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A couple days

Monday 2/22/21

A pretty typical weekend, in some ways. Even harder than usual in others.


Was very difficult to hang on for three plus days. I know only despair. The hardest thing is the lack of hope. Knowing that what I do, no matter how well I do it, know matter how much of it I do, no matter what form it takes, and if that thing in each form is better than what anyone else has ever done, it won't matter. Doesn't matter. Doesn't help. That you could have the best thing that's yet been made by humans, and if people only want worthless crap, you don't have a chance. Then you are in a profession where the nature of your achievements and your ability makes you hated, envied, shunned, banned. The problem in the industry, the problem in the world. There is nothing else in my life, because this is everything I am.


I wrote many letters and sent them mostly to people who want me dead. I think about that when it is hard not to kill myself. I could not even look at the phone. It's hard to know how uncared for you are and unloved, and the apathy that awaits you almost everywhere you turn. The world does not want what I offer or what I am. When I did look at it I saw my sister was going to call the police to check if I was still alive. I mean, that's where it's at.


I came up with a second Easter op-ed idea. This one pertains to Chekhov. So, this Chekhov idea, and the sci-fi one. Both could work for this year or in the future if I can't do them this April.


Pitched The New Criterion about an exhibit of paintings centered around shipwrecks. Wrote this new music outlet called the Coda Collection. Sent a pitch about The Anatomy of Melancholy to The New Republic.


Walked three miles Saturday, five yesterday. It's not much. Yesterday marked 1708 days, or 244 weeks, without a drink. Went to Trader Joe's. Just forced myself to do these things. I think, "force yourself while you still can." I got some honey made by bees who only hang out around agave trees. Admittedly, I bought it for the narrative.


Sent Cheer Pack to a publisher who thought it worth looking at my cover letter for all of thirty-seven seconds. I watch as she puts out books by forty-something professors with fiction that no one on earth can understand, guys who have never made two hundred bucks off of their writing, who teach at small liberal arts colleges. Who can never be in a venue anyone reads, whose books sell 100 copies to their academic cronies. These people are worthy of the book deal at the imprint of the major. But when it is the dreaded, nefarious Fleming, there is no chance. The person who has done more in 2021 by any metric than these people have done or will do in their cumulative lives. It is very hard to write a cover letter at this point. It's probably the hardest thing there is for me to write. Because there is just so much. How do you begin to give a sense? Then you have the book, with the works from the places these people care so much about if the book comes in from anyone else, and then you have work that is art and is entertainment and is unlike any writing in the world today. It's not a slog, it's not some miserable, homework-like reading experience you have to fight to grind your way through. Thirty-seven seconds. She won't look at it again. And she never even looked at the book, nor will she.


I need someone with some vision. Not someone who only looks for a replication of what they know. A kind of writing they know. A kind of book they know. A kind of author they know. A kind of career they know. I need someone who can say and recognize, "This is different. This is unique. This is vast. The possibilities are endless. This is history." That's what I need. I need someone who can be comfortable with something that is totally new. A someone who is new. Who can look at that, and them, and understand, "This is what you hit the world with. In all of the permutations."


Came up with a sports op-ed idea, which I'll discuss to a degree with Kimball on Tuesday. And also All in the Family--have an op-ed idea for this, too, actually--and Ambrose Bierce and the Carter Family's "Can the Circle Be Unbroken."


Fell asleep early during the Bruins game. Watched large parts of Fritz Lang's Ministry of Fear (1944), Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker (1979), Mihail Kalatozov's Letter Never Sent (1959), James Whale's The Old Dark House (1932).


