“Fame is a form of incomprehension, perhaps the worst”
—Jorge Luis Borges—
“So what genre does your novel fall into? Magic realism? Surrealism?” Wendt realized that Salas was on his way to getting sloshed so now would be the time to trot out some of the lame questions Nora had prompted him to ask.
Salas took a while to answer. “I’m not sure I know the difference. What I’m saying is that they’re practically the same thing. But the word surrealism is associated with the grotesque and the darker side of the psyche thanks to artists like Dali. The acceptable term now is magic realism which is kind of a misnomer because it is neither magic nor realism.”
“Why Third Brain? What’s the second brain?”
“Right brain, left brain, third brain.” There was just a hint of defensiveness.
Wendt tilted his head trying to get an angle on it.
“Of course if you’re into homeopathy, the gut is the second brain, some would argue the first.”
“You learn that living out in the country?”
“Oh yeah, it’s a whole different world out there.”
Wendt nodded “I’ll bet” and sipped tentatively at his beer. “What’s the premise again?”
“Ever wake up in the morning with an erection and a full bladder?”
“You mean a piss hardon? More often than not, yeah.”
“Well, your tumescence has nothing to do with the urge to relieve yourself. It is merely the coincidence of two factors. One, your bladder is reminding you to empty it of the overnight urine accretion as part of the normal biological process. And the engorgement of the instrument for fulfilling that urge is due to a particular phenomenon associated with dream sleep.”
“You lost me. I got the part about needing to take a leak, but. . . .”
“Most men associate their morning lumber with the urge to take a honking piss. In point of fact it is due to their coming out of a rapid eye movement dream state during which the short arm is saluting thanks to a neurological similarity between the dream experience and sexually stimulated arousal.”
Wendt narrowed his eyes in consideration. “Ok, I’ll put a down payment on that.”
“Sleep researchers call it the dream antenna.”
“That’s the premise of your novel?”
“Actually it’s more of the device. The premise is a take on that old saying that men think with their dicks. Thinking, after all, being a bodily function. As Merleau-Ponty said, ‘To perceive is to be present to something through the body.’ Ergo, the location of the third brain.”
Wendt flinched and rolled his eyes mentally. Who used ‘ergo’ anymore. And what was it about guys wanting to talk about their peckers? First Granahan and now Salas though he could remember back to the days when writing a poem about ones salamander was quite the thing which of course paled in comparison to women’s depictions of their pudenda and graphic menstruations.
“The erection is residual like the fading mental images of the dream. Sometimes we try to hang on to those images because of their cerebral uniqueness and we also don’t want to let go of the physical sensuality of the boner. In the novel, Henry Miller. . . .”
“Wait a minute, your protagonist is named Henry Miller?”
“Yeah, no big deal, it’s a pretty common name. Check the phone book. There are two pages of listings for Miller and at least half a dozen of them are Henry.”
“But Henry Miller. . . .”
“It just gives it a little literary resonance. A hook is a hook is a hook to paraphrase la belle Stein. I’m guessing you haven’t read the novel yet.”
Wendt nodded. “I didn’t want it to prejudice my first impression of you. Before the interview.” Wendt was hoping for a suspension of disbelief on that morsel of fiction.
“Anyway,” Salas continued, eager to spill the beans, “Henry finds that by clutching his joy stick he can hang out in his dreams a little longer and the images he retains in that semi-waking state relate to the future. At first it’s all very general and random. But as he continues to act on his visions of the future they get more specific and consistent. He starts by handicapping sports events and moves on to the stock market and subsequently becomes very rich and the target of scammers and tax collectors. Along with the untold riches comes a grandiose view of himself which leads him to believe that he shouldn’t be paying taxes in the first place, render to Caesar, et cetera, and so starts his own religion, anointing the scammers as his high priests.”
“What, no sex?”
