Visiting Chef: A Grim Reality
by Richmond West
August 29, 2006
One line I hope to use in an upcoming book is: “I shudder for those who are sure.” Once an aspiring academic, I
was far more certain of things back then than I am now; I had begun to abandon faith in any kind of spiritual reality.
Though still sympathetic to religion at the time, for I had taught world religions along with philosophy, I was still
pretty much agnostic, which I define in the sense of “not knowing”—as the root a-gnostic means—rather than as
apathetic toward spirituality, as in the term’s common-coin use. Though I still am a-gnostic, or not knowing, for I
believe any spiritual realities are ultimately mysteries to us, I lapsed at that time into apathy regarding spirituality
and unseen realities. My theology and philosophy teachers had taught me the importance of empirical verification
in all things philosophical. If one can’t verify something with the five senses, it’s nonsensical, at least according to
analytic philosophy. Furthermore, my teachers had taught me liberation theology’s wise concern: that looking to an
afterlife or a spiritual reality can cause one to lose focus concerning this life (I still think that’s an important point, if
not taken too far). And so I bought into the ideology that denied a spiritual reality, and I burned rubber on the fast
track to philosophical success. But I was in for some rude awakenings and soon became disenchanted with
academia. For instance, I ran afoul of “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law, leaving me bitter toward the
radical feminism I once espoused. To make matters worse, when I complained about this in my anger, I was taken
against my will into mental institutions on three different occasions, though I never posed any danger to anyone.
And so now I am bitter toward both the Sexual Harassment Industry (Daphne Patai’s phrase) and the Mental Health
Industry. And all this frustration culminated in the beginning of my writing career and in a supernatural experience
that I can’t quite explain: en route from California to Alabama, I stopped in Nephi, Utah, and saw a big black ghost
dog, what I later found out, through internet research, that many call a “grim” (And other names, such as “padfoot,”
as in J.K. Rowling’s wonderful depiction in the Harry Potter series.).
Though I cannot prove I saw this philosophically to any empirical skeptic, and of course I admit I could have been
hallucinating, nevertheless I believe I saw what my eyes registered. And it changed my life forever, rocking my
philosophical world and causing me once again to believe in and wonder about a spiritual reality. And I hope this
has brought me closer once again to God and to an interest in mysticism. Though I seem to be hitting three themes
here in this essay—“hostile environment” sexual “harassment,” the mental health industry, and a supernatural
reality—I believe they all connect on one point: the issue of ideological certainty and how skeptical I am that we can
To lead up to this, let me rewind to something like the beginning of my tale. Around eight years ago, I was a very
young college philosophy teacher, still getting my Ph.D., who believed all the feminist pedagogy about breaking
down barriers between teachers and students and not creating any hierarchy. Not knowing any better, I asked a
student out who had been very friendly to me, and I sent her flirtatious email, which I thought was welcome. I'll be
the first to admit now that I was naïve and that it was wrong, and that I should have been reprimanded for it. But I
thought the response was way too harsh, especially considering my age and experience: I was fired.
One of the things the sexual harassment officer told me which I think was very poignant: “You can't treat them as an
equal.” It’s a sad irony to me that radical feminist ideology would lead to this: not treating a woman as an equal.
The “poor women as victims to predatory males” stereotype just didn’t fit my situation. Here I was, pro-feminist,
sensitive nice guy, getting slammed. I still believe in postmodern feminism, because it respects and celebrates
differences, but I don't believe in radical feminism anymore, which squelches all differences under its own sexually
tyrannical regulations. I am a nice, shy guy who has to read books like "How to Succeed with Women" just to get up
the courage to talk to a woman. All I ever did was ask someone out and try to flirt, and I had to get up the courage
to try to flirt! I don't see how I fit the “predatory male versus weak female” stereotype.
