Try to control what you can control. Keep working. Try to have faith and believe that God, or the universe, is going to let you out of this situation before it is too late. Arise early. Write something in the journal so that already there are words to start the week.
No running or climbing yesterday. Last week there were four days when I ran three miles, with two of those days also featuring three times and three miles walked. Taught Emma about film noir. Only friend I have in the world is a fifteen-year-old child. At least I am helping her. That helps me, too. Because if this world is ever going to get better, it needs the Emmas in it. I was running early in the morning last week, which meant I was done before she left for school. I ran into her coming back in, so we went to Starbucks and I walked her to her school, which I had not seen before. She is graduating in a few days. Actually, she has a field trip to Georges Island, and she asked me if I'd chaperone, and I was like, ha, no, buddy, that is not happening! I had shared the anecdote about the principle on here, but Emma was like, "It's one thing for me to go there, another to go with you and explore and learn things, come on, homie," and I said maybe we could do that later.
(Plus, there is a chapter in Meatheads Say the Realest Things: Satire for the End of Civilization, where Chad, the meathead, does chaperone a field trip--to the seashore--which is a hilarious and touching early chapter--I think it's one of the moments that kick in with the book where you realize that you're reading something really special, beyond just the funniest book you've ever read, something more than that, which you weren't necessarily expecting--and I don't need to have my life overlap with one of my books.)
Anyway, I was disgusting post-exercise, as I always am after I walk or climb, and she actually walked six feet behind me the entire time. This kid. Oh: I taught her the word "noisome," so she knows that now. She is now experimenting with watercolors for the first time, and I am encouraging her with that.
If you had had a crystal ball and told me this would be my life when I was eight, when I was seventeen, when I was thirty, I don't know what I would have done. Would I have lived on to face it? I was a happy child. My teachers encouraged my mind. They encouraged me to learn as much as I could, read as much, grow as much. What no one tells you is that if you learn more and grow more you will have no one in this world you can share your life with, or even be friends with.
You'll just go beyond almost everybody. You'll get better, you'll do more, you'll do it faster, you'll learn more, get better at learning, at a time when everyone is doing less learning and growing and talking about how little time they have. Where does it all go if you're not spending it learning or growing? You're not mastering the history of opera. You're not trying to become an expert on film noir. You're not reading Shelby Foote's Civil War histories and screening Kieslowski's Dekalog and taking a turn through Proust or analyzing Bob Dylan's complete 1966 live recordings? What are you doing? You can go to the market less, you can just order online. Everything is simpler, faster. What are you doing? You should have more time than ever. I'll tell you what a lot of people are doing, what they are using their time on: lying to themselves.
Who knew that nothing in this life is more time-consuming than lying to yourself?
Those teachers don't tell you, "Be like everyone else. Have no interests, because eventually, you're going to grow up, and so many people out there will only watch Game of Thrones and The Office, they'll be so lazy and ignorant that they won't even bother to check out the British version of The Office, because they are all indolent donkeys connected to the same bit of rope, and they will write in 'words' like 'ur' for 'you're' and they'll actually use 'u' for 'you,' and if you don't behave this way, you're not going too many of them you can hang out with. You're going to stress them out, you won't have anyone you have anything in common with, they won't want you, you'll always be bored with them, they'll accuse you of all kinds of things because you don't talk like a dolt--often by saying, 'LOL someone has a thesaurus ROTFL'--and each time you see that, you'll want to stick a shiv through your own heart. Or you can be a pretend intellectual and be every bit as clueless, you just virtue signal with the same two or three references--eh, just say 'deep dive' a bunch and key in on the main hashtags. For that, though, you need to be even pettier and even more insecure. The fake intellectuals are masters of insecurity and thus projection in the form of pretentiousness, which is their sad masking agent, the members of the rabble masters of fear that they are being accurately assessed, which is the worst thing that can happen to many of those people, because they are all about what they pretend to be, and they'd rather eat their first born than attempt to grow, which terrifies them and confuses them because they wouldn't know where to start and life has become one giant shortcut where the lingua franca is whatever the next excuse to be made is. Those are your choices. Unless you change everything."
