Curtis Dawkins is in prison serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole. In 2015, Dawkins spent 40 days and 40 nights in “The Hole” during which time he received and read a novel (authored by Kimberly Knutsen, his former partner) that contains a fictionalized account of their life together. Below is the letter Dawkins sent Knutsen after reading it.
[Editor’s Note: This letter is deliberately printed in full and without editing.]
July 10, 2015
Happy 50th B-day! That’s crazy to think about. I don’t know if I’ll ever get to mail this from Cell 9 in The Hole. I have no envelopes in here, so I wrote a kite to the R.U.M. asking for some. It’s Friday now, and he won’t get my kite until Monday, and then who knows?
I am writing this with one of those dinky flex-pens that we had in the County. I got a book in the mail (we still get mail!) and it was, as they are here, packaged in a manila envelope and I hoped and hoped it was your book—but, alas, it was not. It is Mess: One Man’s Struggle to Clean Up His House and His Act by Barry Yourgrau. It’s a memoir of a New York hipster/hoarder. It might be right up your alley, but I’m only going to read it if I run out of other things. They did not give me my Bible this time (but did give me my shower shoes), but from the collection of books here in The Hole (I always capitalize The Hole, but by now I’m learning, begrudgingly, to if not like it, at least appreciate it and not recoil in fear of the thought of it for its peace and forced self-reflective isolation—so maybe someday I’ll capitalize it out of respect and not fear), I’ve read White Fang by Jack London, a harsh and beautiful classic about a wolf that’s ¼ dog. And I just finished not 2 hours ago my absolute favorite book I’ve read all year, maybe the past 2 years, Ragtime by E. L. Doctorow! So wonderful—Houdini, Emma Goldman, Evelyn Nesbit, Freud, J. P. Morgan and the story of Father, Mother, Younger Brother, and a boy—in New Rochelle, NY—where a black girl comes to live along with her little boy and is courted by a ragtime pianist named Coalhouse Walker. Just amazing! I felt like I was in a super-long Waltons marathon. The narrative voice, how he weaves the specific familial story in and around the names we all know (or thought we did) from that period. The book came out in 1975. I’ve seen the movie, but don’t remember it. Dad, who came here yesterday, said he has the soundtrack to the musical. I wonder that the book did not win the Pulitzer and cannot think what might have 40 years ago, when you were 10 and I was 7.
I’m in pretty good spirits, though when I get up for the day I suffer through—not panic exactly—but a depressive anxiety at the day that lies ahead, sans TV and coffee. Distractions. I meditate and pray. I read. I got a New Yorker yesterday. I save food in milk containers for snacks after meds come at about 8 p.m. (which should be any time now). All the meals are delivered! There’s no bunky! Michael Jackson was no Michael Jackson. He was sort of bossy (thought a decent enough guy), snored horribly and had an annoying habit of having to pee at exactly the time that we were locked down for count, so he then commenced to pee in an empty baby powder container that he kept for just that reason. Just fucking pee when you’re supposed to, I wanted to tell him.
Most of all, I miss talking to you & Matt & David & Opal! It’s painful not to, but I try to breathe in that pain, breathe out peace & love for everyone in the world who is missing someone. For some reason I thought of foreign college students—how that must ache at times—to be back home.
The dickhead who was trying to steal my typewriter was in The Hole before I was! The investigation is continuing and no matter what, I’ll never have to see him again. He’s in some pretty big trouble, I think. Did he think I was just going to relinquish my Trusty SwirTec? I’m glad that I did not punch him—being in The Hole is hard enough—it’s made a little more palatable by my having done nothing wrong to get here. I guess I have to be here for now b/c they have to dissuade people from making false accusations. I don’t know. I may be here for a while, like even into August! Who knows? At least it is cool for now. Luckily there was only one sweaty night, then it rained and has been perfect since. I’m glad I’m not in hot Oregon right now—not in prison anyway
I just took a shower and turned in laundry. You’re probably having a birthday party today. What will you wish when you blow out the candles?
Even if I can’t mail this letter out while I’m still in The Hole, I’ll mail it to you anyway. You can publish them someday as part of the continuing saga you put out to critical commercial acclaim every 3 years or so about you and your unrecognized genius BD (Baby Daddy): Notes from the Hole, this one will be called.
