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Be a tree, not a stump

Saturday 7/9/22

* On Facebook, people who are bad at writing post screenshots of their book deals. These screenshots contain the following information: the title of the book, the author's agent, the publisher who bought the book, the editor at the press who took it on, a coded phrase for the ballpark amount of money, how the book was pitched, and a two or three sentence description of the book. I've seen thousands and thousands of these. They are all the same. A book is pitched as a cross between other bad books. The key takeaway is that the book must not contain anything new. It absolutely must not be original. So you'll see, "Pitched as a cross between blah blah blah by Lauren Groff and blah blah blah by Laura van den Berg." Or, "Pitched as a cross between Roxane Gay and Beverly Cleary." Then you come to the descriptions, and they sound like jokes and that no one could possibly want to read anything that childish, jejune, contrived, melodramatic. Honestly, it feels like to be reading that book would be to rub your eyes in someone else's vomit. Rub rub rub rub rub. Rub rub. Then, on Facebook, seeing this screenshot containing what I've just described, people who are themselves writers like this, praise, and say their insincere, creepy comments. "Brava!"


* Why was this on my mind? I will tell you. Because I am about to be working on four novels simultaneously. Writing is easy for me. I have figured out everything. There are no challenges, there is just doing, and I can do anything I wish as an artist. I was talking to someone last night, and they asked about these novels. EU was the third one I mentioned, and I said that I won't be telling anyone the title, what it's about, and there will be no excerpts in this journal. One day, it will just be there. Before that I had talked about Musings with Franklin, which this person loves. It's a new kind of novel. There's nothing like it. It's told entirely in conversation in a bar between Writer, Bartender, and a guy from the suburbs who dresses up like Ben Franklin. There are other characters. It's hilarious. It's a novel opera. A novel musical. A novel play. Conversationalized narrative. Find a term one wishes. It is unique. This person said to me, "I cannot believe people are not lining up to buy that." By which she meant publishing people. I laughed. Again, these people cannot handle anything new. Alive. It shuts them down completely, and even when they love it, they don't answer to what something is and can do--they answer and look to what everyone around them does. See the above. They are so simple, basic, stupid, and visionless. As I've said, show and assert yourself, exception! But that's the prevailing theme, vibe, mindset. So I was thinking about those descriptions of those books from the screenshots people post on Facebook. Do I think anyone wants to buy and read any of them? No. Not a one. Do I think people would love to buy and read Musings with Franklin? I do. Not in a vacuum, though. With support, enthusiasm, praise, a publisher behind it, people behind it. Then it could explode.


* I also saw on FB where a woman said she forgot to post that she was two years sober. Cue 1000 likes and comments. I did that experiment, where I posted that I had gone six years without a drink. And as I expected, not a single person hit the like button. Not family, friends. Not the cousins whose family I once lived with, and one of whom is a nurse. Their grandmother is turning 100. She lives in a retirement home. I will buy her a card this weekend and send it to her with a nice note. I don't know her well, but I've had a few conversations with her. These are trash bag people, who treat me a different way because I am not ordinary, mediocre, or like them. To everyone else, they behave the same way, because mediocrity finds comfort in mediocrity, and mediocre people are on auto-pilot going through the motions with other mediocre people. There's no sincerity. They don't mean any of it. But they say the token words. That's how it always is. But I am not trash, and I will still hold to my morals and values. Must also remind my mother on Monday morning to make a doctor's appointment. I think she won't do it if I don't.


* The News section is up to date, as I said, so I've seen what's come out, which I'll run through here, quickly. This is an essay on the Beatles' two best love songs for The Smart Set, and a piece on James Joyce's Ulysses for them as well, and why you shouldn't let dumbass, posing lit bros dissuade you from reading it. I've noticed over the last couple years that that's it's own sick subculture. These wannabe edge lords of reading and critiquing. One of your sadder, more pathetic subcultures, which is saying something. This is an excerpt from If You [ ]: Fabula, Fantasy, F**kery, Hope in The Daily Beast, a complete story about Edgar Allan Poe and Abraham Lincoln in the afterlife. Here's a piece on sports and music for Bloomsbury. This is an op-ed on Charles Mingus for the New York Post. This is a piece for The Daily Beast on the 1972 porn film, Behind the Green Door. This is a Daily Beast piece on Buster Keaton. This is a Daily Beast piece on Judy Garland, and here's a New York Daily News op-ed on her as well. This is a JazzTimes piece on Jelly Roll Morton's ten best performances. This is the cover story of the May issue of JazzTimes on Dexter Gordon and the 1986 film, 'Round Midnight. This is a New York Daily News op-ed on not drinking for St. Patrick's Day. This is a feature on the Beatles' "I'm Down" for Best Classic Bands. This is an essay I wrote for the Library of Congress on Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers' "Jesus Gave Me Water."