They don't tell you that, do they? They say, "Do the best you can." And I did. And that has pretty much killed me.
Though if any person could make a dent in all of that, who can reverse the tide, it is I. But I need a legit chance and a platform. Then I'll take my chances.
Last night I sent two of the new stories to a literary journal. I did the same on Friday. The stories were "Dunedin" and "Post-Fletcher." I used to work for the managing editor at one of these venues when he was the books editor at a prominent newspaper. Because it's me and I am not liked there, I will likely at most be told to send work through the mail, which is what they would tell you, if you've never written anything in your life. See how backwards that is? The reason to tell me this is because the story would just then be form rejected by an underling, intern, volunteer reader. That way the people with any decision-making ability don't have to read my work. It won't reach them. Meanwhile, everything published there is published--and this is so easy to prove--via a connection, a favor trade. No submission process, in other words. The other place is run by grad students. What often happens is they see the cover letter, the envy rears, and they think, "Patriarchy, white male, I hate him." They view the site because they want to think that I've lied in the cover letter, and then they learn that I've actually under-sold myself, dramatically. This worsens things. It's spite reading. Hate reading. Call it what you will. They see that I am not from their schools, I'm athletic-looking, self-made. I am in the places, and so many of them, they want to be in, which they will never be in, even as members of their "hook me up please" sub-culture. Then it's game over. I will be unable to give away my stories for free. It would be better if I was awkward-looking, out of shape, far less published, had been to Yaddo, only did one thing--like wrote about bad books of "micro-fiction" and wrote micro-fiction--and had some agent they'd like to have because they once visited their writing program and talked out of their hindquarters about how important they are.
These are achievable things for this lot; they're realistic life goals, such as they are goals. That would help "normalize" me for them, because what they are doing is evaluating you based on how close you are to them or how close to where they might hope to get. It would also be better if I was not a white, straight male, which is very bad in publishing right now. That the guy who looks like a hockey player is smarter, is the expert on the things that they've usually not heard of (they know they "should" like Miles Davis, but they don't know anything about him; they were busy pretending to care about T.C. Boyle; they know they "should" like John Clare and Billie Holiday and Ida Lupino--provided they have heard of them--and gosh/gasp even sports, but they know nothing about those people or things; comparisons have a way of making people who are not secure in themselves feel bad about themselves; they will blame you for that, not themselves), that you had to go out and become an expert on on your own, because those "cool" things are not taught in your academic system, that that is the guy at the ballet, that that is the super productive guy who must crank many thousands of words every day, is a death sentence with people like this.
Those are great things to be and do, right? Not the white male part--that's irrelevant. No one should give a fig about anyone's race or gender. But these things ought to be part of the foundation for popularity, financial success, audience, they are the things on which legacy and legend can be built. But not here, not now. They are reasons to put up a roadblock at the bridge, to ensure that such a person doesn't cross to the other side, where bigger numbers and better chances and potential audiences are to be had. Publishing is this little island. A gated island community, largely shut off from the world. Ever see Island of Lost Souls with Charles Laughton? That's publishing. Most of the people in it can only exist on the island, where the islanders pretend certain things for them. They pretend this kind of behavior is good, this kind of writing is not terrible, etc. They want the island to remain the island. Private. I need to get across that bridge to the mainland. That is where I belong. But they are not letting me get across. And I haven't figured out another way yet. And one hasn't just resulted.
Back to what we were discussing.
You might say, don't do the cover letter. Use a pen name. What they are looking to select, though, is bad MFA writing. They look for the hallmarks of bad MFA writing. Here is an example from AGNI, where I was recently banned by their editor, Sven Birkerts: "He worked to liberate her breasts from the restraining order imposed by a particularly officious brassiere."
