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Monday 9/23/19

I have had the two worst panic attacks I have experienced yet this morning. It felt like my chest was cracking in two and I should check for bruises. I am going through my finances and that is pretty terrifying and this is going to get worse when I start going through the email. It's been so long. I don't know if I will be able to take it to be honest. I though I should go to the hospital because maybe this was a heart attack but it can't be a heart attack. I climbed the Monument ten times yesterday and ten times the day before and I don't think it can be my heart, I think I am that totally freaked out by everything now and I don't function.

If I didn't climb the Monument I would assume this is my heart. I opened a birthday parcel from my sister from last week and there were two drawings in it from my nephew Charlie and my niece Lilah and they made me sad. I don't have relationships with these kids. I live in this hell, I just try to keep going and get out of this hell, I can't be avuncular, I can't spread joy, or my wisdom, I'm all used up, it goes to my work and this desperate, desperate struggle to remain alive. I am losing this battle to stay alive. The drawings were of a visit I made to the Aquarium with my sister, my mom, my sister's kids, what must be a year and a half ago now. I'm just like some dim reference to these kids. I can't be anything else right now. I am not even hanging on, I don't think this qualifies as hanging on. I think this qualifies as I've fallen and I haven't hit the spike waiting at the bottom yet. But I'm approaching it.

I thought maybe I'd ease into things by going through some of the stuff that has been sent to the website. But Jesus that doesn't help. Even when people are trying to say something nice, it's remarkable how condescending and insulting they can be. People writing me about old Salon articles. Why are old Salon articles popping up? Someone sent me, as an FYI, a link to my own Yellow Submarine piece for Salon, with an assortment of other links about Yellow Submarine. Nothing else. No context. Is the point that others have written on Yellow Submarine? I don't know this? We're making me aware? Is it that I ripped these off, they're better, they're worse, what? Just so I have them? They were not by this person. I guess if I wrote something on something and you wrote something on something you might want to show me? Wasn't that. It made me uncomfortable. Nonsensicality makes me uncomfortable. It can make me think a deep darkness lurks within you.

I did get a really touching note about Buried on the Beaches, from someone it meant a world to. They were really nice. And you could tell that they saw the book for what it was. They were grateful. Grateful I created that for them. This person didn't know this, but it was uncanny how parallel our lives ran, geographically, at least. They went to the same college I went to, lived in an Illinois town near my mom and my sister.

But this note--even though it's talking about the book as a masterpiece--made me sad, too, because I know this book, I see some of the reaction to it from people who have read it, I know it could be beloved, by many, many, many readers, I know it could be a bestseller, I know it could be the basis for a series, but because of the blacklist, there was not a single review in this country, people don't even get a chance to know about it. Not now, not on this day in September 2019. Maybe later. When people are aware of my work and they read it, they don't respond to it like they respond to other work. It's more bound up in who they are. It connects deeper. I shouldn't be upset about the condescending person either. They probably meant well. But I don't know. They complimented me on not spelling anything incorrectly. Like that's pretty condescending, no? I'm not seven. Then they say they even learned a new word. They tell me it's the most literate thing they've ever read on this subject, which was the Rolling Stones.

You know this kind of person. Left-handed compliments. The attitude. Smugness. Or maybe it's insecurity on their part. I don't know. They tell me they disagree with a point (not that I understood their opposing one), which is the problem with the piece, and why it is thus only a "minor masterpiece." I would never talk to someone like this. Someone I was trying to say something nice to, but I have to tell myself that people can't communicate like I do, that they probably meant well in a case like this, but then I also feel like I am making excuses for people, cutting them these allowances rather than treating them like adults. I know that if I had a character in a story talk this way, it would mean that they were arrogant, insecure. Perhaps. It can be more complicated than that. I try to give the benefit of the doubt, then I wonder if I need to keep this kind of thing secret, if I should not even write about it in my journal, and I don't want to think about my journal that way, because a billion people might read this journal at some point, I view it as a sustained work of singular literature, but ultimately I write it for me. I'm keeping you going, big fella, the best I can, this is part of that.

If I ever get out of this hell I can be other things to other people. I could be a great father. I know that now. I could be a good husband. I could be a great uncle. I have things to give that are unique. That's not a slight of anyone else. I could be a presence in the lives of John's kids. I'm terrified, man. All I know is fear now. I feel my resting heartbeat, and it's always like a jackhammer. I always feel nausea and vomit coming on. I am so scared all of the time. Then I have to create. My genius is deepening. It's like this bottomless ocean, and I dive down, I dive down deeper than the last time, I can dive and discover, and come back up, every time. I am creating the most luxuriant--or discovering, if one prefers--and variagated works of art there has ever been, I am doing it daily or near-daily now.

