My collection of short fiction, The President’s Parasite and Other Stories was written over the course of 15 years, with many of the stories being updated recently in order to improve their depth of emotion. I was asked to write about “taking your beliefs—moral and political—and working them into your fiction and why your beliefs have caused you to write a book of this nature.” Thanks, Cheryl, I needed that!
I used to have this weird idea that nobody would care where the heck I got my ideas or what I thought about in my non-writing, conscious state. That’s right; I’m of the opinion that I am writing at my best when the effort seems “unconscious,” or what the late Dr. Carl Jung called “tapping into the Collective Unconscious.”
So, now, here I am, trying put into words exactly why I write stories the way I do and what makes me choose the subjects. This may sound strange, but I try not to impose my own moral beliefs on a story. I know, you’re all saying, “That’s impossible! At some level one must know what one believes, and this must inevitably come across in the writing.” Au contraire, I say, because my moral and political beliefs are such that I believe any and all things are possible, and that any artist who attempts to impose his conscious morals upon a work will, ultimately, fail. My philosophical hero, the late absurdist French playwright and novelist, Albert Camus, probably expresses my moral and political (and artistic!) beliefs best when he says, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning. Great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.” Or, how about this, “Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.” And, finally, the coup de gras, “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.”
How do these quotes relate to my stories and to my creative force? Let’s take the first one, “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.” Several of my stories began with an absurd experience—something that happened to me that made me confront the absurdity of existence in the post-modern, deconstructionist world. For example, the title story in my collection, “The President’s Parasite,” happened after I was reading about the life of the tapeworm. I then saw a blurb about the tapeworm being the name they gave the first computer “bug,” back in the old Univac days. Those two absurd combinations of realities led me to think about the G-8, the present President of the United States of America (and other G-8 members), and my satire began to write itself as soon as I took that “cosmic leap” that guys like fellow absurdist artist, Franz Kafka, know so well. I became that tapeworm, trapped inside the President of the United States, George Walker Bush. And, this was no ordinary tapeworm, oh no, not for these times! This tapeworm was bent upon world conquest. How absurd can that be? Karl Marx said the revolution should begin “within,” didn’t he? Ha! What better way to begin a story? Jonathan Swift did it with his “A Modest Proposal” (why don’t we just eat the Irish babies and fix this population problem?). So, Camus’ quote is very prescient, is it not? Another story in my collection that takes from this absurdity quote is “The Lupercian Festival,” which is about a Mi’kmaq Canadian Aborigine on a New Brunswick reservation, who just happens to have been “blessed” with the longest penis in world history. Isn’t that a lot better than waking up and finding out you’re a cockroach?
At any rate, let’s take the second Camus quote, “Without freedom, no art; art lives only on the restraints it imposes on itself, and dies of all others.” I dare say, unless an editor of one of the big publishers out there had been imbibing on the job, neither of these stories would have seen the light of print publication. However, since I am a self-published author, thanks to the miracle of Print-on-Demand (that means the populace still can say when and if they like something), I was able to use my “freedom” to create the art as I saw fit. Without this freedom, in my opinion, art dies with it.
Many of my other stories also have socio-political content, so these would have also died on the editing room floor (for their own good, mind you), but Camus’ life’s blood lives on, in my stories, even though my mentor’s body was absurdly wrapped around a telephone pole (inside his publisher’s new sports car!), on that fateful day, which cut him off in the height of his artistic career.
Finally, there is, “Without culture, and the relative freedom it implies, society, even when perfect, is but a jungle. This is why any authentic creation is a gift to the future.” This one, in all actuality, keeps me writing, even though the odds are against us absurdist artists. Jonathan Swift told me that the ones I make fun of in order to change them really will never see themselves in my satire, and I agree. George W. Bush, as a matter of fact, would only be told what my story said, and then only if thousands of readers were reading it and ridiculing him on blogs (since when has George W. read any blog recently?). Are we not already in this “jungle” that Camus mentions? The multi-million dollar “best-sellers” do not make one think about the nature of reality—either as a concept or in an altered, artistic state. Instead, the same old, tired and ignorant consumer traits are pushed upon us: lust, envy, sloth, greed, wrath, gluttony and pride (hey, wait a minute, aren’t those supposed to be sinful?). However, just pick-up a trashy novel (the best kind!) or watch a music video or video game for adults. Those “sins” are right out there, in your face, waiting for you to react and go buy or do something to provoke the economy into “wealth and more wealth.” Please. Read a Nora Roberts novel from beginning to end. Then, look at this list of sins. See what I mean? The difference between the Nora Roberts’s of the world and authentic artists (according to Camus) is the fact that we write with a free conscience. In fact, according to Camus’ mentor, Jean-Paul Sartre, we are all “condemned to be free,” are we not? Even good old Nora.
Although, if the Nora Roberts’s of the world are truly happy with their job, then so be it. I’ll leave you with this quote by Camus on the nature of happiness (I’ve got it memorized for my dark days when blog editors ask me about the nature of my morals), “You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.” If you read my collection of stories, I think you’ll agree that my characters haven’t quite gotten the hang of it yet. Have you?