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Devil in the details

Monday 2/8/21

Starting another week exhausted. Not a good way to begin. Another draining weekend of work, and then also trying to fit in a lot of exercise. Walked nine miles on Saturday. Went to Charlestown to run hill sprints, but the grass still had the layer of ice. I can't be breaking bones right now, so reluctantly I opted out. Yesterday I walked ten miles, and ran the BC stairs five times. Not a lot of times, obviously. Yesterday marked 1994 days, or 242 weeks, without a drink. This morning I took what would have been that op-ed that ran in USA Today last week and rewrote it, to reflect the outcome of last night's Super Bowl. Worth a shot.


Yesterday I wrote and filed a feature for JazzTimes on Walter Page, who was the bassist in the Count Basie band. I did that like in an hour. Left here to walk to BC, stopped at Anthony's for a coffee, then thought it would be better to write this first, so I gave myself an hour, with the plan to be back on the street at 7, and it was exactly 7 as I stepped on the pavement again.


Watched Riot in Cell Block 11, a Don Siegel film from 1954, also Where Danger Lives, a Mitchum noir from 1950, as well as a couple dozen more British public information films with a horror component. Came up with an idea for a Halloween piece stemming from one of them, which I'll write for somebody when the time comes. Also came up with an idea for a Beatles feature and what to do if this person I'm pitching it to does what I expect they'll do because the idea has come from me, and a couple new op-ed ideas.


On Saturday I revised what became a 4700 word story in "Mr. Ogilvie," which had been written on Friday. As I mentioned, it's up there with a "Fitty" and "Girls of the Nimbus." I don't like to single out works--I have 300 new stories right now, that are available for publication, and qualitatively they are all more or less at the same level. I asked someone the other day who has read them all, how many, even conservatively, are as good as something like "Find the Edges" that ran in Harper's. Like, what--200? 250? 100? Whatever the number is, it's a lot. I think an unbiased reader would have that number as damn close to all of them. But that's not the playing field I'm playing on at the moment. Just goes to show you, though. One person doesn't detest you, and in goes the masterwork, at the hardest venue to get fiction into, but if that one person who didn't detest you hadn't been there, the masterwork would languish on the hard drive, with several hundred other stories just as strong. How twisted is that? But I have to believe the time will come--in my lifetime--for all of these other stories. Better that the time begins soon.


As for "Mr. Ogilvie": It's a unique story about race, and how we acquire wisdom, concerning a seventeen-year-old girl, with an aspiration of going to Williams, who volunteers at a living center for the elderly, and befriends a Black man--the only one in town--who claims to have once struck out Babe Ruth on three pitches, after telling him exactly what he was going to throw.


But his story is not what it seems, and the overall story that emerges--which is a fusion of his story, her story, and how the former informs the latter--is not a story that one could ever see coming. A timeless work that is so timely for right now. Studded with beautifully human moments, too. These details that, once a reader encounters them, I don't think a reader could ever forget.


***


It is later now. Walked three miles. Will talk to someone tomorrow about bringing someone else in to help with the site. Watched Nicholas Ray's The Lust Men. His best film. USA Today ran my op-ed on how we falsely ascribe age to ourselves--in yet another push to do even less with our lives--as seen through the lens of Tom Brady. Here it is.


And here's something: since December, I've had op-eds in The Wall Street Journal, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the New York Daily News, and now here. The subjects have been John Lennon, Handel and Messiah, Hank Aaron, and this last one. Millions of people have seen these pieces. I have not picked up a single Twitter follower as a result. Anyone else could follow along. You could watch, you could monitor. It's science. It's a multi-year experiment that is producing the same exact data again and again. No variation. The quality of my work is the constant. The visibility of where that work occurs is a constant. The quantity of that work. The range of that work. The subject does not matter. The setting does not matter. The problem is the quality, the newness, the actual value of the work as maximum value. I don't exaggerate. The results are the results, a thousand times in a row. If you put a blank page in place of my work, or any idiocy, or just randomly pressed buttons on the keyboard, you'd have a much bigger empirical result in terms of followers, fans, shares, book deals, etc.


Right now I talk about the pieces of the pie. In publishing, the jealousy pie is the biggest piece. In the world at large, that people want nothing new, look only for the mediocre, and respond favorably only to the mediocre--even if they find absolutely no entertainment or value in it--and that which they have seen millions of times before. That is the comfort factor. We want to react such that a part of us goes, "Seen it." That's comforting for people. It's not about something entertaining them, making them think, showing them something new, inspiring them, making them laugh, making two minutes, or an hour, more pleasurable. It's all about "I've seen it before" now. Why do you think all comedians are painfully unfunny? It's not about being funny. It's about saying things to people that they could have said. Echoing back their thoughts. And echoing back--and this is so crucial--their talents. Their absence of talent. "I could do that" means a great amount to most people.


People don't want someone who knows, because they want to pretend that they know. This is a tenet upon which much of society is now based. The more someone actually knows, the less desirable that person is, as is having anything to do with them. I am, at this point in my career, journey, quest the ultimate representation and proof of that.


This is a huge piece of the pie for me. It's not conjecture. This is reality born out by my numbers as I am doing the most visible works in a career that is by any metric historically unique. If you do four of the things I do--in your life, not in a week, as I often do--you'll have money, money, platform, support, people all but tonguing you, and 100K new followers. I have 150. And I know most of those. I will continue to achieve, continue to create compelling work of value and art and entertainment, unlike anything else being created by anyone anywhere. I will continue to pay the price for that. Until I don't. And the pie and the large pieces of it are discussed in the context of how they were overcome or solved.


