Returning to formal writing--which I obviously am never far away from--is like getting back into my skin again, or buttoning up my soul, the way one fastens one's pants before heading outside.
After a long time away from it, I'm back at work on "Up the Sea." I will let it take as long as it takes.
Sunday night I began giving real consideration to including "Swoony and Moony" in There Is No Doubt: Story Girls. Then yesterday morning I looked long and hard at the manuscript, seeing where it might go, but I ultimately decided against it. So tempting to include the story, but the book has a rhythm and a design I will leave unaltered. "Swoony and Moony" will almost surely go in S/He/R/Me: Becoming Story, the second volume of works featuring all female narrators and/or protagonists. (That doesn't mean that there are not male narrators; for instance, in There Is No Doubt, both "Dot" and "Coffee Streaks" are narrated by men, though the main character in each is a woman, with the crucial catch being that these narratives feature jeopardy/consequence and induce change for those male narrators.) As it is, There Is No Doubt comes very close to alternating between first and third person stories. The rotation is not exact, and some of the forms of first and third person have different aspects that shade them into something else--as with "Transitionings" and "Girls of the Nimbus"--but with these particular stories it creates an overall flow. There Is No Doubt is a perfect work of art. That's something special in and of itself. But it's different when something is a perfect work of art and risks a great deal--risks everything. A Hard Day's Night, for example, is a perfect work of art, but Sgt. Pepper risks more. Nothing risks more than There Is No Doubt. The risk is total, and the perfection is intact. So, let it be what it is, I thought to myself.
Have also been thinking about No Mercy When We Get There: Stories to Put You on Your Ass, and possibly putting a very short work--I mean like 600 words--between the longer stories. Big one, very short one, big one, very short one.
Soon I will have to put up some people on here with whom I've done business. There's no getting around it. Other people will be swept up and become collateral damage, but they could have influenced the situation--put some effort and character forwards in terms of redressing obvious and undeniable wrongs--but they were too weak--regardless of other positive qualities they have--to do that, and also too fixated on blowing smoke up arses, which is no way to live, and doesn't do anyone any good, including that person whose arse is receiving the puffs of smoke. Anyone who reads this journal would have to know it's coming, and that I am 100% in the right and have the proof of everything I am charging. It is in black and white, plain as can be. Some time ago I wrote that I have one form of loyalty that goes beyond everything else: and that is loyalty to my work. I've dropped enough warnings, put down enough bread crumbs. When I do snap into action, people are not going to like how it goes, and how it continues to go, how it follows them around, how it becomes what they are known for, and what others first see about them. I still would like it not to come to this, but I'm less and less bullish to the point of picking over a few crumbs of rapidly diminishing hope in these matters.
Someone might ask me, "What do you expect of people?" I expect to be able to respect you. I expect you not to be weak. I expect you to not pretend. I expect you to be open and candid. I expect you to be able to say how you feel and not try and hide it behind machinations. I expect you to be true to your word. To try to get better every day. To try and learn more each day. I expect you to have purpose and integrity. I expect you to have mastered basic English. I expect you not to speak in cliches. I expect you to use your own words. I expect you not to make excuses. I expect you not to be a coward. I expect you to be able to say, "I am intimidated by your mind, I don't know what to say," rather than tuck tail and say nothing, while praising everyone else because you are not intimidated because they are mediocre. I expect you not to cool guy me. I don't expect you to be brilliant. I don't expect you to be a genius. I don't expect you to be an expert on anything. At all. Ever. But I expect to be able to respect you. Who do I respect? You don't want to know, and I don't need to put it here. But that's still what I expect.
