was channeling these ideas. In the hierarchy of inspiration, channeling was somewhere below divine inspiration and somewhere above blind luck.

Next up: Meet President Charles Winchell…








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Sunday, July 18

UFO Research

After September 11, Stephanie and I fled New York. We moved to Willamette, South Carolina, on a whim. I always wanted to be a Southern writer and live in small town South. I quickly learned the obvious--that to be a Southern writer, you have to be Southern. My naivete can be amazing. The same could be said about my time in New York. I lived in New York for ten years trying to recreate the will of past writers, not realizing that we were living at the beginning of the future and not the continuation of the past.

Cut ahead to 2003. I was struggling to make ends meet. My daughter was just born, on the day John Coltrane died, among other things. My wife was working--supporting us--as a legal secretary. We fought daily, nightly, we woke the baby, made her cry, made us cry; there was crying. Terrible times and the punchline is that my wife was working for a divorce lawyer.

The lawyer’s name was Geoff Smith, a fat, Southern man. Mean and gracious at once, as if Truman Capote wasn’t gay. No real point in describing him, just giving you a glimpse…

So I struggled at home taking care of the beautiful 11 month old girl, Sophia Margaret. Trying hard to feel like a man. Most of all wanting to feel like a writer--one who believed that he was being overseen by writers from the past, a great harem of dead writers, saying, he’s our man. Extra-sensory pretension, of course, but that is what young writers must feed on or else wither in the doubts thrust on young, sensitive men--the feeling, sometimes, that every cell on earth is female…So I stayed home with the baby, taking care of her as best a man could. Why do I mention this? Because out of this environment came a new novel, and out of the novel came Other Things.

Call it paranoia, obsession, or revelation, but at this time I started thinking about some fringe subjects. I always had a faint interest in UFOs. I mean, doesn’t everybody? Turns out, no, which is why I kept reading. Emphasis on "reading" because I’d never seen a UFO. The more I read about the subject, the more I thought it was suspicious that no one took the subject seriously. There were far more sightings from credible people than hicks in their trailer backyard. The truly credible--scientists, astronomers, military--wouldn’t come forward for fear not only that they would be ridiculed, but fired. The story of UFO suppression was one of staid science once again triumphing over faith. A lot of scientific research has gone forward on a theory--that is, a lot less evidence than there was for UFOs. So there are no great pictures (as far as we know), so there’s no craft in the Smithsonian. It seemed to tragically undervalue people’s sense of perception that thousands of eyewitnesses could be discounted.

All in all, it was alarmingly suspicious that the subject had been pushed under the rug. Either the government debunkers had done their job thoroughly or all scientists are morons. Once again, a new, controversial, highly-ridiculed theory (see Galileo, Einstein, Stravinsky) comes along and the establishment is afraid of it.

The more I read about UFOs, the more I found it a fascinating, legitimate subject. What if they were real? It started to seem absurd that the subject had been banished to the tabloids. It was potentially the most exciting, spiritually uplifting discovery to ever hit mankind. And increasingly possible: when there are enough stars for every grain of sand on earth, when the earth is young at 4.5 billion years old, when an alien race could be a million years more evolved than the human race. Entire races of aliens could be invisible, sitting next to you right now. Everything was possible. Maybe they were a kind of expanded consciousness that we could only see as aliens and craft. The amazing story may have been not that UFOs were real, but that people didn’t believe in them. To me, they were like a God that’s provable.


Wednesday, July 14

September 11

I was lying when I said I wasn’t going to give any backstory. 2001. September 11. In a way, it started the rest of my life, all our lives. I was sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee in my right hand, watching the early morning news. I had spent the morning walking the dog around the neighborhood--I bought myself an egg sandwich and an orange juice, someone eagerly handed me an election flyer: I felt like I belonged to the timeless city. I was waiting on the couch to pick up my then-girlfriend (now-wife) who was arriving on the 9:00 train from Florida. I had forced her to leave because I thought I needed the space to write a novel. I wrote a hundred or so pages, all the while hard-up and lonely. Meanwhile she was living with an ex-boyfriend who had turned a cult member, a follower of the Falun Gong movement. I write these details because they don’t seem real exactly, rarely does my life seem interesting enough for fiction. Perhaps on that day, everybody had an equal story to tell.

On the couch: watching the "Today Show." Out of the corner of my eye a low-flying wavering plane, as if struggling.

