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Chop the wood

Friday 6/16/23

I was talking to someone last night who is one of the two people I talk to the most. They have as much of a view into my life as anyone because we go back as far as we do. A lot of people have a similar view into my life because of this journal, which started five years ago. It is the most voluminous personal record of a life in the world. It is the most truthful. It is the most open and unflinching. This is a human life in full. And it's a human life unlike any other human life. Soon, this journal will be the most voluminous personal record of a life in history. Already. I'll have to do another word count, but my estimate is that that's two or three months away.

This person asked me if it had been hard not to drink after I gave up drinking. Questions like this worry me because the answer has been covered so many times in so many places. Here, in published pieces, in interviews. In our case, in our conversations. My fear is that no one can understand anything. Doesn't matter how it's expressed or how often. I'm dependent on people being able to comprehend words. My words.

I don't believe that there's anyone in the world right now who has any skill with words. Note that I'm not just saying with writing. I mean with talking, too. Any time I turn on a podcast or radio program, I hear people who can't talk. They can't get a single sentence out well. Everything, success-wise, in these fields then becomes about other things, when no one commands language with any efficiency. They are never interesting. They never have knowledge that others don't have or can't get in two seconds. They're never funny. They're never articulate.

My concerns over Twitter being a way forward as this public sphere have diminished in recent days, because it's just too stupid and repetitive. It will burn itself out. As anything to be taken seriously, it really already has. You have people repeating the same things all day long. They're often so bad at language that they repeat these things in the form of the same pasted-in images. You have to be very stupid--and also very forgetful--to spend much time on Twitter. In ten years, it's not going to be some shaper of society, which is how some people talk about it. Think of Twitter like a room full of babbling idiots with nothing to say, repeating themselves and spouting off with whatever comes into their minds. What is the appeal? If you're a babbling idiot, there's room for you at the inn. And you don't have to do anything but be a babbling idiot, and you can even feel like you're getting "points"--for that's what followers and retweets are--for being a babbling idiot. You've found a place where you can finally flourish, despite being a babbling idiot. Because you're a babbling idiot, actually. Victory!

When my friend asked me this question, that makes me have the question of, "How can he not know this by now?" Quickly it becomes, "If he can't know this, then what can anyone know? Anything?"

They were also trying to get a bead on the timeline. I went to the hospital, for instance, with an elevated heart rate, and then a cardiologist, who told me I had an irregular heartbeat. There were a couple emergency room visits. One when I was drinking heavily, one when I had not been drinking, which was still before I gave up drinking. For I would stop sometimes. When I spent that horrible, painful, lonely Christmas at an inn in Rockport in 2013, I had stopped drinking in the weeks leading up to that, but I was drinking again by the time I was there.

When I went to the hospital the second time with the elevated heart rate, I was even more worried because I didn't expect that given that I wasn't drinking. They suggested at Charles MGH--for I told them I had stopped drinking--that my heart could have been elevated for that reason. In other words, like I had the shakes.

That's where things had come to for me. I never had the shakes. I offset, best as I could, the drinking I had done by walking ten miles a day. I walked over 3000 miles a year after the house was taken from me in Rockport, and before I started running stairs. That covered about five years. It was a very strange set-up I had. Drink all of that, but then maybe walking twenty miles on a Saturday. If I hadn't been walking, my problems would have been greater, probably, than they were, and they were big enough.

Sad to say, after I saw the cardiologist as a result of that second ER visit, and I learned of the irregular heartbeat, I did start drinking again. That didn't get me to stop. You'd think that would be how it worked.

I am a certain way with the things I do. When I'm ready to do them, I do them. (If you proved yourself a bigot three years ago--for the umpteenth time--and you have not been in these pages yet, it's not because I've forgotten or you slipped through the cracks; your time is coming--when I'm ready to get to you. But you will be in these pages.) And I do them with a degree of commitment and thoroughness that is matchless. I may have a book portion or a few notes for a story, that sit there for twelve years. I know I'm going to write that book and write that story. For other writers, these would be things that became forgotten, or never pulled out of the proverbial desk drawer again.

