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Thursday 2/17/22

This is the 1500th entry in the Many Moments More journal. Felt like it was not that long ago we were talking about reaching the 1000th.

Ran 5000 stairs yesterday and walked three miles. Leaving the Trader Joe's I found a Berklee student's ID at the top of the escalator, so I brought it back downstairs to it in and then found the woman on Instagram and told her that the Trader Joe's on Boylston was holding her ID. Hopefully she got it.

The Celtics managed to come back to Boston last night with their nine-game winning streak and lose to a weak Pistons squad. Last game before the break, you need to win that game. The Pistons came to play, but these Celtics aren't exactly a mentally tough and focused team. They're a team that has talent, but even when you start to believe there's greater commitment, even just desire, they course-correct on you it seems. Or it could be a blip. But that's not the game that should be breaking your win streak.

Plan to start a piece soon on Sparky Lyle's The Bronx Zoo, looking at it as the baseball memoir we need in 2022. Jim Bouton's Ball Four remains heavily touted, but Lyle's is the best book. Of course, because it's not all dick jokes, less people understand it. There's a lot of valuable insight, though, that tempers the all-out analytics-based approach to viewing the game, which is pretty much the only way it's viewed now. Would be a nice start-of-the-season or summer piece.

Yesterday morning I worked on an essay about L.J. Davis's A Meaningful Life and a short story with a commanding voice called "Cancer Carson." There is not a single other writer of fiction now who in my view is capable of voice. The editors of The Paris Review bragged about the voice of this poor story by Sterling HolyWhiteMountain. It's just someone looking for attention by being loud. Reads like an all-caps version of a story that just doesn't happen to be entirely written in all-caps. It's forced, fake, bang-y. What a person who doesn't have a single edge and is all vaporous, hollowed-out center thinks is edgy or wants to. These people can't tell. They'd eat a plastic cake and tell you it was delicious if it came from the right kind of person--the right kind of person to them. That's not voice. Voice is indelible. Voice is never forced. You can't railroad a voice, commandeer a voice, will it into being. Voice is endemic to each work. You wouldn't have a "go-to" voice. The work conjures the voice if the work is true. I never know what the voice will be until it is made known to me. The work makes it known. It's always a surprise and it's always natural. And it is always indelible.

A truism of many outlets in publishing right now: if you write something alive, convivial, that is entertaining, funny, and which many could enjoy, you'll have a harder time placing that. But if you write a piece about some jazz saxophonist who has been dead for seventy years, they'll take that, because they think it's "learned" and "intellectual"--not they know the first thing about the subject--and these people are so conservative, for all of their social media shamming/masquerading otherwise, and insecure. The best ideas, the best works, the most engaging texts, are the hardest to get in front of the world, because of how these people are and their default settings. That's before we get into issues like hate, envy, and blackballing.

Another truism: because these people are typically not bright and they are insecure, they'll often favor work that is not good because they could do it. They want to think of bad work as good work because they themselves do the same kind of bad work. This work will be by other people who are also not bright and insecure. That becomes their standard of quality. Because of parallelism. Over time, the publishing person--and the academic--inverts everything. Good becomes bad, humorless becomes humorous, unknowing becomes learned. These inversions are embedded in them, and the inversions become the new form of what's a stand-in for reality. Everything is just something they say, on repeat. Nothing is anything they mean. They are people incapable of dealing in meaning. Were you to say to someone at a literary magazine, for instance, "Tell me what makes this piece good," they'd have nothing to say to you. There is no answer. They don't have any answers or reasons. They can't break down what a text is doing, what makes it efficacious. They'll get defensive, angry, because they know they're full of shit and that you know, too. They stutter various vagaries, mumble about everything being subjective, etc. Nothing in this world is subjective. Things are things. It's up to us to parse out the thingness of a thing, what makes it what it is. Good writing makes this very easy to do--for an objective third party and a good faith reader. Even if we can't articulate it--if the person speaking is not an expressive person--they know. You know it in your head, your heart, your bones. You can feel the surety.

You get a lot of people who have rendered and warped themselves such that they can't tell what is awful from what is remarkable. They spend so much time, too, in the presence of awful work that it becomes their status quo, their go-to. What they come to think of as good. Remember that Twilight Zone episode "The Eye of the Beholder"? These people become a product of their environment, being exposed only to bad work. It's also what they teach and what they themselves write. An objective third party will know. They'll know it plain as can be. But the publishing and academic person often won't. There is no vetting from the outside, no system of checks and balances, which is also a system of simple sanity, because no one outside of the community cares. Publishing provides little reason to. Publishing is only interested in selling to itself--the breeding, as it were, happens within the family. Then you're supposed to kiss the ring and pretend the three-headed, slime-coated baby is the most charming thing you've ever seen.


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