Sunday, December 8, 2013

No News is Good News

When I first read Steppenwolf, I was struck by a line in the beginning, perhaps intended to be an indictment of bourgeois complacency, about Harry reading the newspaper and feeling grateful that, at least, no wars had broken out. This naturally would have been of greater concern to a character living in a time when in the not too distant past his nation had been devastated by war than it would be to me personally, an individual who lives in a nation which hasn't been meaningfully affected by war in almost a hundred and fifty years. The last time American civilians were regularly killed in warfare was when Lincoln occupied the White House. What struck me was some desire for a sense of calm, or of immediate safety. Just as descriptions of characters who have routines always arouse my admiration, depictions of self-aware characters in contemplative moods in secure environments (as well as memories of myself years ago, myself at times when, if I could have known the future, I would have known that I would live another ten or twenty years, that a catastrophe would not strike me down anytime soon)... How much more relaxed I could have been.

News is not the same now. The world is not the same as it was when Hesse was writing that great book. There is profit to be made by terrorizing people with bad news and agitating them with trifling scandals. But the profit motive has always been with us. I suppose the only thing that has changed is the quantity of information we absorb every day. Bad information. Useless information. Opinions. Outright lies.

Ignore the mob. It’s an illusion anyway. They’re not at the front door with torches. They’re in their own homes, at their own computers, trolling the net and being nasty. I don’t want to be a part of it nor do I want to be made dirty by it.

There’s the world of man, the social matrix (as opposed to Reality, of which our “world”  is but a dim, refracted shadow, and a tiny one at that)—disheartening as it is. Let it be. Let it go on and it will eventually consume itself. Nothing I can do to stop it. Nothing I can do to help it. The only thing is to save yourself. Ignore it. It won’t go away, but one’s compassion must be conserved—saved for those who are closest, who matter the most. Never forget that in context with Everything, our dim shadows and obscure constructs must be as immune to valuation as the emptiness out of which they come. Too bad that knowing this doesn’t always mean accepting it fully—all the way down in the bones, so to speak, where it truly informs you. Where whole personalities are defined.

New study concludes that the least competent among us are the least aware of their incompetence. With stupidity comes astounding certainty.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


I watched a documentary about James Bond last night, about how Ian Fleming created the character and how the secret agent was a fantasy version of the author himself. I thought, “Fuck, I wish I could do that!” I do wish I could lose myself in some completely fictional creation, something thrilling and sensational that thrilled everybody else just as much as it thrilled me. But I can’t. I just don’t care enough about anything I “make up” to get it off the ground, though I do enjoy working up plots for other people’s stories.

I’ve written fiction, mainly just to prove that I could do it, sometimes thinking it was the only way I’d ever make any money from writing, because when you’re as constantly in need of cash as I am, not much can take place without it, the anxiety of it looms so heavily it crushes the creative impulse, so naturally those attempts at fiction were failures. The only money I ever made from writing came from non-fiction anyway. I’ve always said that fiction writers were “liars” (which admittedly sounds a little childish), but meaning only that they were entertainers, that they might as well be late night game-show hosts, and that there is less honor, less genuine lasting significance in what they do than what people like Henry Miller did. I know that so-called truth can be conveyed through fiction, and I understand that one’s life, one’s reality, can’t actually be communicated, so I am aware that my ideal—truly honest writing—can never be what I imagine it to be.

I would rather tell you what it’s like to go mad on psilocybin, or to fight in mortal terror with the notion that you are, essentially, a killer, a dangerous person, only to realize that if you actually were a killer, you never would have worried about it to begin with. I would rather tell you about when I fell in love with my first wife, and how I ruined that, or how the relationship would never have flourished anyway, given the factors involved, or describe to you my own father, a man I have passionately hated, despised, but who I recently held in my arms, whose head I kissed, and wished that I could protect him from himself and erase all the unspeakable things that have ever happened to him. It may not matter to the reader, to you, whether or not the character I’m writing about is truly my own father or a conglomerate of attributes, a fictional personality, but it matters a great deal to me, and it would matter to me as a reader. I think it matters tremendously to future readers.

Literature, at it’s best, is nothing more than a human being communicating honestly about his experience of being human. I can’t say what it’s like to be anyone else. Presuming that I know enough about people in general to create an imaginary universe of characters—isn’t that like peopling a fantasy with fragments of myself, or worse still, reflections of my own prejudices? There is no way to know that what I experience as life is anything like what you experience as life. There indeed seem to be many similarities, but I don’t condone propagating the misconception that a universe of unknowable void doesn’t separate what I experience as real from what you experience as real. This is precisely the reason that honest attempts at communication are necessary. We want to know, we need to know, to be reassured (or perhaps not), that the similarities outweigh the differences between us.

The world produced me. My mind produces my experience off the world. I know there is a darkness, a nullity, at the edge of all that I can conceive. I know that what I experience as the here is now is a product of my central nervous system, that it’s happening exclusively within that system, and that we are all living within similar systems. How similar, and how different the products of those systems are, I have no way of knowing, and neither do you. The only currency of real value is language. It’s importance, and it’s ability to distract and corrupt, cannot be overstated. We assume all words mean the same things to everyone, and every concept is understood in the same manner by everyone, and that we all live in the same place. This is not true.

This profound misconception, though it serves it’s evolutionary purpose, may keep us feeling like a “community,” like the members of a big warm herd even when we’re all alone in our homes or cars, still snuggly connected, plugged in to our “cultural collective” by the gossip streaming in and out of our electronic devices, and all that soothing chatter maintains the illusion that there are such things as normal and appropriate, and gives us something to compare ourselves to. The illusion and it’s reinforcements produce a subtle, unceasing anxiety about being inferior people. We do receive, sometimes, a fleeting, incomplete, tantalizing flavor of the opposite, and this is what keeps us plugged in, playing the game, working harder and harder, trying to keep up… (you know the drill). But we are entirely complicit in the arrangement, (after all we built it, and we celebrate whenever it’s strengthened) because this mass-delusion, this pseudo-collective-consciousness prevents us from acknowledging fully that we are, all of us, individually, going to die. Alone. Exactly as we lived—alone—whether we ever accepted it or not.

Popular culture, if that is what it is, this false collective, seduces us into forgetting that we’re alone, convinces us to follow our worst instincts, and to ignore what is most important about ourselves, our ability to know what we are. It degrades our stature to such a degree that we believe that there are no important questions left to ask, no mystery left to our lives, that we’re all the same, that it’s all the same—so why bother with art or philosophy or anything else that might be uncomfortable? Why not be frivolous and superficial? An adequately sedated and preoccupied culture doesn’t feel the need to examine itself (not in any real context), just exactly as a nearly fixed junky has only one single purpose in his or her life.

Art reminds us that we’re alone, but that we can communicate. The important thing about accepting just how wrong we are about everything is that once we know how alone we are, we can begin to communicate more precisely, more honestly, and finally, we will find ourselves a hell of a lot less “lonely” than we ever were before.

There are seven and a half, maybe eight billion universes on this planet, if we’re only talking about human beings. And not one of them made the decision to be here. I do my best to keep that in mind—the truth, or the widest possible context, nearly always leads to compassion, and I hope you’ll agree that compassion is important—because when you think there’s only one world, you can afford to presume as much as you want about all the other poor bastards living in it.

