Thom Kudla | What My Brain Told Me
You hear “Coming-of-age-story” tagged on to horrible movies and worse books all the time. The books are worse than the movies only because they take more of a time investment to realize that they were horrible. These stories usually revolve around young men, facing insurmountable odds, the denouement of which involving the acceptance of responsibility, the show-down of a major problem, and more often than not the getting of the girl. It’s that moment popular passage from the bible; that I’m about to butcher; “when I was I child I spake as a child… but when I became a man I put away childish things.” The young man becomes responsible for his fate- and that acceptance changes a life in dramatic degrees.
By that definition, young writer Thom Kudla’s newest book, What My Brain Told Me, is certainly not a coming of age story. It is agnostic of heroism, devoid of triumph, and completely without pirates, the living dead, or massively-breasted girls. What My Brain Told Me is the tiny, glimmerless vignettes that make up a real life that lead to manhood. The men that our fathers became never got that way because they slayed vampires and schemed an elaborate plan to overthrow a tyrannical high-school principal. They got that way through moments that worked like whet-stones- scraping away the frail and flaccid flesh given to them by their mothers, in way that can usually only be entertaining by fast-forwarding through the film. Men aren’t able to be men because they were first able to overcome the devastating tight-end from Remington State- they are able to rise to the occastion because in the back of all boys’ heads they know it’s expected of them their whole life, it looms and impels them to do sometimes ludicrous things, sometimes very meek and cowardly things. That engine of manhood is an entirely unsexy thing- it is not fun- it is not funny- but somehow Thom managed to make it so.
What Thom has done is distill those moments- those real moments- into something palpable. Weaving a tapestry of minutia into a life, and as is the case in all lives; the sum is greater than its parts. For that reason, What My Brain Told Me is a coming of age tale. The two-dozen-or-so shards of youth that culminate in the discovery of ones’ self. There’s an ephemeral and tacit shift that happens somewhere in a boy’s twenties where they’re able to look back down the road they traveled. They stare down the horizon where they came from. They look down at their feet. Then look ahead at that road yet traveled and then back down when you say, “Okay feet, I’ll take it from here.”
Much like the short, subtle, Rumi-esque truths offered up in Thom’s book of poetry, Commencement, What My Brain Told Me strikes those same chords. Being light on metaphor and deep with honesty, Thom looks back over his last twenty-odd years to establish a portrait of the writer. As it’s impossible to understand what comes next until you understand what just happened, I believe that “What My Brain Told Me” harkens great things for Thom for two reasons.
One: This book is a testament to what just happened. These tiny, almost inconsequential moments in fact have grave consequences on a long enough time span. What My Brain Told Me is riddled with one anecdote after another with the premise of remembrance and progress. Thom has manifested these moments; has synthesized them; has soaked up and squeezed all the life back out of them in finely organized black ink indicative of the progress a promising young man makes. Now Thom can write what next.
Two: As a personal friend of Thom I know some of the things he went through. In fact, I’m proud to have been party to some of them and privileged to others. The slivers of heart-threatening moments of a boy’s possible inheritance of the household, the social dichotomies found between neighborhood kids on the black-top, to the Thom that I knew in college; restless and hungry for adventure and experience; lusting after beer, women, and paradoxes, stealing out to shacks in the back of a dorm for a fumbled step at self-realization. What My Brain Told Me documents those moments too blunt to be called poetic, but too incisive to be called prosaic.
Basically, it’s this book, told in several forms, perspectives, and narratives, draws big black X’s on a map, indicating the roadside monuments that make one life unique and peculiar from another. The road led to where Thom is sitting right now- confident and as self-assured as anyone can be. Now that the writer understands himself fully, it’s time for the really difficult work to begin- making others understand themselves.
“Think enough to know you don’t have to think about anything.”