Becoming the Kwisatz Haderach
SEASONS has been slow going… I’ll admit I thought I would get more done over my summer break than I did, but such is the writing life. It’s also the reason most people would finish something before breaking it up for serialization, but my project was as much about the process as the product, so that’s okay.
To leaven the light SEASONS load, I bring you UNSEASONAL, a monthly hit of fresh prose to pad around the fictive void. First up, a debut DUNE bit a long time in the making. 🐍🏜
“To attempt an understanding of Maud’Dib without understanding his mortal enemies, the Harkonnens, is to attempt seeing Truth without knowing Falsehood. It is the attempt to see the Light without knowing Darkness. It cannot be.”
- Princess Irulan, Manual of Maud’Dib, Dune
I was pretty well tanked, leaning into my crutch and talking to one of my Creative Writing MFA program colleagues at a bar we frequented. “He who controls the spice… controls life,” I slurred into his face. A momentary stagger, grasping his elbow I righted myself, eyes shining with alcohol and crazy. “It is by will alone that I set my mind in motion… the lips acquire stains, the stains become a warning, it is by will alone that I set my mind in motion.” My eyes fluttered. I was gleaning the source, riding on the back of a massive sandworm: my sour breath of cigarette and microbrew melded with the cinnamon smell of spice mélange wafting from my subconscious, singeing the hairs in my nostrils with the bar’s humid pungency and the desert’s stifling heat. My schoolmate looked at me, half-heartedly attempting to process the nonsense coming out of my mouth, took another sip of his drink, said “Okay, Erik,” and walked away. I scoffed with the certainty of my righteousness and called after him, “The sleeper has awakened!”
It was one of my first nights out after I’d shattered my ankle and was laid up for a sweltering summer and two surgeries in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. By this time in my MFA career the full scope of my self-loathing had been magnanimously revealed and I had worn out my welcome with the majority of the people in the program. In my transformation that evening at Egan’s bar, I’d turned from a drunk misanthropic graduate student into the young and noble son of Duke Leto, Paul Atreides, main character of Frank Herbert’s epic Dune series — the books I was reading during my convalescence — just as he was beginning to understand his role in the universe and undergo the transformation into the Kwisatz Haderach, the übermensch, the messiah. (This, of course, before the books really go off the rails, he turns into a worm, lives ten-thousands years, becomes God, has lots of clone-robot-golems, etc etc.)
“Tell me of your homeworld, Usul.”
- Chani, Dune
I first read Dune in Croatia. Or maybe not, I probably read it before that. I think I’ve read the original book 3 or 4 times. One of those times I read it in Croatia. A hostel had a book exchange and I dropped off [I don’t remember] and picked up the first couple Dune books. Nor do I remember what the Croatian town was, but I’m guessing it was Split. There was water. I can see white-walled buildings. There was a market of tents nearby. I bought a Speedo, Brazilian cut, slim in the hips and crotch, full about the buttocks. I sunburned the bejesus out of my inner thighs — in all my years they had nary seen daylight — lying up on rocks that jutted over the water, so blue, so unbelievably blue. I remember diving into the water, maybe 25 feet or more down. I remember the impact of the water hurt my head it was so far down. I remember lying in bed in agony from the sunburn on my thighs; I remember a party was going on next door; they were listening to Michael Jackson. Maybe that’s when I was reading Dune, but I don’t remember reading, I only remember Billie Jean. Maybe I read on the bus through minefields and broken churches to Sarajevo, to Dubrovnik, in Montenegro or on the ferry to Bari, Italy, maybe in Naples. It was somewhere along there.
These things I claim to remember are increasingly fuzzy — age, mischance, libation have combined to widen the fault lines in my memory — the story about getting shitfaced at the bar and making an ass of myself, reading the original Dune on holiday, reading the book for the third, fourth time. Deciding in the Alabama heat and a cloud of painkillers and PBR that I would read all of the Dune books again or for the first time — all those written by Frank Herbert at least. These stories are called the past and are supposed to be factual, but for all their reality might as well be the future or even a dream: they are simply my interpretation of something that stopped existing the moment it happened. I do, however, still remember my MFA pal’s bemused, kindly face as I sputtered Herbert’s words.
“Arrakis teaches the attitude of the knife — chopping off what’s incomplete and saying: “Now, it’s complete because it’s ended here.”