I am not an escapist, as much as I sometimes wish I could be. I’m the opposite, I suppose, whatever that is. A Realist, or a Surrealist maybe, in some ways. I’m not certain what I’ll produce in the future, but I probably won’t be writing any spy thrillers. But then again… you never know.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Excerpt from THE DEPTH OF THINGS by Nate

            “Just give me a minute.” She goes away. It’s cold. The images, when I close my eyes, the experiences, are too rapid now. I have no sense of time. I lose myself in this endless onslaught of experiences. The visions are like lucid dreams. I am inside of them. Moving deeper and deeper into what feels like a vortex, or a wormhole, the images are so rapid they begin to blur, I’m moving through a tunnel—there are an infinite number of tunnels I could be moving through, I move through all of them at once and the “walls” of this tunnel, these tunnels, all tunnels, these vortexes, are images and experiences, symbols, everything that has ever happened, pure understanding, pure experience, and every plunge down every tunnel leads to a singularity, a point of infinite awareness, and I spring back from it, only to plunge again, and this continues at such a rate that I lose track of my body, where I am, what I am and who I am, I become pure consciousness and there is a sense, a knowledge, the most profound understanding that this, this is a place I’ve been before—the place from which I come and the place to which I will return. This is the Absolute.
            “Here.” Joy has my sweater. She tries to hand it to me as if I should know what to do with it, but I don’t. I don’t know how to put the sweater on. Whether my eyes are open or closed makes little difference now. I can see her, and the sweater, and I can see my hand attempting to push itself into the sweater, but I am rocketing down into vortex after vortex. Joy’s face is a vortex, her eyes, the sweater, my hand. The answer, the absolute, is in everything, everywhere, all the time, and I am submerged in it. I am made up of it. She helps put the sweater on me and disappears. I close my eyes and go back to the tunnels. She returns with my pills and a glass of water. I take the valium. I can’t feel the water glass, can’t taste the water. Amazing, my body can do these things, like grasp objects, utilize tools, takes pills, all while I am off on these voyages—every time I return I can’t believe that only a second or two has passed.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Symbols By Nate

ghosts of girls
symbols tattoos icons
some with plane tickets inside them
some with pockets of pills
one all shadow
one all sun continuing
in all those reflections
this was a time
when everything meant
life and death
and mortality was an abstract toy that
we all took turns playing with
because it made us feel real
and it made us feel important
before the closing
of the hemispheres
before drawings of murder
seemed like threats
before mountain ranges
blocked anything
but the end was always near--
a comforting
and savagely mutable
what makes you feel alive today
can bury you tomorrow
and what an idiotic shock
when it almost does.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Things An Artist Should Keep In Mind

Here's the secret to success for any artist. Three steps and one principle to keep in mind. I don't personally follow the steps and I always forget the principle, but that doesn't make it any less true.

1. Make the best piece of work that you can, whether a poem, a painting, a song or a novel. The best you can possibly do. It helps to know what you're doing and to have mastered the form you're working in, so naturally it might take you twenty years to accomplish this. Or not.

2. Believe in that work with everything you've got. With an idiotically religious fervor, believe in the shit. It's all you've got and it's best you can do, so you damn well better get behind it one hundred and ten percent.

3. Push it like you're doing the world a favor--like if someone doesn't appreciate it then they must just be too stupid to get it.

Mediocre artists, morons and psychopaths who never experience self-doubt, accomplish amazing things regardless of the true quality of their work. This is because these three steps come naturally to them. They wouldn't have the self-awareness to question their own ability.

As for the important principle that all self-aware, self-conscious, self-doubting neurotic artists have to accept: We are trying to "work" and "succeed" in an Industry. It's a real industry in a real marketplace, regardless of how idealistic we might be. So expecting a professional, like an agent or a producer or a gallery owner to notice your potential and take you under their wing and help you to develop that natural talent and potential into something concrete and salable is, unfortunately, a completely delusional expectation. I know, it's a terrible blow. Nobody is going to "discover" you and make you rich and famous and well-respected just because you have potential. Potential is everywhere. What is not everywhere, and what they don't have, the people whose job it is to sell art, are finished products that need very little polishing. The bottom line, the disappointing reality, is that these people are not there to help you. They're there to profit from you. They'd rather get behind an idiot with a mediocre piece of polished garbage that's guaranteed to sell than get behind a genius with a rough but brilliant concept that's not likely to make them a bundle of cash. Agents, publishers, managers, music producers, film companies, gallery owners... These are not artists. They are business people. Do not confuse them with people who give a shit. They don't. Knowing that their only goal is to sell your property (if your property is salable) so that they can take ten to twenty percent of your money will save you untold time and heartache.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sartre and the Moth

Most recent work, askew, on skewed piece of black cardboard...

The Tralfamadorian Novel

Well, fuck... I've read Slaughterhouse Five once all the way through and then several times just picked it up and dipped in wherever--that's usually how I read. I just dip in somewhere in the middle and see if I get anything good. If it's good, I keep reading or start from the beginning. Anyway, for as long as I can remember, my goal with writing has been to achieve something similar to the the collage. It seems almost impossible at first--it takes so much time to read, say, fifty thousand words, and there is so much information in there, so much to forget... Look at a collage and you've got it, instantly, whatever there is to get.

I just found this wonderful passage in Slaughterhouse Five (by Kurt Vonnegut, if you don't know, and if you don't know, you should--you really should) and this passage practically sums up this goal of mine to produce a literary work that operates like a collage. After all, my approach to collage arises from a philosophical perspective which does not include free will (which is an illusion, friends, I'm sorry to say, if you didn't know already, and you should know)--it's a kind of attempt to present as many possible concept or perspectives as possible at the same time, to show everything, right now, simultaneously, as it is. A snapshot of everything. Nice ideal, often not possible.

Billy Pilgrim, the main character of the book, is kidnapped by aliens called Tralfamadorians. He asks to see one of their novels. They tell him he can't possibly understand them but they give him several anyway. A Tralfamadorian novel is laid out this way--clumps of symbols, a star, another bunch of symbols, another star, etc. Billy says the clumps of symbols look like telegrams.

The Tralfamadorian says, "There are no telegrams on Tralfamadore. But you're right: each clump of symbols is a brief, urgent message--describing a situation, a scene. We Tralfamadorians read them all at once, not one after the other. There isn't any particular relationship between all the messages, except that the author has chosen them carefully, so that, when seen all at once, they produce an image of life that is beautiful and surprising and deep. There is no beginning, no middle, no end, no suspense, no moral, no causes, no effects. What we love in our books are the depths of many marvelous moments seen all at one time."

