Monthly Archives: March 2010

Untitled Matthew Scott Keohne Novel (two random excerpts)

Saturday, Belmont, MA, 10:41 A.M. EST (9:41 A.M. CST) McLean Psychiatric Hospital Notes: Preliminary interview with the patient #6374-00-0187, Matthew Scott Keohne. Format: question and answer, part. Questions were presented in the form of one-word statements to prompt mostly free associative responses from the patient for the purpose of maintaining the utmost fidelity toward further psychological evaluation. Transcripts might very well be publishable material in and of themselves. We will examine all possibilities later with the patient as many ideas are concurrent with the patient’s as of yet unpublished manuscript, ‘N’ In the Sky. GHM represents the prompt, of which I, Dr. G. H. Murdoch, myself, provided; whereas MSK represents the patient’s response. Offsetting fonts were also used.

—DR. GHM

GHM: Happiness.

MSK: Happiness, an interesting place to begin with someone who is clinically depressed, but something in the traditional sense and definition, is something that can only be achieved by relinquishing the possibilities for questioning and challenging established dogmas. There must be an inherent ability within the individual to convince themselves that certain things—aspects of their lives—are simply “as good as they get.” Curiosity is then relegated to the proverbial back seat.

GHM: Human nature.

MSK: Human nature is incalculably—perhaps impossibly, incalculably so—curious, i.e. what else exists “out there?” Complacency is not really coincident with our nature; it’s more a byproduct of streamlining domestic life than anything.

GHM: Faith.

MSK: A logical progression of words, Dr. Murdoch. We—and by we, I mean, society—create complacent social constructs, accepted paradigmatically as norms. World religions are perhaps most guilty of this. These constructs as norms, they simply won’t work without them. Faith is bred by complacency: people are told to accept things as they are, remain in the dark—there are simply things not meant to be known or understood. This has happened historically: the universe revolves around the Earth, evolution is a lie, science is an organized system of ignorance—which is, by the way, not my clever phrasing, unfortunately.

So, it’s likely that faith-based belief systems were created first, to help some sects of people explain the unexplained, the reason for their being, and second, to refrain from dealing with the potentially harsh reality that we might actually be on our own floating all the way out here on our insignificantly tiny rock, in our little patch of the universe, which also by the way, may be just one of an infinite number of universes in an infinitely large multi-verse, anyhow.

GHM: Loneliness.

MSK: OK, so while we may not—well, let’s be honest—we probably are not, statistically speaking—alone, at least within the infinite multi-verse—we are irrevocably an island floating here in the middle of a giant ocean of space. This is the very definition of alone, yes? This is an indisputable fact.

GHM: Catastrophe.

MSK: I’ve in fact been pondering this. Should, let’s say, global catastrophe actually befall us—us now, in this context, being human beings on this planet—we have no practical way to save ourselves, nowhere to go, we have no one we can call who could possibly come to help us. This apocalyptic reality is not impossible and, ultimately, it’s dangerous to ignore if it’s given some actual thoughtful consideration.

Some people—religious types, especially—have to believe there is something else out there, something closer than infinity and better where people are perhaps not just a novel mistake floating on a blue and green rock in a solar system with only one star: they need to believe there is something better after life on Earth ends.

GHM: Earth.

MSK: I appreciate the segue. So then, planning to live only on the Earth is like having all of one’s eggs in one basket, our eggs—the human race’s eggs. We’ve essentially got one chance for the time being; there is no backup plan. This is it.

I think we should put more resources into finding similar Earth-like planets—i.e. planets capable of supporting life, since we simply don’t have the technology even to reach our nearest neighboring star, at least not in a single human lifetime. And so then what? How would we go about preventing our own extinction?[1]

Let’s posit the idea of building a giant, space-exploring ark that is capable of transporting enough people to keep generations of humans alive as we leave our home planet for good.

GHM: Preparation.

MSK: So before we depart, we will, for example, need to have found cures for inbred genetic diseases, such as Fragile X Syndrome—because after enough time passes, all of the people aboard the ark will, of course, be fraternally related, right? We will then have to devise a new moral compass to guide our decisions if we are to have any hope of continuing human existence. Incest will no longer be a sick and perverted taboo—it will be simply necessary. We, as a people, will need to start over, ostensibly like we did when the first group of our homo-sapiens ancestors left Southern Africa 60,000 years ago to populate the Earth.[2]

GHM: Salvation.