They're always with me, though. In my mind, time is a very different thing than time is anywhere else. Do you know what "Find the Edges" in Harper's was? In 2001, I was writing a story called "Send Me Your Pillow," which was a big work for me. It took a long time. It went through so many versions and eventually became the last story in my second book. There was to be a follow-up story to that story. I started it, and it was all of, let us say, fifty words on a printed out piece of paper. For close to two decades, that piece of paper was buried beneath a pile of books. I always knew it was there. (I have many other things like this now.) I knew I'd take it out and I'd write it.

So, whenever it was on a random day in 2017, I took out the piece of paper, looked at the words, and in an hour or whatever wrote "Find the Edges," which was something quite different, and didn't have to do with that earlier story. And that was that. How many stories have I written that were as good since "Find the Edges" in 2017? It's 500 stories. As it says on search engines regarding this site: I'm not other writers.

Drinking was similar to me, in that I knew I'd reach the go-time point. And by go-time, I meant the time when I'd be done with it for good. By choice. My choice in my time.

There really was no direct correlation between what anyone told me to do and what I did. No one knew how much I was drinking. I didn't divulge the specifics of that information to hospital staff or the cardiologist. No one knew.

A Saturday came in 2016 when I understood that with the way I was being discriminated against in publishing, that these people hated me so much--with those negative forces increasing in the years since, as I did and achieved more and more, and something like "Find the Edges" created a new frenzy of envy--that if I didn't make a change, they would actually kill me. How hard they had made my life was sufficiently hard that if I was not the strongest person I could be in every way, I'd have a stroke, a heart attack, something, and it wouldn't be way off. I was going to beat them, if I was going to reach the world with my work in large numbers, if I was going to change the world to the good, I needed to stop drinking. And because I would need the full run of peace of mind that would come with that decision and why that decision was made, I'd need to give up drinking completely. Because if I could point at a weekend where there was drinking, even just whatever might be considered a "normal" amount, that would undermine what I was trying to do, if not with my actual body in that case, then as a stressor. There is peace of mind in being able to say, "This thing isn't great and you don't do it at all."

So I stopped. That was the thought process, that was the timing, and that's how I work. Was it hard not to drink after I gave up drinking? No, it wasn't. I'll put it another way. Break a pattern, and you're on your way. Get a single day under your belt, and that's a big part of it. It really is finding that first day. Then a second day. A third. Get a week, and things have changed. Habits and what you reach become altered. Drop away. Things leave your system. If you required alcohol to sleep, you have weird hours for a while. But your body says, "It's cool, I'll straighten this out." Your body will say that and fix the problem. Trust your body to do so. You go from total wakefulness to a routine. The body develops a new clock. Eventually you fall asleep at a regular hour and it doesn't take hours of trying. Then whatever things become is just how they are. It doesn't take that long.

I'm someone who is the biggest believer in numbers and putting in the time. Put in the time, you put yourself or your work in the best position to be what you and it should be. When I played hockey, I had an abiding belief in "practice well, play well." Look at how I write. I do it every day. Many words every day. Look how I fight this fight. I fight it every day. I say the truth here, I call out here, I write this work, that work, I come to these pages between doing those works and I keep the record going, the pressure on, the truth coming out. When I create a story, I want to create the next story. When I had a day without drinking I wanted to have two days. And so on.

