I will toggle again. Today is going to be bad. My sister last night asked me why tomorrow would be bad, and I answered by saying because I tried so hard today. They pay me back. The harder I try, the worse it gets, the more enmity there is. I am like a man in quicksand. I don't want to go down in the quicksand. I try harder to get out, I sink deeper. I know the quicksand situation isn't just going to resolve itself. I can't wait just to sink and die. Someone who purports to care told me some weeks back they would do anything to help. This person is feckless. I don't trust them at all. Unfortunately, they are the best I have right now. Anything they tell you they will do, they will not do. Maybe one out of 250 things they say ever comes to pass.
I have stretches where they are not in my life because I become so tired of the lies and excuses and sending importuning texts to maybe, just once, do what they promised they'd do. Little things. Look a document over in, say, the space of two weeks. This isn't a busy person. But they're like that person who has no physical training who runs a mile and thinks they're pushing themselves as much as possible. They don't learn anything about the world, about art. Most of their livelihood is provided through channels of nepotism, so they don't have to go out and get the work. They get up later than I do, they go to bed earlier than I do. I am barely hanging on right now, and I may have to go to Chicago--though I am scared, frankly, that there are factors waiting for me out there that could finish me off, and I am not sure it's a good idea for me to be driving right now as it would be easy to unfasten the seat belt and just drive into something--but I have somehow written 12,000 words in the last three days.
I think about Rich Kimball. He's never told me he was busy. Kimball is about sixty. He has, I believe, a six-year-old son. He's married. He's a full-time teacher. So he has homework to grade, kids to work with, I would imagine, outside of normal school hours. He is involved with student theater. A couple weekends ago that seemed to be his entire weekend. I am sure he is generous with his time to kids, and he probably has a lot of roles with them. I would imagine they seek his counsel because he's a good man, caring, and easy to talk to. He does his show, two hours a day, five days a week, and he does all of the show prep--booking the guests--that goes with that. He calls University of Maine football games, which requires him to travel around the country. He reads two to four books a week for the show. If I send him something, I think he usually reads it pretty quickly. I think he reads this journal, because he references things on it that we've not spoken about. Now, Kimball is far, far, far busier than this person who would tell you they'd do anything for me, I am their closest friend, etc. Someone who pushes me on in what I am doing, because they say they honestly believe in the outcome I am seeking coming to pass. Things are bad enough that I had to ask them to phone me last night at nine. We haven't spoken in some time. They know me. They know what this means, and they must have some inkling where things are at. They text me to say yes, of course, that will happen, sure thing. But I know. I know this person. I know that my life could literally hang in the balance of them tying a shoelace for me, and they would not tie the lace. So, of course, I didn't hear from them. And that person is the best I got. We go back more than twenty years, and that's the best I got. This person knows that most of my life is given over to writing horrible people who will never respond. They know that the masterpieces I produce--which they person believes will change this world, and get people reading again--will not draw a single comment from the people in this business I send them to, on account of the blacklisting. But if I send work to this person, they won't even acknowledge receipt. And they know. They can't think, "Shit, this guy, he can't catch a kind word anywhere, we all know what these works are, but I'm going to make a point to say something to him, so at least one person does."
(Well, it's mostly the blacklisting; but this business is also dying. You will hear people say that it's not, it's doing well. Trust me. It's dying. I live this every day. I see it up close at every level, with every kind of person of every kind of job, at every kind of venue, in this business. It is dying. There are the names of the places that have gone away. I can tell you the names of some others that are about to. I can tell you what a place's page count used to be, what it is now. It is dying because publishing made it die, by being about nothing save shite writing, cronyism, and discrimination, and fear. A lack of vision. A lack of accountability. A desire to publish nothing new, innovative, original, that people might actually like and, gosh golly, actually fucking care about. Autopilot. In terms of short fiction, the only places outside of The New Yorker and Harper's that publish short fiction are literary journals which do not pay, or pay $50. They were never in very many bookstores, and the general public hardly ever bought a copy. But now the general public buys no copies. Page counts are slashed. The stories published in these journals are not for readers in the world, because the readers don't read them and wouldn't want to, and, often, couldn't understand a word of any of it. They're marketing plans, if you even want to call it that, for MFA programs. And they're a way for people of no ability, who could never reach readers anyway, even if the readers held their work in their hands, to publish. To tell themselves they're writers. As the page counts are slashed, there is less and less space for someone who is not their friend. Because they need to get their friends in there, so their friends, at their journals, can publish this same person right back. There is an audience for my short fiction, and it is a sizable one. It is the world. But the world does not