First, a word about Kaufmann. I met him through a mutual acquaintance in college when I mentioned that I was looking for a guitarist with whom I could collaborate. I thought he was a bit dim (as I have mentioned, for a good portion of my youth I always believed myself to be the smartest person in the room with an arrogance that was almost shocking in its complete lack of self-awareness. I could never understand it when people seemed to dislike me. “What did I do?”), a terrible singer, and an amazing guitarist. He was playing with his girlfriend at the time in a mostly lame acoustic duo (a side note: why do guitarists always do this? Paul McCartney is, of course the classic example of an excellent musician so blinded by love that he allows his clearly musically inept girlfriend/wife to sing on his records when obviously she should never have be left alone in the same room with a microphone. Just saying. His girlfriend wasn't as bad as all that, but she clearly didn't have a gift for it.). We chatted a little, and eventually became roommates, then friends, then band mates, and finally that weird, co-dependent thing that sometimes happens between men who work very closely together without having clearly defined personal boundaries. We never had sex, or were even romantically involved, but the relationship had all the intensity of a married couple, with as messy and unpleasant (in some ways) a divorce.
But all that came later. Kaufmann was not, in fact, dim at all. Not even close. Though he may have sanded some of the sharper edges off his mind with the liberal application of certain recreational pharmaceuticals, he was (and remains) one of the most intelligent and creative artists I’ve ever met. I was completely ignorant in my youth of the concept of other types of intelligence beyond the verbal, and so I had to learn, slowly, that this man had some pretty amazing depths.
So, originally a physics major, he, like so many of my friends, dumped science and went into the arts. Kaufmann actually majored in Studio Art, specifically painting, but his real goal was to be a ROCK STAR! In the meantime, he was a skilled and powerful painter, with a very interesting way of archiving his work. He told me this in the very impressionable months directly before I went insane in earnest, and I was smitten with the idea.
Kaufmann had a horror of repeating himself, and in an effort to not rest on his laurels, to always be striving ahead toward new ideas and better execution, he would, at the end of every year, get ready for his retrospective show by digging a pit, either out in the desert or in some convenient vacant lot. Into that pit he would place all of his paintings, sketchbooks, drawings, prints, etc. from the past year, and set them on fire. Once that was all taken care of, he would take a jar, carefully label it with a piece of masking tape with the words “Collected Works” and the year, collect all the ashes, seal them in the jar, and that would be that.
Wow. Several things appealed to me about this idea. Firstly, the irrevocability of the act appealed to me in a huge way. I love commitment, even in wrong actions. The beauty of action taken wholeheartedly, without reservation, excited both admiration and longing in me. I had been, for much of my life, drifting at the whims of: parents, friends, teachers, coaches, bosses, church, etc. All of them wanted something of me, and since I didn’t know what I wanted, I went with whatever they said. I never really developed a sense of who I was.
Another reason involved the extremity of the action, the way that you could never take it back. My favorite moments in life, even now, involve that moment that comes when one is unable to do anything but what one is doing. When one starts the race, knowing that one now has no real choice but to finish. The instant of jumping off the high dive (I have a slight fear of heights), knowing that there’s no place to go but down. The relaxation of tension that comes from surrender to the moment. So.
Now, I had, in a box that I had carried around with me since I was 5, everything that I had ever written in my life. I had decided I wanted to write since I was about that young. I loved stories and poems, rhyming and music. I published a few things in college magazines when I was in high school and junior high, and I was a compulsive journal keeper (“diaries” were for girls. I kept a “journal”, full of feelings and dreams and crushes and the boring minutia of my days. No, it was not a fucking diary. There’s a difference! Well, if I have to explain it to you… oh, fine, whatever. It was a diary.). Everything. From the poem to my mother in first grade, to the story I wrote in high school to amuse my English teacher to my most recent diary. All of it.
I was finally becoming myself. I was out of the dorm, living on my own, I’d had sex (with a *woman* finally!), I’d gotten drunk, I was skipping class if I wanted, I was my own person! Yes, I’d had a remarkably sheltered life – no small contributing factor in the insanity that followed. I realized that if I really wanted to become myself, I had to get rid of everything that I was. The simplest solution? Burn that shit.
So on a prearranged night around sundown, with much solemnity and thought, I took a few pages, fed them into the wood burning stove in my house, and lit them on fire, gradually adding more as the fire caught the pages. It took me over an hour to burn it all.
I’d like to say I mourned, but mostly I just felt sick to my stomach and horrified. I still, to this day, don’t know if I did the right thing, but I burned every last page. I took the ashes, and I buried them in the front yard at the Adams house. I was no longer what I was – no longer a child, and sure as fuck not a man.
I was about to embark on a journey to the depths of myself. No net. I didn’t know enough at the time to be scared.