It is early Saturday morning. Raining out. Thunder. I made coffee from one pound bag of ground beans I must have had for ten years, from a cafe on Salem Street that I used to go to with my evil ex-wife. I didn't dump it because it was money and I don't have any. I sweated all night. I don't smell, though. It smells more sweet than anything. I don't have an air conditioner at the moment. There is one that is more than ten years old downstairs I can put it, but nothing really comes out of it. I'm wearing my blue "Shakespeare is for Lovers" T-shirt that is part of my nighttime uniform along with red basketball shorts. Emma saw me in it once and she said it looked gay and I said you are gay and she said she was bi and I said well you are half gay and you should like my shirt if it does indeed look gay and you know, it does. They are away but she texted me last night.
E: How are you
C: Not good I'm afraid
E: I'll help you pull through. Whatever you need cowboy
C: Thanks bud
E: The Wild West shouldn't be ventured alone
She posted something on Twitter--we are both very good follows, if you would like to follow two people who post interesting and touching and funny things (and we are both nice and do not bite)--about Kafka again, and it was half in German, then she texted me saying she likes Twitter a lot. I understand what she really likes: she likes feeling like she has an audience for her words--that she is being read--for one of the first times. Emma is very clever and she knows this, and she likes people seeing that. Which is understandable. It's good for her. She has a unique voice and I look forward to seeing what she posts. There are other people I like on there, but their posts are more in the way of updates. You are glad when things are going nicely for them or they have had a pleasant day with their family, I don't know, apple picking (I love apple picking; you'll know I've succeeded in part when you read about me apple picking once more), or they are giving a talk. But they're not writing, you know? Does that make sense? They're telling you something but the language could be anything. It's not indelible. Emma's is.
Last night I had a dream that I was with my late sister. We were somewhere in the suburbs of Chicago--Vernon Hills, I think. We had been out to dinner with my family. I think my dad was there, even though he is also dead. Somehow my sister and I split off from everyone else coming home. It was very late. After midnight. I was trying to get away and she knew that. I guess she really wanted me to go home. She was nice about everything. But I gave her the slip on some bus. I could not go back there. There was no transportation, but I was prepared to walk, and I had the dim sense that I was trying to get to the north, trying to get to Rockport. I walked all through the night. I remember thinking I would walk through anything, I would walk until my feet were nubs, I would walk on the bone stumps of my legs, I'd walk through hell, but I was not going back and I was going on to Rockport. There were farms and the animals would approach me, but no people. It seemed to be perpetually pre-dawn.
I will talk about this again later, and again after that, and I will repeat the idea in various words, I will thread it through this record during this period of its germination. My experience with Emma has born a different fruit quite beyond our actual relationship. It has given life inside of me to a novel about two people, very far apart in age, who have a relationship that is the most pure either will ever know, and the novel is about that relationship at very different points in life, as each lives their own life, on its own track. I think there is a very clear demarcation between what I do in something like this journal, what I do in my personal essays, what I will do in the memoir, what I do in the essay volume Glue God that none of you have seen yet, because no one has put it out, than what I do in my fiction. People are caged in by their own limitations. If they can't do something, they often assume--hope--that someone else cannot either. These people want to know that a work of fiction you wrote was not invented. They'll try so hard to make it something you did not invent, that you instead transcribed from your life. Recently, a long time family friend asked me if "Post-Fletcher"--which is about a man, not dead, who has a ghost, whom he becomes the shepherd of--or so he thinks--was autobiographical. That sounds almost funny, right? I mean, do I have a ghost I hang out with, that I have to go find and keep out of trouble? And a decent ex-wife who lives across the country in California who is with a tech guy and whom I have reconnected with from 3000 miles and we are becoming closer to each other, all while I'm tending after my ghost? That's how hard people fight to deny that you are that inventive. It staggers them, because they could never invent anything.
Try to think of a story. What's your story about? What nearly every single person who has ever existed is going to do is think about their own life and how they can fictionalize something they considered a big emotional deal when it happened. I don't do that. I make something up. I completely invent. But something in your life can create a tinder bundle in your imagination. It can place something there that becomes something entirely different. It's an idea. You can look at a banana peel and get an idea for a story, which doesn't mean the story is about the banana peel at all. Sometimes I will use a name from someone I have known in life. Do you know why? Because that name was real and it worked. Next time you watch Cheers, watch the credits--do you see how many of the characters have the same first name as the actors? It's not because all of the actors sat in a bar all day in their real lives. The names worked, they rolled with them. Outside of the biography of the artist and people wanting to know those details, it is irrelevant the banana peel thing. My ex-Harper's editor read a story of mine called "Hang It on the Limb," which Post Road published and which is in Cheer Pack: Stories, along with a Harper's story and assorted masterpieces, which also no one will put out because I am the most hated person in this industry. And he remarked that I could really do something special with people far apart in age. Much further apart than they were in that story. (Which was about fifteen years.) That remark stuck with me. The idea is developing and will continue to develop. The novel will be called Wing Wax. Certain new short stories I am composing--"A man outside a playground," "Fitty," "Daws, Rooks, Crows"--are helping me think about it some more. I will let the novel come to me. I think maybe the most beautiful relationship in the history of art will be seen as a very non-traditional one that is more touching because of it.
