Interview with R. M. Dolin

What's the story behind your latest book?
The story began during a cycling trip in France where I met a poet, Nicholi Olinski. I will use his words to describe how this project of marrying story with poems came to be. I met Ron the summer of 1981 while in France attending a close friend’s funeral. Ron was midway through a solo bicycle journey across Provence. We both found ourselves at bitter crossroads but for divergently different reasons. Ron came to France to jettison aspects of his life anchoring his soul while, as he described it, cycling toward an ill-defined destiny. I too was longing to discard elements of my life but had not yet devised a plan. For Ron it was all about pushing past what would no longer define him. For me it was a desire to escape the inescapable essence of who I was. We met in the coastal village where my friend was buried. For complex reasons that torment me still, I didn’t attend the funeral even though I was compelled to be near. The waiter in the crowded café where I defiantly dared to drown demons asked if Ron could share my table. Knowing enough about French protocol to know I had no choice, I reluctantly acquiesced.
How did you become friends?
To say we got off to an awkward start is an utter understatement. As the evening and the wine waned though we dived deep into a discussion about life, and how it was we each came to be in Provence. Ron’s ever forming perspectives on decisions leading to outcomes resonated with my saddened soul. His wisdom and insight that he thought only applied to him, somehow always cut to the core of my complexity helping me through a dangerously difficult moment. Ron described his journey as a personal Sundance. He tried repeatedly to explain how his Sundance was a modification of an ancient American Indian ceremony having something to do with erasing the soul of all it has have been in order to find out who it’s supposed to become. This appealed to me on such a profound level I persuaded Ron to let me join his journey even though it was with reluctant acquiesces. I felt in some cosmic way fate intersected our lives for a purpose; that we were meant to journey on together even if only briefly. For a week I rode through Provence at a punishing pace with this one time cowboy from South Dakota who was pushing himself to the exhaustive edge of endurance in the hope of finding answers for himself, within himself.
How was cycling with Ron?
We would ride all day in the blistering August sun then consume massive amounts of wine all night at seaside cafés while exploring thought provoking ideas. We interrogated the many levels of human existence from perspectives spanning the gauntlet of good versus evil and fate relative to chance. Even though Ron’s a logically grounded engineer who reasons his way toward conclusions, I admire his ability to filter the world through a novelist’s eye. As a poet, I process based on emotions. This often led to vastly different perspectives. What made our time in Provence provocative was the way we taught each other to consider alternate points of view. Much of what we argued, debated and discussed centered on a philosophy Ron was developing called “Happy Hell.”
Hell me more about this Happy Hell Philosophy?
The philosophy of Happy Hell recognizes that humans instinctively seek happiness and that each individual achieves their level of happiness regardless of outward appearance. The twist however, lies in an observation that the very act of seeking happiness commits us to a private hell of our own construction. Ron paradoxically reasoned that people actively (consciously) and passively (subconsciously) make decisions and take actions in life to maximize the happiness they’ve defined. Society though creates a quite separate set of metrics and decries that they must be achieved in order to be happy. For most people these societal metrics are unobtainable abstractions that when left unmet put is in personal purgatory.
Can a philosophy really be that simple?
The irony of the Happy Hell paradox is that the pursuit of societal metrics is what paints us prisoners of our personal purgatory. Confounding all that is even if we could obtain those metrics it wouldn’t change our personal happiness one iota because if they were ever an essential measure of our instinctive happiness they would have already been obtained. Put another way; the very pursuit of happiness makes us unhappy. True happiness only comes from realizing that where we are is where we choose to be because our choices instinctively advance our need to be happy. The obvious flaw in society’s measure of happiness is people are unique with different joys and disappointments, different ambitions, endurance, morals, and risk-to-reward ratios. Ron’s philosophy postulated that there exists a balance in each person’s life between their desire for greater happiness and the hell they’re willing to endure for its realization. This renders a buoyancy where the negative weight from all we endure harmonizes with the positive force of everything we hope to gain. The Happy Hell philosophy resonates with me because achieving harmony and balance in my life along with finding some measure of happiness is a constant, albeit elusive, struggle.
How did that become part of this new novel?
Ron was just beginning to form the outline for a story about people on personal journeys through their happy hells who are simultaneously thrown into an even more imposing journey by events on a grander scale. His goal was not to simply tell a story that moved people but to create something that would challenge readers at their core and change how they thought about life and their role in the world. With such a lofty ambition, I understood that if it were ever even achievable, it would take time and only materialize through struggle, perseverance and deep reflection.
How did the novel come together?
In early 1982, during an especially dark time in my life, Ron shared the outline for a story he was creating called “Quiet Desperation.” Several months now separated our period in Provence when we saw each other for the last time. I wonder now, as I did then, how he knew to reach out to me at that moment. With true engineering thoroughness and logic, Ron laid out in a table how his characters would traverse the story. He referred to his project as a ‘story in three parts,’ joking it was a double entendre since physically the story would be told in three books while simultaneously weaving three threads in and out with mesmerizing gestalt. His table consisted of fifty-four columns, each representing a chapter, while the rows represented the story’s characters. At that time, the chapters were numbered and referenced to the book they belonged, but they were not titled.
How did the use of poetry come into play?
After reviewing the outline for “Quite Desperation,” I realized Ron was well on his way to achieving his ambition. He asked me to critique the story line and character evolutions and provide feedback. Instead of commenting on the “this” and “that’s” of his story I decided I could better contribute by titling each chapter and composing a short companion poem capturing the emotional nuances essential to that part of the story. As spring married with summer I obsessively immersed myself in his story and characters while composing my poems. Helping Ron cathartically carried me all the way to early Fall. At the time of this writing, I do not know how his story in three parts turns out but I am greatly appreciative for having the opportunity to be a part of this project and for the inspiration it provided my poetry. I do not know how much my poems helped shape this story or if Ron even retained my chapter titles. My hope is that I was able to inspire him to tell his story with poetic passion and to occasionally perhaps, filter from a poet’s perspective.
How would you describe Quiet Desperation?
“Quiet Desperation,” is a complex story layered within simple subtlety. It’s a journey that considers the collective condition while exploring the Happy Hell each individual traverses. It’s about tragedy, sadness, loss, hopelessness, endurance, hope; heroism in common measures and even love in pragmatic terms. It’s life and the struggles we must all overcome to find purpose. My hope for you is that in reading Ron’s story in three parts, you come to appreciate him as both a storyteller and a person of wisdom and insight. I hope from time to time you are able to find pieces of me in the prose as well as pieces of you in his characters and their struggles. All things end, some more tragically than others; my time in Provence, my cathartic immersion in poems, even this introduction. My list of regrets is extensive but they brought me through my Happy Hell so I am grateful. I leave you with this poem I composed after the completion of my personal Sundance. I hope you enjoy it as much as you enjoy Quiet Desperation
Published 2014-03-02.
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Books by This Author

Poems of Quiet Desperation
Price: $0.99 USD. Words: 3,380. Language: English. Published: March 3, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Poetry » Contemporary Poetry
A collection of poems featured in Quiet Desperation; a novel in three parts by R.M. Dolin.
Quiet Desperation
Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 101,380. Language: English. Published: March 2, 2014. Categories: Fiction » Literature » Plays & Screenplays
Jake wakes up every day tired, alone and still broken. Life taught this one time nuclear weapons engineer that Night is a thief robbing those less vigilant of things they most cherish. What he doesn't anticipate is that hurtling toward him with cataclysmic momentum is the last gasp of a woman on the hopeless side of survival.