That's not helping. It's making things worse. The productivity makes it worse, that I am doing this and can makes the hate and the jealousy worse, it doesn't break down the blackballing, it seems to strengthen the walls. On Saturday I composed a new short story. "Optics." On Friday I composed another. "Ki-Me-O." There were two more--"Part," "See Her"--earlier in the week. Four new short stories in a week. I did the Guggenheim application. I wrote the bulk of a new essay. I climbed the Monument twenty-three times. I helped Emma. That's a week, normal week for me. I'm a good man. I am the best artist. And I'm just destroyed. Today I started another story. I'll probably finish it in a few minutes. Because I had to do another. It's how I hang on. I hang on now--or I hang in space, before I get to that spike on the ground--by creating.

I saw Streetwise at the Brattle last night. I began an essay on friendship. I saw Once Upon a Times in Hollywood at the Boston Common multiplex on Saturday evening. Emma got her haircut really short and she hates it and is embarrassed. I hadn't seen her so I asked what people said, and it was things like "It's not that awful," etc., and I told her I was sure it was not awful at all and I would text her when I was back home and she could come out into the hallway. She had read and reread some stories of mine and texted me some comments. "Part" was her favorite. "Part" is terrifying. It's a story about fear. She read "Here"--also scary, but less viscerally so, I would say, but more unnerving, perhaps--which is constructed with every sentence being a paragraph, and she read it late at night under the covers and then could not sleep. She said she looked like Julius Caesar with her haircut. Or like she had cut it with a rock. I wanted to give her the two new stories from Friday and Saturday and I had a letter for her as well.

She comes out and she didn't want to take her hat off, and I said that was fine, no pressure from me. But I reminded her that sometimes, when we frame things in certain terms, people pick up on those terms and frame their answers within the parameters of those terms. People are more likely to go along than give a 100% pure take. They don't even know they're doing it usually. I used to experiment with the people in my life--I could influence their answers based upon how I framed my questions. It was depressing. But I know audience. I would say that I know nothing more--though some things (human nature, the depths of the human condition) are tied--than I know audience. She has this one very dramatic friend in Sweden, she is an angst-y, arty teen, hyper-critical, not because that's necessarily how she is, but that's her go-to right now. Jaded teen.

They've been around forever. So of course that girl is no going to be the perfect opinion-giver here. Emma comes down the stairs, she looks all sheepish, then she decides she's going to show me as I'm sitting there on the window sill, and I told her the truth. I said, "Emma, you look absolutely beautiful." She thought she looked like a boy, and I said "you look like a super cool young woman, you look feminine and it brings out your eyes and you can pull off any look, just as I expected. It's a really great haircut. I have such a cool friend."

All of which is true. She still wanted to wear a hat and she brought down several to show me her options. Red bucket hat, John Lennon cap. I lent her my Bruins beanie and my Vaccines beanie, as a couple other options. Vaccines the band, not the shots. I told her that I wrote Dark March to the Vaccines' first album. She ordered a copy of Dark March and it came the other day when we were hanging out, and I wrote something in it for her, of course.

She had needed some guidance the other day and I was not around. I am not sure what it was in reference to, but I suspect it was regarding a situation at school, or, rather, over a group text. There is this boy at the school who sounds sweet but is awkward. Emma has been nice to him. She even went to his house. But I know she finds him annoying, sounds like maybe they are not cut out to be great friends right now. I say right now because kids--and adults--get nervous, they put their foot in it, which is maybe what happens too when some people write me, so I try and be aware of that but I also know I'm not that great at slack-cutting, that a part of me thinks as an adult that you are responsible for your words as you express them, that to not treat someone this way is to condescend to them, and it's also hard for me because I can feel like I am dealing with ants when it comes to words.

Orson Welles was a good man, but he was utterly dismissive of some people, because he was so much smarter than they were, it can take so much energy to come down to the levels of others. You can think it's not important, you make it up to the world in other ways, etc. I guess in some ways I am trying to walk both sides of a street. I also know that if I was where I should be, if my life was not this hell, I would never even notice things like this, they would not rate for me, I'd see them and they'd pass out of my brain within four seconds. But when you are in hell, everything is slowed down and acute.

So Emma is on a group text. And the other kids want to leave this boy out. And Emma says, no, that's not right, if that's what you're doing, I'm out, I'm not going to be a part of that. She's just started high school. You know how high school is. They say to her that she'll regret not turning on this boy. Now, Emma isn't even fond of him. That's not the point. She's still considering his feelings. And she's still committed to doing the right thing. She asks them if they've every heard of the term passive aggressive, and she moves on. Could I be more proud of this young woman? No, not really.

