I think often (and am constantly terrified about this) over whether there is any place for me in this world. There seems to be--I find the evidence overwhelming--a sliding scale. The more intelligent you are, the better a person you are, the more alone you will be, the more hated you will be. Or, when hate is not present, there will be complete avoidance which will look like apathy, but it is rather because you represent what people most turn away from.
And this is what I am facing, what I am perpetually fronted with. It's how I can do great work and life will get worse, and support--which was always negligible--will go even lower. I texted John last night and said maybe I need to look at ending my life as a kind of life plan, a roll of the dice to take my chances somewhere else where maybe it will be better. Am I willing to take the risk? Could anything be worse than the quality of life I have right now? I said to him around Christmas that the only reason not to kill myself, and he had to agree, was if this changes. That is, if there was a guarantee that it was always going to be like this--and by the changes I say I need, I mean changes at a historical level, not changes like "Oh, I have a date," or "oh, I have been promoted at the accounting firm"; I mean, I need what my unique ability and talent and work deserve--he should support me in ending my life because why would he want me to go through five or six more decades of this?
And he said he wasn't going to agree with that because I was already on the verge of jumping off a building, which is not the point. It was more an acknowledgment of where things are. I prefer, especially now, to let things be what they are. I don't want to pretend they are something else. No matter how bad they are, I want to engage them as what they are. It's less exhausting. Just that one thing.
I did an experiment on Twitter the other day. No one follows me on Twitter. It's a few dozen people. (One must realize that even my friends and family don't like me. John likes me. There is really no one else. If I send a story to my friends, they are not going to say anything, save with rare exceptions. They are going to act like nothing happened. If I text one of them that I just received a note saying someone hopes I get AIDs and die, they will not even respond to the text. If I ask them if they'd like to see a movie, they won't respond. I've always been loathed, really. When you hear me on the radio, the easy way about me, the easy laugh, that's really how I am if you got a coffee with me. But throughout my life no one has really liked me. In high school I was very unpopular, even as a star athlete. If I post something on my Facebook author page, or Twitter, even my friends and family won't say "nice one," or "congrats." The toil this has taken on me over my life is not measurable. Even Emma doesn't like me. She likes that I do things for her and can help her with certain things maybe others cannot. But she would never think to actually be kind to me, or even ask how I was doing. She just takes. She's an art student. I've helped her with her writing, her drawing, all of her crises, her big questions about life. I've handled everything with tact and grace. With all I have to deal with. And she sees the cover of my book, and she can't even say a single word. Some people have asked me why I do everything I do for her, saying "she's a brat, she's not a good kid." But these same people do the adult version of what Emma does. They're no better. I hardly talk to anyone as it is. I have no one.) With what I do for my job, where I do it, it is scarcely believable that you could do what I do and not have hundreds of thousands of followers. But the truth is, if you have no online presence, you could be anyone, you could be an invented someone, you could have no public profile, and if you launch an account, you're going to accidentally pick up 500 followers.
I have published 2500 works in my life. You can't name something I have not been in. I publish constantly. There's the radio, there is the TV. And there is nothing. There is less than anyone else has. That's almost literally true. If you go on Twitter, you will not see someone with as few followers as I do. I don't mean people who write Wall Street Journal op-eds. I mean people who live their lives, and so far as the internet goes, under a rock.
My experiment was thus: I happened to see a post about Chris Sale, the Red Sox pitcher. The Tweet shared a link in which Sale is quoted blaming the Astros and their sign stealing for his poor postseason performance against them.
I decided to post a comment. I said that maybe the fact that he is a bad postseason pitcher had something to do with this. A response followed. The response said something like, "Tell that to his perfect inning of 3 K's to win the World Series."
Many--many--people hit the like button for this response. Some people posted images of children with special needs to make their point that...well, we all know the point they were trying to make.
