New week starts, so let's play another edition of The Week Game and look at what was done in the week that just concluded. As we say here: my week is your career. (Speaking of the publishing people.) And that's before we get into the quality of everything. Because last week, I wrote the best short story, the best music piece, the best film piece, the best op-ed, and was better on the radio than anyone has been. And wrote the best journal entries, in these pages.
I read parts of "Swoony and Moony," the Cooke, and the op-ed to various people. They raged with anger. Because as a couple of them said to me, this isn't just the best work written, it's by a margin that is not quantifiable, everyone who reads it knows it, and subjectivity has been taken entirely out of the equation. Put any of these works next to any other piece of fiction, music piece, film piece, op-ed, and they destroy it. It's impossible to say that that other piece is better. This industry is doing what it's doing, in its bigotry, to someone who does this, at this level, with this range, every single week. That is why David Remnick of The New Yorker hates and fears me. And Scott Stossel of The Atlantic. And Christopher Beha of Harper's. And Ann Hulbert of The Atlantic. And Emily Stokes of The Paris Review. And Sigrid Rausing of Granta who champions plagiarists and rapists. My work and the person that I am--on regular and consistent display in the millions of words of these pages--proves the level of bigotry of these people. And there is no subjectivity there either. Why do I "risk" saying this? There is no risk. These people have proven themselves to be dead set against me because of that bigotry. But it's not going to matter. It's not even going to keep me out ultimately from anywhere I wish my work to appear. Change is coming. The truth is outing, my work is what it is, I am what I am, and these things are obvious and undeniable. And a time will arrive when all of these places are going to need me more than I need them. Hands will be forced. And also people will be gone, and never heard from again.
Funny remark to me that someone made about Remnick last week: "He looks like a cadaver fished out of a creek. That gray color. I'll see him pop up giving an interview on TV, and he's just nothing. He's arrogant, boring, not intelligent. Condescending. He's so achievable. No one would watch him and think he's any kind of superlative. You'd just think that you could be this guy with the right connections, because there's nothing to him. Can you imagine how you make him feel when he sees what you do?"
* Worked more on "Swoony and Moony," as strong a story as I've done. I'll reread it again and make sure there's nothing more to do, but if there is, I'll take care of it.
* Wrote first 2300 words of new story, as yet untitled.
* Wrote feature on Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers' "Jesus Gave Me Water" for the Library of Congress.
* Wrote feature on Buster Keaton, finishing it yesterday.
* Wrote op-ed on subject of fun which completely redefines and redesigns the concept.
* Worked through first chapter of book about Tod Browning's Dracula in head.
* Began to assemble possibility list for S/He/R/Me: Becoming Story.
* Half hour Beatles interview on the radio.
* Put up eight entries in these pages.
* Ran 5000 stairs Thursday and 5000 yesterday, for a total of 41,000 stairs on the week, a personal best. I run those stairs so I can stay strong enough to beat these bigots.
There are other things. For instance, dealing with a childish individual who grinds me down with their neediness and insecurity that manifests in this very petty hostility that wouldn't be there with anyone else. I tell myself, "You'll be able to do what you want to do here later. Just muddle through now." Others echo that as well. But it's wearying on top of everything else with which I have to contend. This attitude is emblematic of the attitude--which is really a stance against--that nearly everyone has towards me--again, because of what I am--and this case--let's call it a case--is one of the "better" ones. People tell you that time is the most important commodity. It isn't. Energy is. Energy is what actuates your time. There are people like this who I can't let take my energy from me.
I have conservations at length with someone who has known me for twenty-five years, about their belief and insistence that I will go from someone who's been disliked and hated his entire life--which is true, certainly--to being loved by millions. We go round and round, because I see that greatness is the enemy of success of likability, more than anything. I know that. I don't know how to solve that problem. The greater someone is, the more they will be disliked. In the times they won't be disliked, the best case scenario--as it has played out for me--is they won't be supported. I have no support in this world. It's an industry-wide and worldwide embargo. You see it with the Blue Check Mark and the 200 followers. It's not that this person is not more interesting than anyone; this all happens because they are. And what that person is--that this is what they do every week--threatens almost everyone, because we compare. We measure ourselves against others. It takes a very secure person to be okay with the gulf between me and them. They don't have that gulf with other people. With me, it exists in every area. Even the far less consequential ones--the stairs, the going to work every day at 4 in the morning, the non-drinking. None of that stuff compares to the work, the quality of it, the range, the huge amounts. My strength. This is a man completely alone, hated, shunned, banned. I haven't even had a date since 2015. I am completely alone, with everything against me. And I get up and I keep going, and I get better everyday. I produce work for the ages of everyday. I fight this war, alone. There isn't a single venue in the world that will cover my work. Anyone who reads this entry alone, knows how good that work is. And the track record. No one can match it. And I'm being punished, my entire life taken from me, because of all of that.