Can you even imagine me writing something that godawful? That is what a place like that thinks is good writing. I'm not joking. I wish I was. That is how backwards this is. Any person on the street knows how truly wretched that is. It's bad enough to make you laugh that it's that bad. It's like a joke, isn't it? Satire of writing. But no--this is what these journals are often compromised of. MFA writing is the decrepit altar, propped up with a cinder block, of their dying church, of their irrelevant, fake-faith, with one sad water cooler filled with their Kool-Aid. That dying church, which was never about the right things, is the only place in society where people like this can find sanctuary, and which can board their ego and prevailing sense of insecurity and their screaming desperation to be able to tell themselves that they belong to a group. I don't do MFA writing. I do writing that people would actually like. That is actual art. That is actual entertainment. That has an actual point. Damned if I do, damned if I don't. In an attempt to give away great work for free.
I should add: these journals often charge you $3 to have your work read by a student. Can you even imagine me paying you--think of how twisted and backwards that is--to read my work? To form reject my work? Saying no to me is a pelt on the belt. It's a thrill-charge. A power trip. Feels good to them. They think it puts us more on the same level. It gives them control over me in the one place they'll have it. They can't control how they compete with me talent-wise. This is a way to even the playing field. To satisfy ego. To be petty.
I am someone who cares about the quality of work, and nothing else. I could loathe you personally, but if you are good at writing (I could give you two examples, with one person who is just the perfect example of Ivy League entitlement, and the other a crazy, hateful, lying despot; the first person might just be garden variety bad and elitist, but the other is a horrible person, and they've both done wrong by me--you'd scarcely believe what the second person once did; they're both excellent writers, though, with the one subject that each of them writes on, and I read their work regularly, and if I had a magazine, or if I do, I'd include their work in it, because they're better at what they do than anyone else; and that's really all I care about when it comes to the work; then again, I don't play the crony game, and I have actual principles; John Freeman--who is getting his own thorough blog post on here soon--once said to me--he put it right in an email, which I'll be sharing, after which he reneged on payment for money I was owed--that I could write the Bible, and he would not publish it, he had his friends to take care of; what do you think about that?), I'll support that writing.
They're different things to me. And if you do right by my work, treat it as it merits, I'll do what I can for the cause of your business, your venture. I will work to see us both succeed, in tandem. Ideally, we would make each other better. I'll talk about your venue on the radio, I'll give you credit, I will be generous in how I talk about you in my travels, which will only, eventually, garner more attention. But they want and prefer that moment. The ego moment. The "not on my watch, he doesn't" moment, the "Jesus, he really has it going on right now, well, he's not getting this from me" moment.
I think another thing is that when people try to hate me, they see that I am a good person. They hear the radio clips. Kimball once said to me, "I have the feeling that if we hung out at the Dunkin' Donuts, you'd sound exactly like you do on the radio." He's right. I don't have a switch. You have to realize, too, that sometimes when I go on, I've just been crying, maybe I almost ended my life that day, but that's just how I sound with people. That's how I am. They see these pages. They see the tone of my work. My work is marked by large-heartedness. That doesn't mean happy endings. But it means there is a love for humanity in my work. It cares about you, personally, the reader and the person. It's to bring together, not fragment. And what happens when you want to hate someone and you see that they're really a good sort, well, a certain kind of person can end up hating them more.
It's not a perfect example, but I think Tom Brady is a nice guy. He's not my kind of person in some ways, but I think he tries to do the right thing, I think he cares about the people in his life the right way, I think he does relationships right, I think he has rigorous standards for himself, and I think he's a person of purpose. I think he understands purpose. And I think some people hate him more because he's a nice guy. Especially now, when we want to turn felons lose on the streets in the name of progress, then they gun someone else down, or get drunk once more and kill another person with their car, but it was not woke enough in the first place that they were not free. We make excuses for that person, while we tend to go after those who do things honorably, especially if they have skills we don't. The difference for Brady is--one of them--is that he's in an industry that is is a meritocracy. He controls his success, by dint of his talent and effort. There is no way you could be the best quarterback in history and not have a chance to prove it, and instead be throwing balls to middle schoolers behind a school. But you could, right now, be the best artist in history, and be doing the artist version of throwing those balls behind the school.
And what does the acceptance mean? A free copy of an issue. No readers. If you have drivel, and you're not me, but you've been in a place or two that I've been in, they're taking it. They're accepting it. Automatically, and gratefully. Because you are a national writer, and they're thrilled that such a person would give them something for free. The rules change entirely when I am in your inbox, though. So why ever go to these places? Why indeed. It's mostly that these are the only places that publish short fiction right now, because scores of these people, and the scores of bad stories they write, killed off short fiction as a going concern as something that anyone might wish to read, spend time with, pay for.