People are wont to encounter words like the above, and react with rage. Lash out. "Go off." Blah blah blah blah blahedy blah blah hector hector harangue blah hector blah. But let's think about this. They're not lashing out at the words themselves, and the basic sense they contain; they're lashing out at the person saying or writing those words, because of how they perceive that person as different than they are. This can take very little, when we're talking about one encountering something I've written, said, achieved, or posted. It can take a single sentence from me. A bit of an interview. A dating profile. Immediately the other person will know that we're not the same. Or they'll fear that, be threatened by that. It's not, again, the sense of the words, their meaning as words in this arrangement of words. For instance, let's imagine that someone asks someone, "Should you be brave?" Or, "Should you use your own words?" Or, "Should you grow every day?" Or, "Should you learn more every day?" Or, "Should you be open about how you feel?" The person being asked those questions is going to say "Yes" to every one of them. "Yes" as a given. So what is different? The sense of the words is the same--it comes down to how they are perceiving me, and that has nothing to do with anything I've done to them, an unkindness I've performed, an insult of them that I've made, because I've done none of those things. I experience this all the time. Toxic, seething women will awake on a beautiful later summer Saturday morning, and will become sufficiently disturbed by me saying these simple, true things on a dating site, in terms of what I seek, what I think is important, women that I've had nothing to do with, wish to have nothing to do with, have never contacted, that they will launch the textual attack. I'll get a screed of hate. Now, this is never going to work out the way they want it to. You don't want to do the screed of hate with me. Because I will not take the bait, and you will also walk away feeling horrible about yourself when I say what I say--worse than you ever have--but not such that you can pin anything on me, or do some "gotcha" thing. But back to our questions that produce the answer of "yes." Your job does not stop you from doing these things. The patriarchy doesn't. Racism doesn't. Trump doesn't. Biden doesn't. Your peers don't. The pice of gas doesn't. I don't. So what does? You do. You have the control and the ability to make the decision. It's entirely up to you. When something is entirely up to a person, and it's the right thing to do, and they don't do it, and they encounter that rare person that does, they're threatened by that person, they're scared of that person, they want to lash out at that person, they won't support that person, even if they are "on their side," in theory. They could apply some internal elbow grease and make an effort. People are not strong enough to take accountability, which for them manifests, typically, as a form of blame. They already feel inadequate all day long, and now they're going to blame themselves, too, and add to the misery and self-doubt? So they blame someone else--that rare person. They can't justify this blame, if you asked them to. Because believe me, many people would be angry over what I wrote in the paragraph above this one, but as we've just seen, there's nothing remotely objectionable about it, or that anyone wouldn't fundamentally agree with. It's the same with publishing, if you put any of the relevant bigots on the spot. "What did he do to you? Why do you hate him?" And the answer: "He was perfectly polite over many years in offering me masterpiece after masterpiece, as he achieved more than anyone else, published constantly, published everywhere, knew more than I did about everything, and he was this good-looking athletic guy and I hate him." You can't give a real answer. I haven't done anything wrong. And you can't say the words I just inserted, which represent the truth, because no one would say that. You can't say that. People would think you're sick and crazy. So what happens is, it's all kept quiet, the rage and envy simmers, the blacklisting goes on, the best artist there has been is locked out, and people gossip by making up things that are not true, that are vague, and never happened, because there is nothing that is real that can actually be used. So it just becomes this hate-on-Fleming party, born of envy. When you have such a party, you don't even need real, or sane, reasons. You don't need reality. You've turned your back on it. You just need someone as pathetic, talentless, and embittered as you are. In publishing, that is not a hard kind of person to find.