That was my experience. It doesn't mean, of course, that it would be someone else's. It's unlikely it would be. That doesn't mean that that course wouldn't be right for them. Or isn't necessary. Or that they can't do it. They certainly have things that are easy for them that would be hard for me. I could hopefully get better at those things, but if I tried to do them then and there, I'd have a hard time. Sometimes those are very basic things, so far as most people think. Going to the doctor. Electronics and technology. Basic range of wardrobe matters. I want and need to get better at these things in time, especially with the role they play with other, bigger things I want and seek daily in my grand quest. When I am in my house in Rockport again, I want everything set up a certain way so I have the maximum capabilities computer-wise, stereo-wise, home theatre-wise. I want to go regularly to the doctor and have peace of mind rather than trying to create peace of mind by how I live and exercise alone. I want to pick out a suit to wear from a range of suits for that television appearance I am making or that award I am being given. I find these things daunting right now, even in theory. I say in theory because I don't have the means or living environment or a fear under control right now such that I can or have started to address these issues and my shortcomings regards them. I note the shortcomings. And I will move on them.

I think it would be a disservice to people who might look to me for inspiration, which is a theme, to suggest, "Oh yeah, no struggles at all for me," like there shouldn't be any for someone else, or that I'm not a person who struggles where they don't, because I am. (At least for now.)

What I would say is that someone can do it. And it's totally fine if it's hard. It gets easier. And I think something that's true for everyone is that it can get easier faster than we tend to think.

People are very defeatist now. Look at all of the sham life coaches out there. Those people are the version of the modern witch. Life coaches, wellness coaches, writing coaches, creativity coaches. I'll do an entry on that whole scam sector and the kind of person who almost always is working the scam. Because it's a very particular sort of person, and those people have similar backgrounds, similar dissatisfactions with their own lives and where their life choices have led them. They need to help foster a prevailing attitude in which everything is super big, super arduous, super taxing, super drawn out. That attitude is common in our society.

Let me give an example of something. The other day, I saw a very bad essay in a venue. Alphabet buzzword soup BS. Woke jargon nonsense. The venue was all syrup-y in over-congratulating the author on social media, saying what an honor it was to be able to host and present this "hybrid-essay" of sublime beauty and importance. Again, just BS regarding the actual piece. Bad/pointless writing, ass-voice double-speak, and then you get this safe-space language of contrived celebration, as a result of the piece being so bad, its author being so fake, and an editor playing along because they've made themselves into these same system things, or got into the system in the first place because they were that way.

Then the author jumps in to comment. You'll see this all the time. Usually it's a woman author. Part of the reason for that is because there are fewer and fewer straight male writers in this subculture. These sorts of things are becoming more and more like ballet class when you're a kid. It's girls, and then there's that one guy. With literary journals, a big part of the reason now is straight-up sexism. Bu straight male authors have also been driven off, and many left or were unwilling to be shat and they just had no chance. They checked the wrong boxes. Those who didn't leave were connected or slimely unctuous in such a way as to create the requisite connection vibe--as in, "here's a talentless--and therefore, nonthreatening--person willing to kiss my ass and bow before me, I will publish some of their valueless bijou-slop."

Worth noting: the kiss-the-ring attitude only works if they can identify you as at their level or beneath them. Were someone above them to employ the same approach in the same words--with exponentially greater qualifications, even--they'd be shut out, ignored, locked out/automatically banned, because that person knew they were on a level above them. It's a killer with these people.

This author did what I see a lot of from this kind of gross, talentless, narcissistic person. They celebrated themselves. They took the victory tour for this thing that no one was going to read all the way through, no one would take seriously, and could not and will not mean anything to a single life in the world. The way they talked about themselves in that comment in following from the venue's post of the piece and the sugary tribute was as if they'd just been handed the Stanley Cup as the captain of the team, and now it was time for the glorious trip around the ice as the crowd roared.

She said that there is a story behind how every essay comes to be written, and if it wasn't for this particular Brooklyn hipster fuck-bag--I've changed the words some--who put out a prompt for hybrid essays about novels that weren't novel in pieces that were like fiction while being nonfiction, she never would have come to create this amazing work of hers.

Stop it.

Who are you fooling? You? Are you even fooling you?