First of all, look at the comment. "To win the World Series" implies that this performance by Sale had a huge deal with said winning, that he in effect won it for the Red Sox. That's what is happening at the level of the sentence. But leaving that aside, because it's not that important here (none of this is important, but that goes along with my fear, that nothing is important in life anymore), there is the context of the appearance. The Red Sox were up 3-1 in the series, it was the bottom of the ninth. Sale came in for that one inning. I felt he came in because he wanted his glory-time photo-op, to be the guy who would be on the highlight reel for years and years, or the cover of the video game box. We always see those clips of the last out of each World Series, the catcher jumping into the pitcher's arms. It was a low-leverage situation. The series was over at that point. Sale had been putrid throughout the entire postseason. I felt it was selfish of him to lobby the manager to go in for this occasion. They won despite him.
In four postseason series, Chris Sale has an ERA of 5.76. That's a fact. That's not only bad, that flirts with being historically bad. Even in this World Series, with his perfect inning, his ERA was 5.40. Again, a fact. These are not recondite facts. As the so-called ace, he was called upon in series to start the first game. Usually he got shelled. But 100 people wanted to think something else that had no basis in reality.
And I looked at the profiles of these people, as part of my experiment. There were blue collar people, white collar people, ratchets from Fall River. Construction workers, grad students, a professor, a scientist. It was a decent cross-section. And I looked at the number of followers each had, too, these very stupid, basic, morons, really. What else can you call them? Posting photos of people with special needs to mock someone who said something factually true, banding together in their glee, their hate. And every last one of them had 500 followers, 4000 followers, and the smart person, the genius, with the interesting, insightful takes, the knowledge, the humor, all of the fancy places they write for, the books they do, the radio, the TV, has a few dozen followers. And these people weren't even trying. And none of them had a public face or persona.
So, to wrap up my experiment, I engaged. I wrote how I write, I mentioned the above stats. And you know what the response was? Well, to me there was nothing. People think, "He's smarter than I am, I'm not going to say anything, I don't want to be embarrassed, I fake everything in my life, including having a clue, I can't fake it with this guy and get away with it," so they stand down, but they boil with hate.
There was one single comment in response. A very gingerly expressed comment by someone who said, "Four series isn't very much."
I was nice to them. I am not a mean person. I am not a confrontational person. If you take it there, I will destroy you with words, because I can and it's easy for me, but I don't want to. But as for the sample size: It's not a lot? Seems like it is. Ted Williams was branded a poor postseason performer--he's still talked about that way in baseball history forums on the web--for one series. But okay, you can try and split that hair if you want. This wasn't deep thinking or being smart on my part. It was just not being totally ignorant.
Extend that further to the times when one is amazingly smart, and with people who base their entire identity upon thinking of themselves that way, as in publishing, where most people are less invested in reality than these people I was dealing with on Twitter, but want to maintain their elitism.
And along I come, someone infinitely beyond them in the areas they want to be seen as formidable. It's like I said before--I am shot dead through the head in my car on the way to the rink. I never get to play the game. I never get a chance to take the opening face-off. The work has no fair chance, it is given no chance, it is done, and I am done, often before a word is read. And when a word is read, it's obvious right away that I don't write the meaningless bilge--so often bad, robotic fiction about robotic professors--that is all they trade and traffic in, better yet with a coating of cronyism and the chance to back someone who represents their backwards anti-writing, anti-creativity, anti-reading system.
Yesterday someone jumped on my Facebook author page to swear at me and tell me how much I sucked. They used the word "heteronormative." If you use that word, I know there's a there's a great chance you self-medicate, you are broken, you have no identity. If you're a literary magazine editor talking that way there is a great chance I represent the devil to you, more so the more you learn about me, that I am real, that I am legit, I know about all the things you don't know about that you think it'd be cool to know about, that you want so desperately to say you know about, but you don't know about anything. You know about perpetuating your system, but that's not knowledge of anything. That's fear and sloth and a lack of intelligence and cowardice and the un-examined, un-lived life.