Gorgeous, isn't it? Perfect.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Conversation

So, I think I'm finished with "novels." I never really wanted to write them--neatly packaged little parcels of entertainment. I can write them. I could probably write them better if I gave a shit, but that's what it takes to write really amazingly entertaining fiction. You have a to give a shit. And I don't. What I do give a shit about, though, is art, literature... real writing. For an example of what I mean by this all you really have to do is scroll down the side bar and check out my list of favorite authors and the books they wrote. They're the kinds of books that no one other than them could have written, because they lived what they wrote about. Maybe it all does just come down to self-validation or egotism or a deep fear of death, of being erased from human memory. It is those things and more, of course. I was thinking about art recently--I did a couple of new collages and was asking myself why, did some writing (as always) but asked myself why. Why does art matter? I mean, you could go anywhere with that question. Clearly it serves a social purpose, an evolutionary purpose. It means all sorts of things, but the one answer I settled on, because it's simple, and it doesn't need to be further reduced, is that art matters (to me) because it's always mattered to me. Every decision of my adult life has been influenced by books, by knowledge gained by reading them. My one hope is to produce a piece of art that makes others want to produce something of their own--no, that's not my one hope. I have always turned to literature when I needed to know what human beings, the world, reality, was all about. I've always been convinced that literature isn't about entertainment. It's a conversation that spans ten thousand years and the greatest minds, and some of the stupidest, have had their say--they've contributed to this conversation. The conversation is about this quandary we all find ourselves in. Here we are. What are we supposed to do? Literature is how we explore that question, how we offer possibilities, ideas, admonishments. It's the "message board" of human history. I always wanted to contribute to that conversation, because listening to it has given my life more meaning, more richness, infinitely more depth, than it would have had otherwise. It's the conversation, listening in, seeking out the most honest voices who had the most honest things to say, that has given me so much, and driven me to formulate responses and new questions. That's what it's all about. Fiction, even in it's worst form--dishonesty and distraction and fetishism rather than the honest sharing of genuine knowledge--certainly has its place, and so I do know of course there is a place for works like Olympia and even Argentine but those works mean nothing to me next to Good Behavior (which was not my intended title, no, mine was Prehistory, because the events in that book largely took place before I discovered the Conversation) and they're nothing next to the other sixteen books I haven't released yet because they're not quite ready... though maybe some are getting close. There are Books, perhaps the only things in the world for which I feel anything akin to reverence, and then there are novels, and though I respect the craft of novel-writing, sometimes blown away by the skill of a master novelist, it's still the Books that matter. The honest ones. The real ones written by real people whose lives are so tangled up in their stories that there's no telling what's true and what's not. And that doesn't matter, because what they really wanted to do was to contribute to the conversation--the conversation that had sustained them, as it sustains me, and surely sustains many others. It all matters... because that matters to me, and I don't need to reduce it beyond that. I think that's somewhat comforting.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

San Francisco (sketches) by Nathan L. Henry

Cold fog choppy water deep as hell and dangerous I've never been so thoroughly cold and it goes all the way through me our last night in San Francisco coming in on the ferry after a trip up the bay that began just around dusk past San Quentin— I tried to get a beer on the ferry but the girl at the concession counter couldn't take a credit card but she asked me if I was a regular probably would have given me credit but I told her I wasn't. She gave me a smile and a shrug— Sorry. It's all right.  Joy and I went out onto the deck again. It was dark and freezing out there and those ferries move fast— a hell of a lot faster than I expected— loping side to side up and down a hard ride salt water pacific spray coming up into our faces.  Watch the city come closer and closer out of the fog and for a few moments there I got hold of something, a sense of what San Francisco is or what it was and how it got to be what it is. Opium dens lawlessness whores sailors coming into port from all over the world human trafficking it really feels like the end of the continent out there like the jagged violent fringe of civilization.  Imagine a metropolis growing up out of the chaos and violence of the gold rush flourishing and fattened by greed and vice.  Joy I were amazed by how few cops there were how little authority there actually was anywhere. You can sense a lack of safety a sense of being a bit more on your own than you are in other cities and you get sarcasm from everybody you talk to.  In Coit Tower that big two hundred foot tall cement dick at the top of a two hundred foot tall hill the elevator squeals and groans like every single agonizing trip up and down will probably be it's last and the Chinese kid that runs it, when a tourist asks him how long he's been working there, as he causes a jerk in the elevator with a twitch of his hand says with a straight face, This is my first day. The he smiles, barely— we realize he's joking but he doesn’t make much of an effort to let us know that he’s joking. The bums on Market Street dart out at the cars and make wild schizophrenic threatening gestures and menacing gorilla-like noises— Tourists by the thousands dumbly carrying their shopping bags in bright clothes with stupid confusion in their eyes bums by the hundreds yelling "Fucking eat shit!" at the tourists. No cops anywhere. I mean, fucking nowhere. When Joy and I get into town from our drive up the coast and after we drive up Market toward Embarcadero and finally find our hotel, we settle into our room. It’s a gorgeous room. It’s plush. This is the last little bit of a long trip that began in another San Francisco hotel— still a pretty nice place but closer to the Tenderloin where by day the world was an acceptably civilized place but the instant night began to fall the junkies came out and pimps beat their whores right there in the street— a trip that’s taken us over the mountains past where the Donners ate each other and into the Nevada desert the high desert where there are wild horses and legal prostitution and into the mountains again, down into Death Valley, up past L.A. and on up the coast finally to where we are now. Three stars for a hundred twenty a night. Valet parking. I said to Joy, as we got into the elevator, Plush as fuck, man. She smiled. Not bad at all. 

But then there were the douche bags and the bums...

