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Feature Story / March 4, 2009

My cowardice was in overdrive at the est revival as the warmup orators finished and the big seminar broke into smaller groups. Beloof went off to some advanced group, for people who already loved themselves, and I was shunted off to the beginners’ room, the kindergarten of self-love. They hadn’t assigned their best to this room. The speaker was like a youth minister from some depressed, failing parish. He was ten pounds too heavy, which was ten pounds beyond acceptable SF norms, and he sounded way too sane and mild. He seemed to be saying that est was helpful, not that it would make you a living god. That was what these strivers wanted to hear: bigger commissions, eternal life, the ability to put your aged parents in a home without feeling bad about it, all of the above in exchange for one pee-less weekend.

And the no-peeing aspect was what was getting to me. The speaker’s voice got Charlie-Brown adult dim as I transformed quietly into a wobbling bladder, with suspense-building drum roll. They don’t let you out! And I didn’t know how long he’d go on. Probably a day or so. I’d explode, a grenade of piss all over these successful Chron readers.

I started scoping the exit. There was a blond woman standing by the door, but what would she actually do, would she yell? Grab? Or would the guy in the front single me out and slay me with a phrase? Something like, “Whoa, OK, that’s exactly what I’m talking about, a soul out of phase with the universe, and you see the expression of that in the bladder, that’s where it comes out first!”

Ten more minutes of ambient human vocal noise competing with the quiet urgency of my bladder, and I broke. Stood up fast, made a break for the door. The blond didn’t even try to stop me, didn’t even stop her smile, and the speaker just went on with his “waaa-waa-waa” vocalizations. Out in the empty hotel corridor, walking very fast but not running as I’d learned from crime movies, expecting to hear pursuit, gunshots, exposure as unworthy to live. But there was nothing, a couple of civilians waiting for an elevator.

After three more minutes I found a door with that blessed male silhouette on on it, and drained all that terror into a urinal, then made my way out onto the street, to BART.

Beloof and I never mentioned the est seminar episode. He was too furious, and I was too cowardly. I found other, cooler mentors and stopped speaking to him, avoiding his office and dodging past him as fast as I could in the hallway. He was a joke around the department when he was mentioned at all.

Last week I found his obituary. That hippie van hit him in 2005. It took me four years to google it.


Buy John Dolan’s novel “Pleasant Hell” (Capricorn Press).

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Add your own

  • 1. homer  |  March 4th, 2009 at 12:45 pm


  • 2. fireclown  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    That might be the most depressing thing I have read in years.

  • 3. doctor k  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    funny as all hell never stop dolan never ever stop

  • 4. Campbell Roark (yet again)  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:52 pm


    Finally, another piece by Dolan. Why does this Promethean figure continue to languish in obscurity while pallid tone-deaf impressarios (literati castrati) get all the love?

    …as for taking some time to google your mentor’s demise… Dear sir, it took me a year or so to actually get around to scoping your amazon reviews back in double-ought four (love that Kon-tiki!); a year that would seem like a carapace kicked into some fetid corner of my life (and I was 26- all downhill after ’04, right?), had I not spent vast portions of it scouring the web for various crumbs and crusts of your writing…

    Dr. Dolan… Why this is this brilliant brutal bastard not read by everyone? (I want to scream it like Gary Oldman- twitching visage and all- in The Professional: “EVERYONE!!!!!”)

  • 5. John  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    What the hell is depressing about an overpaid parasite dying before he could become so senile that he would no longer understand who was screwing him and why?

  • 6. Pete  |  March 4th, 2009 at 1:53 pm

    Please write more.

  • 7. Chris Connolly  |  March 4th, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Dr Dolan, sometimes your writing is so good it should be illegal. This is great stuff!

  • 8. mechagodzilla  |  March 4th, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    This sounds like it belongs on kuro5hin.

  • 9. totalesturns  |  March 4th, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Yes. We, the wretches of the Internet, demand more Dolan, and some of us especially crave more stories of life at Berkeley during the rise of the theory pods.