Before getting put into The Hole, I watched most of a movie on TCM: Little Big Man, with Dustin Hoffman as a Native American, which sounds impossible, I know, but the writing and characters were great. There was a flamboyantly gay Indian always hitting on Hoffman’s character, and another who did everything backwards—there was some name for him, like “The One of Contrary Ways” or something. He rode his horse backwards. He washed himself w/dirt, said good-bye when he greeted someone, etc. Custer was portrayed as a delusional moron, led to his demise at Little Big Horn by smart, manipulative words by Hoffman’s character.
Actually, I’m writing these notes more for myself than anything, as a way, I guess to—what? I don’t know, but writing about what’s going on, or not going on, helps. There doesn’t have to be a “reason.” I wrote down this quote from White Fang, about when he was a puppy and he learned to hunt meat: “He was justifying his existence, that which life can do no greater; for life achieves its summit when it does to the uttermost that which it was equipped to do” (72).
So, as a writer—right now, writing, I am at the pinnacle of life, doing what I was meant to do. Animals are vastly superior to humans in this.
I really liked White Fang. It seems, though, caught in the middle as a perfect book for young men, but probably much too dense for most teenagers. A reader (boy or girl) can’t help but love White Fang!
What did you ever find out about the Sylvia Plath quotes in your book? If you get this “letter” while I’m still in The Hole, you can J-Pay me and I’ll get it, all printed out and slid under my door
I have been thinking about having you send out the synopsis, and whatever first few pages are required, of Darkroom to NEW agents. Is that legal under a contract w/a different agent? Now that I write it, that seems highly unlegal, or, in legalese, “illegal,” i.e. a breach of contract.
I got my laundry back all nice and clean, yet a little damp. I just had dinner (though it’s only 4—lunch is like at 10:30 a.m.) of chicken salad and carrots and white cake. I’m waiting for the C.O. to come by w/ his selection of possible books, which is a tense time b/c it would be like your dad stopping by w/ 6 or so books he picked up from the paperback/bargain bin at Powell’s. I got White Fang this way though. Ragtime I spotted at the last second on my way out of the shower. I cannot possibly hope to stumble on another like that one. It’s books like Ragtime that made me want to be a writer. David might like it. Didn’t he like that type of music at one time? And we all knew how to play the theme to The Sting on the piano when I was a kid, which, as you may know is a rag by Scott Joplin. I’m sure you’re rolling your eyes thinking of the dance numbers you’ve performed to Joplin tunes
Would you rather win a Pulitzer or sell 20,000 books, or win nothing and sell 200,000? Would you rather win a National Book Award than a Pulitzer?
Next up in my current New Y’er is an article about that dancer Elizabeth Streb I told you about after I watched a harrowing PBS doc. about her, Elizabeth Streb vs. Gravity. She looks a bit like a tough old rooster (you’ll have to look at the pic of her). I’m looking forward to reading it. I thought, until I turned the page, saw the picture and recognized her, it was about Elizabeth Warren, a New England Progressive politician whose name was—the guy just came by w/books, which I had to decline b/c they all looked ridiculous—mentioned as a possible presidential contender and the NY’er has already had a few profiles on her, and I was not looking forward to reading another.
I wish they would just bring the book cart and let me look for five fucking minutes!!!
I’m out of things to read, so I’ve been reading Mess, which you’ll notice parts of the press release recycled as stationary, and though I’m only on page 50—probably not far enough along to really pass judgement—it’s so-so. He went to a Clutterers Anonymous meeting where his heart went out to a tragic mother/daughter pair, so that made the author a little more sympathetic to me, though he talked too much for his first meeting and gave psychological advice to the pair: “I told them to look into cognitive behavioral therapy (it was the most recommended approach I’d come across in my researches).” He also asked about which anti-depressants she was on: Celexa. So I would have asked the smug little hipster dipshit after the meeting, “How’s all that research and cognitive therapy and medication working for your hoarding problem? Not too good, I imagine, or you wouldn’t be here. Why don’t you shut up and just listen next time.” He has no real job. His girlfriend is some sort of big traveling food writer, and they go all over the world eating really great food, etc. etc. These people and their memoirs, man. I don’t doubt he has real problems but… I just don’t get why anyone would write this shit. There is no way I could take myself so seriously when there are so many real problems. Why don’t you go spend a couple of hours a week down at the children’s hospital, or the homeless shelter, or the women’s shelter, or the treatment center, or w/foster kids, and on and on. We need volunteers more than we need another memoir. I cannot separate books from the idea that they should do something, change things—like your book! Like Matty does in his work. Like David and Opal in their animal volunteering.
