Interview with Self: Part 2 – Editor’s message

MJ Usetobe, The Art of Crisis

It is with deep regret that I must inform you that due to the recent demise of MJ Usetobe, there will be no “Interview with Self: Part 2″. Although completed drafts were at the final edit stage the author, in extremis, made the surprising decision to halt final publication before obtaining permission [from a family source] to print certain contentious, and potentially litiginous, statements. Whilst successful in obtaining a full and corroborative response, its arrival was, sadly, dilatory. It was the decision, therefore, of this editor, with the agreement of the author’s executors, that the piece be withheld.

Almost without exception Usetobe’s offerings were visceral and ardent attacks upon those who sought to undermine his “judgement, autonomy and sanity”; he once mockingly described a draft copy to me as “imperfect and rough-hewn offerings, freshly calved from the black ice of my father’s heart”. That there were was a fault line, the demarcation of which deeply and indelibly scored his position relative to the main protagonists featured in many of his posts, that it grew with grinding, tectonic, inevitability to form a final unbridgeable divide, is an incontestable fact. However, despite the bitterness – palpable to the last – his final years in exile from those hostile to him were among the happiest and most peaceful of his life. He ‘fell asleep’ closely attended by his wife and children – always his happiest place.

In accordance with the author’s final wishes John McCrae’s short poem “In Flanders Fields” will close this body of work. A memorial service, attended by close family members and friends, was held in October this year.


In Flanders fields the poppies grow*
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae, 1915
*[original pre-published]


SOTC, Nov. 2013

Qs & As (…and since I’m snowed in)


Q: Are the characters in your blog real?
A: Yes, all of them. However,  I have gone to some lengths to keep their true identities private. Whilst it would be jolly good fun to reveal their names and statuses (relative to me) there would, I am quite sure, be some legal ramifications in dropping them in the soup. I choose to bide my time on that one. There have also been some questions regarding the meanings of some of the epithets used; again I am wary of giving too much away, however I see some scope for more expansive description here. Some are of course self-explanatory: ‘Sorebones’, ‘Fecklessa’ and ‘The Fat Academic’ for example are, I hope, pretty obvious. ‘Sister Dunlop’s’ cognomen is perhaps a little more obscure; here I tried to convey a little of her easy latitudes toward coition and her general degree of amorality – ‘Dunlop’ being synonymous (at least in the UK) with bicycle. To go further and include divisiveness and xenophobia would only lead to an ungainly, though more accurate, description. When all is said and done, as long as ‘they’ know to whom I am referring, I have done my job.

Q. Are the characters members of your family?
A. Some are some aren’t, those that aren’t used to be. All are immediately antecedent, sibling or ‘ex’ in nature. All I will say at this point is that I am a great admirer of Roth’s ‘I married a Communist’ – and in particular Linda Grant’s thesis of the novel (“an angry, bitter, resentful mess by a man who might have taken another course.”)

Q. Why do you persist in denigrating the characters in your posts?
A. I don’t see it as denigration. It’s my therapy. I have tried to portray a group of people [characters] who have effectively cut me and others that are close to me from their lives. I am in exile. I write for my sanity and as a lone voice against those who act in collusion against me. I’ve recently started using Pynchon’s muted trumpet as a symbol for some of my posts. It’s not really an homage to 49 at all but I find the emblem a rather poignant metaphor in symbolising my own chosen method of communicating my feelings.

Q. What is the significance of SitOnTheCat?
A. None worthy of reporting. I was simply looking for an abstract and yet interesting sounding name. I’ve had only positive feedback so far; people have been pretty complimentary in this respect.

Q. Are there hidden messages in your posts?
A. There are and there are not. By that I mean there are some posts like ‘Russian Doll Story’ in which I make use of very specific and clearly described encryption but in other places I use less obvious cryptic forms. I also make extensive use of anagrams (not in character names) to impart some important statements.

Q. What is the W.A.S.T.E acronym and why is it relevant?
A. I refer you to my third answer – it’s that Pynchon thing again. That said, “Long live the Trystero.”

