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PROLOGUE

I imagine an Ideal Reader: you desire to lose yourself in a book. Think of the beauty of that, to lose one's self in a great work of literature, to live through another, to be transported to a new world, forget the cares and considerations of your day, the hours of the evening turning to night, until you are surprised with morning birdsong and the blue glow of dawn is gathering around the window. To read and forget that you are reading, dissolve into the insubstantial pageant, live and breathe, laugh and cry and live the full spectrum of human experience between the covers of a book is the most mystical of artistic experiences. 

And believe me, my Ideal Reader, I am with you here. I often believe I have lived more lives inside the pages of books that I have outside of them. And without my swearing to it, you can believe that I would like this book, this strange creature of my understanding, to be the most beautiful and wonderful and, indeed, enlightening book you have ever read. Alas, it is with deep sorrow that I must inform you here at the outset, before you wander too far down the enchanted path, before you have invested too much of yourself in the dream, that I am not up to it. My impoverished genius, is not capable of such invention, of creating something new and original. I am at best a talented renderer, master of the slaughterhouse, who operates on a dead beast, separating the meat from the bone. I have herein merely repackaged the imagination, wit and invention of another and assembled it into a gruesome semblance of the beautiful creature it once was. This will not be the sort of book that you can lose your self within. 

Jones could do it. He had that type of overarching talent and spellbinding ability that could stop a clock when he would tell the time. Jones was a natural storyteller. I can see him now, there on the street corner in Austin, enchanting a crowd of random passersby: bored students and jaded professors, busy business men and rushing women, even the hebephrenic Bag Ladies and hungover Drag Worms. All of them collecting around him as he were the fire on a cool summer's night, sitting on the ground, edging closer, all rapt, hanging on his every syllable. Ah! If only Jones had lived long enough to tell his own story instead of leaving it in my brutal and bloody hands. If his life were a dog left in my care, it is as if the old happy animal suddenly transformed into a sullen and desolate Sounder, losing interest in anything but laying upon the porch, waiting for his dead owner to rise from the grave and come walking down the road. Jones could do it. But I am not Jones. 

Not long ago, I was in Brooklyn, New York to spend some time with two close friends, Andrew Foote, an Investor, and Shelton Walsmith, an Artist. The three of us met at Shelton's studio in Red Hook. Shelton had just completed a stunning new work inspired by and as a response to Velazquez's Las Meninas. Not just Velazquez, but Picasso who had responded in his own recreations through 58 paintings. Andrew and I stood before the work in silence, absorbed in the visual echoes and reference. It was a completely realized work of art that stood on its own two feet, as if Velazquez or Picasso had never existed. More: it somehow contained them also, in the way in which the Divine Comedy contained the Aeneid and the Odyssey. But yet was somehow antecedent to them. It as Andrew who expressed that sentiment best when he said, 

 - I don't know that I will ever see the Velazquez now without being reminded of your painting. 

It was an overall triumph. And we congratulated Shelton on his success. I stood for a long time before the work, mesmerized at the artistic achievement of it, not just aesthetically, but philosophically. And I must admit that it gave rise to a curious jealousy within me. It was like seeing a beautiful and sublime magic trick inexhaustibly unfolding over and over again the longer I looked at it and into it. A part of me wanted to simply be present before it as an eternal spectator delighted by its endless fascination. But another part me of hungered to know how it worked. And yet, as I sensed this hunger, I knew with a sorrowful certainty that I could never understand the inner mysteries and creative mechanisms that generated this work. Standing there, staring into it as the painter stared out at me, as the painter was in the act of representing me in that interior world, I became part of the painting, was contained within it. The enduring duration of painting transcended the occasion of my simple being and I felt a gentle tugging downwards, as I were sinking into its depths. With a concentrated effort, I turned away from the painting causing both Andrew and Shelton to ask if I was all right. 

- I'm fine, I replied, fine. Just had a Dorian Grey moment there. I could swear I was falling into the painting. Or a part of me. 

The both laughed and that happy sound recovered me from my reverie. 

- Well, Shelton added, if you cease to age and no longer show any signs of decadence or sin, I will make sure to examine the painting for any sign of corruption. 

I didn't laugh. For this episode and Shelton's resounding success had brought to mind what had been long troubling me. 

- I must admit to you both, I began, that I've been having a hard time of it recently. 

They were attentive and alarmed, imagining perhaps that I was going to reveal a cancer or disease. 

- No, nothing like that, I replied. My disease is a purely mental, perhaps spiritual. You both know how long I have been working on this book about Bonesy Jones. 

They nodded, each taking a seat close by, listening intently. 

- Well I am having difficulties that I am unable to get around. I am supposed to be writing this life, the Pulse, the spirit of this extraordinary man and I am like the gravedigger whose shovel kept hitting stone. The writing is excruciating and difficult. I am tempted to bury the body elsewhere, pile dirt on the stone and let the world stand mourning over an empty grave, none the wiser. 

