Today is the anniversary of my father's death. I have found it harder than ever of late to continue my fight. The simplest tasks now require so much effort. I don't know how to get past these people and their hate, their unity in their hate, and the methods they employ to make sure I do not reach the world. This is a discussion of a short story called "Hold Until Relieved" from Downtown last week. It's in Cheer Pack: Stories. Who will see that book that millions would love? How will it ever be seen?
I am about to depart to climb the Monument. On Friday, it was open for the first time in exactly two months. I climbed twice. No running, but no stopping, a good pace and my wind was good. This was surprising--last year after the layoff because of the closures I could not walk up the Monument once without stopping. The stone of the Monument is psychologically imposing when you are inside. Sometimes that narrow space feels like it rules you. It doesn't change, it looks exactly the same, but sometimes it is your master in there, other times you are fine. You're the master. If you climb once after a layoff, you'll feel it a little bit, if you climb twice, you'll basically not be able to move for a few days. Nonetheless, I resolved that I would push through the pain.
On Saturday I ran three miles, walked three, climbed once, then walked another five. These five I walked with my fourteen-year-old neighbor, Emma. I have mentioned her in these pages before. She has had some problems at school and with some life things and I am helping her. She is a gifted person. We discuss Jim Morrison's poetry, Tod Browning films, share poems and music and film links with each other--she leaves me lists outside my door--and Joy Division, and she sends me her writing. Her writing is already better than anything you will see in literary publishing. I have saved our texts, because they are fascinating, replete with insight and wit, and it comes from both sides. Her mom thanks me by leaving cookies and brownies outside, but there is no need to thank me. Emma and I went to the Aquarium together on Sunday, after I did three more climbs, walked a mile and a half, ran a mile and a half. She pointed out that the piranha had double chins. Then we got a coffee together at the cafe--well, she drinks black coffee, but she wanted chocolate milk this time, so I got her that--and talked some more. She knows I detest rice. Rice makes me angry. Yes, I know it's weird. So she pulls up her phone to send me a link for later, and I see that my contact photo is Kermit the Frog, and rather than it saying my name underneath, it reads Fight the Rice, with a superimposed TM above that. I said, "You trademarked it?" She said, "I did." Vastly funnier than anything you will see in literary fiction. Fight the Rice.
She is more articulate than any adult, she writes in multi-clause sentences that have true flow. I sent her take 1 of "Strawberry Fields Forever," to which she replied, "His voice is beautiful." We discuss, at her prompting, feminism, which she terms, "Not about equality at all--it's actually quite corrupt." She was born three months premature and weighed a pound. She had to be in an incubator for a couple months. She thinks she's very short, but she's not, being a tick under five feet. Her parents love and dote on her--you should see her mom's face light up when she talks about her--but I think it can be hard to reach such a person. Emma said to me, "You're the only person who helps me." She had her therapy session and told me after that it was easier to talk to me, but I think it is good that she has different people for the different things she is figuring out. I told her that she is very loved and people do everything they can, and sometimes it can be hard to have the know-how with certain things. It is, as her mother remarked, very strange that two such people should live in the same building. Emma and I were sitting at the cafe, and she said, "the thing about you is, well, among other things, is that you are hot and you know you are hot." I told her that a number of women had actually, not long ago, been saying on dating apps that I was ugly. To which she replied, "People are threatened by you." Most people are intimidated by me. And Emma worries that I will stop liking her, and worries about trying to impress me. I told her that she impresses me every single second she is herself, and I will always do what I can to help her, because I am her friend and I think she is smart, funny, amazing, and it gives me hope to know that such a person is out there.