I know someone who is not brave who got together with a bad person and for poor reasons. The bad person behaves as one would expect. They're abusive. This person I know keeps that to themselves. They don't tell their friends. In the real sense, they do not have friends. They simply know a lot of people, and they chatter at each other. Much is a secret. I think, "Why have friends, then? This is part of the point of having friends." But they will go on social media and post about this bad person as some fantastic person. They will shill for them. Pump them up. It's a lie. They live a lie. I am bound by my sense of duty to be certain things for them, and that is without question or hesitation. But how could I respect this? They post the lie, and then many people we have in common, who would never hit that like button for me--if I have a book come out, if I rescue someone in need, doesn't matter--will hit that button hard. They'll post treacly comments. They are part of the lie, without even knowing it, or--and this is the big thing--without really caring, while also living lies themselves. Allowing that I make it to next Sunday--because I never presume that my streak will remain intact; one must go out and earn the streak--without a drink, that will be six years sans alcohol, and in a very bad life situation to boot, to understate matters dramatically. I will do an experiment, as I often do, and put that up on social media. Those same people I have in common with this other person, will not hit that like button for this. Why? Greatness. It's greatness--and people knowing that person possesses it--vs. mediocrity. They will always show support for mediocrity, while keeping silent and showing no support--and often feeling inadequate, out-classed, envious, angry, and frightened--for the person they deem on a plane far removed from their own. These can be people I've done much for. Helped in real ways. But they still won't hit that like button. Among these people is a family I spent much time with. None of the members of that family will hit the like button. I added value to their lives. I was part of the family unit. I've helped members of that family in the years since, and quite recently. But because of greatness, no support will be shown to me. And because I do not live a lie. Think of how small and perfunctory a gesture that is--the lowest form of support and communion that exists in our age, the like button. And they won't so much as hit it. Because it's me. That's real. Anyone can go and see. And this is why. It is obviously not anything else. It's not for lack of achievement, or interest, or substance, or conviviality, or entertainment. The problem, as ever, is greatness. As someone accurately and effectively said to me the other day, "The biggest problem you have, right now, is how your genius causes people to react, right now. So much of this other stuff is an offshoot of that. With publishing, with people you know, with the world, with people who come upon your work, people who look you up and learn more about what you do, and all you do, and the level all of it is at. But that very same thing is going to be the cause of everything that is going to happen. Because it will happen."
Speaking of streaks: Sunday marked 2177 days, or 311 weeks, without a drink. On Saturday I ran 5000 stairs and did fifty push-ups, and ran 3000 stairs and did 100 push-ups both Sunday and yesterday. The push-up situation has rapidly improved after not doing any for years. On Friday I walked four miles to clear my head. At the edge of a crosswalk returning from Kenmore Square, I thought, "You should add to your output of sports pieces." What is this like? I had then not walked five steps, before I had this idea about an essay on Carlton Fisk and catchers, the design of the work, all of it worked out, and the voice. It was a short crosswalk--on the Fenway side of the street, near the Muddy River--and I was not halfway through it to the little island in the middle, which is right where the Beatles stayed on their 1966 tour, and I had all of this. That's how it works. I posted an excerpt on here. It's quality is what its quality is. All of that occurs in a fraction of a second.
Over the weekend I created, from scratch, and composed, five new short stories. I don't know what I have yet with them. It's a lot to create at once. I must let the natural gestation happen, take the step back, so as to come back.
Facebook sent me one of those reminder photos. It was me and Franklin--yes, there was a guy who did dress up as Ben Franklin in Boston, though he has nothing to do with the guy in Musings with Franklin--on the day that Anglerfish was picked up. I was thinking this morning how I have never written anything better than "Dunes Under Sand." Certain works just stand out to me. That is one of them. Anyway, I was a much chunkier C-Dawg at the time. I don't look svelte in the photo, more like a squishy log. A lot of it was all of that booze. Because I was walking so much at the time. I was walking more than 2000 miles a year, and then up to 3000 miles. But because of the drinking, you wouldn't have known I was that active. It was a lot of drinking. That I gave it up entirely isn't something I've ever been proud of. It was simply something I recognized that I needed to do in order to achieve my ends. It was also something I had to do for my work--speaking of that loyalty--so that I was healthy enough to shepherd it through, to fight the battle, to endure, with everyone against me in the whole of an industry, or against me for all intents and purposes, like my so-called "people," as they are referenced and detailed above, and to prevail. I did it for my work, which I do for the world. And because I believe the world will know that eventually, and move forward in a better way, because of my work. Sooner would be better. But I had to be healthy.
Also: in the land of the Zulu, one must respect one's self. If you cannot respect yourself fully, then you are not a Zulu warrior. I refuse to be less.
What else re: the days since Friday? I worked in my head on two longer stories, "Find Your Buddy"--which is devastating--and "The Prints," which is a horror story.