You want to call me a racist or a misogynist because of how I look (often because you are a bigot and misandrist), then you learn what I write about, you see the person I am, the relationships I have in my life in terms of what I do for people, and you have to conclude that I am the polar opposite of those things, the guy who looks like a hockey player, who is smarter, and more productive, and more accomplished--who is more accomplished based off of one week of his career than many decades of that other person's, despite that other person being helped along, and this person hated and discriminated against.
I was being called out for the Daily Beast piece I wrote on Netflix's Dracula series. And my "crappy ass articles" in general. I clicked on the person's page. An unstable individual who self-publishes vampire romances with those covers you get with romance novels. But in this case, self-designed photo-shopped ones. They told me that there were homosexual themes in Dracula, and cursed me out for not doing my research. They also spoke of Bram Stoker's "filings" and how I should look them up. I have no idea what this means. His corporate filings? His filing cabinets? Did he file Henry Irving's taxes? Drunken gibberish.
I have a rule. If I believe that anyone in the world knows as much about a subject as I do, I won't write on it. Which means, yes, I think what I think about myself and the subjects I write on. What's more, I can say that right out in the open, because the work backs up what I think, and the volume of it, too, in each subject. I don't think anyone has ever heard me on the radio talking about God knows what, and thought there was anyone who knew as much as what I was talking about. I think if you took a stranger off the street and said, "listen to this, this guy is the world's leading expert on silent film comedies," or hockey, or the Beatles, or Duke Ellington, or Victorian literature, whatever it was, and that's what I was talking about at the time, there is no way that listener would be like, "doesn't sound that way to me." I have written about Dracula and vampire-related works often. I wrote recently about an early draft of Dracula, in fact, for The Guardian. They still owe me money. I wrote about Bram Stoker's journals for the VQR. How many times have I discussed vampire films on the radio? I just wrote a vampire story the other day, too, called "Tulum," an entirely new mode of the form, which steps clear of the form.
But here was this person, on a Monday night of a three-day weekend, swearing at me. When the people in my life who ought to be on my side can't manage to go on there and say word one. What worries me a lot about this kind of thing is the total lack of reading comprehension. The piece got into the whole homosexuality aspect. I worry--again, I am terrified--that no one can tell anything anymore. Success then becomes about how many people are going to say you are great, then sheep saying bah. Help you. Put you forward. I am hated. No one is going to help me or put me forward. I am entirely dependent upon my work being able to be seen for what it is. By lots of people--millions of people.
My work is my ride, my gateway, the road beneath my feet--there is nothing else, I will have nothing else, because no one is going to bang a drum for me, never mind thousands of people in this twisted industry coming together to work in concert to get me out there. And what I am seeing is the greatest artist of all time has less support and followers than a grub under a rock because they are all about the work, and they have no support. Publishing is not going to support me. The industry is going to continue to do everything it can to make sure I have no coverage, no awards, no opportunity, unless a time comes when publishing has no choice, my name and its value simply wield too much influence. Then people in the industry will give me anything I wish to have, but they won't like it. Even if it makes them rich, I suspect they won't like it. I make them feel a way about themselves that they hate, and I invalidate all of the illusions they so desperately have to maintain.
The person who swore at me wanted to see something and so went ahead and said what they wanted to say. The work had nothing to do with it. And they couldn't see, either, that writing someone and swearing at them out of the blue maybe doesn't make them such a great person. Now, I know this person hates themselves, they are probably completely unstable, but that doesn't excuse this. I ask myself how such a person lives with themselves. John will say that they are a freak. Yes, they are. But as I said to John, that is now so many people. And this is the problem. If you send me to a world where everyone is reasonable, smart, and it's a full-on meritocracy, where you have the very best artists and minds competing for spots, I can dominate. It's Keats, it's Beethoven, it's Shakespeare, I know I can beat Keats, Beethoven, Shakespeare. I know I can beat them handily. And I know the people in that world will go mad for the work.