We go downstairs for a beer and we sit on the terrace of the hotel restaurant and I’ve been looking forward to this beer all day long and the table next to us is empty and there is peace. There’s a cool breeze coming in from the bay. We watch the boats, the water, the bridge... The waiter seats a group of Silicon Valley douche bags at the table right next to ours, and immediately, I can’t hear myself think and I can’t think of anything but these fucking douche bags because they’re so loud and so vocally domineering as if they’re at a barbecue in their own fucking back yard as if in their insane universe I, a total stranger, should WANT to hear their awful conversation—  And I mean, these guys are douche bags. When I say that, I can’t emphasize it enough, a couple of MBA shit-dicks on a double date talking about video games and the evil practical jokes and drinking games they used to play in their frat houses when they were in school and their brainless dates trying to pretend to stay interested. I can’t understand why these people exist. I keep trying to get a grasp on why they’re allowed to just roam freely in our society, wrecking every atmosphere they enter. I'm visibly upset. Joy says, Just ignore them. How the fuck can I ignore them? They’re pressing their balls against the side of my fucking face! I can’t take it. I slam down the beer and hunt for our waiter shove money into his hand and we leave.  Joy goes back up to the room and I go for a walk. I’m in a murderous mood. I’m in the foulest emotional state. I feel like I’ve just been raped a thousand different ways because douche bags like that really do exist— and they run the fucking world. After spending mere minutes next to them in a restaurant I know what kind of cars they drive, what their favorite video games are and their favorite fucking methods for torturing underlings…  Evil exists. I had just seen it. I was forced to listen to it. I was forced to exist in it’s overbearing oblivious universe long enough for me to want them dead, long enough for me to recognize the futility of wanting them dead, long enough to know that all I want is to never have to breathe the same air as anyone like that ever again.  I walk down the promenade on the bay side of Embarcadero looking for another beer— I’m sure that one more beer will cool me out, settle me down— if I can just stop into a little shop and buy one beer, sit down on a bench and smoke and look at the water and drink my cold beer everything will be fine— I’ll be able to relax but I can’t find any little shops and every place I pass seems like it’s packed with douche-bags exactly like the ones I just escaped and it’s so fucking hot out I start to sweat and I need water. I take off my jacket and carry it in my hand and I walk. I’m dying of thirst now. I just want a grocery store or a drug store now, some place to get a bottle of water before heading back to the hotel where I can hide for the rest of the day from this douche-bag infested hell.  Every major city in the world turns to shit on the weekends. Paris is the same way. Sublime all week long and suddenly on Saturday, the streets are clogged with douche-bags of one entitled obnoxious sort or another. At least  in New York I know what neighborhoods to avoid when the douche-bags invade, and it's sort of opposite there--the douche bags leave town on the weekend. I decide to just get back to the hotel but there’s an arts and crafts show on the streets I have to get through and I wind my way through the crowds wanting to punch people when they get too close. Everyone is too close. And then I can hear it. The plaintive whine of the worst kind of bum. I saw him in his wheel chair and his "help a vet" sign out of the corner of my eye but I ignored him. Excuse me, sir? I pretend not to hear it. I walk fast. I’m dying of thirst and the crowd is crushing me. Excuse me, sir? Where the fuck is a normal goddamn deli or drug store or café—don’t they exist in this goddamn city? Where the fuck is my goddamn hotel— where can I find one bottle of goddamn water? Excuse me! The bum screams.  I look at him. Can I have a cigarette? He’s got massive sloppy lips and he’s fat, squashed into his wheelchair and his clothes, his sweat pants are crusty and oily all over with biological excretion—he’s the slimiest piece of shit I’ve ever seen in my life. I keep walking, and behind me the bum goes into an hysterical spasm screaming as loud as he can, Fuck you, motherfucker! Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you! People are staring. I hurry. There is genuine rage in his voice. Who knows if he’s going to pull out a gun or get up from his wheel chair and chase me down with a knife and gut me there on the street— or maybe a pack bums are suddenly going to come to his assistance and surround me and that will be the end of me—a bloody spectacle for the douche bags.  I round a corner and lean against a wall. It’s a dead street, except for some bums.. more bums— the fucking bums are everywhere, but they’re not coming after me—not yet. They’re laying around on public benches. Bums here stake out little territories, little encampments and you get the sense that if you get too close they’ll drag you in and absorb you somehow, turn you into liquid nourishment by puking on you like flies do and suck you up off the sidewalk with straws.  There is no shade. I’m sweating. I try to light another cigarette but my mouth is so dry the smoke is sandpaper in my throat. The sun is beating down heavy. There is no shade anywhere. Oh, my God, I’m in hell. I look up and down the street. All the shops are closed. I’m in a nightmare world. If it’s not the douche bags it’s the fucking bums and the heat and the thirst. I just want some water and some peace.  I keep walking, and finally come across a drug store and it’s open and I finally get some water. I pay two dollars and fifty cents for a bottle of water. I make my way back to the hotel feeling like maybe the worst twenty-five minutes of my life have just occurred and the cute Russian girl at the front desk is nice to me. She smiles. I try to return her smile. I wave as I pass the desk. Get in the elevator and swipe my room key, hit the button for my floor. Take a drink of water, lean against the wall, lean my head back and close my eyes. I have no idea what just happened. I feel like I just stumbled away from a firefight or just got in from too long in the desert. I can't think. I swipe my card at the door to my room and I go in. The lights are out. I lock the door behind me. Joy has the air conditioning turned up and it’s so cool and dark and silent. Completely silent.  She’s under the covers. I get undressed and slip under the covers with her, discover that she’s naked. She says, What took you so long? I've been waiting for you. I almost fell asleep, she says, as she touches me. And the nightmare ends, just like that. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Well, it's jazz...

So I'm probably not going to send a letter to Michael Ondaatje. I've got nothing to say to him, to ask him. I remember when I was twenty and wrote all those letters to William Burroughs that I never sent. What could he have told me then that I didn't eventually find out on my own? I thought he was some sort of superhuman back then. Now I know that "famous" people have still always been just as confused and striving as the rest of us, minute by minute, day by day, without any special powers. Just because you're famous doesn't mean you know what you're doing.

I asked my friend Dan the other day, over coffee at the coffeehouse, how the hell Ondaatje does it... "What the fuck does he do?" I said.

He said, "With what? Slaughter?"

I said, "Yeah, Coming Through Slaughter and to some degree with his other stuff, his short stories. He does the same thing with those."

"Well, it's jazz. It's as much about the pauses between notes as with the notes you hit. I think it's a simple, cheap trick that he puts to use, but he does it extraordinarily well."

"It's hardly cheap." I said, "Try to write that way."

"I guess it's not cheap when it's done well." He said. "It's cheap when it's done ineffectively."

Okay. Maybe it does seem simpler to him. Maybe I'm missing something. But I think there's more to it. Maybe it's easy to say, "Well he's just writing like jazz" when you can't play jazz and you can't write like jazz... I suppose I do it all the time, say with film--"Well, he's just doing a Woody Allen thing and mixing in some old crime noir." Okay, and I've never made a film in my life.

There's always more to it.

As Alan Watts said, the space around an object is as important as the space the object occupies. And the silence is as important as the sounds.

What you don't say is every bit as important as what you do say.

But there's more. I started writing because of what Kerouac did, or what he was trying to do, and he was directly trying to imitate jazz, and whenever I'm hitting it myself, doing it right, really rolling with it, it's all somewhere between free association and rhythm. It's a definite style of writing. I've imagined it as collage in literary form. A piece of it here, a piece of it there, an echo, echoes all over the page, distorting depending on what they're next to--you don't need to see it all right now, eventually it'll all come together.

Amazingly, I found just the right description of this effort, this result, in a critique of Slaughter on the web, just a few minutes ago:

I urge you to read the entire article, but here's an excerpt from Gautam Patel's piece at

"This is not an ordinary novel. It doesn't have a linear structure and, to those unfamiliar with the music [jazz], it might be irritating. It does not have rigidity or structural certainty. It lacks predictability so that you are not humming ahead of the bar or note in play. It is more like an unformed pool of limpid water on smooth tile, constantly being brushed and kicked and swept into different patterns and shapes and forms, sometimes puddling, sometime breaking in waves, sometimes slow, sometimes wild and uncontrolled and in a frenzied, almost sexual heat, its boundaries constantly shifting and changing. At the heart, however, it remains firm and unyielding, true to its own history: you can't change the past of jazz or its essential nature even as you keep playing with its form. Ondaatje takes all this and pastes it into a literary form: with anecdotes, snippets of conversations, poems, songs, fading images, shadowy persons who may or may not have been, and may or may not have been as he says they were.

"If you're looking for discipline and structural form, expecting that every scene will be complete in itself and thus slowly build the entire picture, you're going to be disappointed. But if you're willing to sit back and let it wash over you, knowing that you are before a master portraying an early master, prepared to listen and wait and wait and listen, then at the end, all the seemingly staccato, stuttering fragments suddenly come together like mercury finding itself. An hour later, a day, you will find yourself seeing the whole of it, with brilliant pieces echoing and reverberating endlessly in the mind - and that is the nature and stamp of great jazz."