I watched the 1952 Disney short, Trick or Treat, which involves Donald Duck and his nephews on Halloween, and Witch Hazel, in a town that looks much like Rockport, I think, and that is one reason I like the short. I talked to my mom for a couple hours on Saturday, because it's a hard weekend for her. We've always just talked. She was telling me about a family friend of ours, the Captain, of Admiral and Captain fame, who are both featured in "A Midshipman Lights Out," which Salmagundi ran and is itself featured in Glue God: Essays (and Tips) for Repairing a Broken Self. My mom and the Captain have been friends since the late 1960s. I trust the Captain and the Admiral as much as I trust anyone. These are good people in the bedrock sense. On Saturday, my mom was telling me about how we went out to lunch to McDonald's one time together in North Attleboro, and how we just talked. I am aware of this. I remember these occasions. At the time, I was an only child. That would change that same year, when we adopted my late sister Kerrin, who I think about every day. We would sit there and converse. I recall it distinctly. So my mom was telling me about how she told the Captain about this at the time, and the Captain said, "You mean to say you sit there and have a conversation with a five-year-old?" She was skeptical, which is understandable. And my mom said, "He's not some ordinary five-year-old." Those are important memories to me, and those times were important for me. We spoke of books and stories and things I loved, like nature and baseball. The minerals I found and learned about. The kinds of snakes I saw in the woods. My father would drive me to my hockey games when it was still dark in the morning. I was focused on the game, getting locked in--I was always someone who got locked in--on the way there, but on the way back, if I'd played well, I would talk. I think people mostly ride in silence. But I would simply talk. About everything. And that was so important to my development. Going from idea to idea, topic to topic, with both of these people who loved and nurtured me. They helped allow me to become me. I was always going to become that person, but they helped all the same. And they helped me become the person who is going to win this war I am in.
"Girls of the Nimbus" is the perfect ending to There Is No Doubt. Just as "Fitty" is the perfect beginning. I read the end of the former this morning--I could feel my heart...stilling. Like everything there had ever been froze in place so that I could see it better, and feel it more. Those closing words also play well with the subtitle of the book. It really brings us home thematically, and in other ways, too.
I go to bed listening to all of these different things. Lately it's been a lot of the early 1950s radio program, Tales of the Texas Rangers, but the other night it was some fellow reading E.F. Benson's ghost stories. I woke up very frightened in the middle of "How Fear Departed the Long Gallery," and had to calm myself down. Then I did a switch to Johnny Dollar and went back to bed.
I watched two Eagle Pennell films over the weekend, A Hell of a Note (1977) and Last Night at the Alamo (1983), and was impressed, because I believed these films. Pennell battled drink and drugs, to the point of being homeless at times, and died just shy of his fiftieth birthday. He had true talent. I've been reading August Derleth's Solar Pons stories, his pastiche of the Sherlock Holmes series. They'll do. They hit the spot. Derleth wanted to read more Holmes stories. He was in college, and he wrote Conan Doyle asking if there would be any more, and Doyle was like, nope, sorry big dawg. Then Derleth wrote again, asking if he could write them, and once more, Doyle said no. So Derleth said, fine, whatever, created his own characters, which are all of the old characters--Holmes, Watson, Mrs. Hudson, Mycroft, Professor Moriarty--with different names, moved things forward in time some, and had at it. Derleth was a lot of things. He was the prime mover behind Arkham House--which I wrote about in my piece on Seabury Quinn and Roads--and he wrote so many different kinds of things himself. I must run down a copy of his Countryman's Journal from 1963. I've been meaning to do that. I've also been meaning to listen to one episode of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour per day.
I made a remarkable find the other day. The Who were such a dominant, awesome band in 1971, but the surviving concert tapes from that year--and there are many--tend to have less than optimal sound. You can listen to these tapes, but they're usually rough. The band is in possession of soundboards from San Francisco in December of that year, and why they don't put this out is beyond me. What I located was a portion of a show--running about sixty-four minutes--from the Rainbow Theater in London, in November of 1971. It's not a soundboard, but it's a high-grade audience tape. A special recording. I am blown away by its quality. This has never circulated before. Some pretty big tape discoveries lately--or tapes coming out. This one, and two from the Stone Roses in 1989--one at a place called Dingwalls in Camden, London, in May, and the other that February Sheffield gig with the incredibly rare performance of "Bye Bye Badman."