Q. It is quite easy to establish who you are. Why then do you use ‘SitOnTheCat’ as a pseudonym?
A. I don’t really care about shielding my identity. I have two audiences, one very small and specific and the other to whom I now type these answers. The former already know who I am, the latter probably don’t care. Anyhow – it’s nice to sit in the shadow of my cat.

*Information contained in the disclaimer (bottom right on this page) takes precedence over all other blog content.

Interview with Self: An extract

MJ Usetobe, The Art of Crisis
Interviewed by MJ Usetobe

The interview took place over three days. Beginning with some exploratory discussions during late December 2011, the final sessions were completed by the middle of January 2012. All conversations, save for the last (the only one transcribed here), were conducted at the same location – a dark and rather frightening (at least to this interviewer) recess deep inside Dr. Usetobe’s temporal lobe. The concluding meeting, an altogether more tangible affair, at which Usetobe extensively cut, revised and re-drafted much of the transcripts, took place at The Little Owl, on the corner of Bedford and Grove, NYC.

As a prerequisite to the interview Usetobe insisted that he was not interested in responding to questions relating directly to his political and religious beliefs. Whilst acknowledging the importance of such aspects to his life he expressed a very specific desire to use this rare interview as an analytical tool to try and dissect some of his noted personal characteristics, as he put it; “I want to address aspects of my soul and sanity and say some things about my relationship with myself that should have been articulated a long time ago.” Furthermore, he flatly refused to comment on what he considered to be either trivial or pointless enquiry, or on personal style or habit. His demeanour, more often than not was brooding, however he was always enthusiastic to begin each session. He speaks in gentle tones, with fluency and contemplation in equal measure. Usetobe listened carefully and was deliberate in developing his answers in a clear and serious manner. Sometimes however, he was prone to dark humour and irony in concluding an answer, playfully supplanting his original reply with deliberately ambiguous appendicies. He would often pause to make brief notes in a small red moleskin notebook; he drank strong black Colombian coffee throughout, dressed casually, and wore, off and on, wire-framed spectacles suspended around his neck by a fine red cord.



It has been a hard process in securing this interview, indeed it has been said that you have been bordering on the reclusive. Could you start by explaining your apparent reluctance to speak?


Well … I would like to know who said that I am reclusive. I think there is a big difference between being reclusive and being say, solitary. Certainly I am solitary, but only in the way that I like to think optimally or that I like to solve problems by calling on something from within; I have an existential outlook, or ‘in-look,’ [laughs] that I have always relied upon. But I have never sought a reclusive life – I enjoy the company of others too much. Of course I have certain characteristic traits, mostly bequeathed or imposed, but I do not consider reclusivity to be one of them. I would love to be more frivolous, outgoing, light hearted, more outrageous even, but I am who I am – I am hamstrung by a combination of my own expectations and limitations, both of which were brought about as a direct consequence of the way I was brought up, the people I have met and the life I have led. [Pauses and sips coffee] …now if you you’d asked me about ‘estrangement,’ that’d be a whole new ballgame. I’ve taken estrangement to a new level.


Could you expand a little upon what you mean by “characteristic traits, bequeathed or imposed” and “expectations and limitations?” Are you referring to something from your childhood?


Certainly, the two things are related of course. I don’t want to get distracted however by the obvious ‘I blame my parents for everything’ scenario, but there is no getting away from the fact that we are all endowed with a set of values and characteristics that may or may not sit comfortably with us as time passes. From my own perspective, I was aware from a relatively early age, maybe ten or eleven, that I was ill at ease with the what I understood to be the guidelines my mother and father set out for me. My parents married at a ridiculously early age, they were both children themselves – both teenagers; both learning how to deal with their mistake [me]. One result was that I was an anxious child; always lacking in self confidence and never having a source of direction or guidance. It’s like asking a blind man for directions, you might get sent anywhere.