There it is. Well-fucking-put, my friend.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A nice review of Good Behavior

GOOD BEHAVIOR by Nathan L. Henry
Category: Contemporary
Age Recommendation: Grades 9+
Release Date: June 22, 2010
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Reviewer: Kira M
Rating: 4 stars

Nathan Henry was the boy from everyone’s nightmares. Growing up in the poor area of Indiana as a child, his father exposed him to every violent or horror movie you can imagine. This and the friends he hung out with, inspired him to not only be a Satan worshipper, but a boy obsesses with sex, violence, guns, drugs, and alcohol. When his friend, Phillip, and he decided to commit armed robbery and run from the police, Nathan found himself facing trial as an adult. As he awaited trial in the County Jail, he found himself changing. Some for the worse, some for the better. This is his story.

GOOD BEHAVIOR is a hard-hitting story that really opens the reader’s eyes to the at-risk individual mentality and background. Although the swearing and sexual content is a little overwhelming at times, it fits well into the story and helps readers to see what was going through Nathan’s head as an adolescent. The narrative is well-written and easy-to-follow. The transitions between the past and the book’s present flow smoothly and do a good job of keeping the reader’s interest and painting the whole picture for the reader. High school-age individuals or older who are at-risk or like reading books about true-crime, urban fiction, or books by Walter Dean Myers will enjoy reading this book.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Michael Ondaatje (How the hell does he do it?)

I cannot do this justice with a short description, so you'll have to read it yourself, but here's my best shot. The last scene in Ondaatje's Little Seeds: An eleven year old boy in 1910 goes out into the winter night following what appear to be fireflies in the distance, though he knows all the fireflies have gone--it's the middle of winter. He comes across a group of European migrant workers skating on a frozen creak carrying flaming cattails in their hands. They are playing "tag" on the ice, and having a great time. All his life the day has been for work and the night has been for sleep and witnessing this scene of grown men playing in the middle of the night awakens something in him, a new perspective. He's too young to participate, and he doesn't understand the languages being spoken, so he goes back home.

The last line of the story is, "So at this stage in his life his mind raced ahead of his body."

This universal sense of wonder and trepidation over what is really out there in the world, right on the cusp of becoming aware, becoming skeptical. When the reality of your family, of what you've known, is no longer the only reality...

I read Coming Through Slaughter last year and was blown away. That, my friends, is art. The real thing; what literature is capable of. Most of what Ondaatje does, as an author, seems to just mysteriously fall into place as perfect art. As an author, I read books differently than people who aren't authors, the same way film-makers might watch movies. They see the whole thing--the script, lighting, camera angle, acting, editing, etc. I read a book and see the guy at his word processor, follow, or imagine I'm following, what's going on in his mind that motivates him to write the words he writes, and I imagine all the editing, all the after-the-fact rearranging of blocks of text. Maybe the original first scene in chapter one is now the third scene in chapter three and sometimes that kind of thing is clear and obvious to me, especially with cheap thrillers or lesser pieces, and sometimes it's not. With the good stuff, with the really amazing shit, it never is. The tricks are there, the artifice, the sleight of hand, is still there--that's what makes compelling storytelling--but it's done so well that you're left with something that appears to have come into being fully formed, effortless, without guile; art that completely conceals the fact that it's art, that it was manufactured, sweated over, beaten into shape, by a human being. It is a pure, perfect thing.

The most common question asked an author is, "How do you come with your ideas?" Or in other words, "How do you do it?" It's an ignorant question. It's like asking someone, "How do you live through a year of your life?" Millions of decisions, most of which we don't understand. Millions of accidents. A bit of underlying "wisdom" which is unconscious knowledge, like avoiding the company of violent psychopaths if we can.

But I'll be damned if, when I read Ondaatje, I don't desperately want to ask him, "How? How in the world do you do this?" Because this... this is it. This is true literature in the greatest possible sense.

I sent an email to his "speaking engagement agent" (whatever those guys are called) and asked how I might get a letter to Mister Ondaatje. Then I looked at the FAQ page and got my answer. I can just send it to them and they'll forward it. I don't know what I would say in the letter, though. I know it would be asinine to ask him how he does it, but I probably won't be able to control myself. Maybe it's worth it.

Sometimes, some artists can tell you how they do it, sort of, or they might be able to offer clues, clues that you probably won't understand because it's such a subjective matter. I know with some of my writing, some of my best writing, I have an idea of what kind of mind-set I have to be in for it to work. I know what it's like when it happens, and I could probably describe it to you, but it's the hardest thing in the world to reproduce. There is something subtle, though, that Ondaatje is tuned into, and there's a light hand at work in his writing, and a regard for the smallest things... the power of important things, however small. The power of moments. Gestures. With just the right amount gravity. He's doing what we're all trying to do, and he's doing it perfectly.

Yeah... how the hell does he do it?

I'll let you know if I find an answer.

Monday, March 19, 2012

True Till Death, a powerful memoir by Renee Parrill

Not long after 614 Magazine printed an article entitled The Ugly Truth by Erin Norris back in August of 2010, about the legal struggles surrounding the publication of my own memoir, Good Behavior (Bloomsbury USA), I received a frustrated email from Renee Parrill. I’d never met her, and never heard of her. She was looking for general advice about publishing, and a friend of hers had discovered the article and directed her to it. She was circulating queries for her memoir, even had it requested and then rejected by some agents, and felt like she was getting nowhere with it.

To the unpublished, the industry is a complete mystery. It’s gatekeepers, it’s agents, the apparent importance of the almighty query letter and the constant rejection with no useful feedback to speak of, all contribute to a slow process of the grinding down of an author’s confidence. No wonder she was frustrated. I was just as frustrated a year before. I responded to her and described my experiences, the compromises that I had made and the benefits and disadvantages which had resulted from them.
I did not offer to read Parrill’s memoir. No one does that. Ninety-nine percent of the time that is an invitation to a drowning in drivel, and the inevitable awkward struggle to find some diplomatic way of saying, “Thanks for letting me look at your mediocre crap. I couldn’t stomach much of it. But good luck!”

Two years passed and this very week I noticed a sponsored ad on Facebook announcing the publication of the ebook TRUE TILL DEATH by Renee Parrill and I wrote to congratulate her. She sent me a copy of the book and I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was not only “not bad,” but that I was amazed that the book hadn’t been snatched up long ago by an agent and sold to one of the “big six” publishing houses for a tidy bundle of cash. It was so good I read it in a single sitting, riveted to the agonizingly clear-eyed depictions of what it’s like to cling with everything you have to a man so battered in early life that his only true desire is to die, one way or another. So determined in fact that he eventually slits his own throat and while holding the bathroom door shut against the pleas and the battering of paramedics, he calls his mother to tell her that he can sink his thumb into the gash in his throat up to the first joint, but he’s disappointed because he missed his jugular. She hangs up, annoyed that he would bother her so late at night.

“True till death” aptly describes most of the themes explored in Parrill’s memoir, but it also describes her approach to doing business with the publishing establishment. After reading her book it is clear that once she has determined her priorities, she is not up for compromise. After years of work to bring her fascinating and painfully honest story to the public through traditional publishing channels, and after countless heart-wrenching disappointments, even after being offered representation from a New York agent—if she would be willing to change the book to suit a young adult audience—she took matters into own hands and published it on her own.

