“A Couple of Ways to Kill Yourself”
“A Couple of Ways to Kill Yourself” is from Greg Bottoms’s story collection, PITIFUL CRIMINALS (Counterpoint, 2014). Bottoms is the authors of three highly acclaimed documentary books, including the memoir “Angelhead: My Brother’s Descent into Madness,” which was an Esquire Magazine “Book of the Year” in 2000.
He is also the author of four volumes of short prose set in Virginia, where he is from, that experiment with storytelling form and openly mix memoir, documentary, and fiction. His shorter works have appeared in leading literary magazines, including The Believer, Bookforum, Creative Nonfiction, and the Oxford American.
Bottoms said this about the origin of his story: I studied English and Journalism as an undergraduate. Back in the late 80s and early 90s I read almost every feature in magazines like Spin, Rolling Stone, and Details (which were smarter then and much less bent by the tyranny of consumer and celebrity culture). I was enamored of the New Journalist. Then I studied literature in grad school, with the requisite dose of cultural theory that was pretty much about learning to critically question all the commonsensical ways we blindly accept the world and the way things are. I got a little snooty then.
Then I did an MFA in fiction. I got a little confused about the purpose of art and a lot less snooty pretty quickly. Anyway, this educational trajectory–journalism, theory, fiction, doubt–has shaped my creative focus and practice in nonfiction and fiction and the space between. I haven’t been able to write a sentence in a long time that isn’t grounded in memory or lived observation, even if it’s called fiction once published. That’s not a manifesto; it is just fact and probably a shortcoming. But actual life feels too strange and interesting and in need of shape and interpretation to me.
So this story, then, is a simple tale from life–the journalism, the theory, all those short story craft discussions, and doubt in the shape of an encounter.