Thomas Pynchon and His Friends

I made some friends. They took me to their house. It’s night and their home is decorated like a cabin I used to go to in my childhood, on Jordan Lake in Wisconsin. The living room and kitchen are one big open space, with a table in the center, a couch against the wall. Across from the couch, there are closed doors. Two rooms, the sleeping quarters. My new friends are smiling at me. They are the followers of Thomas Pynchon, and they grin at me like worried and over-excited clowns.

They are very glad I came with them. So very, very glad. Thomas will be so happy to meet me, they say. He loves to meet new friends. Then Thomas Pynchon comes through the door.

His arms are very long. Too long. They go down to his knees. He’s wearing a top hat and an overcoat—I’m reminded of Willie Wonka—and he’s smiling. His followers rush to greet him. There are four of them, two men and two women. They’re about my age, on their knees now, gazing up at Thomas Pynchon with wonder, adoration, awe in their eyes. He caresses the face of one, strokes the hair of another. “Hello, my friends,” Thomas Pynchon says. I think of Charles Manson and suddenly want to leave. Then Thomas Pynchon turns his face to me.

“Helloooo!” he says, reaching out to me, reaching across the living room with his arms. He clasps my shoulders. “I’m so glad you could join us, join our little family.” He’s leering at me, his teeth bared, his lips peeled back, trying to eke out every inch they can of this grin, sweat dotting his forehead. He starts to massage my shoulders with his gloved hands. He’s wearing white gloves. Like Bugs Bunny.

“I think I should go,” I say.

“Why would you do that?” Thomas Pynchon asks me, massaging my shoulders.

“Because I should go.” His followers start frowning at me. One of them, one of the women, a brunette, very pretty, a little younger than me, walks to the back of the house and goes out the door.

“You’ve made them upset,” Thomas Pynchon says, taking his hands off my shoulders.

“I know.”

“Of coooourse you do,” Thomas Pynchon says. He turns to his followers. “He wishes to leeeeave!”

“You can’t leave!”

“You mustn’t!

“But you’re already here!”

They plead with me to stay, still on their knees, their faces masks of anguish, their hands outstretched, imploring. Thomas Pynchon is still grinning.

“Can I go?” I ask.

“Well of coooourse you can go,” Thomas Pynchon says. “All you must do is walk to the door.” One of his followers, one of the men, starts weeping. I wonder why he did not say “walk through the door,” but inch my way around the group. Their eyes follow me every inch of the way. “Just walk to the door,” Thomas Pynchon tells me, but then the lights go out. The door is slightly ajar; lightning flashes outside. The followers begin to reach out, groping the air, but Thomas Pynchon’s still smiling at me. Instead of walking straight to the door, like I was going to, I walk in a wide arc, going along the west wall so I can see out the door before leaving. Lightning flashes again and I see a glint. The brunette is there, waiting for me just across the threshold. She’s holding a butcher knife, low, waiting to stab me and pull out my intestines.

I very quickly pull my t-shirt off over my hand and throw it at Thomas Pynchon, hitting him in the face, hiding his eyes and grin. The brunette staggers through the door like a zombie, knife low, ready. Thomas Pynchon grabs my t-shirt and holds it to his face in a vice-like grip. He starts laughing, his laughter thundering through the house, somehow laughing like he’s in pain. The brunette reaches one of the male followers; she stabs him, pulls out his intestines. I bolt through the door, hitting the humid air and sprinting northwest, for the woods. I hear the followers leap out the door after me, but they cannot see in the darkness; they turn south and east.

I find a road in the woods and run down it, only stopping when I see a rickety trailer house by a bend in the road lit by a string of Christmas lights and neon signs. I wonder if it’s a restaurant. I study it from my vantage point down the road. There’s a fat man sitting in a lawn chair out front, wearing a wife-beater and a baseball cap. There’s another man, a skinny one with grey-ish hair on the porch. They’re cackling at each other like extras from the movie Deliverance. I can hear Thomas Pynchon’s followers howling in the distance behind me, searching, searching. I decide to take my chances with the pair in front of me, to try to get some help.