MSK: I’m getting to that. So then how do we choose who earns passage on our giant, space-exploring ark? Good question. A lottery perhaps? Who’s to say? Even by expected future technological standards, I highly doubt we will be able to evacuate billions of people. Which thus raises innumerable glaring ethical questions. Do we only allow the strongest, smartest and most beautiful? There of course absolutely has got to be diversity in the population sample that gets chosen—selected—to continue the human species away from the Earth, if for no other reason than to at least potentially stave off genetic disorders so common to inbreeding. No sir—the sick, weak and ugly need not apply! We can theoretically filter out the bad genes right away.[3] Does this sound familiar?

GHM: ….. [note taking]

MSK: Nazi eugenics experiments come to mind. But really, this is the fate of our entire race we are talking about. Can we afford not to be choosy?

GHM: Ethics.

MSK: But then, yes, of course, the moral and ethical principles of putting a quantifiable value on human lives come into play. The fact is—in this apocalyptic scenario—some lives do become—surprise!—worth more than others. Pure humanists will disagree, but they will likely get overruled—and possibly voted off the ark entirely—in their political correctness when push, literally, comes to shove.

For instance, it will prove difficult to argue favorably for the life of a junkie over that of a physician. In fact, we already make these distinctions in modern medicine, such as where organ transplant lists are concerned. E.g. an alcoholic will not be considered for a liver transplant unless there is markedly detailed documentation for five years or more of abstinence from substances.

GHM: ….. [more note taking]

MSK: Of course, it will be argued that the alcoholic did it to themselves, while the child with, say, leukemia was simply on the crueler side of fate’s coin flip—an ironic choice of phrasing, yes? So then anyway, who lives? And who chooses whom lives? And how? How do “they” account for our deeply-seeded sense of self-preservation? It would likely be an instance for immediate implementation of a Kantian categorical imperative rather than a Millian utilitarian approach: you[4] either qualify for salvation—to relationally circle the dialog around a bit—or you don’t. Simple.

GHM: Needs.

MSK: Well, yes, as a species we then return to the bottom of Abraham Maslow’s pyramid whose levels initially encompass physiological and safety needs. The world is ending, for God’s sake! Economies collapse as currency has no real use, except, perhaps, to kindle fires. What good is money when a future no longer exists? Even the wealthiest become “just like everyone else”[5] by the great equalizer: surviving imminent doom. You can’t buy your way on to our hypothetical ark. “Your money is no good here.”

GHM: Me? [note: a slip of protocol on my clinical part. –Dr. GHM]

MSK: No, I was simply using you to mean everyone, anyone. I honestly did not mean to imply your money was no good. Heavens no.

GHM: Sustainability.

MSK: So then OK, yes, we need to figure out a system of sustenance for our protracted flight through space. Mobile, renewable energy is a must as well—solar power becomes out of the question as we get further away from the sun. And so really perhaps we should build two[6] arks since catastrophe could befall a single ark on such an epic and perilous journey, or rather, again, we should reference Maslow’s first and second levels of needs.

Stephen Hawking is completely right about this issue: We must eventually leave Earth, or die. Earth is not a long-term solution for humans, or anything else on this planet for that matter.

GHM: Significance.

MSK: Yes, I see where this is heading. Perhaps it won’t matter. We may nuke ourselves into oblivion before we ever have a chance to die off naturally. The saddest part about being so alone out here is that, if we do effect our own destruction, no one else will ever know. No one will care. Everything we will have ever worked for—everything we will, as a species, have accomplished, will be wholly for nothing because there won’t be anyone/anything around to appreciate it. We will be gone, insignificant in the grand and infinite scheme of things.

GHM: Limitations.

MSK: Good question, which I suppose then brings us back then to my original point, which was kind of, if not explicitly, that blind faith is both dangerous and counterproductive. Whether it’s the backward thinking concerning—oh, I don’t know—stem cell research or religious condemnation of contraception—these were all ideas that were first conceived of by human beings and enforced thusly. We put limitations on the rate of intellectual advancement just so people can hold on to their fairy tales—I’m probably going to catch a lot of flak for this—but mere fairy tales that make them feel safer, less alone.