Maybe Mr. Yourgrau will grow on me. It would help greatly if he were funny or something.
A guy recently (w/in the last 2 hours) moved into #18 across the hall and has yelled and banged on the door continually. He’s got some real problems, cursing at everyone from the warden to the people yelling at him to shut up. Okay, the C.O. just came down, had a heart-to-heart: “I can assure you you’ll not go on kicking and disrupting things.” He’s been quiet since.
—So, you would not like your book to be called a “tour de force?” as in Past Continuous, which I thought sounded devine divine (I don’t think I’ve ever used that 50s term before!) and you thought sounded exactly un-devine divine!
Is it “divine?” I think so (I’m outta paper)
Monday, July 13th
Happy Birthday! Besides being a great person and loving mother, I believe that your best quality is the joy you get when someone lovingly makes fun of you I think that shows, 1, that you like anything funny, even yourself, and 2, a pretty solid knowledge of who you are.
That observation is the only birthday gift I can offer at present.
The man who was yelling and kicking began again and continued off and on all night. He has not made any friends in this wing of A Unit, but something funny has taken place. What w/all the yelling—the doors are steel w/thick glass, largely soundproof—his voice is now a high-pitched whistling screech, like a deranged adolescent girl. Every time he tries to yell now he’s drowned out by a chorus of mocking screeches and seal calls. It’s very fun! To me he has the sound of a rooster, so I cock-a-doodle-do. He’s caused us all (C.O.s included) a lot of grief and it feels good to really yell back! He was so macho & tough yesterday and last night, and now he just sounds like how all those cowards really are: pathetic and puny.
No envelopes yet. I guess I’ll just keep waiting. I was sure hoping your book would come today, but I got nothing. Maybe tomorrow. That Mess book is the kind where he thinks it’s vital that we know what great wine he and his girlfriend are drinking at any given time. Ugh. He seems to want to hoard labels, experiences, travels, etc., as if they—all that mess—will tell him who he is, will make him someone. He’s replaced the junk in his apartment w/a list of junk he’s done. Like all addictions it is a spiritual issue, a dis-ease, and the only solution is a spiritual one. That’s basically straight from an AA meeting J He is, of course, too smart and artsy to consider God.
It feels good to talk to you via these pages. I think about those 3 beautiful kids and hope that they (Matty especially) are not worried. I don’t know what you would tell them, but they have to know something’s up b/c I talk to them all (even Opal) often. I think of hugging all of them/you together and someday, little grandkids sharing in the joy.
I got a sci-fi book from the C.O. called Adventures in Time and Space with Max Merriwell by Pat Murphy to break up the fluff of Mess. That book is only good when it veers off into facts and case histories of hoarding. Like the two Collyer Brothers in a house in Harlem in the 30s & 40s—those poor guys literally were buried under the stuff—a Model T; ten or so pianos; 10,000 newspapers; and on and on! E.L. Doctorow wrote a speculative novel about them in 2009, Homer and Langley.
Okay! Guess what I just received?! That’s right—The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath. I will now commence the reading
I’m on page 9. It is so weird reading this b/c I know what happens next, as if I’m reading the book having already watched the movie!
So far this might be the funniest part: “‘I have no idea who you are,’ she said, poking him hard in the ribs and making him yelp” (5).
Basically, that’s what you metaphorically did to my whole quiet life, just came along and said, “Who are you?!”
Back to reading—
Up to page 40. I laugh out loud on every page! I love “’What is that, a cheetah?’” about Dr. Gold’s hair thing. I love Dr. Gold’s line about the $1: “’She certainly sells herself cheap.’”
So far, Dr. Gold is my favorite to read about. She’s a very fun character! I could read about her all day. BTW—Lori Propheter sent my copy on June 18th. It’s now July 14th. I think it sat around the mail room until someone could decide whether to let me have it or not—the whole “Switchgrass Books, an imprint of NIU” probably really threw them.
It’s about 3:30 p.m. I’m on page 76 of The Lost Journals... They just got back from the “walk” where Katie left Wilson to fend for himself (you and your fucking walks ).
This nearly made me cry, from page 37, Wilson and baby Rose: “the soft whisper of her breath soothing him, his heartbeat her lullaby.”