Pretty typical. See all of that protracted, dramatic build-up? When ChatGPT could have spat out a better version of this hybrid-essay garbage in .7 seconds.

There's a story behind every single essay. Do you see how melodramatic, self-romanticizing, and self-serving that is?

Who writes more of everything than anyone, and better each time than anyone can write? Hey there. There isn't some story behind every single thing. There's ability. There's having worked to develop the ability. There's talent. Knowledge. Vision. Purpose. Discipline. Imagination. Then there's writing.

You want a story behind some thing? I just gave you the story behind "Find the Edges." A post from yesterday has the story behind a story called "Hope You're Listening." I wrote an essay about Carlton Fisk and a life-long love of catchers. The story behind it: I was walking through Kenmore Square one day. On one side of a crosswalk I thought, "You know, we haven't had a sports piece in a bit, you're going to want to build up the coffers some, let's do one soon, what should it be on?" and by the time I got to the other side of that crosswalk, I had the idea for the piece and it had been written in my head. So what's the story behind that essay? A crosswalk? A decision to write a new piece about sports?

Ah, but let's not forget how these people reward each other and reward themselves by making a virtue out of sucking at writing and finding it very difficult to write anything. Remember the discussion from the other day, about how they simply use different words, like craft, care, workshopping? If you require some dramatic backstory for each shitty thing you write, do you see how that makes it easier to think it's okay to write next to nothing? How many remarkable backstories can there be every year? It's kind of like one, right? Or zero.

Imagine if I had a cabin in the woods of Maine. And you came to visit me at my wood cabin in winter, after having driven quite a ways on a snowy road. You pulled up and there I was working in the yard in front of a huge amount of stacked firewood five rows deep. We shake hands, and I say, "Let me tell you, there is always a story behind every piece of firewood." No. That's total bullshit. Writing and actually being good at it is the same way. You chop the fucking wood. Every day you get out there and you chop. And you stack. And you build. And you warm the house, and that house can be the world, frankly. You chop the damn wood.

Do you think this woman would want to hear any of that? Or do you think she wants to delude herself and write one bad piece every year and get safe-space compliments that are lies because no one actually think well of the work or could ever care about it and this is the game. And then she stands in front of a classroom of kids at some college and bullshit them and talks about herself and how there's a story behind every essay and makes them read her awful essay and kiss her ass.

This is what a system runs on. Bullshit. Lies, lies to self, weakness, brokenness, fear, anxiety, and a deep-rooted terror of anything real.

If you wanted to write, what I'd say to you is work your ass off every day. Write every day. Think of something to write about and write about it. Don't be some mopey, moan-y narcissistic delusional drama queen with your Facebook filters for all of the hackneyed causes that no one really gives a rat's ass about in their heart, and the poses and the jargon. Pick something. Write.

If you drink too much and want to stop, achieve that first drink-free day. Go out and get it. Then boom, you did something. You achieved that day. Achieve another. Deal with how that makes you feel, how it makes your body feel. Understand it's not going to be perfect. Or it doesn't have to be. Understand that if you have a temptation on day three, that doesn't mean you will on day four. After all: Things are changing. Be patient. Let the results come to you by hanging in there, and chopping your wood.

The hands may blister at first. The blisters break and they bleed. The hands sting. Sweat gets in those cuts and they sting more. But those hands become working hands. They callous. And you bring that blade to bear on that log and it takes you less swings to get through to the other side, and you stack and you stack and you stack that pile, you warm the house, you warm the surrounding woods with your energy, your development, your strength, your inspiration, the person you are becoming, the work you are creating whether that work is you, work you have composed, or both.

Yes. That's how it gets done. A lot of things. They don't get done with a circle-jerk and one asshole saying, "Oh, there's a story behind every last piece of firewood, let's all bullshit about me."

It's cool--I'll be your unofficial creativity, writing, and sobriety coach all rolled into one.

Pick up the ax and chop the fucking wood.


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