But then what about the people who believe in science and how it can save us when we have no choice but to leave the Earth? When—not, if. Do we only select people whose greatest interest is discovery and the advancement—and survival—of the human race, which would likely include a lot of atheists—an of which idea I’m obviously in favor.

GHM: Euthanasia.

MSK: And so yes, we can go back—wow, we’re really all over the place, aren’t we? Are you sure this isn’t your first interview? But then let’s go back to the people stuck on the ark for who knows however many generations—what kind of lives can they expect to live? That is, even if we solve the issue of creating artificial gravity.

These individuals will likely become frail, physically weaker. How do we account for their mental health? Some of the less fortunate will likely succumb to insanity. What then? They will essentially become simple consumers of already ultra limited resources. Do we just—for all intents and purposes—just euthanize them? Burials are out of the question. Corpses must then be incinerated, blasted off into space. Here lies the corrugated- and very unpleasant- rub.

GHM: Individuality.

MSK: Population must be controlled, which then means forced abortions and consequently, there’s no more room for individual moral beliefs—no room for individuality at all, really…

“…Pardon me, but could I trouble someone for a chilled bottle of Perrier and a smallish to medium-sized glass, please? And perhaps an Oxy[7] tablet or two. Splitting headache. I’m sure that shouldn’t be too difficult to procure—this being a hospital and all.”

