Uncommon speech

New book employs a fictional dialect for an equally fictional memoir


If you’re the type of well-mannered reader who approaches a book sensibly — starting at the beginning and not neglecting the prologue — you will find instructions, suggestions and even a YouTube link to assist you in navigating Kathy Goss’ “Darwoon Dyreez” before you encounter anything that might give you pause.

If, on the other hand, you’re of the sort whose standard M.O. is to barge into the middle of a new book and start pawing through its secrets willy-nilly, you’re going to think for a moment that this tale is written in another language — one as different from English as Hungarian, or maybe Alpha Centaurian.

Take a breath and stay on the page, and you may not need to go back and find the instructions after all. The odd-looking words soon resolve into English syllables that speak their intrinsically American cadences aloud in your mind, and you find yourself following the story with ease and eagerness. Before you know it, you’re as much at home in the rhythm of Darwoon as any one of the men who “stanz aroun outside Poost Oofice” and fluent enough to join the “dizgushin” with the “nayberz hungin owt drinkin bere in Dolleyz bakyurd.”

This Friday (July 14) at 5 p.m., Goss will be offering a multimedia presentation on “Darwoon Dyreez” at the Society of the Muse of the Southwest (108 Civic Plaza Drive). Attendees will hear tales of the adventures that inspired the book and learn to read Darwoonish.

The author describes her book as a “fictional memoir.” The quasi-fictional name Darwoon evokes a mythical Brigadoon-like place, but in fact is based on a real-life abandoned mining town in the California desert with fewer than three dozen citizens.

For the past two decades, Goss has lived there for most of each year and spent her summers here on Taos Mesa. As far as the population is concerned, Taos is a booming metropolis compared to Darwoon, but the two communities share many concerns and priorities. Taoseños, like Darwoonians, are enthusiastic participants in “pullitikal akshun” and “invirameddle aurt projex.” We, too, are wary of the consequences of a “bigg pobulayshun splozhun” and the inevitable “watter warz.”

Goss appears much younger than her years and radiates the vitality of someone who has never stopped learning, playing, working and exploring creative curiosity in all its facets.

Before Darwoon, she lived in San Francisco, California, and had a thriving career ghostwriting and collaborating with some of the most esteemed practitioners of alternative medicine: Holocaust survivor Jack Schwartz, “Nested Time” pioneer Arthur Young and homeopath Michael Weiner. “I wanted to give people tools to liberate themselves from slavery to ‘experts,’” she said of the impetus for the work. “Homeopathy is a good example. For thousands of years, there’ve been women who would go around with baskets of herbs to heal their neighbors.”

At the same time, she channeled her research in these and many other topics into musical and spoken-word performance with co-creator Michael Devere in the band High Strangeness. “We were looking at alternative science, weird science, medicine, the metaphysical properties of water, UFOs and ancient texts and started developing the sense of humor about all of it in performance – turning dark things into humor.” High Strangeness songs bear titles like “Gnostic Nostalgia” and “Underwater Shopping.”

When she relocated to the California desert, she initiated a music camp that has become an annual event. “My idea was, I knew people who were very accomplished musicians – and others who loved music and couldn’t play – and I wanted to throw them into one space and record everything and turn out a CD every year.”

The language of “Darwoon Dyreez” — described by the author as an “invented dialect” — feels authentic, organic and uncontrived. “As soon as I began jotting down the stories of the many bizarre things happening outside my front door, it started coming out in that language. Two summers ago, I decided to sit down and write this thing as a book. By the end of that summer, I had 41 chapters in draft. It took another year to get it cleaned up a bit and then decide how to organize it — which I did along the lines of a patchwork quilt. I actually put the chapter titles on cards and made a quilt of them.”

Goss pointed out that the English language, as conventionally written, is far from phonetic. “Darwoonish is written much more phonetically because it’s intended to evoke the experience of oral literature, of stories that people tell each other. If you hear it in your head, that’s exactly right because these stories were all orally transmitted up until now.”

As part of the SOMOS presentation, she will be projecting a chapter onto a screen while reading it aloud. “Seeing it and hearing it, you’re holding two things in mind. There’s a cognitive dissonance there, and that’s a buzz concept for the book in other ways, too. For instance, it makes claims of being fiction, but it’s illustrated with actual photographs throughout. And in another sense, it’s a parallel universe — and the point is that there is a place in this parallel universe where bad things might happen, but in the long run, it’s OK.”