So this is how the next chapter in my life starts.
I’ve been working on this project off and on for about the last 15 years – more off than on, to be truthful – but it’s been present for over a third of my life in some form or another It started when I was in the clinical psychology program at the University of Texas at Austin. A fellow graduate student named Nina and I would periodically come up with haikus during seminars or those god-awful brown bag lunches we were forced to attend during our first two years of indentured servitude. Nina’s interests were in neuropsychological testing and she would periodically slide me a piece of paper with something like this written on it:
sneaks along white matter tracts
a thief in the night
I had no idea what it meant but I smiled because she was so damn smart and I could tell she was just tickled pink by it. Mine tended to be a bit more crass:
Dad’s fists shoved inside
his shiny new wood-chipper
“Merry Christmas, Mom!”
Or something equally arcane. Nina would look at it and smile, but at the time I don’t think she necessarily thought it was as funny as I did. Not that my Dad was abusive. Far from it, he was terrific. But something about the thought of some wife-beating husband watching his mitts reduced to a syrupy mess of powdered bone fragments and fine red particulate as they spewed from the chute of a trailer-mounted Brush Bandit 200 in a thick mist over a calm, snow-blanketed landscape to the horror of foraging squirrels struck me as downright comical.
At any rate, I came up with a new one every once in a while but didn’t really produce anything of substance during my time in grad school. Other than the cartoons I did under a pseudonym that got me in trouble with the Center for Students With Disabilities – but that is another story.
It wasn’t until I did my post-doctoral work that I really started to narrow my focus to criminal psychology. It started in Ohio where I completed my internship/residency. I worked in an unassuming brick building in downtown Toledo (“The Left Armpit of the Contiguous United States”) and my patients consisted primarily of post-release offenders who were required to take part in mental health treatment as a condition of their supervision or parole.
As a general rule, these were not happy folks and they would rather be doing anything other than seeing a shrink in training to address problems they didn’t want to admit they had. But since I was the new kid on the block, those were the clients I inherited. Oh, and the low-functioning sex offender group. That was fun. Let’s not forget them. All that and I got paid just shy of $800 a month with an agreement to not seek outside employment. Needless to say, this was not how I had imagined my life as a psychologist would begin.
However, some good did come out of my time in Ohio. For one thing, I was introduced to the world of forensic psychology in a way I hadn’t previously experienced. I worked on several of my most memorable cases there including “The Real Estate Developer Who Tried To Make His Wife’s Murder Look Like A Car Accident Despite The Fact That She Had Clearly Been Dead For At Least A Week When The Ambulance Showed Up” and “The Truck Driver Who Made A Snuff Film Of His Daughter’s Death From His Bedroom Closet And Then Blamed It On His Wife Even Though He Could Be Heard Masturbating In The Background.” More on these later, but for now the important point is that I had no real training up to that point in how to approach situations like these. Not clinically. Not rationally. Not emotionally.
And it was from seeing this very dark side of human behavior that PsyKu was ultimately born. The act of distilling these experiences into three lines and seventeen syllables imposed some structure on the chaos, absurdity, cruelty, and foreignness of the stories I encountered and eventually helped me (I think) to better understand them.
This book started off as little more than a collection of a few dozen scraps of paper that I shoved in my sock drawer with the intention of more formally compiling one day. Gum wrappers, cocktail napkins, returned checks, matchbook covers. None of them were safe from my desperate attempts to translate my thoughts into a coherent 5-7-5 syllable structure that contained some reference to the seasons.
And so over the years I came up with hundreds (maybe thousands) of these little nuggets. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them were just terrible when I looked at them objectively. What I had thought was insightful and clever when I first thought of them frequently made me groan out loud when I read them a couple of days later. But I kept at it, largely because writing continued to be therapeutic for me and it had the added bonus of being cheaper than vodka.
I was fortunate enough to work with several truly inspirational people. Andrew Wood is an absolutely incredible artist with a decidedly warped view of the world who agreed to put his particularly dark talents to work by turning some of the haikus into drawings. Allison M. Dickson, an established horror and fantasy writer and dear friend, was a constant source of advice, encouragement, and editorial support. Red Williamson, of Newspin Photography, was invaluable in helping me to conceptualize a business and marketing plan for the book and fueling my desire to keep writing. And Sekhmet Press publisher Jennifer L. Greene, who took a chance on me and brought PsyKu under her label.
Thank you to all of you and to everyone who has encouraged me to pursue this project. I hope it lives up to your expectations.
Solomon Archer, Ph. D.