Today I looked at a piece in a venue that is supposed to be intelligent. This is a common experience for me. I'm trying to read the beginning, but I bail before I come close to get through this opening cinder block of a paragraph. The prose is stiffer than the Tin Man's joints before Dorothy gives him a few squirts from the oil can. See what I just did there? There's more life in that last sentence than I know that someone like this will produce in the whole of their career, if we're calling it that. A line offered up in a journal while doing six other things between a bunch of other things.
There's no attempt made to engage or interest a reader, which is just so arrogant on the one hand and clueless on the other. Or that person simply cannot interest or engage a reader. They tried, but this is what happened, like if I tried to play in an NBA game. That wouldn't work out so well, obviously, if someone put me on the court.
If I was an editor of a magazine or a literary journal, I don't know what I could ever possibly publish if my criteria was putting forward work that is worth reading. I never see any work that has any reason for anyone to read it. There's not even a passable approximation of the slightest value. I don't even mean, "This will add to your life." I just mean, "I can get through this and it won't be this draining, aggravating chore that makes me feel glad when it's over."
What I do see is people writing for themselves so that they can call themselves a writer. It's so selfish, so limited, so onanistic. It's just jerking off to keep away the tears of having to be honest with one's self and say, "Yeah, I am not this thing in the slightest."
If I was an editor, my venue would fold before it could put out an issue, unless I was making determinations along the lines of, "Well, you have to put enough stuff in there if you want it to keep going, no matter how bad it might be." What would be the point of that?
None of these people can write. I'm not doing hyperbole. None of them can write. I mentioned the NBA. Think of how many shots a player gets up from the day he first dribbles a ball until he gets in a league like that. Or even a Division III college program. Millions, right? Think of how much time and effort goes into developing his skills.
Do you know how much harder it is to write at a high level compared to how hard it is to play basketball at one? There are only so many variables on a basketball court. Whereas, the variables are endless in writing. It's open to everything you can do. Any skill you have. Any knowledge you have. Do you realize how complex language is? And how complex it is what you can do with language? There are a limitless amount of things for you to control and harness and bring to bear on the work.
Do you think that any of these people work to develop skills like those basketball players work? How many hours do you think these people have put in to their writing? You think they put in hours daily for decades? If you get to that level of basketball, you've played basketball every day of your life for many hours each day. You've had days where you've worked on your shot for fifteen hours. You've competed, you've played the best players you can play. You've had lots of losses, lots of humble pie, lots of days where you didn't know if you were good enough or would ever be good enough, and the overwhelming reality is that no matter how good you got, you had very little chance of every getting to those upper levels. Things, in other words, that would crush the dainty little creatures of the writing world, who cannot handle anything, not even a modicum of reality.
(There's this one guy I'm going to put up on here. Awful writer. Also, awful editor. I watched him hook up his friends and people who had worked at this literary journal that he became the editor of. Almost every single last damn thing was a favor trade. Once he had an essay, and he wondered out loud where he might send it. I gave him a name of a place. It was a good recommendation. I didn't have to do that. Well, he didn't know anyone there, which ruled it out automatically for him. He wouldn't even try. He had a creepy phrase for how he got his bad work--and it's all bad--published: "The path of least resistance." Which meant, who did he know that would hook him up? Sure, he'd have to hook her up at his place, but that's what he did and that's often how it is. Anyway, years and years of this went by, and finally I said--politely--that I'm aware of certain things in terms of why he publishes what he publishes and I didn't think my work was being given a fair chance--these were extreme understatements, of course--and I have been mum on that score, but I wasn't willing to continue to keep silent any longer because this wasn't right, and he then banned me, after likening me--and this was all I said--to the Mafia. The Mafia. Think of how unbalanced you have to be to say that to someone. Or, to put it in writing, in this case. Remember Sven Birkerts? Same sort of thing happened there, and he compared me to the mob. The bloody mob. Do you see how disconnected these people are from reality? How the slightest little expression of truth, after a long time, is akin, to them, of you murdering their family? So how well do you think as a rule they handle and process reality? What sense of proportion do you think they have? How could you possibly write well, or do anything that's human well, when you're this broken and far gone and full of neuroses and irrationality and anger and insecurity and self-loathing and self-doubt? Writing is clarity. It's imparting meaning and truth to people. Do you think people like the two I just described ever see things for what they are, never mind are then able to convey that to someone else in prose, with everything that requires?)
And that's easier than reaching a high level of writing well. How much do you think these people work at it? Having everything in life handed to them, coming from money, not writing more than a piece a year, or a story every ten years for so many of them, getting up late, going to the Hamptons, all of that bullshit. We're talking millions of times less than that basketball player who won't make a Division 3 team works.
