Truths Stranger than Fiction
By Andrew Lawrence Crown
Copyright © Andrew Lawrence Crown, 2017. All rights reserved.
Come and listen for a moment, lads
And hear me tell my tale
How across the sea from England
I was condemned to sail
Now the jury found me guilty
Then says the judge, says he
ďOh, for life, Jim Jones, Iím sending you
Across the stormy sea
But take a tip before you ship
To join the iron gang
Donít get to gay in Botany Bay
Or else youíll surely hang
Or else youíll surely hang,Ē says he
ďAnd after that Jim Jones
Itís high above on the gallows tree
The crows will pick your bonesĒ.
--- Bob Dylan, Traditional Australian Sea Shanty, ďJim JonesĒ
When I awoke, the Dire Wolf
Six hundred pounds of sin
Was grinning at my window
All I said was ďcome on inĒ
Donít murder me
I beg of you donít murder me
Donít murder me
--- The Grateful Dead, ďDire WolfĒ
Outside, standing in front of the small evangelical church just down the street from our new apartment in Sajik Dong, Pusan, standing next to the electrically lighted cross which changed colors from blue to red to orange to yellow to green and back to blue again, one of the female congregants, a young and attractive one to be sure, confronted me. She stopped me as I was making my way back to the apartment after exiting the shuttle bus from the University in Gyeongju, interrupting me as I was walking the ten or fifteen minute distance from the bus stop to my home. Before she spoke to me I had been enjoying the cool evening breeze and comfortable spring weather and looking forward to returning home to the family in anticipation of another one of Sujiís home cooked Korean meals. The church woman had been waiting for me there only a short while because as one of my neighbors she already knew my daily schedule and routine by now, and because someone had told her about the e-mails from Blake in Australia. In this day and age of WikiLeaks and Assange and Snowden and supervisors and administrators and other bureaucrats who thought their positions of power gave them the right to inspect my e-mails and other personal files every time I logged on to the University network, word got around quickly and circulated far and wide. This was especially true when it involved a weiguksaram or foreigner, like me, whose impressive resume never failed to arouse the envy and suspicion of those who had read it in a state of disbelief and jealousy. There was no use complaining about it or exhausting my energies in a losing battle since I had long ago come to understand that there is no such thing as privacy anymore in this hyper-connected era in which the virtual and real worlds are morphed into one via the internet and all of our computers, smart phones, kindles, and other devices. When the young woman in her church clothes stopped me in front of the electric cross glowing brightly that early evening, I already knew from her look of deep concern and apprehension that she had come out of the church service to speak to me about the e-mails from Blake.
ďCan you save him, Professor Robertson?Ē she asked with anxiety. ďCan you help his poor wife Dao and that innocent and precious child, their daughter Veronica?Ē
ďThey are far away from here in Sydney,Ē I responded. ďI donít know how much I can do for him when he is so distant from me and everything I am and try to be, both literally and metaphorically. I have tried to help him before, but as my late father would have said about it back home in Chicago, ďHeís a brick wall to my advice.Ē
ďPlease try Professor Robertson. Please try your hardest to turn him to the light. The pastor asked me to ask you to try to do it. The pastor told me you are a Jew and a true man of God, a man of integrity and a man to be trusted. He wants you to try to turn Blake around.Ē
ďIíve been trying to turn him for twenty years now. He is set in his ways and does not set much stake in religion or theological arguments. Tell the pastor I am trying to do my best for Blake but that it is not easy to remake in my own image a committed hedonist with an addictive personality disorder and Aspergerís and a troubled past full of family strife and a father who drank himself to death and multiple breakdowns and hospitalizations in the psyche ward. But for some reason I have not yet given up on him or decided to remove him from my life. Perhaps it is the connection and affinity we feel for one another as two writers and lovers of literature that has kept me reading his e-mails and writing mine to him for over two decades. The funny and crazy thing about it all is that the last time I actually saw him in person was back in 1997, here in Pusan, when he suffered another breakdown, a mild one thankfully, but one serious enough for him to have to break his contact with the English institute and return to Australia earlier than he had planned. Since that time I have received numerous invitations from Blake to visit him in Sydney, and every Australian winter he continues to plea with me to join him in Thredbo for a ski holiday and good times. I have always turned him down until now, both due to my lack of funds and for fear of the trouble and depravations I fear he will try to entice me into. The truth is I am afraid to meet up with him in person, afraid what that might lead to. Nonetheless, I maintain our e-mail correspondence and friendship through the decades that seem to pass us by faster and faster as we both grow older, and wiser I believe for myself, even though I can only hope for the same for Blake in the way of the maturity and wisdom that should come to a man with the passing of time.Ē
The young evangelist speaking to me outside the church was silent for a moment as she attempted to digest my words in all of their pessimism and lack of hope for a better future and path to a life more worth living for my friend. It was clear from the distraught look on her face that she was deeply concerned about the fate of Blake, a man who she had never met before or spoken to, and who lived in another country which she had never herself visited. I watched her struggle to make sense of it all as her face changed its hue each time the electric cross switched to another glowing color.