I’ve discovered today that it’s very emotional to read this. For some reason I did not expect that. I have to put it down at times. It’s too much—for so many reasons.
I could write page after page of what I love about what you’ve written: I love Lucy, that pretty, long-toed bitch (Ever since I got engaged, I’ve been starving)!!! Katie as demon lover. Wilson’s mother as Sylvia Plath! Genius. I love it!
And I’m depressed as hell. Isn’t it weird that I didn’t get the book until I’d been in The Hole for nearly 2 weeks? God must want me to face some things, and heal. Thank you for writing your book. What if the person you were really meant to help by writing it is the real Wilson?
OMG!! I just got to where Wilson told Katie about his faux pas: “’So unless you’re storing sandwiches up there, you’re OK.’” I laughed until there were tears in my eyes—and then the last line of Part 1: “Wilson dreamed someone shot him in the neck.” PERFECT!!
Also, something I thought of last night about your totally unique descriptions of flowers and nature, the moon and the sky, “stars like teeth”—you are essentially a surrealist. Your descriptions and use of colors in your fiction have always been surreal. Maybe you should use a fancy cane and wear a cape, à la Dali. It’s great to be a surrealist. The only thing better, in my view, would be to be an avant-gardist. Or an absurdist.
—8 p.m. Just began the “January section (pg. 93). Love her—can’t wait to see the sparks fly when she and Wilson meet, though in real life, I’d have been done. Over You never believed me, but that time in my/our life made the county jail later, bearable, if that makes sense.
I’ve been here two freaking weeks today—WTF! It makes a guy think twice about doing things the correct, non-violent way.
Anyway—I’m on page 148. Dr. Gold, Alice and Wilson just got back from looking for Pearl at the shelter. I loved the three of them together. It was like watching a violent ballet! Love all the women! The “January” part was very strong & sad. I want to just read and read, but I have to try and pace myself. It is such a joy to read—so funny—the best thing that comes across to me is the absolute good time the author had writing the book! I’ve never read a book where the writer’s thrill at constructing all of it was like lifting off every page, as smoke, almost. The smoke from the burned paper on the cover is actually the hilarious caustic wit, singeing and delighting! What fun. Wilson aproved, except I spelled “approved” wrong. Wilson Approved! Here is the WA Stamp of Approval—WA ™ Curtis Dawkins
In the Hizz-ole
I wish I had all three of the Kalamazoo Trilogy in book form to read. I can’t wait to hear what sayeth your mom about Iris
—page 175+— I could also read an entire book about sad, divorced Mrs. Tanner, of the wigs and bratty daughter, Pixie. Pennies in a birthday cake? Can you imagine someone doing that today? The neighbors would form a lynching posse.
Well, it’s about 5 p.m. I’m at page 190—exactly halfway. Yuck, Steven—I just have to say—boo! And Larry Johnson, though of course they are not in the same league of horribleness. Johnson is evil, evil, evil.
The next part, “California Girl,” starts on page 215, and I really don’t want to read past that today. I have to pace. I’m not in The Hole when I’m reading your book. I still have no fucking envelopes and by the time I get all I have to write down on paper, it’ll be so long you won’t want to begin reading, but the part where I’m reading about us in The Hole is too good for you not to read. It’s no coincidence, I don’t think. There are no distractions, just me and a book about me.
— All right, I like Steven a little at the dinner party when he goes on drunkenly about how “Skinny is not all that” (page 196).
Page 208: Okay, I just have to say this, when Wilson is on his way to the Mermaid Lair (I love it when he was on the phone imagining Alice in her cop uniform, and she wants him to come watch—priceless) and he doesn’t notice that Lucy’s truck is gone, the lights are off. I literally felt nauseous. It hurt all over again. That was some real bullshit, you and James. I was probably closer to breaking, just going catatonically insane than I ever was drinking, though. Those hot days landscaping, completely miserable, hoping you had called during the day, knowing you hadn’t. Ouch. Wondering about Matt and the unborn David. Whew—that was pain. The Hole ain’t shit compared w/that. I’m serious.
—Can’t wait to see what happens w/Alice
9 p.m.— I really want to read more of The Lost Journals… Was hoping to get the 2 NYers owed me, but they didn’t come. I have to make myself read the other book I got from the stack here (I finished—thank God—Mess yesterday. Your book is 10 times that book!), Critical by Robin Cook. It’s nothing great.