My problem is, I have a hundred short fiction masterpieces (how depressing is it that I think of this as a problem?), in all styles and voices and forms. As certain I am of how bad things are, how enormous the enemy is right now, how many hundreds of things I have working against me, I am nonetheless sure that people would love these works. I don't know how to get people--the people who would enjoy them--to see them right now, though. It is very difficult to have something that you know a lot of people would love, that you know is special, that can hold its own with any work by anyone, in any era, that can always last, than can be copiously monetized, and just have it sit, unseen, on your hard drive.
On Friday I came up with a new story. This is a time when I don't want to share the title right now. Sometimes I don't mind, sometimes I do. In the latter instances, I just need to keep the work with mine, to paraphrase Bob Dylan. I am leaving the top on the pot while the stew boils. I will say that the story pertains to school shootings, and it is one of two stories I am working on right now--"Stickleback" being the other--that does that. Each does so in a way that I am confident no one else could imagine coming up with. This means I have three stories going simultaneously, with "A man outside a playground" being the other.
I have to fight right now not to do too much. I take on more than I should. I reach for the next idea that might save me, because I can do so much. What ends up happening, then, is I have seventeen new book ideas, just like that, and I'm ready to roll on each book, but the reality is is that right now, there is no book I can conceive of that will save me. If it says Fleming at the top, it's already dead. If it's amazing, it's dead. If it's fresh, new, exciting, enjoyable, unique--oh, God, that is the ultimate death blow--it is dead. So what do I do? What kind of plan is there? Just keep writing and talking and posting on here, and pray that there is something that changes everything and allows all the rest that I have done and can do to have a chance?
That seems like a terrible plan. It's all I have right now. I have to do this film book and this music book, but no one is going to read them, because there will be no coverage, because it's me. I am contractually bound to do them. I am doing them not to be seen when they come out, but to be seen later. So that they will be gone back to, and sell then. Frankly, I don't know if anyone could even accept my story, as in, my life story. "Oh, you were the best artist in history, and that put an industry against you, we have to accept that you are all of these things at once, though we have no human frame of reference for you, and this all happened to you because you are this unique thing, and it turns out you created scads of masterpieces that were kept from us, but available in plain view, a lot of them, all the time, and now it's just an endless goldmine that we all know about it and let's buy up 250 things by you." It seems so unlikely. The only thing, maybe, that is less likely, is me being what I am. This hasn't happened to anyone. Van Gogh had all of those great paintings that the world ended up seeing more or less at once. But Van Gogh had none of those paintings shown during his life. I'm in plain view with so much of this.
Last night I was listening to Sherlock Holmes radio adaptations of several obscure stories from the fifty-six in the canon. I've spent a lot of time with Sherlock Holmes in my life, at different parts of my life. I feel like I understand the totality of these works better than anyone. I could write a great book on their functionality in our lives, on what they offer us in our relationships, on how they teach us about the finer and harder points of friendship. I could write a very conversational book about the fifty-six stories and four novels, I could bring Holmes and Watson into the modern era. The book would be pure pleasure as its own reading experience, and send you on to other pure pleasure reading experiences with new eyes. I can open up that canon to readers in unique ways. See what I mean? That's not a hard book for me to do, it's a good idea, there is a market for it. I'll come up with something like that on a run. I think, "Could that help? Could that save me?" Then I try and think of another that might result in the answer to those two questions being "Yes." Then I have seventeen more ideas, and they are eminently doable books, and I could do each in a couple months. Do you see how problematic this is?