I guess we are an odd little duo. She sends me notes in an assortment of languages. She said she didn't know how to tease me, which is ironic, because she is quite good at it. We're in the line at the cafe, I'm buying the chocolate milk for her, and she says, "How does it feel to be a grown man buying chocolate milk?" As I turn to look at her, the barista says, "Roasted by a kid." When we were sitting at the table, I notice her staring at me in a different way, so I ask, "What are you up to?" And she said, "You could do a lot with your hair. You could braid it"--which prompted her to grab three straws and show me how that would work--"or put it in a pony tail. Your princess hair." Because it's long. Princess hair. I told her that when a person is given more ability, they have to work harder. This doesn't mean she has to be a writer. She can be a doctor, a lawyer, a candlestick maker, a poulter. Anything at all. But I said that she came into this world with true ability. It wasn't her choosing. Someone or something else gave it to her. And the more you have, the more you have to learn to harness, to grow, to master. She doesn't send me acronyms in texts, she doesn't say "Um, um, you know you know um" when she talks. She wants to talk about The Devil-Doll, a film from 1936, which most cinephiles have not seen, but which Emma had. She has a fascinating mind, and a large heart.
This weekend we are going to see Detour together at the Brattle. I screened it the other day, and read the Goldsmith book upon which it is based. I have to write about the latter for The Daily Beast. I will also be writing about Donleavy's Fairy Tale of New York for them as the ultimate St. Patrick's Day novel. When I tell Emma something, when I show her something in her writing with my feedback, she learns it instantly. Naturally, I take pains with her I would not with someone else. Because she is someone who will do something with it. Last week after I was on Downtown, I gave her the galley for "Hold Until Relieved" that I had marked up--because I read a couple passages on the show--for her to keep. I also sent her "First Responder," despite the fact that I am banned at the VQR, where full-on discrimination, post-Ralph Eubanks (who was a great editor and a good person, who they forced out), is back to the Ted Genoways level (remember him? He allegedly bullied his managing editor into suicide; shot himself under a water tower). But more on those people later. They will get their own entry. But have a read of that story. Better than anything else you see, isn't it? That's the first story in Cheer Pack: Stories. That is what is what the publishing industry does not want you, the reader, to see. That is a magazine that has told that writer, who did that story for them, that he is banned there. Want some more? This is what that magazine publishes instead. This person, Lydia Davis--and this is all she writes, this kind of thing--is what the publishing industry calls the very best. So: Fleming hated and banned, Lydia Davis celebrated, awarded. Publishing is one Lydia Davis after another. That is what they are telling you is the best there is (of course, there's a great chance you stopped paying attention a long time ago, so in reality, this is what they tell each other is the best, in their world of constant auto-fellatio). And that is why no one reads. This is the system: Fleming bad, hated, banned, Davis celebrated, awarded, lionized. Have a read. There is not one objective third party on this earth who thinks that ridiculous Lydia Davis effluent is within a trillion galaxies of "First Responder." Lydia Davis received a Genius Grant--which is to say, a payment of $500,000--for writing like that. Her "incisive wit" was cited. That, in other words, is what the literary fiction industry calls funny. You think I'm making it up, don't you? But obviously those are the "stories," there they are. That is them in full. You're not reading the first paragraph of each or whatever. That is what she does. That gets you worshiped by these people, and it makes all of them publish you with your latest batch of your ridiculousness, and it gets you awards. As the act of reading is killed. Here's something fun: Monica de la Torre of BOMB--where I am also banned--once told me that if I said I did not like Lydia Davis's writing, she would not publish me. I went all the way to Brooklyn from Boston to see this person, and in a cafe that is what she actually said to me. That's what we're dealing with here.
I wrote a 2000 word story called "Cyclops." I don't think this person will mind me sharing their remarks--sandwiched here in the middle of this correspondence chain, which comprises three emails--two by me (the first which went a number of people, one by them):
Thanks for the kind words. You are actually the only person who said anything. As for this business, it's not about money. It's about ego and cliques and power and bigotry. They are usually independently wealthy. It's a vanity industry for a subculture. The genius, athletic-looking, self-made white male who is the expert on everything and produces more is the devil to them. I just checked my email going back to last week. There is not one thing here. This story is unpublishable, even for free. As are my books. (The irony being at the same time that I publish more than anyone; but it's against great resistance, and when I am in the very best venues, they make me pay--there is punishment after. Having fiction in Harper's was absolutely awful for me, because they all got their pound of flesh after that.) I think I mentioned to you that there is a policy at nearly every review outlet--e.g., The New York Times--not to review a book by Fleming. It is very difficult to keep going. I do not know what the solution could possibly be. I do know how singularly great this work is and I know that it could be loved by millions. I know the range of it, I know there's a lot of difference between "Cyclops" and "Hold Until Relieved" and "Sequentials" and my op-eds and my music writings, etc. There's a lot of difference between Dark March and "Find the Edges." But they hate me. They would sooner let their kids die of cancer if I had the cure than pay me anything for the cure. That's the un-exaggerated reality of these people and this business. And they're murdering me, day by day.