know yet about this product it would love, because the market has not yet been created. If you're a professor, if you're like the people I described above, you want to be in these literary journals for tenure, for your ego, to keep the favor-trade system up and running, to further lie to yourself that your work has value. That your life has value. I hope these people are good friends or good parents, and they add value to lives that way, because they add none with their work. They destroy value with their system. They are, whether they know it or not, anti-art, anti-reading, anti-free speech, anti-creativity, anti-equity, anti-light. They know this on some level, of course, which is why they usually loathe themselves, which is why they take that out on someone better than they are. As such, they tend to be people incapable of adding value anywhere in life. They try to make their kids like them. Their friends are always like them. Not real friends. People they fly in to their MFA program to talk to some students, that they take a photo with, hawking it around social media, like they're something because here's a snapshot of them with someone with no talent that a system has decided to call special, that no one in the world has ever heard of, or should hear of. Because they offer the world nothing. Those are their relationships. One of the problems right now is that I am creating all of these works of short fiction. It's easy for me. They come to me so easily. And I know people who see them will love them. I get trickle down poison from what happens with other people who have written short fiction. A publisher can say that such things don't move. The publisher isn't smart enough to think, gee, maybe these things never move because they are total shit. I get tarred with their brush. I can't believe that I'm not supposed to come up with these stories and write them. I know that they're not even stories, really. We think of a story as bite-sized. A piece of something bigger. I don't think any of my stories are shorter than War and Peace, in the emotional way. There are dog years, yes? Well, there are Fleming sentences. They possess far more life, fullness. As do the characters. I don't think anyone could read "Funny Lines TK" and come away thinking that they hadn't read something more full than any novel they'd ever read. I just know that's true. But as I compose these stories, I am aware that there isn't much they can do right now. Let's pretend I wasn't hated by all of these miserable lit journal people. And I'm on here saying, "Oh, I placed X with Hudson Review, I placed A with Idaho Review, I placed L with Iowa Review"--all places I'm banned at--and twenty others. What would that mean? It would mean no readers, and between those twenty places it would mean I maybe made $300. For timeless masterpieces. If you're one of these people, that's great. You can't be anything more. You are nothing more. You're not even really that, because you were only hooked up for the wrong reasons. Do you know that most of these places that do not pay for what they publish, charge writers $3 to submit their work? Clip joints. Because they know they'll have no revenue. They'll sell some ads to other literary journals. But they won't make $400 in sales of their issues. And each issue costs $10, $15. So they pray on the desperation of writers. Who pays $15 for a magazine? Seems like you'd need money for that. So if you're a writer buying one of these, chances are you're a Brooklyn trust funder who tells people you're a writer but only did two things for The Millions for free. But they're publishing their friends, and system people. And this is the only outlet for short fiction right now. They are usually underwritten by universities where they are usually housed. There is no interest in business. In reaching readers. The only people who handle the issues--who even touch them--are the people who are in them who get a free copy in the mail, which is often the only payment. Even the people of the system, at this level of the system, don't read the issues. They may scan the contributors page to see who is in there, so they know whose ass to kiss, or who to be jealous of and gossip about. So what I have to do, is create the market. There are some people, I would venture, who would say that it's good that I'm stockpiling these stories right now, that they can do more later. The thing is, too, when I get past these people, I will have a platform to speak out. I can help educate the world on how this really works. I can explain. That will help create a market as well. And discard this system. I will, at some point, be novel man, and I will crank those like I crank these stories. These stories keep coming to me, though, right now, and they're matchless. Varied from one to the other--super varied--but all matchless. I feel strength just ripping within me to keep inventing there. I'd say it's like a super power, but it's more. It's like you and God are in on a secret together. You and something. And I just keep getting better and more fecund. But there you go. In one paragraph, I just told you all you need to know about the reality of literary magazines. Feel free to share.)
I didn't talk to my sister on the phone yesterday because I could barely move my mouth to speak and my heart rate went to 180. It is eight in the morning now. I am writing an essay on M.R. James and an Easter horror story for The Daily Beast. This grind. This quicksand grind. Do you know how hard it is to write like this, this much, on all of these subjects? Have you any idea how difficult that is? How hard that is is nothing compared to the knowledge that you are not going to be recognized as anything, by anyone, for doing it, when it is so clear what it is that you've done, that you do. It's like being a fireball in the middle of the street, a sun-like fireball, and no one can or will see you. And you're popping up and down, thinking, hey, I'm a fireball, I'm lighting it up, let me, please, light up your night sky, why can't you see me?