“Oh, there’s plenty of sex. It becomes the great complication, the enmeshment, the net that catches everyone and undoes them. I mean the guy is definitely oversexed. He gets aroused just looking at a paper towel. The sex is presented as satyric romps as might be depicted in frescos on the wall of Pompeii.”
Wendt nodded thoughtfully, thinking of Granahan. “No masturbation?”
“Only in the Balzacian sense of ‘masturbation of the brain.’ Otherwise, physical masturbation breaks what you might call the spell, that tenuous engagement with the bodiless psyche. It’s not real sex after all. It can never offer the psychic interchanges that love making offers.”
“There’s got be a downside to this story.”
“Pretty much the downside is that notoriety is in itself a kind of power, an attractive power. Add exponential wealth and it becomes a magnet for all kinds of bugs and buzzards. Then there’s the corrosive effect of power. It eats at the edges of your being until it has consumed all your energy in the form of your personal autonomy, your authenticity, so that you end up transparent, riddled with holes, and light passes through you as if you were inconsequential.”
You can take the novelist out of the poet but you can’t take the novel out of the poetry. No, that’s not it. You can take the poet out of the novel but you can’t take the poetry out of the novelist. Ok, you can take the poetry out of the novel but you can’t take the poet out of the novelist. Something like that.
“Ouch! That’s gotta hurt.” Wendt was commenting on the bartender bumping her head after stooping to get something out from under the bar. Loose change?
Salas responded as if was directed at him. “It’s deadly.”
Wendt looked over his elbow at his drinking companion. “That’s what kills him, power, fame?”
“Actually, no. He can afford the best of lawyers. It’s internal dissent that brings him down. All those women and all their kids fighting for a piece of him.”
Wendt nodded. He understood. “It’s the idea that the most visible becomes a target while extolling the value of anonymity.” Philip K. Dick type paranoia. Fantasy sci-fi. “Let me put the shoe on the other foot. What do you think of your novel?”
“I think it’s great, but that’s not very objective.”
“Objective is overrated.”
“I guess what I’m saying is that I love every stinking word in a way that no one else can. I am the novel’s mother and father and what I’ve written, what I’ve created is an imagined offspring. As bad as it may be, I can’t see its faults, and as far as I’m concerned it’s perfect.”
“Do you think your relationship to your writing changed once you published the novel?”
“Yeah, you might say it has. Once the novel is published, it’s viewed from numerous perspectives, from the average reader to the professional critic. You never know what the average reader thinks except yea or nay by book sales. The critics on the other hand will tell you in no uncertain terms according to their particular bias what they think and a lot of the time they are so off the mark you have to wonder if they’ve even read the book. I think there’s a lot of envy involved in reviews, a kind of ‘this is how I would have done it’ Monday morning quarterbacking. Or they get into the author hasn’t paid his dues so he can’t be any good kind of attitude. Or he belongs to the wrong crowd. Or not aligned with the latest fad aesthetic. It’s a faux objectivity and another way of getting your name in print on someone else’s dime.”
That wasn’t exactly the answer to what he’d asked, but Wendt gave a mental shrug and pressed on. “How did you come up with the idea for your novel?”
“Changing diapers on my youngest. I noticed how his tight little scrotal sack looked like a tiny brain. And while I was rounding up a dry diaper and letting his crotch breathe, he’d be grabbing himself and gleefully babbling away.”
Wendt again was reminded of Granahan, as at birth so in death, that primal instinct for pleasure, expression, and distraction.
“How has your first published novel changed your life?”
“I’m not quite sure. Being successful, which I suppose publishing a novel, a controversial one at that, comes with certain kind of triumphant satisfaction. It’s recognition of something accomplished, good or bad. The biggest change so far is in people’s attitudes toward me.”
“Oh yeah, how so?”
“Well, I’ve noticed that certain people I know don’t like their perception reversed or altered. Their original impression will always linger in the background and affect their rationalization and judgment of my success. There are people, friends, other writers, who are thoroughly put out by what they call my ‘luck.’ I’ve changed position in the hierarchy. The security of their place is now in question. It’s making them crazy with envy and the realization that they might have been displaced.”
