by Bowen Craig
The debut novel, Tobias, by local author/mycologist/woodworker/entrepreneur/romantic/musical hermit, Chevy Mize, is, among other things, an exploration of the mind of the mentally-ill narrator, who may or may not be a serial killer. Reading Tobias is a multi-level experience: interior/exterior, the face one presents to the world/the face one hides, guerrilla psychotherapy, love, hate, revenge, lust, and the ever-present question, “Is this really happening?”
As we began the interview I noticed that Chevy was playing online chess “puzzles” where you jump into the middle of game scenario and plot out your moves as far ahead as you can.
Trying to summarize a book this complex is like selling car insurance using a British cartoon gecko…it’s maddeningly endearing, though it’s not so easy to pinpoint exactly why. Mize has written a gripping book about a serial killer, so gripping that it made me wonder just how “first-hand” this man’s research methodology was.
“You fantasize about murder to relieve stress. I committed murder to find truth. If you find these pages, my only hope is that by reading them you will see a side of yourself which was previously unknown.” – from Tobias
AthensUncharted: Chevy, are you, in fact, a serial killer?
Chevy Mize: Not as far as I know. (laughs)
AU: The page numbering system is unique and not exactly linear. Can you please explain?
CM: I felt a deep sense that the narrator had a strong tie to religion, and he attempts to rid himself of a devotion to God by becoming a god himself. Also the page numbers are mildly disorienting to the reader, giving a window into what it’s like to live with mental illness.
AU: Everyone who has read the book loves the scene where the narrator’s words are meant to comfort his messed-up friend, Eddy, where his thoughts are pretty much opposite of the words he says.
CM: I was trying to show how intrusive thoughts and thought-patterns can intrude. It’s a big part of my own OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), and why I started writing.
AU: Any advice for young folks suffering from OCD or having anxiety issues?
CM: Anything you can find that breaks you out of that loop is good. Remember that and do it when needed. I lose time when I’m not able to break out the loop. Some advice that was once given to me was about the difference between cows and bison. Cows run away from the storm. Bison run through it.
AU: I never would’ve thought to consult bovine behavior, but now I can’t get that image out of my head.
CM: Any chance I have in the book to say something that’s a window into the thought loops may be helpful to others.
Dealing with his Panic Disorder and OCD has been a lifelong process, but Chevy is a strategist by nature. Chess as an analogy for life has been around as a concept since its invention. The prevailing theory is that chess was invented in India in the 8th century by a queen of Ceylon (Lanka), but the history is, even now, not completely settled. No matter its origins, the practice has helped many people over the years, including Chevy Mize.
AU: Your name is, shall we say, unusual. How has that played out in your life so far? Since there’s clearly some local ordinance mandating it, Chevy was once in a band.
CM: When I was playing music at the old Rye Bar downtown I did my set and then went to the bar afterward. This guy at the bar looked at me and said, “I really liked your music, but your stage name is shit.” It’s my real name. The guy didn’t say anything else, he just looked at the bartender and I got a free drink.
AU: You’re a big environmentalist, in the real sense. You don’t just preach, you practice. If you had to say just one big Save the World idea, what would it be?
OK, so this is a change-the-world idea that Chevy introduced to me. Myceliam break down plastics. Mushrooms can save the planet. We have too much plastic, so much that dolphins no longer have to decide between paper and plastic, they just get caught in the plastic bags. We don’t know what to do with it all.
I felt the need to follow that question up with a musing about what other salad toppers might be able to save humanity. Chevy confirmed my doubts that cherry tomatoes will not, in fact, cure cancer and that, unfortunately, croutons have no effect whatsoever on Global Warming.
CM: Mushrooms are intelligent. The relationship between plants and mushrooms is interesting: the nutrient uptake and the system to break down things to make way for new things. Mycelium Bombing is the term for dispersing mycelia around garbage, mainly in landfills. I’m a fan of Tradd Cotter in South Carolina,
AU: You’re an intelligent guy, but also a rebel. That plus your mental issues must’ve made school whatever the opposite of fun is for you.
CM: For people who are really good at one thing school is hard. I was always terrible at math, but excelled at literature. I knew I was never going to do something with math, kind of like you know you’re never going to join the circus.
AU: Aaaaaannnndd, there goes my Midway dream of having the world’s bushiest eyebrows. You just crushed my circus fantasy, Chevy.
CM: We haven’t settled into our place. We still try to see ourselves as the owners of the planet, instead of the caretakers. We need to see ourselves as the stewards. Look at it this way. You buy a plant, you see yourself as the steward of that plant. You’re responsible for keeping it alive. You don’t own it. You can’t own a living thing. People don’t seem to grasp that.
AU: I don’t say this often, but your marriage seems like a good one. You two are the exact same people together as you are apart. Do you want to talk about that? Any marital advice?
CM: Without Britni I really don’t know where I’d be. She’s my intermediary between my mind and the world. I don’t understand the world without her. We first got together when we were nineteen. At first our communication wasn’t very good, but we honed this skill together. Now I know I can tell her anything that’s happening in my head. We’re both from families who swept things under the rug, but we wanted to do something different. Practicing a form of Radical Open Communication led us to a deeper understanding of each other and ourselves. Focusing on communication gave us an unparalleled sense of trust where all of the ‘what if’s’ are answered.
Interesting guy. Interesting book. Interesting philosophy. Interesting, period. If you’re the kind of interesting person who is interested in interesting interests, buy the book, toss some mushrooms into a landfill, and play a supporting role in saving the world. There are worse ways to spend an afternoon than saving the planet.