I thought that if I could put it all down, that would be one way. And next the thought came to me that to leave all out would be another, and truer, way….But, forget as we will, something soon comes to stand in their place. Not the truth, perhaps, but — yourself. — John Ashbery, from “The New Spirit”
A while back, I decided I’d write a memoir-manifesto-type-thing. (“I thought that if I could put it all down….”)
I mean. Everybody was writing memoir-manifesto-type-things, and I’m a egomaniac with day-late/dollar-short derivative tendencies — so, of course, I figured it couldn’t hurt to add my life story to the mix. Only thing was “my life story” is boring as hell. Like, stuff has happened. Sad stuff, happy stuff, crazy-insane stuff. But whenI wrote the whole thing out and read it, I was like, Hmm. I’m sort of clever, I guess. But is that it? Where are we going with this thing? That’s when you hand it off to friends to see what they think. And, in this case, they were like, Hmm. You’re sort of clever, I guess. But is that it? Where are we going with this thing?
So yeah: it got scrapped. It’s for the best. I don’t like people knowing about my life anyway. (Yes. Sprawling eponymous website and all. Inconsistency makes the world go round. It makes my world go round, anyway.)
One thing I did notice, though, is that I kind of liked the Table of Contents.
I liked (ahem) the footnotes too. (Actually they were end notes but footnotes sounds better. Less, I don’t know, fatalistic.) Oh: also I liked the title. Everybody liked the title. Because it’s an awesome and clever title: Self-Helpless: A Misfit’s Guide to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. Like it’s a manual but not. (Irony! Self-deprecatory solipsism! Meta-! Also wordplay!)
Below, then, you will find the aforementioned ToC. Tantamount to the CliffsNotes™ version of my life so far. Or maybe like one of those Hamlet-in-a-Minute dumbshows.
And word on the street is that soon, very soon, courtesy of the fine fellows over at Outpost 19, you’ll be able to fire up that e-reader of yours (you do have an e-reader, right?) to fully immerse yourself in the whole kit-and-caboodle: an e-book version of the aforementioned truncated mess of a life story (all the footnotes! all the white space! all the sutras! all the collage!)…
Which is to say: “Not the truth, perhaps, but–”
PART I: Preamble.
In which the Author establishes the Project and sticks up for his Self.
PART II: The New World.
2. Sleepwalking through the So-called American Dream.
In which the Author sets the stage mainly by sharing embarrassing details about his early adulthood (so-called), particularly vis-à-vis his ill-fated love life. Including a truncated history of the Great State of Alabama and a concomitant smattering of its very Original Sins.
3. Heart of Darkness.
In which the Author’s friends try to cheer him up after the pretty woman finally takes her predestined/long-overdue leave of him. Including, of course, a road trip deep into the thicket, tears in beer, commandeering a maritime vessel, etc.
4. Confessions of a So-called Master of Fine Arts.
In which the Author compares Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to a mythic Underworld. Including Dramatis Personae.
5. A Good Old-fashioned Harrowing.
In which the Author’s proverbial shit (such as it is) really hits the fan. Including a real-life faux revival and a marginal Resurrection.
6. All that David Copperfield Kind of Crap.
In which the Author backtracks, takes stock, considers his original Original Sources. (Well, how did I get here?, etc.)
PART III: One Nation. Under God. Or Something.
7. Church and State.
In which the Author endeavors to undergo an actual, official, and utterly verifiable Spiritual Awakening. (Or something.) In the Land of Cotton.
8. Today’s Best New Country.
In which the Author asks, “Wait. What do I think I think I mean by Land of Cotton anyways, and are old times [here] really not forgotten? Or is that just some Chamber of Commerce story/demagoguery people tell?” (Well, how did I get here?, etc., Part II)
9. Little Old Transcendental Me.
In which the Author embarks upon a Pilgrimage to (fittingly enough) the Land of the Pilgrims’ Pride and then constructs an essay assignment for himself: Compare and/or contrast the contemporary American South (however you define the term) to contemporary New England, vis-à-vis the larger questions of God and Country, Past and Present, Self and Society, and, you know, “What it all means.” (Well, how did I get here?, etc., Part III)
PART IV: The Gospel of Ersatz.
10. A Preliminary Creed in Thirteen Parts.
In which the Author begins to fold his Preoccupations with these Larger Questions into his own Experience — specifically: Little League football (the drills, the rituals, the violence, the metaphors of war, and that there is pure delight for some boys [i.e., me, paradoxically] in such things) and the mysterious frailties of the human body — in order to craft what he would have you believe are the makings of a set of valid, viable Metaphysical Insights.
11. Thirteen American Sutras.
In which the Author divulges his hereditary predisposition to various obsessive-compulsive counting behaviors and then applies said behaviors to the ersatz codification of the aforementioned (ersatz) Metaphysical Insights, resulting in a rigidly formalized series of so-called Truths (Fables?) he holds to be Self-evident. Including references to history and culture: personal and national, high and low, sacred and profane. Etc.
12. Sacred Texts: An Autob(ibl)iography.
In which the Author juggles fifty (50) diverse books (and a chainsaw) he has loved in his life, with the intent of characterizing himself by proxy and thereby sneaking in various Revelatory and/or Enlightening Details and/or Other Additional Insights he has thus far skipped, purposely and/or otherwise.
13. Order and Chaos: Apocrypha, Tangents, and Assorted Notes-to-Self.
In which the Author obliquely questions the Essential Truth of Chronology as it relates to any Lived Life, much less a Life of Ideas (so-called), much less a life spent searching for Any Kind of Enlightenment, real or imagined. Which is to say: footnotes. Self-indulgently so.