But I also know that there is no logic as to what it is that might save me, if anything can, in terms of "This is a sagacious course, it should or could work for these reasons," etc. This death fog I am in over-shrouds any planning like that. My solution, with my horrible plan, is do as much as I can, at once, to maximize the chance that something could actually do something, despite these people, despite the earth they are throwing on me in an attempt to bury me. Where I then wrest the power. The reality is, is that if this remains up to them, this is never going to happen. Nothing can happen in my life that is good. The work will never reach who it should reach, if I'm dependent on the system and the people of it. I am the devil to them. I am counter to everything they are. Now, when you are counter to everything a group of people is, you'd think that's because you are evil, a murderer, a child molester, not because you are a true artist, you have character, you are decent, you have unique ability, you are self-made, you are kind, you give, you can make so many forms of art, you are an expert on so many diverse subjects, you're funny, a talent ready to move in other mediums like film, television, your own radio show, you try as hard as you do, you offer the world something and a lot. But that's the reality. The publishing system, right now, will stand in opposition to anyone who is those things; and the more you are them, the more they will stand in opposition. Until, if you are me, it becomes near total. Or total.
During yesterday's "hang on" day, I worked hard on the new story, for maybe two whole hours, in my head, really figuring it out, really getting it right, being patient with my characters. They are going to tell me the story. I don't force them, I don't make them do anything they don't think they want to do, or have done. We have that understanding. They will tell me what is what. And I grant that to them. That is their right. And they always tell me.
I am calling it a wrap on the spring. I wrote more this spring than in any season of my life. That would mean less if I didn't not write more than anyone else writes in years, in every single season of my life, but this went beyond anything. I am comfortable in saying--challenge me, base it on the work--that if I only wrote what I wrote this spring, and you pitted that work against the work, over a career, of any other artist, I'd best them. You could make my entire legacy on what I wrote this spring, and nothing else. I will do a separate blog post with the full accounting for these vernal writings--the formal ones, that is. Not even counting the letters. Tomorrow marks the start of my summer season.
I just walked three miles and climbed the Monument five times. I climbed fast and ran the first 100 steps each of the five times. There was a man inside absolutely sucking wind. He made a joke, in which he revealed that he was my age. He looked twenty years older than I am. I'm finding this to be more and more prevalent. Today is 1,113 days without a drink. Set down the numbers. It feels like I am tabulating time served while I am in my jail cell. Mark the time, note the numbers, keep the feet moving, keep the hands moving, keep trying. Changing this world and getting what you deserve can still make what has happened something you were glad you did not give in to. Sometimes I feel like this pain and suffering is so great that no amount of time in a life of happiness can countervail the effects. I saw Susan and Emma as I was entering the building again, and both immediately told me how foul I smell. It's my workout clothes. For the record, I usually smell great, as Emma has also pointed out. But very well, fine, they have prevailed upon me to wash my workout clothes. I'll do that in a moment. As I was reading Sherlock Holmes last night I saw that he suffered from a case of nervous prostration. That is where I am at. Emma and Susan were going around the corner to play cornhole and want me to come by. Emma's dad was reading Nietzsche's The Antichrist on the floor of their bathroom when a bulb from the ceiling fell on his head and he thinks he might be possessed.
This is what I will discuss on Downtown this Tuesday: "Want to do a free-ranging discussion with Sherlock Holmes more or less at the center? The relevance of those stories now in what I will call the Friendless age. I don’t think people have friends any more, for the most part, because they don’t know how to be friends. I have an idea for a Holmes nonfiction book. There will be something on the blog later. These stories mean something to my life personally and have at different times and will hopefully do so at a future happier time. I have a number of things in common with Holmes himself as well. We both have jobs no one else has, for instance. I’m not a freelancer, not a journalist, but my own one thing, as he was. Then next week, if it comes in time and you have time to read them, want to discuss the first three stories in Buried on the Beaches? They’ll fly by. Also, you should check out Siegel’s The Lineup sometime. Will probably discuss later. It’s on YouTube. Dancer and Julian are the best duo in noir. Crackling script. I am trying to decide if tonight I will go tomorrow a late night screening of Blast of Silence—Christmas noir—or watch the Bruins. I’d like to not see them get eliminated."
You know something? Knausgaard is terrible at writing. Put these journal pages between hardcovers. There is your book series. I am the Pepys of our time, the Thoreau, the Montaigne. This is the day in, day out record of being an intelligent person in this age of the living dead. This is the record of someone trying to make it go forward in the direction of life.