As for expectations and limitations. This is a more complicated. Again it goes back, back to a time where I was not made aware of the importance of education or of pushing myself to excel – at anything. At that time, when I was approaching teenage, my father worked long hours and drank a lot when he got home. My mother was left to bring me up as best she knew, largely on her own. I think my ‘limitations’ were imposed at this point; I can remember thinking that I wasn’t going to amount to much. I think that’s rather sad – not even having the desire to escape that way of thinking. Yes, my worldview was capped at around that time I think. Probably later, when I went to university, was when I started to play ‘catchup’. But it took a huge effort to extract that earlier mindset – it had deep roots. Since that time I have been imposing ever increasing expectations on myself in an overly compensatory manner that has now become an obsession. I don’t have balance in that respect.


Would you like to go back and expand on your comment relating to estrangement?


No. Not specifically.


I’m not sure what you mean by that.


I mean that I don’t want to jump right in and specify the nitty gritty of what a lot people already know about that aspect of my personal life. Maybe it’ll creep out …slowly.


Is it painful for you to discuss?


Not anymore – not painful, but I guess it sits a little uncomfortably with me. Let’s move on.


Do you have any siblings?


No, I am an only child [laughs], another stereotype. I had imaginary friends though.


You have been outspoken about aspects of your depression; could you tell me about this and perhaps expand upon how this has affected your work and personal life?


I have good days and bad days – I cry a lot; I can be completely fine one day, one minute even, then ‘bam’ I’m in the depths. There’s not much more to be said really. The manifestation of clinical depression is well documented – you don’t need me to attempt a description. For me, it is the search for that moment, that event or series of events, that cast this whole damn veil upon my life. For the most part I just live with it – I try to kid myself into believing it is related to this, related to that. My wife has helped me through a lot – but … there are brick walls, blind alleys; places only I can go. I have such clearly defined ‘no go’ areas in my head, there are big warning signs and flashing lights in the road-map of my mind, but the hell of this thing is that I keeps on being drawn back to the bad places. It’s seems such a simplistic thing to explain, but the subtleties are boggling – to me at least.

It has certainly affected some of my choices relating to my work and I’ve certainly under performed in certain areas; mostly on a personal level I think. It can get in the way on so many levels but I think I’ve become fairly good at keeping an even keel, so to speak. But I guess you’d have to ask others for some true perspective. My personal life has been a mess, a shambles. Ok, so now we touch on the estrangement – you got me! [Usetobe feigns a grimace and shifts his posture – backward] I’ve managed to hang on to my kids and my wife but I’ve lost everything else, everyone else. My father thinks I’m crazy or some kind of opportunist sniper – probably both, and my mother – well she just blows in the wind, she just follows in the wake of my father’s rages. I inherited all of their inadequacies; my lifelong battle has been to bottle them all up and not pass anything along. It’s a poison that eats at me from the inside. There is a Twain quote; “anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured,” and it’s true but there remain significant dangers if it spills, dangers to those that I love most. My job is to keep the stopper in place, to manage and limit the danger that I bequeath or let loose by some form of osmosis. At least if I am cognisant of the dangers – I can take measures to mitigate the effects of my disease.


You’re upset. We could stop. [Usetobe, clearly distressed, takes a moment and gestures to ‘keep rolling’]. Ok, I don’t want to push you on this but one thing you said puzzled me; you said your father thinks that you are an ‘opportunist sniper’?


My father operates in a monochrome reality. He doesn’t have a facility for anything other than a very narrow bandwidth of black and white, hence his faculties of sympathy and understanding are limited somewhat. In the past, when we communicated, he couldn’t unravel the signals I was sending; if I elevated my ‘Mayday’ from anything other than a plaintive form, which fell outside his bandwidth, he reacted with his default state – anger. Consequently there would be an exponential escalation … Whenever I have subsequently tried to allude to this cycle of events he accuses me of ‘never letting go of the past’ or of ‘sniping about the past’ – it’s a no win situation for me.


End of Part 1.
Usetobe and Usetobe would like to extend their grateful thanks to the staff and patrons of The Little Owl, for being so accommodating and helpful throughout the transcribing of this interview.