* * *

????day, Belmont, MA, 4:27 A.M. EST (3:27 P.M. CST) McLean Psychiatric Hospital “Matthew, I must say these occurrences are most disconcerting.” “It’s almost as if you only engage me in conversation in order to solve a riddle of some sort each time we speak these days, Dr. Murdoch.” “It’s inexplicable.” “What is?” “How are you doing it?” “Doing what?” “You write, and then things—events—similar to what you’ve written about seem to…happen.” “On the contrary, I write—and then simply wait for the things about which I’ve written to happen, somewhere.” “And this doesn’t seem the least bit coincidental to you?” “Not at all. In fact, it’s really all a mathematical certainty based on mathematical uncertainty.” “I don’t follow.” “As I’ve said countless times in our countless prior conversations: everything that is going to happen—or can happen—has already happened.” Dr. Murdoch’s sleep deprived face intimates no semblance of understanding or even an attempt to understand Matthew’s metaphysical mumbo jumbo bullshit.[8] “It’s utterly impossible for me to rationalize how it is that you can be so certain that the universe about which you write somehow perfectly aligns with the one in which you live.” “But then how can you be certain that it is impossible for an individual consciousness to simply traverse between multiple parallel universes?” “…..” “I am only kidding, Dr. Murdoch. Though you must also learn to somehow accept that there are simply things occurring on levels human beings simply do not understand yet. I say yet as the key term here.” “To say nothing, then, of coincidence?” “Coincidence is a word we as humans have created that simply means we don’t get it…yet. For instance, sometimes I’ll write a scene—this is a true story—and then the next day, for example—and this has happened on more than one occasion—I’ll crack open a book I’ve never read before, only to see that, say, Jay McInerney wrote essentially the very same scene in 1996. It might be ever so slightly different, but when you boil it down to brass tacks and all of those other soubriquets for reducing a situation to its lowest common denominator, the scene was the same. That’s because the main idea has always existed. There are no new ideas, Dr. Murdoch. In the case of my newly-written example scene, Jay simply wrote it first, but really it’s always been there. Fiction simply imitates life. Words, letters phrases, language—all of them already exist before we as writers ever sit down to write a story. It’s the assemblage of the words, letters phrases, language that matters—it’s the execution.” “This does sound very…familiar, Matthew…” “It should. We use words we have learned—that were already there—to describe people and things and events that have been seen and observed and done since time immemorial. For example, we don’t, or at least very rarely, write about things that have never been conceived of before, and if we some reason—for sake of argument—did write of such impossible things, we’d be doing a tremendous disservice to our readers if it is not handled with the utmost care, because we are ultimately attempting to relate to them the un-relatable.” “Matthew, there are countless things for which human beings have no understanding.” “OK then Dr. Murdoch, for instance—we can’t take a photo of something that cannot be described using language if it is at least visible—the invisible provides its own set of argumentation points. This un-relatable object in our photo would have a color that lands on the color spectrum somewhere between white and black, as well as a shape, a form, a likeness to something for which we already have a word. The absence of any color or visual representation would only make its reality questionable. The—pardon my terminology here—but the copout that many religions use to describe the existence of their particular God would likely be used to, quote, prove the existence of our un-relatable object, which is: it is both unfathomable and not meant to be fathomed by the human mind, et cetera. “…..” “Think of the Derridean center—it is paradoxically both within the structure and is not a part of it. Human knowledge exists within us—but is also apart from us—i.e. when we share it, when we reimagine it. We know what it is like to live a human existence, but only our own human existence, no one else’s. I can never experience the world from your perspective, only mine and vice versa. Everyone is the center of their own universe. Our universe is a conceptual structure. Structures lacking a center are—like our hypothetical object, which we would like to photograph—unthinkable. I rhetorically then ask, why? To which I myself answer, also to paraphrase our friend Jacques, because a center orients and balances, organizes—to be unbalanced is to be unimaginable. Have you ever read Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities Dr. Murdoch?” “I have not.” “The writing is done in an impossible and bizarre manner by turning simple ideas into absurd solutions—for instance, he builds a brick wall against rules of gravity—from top to bottom. There is another unfinished or demolished city—we as the reader are never quite sure—but a city that has no walls, no ceilings, and no floors, just water pipes that rise vertically where the houses should be. Calvino gives us a plethora of details about places we can’t imagine. But we are in good hands. It’s simply masterfully done, although these places would be impossible to build, to see, and thus, almost impossible even to imagine, except by the words with which we are already familiar—language—language, Dr. Murdoch, is the great equalizer.” “How did we get here, Matthew?” “Are you now being existential, Dr. Murdoch?” “No, I mean, how did we here, to this point in the conversation?” “You asked me why it is that I do not find it coincidental or disconcerting that I write things down from my imagination and tangible happenings then seem to eventuate that bear a striking resemblance to my written words, which thus causes a stirring in your belief in the overall core concept of reality, to which I have tried to explain to you that things that happen have already happened and have never happened—all depending on choices people make.” “Such interesting phrasing.” “Phrasing is all we’ve got, Dr. Murdoch.” “So where do we go from here, Matthew?” “Much like a maze or a labyrinth—it all depends on your perception, Dr. Murdoch—your point of reference.” “Pardon?” “Labyrinths, as expressed by someone whose name escapes me at the moment, seem confusing and fragmented from within, but beautifully complex from above. What you see merely depends on where you stand. Within/without, a part of/but separated from, organization/chaos—all of this depends on your point of reference. And so then both figurative labyrinths and the tangible Universe in which we live are similar in that the perception of each is unstable. Changes in our point of reference, whether considering the universe or a labyrinth, seem to change perception. Humans used to think the Sun revolved around the Earth—because, why would they think it any other way? Their point of reference makes it seem perfectly plausible, likely even, that the Earth is the center of the universe. It was only after we could change our point of reference that we could truly put our relationship to the sun in perspective. “Similarly, there was a study done in Britain researching genius and gender differences. Their subjects were children—boys and girls—and they asked them to attempt to finish a giant hedge maze in as little time as possible. The boys consistently finished the maze faster than the girls, not because males are more intelligent than females, but because their problem-solving patterns used for this particular exercise were better. Boys would go to a halfway point, one that also happened to provide an elevated position, so that they could get an overall directional sense of the maze from above. The girls, on the other hand, simply used landmarks. In this instance, point of reference proved invaluable. “Then in Mark Danielewski’s debut novel—House of Leaves—the mysterious, laws-of-physics-disregarding labyrinth inside the house actually changes based on each individual’s expectations. For some people, the incredibly expansive spiral staircase takes four days to descend. For the protagonist, the bottom appeared after only one-hundred feet, because he knew there was a bottom—he expected an end, so it materialized sooner for him. Each choice one makes inside the labyrinth changes the labyrinth, no matter how small the choice. Similar to what has been hypothesized by string-theory and quantum physicists when talking of parallel universes—each decision a person makes, no matter how insignificant, changes the course of their present universe. “And so every combination of labyrinth already exists, the same as every possible outcome of every possible human choice exists in the universe—infinitely—parallel to our own present universe—the culmination of choices we have ever made, overlaid with the choices everyone else has ever made. We are both the center of our own universe and also a cog in each universe that overlaps with our own—both inside and out.”