The novel will span decades. I didn't just write a novel--an entirely new form of one, which is also the funniest book in American letters, in Meatheads Say the Realest Things: Satire from the End of Civilization this past spring (which also no one will put out, because of the whole hate thing, plus you're asking an industry that is terrified of anything new to have the vision to put out something new that could make a fortune)--this spring, I came up with the chassis for this one and for another called Done Eden, which my story "Dunedin" took me to, and which will also cover decades. Can you even imagine what would happen if they let me win the awards and get the marketing and have the platform, or I find my own way to get the platform, and this stuff is pushed, this person is pushed, this persona is pushed, this truth-teller is pushed, this radio presence is pushed, this genius is pushed, this large-hearted artist is pushed, the person who can produce this much, all of it at the same level, in so many fields and genres, without interference, without a filter? Can you imagine what happens then? When you are told to know about this person, and they have their audience with you? It's a small thing, a different thing, but obviously I'm at the Brattle a lot. And I see a lot of people talk there. They go up on stage, they have the microphone, and they are anywhere from bad--bland--to blase. There will be some polite laughter. But it's not dynamic, it's not powerful, visceral, unfiltered love. But it was when I spoke. And a friend who watched the film of that would say, "Look what happens when you have direct access to people, without any of the bullshit publishing puts you through. They're ready to explode. Because there is no filter, it's direct, you and them, you're all in the same room and you have their attention. And then anything can happen with you."
Regarding Meatheads, you could do an entire series. You could do multiple volumes in the Meathead series, certainly, but you could also send up whole other groups. Social Justice Warriors Say the Wokest Things: Satire from the End of Civilization, for instance. We rip each other apart, we rip apart the fabrics of society in trying to find differences between each other, but what I am doing is seemingly calling attention to those differences, in a hilarious way, that simultaneously makes it plain that the people from group to group, who want to detest each other based on presumed differences, are not that different at all. All while making you laugh your balls off--or insert what genitalia-metaphor you see fit--and truly moving you in a way you did not expect, making you care in a way you did not expect, when you just thought you were getting a super funny book, which you also are. And you are asking people in publishing to see this, but they can't see anything of a future. They can only look back at bad books, and when they receive a book, they have to be able to compare it to earlier bad books they already moved. Throw in the industry-wide hate, the fact that I am an athletic-looking self-made white male, throw in the seething envy over ability and accomplishment and productivity, over the expertise in so many areas, throw in the confusion as to what I even am, throw in the cronyism and the reasons everything else gets done, and here we are. This is bank with some backing. All of it. All of it is so many revenue streams waiting to become rivers that overrun their banks. This journal is that. All of it. Meatheads would be a brilliant Netflix series. Could be animated. Buried on the Beaches, the book an industry made sure to bury, because it was by the evil Fleming, could be a series. "Pillow Drift" is a short story waiting to explode in a major magazine smart enough and unbiased enough to pay for it and print it, which would then become a classic horror film that would trend and strobe everywhere. Just waiting to happen. All of this. And here I sit. And every week gets worse, as I get better and more dynamic.
While I have been writing this, I have been composing an essay on Joan Harrison, who was one of the first female producers in Hollywood. Excerpt:
Long before Alfred Hitchcock and his marketing team implored moviegoers in 1960 not to share what they had seen unfold with Psycho, there was another film that was called a thriller during its time—and now gets tagged as noir—that had also required similar entreaties. This was 1944, and the picture was Phantom Lady, one of the first Hollywood films that if it were released in our age, it would come with the warning of “Please, no spoilers.”
The film was directed by Robert Siodmak, a venerable, go-to thriller guy who helmed such endeavors with a firm grip upon a finely calibrated wheel, ratcheting up the intensity of mood such that a sudden turn of the hands would make us all feel like we’d been deprived of the oak planks beneath our feet and launched bodily—in a good way.
But the picture was really no more Siodmak’s doing—that is, he was not its chief doer, if you will—than we might say a film directed by Robert Wise was a Robert Wise undertaking when it was also produced by Val Lewton. That’s because Phantom Lady was the handiwork of Joan Harrison, who had been provided—because she had earned it—the break she had long desired in her Hollywood career: the chance to produce a film, which virtually no women had done up until that point.
She more than had the stuff to do it. Pluck is a rare trait in this world, though you might say it was one of Harrison’s chief exports. The Hitchcock comparison is not an idle one. The rotund master learned a thing or two from our Ms. Harrison, as she certainly learned a goodly amount from him. Born in the summer of 1907 in Surrey, she was hungover one morning in 1933, laying in bed and pondering the depths of her headache, when a friend told her that Hitchcock was looking for a secretary.
Within minutes, she was in her car. Forty people had already been interviewed, twelve more were queuing in line for their grilling, but Harrison overleapt them all, out-blagging everyone, as the English would put it, landing the gig.
Further—and maybe she anticipated this all along—she came to earn Hitchcock’s ultimate approbation. In terms of his pictures, he counted on the counsel of his wife Alma, an auteur in her own right, and perhaps the single greatest creative silent partner in all of cinema. She was about the only person who could argue him down from something. That is, until Joan Harrison and her pluck—and certainly her sense of story—won Hitchcock’s respect, and that of moviegoers, too, who began to notice that there was a new name in the credits of Hitchcock’s films. She wasn’t billed as secretary by then, but rather, screenwriter.