My mom is dealing with some stuff, so talked to her a bunch. Walked however many miles--it was probably ten.
More amusingly: I was running my stairs yesterday, when this comely--most comely!--college student came over and asked if she could run with me and ask some questions for her school project. Of course you may run stairs with me, super comely college student, thought the C-Dawg. So, we're running the stairs, and she's asking me about advice I would have given my younger self, and it becomes this conversation on growth, art, finding one's route, faith, a capacity for wonder, etc. She's all, "This is...wow." I had heard her approach a couple other people, and you can imagine the dumb things they said. Actually, this guy dressed up as a Colonist declined to participate. You'd think he would have been rarin' to go. But the best part was when she said, "This is really hard," and was sucking wind, and I'd just been talking, not even out of breath. So I said, "Come on! An athletic person you like?" I'll just say it: she was smoking hot. Then I went to Haymarket and got peppers and berries like I do on Fridays for my heart.
And on that subject of late, lamentable quality of subjectivity, I submit this excerpt from the Sam Cooke piece. How are you going to write that well? How are you going to do that? How are you going to compete or get close to that level? But because I can do this, and because this is what I do every time, with everything, is why this is happening like it is right now. This is why there is no support. Blackballing. An embargo on coverage. It is because of the fear, the envy, the knowledge of what this other person is. I have proven what I am and it's not possible to deny. There's never been anything more backwards in history. The day is coming though, because of what I do every week.
Cooke was never a big falsetto guy, but he goes there early in this song, voice climbing the path up the mountain, hitting the altitudinous notes. Every word he sings seems to set up a yet-more-powerful rendering of the word “water.” Cooke is wassailing just as Christ the man—not the crowned deity—went a’parabling. It’s a Cooke-ian carol in the manner of “I Saw Three Ships,” Go Tell It on the Mountain,” and “Ding Dong Merrily on High.” These are also sun-splashed odes of soul and celebration, of the thirst that is quenched, the faith in one’s self either initiated, or restored.
Water does this curious thing when a drop of it falls, which we often don’t notice. But next time you’re sweating or crying, watch what happens when a droplet of your essence falls and hits the side of a surface. We expect it to be absorbed, to puddle, make its small splash, but that’s not what occurs. The water bounces. It makes this horizontal break, like a hummingbird shifting in mid-air, and it continues on to another plane. One could say that even our tears attempt to cheer us by underscoring the power of possibility and the undercutting of expectations. All is not lost, all is not pain; we travel on, same as the water born within us, and now borne in the world.
Cooke builds his water, we might say, in this song. He’s working towards a payoff, a release, the same as Handel does with the word “amen” at the close of Messiah. We get there when Cooke gives up the ghost of singing lines as we’ve previously thought of lines in song, and just starts saying the word “water” again and again. It’s the sound of that horizontal movement, the bounce off the surface’s edge, and on to whatever is bigger, brighter, the eternal and holy—and humanly secular—Next. Our faith as humans is bound up in that Next. That which follows, and the hope—the water—that gets us there.
Drink heartily, this boy just out of his teens says to us, sings to us, communicates to us. And then drink again, my brothers and sisters.
And then the shit that these people award, hype, put on their ridiculous "Ten books you need to read this summer" lists, publish. That no one likes, no one cares about, no one reads, or wants to read, shoved out there just because it's by a certain kind of talentless, lifeless, entitled person, which is exactly what the people shoving it out there are and why they do it. And they make it so that no one on Earth cares, so that they can get away with it, and just keep humming along like this, without having to be good at anything, and being as evil as they wish to be. That's the real reason why what comes out comes out. That's what puff pieces are for, and Guggenheims, and Genius Grants. Nothing else. Not a whit of it is real or based in the reality of what the work actually is.
Continuing on with the "subjectivity is irrelevant" theme. This is from the Keaton piece:
Keaton was a quintessential American artist, something we don’t have anymore, though a surfeit of them—or just one—would serve us well. I don’t mean in the Woke way, the anti-Woke way, the leftist way, the conservative way. All of that constitutes trappings, and trappings don’t last. They get transcended and moved beyond, often with a rapidity that people don’t expect, though it happens repeatedly.