A couple of years later in my Ph.D. program, I was in a relationship with a woman that went sour. Even though she
kept coming by my school, she complained and security accused me of doing the stalking (Since she kept coming
to my school, just who was stalking who?). Anyway, I was brought before school officials and forced to sign off on
my punishment without any due process. The school official said, "We won't get into a he said/she said discussion"
and threw me into counseling. I believe that just because I was a male and she female, I was automatically guilty. No
The school also kept the email from our relationship (don't worry—I am not ever going to be so naïve again as to
email anyone or put anything in writing), kept it in my own program's office, rather than move it to security as I
repeatedly requested. They said the file was sealed, but when I complained about how they treated me, the school
official opened the file to show the school president, even though there was nothing threatening about that email.
Talk about “hostile environment”—the school created one for me! I couldn’t work under those conditions.
Disgusted, I left my Ph.D. program without finishing my dissertation, never to return to that due process-denying
school. I feel my teaching career was ruined because of "hostile environment" sexual "harassment" law. Now I live
with my Dad and struggle as a writer.
For years, I struggled with intense guilt, feeling there must have been something wrong with me, that I must be a
terrible man. Then I read, after my experience with the grim, Daphne Patai's book Heterophobia: Sexual
Harassment and the Future of Feminism. I literally broke down and cried when I read that. Here was a woman who
understood what I had gone through! It is a powerful book that I recommend to anyone.
Quid pro quo sexual harassment I understand is wrong—after all, that's extortion and coercion. But as for merely
asking someone out and it being “unwelcome”—what is “hostile environment” sexual “harassment” law but a
punishment for the unattractive? It's bad enough to deal with being rejected—now you have to deal with
accusations being made against you.
Thanks to Patai, I now also have the courage to speak out against "hostile environment" sexual "harassment" law.
My next two books, Witch Hunt (set in the present) and Barrier (a dystopian, sexually repressed future), will deal
with this issue.
It still ticks me off! And besides that, I'm far less sympathetic to women now in many cases—boy, that really
advances the feminist agenda!
I thought feminism was supposed to be about tolerance, not zero tolerance, and about respecting and celebrating
differences rather than suppressing someone because of their expression of their sexual desires. I never harmed
anyone, but they sure harmed me.
But you know what? They weren't breaking me, they were making me. Though I'm still sympathetic to postmodern
feminism because I believe it celebrates differences, I'll oppose so-called "radical," fundamentalist feminism until my
dying breath. I was a pro-feminist philosophy professor until these things happened to me, but all this has left me
bitter. Sad thing when feminists crush would-be allies.
Because I was so angry about this and could often barely articulate it, all this led me to being put in mental
institutions three times against my will, the third time after I had seen the grim. One of the doctors expressed
concern that I was trying to be a writer when I should be trying to earn a living in the “real world.” And I’ll never
forget what one of the doctors, during my third incarceration, said to me, even though he had only talked to me for
a total of about four minutes:
“You are profoundly mentally ill.”
I suppose such a diagnosis is convenient to his pocketbook.
Two published books later, with two more on the way, I still disagree with their analyses of my inability to contribute
to society. Sure, I was undergoing a psycho-spiritual crisis at the time, since I had lost my teaching career, but I was
never a danger to anyone and had only articulated my views, bizarre though they sounded. Now I’ve gotten better
at explaining my views. Nevertheless, I find it disturbing that police would take someone away for mere verbal
expression of one’s views, when the law is explicit about someone being a danger to themselves or others before
treated in this manner. I wasn’t threatening or even speaking to anyone else. Once they even took me from my car
in a park where I was trying to get some sleep while traveling—I guess I didn’t sound very coherent when the police
woke me up. But who would? Ah, but we live in Orwellian times. Nevertheless, I’m glad these experiences happened
to me, for now I can write stories where characters find themselves unjustly placed in mental institutions against
their will, for I know what it feels like.