ďThe pastor asked me to tell you one more thing before you return to your family this evening,Ē she said in a sad way which strangely pained me to observe and hear.
ďWhat did he tell you to tell me?Ē I wanted to know.
ďPastor Kim told me to tell you to be careful and to beware, Professor Robertson. The Devil is on your doorstep.Ē
Back at the new apartment, just a few steps away from the church whose congregants I could hear singing a hymn in Korean through an open window, I finished eating Sujiís lovely meal of bulgogie and saam, and then I helped out by washing the dishes before checking in on our twelve year old son, Joseph, whom I urged to stop playing around on the smart phone in order to finish the math homework before it was time for bed. In a moment of calm and quiet after Joseph finally put the phone down and focused on the math homework, and after Suji stepped out for an hour or so to visit with her sister again who lived only a few blocks away in Sajik Dong, I found the time to contemplate reflectively on my relative good fortune when I compared the state of my family life to the one Blake had depicted to me in the e-mails, which I could clearly see were a kind of confession from him to me. Although it was certainly true that my financial situation was less than ideal, and that there were also a hundred other inconveniences that inevitably accompanied my living my life in a foreign country, I was counting my blessings, which I knew were none too meager, while the most recent e-mail correspondences between Blake and I continued to linger in my thoughts, along with visions of the face of the sad young women who had spoken with me in front of the church earlier that same evening. I decided I would read through the e-mails again, as it was my habit to do, trying to find some ray of hope someplace among the confessions and admissions of guilt which were nonetheless accompanied by a staunchly, even proudly defended adamant refusal to change. As usual, as had always been the case through all the pages and pages of our decades long correspondence, the long standing dispute and disagreement between the two of us had commenced once again with a letter from me which was innocuous enough to pass as run of the mill to almost anyone but my friend Blake, whose hardships never failed to leave him with that literary chip on his shoulder, that deep seated need to draw me into his world of suffering so that I could at least commiserated with his miseries. He knew I would again urge him to change as much as he knew he would again refuse to heed my advice. All the same, I agreed to collude with him once again in this game of self-deception, because I hoped it would be in some measure therapeutic for him, and because I also understood my own need to participate voyeuristically in Blakeís world of dissolution, a world which I believed was a worthy subject for literature and art, even while I remained determined to never permit myself to become enveloped within its troubled universe of self-indulgence and darkness.
How are you doing these days Blake? This week is mid-term exam week at the University, but since I am giving oral exams, I do not expect to be confronted by a heavy burden with respect to grading. This semester I come to campus only three days a week, and also on Saturday mornings for the Happy English Program, in which I am teaching 6th grade elementary school students. My wife Suji is also teaching in the Happy English Program (5th graders), and I believe it is a great experience for her and a fine resume builder as well. I am finding I quite enjoy teaching the youngsters, though I would not want to do it full time. My schedule this term is delightfully light, as I only teach three classes a day on Mondays and Wednesdays. On Tuesdays I take part in the English Lounge. Basically, I just sit for an hour and fifteen minutes in a room with some couches in it and converse in English with any student who is ambitious enough to come to campus early in the morning from nine to ten-fifteen a.m. in order to practice speaking English. So far, no one has shown up for the early slot, so I have just been reading to pass the time. The rest of the day on Tuesdays I am free, so I go to the campus library and catch up on the news, LinkedIn, and Facebook. The library is always empty of students, another clear indicator of the academic quality of our fine institution, or rather, the lack thereof. Thursdays and Fridays I stay in Pusan as I have no classes scheduled and so do not take the University shuttle bus to Gyeongju.