The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath has the same number of syllables as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” It’s a modern day Prufrock—all those crazy goddamn women around him talk talk talking—babies, skinny skinny, tofu, mice mice men men, blah blah pretty pretty mean mean I hate her she hates me hair hair hair hair Take a bath and kill my husband. No, wait. I love him. Too late. Talk Talk. I’m sad. Who’s next?
Friday— “California Girl” section. Poor January. Her needy, “I’m only good enough if someone loves me” (or in my case, if I’m published) resonates w/me. She should have gone w/Animal after he kissed her. They could have had a happy life together. I think Wes Anderson should make this movie. The characters aren’t well-to-do as his generally are, but I could certainly see Gwyneth Paltrow as Katie, some ingénue as young Katie (the Olsen twins could—do they act anymore? They’re like billionaires). Or the Boogie Nights director. I love the 80s L.A. feel.
On page 234, January looks up at the moon wishing she could use it to tell time. You can’t use the moon that way, only the sun, and that’s usually only by triangulating shadows on the ground. It’s okay either way, she’s only 18, and it’s funny that she’s looking to something that can in no way give her what she thinks it can—just like how she looks at Stevie. He can never give her what she wants. Really subtly subtley (?), she’s the light negative of Wilson’s dark negative. They are a lot alike, which is why they clash.
— I liked that Katie had ESS (Extra Sensory Smelling) about Jan’s arrival. And I like that Rose Red is performing—at the county fair! Oh how far the mighty fall.
10 p.m.—I know that it’s fiction, but “Ectomy” is tough to read. I stopped at page 300 for the night.
— Back to the “California Girl” section for a comment: It was funny when Wilson said, about Jan’s nude pics, “One of the more ridiculous things you’ve done.” Did he see them? I love his and January’s loving (he does care for her), platonic, antagonistic relationship, but to see nude pics of a sister-in-law—I badly want to know what his reaction was
Saturday, 2:30 p.m.— Wow, your book has become like a 7 Act Shakespearian Tragedy. It is heavy. I love so much little Katie’s observations about the Dooleys, sending Cinnamon down the laundry chute—it is so painful, then, when Satan sinks his fucking claws in her. It’s a very moving book—honest and absolutely heartbreaking. The only reason NY publishers didn’t want it is b/c it’s not “a rollicking good time.” It is, but it’s not. You did the right thing not changing any of it!! It’s amazing in its darkness, and it’s light. I’m on page 326. I’m sad that I’m going to finish it today, though my mind is not going to finish w/it ever.
3 p.m.— Just took a shower and on my way out spotted The Outsiders. I gave the C.O. that Mess book and got the S.E. Hinton book to read after yours. So that’s good. While getting dressed and waiting by the shower door I could see a scrawny white inmate in Cell 28, the words “Don’t Tase Me Bro” written on the glass perfectly in soap, which meant he really had to think it through. It had to be written backwards. It was funny. He looked proud of what he’d done
— Like Mick Dooley burning “FUCK” into the lawn. I forgot to mention (I assume she’s Lisa in reality) the friend’s line, “The monkey has landed.” Funny. I also—way earlier—loved Dr. Gold & Alice debating ballet vs. stripping. Ballet is about sex, the tickets are just more expensive.
— Was Karen going to name Sarah Otis if she was a boy? It’s a great name!
— Two of my favorite lines: “‘You’re not financing it,’ he’d shout. ‘It’s my fucking money.’”
And: “They [dim yet highly motivated people] weren’t smart enough to realize how dumb they were and so attempted anything” (331).
I’m at the beginning of Part 6. “Did you trade a walk-on part on a stage for a lead role in a cage?” might have been a good epigraph, too. The one you used is good though. That’s such a great song.
Page 342—That’s the second time “hype down” has been used. That must be a Portland saying. I’ve heard “pipe down” before, but not your phrase.
—I love the sisterly exchange about the expensive lily-of-the-valley shampoo! “If I smell it on you again, you’ll be out on the street.” Ha!
Later—I’m on page 366. I’m glad that you gave Ted Hughes the last epigraph, for some reason. It seems forgiving and magnanimous.
