It is almost nine in the morning. I have been at it for a while. My level of fatigue is such that all I can do is compose, climb, work some more, pass out, do it again the next day. I am incapable of anything else right now. I'm destroyed. I can't face email, I can't face people. I try to hang on. This means more and more work, great work, work for all time, a body of work that is untouchable, and that worsens the situation. I want to do a book of my jazz writings. I think it would be the best book there has been or will be on jazz writings. I can't do a book of my jazz writings because of the situation I am in. I can make the book from all of my jazz writings I have already done and it can sit here with me with all of the other books.
I have been meaning to send some of the new writings in the mail to my mother and my sister. For weeks. But then I say to myself, "Well, just finish this new one, first, so you can put that in there" which I do, but in that interval, there are five other new ones, and I don't send the packages of my writings to Chicago but I should just set the date and do that, do it this weekend.
What I am trying to do right now is compose ten essays for Halloween and Christmas, which I will try to unload. I am writing two Christmas essays this morning. One I began a couple days ago. It is on the least "pretend," if you will, Christmas film, which basically says, "Okay, life is kind of crap, the holiday is not super awesome here, this is my crummy apartment, this is how Christmas really is for a lot of people and that is cool, too, we don't always need to pretend, we can drop the pretense and we will be better served." Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh are in that film. The other is on Bessie Smith. A third I am about to start is on the best Santa Claus origin story anyone ever wrote, which is from a weird fiction master that I bet you have never heard of and it might be the finest work of Christmas-related fiction produced in America. I have to do this because I have two books to write in the next four months, which I can do, for which I have a schedule, but I can't be doing this kind of thing, at the full-bore rate, at the same time. I can do some side things here and there--which for me, of course, means I can still be writing, on the side, works that would comprise, volume-wise--I am not even going to get into the quality differential factor--someone else's fifty-year career, but still less than usual for me by a lot--like novel work, the completion of more short fiction, op-eds, the blog--where I really need to start exposing some very bad people, something I hate doing, but must do, and must do in depth, because this industry needs to come down--Beatles books, one of these memoirs, a sequel to Meatheads Say the Realest Things.
In addition to the ten Christmas and Halloween essays, I need to pick up work for those holidays at The Washington Post. Regarding the essays, I am selecting the subject matter with both an eye towards what I can sell, right now, for hard cash, and also what I can use for the memoir, Saving Angles. I am not writing it, in other words, if I can't use it later, if I am unable to sell it right now. For instance, the cold pricklies essay excerpted here is for Halloween; what it will incorporate is a discussion of Linus and Curse of the Cat People. The piece is already 5000 words long. It's going to be a long one, but you can see how it would function both as a stand-alone piece, and if I said that it was the beginning of a memoir, that is wholly believable and understandable as well. With that length, the venues are limited, but of course I have a plan. And back-up plans.
Yesterday, while all of this is going on, I composed an entirely new short story. As I write the two Christmas essays this morning, I have started another entirely new short story. I have not been weaving in updates in these pages on what I have been writing. Suffice it to say, I get better by the hour at this point. I have written more this summer than at any time in my life, after writing more than I ever had before in the spring. (Hell, I wrote a novel in a week in the spring, and six other pieces that week, and I have exceeded that rate these past few weeks.) Can you imagine how this feels? That they will not let you get anywhere? That thousands of them hate you? Because this is what you are? This is what you do? Because you are that far beyond all of them? So they hate. And lock you out. Can you even begin to imagine what that must feel like and to have that be your life? I have to find a way to put this nervous breakdown behind me and fight like a wolf who tears out throats. I need more courage and strength than I've ever had. I don't know where I'm going to get it. But I need to find it. It's a scary, desperate time because I know I am not going to last much longer like this, in this situation. I'm going to die, and no one will be able to fault me, instead people who know will marvel that it was not many years earlier.
The story begun today is a music story. It takes the form of a jazz song in that it is structured like the parts of a jazz song. It's about a young girl--well, when we meet her she is a young girl--who falls in love with the music of Sonny Clark. He was a hard bop jazz pianist who cut some amazing records in the late 1950s and early 1960s, who then died in 1963 in what was officially reported as heart failure but was really a heroin overdose. It is told in parts. There's an intro, a bridge, piano solo, chorus, coda. The story plays out over the course of this girl's--and this woman's--life. And each section features the music of Sonny Clark.
There are different relationships with that music at different times. We have a relationship with an artist, or can. They can be like a friend that someone introduces us to, whom we later introduce to someone else. And they'll have their permutations of relationships. Someone introduces you to someone who becomes your best friend, you introduce your best friend to your sister's ex-roommate, your best friend marries your sister's ex-roommate. The same thing happens with the artists in our lives. I mean actual artists, not people who are terrible at what they do who are licked and celebrated by people who don't know art--or the lowest level of basic competence or non-total embarrassing dreck status--from their asshole (and not their asshole on a good day, even, their asshole the day before the colonoscopy). Obviously none of this happens, say, with one of fake plastic gods of publishing like a George Saunders. And they can be barometers. They can be the staging upon which, in part, the episodes of our life play out. They can be the soundtrack to a period. They can help us learn what we didn't otherwise know. We can get closer to them. We sometimes push back against them and get further away. The truths they reveal can save us. Sometimes they can overwhelm us. Sometimes we are not ready for those truths. We can need these artists and their art and not be able to experience them as we need to because we are too broken just then. And we can come home to them once more, we can come gloriously home to them once more. The story is called "Honey for Sonny."
The girl, Kess, finally mounted the courage to come downstairs as the woman left her apartment.
Her aim was to make her descent seem natural, as if their neighborly times of departure happened to synchronize on the downbeat like a snare drum rimshot and a slapped double-bass chord. A downbeat for down the stairs.
Each day she came home from school, lay on the floor outside her apartment, head in hands, listening to the music made by a small band that bled into the hall. Not bad bleeding. Blood getting to where it needed to go to keep what needed to be kept beating, beating. Bleeding beating.
There were not very many instruments. A trumpet. Bass and the drums. Sax. She liked the piano parts best. The woman seemed to like the piano best, too, because when the piano played, at the fore, other instruments in the background, she would sing, interposing words that were not exactly words as Kess understood people to talk, but words that made it clear how the woman felt, how the piano player felt, and how Kess felt. She didn’t tell many people she was lonely and she probably would not tell this woman. But as she listened she thought she might.
Some people at the college where the woman taught thought she was widowed, even though she was only thirty-five. “People die at all ages,” one professor said to another who had expressed doubt that this person had lost someone already. “She is like a shrouded wraith.” His companion, the two of them alone in a classroom, experimenting with Louis Armstrong transcriptions, said that that was uncharitable. “Okay, like a shade, then.”