* * *


[1] Since, of course, we are the only Earth species with even the slightest hope of doing so. [2] Or whatever their reason was. [3] We’re still being hypothetical. [4] Or whoever. [5] The interviewee uses air quotes to emphasize his point here. [6] Or more. [7] Oxycodone, an opioid analgesic medication synthesized from opium-derived thebaine. Developed in 1916 in Germany, as one of several new semi-synthetic opioids in an attempt to improve on the existing opiates and opioids: morphine, diacetylmorphine (heroin), and codeine. [8] His phraseology. (3,651 words)

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Curiosity Doesn’t Discriminate

“What is that?”

“What’s what?”

That.  What is that?”

“I dunno, a plow I suppose.”

“It looks like a horse—like a horse’s hoof.”

“Where?”

“Right there.”

“Are we looking at the same thing?”

I can’t see much.  It’s dry and that makes the gravel road even dustier.

Suzanne parks the car and retrieves her riding boots from the trunk before walking through the barn doors to get Juliet all saddled up.  I decide now’s a good time to call my mom back.  The reception out here is pretty good.

Mom tells me that Bailey, the 4 year old German Shorthair’d Pointer she just adopted from a local rescue was up until not too long ago being bred at a puppy-mill—could hardly be said she was living there—and was on her way, that is Bailey was on her way, to a kill shelter somewhere down in Kansas and goddamn’d if she—I’m talking about my mom now— wasn’t just so wonderfully relieved that she’d rescued Bailey from such a terrible fuckin place.

We all do a real good job of not thinking about the ones we can’t rescue.

Suzanne brings Juliet out of the barn, all tacked up and snorting and mare-ish.  I’d been just sitting in the car when I was talking to my mom so I hop out and tell Suzanne all about Bailey and the kill shelter and we both agree she’s probably a whole helluva lot better off with my mom.

Suzanne leads Juliet over to the outdoor hunter ring and starts warming her up, stretching out her legs.

I walk over to a set of empty bleachers just on the outside of the ring and crack open this bizarre novel that you have to turn a number of different directions in order to read—which actually proves pretty cumbersome out here due to the steady breeze blowing across the corn fields, then across the hunter ring.

After warming her up, Suzanne mounts Juliet and makes a few laps around the ring at a trot in each direction—to her right and then her left.  I read a couple multi-directional pages before I hear Suzanne’s voice trying to get my attention.

“It’s a horse.”

“What?”

“A horse,” she says.  “I told you.  It’s a horse.”  Suzanne points toward the rear corner of the barn to a particularly muddy area, all cast in shadow, where there’s old farm tractors and other farming stuff sitting around.

I can’t see what she’s pointing at so I close my book and get up and take a closer look.

And sonofabitch if she isn’t right.

The thing I thought was probably just the handle of a plow from the gravel road driving in really was a horse, which I suppose means first off, I shouldn’t second-guess my wife when the two of us are trying to identify objects that may or may not be a horse.

“Is it dead?” I say.  Sometimes I’m a real dumbass about these things, but particularly because I’m an expert at being in denial about death and dying and pretty much everything else.

“Yeah,” she says, “it’s dead.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, I’m sure.”

“I mean, I dunno—you think I should go over there and poke it or something, just to see?”

“Daniel, it’s dead.  I’m sure.”

“Fuckin sad…” I say.

“It is sad,” she says before trotting Juliet off around the ring again.

Circle of life, I guess.

The deal with the horse really is sad, too—I’m not just saying it.

Rear leg looked like the plow handle like I said it did because the old rigor had already set in and his leg was probably straight out like that when he died.