— Princess Irulan, Collected Sayings of Maud’Dib, Dune
I was pissed-off about some past relationship and I did what I often did when pissed, get pissed. I went to the bar and had a beer and then another and shots and beers and shots and by last call I was trashed, tore-up from the floor up. Thankfully I hadn’t driven to the bar, so I began to walk home. There are some discrepancies as to the exact course of events, but the next thing I remember I was lying on the ground in tremendous pain. I tried to stand, but kept collapsing back to the ground, unable to put any weight on my left foot. After a minute or two of rest, I pushed myself up and tried to hop, but no, I had about a half mile to go and no sense of balance. I fell back down. Eventually I decided a break was needed and crawled back into a side alley and fell asleep. After a couple hours of shut eye I woke up and revaluated my situation: I was lying on the ground in the alley next to a frat house with a grievously ugly and painful ankle. At that point, I was frankly lucky I hadn’t been urinated on or rolled for my wallet and crushed cigarettes. It was approaching daylight and I chanced to extinguish all good will with one of my few remaining friends with a needy 5AM phone call; he groggily acquiesced and eventually collected me, helped me get cleaned up, and took me to the University Health Center. (I managed to keep this friend then and for some time after, but sadly, he is a friend no more, victim of Spacing Guild treachery and Intergalactic intrigue.)
Surgery, Cast, Surgery, blah blah blah. Dune. Summer in Alabama. Oxycontin. PBR.
I’ve thought about writing about this summer before, but figured I might have to read the Dune books again and there is no way that’s going to happen. Yes, the first book is wonderful, Dune Messiah and Children of Dune are decent, but there are better things to do with my remaining hours on Earth than subject myself to God Emperor of Dune, Heretics of Dune, and Chapterhouse Dune ever again — this is the shit pulled out of Frank as his health was deteriorating and his son picked up the reigns, and pen, of Daddy’s triumph. The many many hours it would take for me to do so could be spent on far better things, like, for example, watching every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, The Original Series, and Deep Space Nine, probably for like the 3rd — 10th time each. I still haven’t watched Twin Peaks Season 3, True Detective, the new Cowboy Bebop show.
“I’ll miss the sea, but a person needs new experiences. They jar something deep inside, allowing him to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”
- Duke Ledo Atreides, Dune
I again toyed with the idea for an essay as word came of a new Dune film somewhere over the COVID-19 horizon. The original David Lynch film is widely panned, but I love it. For those unfamiliar with the books, the story in that version would make little sense, but it’s beautiful, weird, and has some quality actors. The Sci-Fi Channel mini-series is okay, as I recall. Less beautiful, more coherent. The new film looked somewhat promising based on the first short trailer, but as more information has emerged the more I fear it will be Hollywood blockbuster schlock; the Pink Floyd cover soundtrack in the trailer is a nice touch either way, especially considering they were in line to score the entirety of Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Dune, a film that unfortunately never came to reality, but in the minds of most dreamers remains the preeminent film version of Herbert’s masterwork; a documentary exists detailing the elaborate plans of the unrealized film birthed from the source of the surreal classics El Topo and Santa Sangre.
A handful of Oxycontin and a sixer of Miller tall boys. Scratching my foot under the cast with a bent wire coat hanger. Staring at the wall, staring at the ceiling. Sweating, dripping. Taking another few pills. Cracking another beer. Cracking the spine of yet another Dune book. Mapping out the possibility of driving sixty miles to Birmingham, buying heroin, and returning intact and alive. Difficult proposition. This is time. This is time stopped. There is no such thing. I will be content with prescription opioids washed down with cheap beer. Oxycontin is the spice mélange and I am Muah’Dib, the Kwisatz Haderach.
Postscript: The new film has been released in Japan and I walked in from seeing it literally 30 minutes before this was set to auto-post. My quick two-word reaction: dull competence.
A little more: I saw it in IMAX and it was huge and loud, which is great, but the music was boring and the imagery was much the same as if the Sc-Fi channel miniseries had a big budget with bits aped from David Lynch. (The spaceships were cool, if Star Wars-ish.) And so anticlimatic! At least Lynch had the courtesy to leave us with a universal bloody jihad montage. This story could be repackaged in so many interesting ways with contemporary relevance geo-politically, environmentally, etc etc. Big cop out all around. I guess I’m still waiting for Jodorowsky to give it a go.
I hope you enjoyed the first installment of UNSEASONAL. I also hope some proper SEASONS will be coming soon, but I’m also at the very beginning stages of a move and a rather uncertain job change, so who knows what exactly the future holds. You can subscribe to find out with me.