But all this brings me again to the supernatural experience I had off Interstate 15 in Nephi, Utah, a little over a year
ago. My dog Heidi, a yellow lab, was with me. As it was dead night, and I needed a place to sleep, I pulled into the
parking lot of what looked like an abandoned car wash. There was a chain link fence before me, apparently
surrounding a junkyard of some sort.
Soon I saw a big black dog moving in silence, like a shadow, between my car and the fence. I turned to Heidi and
saw that her eyes were fixed upon the big black dog outside. But when I turned back quickly to look at the black
canine again, it was gone. I turned back to Heidi, and she was still staring at the spot I had last seen the phantom.
Heidi wasn’t growling or barking, but she seemed paralyzed with fear.
Was it a spirit? Or was it something playing with my mind? I should have driven away, but I was paralyzed with fear
and stayed there another half hour before drumming up the courage to drive away. I knew not what was out there.
But I prayed to God for protection. Was it a ghost, consigned to this junkyard and protecting its turf? Or was it an
evil spirit taunting me? I can’t say that it’s evil, though, for all it did was to appear and disappear before my eyes.
Just a mysterious spectral image on a dark night…. I wondered if I should feel compassion for this spirit: was it
trapped? And yet, it was powerful enough to appear and disappear before me.
Upon returning home, I searched on Google for “black ghost dog,” and found tales of what is known, among other
things, as a grim. One site stated that other animals, especially dogs, are sensitive to them, just as my dog Heidi
was, and also that they protect travelers, which I was at the time. So I began to wonder if the grim didn’t have some
benevolent purpose—perhaps it was protecting me as a traveler, but from what I do not know.
However, I will never know what its purpose was—it will remain a mystery to me as long as I live on this earth. But I
will tell you one thing: though I remain a-gnostic, in the sense of not knowing what the greater spiritual mysteries
are, I sure pray a lot more now! If anything, it has brought me closer to God, or at least desiring to be closer to the
Power of Love and Compassion and more aware of a spiritual reality.
I also hope to put elements of the mysterious and the supernatural into some of my future writings.
Once I was so certain that belief in spiritual and magical realities was a philosophical fairy tale, something that just
couldn’t be proven with the five senses and thus was ridiculous to talk about. But now, I realize, as Shakespeare
once said, “There is more in heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy.” No longer can I be sure of
anything. So many people are certain about their ideologies, whether they be radical feminist and certain of what
“harassment” really is, even to the point of persecuting the unattractive for asking someone out, or ideologies
about what it means to be “mentally ill,” to the point of taking someone against their will when they have been no
threat to anyone and are merely trying to get some sleep in their car in a park. So certain are many in this age,
also, of a scientific, empirical worldview that eschews all things spiritual, all things mysterious. As I said in the
beginning, “I shudder for those who are sure,” for now I’m not so convinced that empirical science—or indeed any
ideology (such as promoted by radical feminists or psychiatrists)—can explain everything or possess the monopoly
Richmond West, born in 1969, is a "wonderer and wanderer," whose father was a United Methodist minister and whose mother was
an English teacher. Both of them imparted to West a love of fiction and religion. West got his B.A. degree in History from
Birmingham-Southern College, a Masters in Theological Studies from Vanderbilt Divinity School, and was ABD (all but dissertation)
in Theology, Philosophy, and Cultural Theory at the Iliff School of Theology and the University of Denver, which he left before
receiving his Ph.D. for personal and ethical reasons.
Richmond West has taught philosophy at Fresno State University in California, Red Rocks Community College in Denver,
Jacksonville State University in Alabama, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, and South University in Montgomery,
Alabama. He has always been fascinated by the study of religion and philosophy, his interests including philosophy of religion, world
religions, and environmental ethics. He also once served as a minister in the North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist
Church, but he was never ordained.
An empath and a loner, nothing really felt right in West's life until he began writing, and now he can't imagine what his life would be
without exercising such creativity. He has been writing since December, 2004. He is currently single--the love of his life is his yellow
To learn more about Richmond West visit: www.richmondwest.net or www.myspace.com/richmondwest