Secrets, secrets, never let them show...
“Poets today are a nothing but staid, bloodless, white-bread academics!” sneers the book shop cashier to her colleagues, pretending to ignore me as she rings up my order, but all the while projecting her embittered commentary well beyond their discussion circle. “The real creative voice of our generation isn’t an MFA chair somewhere,” she continues, “but a complete unknown, toiling away in obscurity.” Clearly, she has someone in mind.
Enter my great dilemma:
Should I tell her it’s me?
Should I interrupt her crapulous carping and extend a blessing hand in introduction as the very messiah she has prophesied, activating the book shop’s sprinkler system and baptizing her as my foremost disciple? Or should I behave perhaps more messianically and simply wink knowingly with a serene smile before silently vanishing once more out the doors and back into that obscure existence she romanticizes so? Or should I issue a stentorian proclamation declaring my incessant heartbeat, a deceptively mammalian rhythm which even she could hear distinctly with her own mortal ear pressed to my breast, to be nothing short of the marching cadence impelling a new language, one of pure life, in its striding forth in ceaseless lock-step toward a brilliant dawn of unrealized human potentiality, when rays of pure untrammeled inspiration will irradiate fecund fields sewn with shit she can’t even conceptualize? Should I act out this mixed metaphor for her using dramatic hand gestures, blocks of moveable type, plastic army men, a grow lamp, a Chia Pet in my likeness, and a few fire crackers for the sexy parts? Or should I not risk confusing her with so much nuance and instead convey my message bluntly, by amassing the entirety of literary history hitherto into a great heap, climbing to its summit and proclaiming myself conqueror, and setting it ablaze in a brilliant conflagration which burns but does not consume? Or should I think up a display that’s a bit more... dramatic?
And if she’s still eager to learn more, should I utter the ages-old caveat of every great prophecy, “spoiler alert”, and outline in scrupulous detail the plot arc of my lengthy life story to come, the second greatest story ever told (right after that of my mentor, James Frey), an epic driven by ceaseless struggle against innumerable obstacles and rendered suitable for the silver screen by moments of touching tenderness, numerous humorous sub-plots, all kinds of earnest character development, and a cast of supporting characters that’s simply divine? Should I describe for her my apotheosis in its entire glacial movement in hourly detail, from the humblest of beginnings in the godforsaken backwater of print which my blistered hands strove to cultivate? How by day the parching heat ate me up, and frost in the night, and sleep was a stranger to my eyes? How I offered my blood and sweat to an unforgiving wilderness where all but the most tenacious of the countless seeds I spilled in self congratulation withered and perished in liquor-logged soil? How I did say unto the Lord: “Gad! God, why have You done evil to Your servant, and why have I not found favor in Your eyes, for you to put the burden of all these people upon me?” Should I linger with her in this wilderness for a generation as punishment for her disbelief? Or with incense aflame, should I chisel for her into bas relief my passion—that timeless tragic trope of being born too soon and intro the wrong place, the unspeakable pain of perishing in considerable discomfort while birthing an epoch of unprecedented breadth? Should I relate for her that old familiar magic trick of death by crucifixion for the sins of orthodoxy only to return miraculously, but just to make your friends feel bad because they didn’t stick up for you when the chips were down? Should I echo for her the sentiment famously uttered by Nietzsche in a Cologne brothel: “Alas, I have come too soon!”?
And should I even bother providing this fulsome fustian foreword, a lengthy preamble to the history of my future, or should I proceed directly to the the end of my life and the beginning of my story, when I have expired, when my only creative output will be hair and fingernails, and when the maggots copulating in my eyeballs make me the ultimate Misfits fan? Should I chart the spread of the Jarrod movement after my predictable passing, from the ragtag rural tribe I leave in my wake, through its travels along trade routes, through self-righteous chain-letters and obscenities written on bathroom walls, through its passing between cults of my personality as dissimilar as they are numerous, until I arrive at last at the gates of the great metropolises, where thirst for the latest fad is never sated? Should I detail the spread of my exalted word among these queer folk—the city-dwellers, the newspaper readers, the subway riders, the writers who dress like they’re writers, the adorable kids who read those brightly colored cleverly titled books written recently? Should I provide our bookseller friend with the countless complimentary testimonials of these free-thinking smart-dressing youngsters who will live after I have died, mournful elegies of wan regret that they never had a chance to meet me, to pick my brain before it went cold, to pose for Futurebook photos with the enigmatic sage Jarrod Shanahan, the great early 21st Century prophet of solipsistic metafiction? Should I detail the inclusion of my work, through the intervention of these latter day acolytes, into something called The Cannon, which of course means “that which ceaselessly fires heavy objects at the frail heads of its unsuspecting victims”? Should I announce the coming resurrection, as it was heralded by an angelic cashier of St. Mark’s Book Shop, when I will ascend and be seated at the right hand side of the employee recommendation shelf, and will be granted life everlasting in the tote bag of The Girl Who Read Popular Fiction on the L Train?
And should I leave it off there at my fervent culmination, or should I include the inevitable aftermath, when excitement deflates, prior engagements are suddenly remembered, and one begins to look for ones shoes? Should I describe my loss of novelty once my followers cease to be fed to the lions and become thoroughly institutionalized in a vast imperialistic bureaucracy humorously antithetical to my life and message? When my revealed word is used as the pretext for unifying a great empire of uninspired pedagogical regiment? When I become hopelessly bloodlessly staidly white-bread and academic? When my latter day heirs become MFA chairs somewhere? When the daring young iconoclasts of a new age, my children!, ignore the inheritance which I have bequeathed them and turn their pens against me like a pack of spoiled brats in juvenile fits of patricidal prose, pissing all over the dried up piss I’d once pissed all over my own forefather’s piss that they’d pissed onto theirs? When all the punks refuse to read me because I didn’t have the guts to kill myself like that other guy from my time period? When yawning students forced to read my work by loathsome, unimaginative pedants defiantly abstain, as I once did to the generations which preceded me? When a high school class erupts in laughter at the declaration: “Yo teach, this Jarrod Shanahandjob is mad boring. All this ninja talks about it himself!” Should I tell her its true that some are born posthumously, but that so too must they perish! And how I can smile about it now, but at the time it will be terrible?
And this, this is my dilemma, as the foremost prophet of my epochal apocalyptic epic stares blankly into my eyes, asking me if I have found everything I was looking for—a question I could just as easily pose to her!—and does not recognize me as he who is who he is. And I have decided that it will remain this way. I will continue to toil away in obscurity, a complete unknown. And as for you, reader: Shhh... It’s a secret.
[Originally published by DPP as a half-sheet booklet in a run of about 150. I have a few left, hit me up if you want a paper copy.]