The quintessential American artist is a protean, power artist. They were modernists before modernism and beyond modernism. They are an amalgamation of styles, voices, selves within a prevailing self. There’s Melville, Thoreau, the oratorical Lincoln, Welles, Louis Armstrong. Listen to Armstrong play “West End Blues” and the solo he takes. It’s “against the rules,” and it answers only to this person’s imagination and the possibilities of that imagination. Keaton’s The General is the same way. It celebrates a love of a thing—the train itself—which is shocking in this age when so many people go on about de-cluttering, and minimalism, and experiences over things, which becomes this kind of rhetorical cover-up for the reality that people don’t have that much in their lives. I remember when you started seeing all of these Zoom in-the-home interviews after COVID first hit, and thinking, “Does anyone own a book?” These empty, bare rooms. Where was the evidence of interests? A hobby? Anything beyond the screen of a phone?
Keaton was an artist focused on the value of interest, and I don’t mean what is happening in the savings account. He’s a portal-eyed lover of the possibilities of human existence, and when one fits that bill, the individual becomes someone who lives truly. A cynic might counter by saying that Thoreau was fastidiously spartan, and Keaton’s pictures are governed by the rigorous discipline of craftsmanship, but Thoreau’s main interest was the whole of the world outside his cabin or bed roll—nature—and nothing is mangier than that, be it the nature of the fox and the owl, or the human and her neighbor.
Meanwhile, when Keaton famously stood in a street and the side of a house toppled from above, with our hero only surviving because he passed through the space where a window would have gone, he was bringing a Joseph Cornell shadow box to life with Gordon Matta-Clark slashing, feral impishness. Keaton is our ultimate cinematic power artist, because even when we gasp—as with the narrow escapes in The General—the chance for a laugh is never far off.
This is from the op-ed:
Often I am told, or will read online, that the point of life is to have fun. This has usually been preceded by a statement that life is short, with which I would also quibble, as if brevity increases the need to turn human existence into a party thrown for us by some gregarious cosmic architect.
In recent years, I’ve encountered this statement of stipulated good times more and more, when I’d say that “fun” isn’t only one of the lesser concerns of existence, but an endgame that is going to, ironically, make you pretty miserable.
A neighbor and former mentee of mine recently turned eighteen. I sent her a note that said, “You were a good kid. Be an even better adult. Help people. Help yourself. Never underestimate the difference we can make in a person’s life.”
I suppose that is not very stereotypically fun, but I think it’s absolutely necessary. You chase good times, and you end up alone, without even a strong, developed sense of self to fall back on. You tire people out. You want the next “thing”—whatever it is—and the next event, the next party; you want to be in on saying the latest phrase (“Tell me you don’t know how to have fun without telling me you don’t know how to have fun”) on Twitter, and your life becomes fetid quicksand. You are a bog person, having “fun” in your personal morass.
Fulfillment is different from fun, but it has this bonus power of helping us locate true, viable fun where we might not have found it otherwise. And that’s the best kind. There is no greater task, no more significant call to brotherly and sisterly arms, than helping people. Helping them when we are struggling ourselves. When we help someone, we provide aid that they can never take for granted as something that just happens, which they need, and what we need as well, because we are never more alive or receptive to life than when we are giving.
