“As I Stand Living,” California State University, Northridge assistant professor of English Christopher Higgs’ new book, opens with its protagonist washing his face and fanaticizing about torturing an African poacher, and then segues into speculation about an alternative universe where rock legend Jimi Hendrix and jazz legend Miles Davis collaborate.
The book, which was published last month by Civil Coping Mechanisms, provides an intimate look at Higgs’ fears, secrets and fantastic ponderings as he prepared for the birth of his son.
“We all have these thoughts — about our fears, our fantasies, those strange things you think about when your mind wanders,” Higgs said. “We just don’t put them down on paper. I did. If we do put them down, we do it like [author] Steven King and assign those thoughts to a character in our story, which frees you of responsibility for those thoughts since they belong to your character, not you.
“I’m not hiding behind a character,” he said. “I am allowing myself to say, ‘I have these feelings and have these thoughts.’”
The stream-of-consciousness memoir started out as a writing experiment inspired by William Faulkner’s “As I Lay Dying.” Faulkner allegedly wrote his book in little more than two months in 1929, writing only in the evenings — while working a nightshift at a coal-burning power plant, without a plan or direction, and without a single edit to his manuscript before sending it to his publisher.
Taking up the challenge, Higgs decided to conduct what he called “The Faulkner Experiment.” Higgs wrote the first things that came to his mind each evening over the course of a year, from Oct. 25, 2012, to Oct. 25, 2013. Instead of fiction, Higgs’ stream of consciousness turned into an amalgamation of his thoughts — from ponderings about the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and television shows to how much coffee he drank that day — as he and his wife, CSUN English lecturer Caitlin Newcomer, transitioned from graduate school to the working world and prepared for the arrival of their son.
“I thought I was going to write a novel, with made-up characters and made-up settings,” Higgs said. “That’s what I had always done until this book. I write mostly fiction. But when I sat down, something else happened. I talked to my publisher right before [the book] came out, and she said, ‘I think this lays you bare from the get-go.’ It’s my third book, and it’s the riskiest thing I’ve ever done.”
Despite the risk, Higgs said the book seemed to be a natural evolution of his interests in modernist and post-modernist literature and his desire to push literary boundaries.
“I’ve always been interested in the idea of the persona, and where the line is drawn between character and person,” he said. “In a sense, we all have different personas. There’s the person we are at work. The person we are at home. The person we are with our friends.
“When you say you know me, you only know a part of me,” he continued. “My students know one me, and my wife and son know someone else.”
“As I Stand Living” gives readers a glimpse of another side of Higgs — one, he said, whose mind jumped from topic to topic in seconds, ate too many sugar cookies and spent time pondering the fate of the Lakers, pop singer Taylor Swift, English literature and his son’s future.
Higgs’ other books include the novels “The Complete Works of Marvin K. Mooney,” published by Sator Press, and “ONE,” published by Roof Books. His shorter works have appeared widely in such and print and online venues as AGNI, Pleiades, Denver Quarterly, Post Road, Quarterly West and The Paris Review.