By this I don't mean that the world currently should go mad for Hamlet. The language was different, it's almost like learning a different language. But I don't write in the language of the 1500s. But does it follow that if I would dominate that world, I would be completely invisible in this one? Because this world is the opposite of the one I just described. The greatest artist of all time, dependent upon on his work, would, in the twenty-first century, be less supported--followed, if we want to use the Twitter term--than any random person out there in the world who just happens to create a social media account. Because that is almost literally what is happening. And what also bothered me is that this broken person, who sought to attack me, never even figured they might try a Google search first.
What a lot of people assume if you write a high profile thing is is that you've never written about it before. They can't tell your expertise from what you've written, because they can't tell anything, and I worry no one can, or not enough people to add up to my would-be millions of fans. Just as if someone sees me write about one thing, they will not even allow in their minds that I could turn around and be an expert on something wholly unrelated (though I would be able to trace a relationship between the two; jazz, hockey, ballet, naturalistic Romantic poetry, and the Golden Age detective novel really are not that different). This is also a key point: the person doing the attacking knows nothing about anything. That is almost everyone now. There is no expertise. What people then do is project. If you are writing about a subject, they assume you were told to, knew nothing about it coming in, and then it's time to pull up Wikipedia. Because that is how it would go for them. They can't even conceive of dipping into the many chambers of expertise in their brain and finding an idea they might write about, on a subject they know everything about, then pitching this idea, along with 100 others, to many editors, only one of whom, maybe, will respond--but they will hook up their talentless friends and system people. That's how I get everything I get.
So do you see? We have become such that it never even enters most people's minds that you could actually know something on your own, going in. And most people don't. Over the weekend I saw a woman bragging on Facebook--she's a freelancer--about a piece she wrote when she went to an event where Millennials brought their dogs and dressed them up in like sweaters and turtlenecks. And she interviewed some of these people. You should be embarrassed to brag about it. That's not writing. And I get that it's honest work, but that's not how she was presenting it--she was presenting it as "behold, my writing," and then 450 of these people--again, the same people who want me dead and would never let something through with my name it, let alone support me, review me, cover me, award me--swooned in praise. Which I love to see, given that my own people say nothing, including people I have done so much for, even as I am in this situation. Any person in American who is literate could have written this piece. That's what freelancers do. (And, come to think of it, staff writers.) They show up, they write stuff down, they put it in a piece. They watch the cold open on Saturday Night Live, they say a few things about it in a piece. It's not what I do. I write for lots of places. But I am not a freelancer. There is a huge difference.
And they're not even really reading, this person who posted their note. They made up their mind and they already made up their mind about attacking. But you're so bad at attacking that you don't want to minimize your chances of making an absolute ass out of yourself? Because I could have clubbed this person with my achievements in what they might call a field. There are not scholars of Stoker or Dracula who study nothing else in life who can touch me in this area. And we can do it with hundreds of areas. And you can say that's not possible, no human can do that, and what can I say but, yeah, sorry, this one did, and you can read it all. Because I did do it. I do it. I am what I am, and as absurd and impossible as that may seem, there it is. And being that person is ending my life when it should be the daily source of so much joy and glory. Like I create works of fiction that are unlike anything ever done. I know what they are. I know what the innovations are. And John has said, "We should be having joyous conversations about the art, about something new you invented when you stood in the shower and then wrote after, which the world has never seen, which opens up worlds, but we talk about these people who hate you, who publish the shit they publish by their friends, who are not going to let you through even if you could cure cancer for a dying loved one." He's right and what to do about this situation/reality is what we talk about. I get so sad and depressed when I create a great work of art that is better than anything ever written. I get so upset. I hate it. I know what is going to happen to that work, because it is so good and it was done by me. And it is going to have no chance with them for those two reasons.
