A Note To My Critics

James David Cohn

Excessive, heavy-handed, lugubrious, these are some of the words my critics have used to describe my writing. Oh, and self-indulgent. Let’s not forget self-indulgent. As if my writing is to me as a pack of French cigarettes such as Gitanes or a pricey Montalcino wine the brunette or the redhead as Luca used to say. One critic Derridad me by saying my work was mental masturbation to which I say well why do you think I take that blue pill every morning?

Of course most readers do not care about my masturbatory practices except for a few extremely curious fans whose letters contain very personal questions that have never gotten weird except for those two, the subsequent letters from that far-away-but-not-far-enough-away address going straight into the shredder unopened and my locks changed.

And get this, one critic said my work was a riotous excresence of verbiage that stank to the high heavens, to which I say you are smelling your own upper lip my friend. In my own defense let me say that while I love grammar it is true that syntax often escapes me. In some languages the word word can also mean a thing or a matter and therefore to say the word is the thing is a tautology like x=x.

Speaking of words, which is itself a tautology of sorts, yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of my brother and so Bill is now a thing in the ground or a matter in my head, he is dead, dead as a doorknob. Which I know is a malapropism but I like malapropisms, which is why I read books by the famous True Crime Writer despite or because of the malapropisms, begging the question of the purpose of writing or reading for that matter, as well as the future of the idiom begging the question which has turned into a malapropism itself at the hands of that writer, you know who I mean.

Back to my fans: Josie from Boise asks me why do you treat your mother so harshly in your work. Get a load of that name, Josie from Boise, you can’t make a name like that up even though I just did. I make all my critics up, my fans too, inasmuch as I have neither critics nor fans because as of this writing I am unpublished. However in my mind I am published, my mind has both critics and fans, my mind is densely populated and some of the fan letters in my mind go straight to the shredder and sometimes the locks have to get changed.

And while we are on the subject of shredders, one of my fictional readers has asked me where I get the inspiration for my fiction. I will share with you a trade secret that I developed in the early years of my writing career meaning last year. I would print out classic works of short fiction by the great writers, run them through the shredder, and sprinkle them on my breakfast cereal. My prose did not improve discernably but my bowel movements became more regular.

Josie from Boise you are right to ask about my mother because all fiction is autobiographical as many have enthusiastically stated, among these notables Mark Twain and Thomas Wolfe and Adolf Hitler. I don’t mean to compare myself to them especially Hitler though some women have.

That my mother was a shallow woman is a matter of opinion but it is untrue. I make her shallow in my stories as I made her shallow in life, in both cases as an act of cowardice, my lies having failed to deceive her. I freely confess this though confession is not my strong suit, a fact known all too well to my late wife though maybe I should say my latter wife because she is still alive except for the fact that the split left both of us dead, dead as a doorknob.

Of all the critics in my head my mother is the loudest, she has pride of place because she was the first inhabitant of my head and I was the fourth inhabitant of her womb. She in my head and I in her womb. She is not shallow in my head, she’s deep in there and never to be gotten out, as I suppose she never got me completely out of her head, where I lived deep also, both long before and long after my temporary visa in her womb had started and then expired. Just passing through, you might say, on my way from her head to her head.

She called me her Mr. Sunshine which might be why I have sleep issues. I once asked a psychiatrist friend if he thought my insomnia might be not a fear of not sleeping but rather a fear of sleeping. This made sense to me. He just shook his head once and said nah. Just like that. Nah. Good thing it was over lunch so I didn’t have to pay the big bucks for that insight. On the other hand maybe this proves that therapy only works if you pay for it which apparently didn’t include my springing for lunch. My contemporaneous notes made immediately after getting in my car reveal that he had the Salad Trio and iced tea to which he added a packet of artificial sweetener. On the subject of my own menu selection the record is, alas, silent.

Irregardless, as they say, little Mr. Sunshine didn’t have time for sleep. He would have plenty of time for sleep when he returned to his mother’s womb. For now his job was to fashion his mother in his own image, in his own image he created her, male and female he created them. A little god, controlling the sunshine, doling it out to her when he wanted, but also a vengeful little sonofabitch god, a god whose name is jealousy, or maybe just heady with power, womby with power, wielding it over her to make her squirm because there were times, let’s admit this to each other shall we, here under leave of Brutus and the rest, there were times he just wanted to hurt her like that time at camp when he took a frog into the bathroom and filled the sink using the hot tap only and dropped the frog in the scalding steaming water and was surprised to see all four of its legs shoot out straight as sticks and stay rigid, and then he was so horrified that he wanted to erase it all, he wanted to whoosh out the frog without touching it by scooping his cupped hands into the water the way they did at home when there was a live wasp in the pool, but the water was too hot so he pulled the drain lever open and drained out the water and then there was the frog still all extended in the bottom of the sink and he couldn’t bear to touch the dead thing/word/matter so he pushed the drain lever closed and filled the sink with cold water but the lever had trapped one of the frog’s legs when he closed the drain so the frog was stuck in the bottom of the sink and he couldn’t whoosh it out with his cupped hands and he was sweating now, his head filled with panic and his body shaking in sympathy with his head so he drained the water and tried to open the door to get a twig, a twig or something to flick the frog out but the doorknob was dead, he couldn’t turn it, and finally he opened it and ran ran ran and at lunch somebody said camp is great isn’t it I don’t want to go home and he said my stomach hurts really bad and he went to the nurse and she gave him an antacid to chew, she said chew it until it’s like milk in your mouth before you swallow it, this nurse who had a womb and therefore knew all about the frog incident even though he had omitted to tell her of it which is the worst kind of lying.

A week later Mr. Sunshine’s parents came to camp to take him home early because of his tummy issues. I never told anyone about the frog incident but I spent the rest of the summer punishing my mother for it.

© 2018 James David Cohn