- Tell us what your difficulties are, said Andrew. Perhaps we can help you to see a way around them. You might just be too close to mirror, unable to see beyond your own reflection. 

I looked at my two good friends and told them the hard truth of the matter. 

I constructed a great cathedral in my memory to contain this story. For over 20 years I have entered into this Memory Cathedral, walked down the aisles, visited the various chapels, arranging relics in their alcoves, positioning statuary and mnemonic totems. I would say most of the currency of my life, my time, has been spent in this interior cathedral, It is sanctuary, refuge. It has grown from a small chapel to a vast sprawling folly of unlimited architecture, with flying buttresses attached to the inner sides of my skull, its dome pushing from within to rest just below my own cranial dome. 

Long ago, I visited Seville Cathedral and as I crawled like an insect through that dark and hallowed interior, under the overarching heaven of stone, I could believe that once there were giants of the spirit and we were their fallen diminutive descendents. I read in a guidebook that the builders had written, "Hagamos una Iglesia tan hermosa y tan grandiosa que los que la vieren labrada nos tengan por locos." I resolved that I would construct a cathedral in my mind, a sanctuary for memory so beautiful and so grand, that if anyone ever saw it, that would believe that I had gone insane for god. 

But now I am like the fisherman in a boat not much bigger than himself whose bait was swallowed by the whale. It is not the whale who was caught, but the fisherman who refused to let go until it was too later. He found himself alone with the whale out in deep waters, far from any land or other beings. 

Such is this story of Jones' life and death. It is an enormous thing, which has lured me out into deep waters. And I refuse to surrender, it is too late for that now. The hook has sunk its barbed point through me also. How do I express this? I hang over the edge of my boat and peer down into the endless blue depths at the inscrutable, unearthly thing there suspended not far below, my hidden lord and master, and rack my old cannibal brain as to how to tell this tale. I mean, you do not know. You cannot know. What happened to Jones exceeds the human, not inhuman, but un-human, as if our being were an unwelcome presence in this world. For me to suppose, I can give birth to this is a horrible joke. As if the mouse were to be impregnated by the elephant and was torn apart as the creature gestated within it. 

It was Shelton who spoke, gesturing for me to stop as I was getting increasingly agitated. 

- The solution to your problem is easy, my friend. You are too close to it to see it, imagining yourself as the worm and not the bird. The error in your thinking is you are attempting to land the entire whale in your boat. Know your limitations. Remember that all of Shakespeare's plays stand on equal ground with Basho's haikus. If you build a great cathedral of memory within you to preserve the relics of Jones' life, find the most rare and interesting of these to remove from your interior. Surely, that should be a simple task. You must have an equivalents to St. Thomas' finger or a splinter from the True Cross or a thorn from the Crown of Thorns. Take these resonate fragments and frame them in some loose narrative structure. Think of the evocative mystery of Joseph Cornell's boxes, assemblages of an accidental but also transcendent meaning. Listen: if you have hooked the whale, don't try to pull the entire creature into your boat - even Ahab and crew stripped their whales outside of the Pequod. Set your hook into the whale's ivory tooth or inscrutable rolling eye. No one is compelling you to tell the whole of Jones's life. The dense and detailed multiple volumes of biography by Caro and Callow and Parker can only sketch the outward shadows of their subjects. Think of Durer's Praying Hands or Van Gogh's boots. How much more evocative is the poignant fragment of the whole, then the always incomplete encyclopedia? If you wish to write the life of Charles Jones, write that portion of it that you know best. 

My thoughts were spinning with the obviousness of Shelton's words. Of course, I kept thinking as he spoke. Of course, of course, of course. Stepping back and considering the whole of Jones' life, it became immediately apparent, blantantly obvious, what portion of that life I was to now tell. But this was immediately overshadowed by another difficulty, 

- My friend, I replied, you are absolutely correct. And I now find my hands holding the most beautiful set of relics to represent his life. Or, to complete my earlier analogy, I am turned back to shore with a boat full of fragrant aged ambergris. But these relics and dragon's spittle will still do me no good. For there is something more which I have yet to tell you. It is, as George Steiner would say, an ontological difficulty. 

I looked to both of my indulgent friends and following their open faces and encouraging nods continued. 

You two may be too close to me, as I was too close to Jones, to solve this problem. You each have known me and also known Jones for over 25 years. But this is not the case with most. You see, many people doubt that Charles Jones existed. They think I, as the saying goes, made him up - as if I even had the capacity for such an invention. (A Shakespeare can create a Hamlet, a creature whose being supersedes that of his creator.) They believe he is a pseudonym or a pasteboard mask that I hidden behind.

- Surely, said Andrew. There are ample documents and artifacts of his existence. I mean, there are his writings, his poetry and song, all of the art. 

