In memoriam.

I received the devastating news this morning that a very dear friend of mine, known around here as psychoprince, died a few weeks ago. For the past decade, he’s been a professor of English at Texas A&M, but I first met him when I enrolled in his section of Logic & Rhetoric my freshman year at Columbia. (If we ever find ourselves chatting in person over a drink, remind me to tell you the story of our first day of class. It’s a classic, best told in person.) He turned out to be the craziest, blazingest, most brilliant firestorm of mental energy I’ve ever spent time with in a classroom. Several students in the class found him infuriating; I thought he was magnificent. He delivered an impromptu lecture one day on the conceptual link between the written word and flights of meaning, which he explained by telling us that the Phoenicians based their written characters on bird tracks, and that George Lucas had used recordings of birds squawking to create the sounds of the spacecraft in Star Wars. Somehow that helped me understand Derrida. He confessed later in our friendship that he wasn’t sure every fact he offered in the classroom was actually true, and I told him it didn’t matter if it helped students understand things for real. As I type this, I realize how much my own pedagogical tendencies are indebted to his.

In his class we wrote weekly papers. I wrote one on Kafka’s short story “The Bridge” that changed how I understood language. On one of my earliest assignments, he wrote that if he could convince me to go to grad school in English, he would notify the establishment that there was a new enfant terrible storming literary criticism. I looked up “literary criticism” and decided that’s what I wanted to do. And now here I am. I was planning on writing him soon to tell him about my move to McMaster. I’ve always credited him with launching this career I’m in.

At the end of my first year of school, he gave me a copy of Speculum of the Other Woman, perversely inscribed, “A little summer reading for a superb reader and writer.” I spent that summer—1995, the summer I turned 18—back in Rochester, answering the phone at the front desk of my high school by day, drinking coffee at Java Joe’s coffee shop by night, longing for New York all the time. I was in love with PsychoPrince—I dubbed him “PsychoPrince” as an homage to both his work on Shakespeare and his ferocious craziness; I was “Kamizu,” my online moniker in those days—in that way where you save up the right words to describe things, and all of life becomes a story you plan on telling one person. I just dug out my journal from that summer and found that I was mostly writing poetry. This is my last poetry journal. (I also find that I was thinking a lot that summer about another crush of mine, my friend Victor, who died tragically a few years ago. My two dead friends are all over my last book of poems.) I remember at the end of the summer, I typed up a few of the poems to show him, and one of them resurfaced months later in a letter of recommendation he wrote for my application to the Oxford study abroad program:

in the cradle

slightly spread, knees are mountains
pointing up. these predicaments
always come in twos, deflated
yins and yangs crawling
into each others’ skins. my name
is something metal on a chain
where light melts off like mercury.
the sea rides jetties into dusk;
you roll your form over the landscape of a body;
in a pocketbook of frayed edges
for a moment I hold you—
a bright wet coin
landed star-like
in a newborn country.

(Lest you think I did nothing but read feminist psychoanalytic theory and think deep thoughts that summer, here’s another one of my works of that era:

cry about it

you wanna escape but you don’t have a car
you wanna get smashed but can’t go to a bar
you think yer so bad but really yer not
you think yer so deep but yer head’s full of snot

you drink diet coke but yer still pretty fat
nobody likes you not even yer cat
you drove too damn fast got yer license revoked
life stays the same even though jerry’s croaked

wegman’s ID’d you for yer camel lights
no money no honey and no goddamn rights
you could have a life but you don’t even try
yer at java joe’s hoping chicks will drive by

you can’t play guitar and you can’t stay out late
you look like a skater but you can’t even skate
in yer friend’s car you hear a good song
you pump up the bass but you can’t sing along

yer not a genius and yer not a fool
yer a loser but not enough to be cool
you can’t get a job and you can’t surf the ‘net
you can’t find the remote to the tv set

you try to write poetry ’cause that’s where it’s at
but you bore everyone with yer angst-ridden crap
you’d do something if you had more than two bucks
— born and bred in the suburbs where everything sucks
)

PsychoPrince was the one who first told me to listen to Radiohead, Portishead, Wire, The Golden Palominos. As recorded in the early entries and comments of this journal, he regularly supplied me with music while I was in school to keep my brain buzzing. The last time I saw him, at a conference in Portland last March, I failed to make time to hang out with him and his new girlfriend, whom he really wanted me to meet. (She was with him during his illness, and was thoughtful enough to send me the note I received this morning.) The last time I hung out with him, in Washington D.C., he took me out for dinner and to a strip club (my first and only time) to celebrate my successful completion of seven MLA interviews, one of which turned into my current job. Other first-time adventures he gave me include my first ikura sushi, my first lesson in poststructuralism, my first time making a waiter in an Indian restaurant blush, my first all-nighter with Freud, and my first fantasies of academic celebrity. I realize now that I assumed he would always be around, looking over my continued accumulation of experience. The world feels completely different without him in it.

4 thoughts on “In memoriam.

  1. Oh dear. Too much loss, and much too soon. It’s wonderful to have the opportunity for such close relationships with mentors, with brilliant people who inspire and recognize you. Losing PsychoPrince must feel like a hole in the universe. My deepest sympathies.

    Thanks for poems. I loved them both.

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