It’s the strangest experience, the end of your book—I don’t know if I can read the last 15 pages. It is so painful. So sad. January’s ending was sad, too. And maddening—the way they just left Wilson. If any of them had just been nice to him, he may not have ended up the way he did. Don’t they understand he can’t not feel all of their cruelty as personal jabs at who he is? What was Ted and Sylvia’s relationship like? I imagine it might have been much like the one I’ve been reading about. I wish we could start again, only now, wiser, not as easily offended, but younger, of course, just smarter! You can’t be wiser, though, w/o all the damage. This book, by far, has been the most emotional to read. For obvious reasons, but still, the writing is incredible. I never once didn’t not care for the people inside the pages. Maybe not so much Lucy and Cleopatra, and of course Larry Johnson. I wish I could go back in time and put a bullet in his head way before any of that shit ever happened. I really would. No question—then toss the gun in the Willamette and walk on down the road…
It must be about 6 p.m. I just finished the book. What can I say? It’s going to win something. I just don’t know what. Maybe a National Book Award. Maybe a Pulitzer. It’s an absolute masterpiece. I’m jealous. I see why it took so long to write now. If you never wrote another thing, this is enough. I’m speechless. I feel as if I’ve been dropped from a great height and for a minute I couldn’t get my parachute to open but it finally did and I landed in the midst of a vast and lonely desert.
I don’t think any better first book has ever been written! Congratulations Kim! Extraordinary—
—I would just like to remind you that I suggested you send it to smaller presses, and when you first mentioned a response from Switchgrass (I was on the outside phones at MR) I said, “Oh, they want it.” I knew. Remember?
—This is a very big beginning. You might become Oprah’s new friend!
WA© ← more modern “Wilson Approved” stamp.
—Hopefully, I’ll ride out next week, though that might be too optimistic.
It’s weird, but I feel as if your book has healed me of some things, though I wouldn’t be able to say what exactly—maybe in a year or so I’ll be able to look back and say… In some ways it has more to do with the Katie sex scenes. It’s like those were exactly the things I imagined were happening when I was alone, not knowing what you were doing, especially if I had called and you didn’t answer. My mind never stops, you know. It’s like I’ve seen my old nightmares in black-and-white and sort of processed them and faced them, and nothing real is ever as bad as I can imagine them. In some ways it goes, too, back to when I was a kid and my parents were out drinking w/friends—always coming home much later than I thought they should and I would imagine all manner of carnage—car wrecks and probably orgies. And I hated them. I hated them so bad that I wanted to kill them. It’s all connected in weird/subconscious child ways. Very Freudian, I know, but “true” and dark and scary.
The Outsiders is ice cream and cotton candy compared to The Lost Journals… All those names (Ponyboy, Sodapop, etc.) sound familiar. I had to have seen the movie at some point. It’s a nice, easy Sunday read. And then I read some of Critical—the characters are very stock, but a lot of the plot takes place during autopsies, which I like as semi-research for “Exquisite Corpses.” Also, I know that ACL means anterior cruciate ligament. People are going in for routine surgeries and ending up dead hours later by MRSA nosocomial infection—methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureas—which basically eats them up from the inside. Some sort of virulent staph thing. You, of course, probably knew what ACL stood for
It occurs to me that you had to leave out a lot of real-life Wilson shenanigans, for example: holiday disasters, trips to Outback, stock and Myst obsessions, bee in the mouth, hornets all over, David flying out of the swing, etc., wasp sting while opening your window, convincing you “the attack” had begun when it was fireworks, filming you while that great Everlast song played in the background.
I’m glad Mrs. Hall didn’t read The Outsiders a little at a time in fifth grade (so, that would have been 1978) advanced reading. I would have cried at my desk when Ponyboy’s tough brother Darry hugged him and cried at the hospital after Johnny got hurt in the church fire. This is like a perfect boys’ YA novel! I guess girls, too. Many would swoon over the dreamy greasers—like Olivia Newton John! When was it written?
I’ve been thinking that what might make a good short story is a kid reading The Outsiders and getting the idea to be a hero by putting some kids in danger, then rescuing them. “They should tell you in school,” it might begin, “reading can be dangerous. In some cases fatal.”
The kid in Endless Love tried to do something like that, didn’t he—to win Brookey’s love? Or to win over her parents.
I still think often about your book. It was powerful. It’ll stay with me forever. It was like reading—no, it was like watching stagings of King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Romeo & Juliet, and Richard III w/lifelong Shakespearian actors, back to back to back to back—intense and draining, which is exactly what you were going for. And funny. I never laughed out loud so much, except maybe reading David Sedaris.