“How does your most recent work compare to your previous writing?”
“That’s a really hard question to answer because I personally don’t make comparisons of that sort. Writing is a process that can have a narrow scope or an unbridled vision. You knew me when I wrote poetry almost exclusively or that was my public face.”
“How do you feel about that now?”
“It was time well spent. I was able to locate a tradition in which I could operate as a creative artist. Poetry provided that milieu.”
“Did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?”
“As a writer you have to be open to all possibilities. Poetry provided me with a social life, such as it was, and exposed me to the neurosis of the truly sensitive. And as is the case with that mental inclination there’s always some sort of transference, a situation where the inmates take over the asylum. Prose is a skill, and fiction for me was always an option. However, it is not conducive to socializing.”
“How long does it take to start any particular writing project?”
“That part is instantaneous. That’s why it’s called inspiration.”
“Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process?”
“By the time I begin to compose, everything has been ruminated over, either consciously or unconsciously. When the opening line presents itself then I’m off to the races.”
“Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?”
“Sometimes I have the big picture in mind but mostly it’s a vague outline or an idea of the direction I want to proceed. I always leave room for the unexpected. It’s never a paint-by-numbers exercise. Writing fiction is a time consuming life consuming endeavor and sometimes the most mundane of things, a play on words, a picture in a magazine, something overheard in line at the supermarket or on the radio will be the seed for a particular development. I am compelled because of my involvement in the creative act of making a fiction to note it down even if it turns out to be a whim or a dud and not in any way germane to the final result.”
“Where does a novel usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combined into a larger project, or are you working on a book from the very beginning?”
“It depends I think on what you’re trying to accomplish. It’s like building a maze. There’s only one way in and one way out, but there wouldn’t be much to it without the little side galleries and dead ends. Also, are you telling a story, examining the mundane to get at an epiphany, or working within the constraints of a concept? In my limited experience in finishing two novels, the book, so to speak, presents itself as a piece that will eventually become more than the sum of its parts. That’s the goal anyway, that the work will succeed in being more than wild words and ornate phrases but resonate and have a gravity that exceeds the sheer math of the number of pages and word count.”
“Does your novel have a message?”
“If I wanna send a message, I’ll tweet it.”
The bartender came down to check on them and Salas indicated a refill on what they were having: Wendt, Jameson, draft beer back, and he, vodka Collins. Wendt made an offer to buy he hoped would be refused.
“Your money’s no good,” Salas insisted
Wendt didn’t mind lending a ready ear confident that he had laid enough of a base to handle as much of the Irish whiskey he planned to consume at his companion’s expense. He pointed to the thin head of his beer when the bartender placed it in front of him. “This draft looks a little flat.” He sniffed it. “Smells sour, too. End of the keg?”
The bartender shrugged. “I dunno. Could be. I’ll check.” She opened the cold case below the taps and gave one of the barrels a shake. She nodded. “Yeah, you’re right, getting down to the dregs.” She took his beer glass and poured it out. “I’m going to have to change out the keg. It’ll take a while,” she said looking down at the other end of the bar and the new anxious faces giving the impression that they were dying of thirst. “How about a craft brew?” And when she caught Wendt’s hesitance, “On the house.”
“You said the magic woids.” He did his Groucho eyebrow lifts but they went over her head. Wrong generation.
A tall skinny gal with a blond pixie cut, her tiny gold name tag said she was Cole. She placed the bottle in front of Wendt so that he could examine the label.
“New Albion Lager?”
“Yeah, boutique brewery from up in Mendocino County. I’ve heard nothing but good things about it.”
Next Time: The more Chris Salas drinks and the drunker gets, the more it becomes obvious that he resents his success. To review what has transpired so far, reference the episodes listed in the sidebar, or click The Complete DAY & WEEK to read the pdf file.