It would not be easy to pin down either the matter or the style of all my novels.
The matter is in each one different. One might say that some of it is autobiographical, but that holds only for Crazy Were We in the Head, and even there, few of my characters are based on real persons: the descriptions of Onkel Abe Hamm, for example, are clearly of my father’s eccentric uncle. One might say that much of my writing concerns matters religious, and here I would plead guilty as charged. Everything from Crazy to Just Another Dead White Male to The Church of the Comic Spirit to Benedict XVI (soon to become The First American Pope) to Sacred Books & Sky Hooks shows the influence of my days as a professor of comparative religion. Dancing Over the Rays of Light is something of an exception, though the main character’s search for his true self could be said to be a pilgrimage.
As for the style, there is not much holding my works together, with the exception of the fact that they are all written in the comic mode. But I could never write a series of novels with a main character, or a set of characters, appearing throughout. I write for the challenge, and the challenge is to find another and different style for each single piece. In Crazy, for example, the challenge was to emulate the voice and style of a boy in different stages of his growth, from the first grade to his high school graduation. In The Church of the Comic Spirit, the challenge was to retell the old biblical stories in a variety of genres, from short story to greeting card to diary to screenplay. In Just Another Dead White Male, the challenge was to tell a common story from two perspectives, then to shift the tale into a virgin area. And so on.
George Orwell famously wrote that prose writers write for four reasons: from sheer egoism, out of aesthetic enthusiasm, from historical enthusiasm, and for a political purpose. He said that these motives exist in various degrees in every writer, which seems to be an accurate observation.
In my own case I would say that the first two impulses are strongest, the third was in play only in the days I wrote nonfiction pieces about comparative religion, and the fourth has always been nonexistent.
Writing, for me, is a selfish act. It has kept me from spending my hours being charitable, as is my wife, who is so charitable to me that she allows me my vanity without repercussions. For me also, there is a strong aesthetic impulse; I seem to have been placed on this earth to write. The writing habit has been with me from an early age. In the box containing some of the chief moments of my life is a letter I wrote when I was about five years old; it was to a missionary aunt, and emulated the style of her letters to our family, including a Bible verse. The next memory I have was from the seventh grade. My teacher had meted out a punishment to me and to several of my partners in some petty crime we had committed; we were to stay in after school to perform some minor chore. My aesthetic impulse came to the fore and led me to write a petition asking the teacher to rescind this punishment. It worked, and I was, for a short time, a hero to my pals.
Another of my memories is from the eighth grade, when everyone in my class was assigned to give a brief speech on the general topic How To, which led me to imagine how one goes about writing and publishing a book. I don’t recall what I said on the subject, but I can only imagine that I must have utterly misdiagnosed the efforts it takes to perform such a task.
Orwell also wrote that he liked the look of his own words on paper, and on this point he was again right on the money.
Several months into Corky Ra's meditative regimen, he says, “I began to notice a ‘ringing’ in my ears.” Then, on October 28, 1975, it happened. The noise in his ears “became very intense.” His body began to vibrate; he opened his eyes and found himself alongside “an enormous pyramid,” made of something like graphite, half a mile long at the base but without doors. Everything was quiet and perfect. Then he noticed another structure, with “a round, convex shape, like a flattened ball” and a hundred yards in diameter. He walked through its wall and found himself in a large room full of beautiful, elegant, divine humanoids of both genders. “They established a high-level telepathic link with my mind,” he said, “and instantaneously I understood them.” These Beings were what he came to call the “Summa Individuals,” meaning, he informs his Latin-deficient readers, the “Highest Individuals.”
Eventually I located the men’s room. Though it was empty and equipped with an inside lock and showed no evidence of defilement, I found it too public for my taste and chose not to use it to its intended purpose.
Emerging from that room, I strolled farther down the hallway in a spirit of high adventure.
Peering through the narrow window of a door, I espied a large room filled with wheel-free bicycles. Many were being pedaled by senior citizens of European extraction. I chose not to enter that room, for several reasons: (1) I was apprehensive lest my hip suffer further injury; and (2) my earlier self-examination had shown me to be in excellent health, save for my hip.
I continued my cane-aided stroll.
I passed the door of a study. Inside, several elderly Caucasian gentlemen were engaged in a spirited conversation touching on the probable outcome of an impending basketball game between two institutions of higher learning. I did not enter, reminding myself both (1) that I had a study in my own apartment, and (2) that I would presumably detest having my reading disturbed by banter on trivial subjects. In addition, my recent memory of the bookshelves in my library led me to suspect that my tastes did not run in the channel of popular magazines and what appeared to be condensed novels published by Reader’s Digest.
“You have leadership qualities,” Arielle informed Benny. “That’s what the computer says.”
They were at her place, where they were in bed. They were discussing Benny’s future role in the Church of the Wide Open Door while a Jaguar and an Infiniti stood guard in the parking lot.
“Computers can lie,” replied Benny.
“Plus you have the gift.”
“ That’s what my boss says. Bosses can lie too.”
“I think you should stick around for a week. We can enroll you in the Outreach Program.”
“Learning to spread the gospel of Christian Tantrism to the good people of Kansas?” guessed Benny.