Emma's mother has come to learn a little of my situation and has tried to cheer me. Unfortunately, there is not a lot people can do. What people will usually do is imagine themselves in a situation they think is bad and tell you what they would do. For instance, if someone didn't like their job, they would think it's only a job, change your job. There is little worse that someone could say to me. This is not a job. I do something better than anyone has ever done anything else. Something that could mean a great deal to this world, a world who needs it. I am not like you, I am not like Mozart, I am not like another writer, I am what I am. This is a species of one. This is everything I am. It is everything I am for. They'll say "take pleasure in your relationships." There is no one I have ever met who does not bore me. I may like or love them, but I get no sustenance from them. It is the constant comedown. And it is an invariance of being let down, because people are simpler and weaker. And to meet someone now means bringing them into this hell, explaining this hell, which is of course a huge mind fuck for anybody to begin to process, and which takes huge amounts of time and energy on my part to even begin to go into it. Someone's going to understand all of that and stick by me? Fat chance. That would be one amazing person. I hope she exists, but I think she might not. Rather, I'd have to get where I was going, have all of that recognition, success, and my official story in place, then meet her, and either convince myself that if I'd met her before, she would have marched alongside of me, or accept that it doesn't matter if she would not have, that was then, this is now. I've known someone for almost twenty-five years, who would say, "Don't hold people to your standards, don't expect anyone to be on your level." I didn't. I don't know why they said that. But I did have some standards and some expectations of a level. There had to be a baseline. And as I got stronger, and I came to know myself more, and as I walked 3000 miles a year and composed in my head and thought about life and the world and who I was and what I could be better at and what I needed to face, I became further and further removed from everyone else--most of whom were backsliding in this age of the death of the death of the self--as I evolved. Such that now the only person I can handle, just about, is a fourteen-year-old child who is gifted, but a child. She prevailed upon me to get a drink last night at Starbucks. I talk to her about her school, things she cares about. I made the folly of telling her I had gotten some Easter candies at the CVS, and when she knows that, she wants them, and I give it to her. She took them all out on the table and shaped them into an Easter flower, and then keep eating them until she got sick. But it's like leading a double life. She knows things are up. She's too smart not to. But she's a child, and it's not like I can really go into anything. If she were twelve years older, then yes, but not a child. She told me last night that she says "I love you" to everyone, such that it has become devalued and she needs another phrase to connote actually loving someone, so they'll really know it. We talked about this as we walked back, and I pulled her out of the way of an advancing car, as she walked deep in thought. As we said goodbye, I said, "you're a writer, you can think of it." And then when I lay in bed, I realized what would work. "I don't mind being around you." And I wrote that into a story.
10:20 AM. M.R. James Easter piece is complete. 1700 words. Excerpt:
Paxton begins by asking if the two friends are aware of the legend of the three crowns. A second trinity, then. They are, but James is going to signpost this road for us and walk us down it. The legend was that three royal crowns were buried at strategic beachheads in England, to ward off invaders. To weaken them, confuse them, scatter them. One family took it upon itself to guard one of the burial spots. They did this through the generations. The last guardian was a sickly young man in his late twenties, who nonetheless camped out at night in cold and rain, guarding a crown, until he died before his time in his devotion. Paxton, who is relocating to Sweden and has a couple weeks to kill, has an easy time of learning, from simple townsfolk, where this man stationed himself, and with no remarkable effort, he dug up the crown. He also dug up something of a problem.
A delicious idea, right? Sometimes you have an idea as a writer where you think, “Wait, that’s almost too perfect, did someone hit on this before?” Not unlike what happened with Paul McCartney when the melody to “Yesterday” came to him. This was one of the best ideas of James’s compact ghost story-writing career. The two friends are stoked—they are going to see a real deal Anglo-Saxon crown. “But our man gazed at us with a rueful eye,” the narrator plaintively informs us. “’Yes, he said, ‘and the worst of it is I don’t know how to put it back.”
That is the plot’s mechanism—the restoration—the re-interring/re-tombing—of the vaunted symbol that has been made visual and manifest. We are playing off of a New Testament conceit—entombed human-saving king—with Old Testament fury, for Paxton is being followed by something, though he is not sure exactly what. Which is rather worse. The friends and Paxton inspect the crown in the latter’s room. He’s careful not to let their skin come in direct contact with it. That’s very important to him. Regarding what it is following him, he expresses the beyond-creepy, pithy line that it seems to have some control of your eyes. He’s like a student coming to learn a lesson, and his first foothold in that lesson is already sufficiently terrifying in its fullness of knowledge that there is greater, unremittable fear for what must be waiting to come.
Before courage fades in the cold light of deliberation, the three agree to a plan. They will make some excuse to leave the venue they are staying at that night—it’s like you need permission from an RA—and return the crown to its barrow. As the two friends go off to get ready, Paxton asks them to make sure that the hallway coast is clear. It’s those unexpected details that make James so Jamesian. They provide the fillip—that powerful flick of nerves—to your heart. They have no problem finding the clearing in the bower by the sea where the crown had been laid. The friends stand back as Paxton works swiftly, like he’s some master archeologist going in reverse. He packs down the earth with great care after, then ushers his new friends away with celerity. That duo looks over their shoulders to see that Paxton has left his dark coat behind, and it appears to be propped up on something. “Yet, in all this quiet, an acute, an acrid consciousness of a restrained hostility very near us, like a dog on a leash that might be let go at any moment,” has been felt, and so it is both with no surprise and legitimate surprise—again, exceedingly Jamesian—that Paxton, not bothering to turn around to look, remarks that is not his coat.