tirsdag, marts 20, 2007

The Henry Within

Henry's the smug one.

In the fall of 1998 I began a story with the words “Henry Burger was in doubt.” It wasn’t a good story, but it became an important one—to me, that is. Literature couldn’t give a damn, really. Even my writing director wrote upon it, “I’ve read this twice and still don’t know what it means. But I know it means something.”

At the time, Henry was in his 60s and the story’s original conception was something of an Americanized baby of Ionesco’s short novel The Hermit and Kurt Kusenberg’s short story “Meine Diebe” (“My Thieves”). You needn’t know either work. I don’t believe the latter has even appeared in English and am sure I can no longer understand its German.

Further confusing matters, Henry was in many respects a cousin of John Berryman’s Dream Songs poems.

I had big ideas then. I still do, but they aren't that outrageous.

So Henry was in his 60s. The story ran something like 60 pages. (I believe I edited down to 40 or so for handing it out to the workshop.) And while I never did anything else with that Henry story, and while Henry never had a thing to do with other workshop submissions, I kept on writing Henry.

Henry became an alter ego and creative partner. Whenever I didn’t know what to write, I started to write about my life but referred to myself in third person and by the name Henry. Soon, Henry would take over and fictionalize things. Soon, I lost track of the boundaries between us. I lost track of whose experiences I recalled, much in the way even an obviously fanciful dream can sit in the mind like a truth for a good spell.

The castle tour, the hawk you caught on your wrist. The beginning of an affair.

Henry grew younger. He became much more like me. (That was easier, I guess, than me trying to age 30 or 35 years to catch up to him.) He used to look like me but is now more of an Ichabod Crane. He's had money, been homeless, inherited a tidy sum. He's a shut in. He travels. He's uncontrollably happy. He's unhinged and suicidal. He rarely reveals anything about himself to others but they do to him. He tells himself stories about them, loses track of what he's invented and what they've told him. He feels forever in need of departure but finds himself, no matter where he is, greatly relieved to be home. He's in love with life. It crushes him.

Sometimes I think a good number of my secret smiles are Henry's doing. Henry isn’t talking out loud. He isn’t a voice moving around me. Let's not loose the medication. But he does seem to be part of a dialogue deep down inside my brain. He produces the cat-who-ate-the-canary grins. I’m sure of it.
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