Who is Richard F. Yates?

“Who is Richard F. Yates?” by Charlie Centipede

So who is this Richard F. Yates, anyway?

Short answer: Nobody.

He isn’t known by many people; he hasn’t done much that has been noticed by the general populace; and he doesn’t expect either of those facts to change.

Let’s take a look at this nobody, and see what makes him think he has the right to bother all of you nice folks, every day, on the interwebs…

Richard Franklin Yates was born on July 18th, 1972, to Colleen Janet Yates (formerly “Long,” eventually “Axt”) and Roy Dean “Rowdy” Yates in Longview, WA, USA, Earth. Richard was a sickly child who cried often and even, on one occasion, stopped breathing, turned blue, and had to be rushed to the hospital to be resuscitated, and then kept in an oxygen tent until he could breath on his own again.

As he “grew” (he would reach the towering height of 5’ 3” as an adult), he became a hyperactive child, precocious and dangerous, often falling down flights of stairs, knocking himself unconscious in bike crashes, getting thrashed by bullies (who didn’t like his smart mouth), getting glass shards imbedded in his head, and even getting run over by a car when he was four years old. He suffered a broken collar bone and a punctured lung and spent months in the hospital recovering. Within weeks of being released from the hospital, he re-broke his collar bone doing flips off the porch of his house. Even as an older kid (and adult), he continued to injure himself, cutting a five-inch-long gash in his leg swimming in a pond, running the middle finger of his right hand through a table router in shop class, and putting his hand through a window trying to break into his own home when he forgot his house keys, causing a massive gash on his wrist that required 11 stitches to close…

He has two younger brothers, David (born in 1974) and Andrew (born in 1976) who both enjoyed the out-of-doors (motorcycle riding, fishing, cars…) more than Richard, who preferred not to get his hands dirty. Richard’s family moved quite a lot, and in fact Richard lived in five different houses before he turned five years old.

When he was six, his mother and father divorced, and his mother (a tiny woman, only 5’ 3” tall herself, but VERY tough) found herself trying to raise three boys (six, four, and two years old at the time) on her own, while also needing to make a living. She eventually became a truck driver for a local construction company (until the heavy lifting destroyed her back, at which time she became a black-jack dealer at a bar in Rainier, Oregon!) Meanwhile, she relied on her family, particularly the boys’ grandmother and uncles, to help watch her kids. After a few years of struggle, Colleen did eventually remarry, (Richard and his wife and kids are still close to “Grandpa Terry” to this day), but this second marriage was short lived—and just a little over a year after her second divorce, Colleen died in a car crash. (Richard was 14 at the time.)

The next few years were a haunted and uncomfortable time, as the Yates brothers had to deal with the death of their mom, being shuffled from place to place and guardian to guardian, and still function and try to work through school. Andy was youngest and become seriously withdrawn because of the loss, but David, who was IN the car crash, suffered severe physical damage, which forced him to spend months in a body-cast, undergo numerous operations to bring him back to full functioning, as well as the need to overcome the psychological effects of the event.

The boys lived with their father for a year, then eventually came to live with their grandmother, Lucille, and her husband, Bob Davis. This event helped to stabilize the boys’ lives, somewhat, but they all have psychological damage from these several years of trauma and dispossession.

Richard, from the time he was very young, used reading, writing, music, movies, and art to help him cope with the frequent moves, his anxiety and feelings of dislocation, and his lack of a real sense of “BELONGING.” Though his roots were never allowed to grow very deep before he was uprooted again and again, he had his stories, his music, his comics, and his artwork to keep himself grounded and occupied. He wrote stories and plays. He recorded his own radio shows with a portable tape deck. He drew monsters and ghosts. He sang along to Blondie, Bowie, and Queen. It is through engaging with creative works, and producing his own creative works, that he was able to cope with loneliness and dislocation…somewhat.