We are final completely moved into our new apartment in Sajik Dong, Pusan, which the three of us all love, as it is so much bigger and appropriate for a family of three than that closet sized place we lived in in Gyeongju for the past five years. We are a fifteen minute walk away from a huge sports complex, which includes Sajik Stadium, the home field of the Lotte Giants professional baseball team. On game days we can hear from our apartment the fans cheering like mad. The Lotte Giants fans are reputed to be the loudest and rowdiest in the Korean League, and they cheer and sing like crazy during the entirety of each game. I promised Joseph I would take him to a game next week during a spring holiday period for the University.
I am currently re-reading my extensive notes on The Politics by Aristotle, and I plan to write an essay/article sometime soon, perhaps about Aristotleís treatment of the concept of citizenship, or perhaps instead about the concept of household management as explicated in The Politics. What are you working on these days in the way of reading or writing? I know how fatherhood must keep you occupied and busy, but I hope you can still find the time to pursue your literary interests when you are not chasing your young daughter around. I noticed you no longer post regularly to your blog, so I guess you must really be preoccupied with work and family.
Thanks for sending me the links to all of those news articles about Trump. Unfortunately I have not managed to read all of them yet, although I did my best and read most of them. I have to tell you I feel more than slightly embarrassed to be an American, an expatriate one though I may be, when I do read anything of substance about Trump. I get most of my news from the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Economist, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. I also routinely read a few blogs of a political nature. As of yet we do not have a television set up in our new apartment, which is fine with me, but a constant reason for nagging on the part of my son. Eventually we will have to get one set up here. The only channels I watch anyways are CNN and the BBC if they are available. Once in a while I watch movies on the TV with the family, but since Suji and Joseph love fantasy, action, sci-fi, and superhero movies, while I prefer drama, suspense, and documentaries, our tastes in cinema do not always match up.
I hope you are doing well in Australia, and that family life is as rewarding as it has the potential to be. I remember you once wrote to me that you were working many hours of overtime as an English instructor to support your wife and daughter, and I hope all of those extra hours are paying off. My own work schedule as an Assistant Professor is so light here that I would be tempted to call my job ideal if I only earned a bit more money from it.
Drop me a line sometime and let me know how you are doing. Iíll keep an eye out for you on Skype so that hopefully one of these days we will be able to chat.
Very nice to hear from you again. Yes the blogÖ.I donít get around to it any more really. Just too easy to update Facebook from my phone if I feel the need to spray something across the net, which seems to be less often these days. I did a bit of writing, a few short stories in the last year or two, but there is not a lot of time for literary pursuits these days. As far as work is concerned, Iím basically a machine working twelve hour days every chance I get, but an awful lot of that money has disappeared through the slots and left me on the verge of bankruptcy. I had accumulated a bit over seventy thousand dollars in credit card debts due to my gambling addiction, but thankfully my mum was able to use the equity in one of her properties to take out a mortgage which I am now contractually obligated to repay. Instead of having a half-dozen credit cards to repay at 13 to 22 percent interest, I now have just one debt to knock off at less than 5 percent. If all goes well Iíll be out of debt in seven years or so. The good thing about this new regime is that Iím also contractually obligated not to take out any other personal lines of credit. If I gamble now, the money runs out and I have to deal with the reality of the situation, sooner or later. Prior to the big credit switch (just over a year now) I was maxing out card after card, bumping up the credit limit again and again, dumping it through the slots or dropping it on the tables. Just too many times I would let myself lose $500 or $1000 in a night.
The company I work for has lost a huge chunk of the contract to deliver the Immigrant English Program (IEP) that they had near-exclusive rights on for most of greater Sydney. The upshot of which is that I have to go hunt up another job from July 1. I am truly not looking forward to that. IEP is the best paid gig in town, and I would have to take a 50 percent pay cut if I worked for any other douchebag operation. The place Iím with, they are a totally fucken ruthless corporation, but at least they pay, properly and on time. I am thinking I would like to start my own operation, a China-focused e-learning thing. I already do quite a bit of distance learning, and could train others in it. Been teaching way too long. I need to be in the driverís seat now. The China market is huge, endless really, and you only need to tap about 0.1% of it to fund most of your wildest dreams. I donít ask for much, just a small house in inner Sydney (average asking price: $2,000,000) an investment property or three, a Porsche SUV and a couple of months of skiing every year. Thatíll do.