Listened to Led Zeppelin at the Boston Tea Party in January 1969, some Johnny Dollar, recordings Louis Armstrong made with Billie Holiday, Byrds outtakes from 1965. Downloaded the Stones at Madison Square Garden in 1969, a Stone Roses gig from December 1995, Kenny Burrell with Tina Brooks--maybe my favorite tenor saxophonist--at the Five Spot in 1959--both Stones Oakland shows from 1969, Dylan in Indianapolis in 1974, the Band at the Hollywood Bowl in 1970. I have all of this somewhere, but as my life is scattered and the things I care about not accessible right now, I'm trying to make a dent in downloading everything--thousands and thousands of things--and having it all organized on drives. Gives me peace of mind that I'm not losing anything. And it's about Rockport, too, having things I care about ready to go if I get back there. Right now everything is a huge, disorganized disaster. I'm not good at how this kind of thing works. The desktop was already covered with what must be 100 files I need to go through. I have page after page of lists in my notebooks for music I am trying to find and download in electronic form. I want my house back, and I want it to be meticulously organized, with my thousands of books, films, recordings, and the house on Cape Cod, too. So I tell myself to chip away at it now, and that I will get better at this and more comfortable with technology as I go along.


There are different ways I regard aloneness in the totality of my aloneness. I am starved for intelligence. Someone said to me the other day--and I know they didn't mean it, because years ago they reached the point where they just say things to me, with no consideration, the autopilot version of "you got this"--that there is someone out there for me. Right now. And there isn't. I know that. There is no one strong enough to go through this with me. If they could even understand the insane totality of this nightmare, what is set against me, the complexity and number of these forces. If they could even understand what I am. A person for which there is no precedent. But to then put a life on hold, to have this quest, the business of this quest, be the sole business of every single day, until the person undertaking that quest has gotten to where they are trying to get, or else died? The cause could well be the most worthy in the history of humans, but who is going to do that? Who could do that? Even within the traditional, limited definition of strength, people just are not very strong. You can't even hardly find someone who knows that it's "piqued" and not "peaked." On the most basic level of language skills. Even if I wasn't in this situation, I'm not someone who can be with someone like that. I need a person who is brilliant, complicated, dynamic, passionate but grounded, solid, stable, unique. As I said, I think about aloneness in various ways. I've not been touched by a human since 2019. By which I mean, a hug. A handshake. Two fingers on the shoulder. Anything. Not a COVID thing. Would have been the same either way.


On Saturday, I wrote a new short story, called "A Texas Time," which was about 1200 words long. There is no one who can take something in the news and immediately create fiction from it, which is timely, entirely of its moment, and also timeless. "First Responder," for instance, which was written two days after the bombings here in Boston, and before brothers were ID'ed as suspects. Story is about a Texas family of four, together in this emergency situation, as things turn very grim, dangerous. They have a place in their home to repair to, where they will be in close proximity, as various other issues and concerns bubble just barely under the surface. They're scared, but the son and the daughter were already scared, because of what was transpiring in their own lives.


On Friday, I worked on the page and in my head on a story from last year called "Wellness, Check." Not "Wellness Check." There's a difference--a world of difference with the comma, which is delineated in the work. Sans comma, an inspection of sorts--of care--is performed. The term is a noun. With the comma, it's as if one is ascertaining wellness in another, and then denoting that they are okay. There is looking out for someone else, and the metaphorical checking of a box that they are provided for, accounted for. The story is about two families, after a fashion. A girl belongs to both. Her immediate family, and her friends family consisting of another girl and a boy. Around the corner from where the girl lives, there's an air conditioner that is always on, even in the the dead of winter. What is occurring in that room because central to the story, as the girl is conflicted with where her assistance, such as it is, should go, because to be one way with one family is to impact the other in a less positive way.


The story was an absolute mess--2700 words of a lot of rubbish. What I did first was blow out all of the excess--just erase it (well, it exists in an earlier file, if someone later wanted to look at the "outtakes"). Then I identified the three or four really excellent aspects. Cut and paste those in some order--didn't have to be the right order yet. Just an order. Then I went away from the keyboard, and I thought. I have to crack a story. Once I crack it, I have it. What's really going to happen is that the characters will tell me their stories. One might even say it's simply waiting on them. Because that is always what is going to happen--they give it to me. And then I had it. I typed some words and phrases into my phone--I was in bed--that would be meaningless to anyone else, but they stand for exactingly specific things for me, and there I was.


