Daughter of a friend of mine is being bullied really bad at school. I think I'm going to write a story for her to try and help her. I have this idea, and I'm still working it out. It's a science fiction story about bullies. Not write it just to help her. It can be a great story. Sometimes I feel like I'm cheating, but that's a great feeling for me to have. Writing is so easy for me. Creating. I can do anything at this point. It's simply a matter of application or letting things happen. Came up with two other story ideas within less than a second when I briefly woke up and there they were.
I had a big breakthrough on There Is No Doubt: Storied Humanness. Not a big breakthrough in terms of "this has been so labored, but now I've finally figured it out." Not that. What I mean is I reached a decision that not only am I completely committed to, I know it's the completely correct decision. In my life--or in my thoughts, if not these pages--I've talked about a death push. A death push is creating like I would be dead in a period of time. And if you make the death push--that means, you've gone completely to 100% capacity--and nothing changes, life is still as bad, what do you do then? By "you" I'm talking about myself. I understand that right now, my control is limited. In a way. What I believe is that if I keep doing what I am doing--making the best art there has ever been, the most varied art, the most endlessly inventive art, day in, day out--and I keep bringing the ax blade to bear into the tree, and the next tree, then all will clear, and be open road. Just do it every day. That's not the same as a death push, which operates on the principle that I have this other kind of control. I do have one kind, which I think I just captured. It's more indirect, though. Indirect control can be more potent than direct control. It depends what you're doing. What you can do. The nature of your cause. Your commitment. The uniqueness of your ability. I used to worry that if I did a death push and here I still was, in this hell, what would I do then? There'd be nothing else left to try, no more I could give. I'd kill myself. Hence, the term death push.
But I am not going to lose, and I am not going to stand forever surrounded by this blackest forest. I have coopted the concept of the death push, though, for the likes of There Is No Doubt, to make it a death push book. When you have 500 available stories, you think about to what books they'll go. You'll hold this one back so that it can go here. You make the ideas, the numbers, the themes, the styles, the voices, work. But I'm death-pushing it with There Is No Doubt. I won't hold any story back for that story to go somewhere else. I'll figure out the somewhere else later. I have the stores, there's never any dip in quality, and I always have more. This was a significant decision, and it came to me less a decision than something I knew I had to do. It's not finalized, and certain things are in flux and others are being written, but it's coming very clear now, and works that were looking like they might be headed elsewhere are not. It's the death push in book form, which makes it the ultimate life force. This is the book where every protagonist is female. It begins with "Fitty." I want to start the book with what the reader will think is the best story they've ever read. The reader will think that story cannot be followed. But like I said, I am death-pushing it. And good God what will follow and follow and follow.
Here is a recent radio discussion about the first four stories in Brackets. I've alluded before to the idea that along with Cheer Pack, this book marks the close of chapter of my art. There are changes all the time. Not all the time, but often. I can feel them. When I do, I'll sometimes note that here. I can feel that I am molting once more. There are changes within the changes. Prior to a few years ago, my stories would usually feature male protagonists. It's not that way anymore. There are male protagonists, yes, but out of the 350+ stories I've written since June 2018, by far the majority feature female protagonists. (Granted, there are dozens and dozens with male protagonists; "Desilva" being a recent example.) I was doing something and it was so varied stylistically--which is a hallmark of Brackets--and tonally, and in every way, but I thought, "Why are we not doing this other thing?" It was like not using the whole paintbox. That was silly. And because the characters are always real, and they tell me their stories, it seemed limiting not to interact with and listen to more of them. Along came stories such as "Fitty," and a lot changed. The stories in Brackets were written over a twenty year period. That's a lot of years. The Cheer Pack stories come from, I believe, 2013-2018. If anyone else had Cheer Pack--and if their version of Cheer Pack sucked, and the stories were just wretched, boring, pointless, narcissistic, flat, predictable, unvaried, desperately, graspingly, pathetically elitist, and inept; like if Justin Taylor wrote them, for instance--that book would have gone with any of a number of major publishing houses because of the track record--the pedigree--of the stories. Harper's, Glimmer Train, VQR, etc. For that alone. But I am uniquely discriminated against, as these pages have proven again and again, with fact and truth-based evidence, so it still has no home.