I like this Robert Frost poem from The Outsiders. When Johnny dies it’s the reason he says, “Stay gold, Ponyboy.”
Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.
That might be a perfect poem. I’m going to write it on the inside of your book, which I’m keeping forever, along w/an inscription of when I read it, and where, of course. I never want to forget the circumstances of that magical experience.
RLWE (Real-Life Wilson Episode): When I had a temp. of 105˚ and was sure I had contracted some rare and deadly something from the cigars that had recently come in the mail. That was when I lived in that room on Catherine St. w/those 2 AA guys. I was delirious, convinced I was about to die.
Also, fetal position on porch next to 300 lb. concrete pig, When Things Fall Apart in hand.
Near the end of your book (pretend I’m a fan in your audience after a reading, sort of an intense, Prufrock-ish man nearing 50) after January has hooked up with you-know-who—would she have been able to have intercourse so soon after giving birth? And, what sort of symbol are you trying to suggest by the display of the Northern Lights? Do you know what causes that phenomenon? What does their cause/effect suggest for January’s future?
I started working on a song that Rose Red might want to sing at their next county fair gig. Tomorrow will be 20 days in The Hole:
Twenty days in The Hole
All this time takes its toll
Stayin’ sane is the goal
Twenty days in The Hole
(That’s as far as I’ve gotten )
If you see a fan like I just mentioned, you should probably get out your pepper spray, have Matt nearby as a bodyguard.
RLWE: Convinced he’s going insane after switching to American Spirits.
I’m not really concerned about my “sanity” or the “toll” it’s taking. This time in isolation is probably good for my soul. I read mostly. I believe that this is the longest stretch of time in my life that I’ve gone w/o TV. Can you believe that? I loved all your references to TV, especially the commericals. I love Kelly’s sister in the last Katie section—Sammy. “You sluts,” she screamed, then she threw a book at Katie. I love that. You are really extraordinary at writing about kids. They come off perfectly, not too precious or simply miniature adults.
So I finished Critical, all 527 pages, though a person can read a page in less than a minute. It was about 500 pages of not much—27 pages of action and telling what had happened, which was someone was trying to sabotage a specialty hospital for rich people by introducing an airborne MRSA into the ORs. I’m not sure what the “Critical” of the title refers to. The healthcare system? Bad writing by doctors named Robin Cook? Or the fact that if he’s the same caliber M.D. as he is a constructor of prose, his patients are soon sure to be in critical condition? I think it’s the last one.
You hear sometimes about prisons forgetting men in The Hole and they emerge a few years later. I’m beginning to wonder if I haven’t been forgotten. The asshole who tried to steal my typewriter rode out yesterday at 6 a.m. If I ever see the SCC (Security Custody? Committee)—they decide where you are going—I can ask what the outcome was, as well as about my typewriter. I have no idea right now if I even have a typewriter. I know he told the judge it was his, but surely they called SwirTec, or something.
What a mess—and I’m still in The Hole.
—Why did you have Wilson playing the clarinet in high school? I played trombone. The clarinet is very phallic
—Is there a guitarist in Rose Red? Do you ever mention him? The bass player is your basic bass player loser, but what about the guitarist? And you should have been honest about “Stevie Flame’s” hideous looks! Remember when I got a good gander of “Rikki Rockett” and was like, “Oh my gosh, I feel kind of sorry for the guy.” And then, is Animal Brett Michaels? Everyone who knows you knows Rose Red is based on Poison, but you sure paint them w/rose-colored brushes. HA HA! It just occurred to me, is “Rose” named for Rose Red? I know, you just used our kids’ middle names. What is going to happen to January? She’ll probably tell her baby daddy she lost their kid, and Pearl was stolen. The nut who stole Pearl had to be based on your pothead pal from Iowa City. Now, why would she have a mixtape w/ Rose Red on it if she hates them? Was that Ellie? The mistress of the cranio-sacral chiropractor? And the feral little girl of Steven’s, Abby—is she named after your pretty/mean friend Alice?
Right now I’m reading a sci-fi book from 1980 called Sundiver, by David Brin. I just started it. I love the cover. It has writing like Logan’s Run: SUNDIVER. (I guess a font like Logan’s Run, I meant.) Did you watch that? There’s a Sleestak-looking guy w/two human looking men on the cover. It’s about a colony on Mercury (which would be impossible b/c it’s so close to the sun) and how they journey to the sun! So far it’s good escapist fun—much better than Critical. Critical Crap, it should have been called. Or, Critical Misstep in the History of Publishing.