Now--and this is important--this was a daydream I’d had before. Often sitting in my 3rd floor apartment with its rare view of the NY sky I would fantasize that a plane was flying too low. God, it’s going to crash, I would think, maybe even with a slightly drunken sense of hope--at least, then, my delusions would have some proof. Once I even heard an explosion, surprised to hear the next day that nothing happened. I knew every trajectory of planes in the sky. I hated planes. So when a plane was flying south as low as the buildings, I knew this was wrong. Something was about to be realized.

I didn’t run to the window. I didn’t want to see it crash. A Boom. I ran to the window. Oh no, I said out loud, rare for me, something people did in the movies. The World Trade Center was out our window to the left, twin overseers of our neighborhood. Imposing, thoughtful, indifferent, romantic: New York City buildings. They always seemed like a fiction, a white smoky haze about them, as if superimposed against the blue screen of the sky. They were just too tall.

A black smoking hole in building, jagged and fragmented. Many people must be dying in there. I went out on the fire escape to watch. Felt guilty, came back inside. Got my camera, took one picture which I still haven’t developed. Checked the news. Still interviewing somebody about a book. Another boom, a cloud of fire, and an excited shout of "Woe" from the Chinatown onlookers. They were shocked but entertained--not despicably, I suppose. Life is boring, uniform, and this was something different. It was even magical, in the sense of seeming both fake and uncommonly alive.

I had to leave to get to the train station. I hailed a cab--probably the last empty cab in New York for the next few days--and rode Uptown with a smiling Pakistani man who spoke with an embarrassed, maybe grateful, smile that this was probably an act of terrorism.

I tell this, as if it needs justifying, because it informed the rest of my life. Mainly, it influenced my life with my girlfriend, who became my wife. We almost immediately had a child, a September 11th baby, now called the Doomers. We then married, on Halloween--which in times of marital crisis is too ironic to consider. I also started thinking about more esoteric ideas--trying to find proof of God, rather than just a description. It might have to do with being a part of all that death. To be living a relatively mild life and then to be thrust into war was a profound experience. It made me feel empathetic with history--that is, part of the human race. Also I was part of something that was the beginning of the end of the world. Instinctively, I must have known it was coming.

The worst part of Sept. 11 for me--short of the tragedy--was seeing a nightmare actually come to life. The writer’s job is to believe in made-up stories as if they were true. If it wasn’t so, there would be no energy to write them. But this was something I’d imagined actually come to life--and if I believed in something I was writing, I was still protected by the feeling that I am God of my world and I can change it as I please, nothing is permanent. The God who writes the fiction of our lives was doing as he pleased that day. From that day forth I had the disturbing sense that some illusions may be real.

Monday, July 5

2004

I should start earlier than the present tense. I'll start with 2004, when I started writing about the End of the World. I was doing it as a kind of exercise--to purge my underlying but pervasive fear that we were heading towards the end.

We had a born-again Christian President, a Pentecostal Attorney General. These men believed in the Apocalypse and the Second Coming. They wanted it. Movies like "The Day After Tomorrow" were playing in the theatres. The Pentagon had released a report saying that a climate disaster was inevitable. People wanted Americans dead. The Mayans had predicted everything would dissolve by 2012. It was pretty obvious that something was around the corner.

In a way this blog will chronicle the novel that I wrote as a young man of 32. The novel that I eventually wrote would prove somewhat prophetic. Some people took it too seriously. What I hit on was a case of probabilities. Like I said, it was obvious that we were headed towards some kind of war. The whole UFO thing was just wishful thinking on my part. Little did I know that I was communicating with beings other than human. That might be every writer’s dream. I was on the intergalactic bestseller list. Sounds wishful, doesn’t it? Anyway, it happened.

Why not just post that novel instead? Because that book is going to be written by a man much different from myself. Remember, I’m living in 2020, after the Old World has fallen away. I have the luxury of objectivity--whereas the novel I wrote in my thirties was written under a cloud of a coming war. From my point of view, I can separate the real from the imagined.

Perhaps I should start earlier than 2004. 2001 is a better starting point. I told you this was going to get messy. Let's begin with September 11. The reason I started thinking about The End.