The thing is, this won't hold her back, because people--her peers--look up to Emma, and believe me, there were other kids who weren't cool with this, who were going along with it, because that's what kids--and people--do. A lot. Unfortunately. But things change, and the person giving you that passive aggressive BS in that moment, may come to look up to you even more, and reach out over something else later, and you become better friends, and Emma is someone who has it in her to influence people to the good, profoundly, at the level of who they are. There is an episode of Frasier where Martin tells Niles, who is heartbroken, he thinks he's lost the love of his life, but he behaved in a moral fashion, "I can always count on you to do the right thing." That's about the nicest thing we can say about someone, I think.

In 2015 I was engaged to a violinist. She was a student at Oberlin. I was out there visiting. She lived in a house with these other women--adults--who were about to be graduating. The person I was engaged to had a fifth year of school coming up. She was a student in the conservatory and a creative writing major. This was February. So only a few months left for the others, then you're off into the world, and how many friends from college, from high school, from middle school, do we retain? Altogether a handful, right? It's not a lot. Friendship is not common to begin with. Introduce distance, and most so-called friendships, made at those times in life, are cooked, done, over. I was perfectly nice to these women. I can ingratiate with just about anyone, really. I may be utterly destroyed right now, but I can fit in with any kind of person, if I'm trying. I have a lot of different kinds of friends. But, drama. Before I left, these women--vipers, really--intimated something to the woman I was with that they would not welcome me back. Being there was like wading through depression and alcoholism. I'm broken in different ways right now. But I've never been glazed over and virtually dead. Caligari-ing (Cesare-ing?) through life. At a campus like that, you see depression and mental illness up close, you see it walk right past you. And before I left, I asked if she'd be okay, and she got all fake cocksure, and said, "I can handle these simple girls."

I knew she would not be able to. She was smart. Enough to interest and compel me, but I knew she wasn't strong, I knew she was an adult who'd always be a child. But it's so hard for me to meet people who are smart enough where there's enough there for me on that score to get by with them, that I think other things can be overlooked, or coached up. Like John is better at some things than I am. He'd see a comment made to me and he'd take it in a broader way, would automatically make the allowances. Though if someone said it to him, he'd likely flip out and be ready to punch someone in the throat. So I try to see these things as John would see them if he were weighing in for me, as counsel. Being coached up. Anyway, I left, the women ganged up on this other women, she completely capitulated, and an enemy of mine--because this is how obsessed with me some people get--found out where her parents lived in North Carolina and wrote them a nasty note about me. Cue her mom then sitting her down on spring break to say that I was a misogynist.

I don't have a single feeling for this woman I was engaged to. I don't think it's possible for me to care about someone less. But that comment? That still bothers me. I think about it some times when I'm with Emma, or when I do anything I do. The day before school started, I wrote Emma a letter, and I also wrote a card to her mother, Susan, who was starting her new job at a new school. Because I thought perhaps she'd be a little nervous. And she has helped me. And because I know that Susan is a great teacher, one who also cares about kids, who cares about people, because I know her well, I see it, and sometimes we need a little reminding. Or if we don't need it, it can't hurt. That's how I am. I haven't become that way after these long years of reflection in hell, solitary hell, though I have become different, too. But that was my abiding nature, and it was going back as long as I've gone back. I've made mistakes, but I never left my mistakes behind, I have carried them with me, maybe too much so, but I've consulted them, measured the person I am, I am still trying to be, against those mistakes, daily. That person, that woman--the mother branding me that way--was the sexist, hurtful, irresponsible, selfish person. Not I.

It takes a lot more stuff--the good stuff--to be able, just starting out in high school, to stand up for someone you're not even really fond of, with children whom you want to be your friends, at an unsure time. These are kids, not adults, not adults you have a multi-year history of friendship with, and the security that comes with that. I was sitting there late last night at Caffe Dello Sport, working, and I thought about those words that Martin said to Niles, and they are words that I can say to Emma, so I am going to do that today when she gets home, and I may even give her a big hug--despite my stance on hugs--because I treasure her. I truly, truly do. She is what the world needs. The world needs my art, my work. But it also needs an Emma. At least right now I have been able to be what she needs from me.

Anyway. I left the beanies outside, in case she wanted to wear one to school, and I just opened the door to see that she took the Bruins one.

This is one of Charlie's drawings. You will note that he is in his de Kooning phase. Kara, as curator of this exhibit, offered, "The blue figure is you, green is Charlie, pink is Grammie. Lilah and I were left out for some reason. The red figure is a hammerhead shark"--wow!--"the green one is a fish, and the red one is another shark." That hammerhead shark is badass. He's also a little like a TIE-fighter. Multiple levels. I am very impressed. Charlie is big into Star Wars.

This is the one Lilah did. I dig her quasi-representational crab figurations, like how Jackson Pollock would deploy eyeballs before he turned to drip canvases.


Well, the story is done. 1800 words. It's called "Exultations." Quite a shocking story. I see that the position I am in has made me pay no mind to borders or boundaries. That's interesting. I wonder what the implications of this will ultimately be.


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