- Yes, naturally, there are artifacts of his being. But a surprisingly few public records. He was strange that way. Regardless, his sister, out of an intense love, who is the executrix of his estate, is extremely protective. Over the years, she has reluctantly allowed me to show some of his art and to perform his poetry and music. But she has made it clear she does not wish to see me publish any of the details of his life. Of course, she can do nothing to stop me from writing whatever I like. But it is important to me, vital to me, that whatever I do will meet with her approval. So you see my further difficulty is in substantially documenting a life that many doubt ever was lived by a real and breathing human being. 

- Again, the solution is obvious, stated Shelton smiling. First, to give credence to his life, you must use all the signs and markers of authority and truth. Employ footnotes in the text to substantiate your statements, with ample notes in back. Also include a scholarly introduction by a notable authority who knew Jones, a preface by one of his' teachers, add a chronology and an index. Perhaps an annotated bibliography. Anyone who sees these signs and markers will have no doubt as to whether or not Jones existed. 

- That would be wonderful, I said, if I had access to those records. His sister will not allow me anywhere near any family records. The Jones family is well regarded in East Texas. Nora long ago alerted friends and extended family, teachers and acquaintances, to not speak to me on record.  

Shelton, smiling, replied:

- That's the beauty of this solution, you don't have to get anyone's permission. You can simply, as they say, make it all up. No one ever looks beyond the sign to see what it is underneath it. You are clever enough to write a heartfelt preface and a learned introduction and then add a learned name with a Dr. or somesuch erudite title. And it would be no effort for you to construct a bibliography of books Jones that would have delighted him. And so on, adding all manner of authoritative front and back manner to give the illusion of authority and scholarly truth. 

I was stunned for a moment as the audacity of what Shelton was suggesting. But why not. I mean, if i were to untether myself to the truth, then I could, well I imagine I could say anything. 

- What freedom! I finally replied. But what of the Truth, the real truth about the life of Charles Jones? 

- Don't forget what Don Quixote said, facts are enemies to the truth. You are only inventing facts to enhance the reality of Jones' life. This is no different than the historian who imagines the conversation between Alexander and Diogenes. Plato animates Socrates' corpse with facts in order to uncover philosophical truths. Artists add color and shadow, tricks of perspective, to heighten the reality of their paintings. You are not betraying Jones by adding cosmetic facts to his life. I can only imagine he would be pleased to be adorned with such factual ornaments. 

- Shelton, my god, this is such a revelation. I am forever in you debt. As I am to you also, Andrew. 

Both deflected my gratitude as merely an aspect of friendship, indicating they were happy to help me with the life of Charles Jones and were anxious to read it when it is published. 

Published. That word was a sudden grey cloud over my thoughts. 

- I am afraid I can never publish this book. But I will be happy to provide you both with manuscripts. 

- But why not, asked Andrew. I would be happy to help you find a publisher. You could even self-publish. 

I shook my head. 

- I'm afraid there is no way out of this problem, I said. Again, it is Nora, his sister, she knows I am in possession of several volumes of Jones' journals. Journals which he gave to me when he died. Indeed, these are my most precious relics of Jones. And while I was with him at the last when he died, there are many crucial experiences were I as not present. Nora would prohibit any excerpting of the journals. 

Andrew was going to interject. But I raised a hand to halt him. 

Beyond this, there is an even more serious issue. As you both know, I was with Jones when he died. We had made an agreement long ago as to what I was to do with his body after he was dead. He was extremely concerned about the burial of his bones and skull. I did my best to honor these final requests of his. 

It was you, Andrew, who secured my release from the Espanola jail. Unawares to me, campers or river rafters had seen the smoke from his burning body and hiked up to where I was encamped. I wasn't aware of them. And god knows what they might have seen, but the police and park rangers were called and found me covered in blood and grime sitting before the fire. My story was unbelievable. They never found the body. They never found the bones. 

So you see, if I were to ever publish, not only would the Estate likely attempt to block me, but the police might find reasonable cause to arrest me and try me for murder. 

Andrew was nodding, understanding and excited. 

- Scot, sometimes I wonder that your head is too turned to the sky. Here is your answer: whatever fragments of Jones' life you choose to tell, tell it in the first person. Do not adopt the third person voice of an omniscient narrator. Rather, put yourself straight into the story. Even those occasions where you were not present. And engage in a conversations with Jones as you did while he was alive. But craft your questions based upon what he wrote in his journals so that his answers are, as it were, transcribed from these sources. 

Yes, I can see that, I replied. But that still will not protect me from the scrutiny of the police and enable me to publish without fear. 

- It will, added Shelton, if you publish the life of Charles Jones not as a biography or a memoir but as a work of fiction. 

Genius, friends! Yes, and there it appeared before me as a book complete. Every element aligned and interlocked like a jigsaw. Each of my difficulties addressed and resolved. 

I expressed my undying gratitude to both. 

In deep silence I listened... [see quixote]. Use them as this prologue. 















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