Think of that. The holy grail of every unpublished author everywhere. An extended hand from the New York publishing community with a contract for representation… if only she’ll lop off the second half of her story, and stick to telling a child’s tale of falling in love with a bad boy. But that wasn’t her story. Her story was of sticking with a man whose life was “destined” to end early and which, without her help, might have done so—without taking anything away from the heroism of her husband, who fended off madness to become a respected and successful artist and businessman, a man who deeply loves and provides for his family—and that’s the story she tells, with intelligence and skill.

True Till Death is now available on Amazon. (Click the book cover above to go there.)

The book is about Parrill’s devoted, obsessive, codependent relationship with her husband, local tattoo artist Matt Parrill, owner of Fate Tattoo on High Street in Columbus. It begins when she meets Matt. She is sixteen years old and he is nineteen and they are dirt poor with shattered families. She excels at math and describes herself as a solver of problems with unknown variables. Matt is nothing if not a black hole of unknown variables.

The book is about many, many things. This might explain why so many agents failed to champion this book. The industry requires easy-to-market products, with simple-to-communicate descriptions. This one defies easy categorization. It is a complicated book—not difficult to read, except perhaps for the squeamish—but it can be ambiguous. It’s a coming of age story. It’s a detailed and knowledgeable primer for understanding the art and science of tattooing. It’s an equally detailed and insightful guide for anyone interested in understanding the progression of the diseases of addiction and depression.

Above all it is a love story and it’s metaphor is the tattoo. It might make you turn down a beer, but it will make you want to go get a tattoo.

From an underground culture of extraordinarily violent, tattoo-obsessed Straight Edge teens through the culture of home-made tattooing, to the highest bar of tattoo industry standards and beyond, this is a book about tattoos. Tattoos as revolutionary acts, as self-negating symbols of emptiness, tattoos as expressions of unconditional love and redemption.

A dissection of the self-destructive personality, and the environment from which it inevitably grows, it’s about a mother who calls her seven year old son a “cocksucker” and leaves him alone with a known pedophile while she goes off to work, and the utterly predictable and despicable results.

It’s about learning that the object of one’s love is on a mystifyingly calculated, high-speed course to self-obliteration, and what follows is a wrenching investigation into the causes of these circumstances. Because as a solver of problems with unknown variables, if Renee can understand the circumstances of her relationship, and what caused those circumstances, she might stand a chance of solving the problem, and saving the person she loves.

She writes simply from the point of view of her sixteen year old self, “I think that if I can figure out what Matt needs, then I can give it to him, and he will be fixed and love me. I never tell anyone my plan, not even Matt.” This naïve but intelligent girl falls in love with a nihilistic thug who uses the excuse of Straight Edge philosophy to brutally harm other people. What makes the story work is not only her wit, but her objectivity, primarily her awareness of her own codependent behavior. Indeed it’s when she finally recognizes this and takes action against that destructive behavior, that Matt becomes aware of new possibilities. It is not the story of a battered wife, or a victim, but rather of the complex dynamics of a relationship between a woman who loves an essentially good man, handicapped early by multiple forms of abuse.

As an author, she balances all of this deftly, with great humor and impressive insight. In her life, sticking with what she believed in worked out. Matt Perrill fell into a well that a lot of us skirt, some of us trip over, plenty of us drown in, and he clawed his way out, turned his life completely around and is an example to us all. By refusing to compromise, and self-publishing, as more and more authors are doing, let’s hope Parill has the same good fortune with this touching story of redemption.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Argentine may be disturbing, but it is not glorification--by Nathan L. Henry

Sex and drugs and psychopathic violence are pretty much the main themes of that novella. Readers of it may mistakenly feel that I’m glorifying the disturbing behavior of my characters. I hate to think that this is true. I’ve both perpetrated and been the victim of violence in the past. I’ve seen it up close, and the reality of it disturbs me tremendously. I’m an atheist, I lack superstition, so for me the only monsters in the world are other people. Matt Grott is a depiction of a complicated monster.

I've spent a large part of my life doing drugs and I’ve had some pretty horrendous experiences. I know a lot about drug experiences, and if there’s anything that offers a great spectrum of strange emotional and perceptual states, it’s drug-use, so I enjoy writing about characters using drugs. Does this mean that I advocate their use? No. I think I’m a better person for having had the experiences I’ve had. I've also committed armed robbery and written about it--that doesn't mean I think everyone should go out and try it! Because of my drug-use, I know what it’s like to be schizoid, paranoid, one with the universe, and pathologically impressed by the presence of another person. My awareness has been stretched about as far as it can be with drugs, and as I said, sometimes those experiences were pretty awful. However, I now have a vast reservoir of empathy, a long roster of emotional and psychological experiences to draw from, because of those experiences. And I do value that.

Writing about drugs, or violence for that matter, is not the same as glorifying them. It’s the manner in which you do it. Although Argentine may be the most disturbing book some people ever read, because it’s about a drug-using ultra-violent psychopath, that doesn’t mean that I, by any means, endorse the use of drugs or violence. That’s an insane presumption. Here's my advice about drugs (meth in particular) in a nutshell: It was the most amazing stuff I've ever done in my life, and it caused me to be psychotically and suicidally depressed for the next three solid years. In Argentine, I think I spend more time describing the miserable aftermath of speed-use than I spend describing how good it makes you feel at first. No depiction of drug-use which only shows you the pleasurable part is a fair depiction. Same with violence.

Depicting violence is not the same as glorifying violence. Personally, I’ve undergone such a dramatic transformation since my adolescence that witnessing violence actually makes me physical ill now. My personal philosophy when it comes to writing about violence or showing it is that it should be so realistic that it makes the reader feel sick too. Violence is disgusting—there is no other way of describing it. If the violence in Argentine makes a reader uncomfortable, it should, and I’m glad it does. If the drug-use makes you think twice about getting high, that’s great too. Glorification is saying, "Look how cool this is!" Realism is saying, simply, "Look at this. Look at all of it." Sex, on the other hand, is something else.

I don’t think you can glorify sex. Sex is not negative thing at all, so when I write about it, I don’t have any qualms about making it look great. As for the sex Matt Grott has with the girl from the carryout in Argentine, while his friend watches—that sex is in a sense a violent act, so it was my intention to draw the reader in pornographically and then hit them with the sickening sense of this girl having been violated in a horrible manner. The orgy with the cousins is a completely different issue. It's meant to be sexy. I've got no problem with that. Besides, it's a set-up for the real horror that comes just a few pages later.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

In one way you can repeat the past

When I was 18 years old, I got this tattoo on my hand. I decided I wanted to get a professional tattoo, then I drew it and colored it in with colored pencils, found a shop that was open and went and got the tattoo. That was 18 years ago. Finally, today, I got the thing redone and it looks better (I think) than it did the first time. When I look at it right now, I feel like I'm 18 and just got the tattoo. Very strange. I suddenly recall what it was like when it was brand new, what was going on, who was around, who I was in love with...

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fancy Cat

Jones originally named this cat Trouble and when I met her I said, Oh, this is a fancy cat. Her name should be Fancy. And the other cat, not pictured--I said, And this one should be called George. She said, You're renaming my cats? (This was our second date.) No, I said. I'm just saying that's what they look like to me. But I did. I renamed her cats on our second date. (Those other two freaks are Pookie, looking out the window, and Philip, looking at Pookie.)
Fancy died of heart disease in early 2011.