—Sundiver has a blurb from Heavy Metal (you should try and get one from them!): “Brin has a fertile and well-developed imagination…coupled with a sinuous and rapid-paced style.”
—Who coined the term “Heavy Metal?” I believe it was the band Steppenwolf, in the song “Born to be Wild.”
—Heavy metal thunder
and the feeling that I’m under
Racin’ with the wind (and after that I’m not sure, though I used to have the tape. The best song was “Goddamn, the Pusher Man.”)
Like a two-nature child
I was born—born to be wild
I used to have a black T-shirt with a big bald eagle on it: “Born to be Wild” it said. I also had a blue one that looked to be emblazoned w/a university logo, which said: “Drunken State.”
I figured for sure I would see SCC today and find out some things. Today is day 22, and nobody has said one word to me. After breakfast, I heard the C.O.s start taking people (you don’t go anywhere in The Hole w/o being handcuffed from behind through the food tray slot, then escorted backwards into the hall, then faced forward and held firmly by an officer on each side) to see them. They saw 7 guys by 11 a.m. But not me. I was really depressed and angry. I knew that my worthless counselor, Ms. Mason, was supposed to stop by for her weekly, “You doin’ alright,” so I wrote her a half-page note telling her to call the MDOC mental health people in Lansing b/c I was being mentally tortured by being ignored. It was my contention that they should let me know something after BEING IN HERE FOR THREE WEEKS!! Just treat people like human beings, I said.
I got absolutely nowhere, of course. I said, aren’t you an advocate for prisoners w/mental problems? She said she was, but she can’t do anything about “custody,” as this is not a mental health facility, but a prison. I’m not asking you to do anything about custody, just make sure I’m treated like a human being—they need to let me know what’s going on. “Fair enough,” she said, and that was that.
Hopefully, I’ll see them (SCC) Monday. And, I need 1 lousy envelope to mail out this letter. I’ve also got no magazine and no mail for 2 weeks. Where are the New Yorkers? NOT a good day.
Next time (I will never loan my typewriter out again, but I’m just saying…) I get into something like this, I’ll find some broke scrapper and pay him $100 to get it back! $100 goes a long way in prison.
What does the “A” in Wilson A. stand for? Arllis? Nothing?
It’s kind of hot here today. I’m also sort of emotionally hungover from the disappointment of yesterday. I sent another “kite” to a different guy for some envelopes. I re-read the entire letter yesterday and though I have no idea how long it took exactly, it felt like an hour maybe. I’m stopping at page 33, which is, coincidentally, the number of chapters in your wonderful book! Seems like a good number. I don’t even know if I can fit all of it in one envelope. I’m going to close for this Saturday. I’ve been reading that book about going to the sun—maybe that brought the heat.
The guy who kicked and screamed until he lost his voice, who left The Hole last Tues. b/c he was found not guilty of his Threatening Behavior Ticket, mostly because he’s “in the program,” well, he came back yesterday. He’s yelling right now at one of the C.O.’s, telling him that he’s going to take him to court and take his job. He’s gotten 3 tickets just since he’s been here. I don’t think he’s getting off this time.
Friday, July 31—
Can you believe I spent the entire month of July in The Hole? What a month. Finally saw SCC this morning. I had made up my mind to stand firm and demand that they transfer me. I had prayed a lot but I was nervous about it. They’ll try to talk you into going back, maybe to a different unit—but they can’t make you. Well, I got in there, all ready to plead my case and he says, “You been in here (The Hole) a long time, we need to transfer you, so that’s what we’ll do.” I still don’t know the status of my typewriter, but the SCC guy is supposed to find out AND get me a couple of envelopes, though I’m sure he’ll forget. He forgot before. So, I hope it isn’t back to Mich. Ref., but if it is, I’ll be all right. This is, no doubt, the longest and most unusual letter I’ve ever written you. Thanks for the first—of many—books you’ll write about us and our amazing kids! It was GREAT!
C (aka W.A.L.)
I Love You, Opal!
I hope you are doing good in babysitting and
I Love You, David!
I hope you are
doing good in summer school
Happy 21st B-Day
I Love You!