Imagine your life being based around something this backwards? And the greater you get, and the greater what you do becomes, the worse your life gets. How would you keep going? How would you do more of it? How would you grow? How would you create work of maximum value, maximum entertainment, that's meant for millions and millions of people--you're not writing abstruse nonsense that no one can understand--and produce more work of any kind in a week than the people in an industry who hate you will produce in thirty years' time? How would you get better and better every day, knowing what that meant? At least now. That's living in actual hell. There's no exaggeration to that either.


***


I see these people in publishing who do next to nothing, who have no talent, who play grab-ass all day on Facebook post things like this one woman did yesterday, where she rattled off all of the shows she's watched on Netflix during quarantine. I've never been outside more than I have been in these last nine or ten months. Never written more, never worked harder, never pursued fitness this doggedly, and I've been going hard at all of that for a lot of years. Publishing people tend to talk like they cannot leave the house, because they have no perspective in life and cannot handle reality. It's one reason why they hate any work that deals in actual realities and truth. A threat to them. Someone asked me the other day what I thought was good on Netflix. Nothing. Make "Fitty" or "Girls of the Nimbus" into a film, make Meatheads Say the Realest Things into an animated series, have me write the scripts, and then you'll have something good on Netflix. Do a twisted adaptation of Dark March in creepy animated form. Build a series set on Cape Cod with reoccurring characters caught up in their own lives and dramas, who overlap with other Cape residents caught up in theirs, based off of Buried on the Beaches.


Anyway, the publishing person had this list of twenty shows. The ones you'd expect. They had watched them all, they said. Every last episode. It's what they'd done for quarantine. And now they needed more recommendations. I hate this. The vapidity, the laziness. No one ever says, "okay, well, I couldn't go out as much"--which is a lie anyway--"so I decided to watch all of Charlie Chaplin's films." Or, "learn about Miles Davis and go through his catalogue." Or read all of Dickens' novels. Immerse one's self in Billie Holiday. Do a self-made course in film noir and watch the touchstones. Study the pictures of the pioneering female movie directors. Never, ever, do you encounter anything like that. These people are supposed to be intellectuals, but they're just drones. Unthinking drones. Who can't so much as come up with anything to do on their own.


They just follow each other around like simple-minded bees without the work ethic. They're all the same. And then they publish the exact same kind of work by the exact same kind of people. And nobody reads, nobody thinks, nobody laughs, nobody feels. To a person like this woman, along I come. She knows who I am. She'll hate me because of that, and because of the contrast between us. I will be more successful than anyone who works for her, or with her, and I will be infinitely more talented. And I will be the last person on earth she'll want to have anything to do with. Whether I'm peddling an idea, a book, a story. Doesn't matter. She'll resent me, and she'll tell other people to resent me. Knowing exactly what is going on, understanding from the jump the level of bigotry and discrimination at play, I'll keep trying, with new masterworks, and sharing the latest crop of links from places someone like this could never get in on their own. I stretch and stretch and stretch the absurdity, underscoring time and again the injustice, until there is an elephant in the room the size of a moon. And we both know it. What's she going to say? "I hate you, I envy you, so, no, not on my watch." She can't say that. But we're both as aware of it as we are anything. And with each note from me, each fresh offering--because she'll know she's discriminating against me, and she'll know I know it, that it's right out there in the open--she'll hate me more, and soon I will become the very devil to her.


She'll have pronouns in her Twitter bio, and she'll have 75K followers even though, doubling as a writer herself, she's published five hack-y pieces in her career, and has never had a single original thought, or anything of any value to say. She'll have that Bernie Sanders meme on her FB page four dozen times, she'll post endlessly about Black Lives Matter but she won't know a single Black person--or who Louis Armstrong is, or Willie Mays, or Ella Fitzgerald--and she'll boast that by staying home she saves lives. She'll have gone to Yale, gone to a prep school that was the cost of an expensive college. She'll be from Darien or Greenwich or some similar place. She'll be the opposite of me in every way. And she will publish absolute garbage. I don't just mean in terms of quality. I mean in terms of utility. I'm not banging the drum saying "Look! This is the new Finnegans Wake!" Work that is impenetrable. I have work for the many. Not for thirty-seven scholars. The work they put forward has no utility as entertainment, nor art. There is no value in any of it, nothing to be had. People don't actually read any of it. They're not sitting at home on Saturday nights marveling over the book that Amazon just sent them. The entire point is the transaction: the pat on the back for having put something "smart" in one's Amazon shopping cart, or something about race that allows one to do another back pat that they are "one of the good ones," and then transacting, owning, putting the book on the shelf or coffee table. The transaction and ownership is the sum total. Actually reading and time spent with the work is not only irrelevant, it does not happen. You think people are seriously going to sit at home reading Amanda Gorman's awful poetry that isn't even poetry--it's just juvenile, cliched, laughable, embarrassingly inept prose--and couldn't pass muster in a middle school literary journal? No, of course they aren't. The transaction--putting that book in the cart--is everything. It's the start, the middle, the end. So what is the purpose? It's not meant to be read. Reading is not the point of any of this.


Mitchum played a lot of characters named Jeff. He's Jeff in Out of the Past, The Lusty Men, and Where Danger Lives.