‘F&S’ share price slumps on continuing feud with ex-employee

Stock plummets to 12-year low as worries grow

February 24, 2012 by F. Spearjig, SitOnTheCat News

Shares in S&F Holdings plunged to their lowest level in more than a decade on investor concerns that more problems loom for the crippled family run concern. To compound matters, a leaked memo’, apparently from the incumbent chairman, detailing “exit strategies” for senior board members in the event of company administration, has been “doing the rounds” among market traders. Shares closed down £6.12, or 62 percent, at £3.75, after touching an intraday low of £3.03, a value not seen since October 1999. S&F was by far the day’s most-active stock on the SOTC Stock Exchange, now seen by many as a short-seller’s dream.

S&F warned in a Securities and Exchange filing, released after markets closed on Thursday, that it could be forced to admit liability in an ongoing court case between its chairman Sir John Sorebones and former company employee, M.J.Usetobe, who claims to have been unfairly dismissed following what a source close to the board has described as “demonstrably trumped up” and  “grossly unfair” allegations of insider trading made by Sir John in January 2011. A guilty verdict would be seen as disastrous for the beleaguered company and would almost certainly result in significant credit cuts by already faltering backers.

Sir John and his wife Fecklessa have kept a low profile ever since the now notorious “Enmity Emails”, sent by Sir John to M.J.Usetobe in February 2011, were forwarded to senior members of the board in an attempt by Usetobe to clear his name. Later, transcripts of the emails, largely comprised of threats and personal insults, were leaked to the tabloid press. The much-publicised boardroom revolt that ensued culminated in a vote of no confidence in the chairman and a three-month enforced ‘furlow’. Described by some as a “loose cannon”, Sir John has nonetheless been tipped to take over the day-to-day running of S&F’s sister company, Dark Angel Holdings – the Newcastle-based manufacturer of equine waste containment, famous for its gritty catchphrase ‘We’re full of Horse Shit’.

“It’s pretty well accepted in the industry that people are staying away from S&F for now,” said Charlie Sammler, market manager for Stick-it-and-Twist Associates in London. “All the love has gone out of this company – it used to be such a good place to work.”

S&F’s filing was a stark warning to investors that it would fail to be a “going concern” if a further credit cut forces it to pay off its debts to partnerships it is currently involved in. “An early payoff of those debts would render S&F unable to service its revolving credit accounts, starting a downward spiral.” said Sammler. Meanwhile, credit rating agency Hoist & Petard said that it may again cut S&F’s BBB-minus rating, which could trigger those debt payoffs.

“Where was I?”

Don’t ask me why, but today I was drawn to read through the email string that constitutes the last conversation I ever had with Sorebones. It is a long read, comprising twenty-one individual messages to and fro. Completed over a 24-hour period, it documents the final and irrevocable breakdown of contact with F & S; it took place on January 7th 2011. In particular I was looking for a line that Sorebones threw at me in a fury of exaggerated and superfluous punctuation that stuck in my mind not only because of its calculated and fallacious content but also that I failed, at the time, to hold him accountable for his wretched and contemptible trivialization of the hurt he inflicted.

My excerpt ran as follows: “You made me beg, cry and crawl to you once before, I knew you weren’t genuine when you finally capitulated, how could you have been if you can even after all this time sit down and write such a cold and calculating email.”

Sorebones’ reply ran: “What the hell is the begging, crying, crawling and capitulation all about??? Where was I? and when will you stop re-writing history?”

Where were you?: You were at the end of the telephone, but only after weeks of careful encouragement from Fecklessa and a swathe of emails and calls from me; it was October 1999. You finally condescended to hear me out. You listened as I tearfully gave you my endlessly rehearsed contrition. When I ran out of steam you said nothing. When I broke down in desperate ad hoc appeals you said nothing. When I pleaded and offered you childhood memories in an attempt to assuage you, you said nothing. Does that jog your supercilious and selective memory? Did you feel powerful having me squirm and beg for you? In my minds eye I have imagined that your guilt in some way caught up with you and that you blotted out this episode, but your venomous emails belie that notion. You are just a liar Sorebones.

Where were you?: Shutler Road. I was eleven years old and you threw me around the kitchen for not wanting to swallow my medicine. They say actions speak louder that words; do you remember throwing the chair against the door and breaking its leg. Do you remember Fecklessa pleading with you to stop manhandling me, then  thrusting me out into the garden before your rage could take more hold? I bet you don’t.