So how good can they possibly be? Then along I come and I read this stuff that is the writing version of some awkward, un-athletic kid going out there in third grade gym class to get his ass handed to him by everyone else. This kid who can't even catch the ball. It bounces off his chest and knocks the wind out of him and then he falls down and cries. I'm reading the prose version of that kid again and again and again, with no relief. It's just that kid. But an asshole version of that kid, usually. Who wants to be a bully and get theirs back. A kid who is somehow full of himself even as the softest pass bounces off his head and knocks him to the ground. But then it's like that kid creates a system where everyone in that system is like him and has to pay tribute to him. Everyone has to lie and say he's like Michael fucking Jordan. Actual Jordan can be there, and this kid and the kids like him will conspire to make Jordan ride the pine.
And it doesn't matter the "fancy" name of that place which doesn't mean a damn thing except this idea of, "Well, here's more of the same."
So if everyone is just awful at this, and no one reads because none of these awful writers give any reader a reason to read or care or be interested, what then determines who goes in? At places with less "fancy" names, it can be supply and demand. One academic who can't write knows another academic who can't write, and eh, whatever, they put in that person's work. Bad recognizes bad. Bad doesn't think that way; the way bad thinks is, "Oh, this looks familiar." A lot of work is published on that anti-principle. The fancier the place, where people think that name means more, it becomes entirely about how much one person likes another person or pretends to.
This can be for reasons of having the same agent, because that person is hyped, because that person is also a broken freak, because that person also went to Yale, because that person gets bullshit awards for these same bullshit reasons, because of their skin color and how someone who is a worse person than the devil can pretend that they're one of the good ones while still keeping on being just as evil as they please, etc. In this second case, because of the fancy bullshit name, that venue is more desirous for the author. They can brag about it, lie to themselves about what inclusion in such a place must really say about their meaningless work, big league other people, get off on the illusion of substance and import, collect more bullshit awards for bullshit reasons--this being one of them--etc. Now we have power in the mix at the sickest level of power, which is to say, the most petty, because that other person gets to say, "You want this super important thing, do you? Well, that's up to me. It's all up to me. You better have that tongue ready to lick my unkempt asshole, and I'm still not gonna give it to you probably, but this is what I live for, because it's all I have and all I am."
But for the person who is favored for all of the wrong reasons, and who sucks at writing, none of this happens. They are granted entry without any vetting whatsoever. Hell, their wares, as such, aren't even looked at. The work isn't even read. It's just welcomed in and gotten in order to be put out. To be cared about and valued and gotten anything from by absolutely no one in the world. Not really. You'll get the industry tossers who bullshit about it, but they don't care about it any more than I do. They're doing something else.
They're like that evil person you know who is a massive, hateful dick, let's say like a true racist, just to mention one thing about them. You know what they think because they've made it known to you a thousand times. But then they get on social media and post a pro-BLM image and another for Pride month though you know they hate gay people and make the most offensive casual remarks.
That's what publishing people are doing when they pretend that, I don't know, Night of the Living Rez isn't bad writing, with no value for anyone, which of course is the truth. Imagine if I posted things on here like, "Well, another weekend, and I ran my stairs, but mostly I worked on my book, Night of the Living Rez." A reader would laugh at me. They'd think, "What a dumb ass fucking title. Is he being serious?"
Or I was as bad at writing as Emma Straub and Laura van den Berg, and I did one of those excerpts from a story that I do on here and that was the prose you saw. That I wanted someone to see. That I put up as an example of great writing or genius or a work the world needs. What have you. And it was that shit. It'd be like a joke, right? So much so that you couldn't even do it. You couldn't throw that gauntlet down with their writing and be like, "Behold! This is what I created, in part, today." What would be more absurd than that? But they are waved in sight unseen.
There's just so little out there right now that is worth reading at all. I don't mean to my standards. I mean, none of this is for anyone. It's not actually for any readers. You'd think with nonfiction that maybe someone would know something about a subject that you might not know about, and you can at least profit from their expertise or just that they do know more than you know, but you try to read these pieces and it's like their authors don't want you to.
They make it so hard to get through a sentence, to say nothing at all about caring about what you're reading. Why would you read something that makes you not care about it? Why would you keep going? Especially today, when people don't like to look at something for more than five seconds and they've trained themselves to always be looking away?
So wouldn't it make sense that in order to get someone to stay and not look away, you really, really, really need to make them are about what they're seeing?
But this apparently occurs to nobody who writes. Or if it does occur to anyone, they can't make a single person care for real. So then what are we doing? Why bother? Why willingly have any of it be like this? Just so some broken, talentless, clannish, petty freaks can call themselves something they're obviously not? Why? How pointless is that? How gallingly is that classism? How could you be more entitled? Shouldn't something be done about this? Efforts made to the contrary? Efforts made to produce and put out things that people can actually be interested in and care about?