History

I know what you’re thinking. If this is such important information, why bother posting it incrementally. My answer is that I can only post it as fast as I can write it. I’m living right now, twenty years from now. It’s July 5, 2020. I apologize in advance--there’s bound to be some confusion with this whole set up.

Let’s just say this is written in hindsight. 20/20 hindsight. Believe me, if I make any attempt at humor I should be forgiven. I have lived through a time when violence was made a religion and God was dead. By the end of this book, you’ll forgive me a bad pun or two, no matter how prosaic. Fitzgerald claimed irony was dead in "The Beautiful and the Damned." If by dead, he meant reborn, he would have been more accurate, because the true age of irony didn’t eclipse and die for another ninety years. Somehow Fitzgerald was wrong about many things: no second acts in American lives? America was about to begin the biggest second act in the cosmos.

Another question--if this is so important, why post it at all? Shouldn’t you send it to the President? You must be asking that facetiously. I think you know that most people won’t believe me. Some will, and I hope to find some of you by sending this out into the world.

On with the story. What can I tell you about myself, the world? I have two options. Show you my weaknesses, my failures, and right when you’re about to hate me I’ll tell you why I’ve been led to act that way--the formula for every last nineteenth century novel. This formula just doesn’t apply anymore. By obliterating the world, humanity had also obliterated history. We had to start over. Though the death of art is as good a place as any to talk about the death of the world. When I was in my twenties, trying to struggle to be a writer, the 19th century was just one century away, lingering like a God behind us, a giant monkey on our backs- Dostoevsky, Brontes, Flaubert, a modern Bible. For my generation, the twentieth century was the monkey and a less imposing one. For all the war, technological breakthrough, etc. the century ended in an artistic fizzle. Regrettably, the 21st began with the same fizzle which never ended. It turns out that fizzle was the sound of a wick burning out before the great dynamic explosion of war. People had stopped trying, as if they were struck with some tragic premonition. It’s all going to die, why bother. A kind of rational apathy which is only undepressing in hindsight. Instead of a great economic depression leading up to a war, there was a great artistic depression leading up to the war, which is almost to the world’s credit--that art had any impact at all. The past masters seemed clued into a greater light, but with God dying there were less clues. And it turns out that the lack of good art is as bad a thing as poverty. It fucks with the basic ether.

So I’m not going to use the nineteenth century literary convention. I won’t even go as far back as Joyce. When we’re talking about the final destruction of the world, it seems a little vain, a kind of cheat, to play with literary convention. Basically, I’m not sure how to express myself to you in literary terms when the world had become such an unliterary place. All those classic writers were part of the paradise of the past--an innocence so distant and so unreal that they no longer have the weight of a memory, or even a dream. They may have the weight of a brochure. An advertisement for something that no longer exists.

They say that every generation romanticizes the one that came before it, unrealistically. But for us it really was the last decade. The world really did suck more than it ever had. Misanthropy wasn’t just a product of envy, condescension, vanity, and immaturity, but survival. While we lived in a world of rational apathy, we also lived in a world of rational cynicism, even a rational desire for the apocalypse. Armageddon was a form of ambition, an antidote. Play Arvo Part’s "Tabula Rasa" and you might see what I mean.

Yet, I have to admit, during those years leading up to the Big One there was something electric in the air. Impending doom can be exciting. Actual doom is something else. Like the difference between drug addiction and drug withdrawal.

I didn’t know we were close to the end either. I was still thinking about Dickens and Dostoevsky, Mozart and Beethoven, Lennon/McCartney, as if past achievements would somehow save us. They were proof, weren’t they, that the human race was worth saving? They were proof like DNA evidence is proof--irrefutable, perhaps, but invisible.

The point of this prelude is to suggest that backstory is not entirely necessary. The past was dead. While World War III wouldn’t have happened without WW I and II, or anything else that had ever happened, for that matter, it was a product of a different mindset from the past. If only history could repeat itself. If only we could go back to quaint little wars like World War II when only several million died, the earth survived, and there was still a lot of history to be lived in the future. Of course, I’m a writer and my ego’s at stake so I’ll probably get into it somewhat. I am also making the vain attempt to sum up the end of the world, as if my far-sighted eyes are the window in. I guess I’ve just summed up the limitless ego of the writer. Even in the face of genocide, he tries to make a case for the beautiful uniqueness of his life. But what choice did I have in the face of the Great Oppression--the death of God, science, love and hate--except to believe in myself.

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