Poor bastard suffocated himself.

His body just rests there, slung low and halfway to the ground, neck wedged between a small gap between the gate and the barn’s rear wall—but the gap wasn’t small enough though, I guess.

Almost looks like he hung himself on purpose.

His front legs are all cocked out at an odd angle—splayed is the word—like that poor little bastard had himself a few choice second-thoughts once he’d totally committed himself to the whole deal.

Reminds me how once I heard about this guy in San Francisco who decided on performing some personal Harry Carey on himself.  He was one of those guys, I heard, who think jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge makes a whole lot of sense since it’s a real dramatic and flashy way to give the world one last fuck you before ending it all.

Going out with a bang they say—or a splat, as it were, in his case.

So of course, some everyday folks refer less than kindly to these types of individuals as assholes and what not. Such as when I’ve heard em say things like:

You hear about that asshole killed himself jumpin off that damn bridge?…  Serves him right! …I went down there and yelled at his dumb ass myself; told him to go on and do it, quit wasting my time and tax dollars, since you know those police men got theirselves better things to do than sit around and talk some dummy down off some bridge… Jee-minny Crickets!

I don’t typically condone any kind of talk like that about people I don’t know.  Don’t know what they are going home to.  Don’t know if they even got a home to go home to.

Maybe jumping in front of a train, or off a bridge, or drowning yourself in Jim Beam might just be a preferable alternative to a given set of circumstances—you just never can tell.

Well so anyway, this particular asshole—now I’m using their words, not mine—was just a kid, all of 19.  He went on some TV news program after he became one of the, like, two percent of all people who jump from the Golden Gate and then find themselves in the bay, and alive, having survived that 245-foot fall into the water—in which case I can imagine a certain few choice words one might say, the least of which, just personally speaking, would probably be, Holy shit!

But that’s just me digressingso this kid went on that TV news program and said he regretted making that jump as soon as his feet left the deck—that very goddamn second.  I believe he all of a sudden got religious cause the first thing he said to himself was God, save me.

I have a theory about this and it does end up relating to the dead horse—a stud colt, even—but I do tend to get a little long-winded at times.

People have talked a lot about suicide around me. I don’t particularly understand why someone’d do it, but they say it has to do with those particular people feeling completely out of control of their own lives, and so when they feel like they don’t have anything left they can control in their own lives, they feel like, well shit, at least I can control my contract with the world and my living in it—so to speak.

The problem with jumping off a bridge is that you have all the control in the world—that is until you have that four seconds of freefalling where the universe takes all that control back.

I wonder how many of that 98 percent who didn’t end up in the icy-cold water alive had changed their minds after clearing that whole point of no return?

And what’s the biggest difference here?  Between people and animals, that is to say, for me—I’m asking: what’s the difference?

Difference, I suppose, is that I feel bad for the damn horse, really what it all comes down to.  I said I don’t condone negatively speaking about people whose conditions I’m not fully privy to; but I never meant to indicate that I felt bad for them, necessarily.

But from everything I know- and I suppose is widely-accepted where horses are concerned- they don’t have all the higher order brain functioning necessary to just off themselves for strictly dramatic, or attention-seeking purposes.

I feel bad because that stud colt was probably just investigating something just a little bit more interesting on the other side of that gate, not entertaining the idea it’d be the death of him.

I guess people sort of do that too—grass is always greener, and so on.

But that sounds to me like a simple case of curiosity, and curiosity was supposed to kill the cat, not the horse.  So I guess what I’m saying at this point is is that it sounds like I’m just talking out both sides of my ass.

“Why’d you make me look at that?” I say to Suzanne finally.

“I didn’t make you.”

“Yes you did.  You said it was a horse, a dead one, right over there, like fifty feet in the shade.  How could I not look?”

“No one said you had to,” and with a shrug, Suzanne trots off on Juliet and I’m left standing there to consider the dead stud colt and why the hell I’m still looking at him.

Suzanne obviously just doesn’t get the whole curiosity thing—either that, or she does get it, and she knows what curiosity’s apt to do in situations like this—whether you’re a cat, or a horse or a…

…and so then maybe she just chooses to ignore all of that.

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