“Excuse me,” I say, “can you help me out a bit?”

Ret ret ret ret ret!” yells the fat one, like a chainsaw. The other one speaks but only in vowels.

“I need some help,” I say. The howling behind me is getting louder.

Ret ret ret ret ret!”

“Could you please keep your voice down?”

The other one says something incomprehensible. It sounds like, “Da der deh di deh deh u au ieor row.”

“I just need—“

Ret ret ret ret ret!”

A cry of triumph behind me: the brunette has found me. The followers of Thomas Pynchon can see again.

I dash off the road, into the woods, leaving the pair of Appalachian hicks cackling at their fun, sprinting between trees, branches raking my chest and arms, falling, mud plastering my right side, pulling myself up, fleeing. I make it out of the woods and see a school, one of my old schools, Huffaker Elementary, in Reno, Nevada. But it’s night and this is not Reno. The followers of Thomas Pynchon are right behind me. I dash across the parking lot, down a short hill and run and run and run. I manage to evade them until dawn, when I make it back to my house. It’s made of red bricks, with a green lawn around it, for some reason reminding me of Oak Lawn. It looks nothing like my apartment in China, but I know it’s my house. I run to the back door, but when I open it there is a fiend on the other side of the threshold. He’s huge, towering over me, glaring. He reminds me of Gossamer, from the Bugs Bunny cartoon, except he has no hair, no arms, and his skin’s made of rubber.

“There you are!” cries Thomas Pynchon, relieved. I whirl around and he’s there, across the street, with his followers. “We’ve been looking all night and into the morning!”

They cross the street, worry lines etched deep into every one of their faces. I turn back to the fiend; he’s still burning hate at me with his eyes. I stagger a step away from him. He follows me into the backyard.

“OK … OK,” I say. I’m exhausted, out of breath.

“You had us so worried,” Thomas Pynchon says, rubbing his hands together, the hands on the ends of his very long arms.

“Alright,” I puff. “I just … need to ride on the roller coaster.”

“Well of course we know that,” Thomas Pynchon says. “We’re here to ride with you!”

I’m too tired to protest. Instead, I lumber over to the entrance to the cellar, pull back the doors, and there is the train of cars for the roller coaster. It sits two side-by-side, with four to a car, extending for five or six cars. I tumble into one of the middle cars. The fiend sits down next to me, on my right; Thomas Pynchon sits in front of me, a follower to his right. The others find seats in other cars.

The roller coaster takes off like a jet, zooming under the ground, lights flash by at periodic intervals, turning my vision into a black and white light show: black … white, black … white, black … then the roller coaster banks to the left, spiraling, spiraling down. Thomas Pynchon turns to face me. “We’re so glad you came to join us.” Faster and faster the roller coaster turns, like a centrifuge. “We’re so glad we found you.” The blood is draining from my head. Thomas Pynchon is grinning at me, the lights flashing his face in and out of the darkness: white, black, white, black; I can’t keep my head up; the force of the turn is making me lean to my right, onto the Fiend’s lap, so hard to keep my eyes open, my head up; Thomas Pynchon is humming a soft melody, my head falling on the fiend’s lap as the roller coaster spirals down into darkness.

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The Royal Road to Something

I had a very vivid, very strange dream last night, involving aspects of Bugs Bunny cartoons, a Charles-Manson-like cult, and one of my literary inspirations, Thomas Pynchon.  It was really weird.

I’ve been keeping a dream journal (very) on and off for the past few months, nudged to do so by a book I have on how to write more descriptively.  Description being very much one of my weaknesses, I figured what the hell; it couldn’t hurt, right?

All in all, I’ve been extremely terrible about it.  Which is why I’ve ostensibly been doing this for “months” but I only have seven dreams recorded, two of which happened in one night.  What happens most often is I’ll have a very intense dream, with very real images or sensations and I’ll delude myself into thinking they were so vivid that there’s no possible way I can forget it … until twenty minutes pass and it’s gone.