Anyway, personal stuff aside, Donald TrumpÖ.I would not feel too down about it Paul. The rest of the world is not doing much better. Turkey is sliding into dictatorship. Britain is sliding into outright dystopia. Russia and China already are dictatorships. India is sliding into dictatorship. France is on the verge of electing a far-right obscenity. America, the whole world knows, is sliding into dictatorship. Our politicians here in Australia are about as inspiring as a bin full of maggots, and they are steadily sliding toward Trump-style nativism. Liberal democracy is spent, finished. Itís metastasized into something much darker. The potential was always there. Now the potential is being realized. Thank you Twitter, thank you trolls, thank you climate change deniers, thank you all you gun-toting, Trump-voting, red-necked fucks that are going to push us to the edge of extinction. Maybe thatís just our evolutionary destiny. Maybe after the inevitable wipeout of humanity from climate change or nuclear winter, life will return to earth in some form that wonít involve humanity, or if there are human survivors they will realize we need to look after each other a little better than what we have been doing.
I donít get to read much either, but I just finished A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Took me six months, but it was worth the effort. It is possibly the most intimate book I have ever read. If you have not heard about it, Google it. If you read it youíll certainly have an opinion about it, perhaps even more than one.
Iím looking forward to ski season in July, looking forward to another trip to Thailand later in the year. Take care of yourself my man. Honestly these days I just feel happy to be alive. I never really expected to live this long. Most people who do serious time in psychiatric in their teens and early twenties, they donít get to see their thirties. My definition of success to this point has been that Iím not homeless or in jail or full time psychiatric, not dead from suicide, drugs or alcohol, so therefore Iím successful, albeit with lingering addictions to gambling and rented skirt. My wife has not slept in the same bed or room as me for the last six months, so Iím not about to feel guilty about anything anymore. Just have to do my thing. Also, itís just evolutionary destiny as far as I can see. Hope to hear from you again reasonably soon Paul.
Hello Again Blake,
Sorry I did not get back to you earlier after you sent me that lengthy reply to my first e-mail. Thanks for replying by the way. You remain one of the few people who still write e-mails of any substance in response to my e-mails. In fact, two of my own sisters rarely write me more than a line or two in response to my e-mails when I write to them. My third and oldest sister is the only one who bothers answering at any length. Blake, almost everyone in my family, including me, has some (and sometimes very serious) inherited psychological conditions. It is in our genes. I am talking about both of my parents, myself and my sisters. We all have some issues. But this has not stopped us from becoming successful people. I am telling you this both because I want you to understand I know exactly where you are coming from, and because I want you to realize the problems of your past need not seal your fate or destiny for the rest of your life. Just look at my resume online and try to understand too that I too hit some pretty big speed bumps in the road of life when I was younger. These days I do not need therapy and survive and indeed thrive with the help of the proper medication and short five minute medication management consultations once every four weeks with a nice Korean doctor whose English is not even adequate for talk therapy should I require it (which I donít). I am very happy where I am in life right now, and if I could only earn some more money things would be near perfect for me. So try not to let the past hold you back from your potential, whatever that may be.
Back to the e-mails and the short responses I tend to receive. Most of the people who bother to write me letters of any length are people whom I met during my overseas travels and teaching. I treasure their e-mails and tend to read them over and over again out of my respect for the written word. Your own e-mails continue to convince me that you have considerable talent as a writer, so donít let it go to waste.
I think your idea concerning placing yourself in the driverís seat and starting some online ESL/EFL thing sounds great. Plan your moves carefully and wisely, because when you start a new business you need to consider all of the nitty gritty details. It might be hard for you to get a small business loan to start your own thing with your dismal credit history, so you will most likely have to save up a considerable fund of capital before you get started. Read and study about your plans as much as possible and beware of charlatans and gimmicks which sound too good to be true because they probably are too good to be true. You are fortunate that your mother agreed to help you out of your gambling debts with the mortgage. My advice to you for your gambling problem is that I think you need to quit cold turkey, which means you must completely remove it from your life.
