A Cunningham Chronology
1981 (22 January) Jason Ulwin Alexander Kelland-Cunningham born at LaSalle General Hospital in Montreal, where his unmarried, teenaged parents have lived for less than 3 months. Only child in a relationship which lasts only one more year.
1982 Moved back to location of conception, St. John’s, Newfoundland.
1984 Attends Kindergarten at Kildura Elementary.
1985 Falls completely in love with television, in particular Cheers and The Ray Bradbury Theater.
1986 Family moves to Toronto. Cries when watching Stand By Me, secretly wishing to live in Castle Rock and have a John Cusack-like older brother. Meets first friend outside of Newfoundland.
1987 Watches Return of the Living Dead. Family moves to Cambridge, ON.
1988 While attending Jesus Our Master Elementary School, is stabbed in palm of hand with sharp Dixon pencil by then-mortal enemy Shane Hopkins, who soon afterward becomes best friend. Still has faded indentation of lead in palm, which for years adds to his personal mythos of being made, not born, a writer.
1989 Collects trading cards for Batman film, becomes obsessed with idea of being billionaire superhero. Religiously views every episode of Tales from the Crypt,
1991 On vacation with family in Florida, experiences extreme depression when MGM Studios does not offer the opportunity to meet celebrities such as George Wendt, in defiance of the brochures’ promise. Is visibly upset as well by the film JFK. Determined afterward to be President of the United States and emulate Kennedy. Watches Kurt Vonnegut-inspired TV series Monkey House.
1992 Saddened when told only the American-born can run for president. Teacher suggests being Prime Minister. Responds “who the hell ever made a movie about a Prime Minster?” Gets gooseflesh when watching Morgan Freeman in The Power of One, holds back tears when Freeman is beaten to death in film’s penultimate Southland Concerto scene.
1993 Devastated when, on a family trip to Boston, realizes the interior of his beloved childhood sitcom Cheers is in fact nothing like the show. Is enraged when mother and her boyfriend Cliff refuse to swing by Bangor, Maine, despite his begging. Gets first job at Fagin’s Comic Emporium, only to be fired when he and best friend Noah are caught stealing their favorite titles.
1994 Cries in bedroom dark after finishing The Autobiography of Malcolm X, feeling first ever sense of shame for whiteness.
1995 Becomes obsessed with Nine Inch Nails, Nirvana, and The Doors. Reads about Jim Morrison in Light My Fire, and decides to be poet. During summer vacation in St. John’s, writes in first notebook beneath shade of tree beside a memorial for The Unknown Soldier.
1997 Drops out of high school to pursue career as Kerouac-style novelist. Inspired by On the Road, tapes together 12 pages of typewriter paper and only fills 8 before running out of coffee and ideas. Moves to St. John’s, set on finding local homeless man known affectionately as “Hobo Robert” and writing his biography.
2000 First tries cocaine at house party. Dealer named Roads Emptor offers chance to cut own line of any size he chooses. Since other partygoers are not looking, does what is later estimated as a 2-gram “gagger.” Spends 5 hours talking with only a minute amount of breaths taken between rants.
2001 Found with woman in tennis court by local police, half naked, and on what is later determined to be LSD. Claims to have been convinced that police were merely a hallucination, and is hauled into local hospital, where decathetor is inserted. Spends 7 hours convinced he is Bob Marley on his deathbed, even hearing Rasta-whispers in hallway of family who are presumably waiting for his death so as to get royalties.
2002 Wins first poetry award, The Dora Prize, for poem “Aphorism for the Other Girl.” Reads On Writing by Stephen King, and begins to consider whether William S Burroughs is the best author to mold self in image of. Wins second poetry prize for “Snowflake Poem.” Makes first attempt to escape cocaine and alcohol addiction by leaving then-common-law wife Angel Klimpt, taking 5-day Greyhound exodus to British Columbia. Family are worried about Vancouver as location to escape drugs. In later interviews admits his greatest regret is not remaining, and marrying Klimpt.
2002 Living with friend from Cambridge, Fred Pollack, on Church Street. Wakes one morning to look for work and overhears radio host for Fix.FM. Contest allows for listeners to use clues, twice a day, to track down a mysterious person dubbed “Agent Fix.” Prize is 1000 dollars. First clue is “Agent Fix was on Scott Road waiting to be a writer.” Later that day finds exactly a grand in a banking envelope on the counter of Post Office. For many years is convinced he has powers akin to Neo in The Matrix. Encapsulates experience in The Grand Came Cheap: Travel Stories Within 6 months has fallen back into old habits. Takes flight back to Cambridge.
2005 Having become severe binge drinker and cocaine abuser, leaves Cambridge for St. John’s, in hopes of getting clean. Friends find irony in choice of location to “get dry.” Hops a train and stays with friends in Halifax. Meets Grandfather, Mike “The Old Man” Kelland, on his father’s side, sparking 8-year friendship. Listens to story of lineage, taking notes for Fate’s Family. Learns that two uncles have overdosed on heroin, third in same BC city, heading for the same.