“Exactly!” Her voice was gaining in enthusiasm. “Benny Good, missionary!”
Benny thought this over for a split second. “This would require money.”
“So it’s Mexico this time!”
It was Friday evening, and the Deuces, four pairs of Kansas cosmopolitans, were gathered around two made-in-Taiwan card tables in the Budwieser living room, their feet resting on the Navaho rug Mildred had bought at Mrs. Krzynzky’s garage sale, drinking 99.7% caffeine-free coffee brewed from pure mountain-grown Colombian crystals. They had completed their monthly exchange of American coins, and the six guests were lining up to provide expert commentary on the late-breaking news that Mildred had just reported. Last night Ed finally realized his literary potential by composing a thirteen-page letter to Ms. Mode in which he announced his intention of taking early retirement and moving to Mexico to write his memoirs.
Morning. A thriving village spread over a barren desert. At the outskirts is a weather-beaten billboard: “Welcome to Abeville, Heart of the Holy Land—Celebrating 56 Years of Progress.” Main Street is reminiscent of the Old West: storefronts, wooden sidewalks, hitching posts—everything but horses and buckboards, which have been replaced by camels and a few cars (a Model aFord, a Kaiser, a VWBug).
The signs on the buildings announce:
“Holy Land Post Ofﬁce”
“Abe’s Trading Post—We Specialize in Used Camels”
“Holy Land Federal Courthouse”
“Sears, Abe’s, and Company”
“Abe’s Souvenir Shop—We Cater to the Religious Tourist”
“Holy Land Sheriff”
Behind Main Street are many residential tents. A sizeable percentage of the male citizens are loitering on Main Street, smoking, spitting tobacco, and chatting. They are dressed in traditional Middle Eastern attire, except for the Western holsters and six-shooters that are slung around their hips. They wear cowboy boots, with spurs.
After the menfolk had carried Great-grandma outside in her rocking chair, pall-bearer style, planted her in the shade of the poplar trees, tucked her in with a wool blanket, and then propped her up with half a dozen of Tante Anna’s fancy crocheted pillows, Grandpa Reisender would officially open the reunion. He’d bless the food, making sure to mention every dish the wom- enfolk had prepared. Then he’d go on to recite the list of all the ancestors he could remember, starting with Adam and Eve and half the other Biblical characters, moving on to those Reisenders who were stashed away in safe deposit boxes in some churchyard back in the Old Country, and ending with Great-grandma, even though she didn’t quite qualify as an ancestor, because she was sitting right there with her eyes closed and her head on her shoulder and her mouth wide open, sleeping like a baby. Finally, he’d end up by saying, “Thy Kingdom come, Amen,” which was the signal for Onkel Abe to wave the starting flag by booming out, “Amen, now let’s everybody loosen up and have a good time,” which was the signal for Great-grandma to give a twitch and open her one good eye and say something in German to Onkel Abe, probably advice on being reverent in the Lord’s presence. But as Aunt Lena enjoyed pointing out, that kind of advice had absolutely no effect on the man.
What does Corky Ra allege happened on the day he was relaxing on his girlfriend’s couch? What is he asking us to believe?
Corky’s account of his first and defining revelation appears twice on the labyrinthine summum.us website, once in a written essay, the other in an informal question-and-answer session on the subject of his first encounter with the Summa Individuals.
“References to encounters with Beings not of this planet can be found in all major philosophies and religions dating back to the beginning of recorded history,” Corky’s essay begins, though he gives no examples or arguments for this claim. He then recounts his own encounter, taking care to say that before the event, he had always supposed that those who had reported having had personal revelations were “either lying or mentally ill.” (As a backslidden Mormon, he might have been thinking of Joseph Smith.)
Wielding my cane, I sallied forth into the world beyond my private quarters.
I turned left and proceeded down a long hallway, where I continued my meditation on “Miss April,” pleased that the enigma of my sexual orientation had been resolved.
Narrator’s note to reader:
My pleasure came, not from my discovery that I was heterosexual, but from the fact that I had solved the enigma of my erotic orientation. Had I discovered that I was homosexual, I would have been equally pleased.
Description of hallway:Similar in color to the walls of my apartment. Neither too broad nor too narrow. Concrete floor camouflaged by an industrial-quality rug. Equipped on each side with a hand railing of inferior and delicate construction. Empty, save for a pair of elderly white females, one in a wheelchair, the other pushing her charge along with great difficulty, both of them approaching me.
Limping down the hallway, supported on my right by a hand railing and on my left by my stout cane, I could see from the presence of intermittent doors that my own apartment was part of a larger complex. From this I surmised that I was a resident in some kind of institution, a conjecture consistent with the appearance of the two elderly ladies.
As I advanced, I involuntarily compared the Miss April of my recent meditations with the approaching pair of Miss Decembers. This comparison elicited in me an audible chuckle, which grew by degrees into a mammoth guffaw, which, in turn, caused the two ladies, now but fifteen feet away, to look up.
Imagine my bafflement when, after the briefest of glances at my person, these same ladies emitted a pair of long, concerted shrieks. These shrieks were attended by a sudden change in their itinerary, from a slow but steady advance toward me to a rapid flight in the opposite direction.