On Saturday night, I lay in bed and I jotted down four lines in my phone. I knew I'd write a story about the transitions of life. How we move from one thing to another, one version of a person to another, a life stage to another in which we are different. Then I continued to listen to Johnny Dollar in the dark, as I though of more characters and parts of the story. Four more at first. I knew I'd remember them--once I have something that is integral to what I will create or the development of my mind, it is impossible for me to forget, and my mind always identifies what that is, always has, no matter how negligible that might seem to someone else. I think this, more than anything, is how I know there's a God, or something larger. Because this is larger than myself. I wrote these down, anyway.


Now, I didn't know what would occur with the story at this juncture. It could be something for Longer on the Inside. Suffice it to say, it was not. What it was--what it is--is a work of art that is as strong as anything I've ever created in my life. I get up, I go to work. The story is intervalic. The first section--phase--involves a boy who does not want to be a boy. His mother asks him if he is a girl. He says, no, he's a house, and a specialist is called in to build him into the design of their home. The next section has Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent backstage together in 1957. There is a different transition. The next section features John Clare and John Keats, who never met in real life, as we think of real life, but who meet in real life in a very different way.


There is a woman in the 1950s, who works in radio, in sound effects, with an ineffectual husband. She's talked down to at work. He doesn't encourage fighting back, speaks in platitudes like "People want to be around people who smile, not frown." She resolves this ineffectuality, and the way in which she is treated at work, with her work, her art. There's a man presumably in the present day, who works as a CPA, and plays hockey in the middle of the night in a men's league, and he keeps his stats--a kind of sad, futile thing to do--and we see why and why this matters to him.


We see a boy who is lonely and has few friends and sleeps over the home of another boy not so much because he likes him but because of a couple cats, and later we see this boy as a man, with a wife, with daughters, and a different relationship with a cat. The reader starts to get "leveled," if you will, with the Keats/Clare section, and it goes up and up from there. What becomes of this cat. There is another boy who has a friend and they hike together, and the first boy convinces his parents to buy a knife for him that is six inches long and can shatter bone. Later he is also not a boy, and he has a different relationship with the sharp-edged. There is someone who was Santa Claus who is not Santa Claus now. There is a man at forty providing the reasons why he cannot change, and there is a woman at seventy-eight who would seem less capable of change who is perhaps finding a way. She may be the woman of the last section, who is dying in bed, at home, family around her. And what she says--thinks--and knows and sees--well, as I was proofing this story, I was sobbing. The beauty, the wisdom.


There is this power move that would never enter the brain of another writer to do, not that they'd ever come up with a story like this. And that is when one section, deep in, is rendered in the first person. It's startling. It changes everything. Because now we think about who has been doing this assembling and weaving, and what they know. What they know about life and about us. Do they know all of these people? But it's humble, kept at a kind of ground level, too, given the nature of the first person section, and what that individual is contending with.


This was the letter I sent to the people I know with whom I first share my work: "I wrote this this morning. It's 3400 words. It is as strong as anything I have ever created. Even if I was not blackballed by these people--a complicated irony, in that I have already published like ten things this year--they would not know what to do with this. They would do nothing with it. What is required is simple, rote work that resembles other simple, rote work (by the right kind of person), or else they cannot handle what is in front of them. They won't even try to process the new. And what is this? What would you call this? What resembles this? A new bolt of a new kind of lightning out of a new kind of sky doesn't even begin to describe it. A little creativity takes things too far for these people. This story explodes the very idea of what true creativity is. It will also wreck you. The best I can do at this juncture of my journey."


The story is called "Transitionings."