Now, pedigree is meaningless, in reality, insofar as being an indication of a work's quality. These places will publish offal's version of offal. It's all about other things--cronyism, being the right kind of tool in Brooklyn, skin color, gender, if you know enough fellow-frauds/little writer buddies in some clique so that the press can be assured those little writer buddies will go on the internet and lie about your book and how you're the voice of a generation, etc. The people who publish it have no belief in the quality of any of it. They don't think it's awesome. No one thinks Justin Taylor is an awesome writer. That will never happen. If even his mother said as much to him, she was lying, and he knew she was lying. The New Yorker publishes his fiction. They don't think it. In essence, readers are always being lied to by people of this sort. I've been doing some more investigating and information-gathering lately, too, which should sound frightening to certain people--as in, "What is Fleming up to now that will expose me and make me look terrible?"--given all I already know and have experienced. It all happens for other reasons. It is never the quality of the work.
I just want to unload Cheer Pack to whomever at this point, to get it technically out there. I always need to be moving books. Always, yes, until I die; but right now, for different reasons. I create more books than just about anyone else creates pieces. Of all kinds. Cheer Pack is as tight as it gets. But it also is from this other period in my life. And by my life, I mean my artistry. I understand that my books will need to come out again, in situations, with different ventures, in different business models, whatever it is, where they can do what they're here to do and reach whom they're meant to reach. I think about a tenth anniversary version of Dark March for next year, because I have things I want to do to the book. The text. But even if that were to happen, it'd have to come out again after. When this changes. Because it's going to. Then the older books get their first real shot. It'll be like they are brand new and were just created.
I have no problem doing right by those older works, which are always, at the same time, new and fresh works, but in terms of getting something out there for the first time--so that it is technically available--I want to close that period of my artistry. For me. It's different coming back to something in changed circumstances, to make sure that the most amount of people get to see it. You're opening the door to this other room you don't use anymore. And it's a hell of a room. It's beautiful. It's the best room there could be. But right now, for me, it's like I'm in this different room, and the door to that other room is still open, and I can see in there from down the hall, but I'm not going to go in there. I just want to close that door. For me. Others can be in that room. I'm fully present in the room I'm currently in. My rooms are worlds. Cheer Pack is back in that other room. By closing that door for me, I also start to open up that room for other people. That process. It's going to take the change that will come for the millions of people who are going to see that book to see that book. But it also should be technically out there, even if it's before that change occurs. It matters. A lot, actually. It becomes another great thing I've done. And the stackage of those great things in this war I am in, is part of why I am going to win this war against these people.
Regarding Brackets and the opening story: I think the end of it contains some of the best prose there is, simply put. People talk about the end of Joyce's "The Dead." I'd recommend they read that first Brackets story aloud, especially the very end. You'll never have another rhythm like that in your mouth.
I wrote a story called "Your Eyes, Before Them." Wrote it, let it sit, came back to it, left again, came back; did this a few times; it's now done. I was going to document that in this journal, but I was away. This is an organic record--a living, breathing work of art, added to mostly daily. There's no work of literature like these pages. I answer to that, if you will; that's the sacrosanct concern. There's also history, posterity, information, cases being made. Against people, an industry. There is inspiration and strength to be sourced. I'm also aware that there is a group of people who will use this record for their projects in future. Their books, papers, classes, careers. So sometimes I put information in a single convenient place. Like this entry. You could look at this one entry, and realize, "My goodness...he's talking about Brackets on the air, he's come up with this new story that we all know now, that started as this gesture for his friend's kid, and he's written this breakthrough story in 'Your Eyes,' and he did it all at the same time, while making this important decision about this book we all know so well, in There Is No Doubt." The works of an artist are like stars. They're usually far apart from each other. I mean in terms of when they're created. It takes a long time to travel from star to star. Not here. The essay collection was finished last week. One of the Beatles books is about to be. My stars are in a huddle around me. The star huddle. We're all bunched and bent over the same point. Or maybe I'm on my knee in the middle, drawing up plays in the dirt. But the reality for me, right now, at this point and place I've come to, is that I can reach out and touch all of these stars. That's the huddle. And there has never been anything like it. So I make sure to document the best I can.
What I will say about "Your Eyes, Before Them" is that it's indicative of the complete absence of fear or hesitation I have in creating now. The positions I will put myself in without pause. I will go down paths that no one else would go down. I go down them unsure of what will happen, but also knowing that it will all work out. I put myself in spots that someone else wouldn't, and among the feelings I feel, as I am in those spots, is curiosity; I'm curious what I am going to do. What that final result will be. There is no anxiety, no doubt--to paraphrase the title of that other book--but only total confidence. That might not be the right word. It's more than confidence. But it is also still confidence. Thus one does what has not previously been done. Thus one invents new forms. I also started two other stories yesterday. I would like to do this piece on Orson Welles's Chimes at Midnight very soon, too.
Also: I am protecting no one. There isn't anyone I won't expose. A decision I came to yesterday.