I have to tell you (once again) as a religious person and one who also understands the appeal and sense of secular humanism; I just cannot bring myself to approve of your dealings with ďrented skirt.Ē Just think how hurt your wife Dao would/will be if she ever finds out, not to speak of the terrible amount of exploitation you are inflicting on the women whose services you purchase. I would advise you to quit that cold turkey as well, although I know you probably wonít or canít. Try to work out your issues with your wife and help her find the way back into your bed and heart. I donít want to sound sanctimonious, but my value system regarding the ethical issues surrounding love and marriage remains very traditional and conservative. I just canít relate to your excuse (regarding evolution and your need to do your thing) which sounds like a cop-out to me. I say this as your friend of over twenty years now. A good marriage requires much hard work and sacrifice emotionally from both partners. Try to work out your problems with your wife and not to take the easy way out in the red light district. In my view prostitution is one of the most egregious cases of the commodification of the flesh, the transformation of a living human being with a living soul in pain into an object to be bought and sold like a piece of meat in the market. Surely your leftish critique of capitalism and ďneo-liberalismĒ should convince the empathetic liberal tendencies within you to face up to this undeniable fact. Again, cold turkey Blake. What would and will your daughter Veronica think about it if and when she found out?
Sorry to sound preachy to you, but these are my feelings about it. You are a smart guy Blake, a person with much potential. Donít be content with mere survival because you can do so much better than that.
I will await your reply and remain your trusted friend even though we differ on more than a few of the crucial issues in life. Take good care of yourself and that family of yours and letís stay in touch.
Iíve tried cold turkey for my gambling. Iíve tried talk therapy. Iíve tried a limits based approach. None of that has worked so far. Having said that, the fact that I no longer have access to credit acts as a brake on my gambling so I canít get lost in the pokie lounges for days at a time like I used to. Honestly, Iím doing the best I can.
As for my relationship with Dao, my wife, thatís never going to work out and Iím ok with that. Her being Thai, and me with Aspergerís, and having essentially completely different interests and concerns from meÖ.basically thereís just no way. Did you know that people with Aspergerís have an 80% divorce rate? And thatís not even taking into account when cultural differences come into play. Just the fact that we are together after seven years is an accomplishment. Iím just doing the best I can under the circumstances. I donít hit the brothels every day. Again, the lack of credit has put a brake on that habit. Itís perfectly legal here, and the women who go into it are consenting adults. By law everybody has to use protection. For me itís not such a huge big deal. Iím not terribly religious and probably never will be. I donít expect you to approve or even understand any more than I can really approve of or understand religion. Maybe if I was to establish a very different kind of relationship I could give up the gambling and the whoring. My wife knows Iíve had a few issues with both. Of course I would prefer it if Veronica doesnít find out, but weíll cross that bridge when we come to it. Iím not trying to be father of the year. As you probably already know, with addiction youíre not really thinking about anyone else.
I honestly donít feel like the problems of the past are stopping me from doing anything now. I never even expected to live this long, so I count each day as a gift and I try to make the best of it. Iím middle aged and have now managed to live longer than my father did before he drank himself to death. His father, my grandfather, lost everything he owned in the sheep farming business, his land, his farm, his home, everything, when synthetic fibers like acrylic became popular and undersold the natural wool that was my grandfatherís bread and butter. My father never recovered from the sorrow he witnessed as my grandfather lost everything, leaving my father with no inheritance. History repeated itself as I experienced the sorrow of watching my own father also lose everything, including his very life, from alcoholism.
Anyway Paul, I appreciate your concern. If I ever do manage to quit my vices, youíll be the first to know. Probably the best I can do is to cut back and keep it manageable. People always give me the same advice and none of it ever makes a shred of difference. If anything it makes me feel inclined to indulge more. I hate to say it, but if well-meaning advice from friends made any difference then all the psyches would be out of business. But in my case the psyches have not made much of an impact either, apart from the one I had through my teens and early twenties. Probably I can thank him for the fact that Iím still around. But once youíve had the best itís hard to even tolerate all these other fuckwitted therapists who think they can help. Itís a bit late here and I had a monster of a week. Gonna turn in now. Very sorry if this reply is not quite what you expected to hear.