Richard had a high I.Q. (before damaging his brain in his late teens and early twenties), and he was an accelerated learner, grasping most concepts quickly, reading constantly, and pissing off most other students in his classes. But he was also a troubled child, frequently being asked to speak with counselors, never sleeping well (nightmares—he slept with the lights on into his late teens), and constantly, pathologically telling lies—even about things that didn’t matter. And yet, he was also determined and disciplined. In third grade, he taught himself how to walk on his hands, eventually being able to even walk down stairs on his hands. (He can’t do this anymore, though, now that he’s…expanded.)

When he was seven, he was chosen by the teachers at Broadway Elementary (in Longview) to be the 2nd grade representative from his school for a writers’ conference in Seattle. For this event, he wrote and illustrated the book, Fruita the Monster and Friends (with several characters in the story being plagiarized from a project that his Aunt Teresa was working on with her high school friends.) This might be the first story that he wrote from beginning to end, and in the back of the book, he included a short bio that ends with this statement: “I like art, science fiction, and scary books.” At 45 years old, he still likes “art, science fiction, and scary books.” That same year, he was also given a diary by his mom, which he still has to this day. This gift started his love of journal writing, which would become one of the traits that he is most identified with by those who know him. He always has a notebook with him, and many people try to do things to “get in” to one of Richard’s books.

Though he moved frequently, and he was FAR from a model student, he was usually placed in “honors” and advanced placement classes. For a time, in 7th grade, he was put into an 8th grade accelerated math course (only one other 7th grader tested into that course, but his mother refused to let him take the class because she didn’t want him to be considered an outcast. Apparently, Richard’s mom was fine with this possibility…) In the placement testing, Richard demonstrated an almost freakish ability to remember sounds. He was able to remember and recite up to 21 digits—BACKWARDS… (In the late 1990s, when he was working at a music store with thousands of CDs in stock, he bragged that he could remember just about every album in the store. He became known by customers as “the music man,” for being able to tell them the name of the song they were looking for by just a few lyrics and tell them if the CD was in stock!) Along with his weird memory, he also has some strange deficits: his left eye barely works, he is very sensitive to light, and he has almost NO sense of time.

In high school, Richard discovered alternative and punk music, skateboarding, subcultural groups, and self-publishing zines. (His first zine, “The Green Book,” was a collection of short stories and pseudo-goth poetry, which he and his girlfriend photocopied and handed out to friends in 1990.) He particularly loved literature and creative writing courses, and the world lit class that he took exposed him to philosophy and eastern religion texts for the first time. Although he was raised as a Christian, it was this exposure to critical thinking and alternative explanations for how life works that would eventually lead him atheism. (Bertram Russell’s Why I am Not a Christian might have been the nail in the coffin.)

After high school, Richard attended a quarter and a half at the local community college, (Lower Columbia College, Longview, WA), then dropped out. He would periodically take classes over the next eight years. He worked several retail and food service jobs, half-heartedly, and never for more than a few months per job, while spending a great deal of time going to concerts, hanging out with skaters and punks, dancing at night clubs and rave parties, and writing constantly in his notebooks. (These few years, from 1990 to 1993, were the “BRAIN DAMAGE” years.) Around this time, he began DJing regularly at house parties and events, making mix-tapes for people from his already substantial music collection, and taking notes, snapping photos, and recording people with mini-cassette recorders. He had a good time…

In January of 1993, at a horrifying drunken bash in Kelso, WA, USA, Earth, he met Mariah Ruth Clark (the only other person at the party who wasn’t drinking), and they are STILL together to this day. He and Mariah have two daughters, Francis “Frankie” Echo (born in 1993) and Elise Colleen (born in 1997), who are both grown-ass adults now.

Also in 1993, Richard completed an independent study project (under Dr. Peter John at L.C.C., now sadly deceased) researching the origins of punk culture. This research would eventually be worked into the course, “Punks and Poets,” taught by Dr. John at L.C.C. in the spring of 1994.