Friday, February 10, 2012

One of my first (1997)

It was one of these first collages that was stolen from a show at Franklin University in 2000. I don't have an image of it, but I do remember Malcolm X was somewhere in it, and he looked very angry. That was the most money I ever made from my visual art--it was insured for 200 dollars. I hope they still have it, whoever stole it, and I hope it's hanging prominently in their living room. I hope everyone who comes to visit says, Hey, I like that piece. Where did you get it? And they say, I don't know who did it, but I stole it from some show at Franklin. Ts ts ts ts ts...

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Kerouac's grave and my grandfather who died in 1955

In this collage is my grandfather, who died at 34 when he was crushed by a mountain of stone, with one of his daughters on a porch swing in West Virginia. He's two years younger, at least, than I am now. There is also me (at twenty-one) when I used to wear old suits all the time standing over Jack Kerouac's grave in Lowell, Mass. Bottom right is a picture of the deli in Marysville where I used to spend a lot of time. I think that might be Io in the center, but I can't be sure. It's almost certainly one of Jupiter's moons. That's me with the shades and the cigarette too. I've never been able to find another pair of sunglasses as cool as those were. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Some Notes on Writing and Purpose

I just jotted these ideas down on some index cards and thought they might be worth posting here--index cards are liable to be lost in piles of paper in my office. At least here, the ideas will be accessible later on.

Note 1. It is okay to entertain "pessimistic" concepts (i.e. humanity is a cancer, or a virus killing its host, the earth) so long as you keep this in perspective and do not give in to nihilism. There is a danger in waffling on this subject. As Camus said, "The only truly serious philosophical problem is suicide." Something like that. Yes/no to life is what everything comes down to. For an individual it MUST be yes--otherwise suicide.

Note 2. A writer, especially one dealing with real life, has an obligation to address all the questions he is able to formulate, most importantly the questions of meaning and purpose and death. One has to question whether their work lacks seriousness.

Note 3. Seriousness in art is as imperative as seriousness in life. The purpose of art is to illuminate life; to help the living better understand and perhaps appreciate their predicament. Is this propaganda on the side of life? Perhaps--for the individual--not for the species.

The point is perhaps that all ideas must be held within the broadest possible context. And so should art.

Sunday, September 18, 2011


I was in some café
in the village
and it was raining outside
the money was running out
and the woman I was staying with
not having sex with
but staying with
was starting to ask questions
Are you looking for a job
and I’d say sure
I'm looking for a job
then I’d wonder around all day
ignoring signs
that said
help wanted
and I’d sit in cafes
and drink coffee
wondering what the hell I was doing.
I had enough money to last a month.
it wasn’t clear to anybody
not to myself or to my wife at the time
(who was still in Ohio)
what I was supposed to be
I met a guy in a little tea
and coffee shop
because I started going in there
every night alone
and he was the only one working
so we started talking
and the first thing he said was
Watch out for the vampires.
New York is full of vampires.
I thought he was nuts
so I said,
All right
I’ll watch out for the vampires.
eventually he stopped talking
like a lunatic
and started talking about theater
which is what he did
and I talked about writing
which is what I wanted to do
and we talked about collaborating on projects.
one night I was there when he closed up
and he asked if I smoked pot.
sure, I said,
so we walked with to St. Mark’s Place
in the East Village
and we scored a bag of pot from
these black dudes that wanted
to take us back into an abandoned building
and we said,
Hell no,
we’re not going back there with you.
they wanted to see our drivers licenses
we said what the hell?
they said they wanted to make sure
we weren’t cops.
do we look like fucking cops?
so they finally sold us the pot
and we went to this guy’s place
over in Brooklyn
and we had to be quiet
his room mate was sleeping
and shit…
it was the best pot I’d ever smoked.
he was running some water for something
and we got stuck
watching the water stream
out of the faucet
for a long time.
then we went out onto the fire escape
and smoked cigarettes
then we went out and
walked around Prospect Park
and he said,
Man, I don’t know why I said that shit
about the vampires.
It was just stupid,
there’s a lot of crazy people.
I said, Yeah, I know.
I’m sorry, he said,
I was just trying to come off
sounding cool.
I said it was all right.
Are we safe out here?
Yeah, he said,
if you’re a dude
with another dude.
I didn’t buy it.
dudes with other dudes
can still be mugged
and killed in Prospect Park
at three in the morning.
I really liked the guy
and that night in Brooklyn
is one of the only two or three nights
from that month in NY
that stay with me.
after that night I got in touch
with another guy who lived in NY
a guy I used to do poetry readings with
and we spent every night together
and there wasn’t much time
for the coffee and tea place anymore
but I stopped in there
one night with this other guy
and another guy who was a friend of his
who was traveling the world
and I met this Brooklyn guy’s girlfriend
who was black
and very pretty
and he introduced me
and we shook hands
and he never saw me again
because I came back to Ohio
a few days after that.
I always worried that
he thought I was racist
or some shit
like it fucked with me
that he had a black girlfriend.
but I liked him
I liked his girlfriend—
I should’ve moved in with him
and his pretty black girlfriend
and kept on being just me
but I came back
home to Columbus
and all the shit
that I had tied into choking knots
were still here
and bad things happened
and that new world in NY
was choked to death
on the hot sun-beaten streets
of this flat
ignorant city
and I broke my hand
and my wife wrecked her car
and on and on
and on
and the way out was lost


there was this girl who
lived in Adam’s basement
for a while.
she was good-looking but
she was paralyzed
couldn’t use her legs
rolled around in a wheel chair
with a blanket across her lap
and would sometimes pull
herself up the stairs
when she needed to.
mostly she just
ate pills
stayed in the basement
and listened to music.
she had a cat
said she liked her cat more than
any human being
which I can understand.
she also had a .357 magnum
a revolver
a big revolver
I was sitting down there
in the basement with her
one night
arguing with her about
philosophy and it got
pretty heated
and turned to general misanthropy
and she said, very excited
and not excited in a good way
I just fucking hate people so much
I WISH somebody would break in here
and out came the hand-cannon,
she whipped it right out from under the blanket
where her hand had been hidden
this whole time I was arguing with her
and she held it up in the air.
I said, Yeah, I know what you mean.
she put the gun away.
this was about ten years ago
when she was at least trying
to take care of herself.
if I was single I probably would have fucked her
it wasn’t a secret that she wouldn’t have minded.
she moved out of his place
a long time ago
things had gotten bad there
with her threatening to kill everybody
or at least certain people
it got so bad one night
I had to take her gun away from her
and she called the cops
and the cops convinced her
to let a neighbor hold the gun
for a little while.
after that she didn’t consider me
much of a friend any more.
there was one night
when I was talking to her
back then when she asked me
if I was an organ donor
and I said no, I just like the idea
of being buried with all my organs
and as soon as it came out of my mouth
I knew how stupid it sounded.
she argued for it a little longer
even though she didn’t need to
and I said, You’re right
it ought to be mandatory.
next time I got my license renewed
I became an organ donor.
Adam called me the other day
and told me she was dead
that she shot herself.
her legs had apparently
started to rot
and “they”
doctors, social workers
were going to take her legs
and that’s when she did it…
in my mind
she was still in the basement when she
pulled the trigger
because I can’t imagine
that girl ever being in the sunlight.
I can’t tell you enough
to make her life meaningful to you
but sometimes a couple of images
can do the trick.
probably not this time,
it’s an effort at best but…
she suffered
and she didn’t deserve to suffer.
I don’t know that there
are any people who do.


