—Say, what do you do?
—I’m not sure, sir.
—Whatta ya mean you’re not sure? How old are you son?
—Thirteen I reckon.
—I ain’t much for learning.
—Learning’s one thing. Not knowing your age is a different matter entirely. Where are
—And what do they do?
—Stuff I guess.
—What kind of “stuff”?
—The kind of stuff where they don’t make much money.
—Is that what you want to do, then? Grow up to be poor?
—Ain’t got no choice, I guess.
—We always have a choice, son.
We spoke for a few more minutes. He told me about literature, about Kerouac and the beats, and he gave me a twenty dollar bill. They have On the Road at the bookstore in the mall. Buy it, he said. Read it. It’ll change you the way it changed me when I was your age. But what’s that mean? To change? How can words on paper bound in a portable codex change someone? I didn’t know then the power of the written word: that symbols stamped in black ink on pulp could alter your neurophysiology eluded me. What masks replaced skin? Night crawls across the sky, crooked yet complete. Dawn broke and I didn’t realize it until the television in the living room fired up. My father, watching the news. What time was it? Early. I’d stayed up all night reading, lost in a book. On the road. Traveling. Alive.
I devoured every book I got my hands on after that. Some were great and some were awful, but I didn’t care—I wanted to read everything. And I wanted to write. God how I wanted to write. Books opened possibilities I couldn’t earlier conceive. Now I exploded with possibilities. The sun and the moon, the solar system and the galaxy, even the universe bled from the pores of my fingertips. I had to smear them on paper, to share them with anyone and everyone. Everything we experience is, in a sense, a hallucination: models fabricated by the meat in our skulls. Refreshed every millisecond as information forced alterations. Shadows crawl and come alive. Men and women dance in silhouettes on the horizon. In my dreams I sense a symbiotic relationship with the waking world. I had to record everything, to translate everything, to telegraph and transmit the universe of possibilities blooming behind my eyes.
So I wrote. I created new worlds. I drew from my love of surrealism and altered and tweaked this world, this dry and boring, humorless world. And I fabricated parts of my
life, of my past. I created characters who nudged me along. Invented vague characters to motivate me and peppered moments with ridiculous dialogue. Interjected nonsense into moments not requiring or demanding it—and constantly ripped off the Marx Brothers. Strange interludes. ‘Living with your folks, living with your folks the beginning of the end. Drab dead yesterdays shutting out beautiful tomorrows. Hideous stumbling footsteps creaking along the mystic corridors of time, and in those corridors I see figures, strange figures, weird figures; steel 186, anaconda 74, American can 138.’
And I felt alive. Oh how I felt alive when I wrote, unlike the humdrum feelings of life in the doldrums. But did words change me? I honestly don’t know. Sometimes I care and sometimes I don’t. When I’m writing it doesn’t matter. It only doesn’t matter when I write.
Pluck a chunk of meat from your brain and chew it. When you swallow it you’ll absorb parts of you long lost to weakened and decayed axons. Memories contained in your meat break down into chemicals repurposed by your brain as neurotransmitters fabricated to navigate the moment. Time passes in increments. You perceive it as waves—or as a wall. In the gap between time and memories, you can tease out possibilities. Those conjured out of tedium or boredom, always non-consciously, form the building blocks of activities some of us refer to as art. This is why I write: to coax possibilities into existence. And I choose to break narrative rules because the possibilities that interest me aren’t tourist destinations. To visit these sights, I must abandon roads paved by decades of tweaked formulae. I can’t write like other people. And it’s not a choice. I’m not in control of my
passions and interests. None of us are. For whatever reason, I write the way I write because it signifies something in my brain, behaviors or predilections or interpretations to which I don’t have conscious access. I can only infer them through close readings. And who knows if my inferences or interpretations reflect my state as I wrote whichever piece I later choose to dissect? I’m a different person when I revisit something I’ve written. The writer ceases to exist. The analyst pops into existence. Words mean nothing and everything. Intentions are lost or forgotten or misunderstood. I can view myself outside of myself and wonder who I am. As a result, I’m not interested in entertaining people. There are many writers better suited to entertain you. I’m interested in creating experiences. Those, I think, are far more important.
Please share this article if you liked it. And consider taking a moment to check out my GoFundMe campaign, which you can read more about here.
Daulton Dickey is a novelist, poet, and content creator currently living in Indiana with his wife and kids. He’s the author of A Peculiar Arrangement of Atoms: Stories, Still Life with Chattering Teeth and People-Shaped Things, and other stories, Elegiac Machinations: an experimental novella, and Bastard Virtues, a novel. Rooster Republic Press will publish his latest novel, Flesh Made World, later this year. Contact him at daultondickey[at]yahoo[dot]com.