Where were you?: Take a moment Sorebones, a rare truthful moment. I’m sure it’ll come – I hope it does. I live with it, why shouldn’t you?


Feckless Love

You bore me, you scorned me, you cowed and confused me.
You judged me, you ruled me, you lectured and fooled me.
You blackmailed me, failed me, cheated and deceived me.
You burdened me, lied to me, manipulated and spurned me

But most of all – you denied me.
You encumbered me with knowledge of his terrible excesses yet you denied me when finally I rose to confront him.

…but then, you sent a Christmas card, so that’s alright.

“Put it in the drawer Delores.”

“Delores, they sent a card!”
“Who did?”
“What do you mean who did? my goddamn parents that’s who! they sent a card. Ok, so my mother sent a card, it’s her handwriting. I didn’t open it …I won’t open it.”
“Herman, open it. What harm can it do?”
“…you think it’ll say ‘Happy Birthday Son?”
“Well it is your birthday!”
“Aw com’ on – we haven’t heard a song for a whole year and you think she’s just gonna write ‘happy birthday’? Even if …”
“Even if what?”
“Even if it’s a simple as that it’ll be because of some crappy plaintive inner alarm clock that won’t let her change the habit of a lifetime. It won’t count as breaking her infantile vow of silence.”
“Herman! it’s an offering for chrissakes – she might be saying ‘happy birthday.’”
“…To hell with her, put it in the drawer with the others will ya, I haven’t the heart to upset her again but I’ll take the satisfaction of not opening her goddamn letters.”

I will (not)

I will no longer bend my back to the burden of his disapproval; why should I now that he has taken up the gauntlet elsewhere?

Sorebones’s unconscionable bearing has become a disease that makes him not simply unapproachable but also highly contagious. Though I form the ostensible target of his venom, his aim of late, has become increasingly wide of the mark. Fecklessa, already overburdened by his usual unprovoked vilifications continues to soak up excess poison to the point where she is perhaps beyond cure – save that is, for the exquisite elixir available to her only as a consequence of his departure; but such a time she cannot yet foresee. Aside from the daily torments he imposes upon her, it is the isolation of language, culture and simple human touch that continues to debilitate her. Moreover we hear tell of a palpable feebleness of voice in her weekly reports. As bystanders, we can only speculate as to his motives but howsoever we attribute his malice it is hard to conclude that he does not comprehend the consequences of his actions. We infer then that it is by design that he concentrates his efforts on breaking this feeble woman.

Crippled by the weight of his own bitterness, incipient signs of decline are now manifest. He slips from me silently; the irony all too clear when I recall the domineering onslaughts of my youth.

At the end – I will not lend my shoulder in support of him.


Can it be a selective exercise? I cannot conceive of it being an all-inclusive thing anymore. Reconciliation has for so long been anathema to me; but there are aspects of my relationship with Fecklessa, seemingly lost, that remain nonetheless valuable. My nadir is close at hand – I feel it, but even so I must not show her my weakness, must not give her (them) the chance to strike. This is my struggle; a requirement to resolve my conflict with just one of the guerrillas who have for so long beset me. I am paralysed though, paralysed and preoccupied in balancing the protection of my position with that of the waking dread and turmoil imposed by their prolonged and most savage provocations upon my sensibilities, the forbearance of which begins to take its toll.

I am certain now of their resolve; nothing will come of waiting – but I know of no route back.

A bit part

The long journey south gives her time to practice her lines. How she wishes she had not let Fecklessa talk her into this, but alas she is committed, indeed she has already taken payment – three weeks of freedom to debauch unfettered. Soon enough she will be back in her nest – comfortably inebriated and ‘distracted’. But we wonder if this self-induced blur on life will be enough to dull the certain knowledge that the valued item she did entrust with F and S will be subject to the same scarring performances that have so shaped her own life. Too late now, too late. Time to meet, time to corroborate and just time to take advice from Fecklessa on the correct degree of facial pallor required for best ‘effect’. The lights dim, the curtain opens…

“Oh beloved Grandparents, how I have missed you.”

… or will it be Stage Fright?


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