  • 10. rustbeltjacobin  |  March 4th, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Just discovered Dolan’s stuff recently. These really are some of the best essays being written nowadays. Was worried about his extended absence from the sight though; after that piece about hitting rock bottom in terms of poverty, I actually felt worried about the guy. Hope there’s lots more headed our way from where this came from.

  • 11. jorge  |  March 4th, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Keep writing Dolan, we could use another book.

  • 12. Rick  |  March 4th, 2009 at 5:04 pm

    I looked up the one instructor-guy who’d really liked my writing back in college. The story in this little newspaper was that he’d shot himself and set his ex-wife’s trailer on fire, in Oregon! It could just be a name-coincidence. But funny stuff!

  • 13. Allen  |  March 4th, 2009 at 10:21 pm

    Spot on take on the weird ins and outs of
    the humanities career … right down to the little wall posters, which still do cling to a regardless existence in the yellowed halls of academia world wide even now.

    University professors don’t make mansion money anymore, though. Well most of them don’t, but some bastards still do. Many make about the same as a middle seniority high school teacher, working about twice as much; and that’s when they can get work at all.

    I had an old Shakespeare prof (who was also a published Milton scholar), actually a really weird and funny guy whose other love was football, which I always thought was pleasingly zany. He didn’t get hit by a van, but he did leave academia after twenty years … apparently to attend business school and get a steady job.

  • 14. burbl  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:24 am

    Yeah! Great Dolan, bitter like any other Exile(d) writer but with a difference (doesn’t taste like shit)

  • 15. captain america  |  March 5th, 2009 at 6:05 am

    “Academics are more restrained these days, trying to be “professional” as the profession dies a genteel death”

    academia is dying? now THAT’S good news.

  • 16. Bardamu  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you Dr. Dolan. You are peerless. Please carry on and keep writing.

    I wish I had been taught by you.

  • 17. homer  |  March 5th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

    @ Bardamu #16

    If you read even the first pages of PLESANT HELL or his article on ORWELL, you’d have known this already.

  • 18. pnom  |  March 5th, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    I googled my childhood suburb and learnt that the mean old bitch down the street — who used to steal my soccer ball when it fell in her yard — just had her house confiscated by the council and sold. Glorious.

  • 19. captain america  |  March 5th, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    hey homer, got a link for the orwell article?

  • 20. E  |  March 6th, 2009 at 1:30 am

    Dolan is the man. Look here John, have you got a “Stupid” manuscript lying around? Publish that shit. I understand the whole “episodic” Dickens thing, but waiting for the Beast to publish is like watching ice freeze.

  • 21. Bardamu  |  March 6th, 2009 at 3:36 am

    @ Homer #17

    I have read everything I have been able to find, and still sometimes hear his sibilant voice reading his own poetry as I read his articles. I am sincere in the wish that he had been my tutor.

    I hope soon to have the means to send Dr. Dolan a decent cheque.

  • 22. Marc  |  March 6th, 2009 at 9:04 am

    I was taught by Dolan, back in New Zealand.
    I took two courses from him, and he enriched my life, if I can say that about another man. He taught us poor provincials about Phillip K. Dick, and dis-enamored me of certain rubbish I had been taught in other English classes.

    He may not realize it (and from reading “Pleasant Hell” I’m guessing he doesn’t) but he was pretty fucking legendary among English Lit and Film and Media Studies undergraduates at the time.

  • 23. MIchael  |  March 6th, 2009 at 9:09 am

    Pics or it didn’t happen.

  • 24. aleke  |  March 6th, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Orwell article:

  • 25. Amos  |  March 8th, 2009 at 11:03 pm

    Speaking as an anti-academic bigot, I must say how nice it is to have my prejudices indulged.

    I read this article with as much pleasure as a Ku Klux Klaner scanning the local crime blotter for stories about niggers shooting up their housing estates. Kudos!

  • 26. Allwell  |  March 10th, 2009 at 2:42 pm

    I think Orwell rocks even as a closet imperialist.

  • 27. Matt Beloof  |  July 20th, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    You need to show some respect for the dead, you stupid bitch-made faggot. I’d pistol-whip you in a perfect world. Eat shit, you unfunny loser.

    Matt BELOOF
    325 Lemmon Way
    Hanford, CA 93230

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