2006 After meeting Leonard Cohen outside a concert, decides to enroll in university. Begins classes at Halifax University of St. Maximilion. Begins to distance self from vices. Spends mornings listening to Top 100 Classical Songs, especially New World Symphony. Receives student loan in lump sum and relapses, spending a thousand dollars in a 3-day binge. Contemplates jumping from bridge. Buys copy of William Carlos Williams’ Patterson in bookstore window on way to make jump, and decides to try, once more, to stay clean.
2007 Transfers to Remembrance University of Newfoundland. Dances in bedroom to The Power of One soundtrack.
2009 Reads Jude the Obscure and is overwhelmed by emotion. Falls into pit of despair, feeling he is no more hopeful than Jude, and binges for 4 days. Loses circulation in hands and feet. Begins to attend Alcoholics Anonymous. Manages 4 months sober, longest since first drink taken at 15. When Old Man Mike dies on December 8th, relapses.
2010 Drinking and drug binging become threat to academic life, and mortality is put into question. Decides once and for all, following massive week long blackout, to return to AA. Writes of losing Mike in short story The Open Boat.
2011 Begins work on essay that is starting point for Aka: The Novel. While researching author Frederick Philip Grove has epiphany regarding his desire to be a voice, no matter how insignificant, in literature. Claims to this day that Grove’s experience with some Kirgiz herdsman is his motivation to remain in AA. Research by Harry Bloom into his diaries shows at least one more relapse, calling into question such a claim.
2012 Sends drunken mass email to family and friends which finally acknowledges identity as bisexual, having kept secret to point of living double life. Humorously refers to this as his superhero-identity, in poem, adapted to short comic book, “Bruce Gayne: The Secret Life of That-Man”
2013 Finishes BA in English with Hons. and Film Minor. Decides to pursue graduate work in Creative Writing.
2014 Celebrates first year sober, and finishes Aka: The Screenplay.
2015 Finishes MA in Creative Writing, works extensively on both Aka: the Novel and Aka: The Stageplay while travelling between St. John’s and Ontario.
2016 In acknowledgment of third year clean, begins filming Aka: The Movie dedicating it to addicts everywhere, and “The Old Man, without whom none of this would be possible.”, and to “The Cryptkeeper.”
2017 Aka: The Movie premieres at Sundance. Begins work on fictionalized film based on great-grandfather, based on information provided by grandfather Mike Kelland. Film is entitled “8770877” which is Jack Kelland’s regiment number.
I cannot begin to thank those who, along my path, have lighted the way. Here are a few of the central players, though. If I left you out, don’t be too angry. There’s always the film credits. Or the stage play dedications. Or my Oscar speech, gods willing.
For my early childhood educators: TV, VHS and Disney adaptations in book format.
To my Mother, and her parents. I am heavily in debt. Without you I would not have survived it all.
To the ladies who taught me, especially but not limited to: Honor de Waters (who gave me a son, a million good ideas, and my understanding of empathy); Taryn Klimpt (whose story is far more interesting than mine, and who always was a better artist); Arabella Havisham (who broke my heart as quickly as possible, then turned me on to Kerouac); and Annie Lee Gargery (who even now, despite all my foolish acts in the past, gives me hope I am redeemable).
To all my teachers – line cooks, butchers, and professors – especially the following:
Mrs. Anne Cohen, who read us Cohen’s Anne poem with such love it is still with me now, and who taught me that teachers draw knowledge out, from within each student;
Bill the Butcher, who could tie a dozen knots, milk a variety of animals, and taste rain in the back of his throat days before it actually arrived;
Sid the British chef, who loved punk music and hated the Queen, and who taught me the fine difference between a customer asking for “more” and paying for “extra”;
Dr. Alfred Spiegelman, who taught me that even when an academic work cannot hope to uncover new, previously undiscovered ground, one should always make it one’s goal (and who taught me the finer points of Psycho and Maus);
Dr. Sue Austen, whose full course load was a rich banquet that finally gave me confidence and wherewithal to endure, and finally to enjoy, Hardy and Dickens – and, yes, even Pride and Prejudice;
Dr. Kinobe Borges, who was so excited when getting to the “mother is a fish” part in As I Lay Dying that even the most cellphone-prone student couldn’t resist getting reeled into his infectious love of the mind-fuck that is post-modernism. And who gave me “Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” and Pale Fire, in a single semester destroying what I thought literature could be;
Dr. Felix Grieve , who could just as easily be, to me, the Khirgiz herdsmen who so inspired Grove; and
Dr. Joe Gargery , who read me the classic short stories with the same love of the aural as The Old Man. I think they would’ve enjoyed one another’s company.
