Letter to Mr. Kay; 1970 Letter; 11 pages; Complete; Oakland; Age: 18; Early adulthood, after Amy; Writing as productive, self-fashioning.


First page of the Letter to Mr. Kay; Mss_0018_01.

PDF: Large image



Loose sheets; typewriter carbon copy; Good condition, paper a little yellowed, but not brittle.

Prose; First months in California; Amy, others at Hillegass house, Stephen Kay; Oakland, Berkeley, Bolinas;

A peculiar font, which must have come from a borrowed typewriter; I don't believe I have any other manuscripts in this font, and I have no recollection of where it was typed; I would not have had access to any typewriters except in the house where I was living, and perhaps this belonged to one of my housemates. I was excessively shy in that year, and so I know that I had no other contacts in that first Autumn in California except for the housemates. Possibly there was a typewriter at school with this italic font?

Related mss: Nameless I,   Journals,

By December, 1970, my connection with Amy was fully severed. The slow, dull, shock of this after so much struggle sank in only slowly. When I reached out to Mr. Kay, who had been the junior high school teacher who had encouraged my writing, it was to frame the new phase of my life. The narrative is meant to produce that phase as much as to report on it. I maintained the connection to him for decades, and he was one of the keepers of my narrative, and though we never spoke of Amy in explicit terms, he knew about my relationship with her through my writings. I think it is possible that the last of the manuscripts I actually had shared with him was the one titled “1964,” written in the spring of 1965, as an account of our first plot and hinted intimacies. My high school writings were so bound up with Amy that I cannot imagine I shared them with him. That would have been a violation of the secrecy within which Amy and I were able to continually deny our connection with each other.

This letter, written toward the end of my first semester in art school in California, was clearly meant as a way to inscribe the distance from the identity I had had on leaving the East Coast. I was writing to him to let him know who I had become, and, by writing, become that Californian addicted to fine weather and sunshine, bicycle riding and colorful foliage. The themes I was at such pains to announce here, in this correspondence, were only partially ones I would pursue. The narrative account of arrival hides the creative work I was doing, with its associative techniques, fractured prose, vivid figuration that became the massive manuscript of the early 1970s.

The letter is eleven pages, a full account of my arrival, friends I stayed with, first apartment and roommate, move to the Hillegass house, and other details. Observations of the culture, the hippie world and Hare Krishhas, and of the insularity of our house, are detailed and vivid. I recount the trip to Bolinas, briefly, and dismiss it, critical of the hedonistic culture of the place. I speak of the work I am doing in art school, painting, reading Carl Jung, and end by describing my writing practice at the time. “I have too large a vocabulary and no comprehension of the meaning of the words, I use them for their sound and form, like the patterns of a dance I know them and not their substance.”

In fact, by this time I was writing prolifically in a combination of dream and associative prose. Many influences fueled this writing, some literary (Surrealism, modern literature) and some circumstantial (marijuana). But the sheer creative energy of composition in a manner that was explicit but occulted, gave suggestions of experience but within highly coded and syntactically dense language, was also, I think, an effect of the continued concealment of the Amy experience. Nothing could be said directly, and so the figures in and of the text performed their own inscriptions of arcane displacement, highly configured, but somewhat opaque.

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