The other day I was on a dating site. Pointless. A woman writes me. She thought it was okay to say this: "Well, at least it seems like you have half a brain."
I cannot imagine addressing someone out of the blue this way. I cannot imagine being that entitled, that sexist, that arrogant, that flat out stupid. Another woman writes me later. She asks how my experience has been. I say enervating. She says, "LOL what." I mean, shoot me in the fucking head. I share the anecdote of my alleged half-brain from earlier in the day. And you know what she says?" "At least she tryed and came up with a pretty good line LMAO."
This is most of what is out there.
I saw this morning that Aubrey Huff won't be invited to any of the San Francisco Giants' ten-year anniversary celebrations for their 2010 World Series-winning team. I was in San Francisco for ESPN a couple years later, when I had my stroke. You can go months--six, seven, eight months--on something like Facebook without seeing a single sane, smart comment. Or just something that doesn't smack of the desperate abyss within. The cry for attention, for validation. The anger, the self-loathing. And then there are all of the people who write shitty books who comb through their list of newly acquired friends each day just so they can send them a request to like their Facebook author page. These aren't humans. They have flesh and arteries, but this isn't a human. You see how so many people depend upon animals for their relationships, their emotional sustenance, these little twelve pound dogs, because they are otherwise totally alone. In the real ways. Alone without even themselves. And the insanity they post about things that don't matter, like some shitty story they will never write but how they'll talk about it at AWP, and craft exercises for their shitty writing, and photos of the night's sky at Bread Loaf where they talk more about shitty writing they will never do that no one in the world needs. And then Twitter is a cesspool of hate. The same people who hold the door open for you at Starbucks, who look normal, are the same people who take to Twitter and there is nothing they will not throw hate at. Someone's parent dies, they say good, I hope you are hurting. Sick fucking people. And it's such a large percentage. It's not some regrettable splinter faction of society. It's the norm.
I read through some of Huff's posts. This is a seriously bad guy. My first thought was for his two sons. You don't want to have a father like this. That's not going to be good for you. Huff is kind of like a soldier of Satan, but a low-level soldier. Satan wouldn't trust him with devising battle plans. He's too stupid. But he can make some trouble, in a skirmish-y way. (The Satan I think of as Satan is the Miltonian Satan. Complicated guy. If presented with the opportunity, I would absolutely get a latte with him. He's less evil than tragic, though he also isn't exactly anti-no good. And he's very articulate.) I wonder if Huff is a closeted homosexual, given the tenor of this posts, how much he brags about the size of his penis and the women who love to suck it and get fucked by it, and then there are these dabblings in art. He sells these stick figure drawings and you can tell selling them helps him have some kind of validation that he seems to need. He's defensive about this art. And he is one of those classic over-compensate people with the sexual thing. But leaving that aside, he's vile. The Giants really had no choice but to not invite him. But here is what I thought immediately: Why was he on your team then? Because there's a reasonable chance he was even worse--or as bad--in the clubhouse. But he helped them win, so it was tolerated? Or maybe he kept all of that back, because he's a fake tough guy, and only plays tough with a computer screen in front of him. I don't know.
But I do know that people went on Twitter and said it was because he voted for Trump. The people I describe above, in publishing, people so oriented around discrimination, always vote left. While saying what a bad person Trump is. So what does that mean? Because almost all of them are worse than he is, in the ways they ascribe to him. So what am I supposed to think, knowing what I know? I don't care who you vote for. I can look at any of that and see reasons to do it, and reasons not to do it. And I see a lot of ignorant, lazy people who have no clue about political science or laws or the issues of the day, the workings of the tranches of government, but they have knees, and those knees jerk fast, and they have agendas, and inner sicknesses they need to project rather than work through. But some people look at these posts--and they are bad--and say eh, it's about the fact that he voted Republican. What does he have to do? Would Aubrey Huff have to disembowel a woman in front of them with a blunt knife for them to begin to clock on to what the real issue is?