Why Not to Read “Aka: The Novel, by Jason Cunningham”
Introduction by Arthur U. Knowles
I urge all of you to move forward from whatever incident led to your holding a copy, paper or digital otherwise, of this thing. This voice that cannot accept its place. This malfeasance, this…outrage.
Barring your refusal, I should at least provide you with some context, since the mysterious pen-name J. Cunningham has only proven to be a fiction. I will suggest to you that this is an attempt to usurp the fabric of narrative, the age-old and beauteous means by which we the people have crafted our stories. This kid, a self-professed lover of cable TV and microwavable pizzas, wants to tell you he found another permutation. I say he is in-complete. I say he will never know greatness. I say, let the dick fall, and pick up the pieces of his life, returning to the factories from which he strays, and where he belongs.
When I discovered this manuscript at Zoetrope Publishing where I clean at night, I knew that I had a duty, nay, responsibility as a bookseller for Pages, the greatest outlet bookstore ever, where I work during the day, to release it into the world with my own visionary caveats appended and my understanding of the author’s frequently alluded to “ocean of work”. Knowing that it’s inevitable that the suits deem this filth fit for print, I figure I have a matter of weeks to annotate and replace the fake copy I left in its place. Something like the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom scene with the weighted bag of sand. Henceforth I will come to you in footnotes – notes bearing my initials so as not to be confused with his ridiculous ones. I am the force of truth in this work. I am Bowie in Labyrinth, ready to turn the walls in on the babysitter-child, up way past his literary bedtime. I reserve the right to be what I am, so do not expect consistent, literary voices. I am an impresario, a master rhetor who can leap from the Parnassian heights of literary decorum way, way down to the crotch of pop culture, street talk, et cetera.
I have added the necessary excerpts from the self-proclaimed “savior of suburban lit.” His dream journals and his drunken ramblings took me hours upon hours to comb but I did so patiently, diligently, using a library card and a lot of web-sleuthing. I have included these in the hope that, with the help of my interpretations, you will see this man is not a great storyteller. He is just another snake-oil salesman peddling his wares. There is and never has been such a thing as non-linearity, or anti- narrative. You can chop it up and you can call it what you want. But the mother fucker is just another Memento-wannabe dressed up in Inception-robes to look a King.
In the end the choice is yours. Is Cunningham something special? Is he deserving of this C’s- love? I suspect she has little to no clue of his existence. I demur from saying anything more, to avoid tainting your judgment. This kid is a monster. Just because Bukowski was a misogynist, and Hemingway shot beasts, and Kerouac ran off with his sentences, doesn’t mean his being an animal and a lousy emulator connects him to the others. I urge you to find him guilty of wasting your time, and sentence him to life without the possibility of a re-read. Get out while you can. It is not too late to seek a better book. You might consider The Quaquaversal Shell of the Tortoise, by Arthur U. Knowles.
Cunningham’s Rules for Reading
- Don’t skip ahead. Read the footnotes.
- Put this book down somewhere in public after. A church. A broken-down factory. Somewhere good.
- When you see a reference to a song, pause, find a recording, and listen to it. When you see a reference to art and stories, pause, find it, buy it, if possible. If you can’t buy it, pirate it. I insist.
- Don’t judge until the end. Premature evaluation is uncivilized.
- I mean it about the footnotes.
I’ll get into it all soon enough. I just wanted to thank you first. I am still writing this book as you read the first letter. It’s like a reverse The Never Ending Story, where Moonbeam gets the Auryn and Sebastian has to sit on the cloud that is falling apart, watching from a distance. Hoping it is nothing, but not The Nothing. As you begin it, this story continues to be written, and to unfold I hope to a conclusion that can be like Great Expectations, the happier of the two endings, where Pip gets the girl. Up until now I have chosen to remain silent as long as possible, then drunkenly to blurt out the best parts of my life to strangers in cracked alleys that even Cohen wouldn’t wanna walk through.
At times this is meant to be simple: a fictional memoir. That is, an account of the decades in which I grew up, designed to spurn conversation . A time-testimonial-line. A collection of humorous, personal reviews of film; reflections on growing up pre- and post-Nintendo, pre- and post-digital, and pre- and post-piracy. Maybe, just maybe, this Bildungsroman thing I’ve somehow only recently discovered.
But I won’t lie. I also want to struggle for a new medium within fiction and narrative. I want to mess with the reader, but never take them too far outside the purpose of memoir: to give a little more help to the coming generation. To stay clean, yes, as I churn out the next 300 or so pages:, this is the dream as well. I won’t lie, C-, I have my doubts about being able to navigate, and finish, the work clean. But for whatever reason, this time feels like it could be the right time .
In the end I hope to have entertained, to have informed, and even, yes to have wowed you. Despite all my earnest protestations to the contrary, it seems I cannot help but admire you, despite how little time we’ve known one another. I hope in the end, this helps fill that void, my new, dearest friend. For you can never have too many.
Jason Cunningham, Aka, “f8”