* Someone asked me why I waited until yesterday to do the 3000 word JazzTimes feature on Thelonious Monk. Yesterday was the last day I could have filed it so that it could be included in the September issue, of which it will be the centerpiece, given its length and scope. I was told it had to be this week. The person I was talking to asked why didn't I do it earlier, or the day before, or at least start it Thursday? My answer: because I max out. If I had written the piece on Thursday, for instance, I may not have written anything on Friday, because I would have been so exhausted. Look at that week, which included a stretch of working thirty-six straight hours. When I don't work, I feel worse. I am sitting here in filth and poverty, without even a working light in this death-trap of an apartment. I am not fighting in the war. If I am not creating and fighting in the war, I am not doing all I can to get the hell out of here. And, more importantly, to reach the world. That is bad for me. There is no relaxation, no lounging in a nice bed in my house in Rockport, watching Out of the Past on a huge high-def, wall-mounted TV, or reading Thoreau's journals and listening to the Grateful Dead. There is a disgusting, warped mattress. A floor covered to the ceiling. It's disgusting. I knew if I did novel work on Thursday, and put off the JazzTimes feature until Friday, I'd have no choice but to do the JazzTimes feature on Friday because it had to be in, I don't drop the ball, and I am desperate for the money. That's how I work. I make choices like this.


* Same conversation. I reflected back on a prior experience, long ago, and told this person about it. Very early in my career--so this was almost twenty years ago--I had one of my first big assignments. I thought it was big. it wasn't actually big. But it was a national magazine, and you could go to any bookstore and buy it. The magazine was a music magazine called Goldmine, and I was writing a 3000 word story on the Remains, a Boston band from the 1960s who had a stellar LP, and opened for the Beatles on the latter's final US tour. The Remains may also have the best single in American rock and roll history in "Don't Look Back." It's up there. Later on, an audition of theirs came out on LP, and a few years ago, a show from 1969, though it's funny to think of this garage band existing in 1969. I took this assignment seriously. It was a big deal to me. Like getting in Spin and The Village Voice were a big deal for me, though these things are not significant in terms of what I am after. I'm after bigger things than any of these places. I've learned over the years that they are for other people. It's their endpoint. Their work is legless. It can go nowhere in this world, make no real inroads into lives. It has no utility. It's disposable. I see people on Facebook brag about being in a literary journal like Conjunctions, say, with a terrible story like this one (keep scrolling down; and yes, this is for real, and all of this really is this bad) by Lance Olsen, Guggenheim winner (in other words: he was given $40,000 to write more shit like that, which is all he does and can write)--more on Olsen and Morrow very soon--that, again, the reading of which is akin to rubbing vomit in your eyes. This literary culture is oriented around the kind of person who has just finished licking Bradford Morrow's shriveled old man balls--aka, trades favors with him, is just like him, has long known him, long lied about his non-existent ability, so he put him or her in there, just like he always does, because that's how it works. I wonder, "Are you really this delusional? Do you honestly not understand why your garbage appears where it does?" These people are insane. They can get themselves to believe anything. They have to, or else they'd kill themselves. But they also know. On the important level. And it is that level to which we all answer, and the level that breaks these people, and renders them piles of vaguely human crumbs, having to go through life that way, as this unsorted, unexamined, maledict pile of crumbs. And how would you do that? Find enablers. Find people to lie to you. Surround yourself wth people of no talent, because if anyone has talent, and the more of it they have, the more you will feel like shit about yourself. That is how the publishing community works. Anyway, these people treat it like such a big deal, this total nothing of a thing. No one is going to see what you wrote. No one is going to read it. It's not going to mean anything to anyone. And if lots of people were forced to see it, by like some, I don't know, twisted government edict if we're taken over by sadistic aliens with a warped sense of humor, they are going to know you suck at writing, and laugh at you. So why'd you do it? You didn't do it because doing it meant anything to you, in and of itself. Nothing about what you do means anything to anyone, or ever could. So you did it so can have this Facebook moment? You're fifty. So you can stand in your office in your dying corner of academia and show off your contributor copy to the professor from across the hall who just had an agricultural fable in Southwest Review, fronted by a bigot like Greg Brownderville, who oozes the kind of rust-colored, petty, passive aggressive toxicity you need to ooze if you live to hook up people like Brian Evenson, a Bradford Morrow myrmidon? See how tight the sick circle is? Come on. Or: maybe we should all try and write good, fresh, exciting, imaginative things that can matter to people? Novel thought, right? And then have values and morals and go by merit, rather than being some version of the warped, twisted stump of post-human leftovers that is a Bradford Morrow? Or not going by skin color? Gender? Sexual orientation? I told the person with whom I was speaking that I took close to twenty-four hours to write that 3000 word piece on the Remains. I listened to nineteen albums that day. I used to write down everything that I read, watched, listened to, in what I called Daily Logs. There's a stack of notebooks with all of that info and more. People think they work hard, but they have no idea what it means to work hard, save in the rarest instances. That was a big day for me. A whole 3000 words! Now it's what I do after going to bed at midnight, betting up at 5, and have completed by half past eight. I don't mean in a draft. I mean final-final. As I do other things. A big difference.


* Be a tree. See the light, and grow towards it. Seek it. Take some advice from the Remains.