By 1997, Richard was working at a local record store (nearly 50 hours per week), DJing at a bar in Kelso, WA, on the weekends, helping raise a family, and reading Plato, Jung, Niels Bohr, and William James in the break-room of the record store during lunch. In 1999, he returned to L.C.C. for the 3rd or 4th time, and in 2000, he finished his A.A. degree, winning the Anthropology Student of the Year Award. In 2003, he left the music store to attend Washington State University @ Vancouver, where he earned a B.A. in Humanities (magna cum laude) with a focus in English and a formal minor in anthropology. He connected, in particular, with the courses on linguistics, youth cultures, poetry, and specifically, the course, “Gods, Demons, Witchcraft, and Possession” (taught by anthropologist, Dr. Claire Wilkinson-Weber.)

After WSUV, Richard moved on to a graduate program in English at Portland State University in Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete the program because of economic issues. The degree required 48 graduate credits, and he completed 63 credits without completing the foreign language requirement before the financial aid department cancelled his funding. He now has all the education and DEBT of a graduate program, but without the paper to PROVE he has the knowledge or skills…

While at L.C.C., Richard worked in the Tutoring Center. At WSUV, he became a tutor in the Writing Center. At Portland State, he was a Writing Intensive Course Teaching Assistant, T.A.ing for various science-fiction and lit classes, as well as a 140-student “History of Rock and Roll” course. In the latter class, he was allowed by the professor (Dr. Joel Bluestone) to deliver the lecture (to all 140 students) on the development of punk. The lecture went so well that Richard was asked to return a year later (after he’d already left P.S.U.) and deliver the lecture again to a new student body.

After the failure of P.S.U., Richard returned to WSUV and resumed his job in the Writing Center. While at WSUV he aslo worked as a T.A. for several English faculty; covered courses when instructors were absent; co-edited the Writing Center’s journal, Centerpoint, graded papers for the Business department; helped a number of M.A. and Ph.D. students to finish their theses; helped a few professors prepare their manuscripts for publication; and filled the walls of the Writing Center with paintings and drawings. He worked for the WSUV Writing Center for about seven years (and still misses that job and those people.)

Besides co-editing the Centerpoint for two years, Richard also participated in a great many artistic and literary goings-on throughout his academic career. He was the poetry editor for the Salmon Creek Journal literary magazine for a year; won an Ooligan Press flash fiction contest, and his story was included in the Flash Your Tale mini-zine; curated the Mobile Arts Road Show (the M.A.R.S. Project) postal art archive, which included nearly a hundred different artists sending contributions from over two dozen countries; had his zine, Phantom Conversation, featured in the 2005 Tugboat Press Best of Portland issue; had over 30 poems and short stories published in various online and paper literary journals (including Mad Swirl, Words-Myth, Yankee Pot Roast, Counterexample Poetics, The Salal Review, Word Riot, Clockwise Cat, The Calliope Nerve, and Vision? Nary! Magazine); taught the Youth Writing Workshops at the Raymond Carver Writing Festival in Clatskanie, Oregon, for two years, and was a judge for the kids’ poetry contest for three years; presented zine making workshops at the Clark County Historical Museum’s Richard Brautigan Unpublished Writers Festival (in Vancouver, WA) for two years; had paintings in a show for the CloudPainter Gallery (in Centralia, WA); sold several paintings through the Matter! Gallery (in Olympia, WA); co-wrote an academic paper on the evolution of vampires in film with Dr. Kandy Robertson (the Director of the Writing Center at WSUV,) which the two then presented at a Society for the Interdisciplinary Study of Social Images conference in Colorado Springs, Colorado, after which the paper was then published in the conference proceedings; and so on…

He has also edited (or co-edited) and self-published eleven books, as well as founding The Primitive Entertainment Workshop (in 2012), which is now his primary creative outlet (although he still DJs from time to time.) At the time of this writing (13 July 2018), he is still alive (mostly), still married (entirely), still the father of two grown-ass girls (women??), and about to turn 46 years old (grey).

He’s nobody…but he’s done what he could with what he had, and he still has more that he wants to do…

—Charlie Centipede