Again, brilliant. I don’t know how you can bring these characters to life in such short order but you do it every time. I don’t patronize people so it’s no bullshit when I say I just don’t understand your business...don’t understand how publishers aren’t lapping this up, as the greedy bastards I imagine them to be, realizing they could make a lot of money by getting this work out there into the world. I read a lot. For the show and for my own enjoyment and there isn’t much great writing out there but you have delivered with everything I’ve seen. I know it’s easy for me to say, but I hope you don’t give up.
Sent from my iPad
On Feb 21, 2019, at 6:38 PM, COLIN FLEMING Well, as it will be a very long time, if ever, that the world sees this story, I will share it with you, so somebody could have seen it. I wrote it today. 2000 words. This is what these people are depriving the world of. They're depriving them of all of it, and all of me.
This is how the story starts:
I had a moment of clarity at the Starbucks when the Spanish woman at the table in front of me started having a seizure and flipped on her side.
It was handy that the seat next to her was unoccupied, because with the one she had been in, they made for a bench. A bench that caught her.
I had spent a half hour a little before sitting on the hallway stair outside my apartment, wondering when I might get my fingers to move to tie my shoes. There comes in a time in your life—well, there came one in mine, and I’m not going to pretend that I don’t want even the people I say I love to have their version of it, so they’ll know what it’s like—when you don’t just stare at things.
You stare into them. Through them. Like you’re that guy in the X-Men comics. Didn’t he stare deeply as his super power? I think he did. I don’t care for comics. I joined a Facebook group about vintage ones though because it gave me one more thing to look at. When you’re alone, getting more alone, you need things for your eyeballs to go on. To go into. It’s like you’re eye-fucking something. Kids dry hump, but you get so alone as an adult, you can eye-hump. But no scratched corneas. Cyclops. That was his name.
I grow my hair out long when things get really bad and I’m doing a lot of staring at my laces. It feels like I’ll need a superpower to make my shoes stay on. Then my hair is so long I have to wear a beanie to keep it out of my eyes. At the Starbucks I tell myself to focus, so I pull the hood of my sweatshirt up, too. I’m encased. My head feeling warm like that in the winter is about the best feeling I have. Otis Rush was a blues musician from Chicago. I like him and listen to him at the Starbucks because he was loud and jazzy. He was heavy metal before metal and he was jump blues and swing after jump blues and swing. The way he plays the guitar is like he’s summoning these lines of lightning and moving them towards you in a manner that they’re not going so fast that you can’t decide what to do with them, to let one hit you or step aside.
I climbed twice yesterday and walked three miles. I sent "Pillow Drift"--the raw story, not a screenplay, which I've not turned it into yet--to a VP at Netflix the other day. I will walk to Charlestown and climb now for the fifth day in a row. On Sunday I had ran the first 100 steps each of the three climbs, so I am already pretty close to back to where I was, despite my legs being in a lot of pain, but that's dissipating. I came up with an idea for a story, but have come to realize, during runs, walks, and climbs, that that story may instead be a novel, or a series of novels, or all of the above. It's called "Wing Wax." Or Wing Wax. Depending. I screened The Devil Commands, a Boris Karloff film from 1941, based on William Sloane's The Edge of Running Water. Sloane's other novel, To Walk the Night, is perhaps my favorite novel, and it is a work I know I can make into a good television series. This is the list Emma left for me last night.