Some screen memories in the form of a eulogy, for Stephen R Hawkins

Photos: courtesy Jaina Bee

Eulogies drip with sentiment, and claims. Both made Steve Hawkins itch, most of the time, at least in his later years. How can I write something not too itchy for you today? None of us wants you itching, down there in the ground where you can’t scratch.

I’ll start with: what kind of person was this person? Maybe it’s always harder to answer that kind of question than we think. We answer from our perspectives. Steve elides the question more than most, maybe. People I’ve known who care deeply about Steve tend to talk about him in screen memories. Screen memory: “a recollection ... that may be falsely recalled or magnified in importance and that masks another memory of deep emotional significance.” For Freud, the screen was a function of one person’s unconscious, masking experiences which are too intense for the subject to process directly. Speaking loosely, with Steve, we might speak of a double or triple screen: the screens we use to remember him, the performative screens of his discourses and distances, and possibly the screens he used to keep intensity and voices at a distance from himself; instead of overwhelm, taking them as baubles worthy of cosmic laughter.

He was shy, and he charmed & attracted people. Sometimes he reveled in the performance, and sometimes the attention made him break out in hives. Marla remembers him charming the reporters for the Daily Kansan sometime in the early 70s at a feminist demonstration on campus. He was one of only one or two men in a crowd of women, but the cameras made him the leader of the march. From some people that might have been a bid for notoriety or leadership, but for him, it was an accident, happy or treacherous, quickly taken, quickly gone. Years later, he attracted interest around downtown Lawrence and in Vermont towers. Verbal mirth and sarcastic slicing, repartee with friends and passersby; what brilliance and/or madness was he typing at all hours on all those typewriters?

He was a person of projects, intensely, sometimes obsessively pursued, sometimes dropped without flare or fanfare. He told Adam in 2007 that statistics was his current obsession: “a life-long project … but I’ve got many life-long projects. When I get tired of one, I just turn to another.” He was writing one of his stories, and said he started a lot of stories without finishing them. “They were kind of like The Etcetera Shop; they just ended with an ‘etc.’” he said, with dissatisfaction and/or bemusement. I couldn’t quite tell if it was a stab at sage advice, an existential observation, or a throwaway joke.

In the 70s, he got excited about Bucky Fuller’s theories of how to redesign our spaces. He wore a pin around town that proclaimed, “Bucky is Coming!” He wouldn’t explain anything about Bucky, in certain circles contributing to a confusing, thrilling buzz. When Fuller arrived in Lawrence for a lecture that started in the early evening and lasted most of the night, Steve was one of the first to depart, and the Bucky button disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.

We knew him bit by bit; maybe his personas were partly performative or protective screens. Friends from different places and eras and circles knew him by various permutations of his name. His given name was “Stephen,” pronounced “Steffen,” but to various friends he was Randy, or S.R., before finally becoming Steve. It was hard to get someone who knew him as Randy or S.R. to call him anything else, even 20 years later. He was often fiercely private, even with loved ones, and insight took the form of gifts wrapped inside riddles.

Deep thoughts masquerading as wry humor, or humor shaped like depth; this was an essential tension of Steve’s communication. Every statement could lead to another in a string of allusions and inside jokes; whether the recipient was in on the joke was hardly the point. Banter could give way to utopian enthusiasm or the suggestion of tragedy in a missed heartbeat.

He shone with the ethos of the hippie era and the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s. He and his wife, Alice, attempted to start a commune in Freedom, California in the late 1960s. When the dreams of the 60s had faded and his family had splintered beyond his ability to see a whole, homeless communities and writing were his sanctuaries. During the 80s, when Reagan piously chided the “homeless by choice” and mass media decided that the new truth of the hippie was the yuppie, Steve maintained a rigorous independence, a life that was implicitly a rejection of all that.

In 2007, I visited him with an old friend from whom he had been long estranged, David Howard. Steve was staying in a hospital in Eudora, and when I told him I was staying in Lawrence, he joked that he lived two miles east of Eden. From there, the conversation turned to books, and he picked up a new-ish copy of Kerouac’s On the Road which David had given him. He said he hadn’t read it since David gave it to him, and I admitted I had never read it at all. David said I should read it, and Steve gave it to me. David looked taken aback, but he asked Steve if it just didn’t feel right, and said, “A gift is a gift.”

When we got ready to go, I asked Steve if he had really meant to give me the book. He said, “Just leave it there.” Then, in a blustery roar, “You had your chance.” Then, quieter, “Come back sometime. There’s always another chance. You can’t always accomplish everything you want to in one visit. Come back sometime.”

How much of this is even true? How much misremembered, magnified out of proportion, misrepresented by him or by me, or entirely false? The screens grow dim. Now we are at the end, of visits, disputations, allusive shifts, and chances. We are at the end of disavowed connections and traces of loyalty. We had our chances, and a lot was missed. If not tragedy, if not one of his infamous “revenge dramas,” there was incontrovertible, real loss, even if if we do not completely know what we have lost in the object. There’s always another chance. (And no, there isn’t.) A final disputation, this cosmic joke.
Such a perfect "picture" of our friend. Love to you all and may your journey together be fabulous! Don & Dianne Huggins