Anywho, I’ve decided, in an attempt to get myself more committed about this, to add a new section to the ol’ Brain Dump in which I chronicle my dreams.  After all, my dreams are part of my brain and I gotta dump ’em somewhere.  I do enjoy the exercise of writing them when I manage to actually put them down on paper.  It’s surprisingly difficult, trying to express all of the sensory input you experience during a dream (tastes, smells, emotions, weird details that hint at something from decades ago, setting, particular dialects, nonsense speech, dream logic that makes perfect sense to you (in the dream)). Dreams are jam-packed with data.

Now, let me be clear:  I loathe Sigmund Freud.  And I think psychoanalysis is little better than astrology.  I’m not doing this to try to work through my feelings or come to a deeper understanding of my psychology.  I think it’s fun to try to convey the sense of a dream, with all its complex minutiae, in words, and I think it’ll make me a better writer.

That said, I don’t think dreams are completely gobbledy-gook.  They are largely garbledy-gook, but they can highlight a particular anxiety in a general sense.  For instance, I’m a terrible procrastinator, and I often have dreams (much more common when I was in school) in which I’m attending a school, halfway through a semester, only to realize that I’ve been enrolled in Calculus this whole time and I’ve never once gone to class.  Oh and, wouldn’t you know it, it’s time for the first big exam.  I also have dreams (like my most recent one) in which I’m being chased or have to flee from something.  I mean, we all have these dreams, right?  The falling ones, the flying ones, the ones where we can’t escape, etc.  Is my Calculus dream related to my procrastination? … I won’t say no.  Does it reveal clues that I’m a latent homosexual? … Not so much.

The real question is: will I faithfully recount the first sex dream I have? Luckily the issue has not come up (if you will) in the few months I’ve been doing this, but we’ll kill that dad when we get to him.

Wait … what?

Me and the Literary Establishment

I got my second story workshopped in class last week. I turned in a heavily revised version of “A Rat Problem”–what I have since changed to just “Rat Problem.” Aaaaaaaand it filled the class with wonderful bewilderment–wonderful because they said my writing style was very strong and that I have a good sense of dialogue and action; bewildering because they had no idea what to make of the ending. A few of them got it, although they weren’t certain in the conclusions they had reached. So I got things to clarify …

My professor says I’m “afraid of character.” I told him there is a difference between being afraid of character and being much more interested in the systems that construct that character. This, evidently, is one of the last things you want to say to a literary fiction professor. I’m surprised he didn’t burn me at the stake.

It really brings into focus how much I need to break myself away from the “literary establishment,” for, if nothing else, my simple sanity. Part of me, naturally, really wants to be accepted in this incredibly exclusive club as they wield considerable cultural clout. But. The tradeoff is having to write very specific stories–stories that, frankly, do not interest me as an artist. Don’t get me wrong. The literary elite are very good at what they do, and I enjoy reading (some of) their stories. But I have other things to say.

When I think about this stuff, I like to remind myself of my two favorite authors: Thomas Pynchon and Kurt Vonnegut. Pynny is shunned by most of the literary world because of his ontic antics and the sprawling, bloated, massive narratives that are his calling cards. Gravity’s Rainbow, what is hailed by most as his masterpiece (no argument here), was in fact rejected by the Pulitzer Advisory Board as “turgid,” “overwritten,” in parts “obscene,” and overall “unreadable.” But I can say with confidence that he doesn’t give a fuck what they think. The more I learn about him actually lends me to believe that some of the things he does, he does in order to disrupt their contented modes of reading. Kurt Vonnegut was similarly shunned as merely a science fiction writer by the literary world for much of his career. It wasn’t until Slaughterhouse-Five that they realized how good science fiction can, in fact, be. But, again, he wasn’t writing for those jackasses.

And neither am I. I have finally zeroed in on what it is I want to say to the world and I don’t need anyone’s approval to say it (though it is nice to hear that people are listening (Comments, please …)). Literary fiction is a genre like any other and grad school has showed me that I want to write something else. That’s a hard pill to swallow when that particular genre is held up as the be-all-end-all of literature. But I need to accept it. And I think, slowly but surely, I will.