Something strange is going on and I’m not sure what to think, because I haven’t been writing at all. I fiddle around, revise a couple pieces, throw together some fluffy bits, but haven’t tackled anything substantial for more than a month.
I wish I could say I’ve been studying cello or playing scrabble or perfecting the soufflé or napping or earning money (!), but I don’t have time for any of that. I don’t even have time for my kids. They wanna play but I can only spare ten minutes before I start getting twitchy and shifty-eyed and begin inventing reasons to step out of the room for a sec so I can sneak back to the book I’ve left splayed on the arm of my chair.
Because I’ve been reading, reading like a fiend. “Obsess” is a mild term for what I do. I lie awake at night, wishing my husband wasn’t there so I could turn on the light and see what happens next. For the four solid kid-free hours I have each day during the week, I don’t eat or answer the phone. Going to the bathroom takes too much time. I carry my book, a pen, my notebook, and my reading glasses with me at all times to circumvent a nervous breakdown. Even taking the time to write this post is a pain because I’d rather be reading Philip K. Dick.
I’m not the first person to be obsessed with PKD, and I certainly won’t be the last. In fact, for some circles, I imagine that obsessing about PKD is probably a prerequisite, a rite of passage. His following is sometimes cultish, a wide variety of people from all over the world who voluntarily call themselves “Dick Heads.” For those of you who don’t recognize the name, he’s the science fiction writer who created the stories they turned into movies like Blade Runner, Total Recall, and Minority Report. He was a indefatigable writer and visionary thinker: a philososcribe, a literary guru, a “homegrown Borges,” and a “poor man’s Pynchon.” And he was my first writer crush.
My obsession began in junior high school when a cute older boy said he didn’t like girls who didn’t like science fiction, so I went to the library and fell in love with PKD instead. PKD died when I was a sophomore in high school; I wore all black, lit a candle, and read aloud my favorite parts of his novels. In college, I was incredulous that I could not find him on any of the reading lists for any class and then ten years later when my husband and I bought our house in Berkeley, I swooned when I discovered that it is next to the first house PKD owned, the place where he lived for ten years and started writing seriously.
Because PKD and I go so far back, I decided to write something about him on my blog to say happy birthday (he was born December 16th) but first, I had to do some research, so I started by re-reading some of my favorites (The Man in the High Castle, Ubik, A Scanner Darkly, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, The Game Players of Titan, etc.). Because some of his literary novels were published long after his death, I had to read some of those, too–Voices From the Street and Humpty Dumpty in Oakland, and then I found a nice two volume collection of his short stories at the library, and of course I had to check out some biographies, one by Paul Williams and two by Lawrence Sutin, which led me back to see some of the movies again, which inspired me to tackle his colossal Exegesis (oh my god, I can’t even begin to describe it: what a can of writhing electric worms). Oh, and then I had to make a soundtrack for PKD’s life.
Picture me: walleyed, unwashed, unfed, hands covered in black scribbles, three pairs of reading glasses pushed up on my head, stumbling and fumbling around for glasses, wondering where am-I-whoamiwhatami? I feel like the sybil in the cave, the one who lives in a whirlwind of leaves. Each leaf has part of the answer written on it but I can only hold one at a time before it is blown from my fingertips.
And I still haven’t read everything he’s written. Not even close.
I am drowning in the words of an a man submerged in his own mind. I am glued to his fixation. Why am I doing this? What will I accomplish? I won’t get a degree or a paycheck or recognition, just like PKD, who died poor, before he achieved cult status.
Why does anyone do it?
That’s right. We do it because we must. We do it because it’s so freaking fun. And hopefully, soon I will have something to show for it. Of course, I’ll post it here.
What are you working on? Why do you do it? What’s your obsession?