I talked to the new webmaster--who has gotten the books page in working order, though the Scrooge volume will be added later--about the mystery of the notifications for this journal and why people might not be getting them. When I started this journal two-and-a-half years ago, I hoped that people would just come to understand the drill. That there would be a lot of new material, and if you went to the site on a daily basis, there'd likely be something new in the blog each time. After all, this record is now literally three times the length of Proust's In Search of Lost Time. I eventually realized that some people wouldn't come here without being prompted by the email notifications. Other people were annoyed by the frequency of them. I'm not sure those people ever really knew what was happening here. I suspect they thought that they were being spammed about a book or some such, because who would have new content every day? What I've learned is that I am painted with the broad brush of how it works for nearly everyone else. The limitations of others, are what are assumed to be my limitations. No one says, "But this person is completely different from everyone else."


Someone, for instance, would never consider that the world's leading Beatles authority could be the world's leading hockey authority. Let alone all of the other things. I don't get that credit, even though I have proven what I am. Thousands of ways over. Because we just don't think like that. But what is impossible for others, is not impossible for me. When people in publishing are confronted with this, when they can't deny it, they get angry, they get threatened. So what that means in this area is that very few people are now blog subscribers, and the people who do come here, come here without having a subscription. Strangely, when the email notifications are not going out, traffic goes down. I don't know why, because those people don't make up the bulk of the traffic numbers. What I'm told is happening is that if you don't click on one of those notification emails for like three or four notifications in a row, Wix--the host--makes your subscription inactive. Without your say-so. Which is contrary to how websites are supposed to work. No one should be able to subscribe or unsubscribe you without your approval. And obviously no business wants to voluntarily unsubscribe you on their own. No one would assume, either, that this is what happened. What they might assume is that the blog is not being updated. People being how they are now, won't take the time, often, to just go to the site and check. Some will write me, over FB messenger, and ask if I still do that blog thing, but they won't just go to the site and have a look if this record that was updated like 400 times each of the last two years is still being updated. We're trying to get to the bottom of this. Or, rather, the new webmaster is, because she's smart and capable in these matters, and I am not.


Last night I went to Caffe Dello Sport and had a hot chocolate and read this memoir called Ghostland and Tolkien's The Father Christmas Letters, which I'll include in Athena's Annex: Notes on Overlooked, Life-Changing Masterpieces.


So, another weekend.


***


It's later now. I walked five miles.


It was twenty years ago today that my father went into the hospital, never to come out. I loved my father--and love my father--very much. But if you had told me at the time that my life would come to be such that every day was filled with more pain, with not a day off, not a lessening ever, I'm not sure I would have believed you, based upon what I felt that day, and in the days leading up to his death, and in following. But not only would it have been true, it would have been understated.


As this round of books is being put to bed, I turn my attention to the books to focus on next. Complete Musings with Franklin. Get a contract for the Beatles book. See where things stand with The Office proposal. Find a home for Longer on the Inside. Send the essay collection. Find a press for the Joy Division book. First priorities. Other priorities: Cheer Pack, The Freeze Tag Sessions, Billie Holiday book, Athena's Annex, There Is No Doubt: Storied Humanness. Further back: jazz collection, book about African American musicians and white English bands. Order can change, but the way things have gone really make me think Franklin, the first Beatles book, Joy Division, and Longer have to be the focus of the focus. Be flexible, of course.


It's frustrating to me because the above paragraph leaves out so much--the jazz novel, Done Eden, successive volumes of Longer on the Inside, the follow-up to Meatheads, the other books made from the long stories, the memoir about endurance, collections of my nonfiction writings, the hockey book.


I know the title of the Joy Division book now. It will be called The Sounds on Dust: Coming Alive to Joy Division. I wish I had someone to write it for right now. I'm hopping to go. The subtitle of the book about Black musicians and English rock groups changed, but I have the whole shebang now. That will be called Blackened Birds: English Beat Bands and the African American Geniuses Who Taught Them to Soar.