Good Behavior was published as a YA memoir. I find it in the library and bookstore under "teen non-fiction" and nowhere else. It's annoying, but at least it's out there... somewhere. I'm considering donating some copies to the library on the condition that they classify it as "crime non-fiction." That might at least get it out of the ghetto it's in now. I say ghetto because how many people in general go looking for reading material in the "teen no-fiction" section? Not many.

A memoir it is, but it was not written specifically for a YA (meaning young adult) audience. I wrote it as a piece of autobiographical literature, in the vein of Kerouac and Henry Miller and Bukoswki and all the other great guys who made their very lives the material of their work. GB was a serious attempt to get to the core of my experiences as a child, as a juvenile delinquent, an armed robber, and this necessarily had to include lots about family and friends. It was, is, a funny piece of art that shows unabashedly what it's like to become a psychopathic teen-aged boy, and then to become humane again.

The world is full of nearly or wholly psychopathic teen-aged boys, and we as adults pretend not to understand them, not to recall, somehow, just what a sadistic jerk off high school was, or just what kind of tyrannical assholes our parents were. But, I took it all on, and it's all in the book, and every adult who has ever read it has loved it, and every kid to whom it is marketed, I'm sure, skeptically waits to be preached at--fortunately for them they never are, because art doesn't preach. Literature, true literature, doesn't have so narrow an agenda. Unfortunately for me, adults are not likely to go out of their way to read a YA book because they think (and in most cases they're right) that it was written for kids. This one wasn't. It was written for people, people of any age. When it's reviewed by adults who know that it's been marketed to children review it through that lense. It is, to them, a product created for consumption by young adults. They decide therefore, one way or another, whether they think my "message got through."

There was no message, or rather, there are a thousand messages in the book. Children are to be feared and respected, and told the truth. There is no God or Satan or magic. You cannot put a child in a straightjacket and fill them with fear and expect them not to explode sometime in the future. In fact that's the best, most proven way of creating a psychopath.

Good Behavior has been out now for about a year, and it was not a best seller. Maybe the mistake of selling it to a YA publisher, of having it marketed as a YA book, will eventually be overcome, and it'll finally be seen for what it is; a remarkably honest, funny and disturbing, searching book about growing up in American, a schizophrenic country, with insane people for parents, and ignorant people for teachers, and perhaps sinister, definitely greedy, people for doctors, about how one becomes so alienated that one picks up a gun and almost commits suicide by cop before they've even gotten their drivers license. It is, unfortunately, not a unique tale. It's not about being a victim (I never portray myself as a victim in the book) and it's not about blame--it's about being human, as literature is supposed to be about, and about trying to find a solution to the insanity that is our culture, the insanity that is contributed to by, and a burden to, each and every one of us.

Collage by Nathan L. Henry

Tuesday, August 30, 2011


scared and too careful with everything
maybe its all tied up with sex drive
after all
I take the pills so that I don’t
end up overdosing some night
like some pathetic shit
who never knew what he wanted
and when he got it
he couldn’t take it
believe me I know exactly
what it’s like to almost choke to death
on my own vomit
so maybe the pills I take
to block up all my opiate receptors
also suppress my sex drive
so there isn’t so much desire
and frustration
because my normal sex drive is such
that if I don’t get laid everyday
I get extremely frustrated
and end up hating everything
and maybe that’s what it takes
to write decent shit.
it takes
being pissed off about something
and then knowing what to do
with all that anger—
misdirecting it
with premeditation.
all art all power all greed
comes down to sublimating
the sex drive.
that’s what Freud would say
and he’s probably right.
I’ve got this picture of my dad
when he was twenty-two
taken in one of those booths
and he’s got a hard jaw
and sensitive eyes
an eagerness
and a woundedness
and something behind it all
that will slit your throat
because it’s spent every second of it’s life
backed into a corner.
I’ve always got this picture here
right beside me on the desk
because when I look at it I understand
the blindness of everything
and the terror isn’t personal
it’s just the driving force of nature.

A TRUTH by Nathan L. Henry

we were not made
and nothing else was made
it all just… happens
as it must happen
determined without
I was going to say it happened
(past tense)
but memory is a product
of consciousness.
as it is now
removing that faculty of ours
from the picture
the past
does not in any way exist
nor does the future
so what is now
is and is and is…
it isn’t lofty pseudo-mystic
philosophical bullshit
it’s cosmology
it’s a matter of understanding
the state of things
the state in constant flux
and yes “flux” implies past and future
but neither apply.
all of it
is the same thing
but it couldn’t be
without change
you can’t get to the truth
without those ideas
and you can’t cling to those ideas
or they’ll get in the way of understanding
the truth
not that I can know the truth
and even if I did
I couldn’t explain it.
I have a job interview tomorrow
at a pizza shop out on Fifth Avenue
where I hope that I will be given a job
delivering a food
universally adored by Americans
to people who will tip generously.
I am fucked
and that is a truth
that we can all understand.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Good Behavior By Nathan Henry in 614 Magazine

This is an absolutely wonderful article--very, very pleased.

(Unfortunately, this is a dead link now. At some point I will scan the actual article and post it, if I'm allowed to do that.)

The Ugly Truth by Erin Norris

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Well, now, The Other Paper

Gave my book a very enjoyable write up... came as a total surprise to me. Have I ever said how much I love The Other Paper?

Good Behavior Review by Kitty McConnell

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Good Behavior Is An Important Work of Literature (A completely unbiased statement)

I was writing an email to my cousin tonight, explaining the publishing industry, the whole process of getting published, how one might know whether one has "succeeded" or not, and ended up wondering about the prospects for my own book and I ended up telling her this: "I personally think (Good Behavior) is an important book. Sociologically speaking it's an important book. There isn't anything like it. It explains in a very clear, reasonable and entertaining way how certain kids become violent psychopaths. When something like Columbine happens, and everybody says, How could this happen? What were those kids thinking? My book gives the world the answer. These kids, the troubled ones specifically, are divorced from reality, and if there is enough repressed anger or fear, their "reality," which is really not much more than a collection of fantasies already, will easily morph into something that can be very dangerous." But there are so many other important components to the book. There is the transformation, the redemption that, though perhaps not possible for some kids, is absolutely possible for many of them. It's a very personal book for me, naturally--it's a memoir, it's my life--but in order to write and to appraise such a work, I have to possess an ability view the work objectively. In order to write what I write I have to see myself as a character, as a symbol, therefor I have to also see the book itself as something far more than just autobiography, masturbation, self-exploitation. The book itself, beyond what it does for me personally (the validation and illumination it affords me), has to always be something beyond me. It has to say something about the world, and it does, loud and clear, on a lot of different levels. It has to be a philosophical statement, many of them, and it is. So... whether or not I am successfully avoiding direct self-congratulation, I insist here that Good Behavior is, in the broadest sense, a truly important book, and I'm sure that the world will not fail to agree. (There you go--my whole-hearted endorsement of my own book. Surprised?)