Below is another excerpt "Swoony and Moony." I mean, what can you say? It all is what it so obviously is. I will devote a stand-alone entry to Ann Hulbert, who is The Atlantic's literary editor, a bigot, a racist, a sexist. But why don't you click on this godawful new story called "Office Hours" by Ling Ma that Ann Hulbert selected for publication, because it was by someone of the right color and gender. It aspires to being terrible. I want to say that a fifteen-year-old writes better, but I think that also goes without saying, because a fifteen-year-old still thinks, and puts things from time to time in an interesting way. Obviously this poor attempt at fiction is trying to piggyback on The New Yorker's "Cat Person" story, which itself was a prose embarrassment that it's untalented author had to steal from someone else's life, because she couldn't even make up the one story she had in her, which isn't really a story at all. How's her writing going? Anything at all worthwhile there in the years since "Cat Person"? Of course not. Stole one idea, wrote one bad story, and that was her life, and her life is over, as a writer. Because every last one of these people sucks at writing. You think that Atlantic story is any good? Why? Give me one reason why it's any good. This is rhetorical, obviously, because there is no one who can provide a single reason, because it's clearly worthless as writing. Anyone who looks at it knows that. There's no defense that can be mounted or it. It's just bad. It's nothing. So simple and basic as not to be anything. That's what I can do here. You might say, "Okay, Fleming is going on about a story he says is bad. How bad can it be?" Then you click the link. And it's worse than I led you to believe, isn't it? You think think it's a joke, right? Because surely The Atlantic can't publish fiction that terrible, right? But there it is. Then you read what is below, which is, what, the third or fourth excerpt on here from "Swoony and Moony"? So at this point I'm just dipping in at random places, because I don't want to give the whole thing away for free in this journal. Now, do you think there is anyone on the planet who can honestly say that this story by me isn't infinitely better than that bland, empty, nothingness put forward by Ann Hulbert of The Atlantic? A person who once also told me I didn't say anything new about the Beatles. I'll put up her email. That's fine. How do you defend any of this? And you see how these people always do this shit with the university setting? Why do you think that is? Because they are incapable of inventing anything, so they just write about academia, where they've spent so much time thinking they're better than you, and knowing where it counts that they're not better than anyone at anything, and everyone--a middle school student--can write better than they do. Ann Hulbert looks at three things: What color are you? What is or isn't between your legs? And do you mediocre, at best, at writing, and are you like Ann Hulbert with the insecurity, the pretentiousness, the embalmed mind? Meanwhile, I'm doing something like "Swoony and Moony" every day. And none of these people will let you see it, when everyone knows the difference between what I do, and what these people fail to ever do. Like I said, there's no subjectivity at this point. There's no opinion. There's simply fact, truth, reality.
“I’ll kill myself if anything happens to Eloise,” I said to my closest and oldest friend Dolores, who was in the final year of her life and knew it, as did I, when we were talking on the phone and I thought Esmra had the TV up too loud to hear. It was strange that for the only time in our friendship, we discussed death, but not Dolores’s, even as hers advanced like a subway train that a voice in the speakers overhead tells you is but three stops away. We couldn’t comment on that, or we didn’t, when there was other bread on the table that was conceivably a necessary distraction for her, and the need of needs for me—my daughter’s mental health, and her safety. “I won’t be able to go on.”
Esmra, having crested past the age of six, if not the age of pudding, turned and gave me a look of brow-furrowed, mouth-twisted, “say-it-isn’t-so” imprecation from the adjacent room where some brassy fare played on the TV and Super Grover crashed into a tree because he never could straighten up and fly right, and there I was doing my own version.
I think that’s when I made what was a possibility that wasn’t totally real to her the very definition of what was to come, and for myself as well in how those words tore themselves from me. I took love from her that day, and there hasn’t been one since that I haven’t thought about it, because sometimes love is not being as scared as we might be.
Set up the next three weeks' worth of subjects I'll discuss on Downtown. This Tuesday it will be poems by Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Herman Melville, and Walt Whitman. The Tuesday after we'll talk about the next four stories in If You Brackets: Fabula, Fantasy, F**kery, Hope. The Tuesday after that will be F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, "Winter Dreams," "The Rich Boy," "'The Sensible Thing,'" and "How to Live on Practically Nothing a Year," in connection with the new volume out from the Library of America.
What matters now though are immediate priorities. I have to think in terms of what most needs to be done next as I have these hundreds of things to do. Tend to matters with The Smart Set (regarding Joyce's Ulysses, the Stones' Exile, Moontide, Radiohead's "Creep," Arthur Alexander), of which there's a lot to get in order even with just a first installment of delivered materials and that I've let go too long. Lengthen the op-eds on fun and on hockey so that they're the right length for another venue if I end up bringing them there. Billie Holiday proposal. Write the introductions for Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives and Glue God: Essays (and Tips) for Repairing a Broken Self. Work on Longer on the Inside itself and all that entails--the reading, the fixing, the selecting, the ordering. Have what must be seen for Same Band You've Never Known: An Alternative Musical History of the Beatles ready to be seen. Write the Thelonious Monk feature for JazzTimes. Clean up The Root of the Chord: Writings on the Essential Power and Artistry of Jazz. Clean up Just Like Them: A Piece by Piece Guide to Becoming the Ultimate Thinking Person's Beatles Fan. Do a chapter for this possible book on Tod Browning's Dracula. And the novels. And move books: above all, move books.
Let's go run some stairs, man. New week. Sound the mantra: Total focus, matchless art, no mercy when we get there.