Thanks for being a good friend,
Hi Again Paul,
One of the things that did come out of my more recent attempts at therapy was that I probably wonít give up gambling and/or hookups unless I walk away from the relationship Iím in. The gambling addiction has been running on for five years or so. The whoring addiction for twenty years. Neither of them is just going to go away because I wish them away, as much as I would like to wish them away. But honestly, I have tried and failed many times. My wife already knows. When Dao was pregnant with Veronica I told her about all the hundreds of women Iíd already slept with, and that most of them were prostitutes. I thought she should know who sheís having a kid with before she moved in with me. She is still with me now, so I guess she thinks Iím not all bad. The Thais have a greater tolerance for these things and they are very pragmatic. The father of her other two childrenÖ.well he has so many children by so many women in so many different countries. Whenever he was in Thailand he would be out most nights and come home at three or four in the morning. He would come to Thailand mostly to party and carouse with bar girls. He is Malaysian Chinese and lives mostly in Singapore. When it comes to fatherhood I am doing a vastly better job than him, and my wife recognizes that at least.
As far as repairing my relationship with Dao is concerned, or sorting out our differences, well, youíll have to believe me when I say there is no hope of that. I know my life should be more than just survival, but in the relationship itís always going to be just survival. There is simply no way that Iím going to have my spiritual, intellectual, emotional or even physical needs met in this relationship. I still feel a fondness for her. I think sheís a good mum to Veronica, although we do clash when it comes to parenting styles. There are still moments of intimacy, but weíll never have a proper conversation about the issues because sheís not capable of that. I wish it were different but itís not. After nearly ten years I know the limits of this relationship, and they are very limited limits. I stay out of a sense of duty to Veronica, but beyond that thereís really nothing to keep me in it. Iíve consequently fallen in love with some very inappropriate people; Internet whores, actual prostitutes working here, people I have no real hope of holding on to. But maybe thatís why. Maybe I expect only transience in my relationships now.
Iím not asking for answers Paul. Not asking for approval either. Not even asking for advice. Anyway, you probably can see that any advice you offer will be ignored or tossed back in your face and thereís no point in banging your head against a brick wall to no avail. All I ask of my friends is that they acknowledge that Iím not in a great situation but that I am doing the best I can. I take pride in my work. My students love me and are tremendously loyal. They get to see me at my best and I like to be my best for them. Thatís really the relationship, the one I have with my classes and my students, that has stopped the demons from taking over my life completely. Iím sure you can appreciate that. I am sorry if my last e-mail sounded testy and defensive. It was quite late when I composed it, at the end of another massively trying day at work. If I said anything truly untoward, please let it pass. I really do enjoy hearing from you Paul, as it is rare to get any properly considered longer-form correspondence these days. I know I donít exactly agree with every word you say, but most people donít even bother to make the effort. Stay well. Talk soon. Warmest wishes,
After reading through your recent e-mails over and over again, I came up with the idea that there might be a good short story in there someplace. I want to ask your permission to use our correspondences as of late for a piece of fiction featuring our very different outlooks and perspectives on life which have nonetheless not resulted in the end of our long friendship. Of course I intend to fictionalize the story and will protect your identity and not use your real name and so on. You write so well, even in e-mails, even about the darkness, I think much of it is of publishable quality verbatim. I intend to post the story to my online resume/cv/portfolio along with the rest of my writings. The character speaking for me will probably be another one of my literary alter-egos, the troubled University of Chicago graduate, Paul Robertson. I will come up with another name for the character representing you, or better yet, ask you to suggest a name for yourself. I will need just a week or two to work on the story and I hope to post it to my site by early summer, if not before then.
I am asking for your permission to proceed with this project, and I know and hope that as a writer of considerable talent yourself, you will sympathize with my purpose here.
Lovely idea Paul. I approve 100%. You can run a few names by me and if I think of one for my character Iíll let you know.
I would also recommend you read some stuff by Junot Diaz and Charles Bukowski, if you have not done so already. Theyíve been a big influence on my writing. All three of Diazís published works are great. Two short story collections and thereís one novel. From Bukowski I would recommend Factotum, Post Office, and Ham on Rye. He was fairly prolific, but those three are the best. I wouldnít say we disagree on everything anyway. We both love skiing and literature, both loathe Trump. Both of us are trying to find our voice in writing and that is a lifelong struggle for anyone.
I have not read any Diaz, but a number of years ago when I was living in Chicago, I found a great Bukowski website and spent many hours reading through his poetry. My writing is nothing like Bukowskiís, but I can appreciate his style nonetheless. Not one of my literary role models as I know nothing of flophouses and two-bit gin joints. When I was young I dined on wine and brie during sherry hour with The Department of Political Science in Hyde Park and knew nothing of all night benders on skid row. But I have long been interested in the Beats and have spent not a short time researching poetry sites featuring writings from the likes of Allen Ginsberg, and of course I have read On the Road by Kerouac, but have not yet read Dharma Bums even though I have been meaning to for ages. I feel like I found my voice when I was working on my e-book, Adoration of the Korean: Expatriate Tales Made in Korea. In college I was a fan of Hemingway and Sherwood Anderson and their journalistic minimalism. My University of Chicago experience transformed me away from that style somewhat and more towards a Faulkner or Dickens-like quest for elegance and depth through a sophisticated use of language, which was something the Beats and the minimalist rejected. Love your writing though Blake, even though it pains me to see your obstinacy sometimes. Actually, this new fiction project is in some ways a kind of procrastination detour for me since I have been working on The Politics by Aristotle for some months and had hoped to write another essay on it soon. But I am so excited about this new project, as I always am whenever I start writing a new story, that I have forced myself to put Aristotle on the back burner, at least until summertime.
I have got to go teach a class now as I have been writing this e-mail at work.
Have a good one,
No worries mate. Check your Facebook messenger for a link to one of Junot Diazís finest stories. It was republished in The New Yorker a while back. Iíll dig up a story I wrote that was directly inspired by that one later today when I can get to my PC. Iím curious to see what youíll put together. I donít care to intellectualize things when I am writing. I just do it from instinct, from feeling, from the guts. Stephen King once described it as sticking a hose pipe into the subconscious and dredging away. He also described his books as the literary equivalent of a Big Mac with large fries and a coke. Which is not to take away from him at all. In his heyday in the 70s and 80s he produced some truly great work, generic and all as it may have been. When I read Hanya Yanagiharaís A Little Life, which has been acclaimed by assorted literary snobs and New York Luvvies, I felt strong echoes of Stephen King in the long brutal descriptions of abuse and its aftermath.
Anyway, I digress. Please read at least that one story I posted to your messenger plus mine which I will e-mail to you by tomorrow at the latest. The Diaz story, which when I read it came at the end of a collection of stories all based on the theme of Love Gone Wrong, left me feeling hugely exhilarated and hugely saddened.
So went on and continued this correspondence of ours, in much the same manner it had progressed over the course of the last twenty years since the time we first met and taught together at the English language institute in Pusan. The older I became and the more distant I grew from those early years when I experienced, albeit in the most tame and moderate way possible to imagine, that nearly universal need among young men to sow the wild oats, the more Blakeís struggles with his demons failed to arouse my sympathy and understanding. Yet I remained his good friend through it all and did my best not to appear overly judgmental even while I continued in my mission to try nudge him, ever so considerately, towards a better direction for himself and for those others who now depended upon him. I knew if I were too absolute in my quest to facilitate the kind of transformation and awakening that I believed was required, I would lose his attention completely, and that candid correspondence of ours would come to an end.
In my favorite coffee shop in Sajik Dong, reading both in The New Yorker, The Cheaterís Guide to Love by Diaz, and then Blakeís own story which was what he described as a short work written in homage to Diazís contribution to the serious literary examination of the life of dissolution, I was unsure of whether I was reading works of considerable merit, depth, and consequence, or stories which were simply crude and paltry surrenders to the genera of soft porn. Joseph played a phone game while I read in the coffee shop, and as I watched my son with adoration while simultaneously trying to digest what Blake had sent to me and instructed me to read, I had to ask myself silently whether my friend in Australia belonged in either prison or else in one of the MFA in creative writing programs at one of the better universities back in the states. I wondered what the editors at The New Yorker were thinking in 2012 when they published the piece by Diaz in which every other word was profane, even though I also could understand why they considered it to be a work of art worthy of attention. But did anyone really have to go to Harvard like Diaz did in order to stoop to such vulgarity? Writing from the guts, from instinct, Blake had called it in the way of justification. I was happy to know that my own writing was something different from all of that, but I immediately contradicted that notion with a promise to myself to, at some later date, to write to Blake about the possibility of him taking a look at a school or two back home in the pursuit of an advanced degree in writing.