It feels like all I do is work, create, and try to keep going--and climb the Monument--because that is basically all that I do. Do not give in, do not give up. You can beat these people, you can reach the world, stay healthy, be strong, be brave, have faith. A simple mantra for the most complicated of lives and minds. But nonetheless, I do make time for Emma and we have been going to Starbucks in the morning before she goes to school. The other day she was not at school and so we were in the cafe working together all day. I gave her some reading material for when she was done with her drawings for art class--two short stories I have recently done ("Spines" and "Loading the Shaft") and one by E.F. Benson called "How Fear Departed the Long Gallery." She read "Spines" sitting next to me, saying "What the fuck?" "Oh no!" "What? That is crazy," and reported to me last night that she is partially through "Shaft" and ventured her theory that it is a gay story. I told her to keep reading.
I have a situation where the new fiction editor of The Baffler is telling me how brilliant my stories are, works of art, amazing, etc., calling out the likes of "Fitty" and "Loading the Shaft" especially, then adding the others are as good. "Jute," "Spines," "The Krait." Praising the stories as seemingly much as one could in that context. And then saying he will not purchase them. And I'm sitting here thinking...what? Why? You love them, you won't take anything? I don't know how to process that, so I said, okay, look, I literally have 100 new stories, you love what I'm sending you, you can, probably, understand why I am confused that you're not taking anything, how about we jump on the phone, you give me some idea of what you're specifically looking for, because I have no doubt I have it, and maybe that is a better way to go.
Or are you forestalling me? Because I have noticed some people using this technique lately, thinking they will dupe me, that they are seriously considering my work, but maybe there is something wrong with it, when we all know there is nothing wrong with it, there is so much of it, there are so many styles of it, and they are thinking that if they make it look this way they will not end up on the blog.
Tip: You are not going to be smart enough to trick me. I'll give you a goodly amount of rope, and I'll let it play out until I know definitively what you are up to--more than definitively, for I am not reckless and I take every caution--but then, yes, I will expose every last corrupt thing you have done in your career and what you are about, how you got everything you ever got, why you published who you published. Because I always know.
Emma read the Benson story and told me the ending made her cry. We're sitting there the other day, and she says, "how do you know when something is romantic love, or something else?" She has had a girlfriend going back to the start of this school year. I think that gave Emma some comfort, security. She is talking, and she says she does not feel that way about this girl, but she is worried that she will hurt her feelings if she says as much, or that she will say as much in a cold way, and that she could lose her friends and she is having a hard time making connections as it is. And I told her that when we are honest with someone, we are being kind to them, so long as we are mindful of our words; when we are not honest, we are less kind. When honesty is relevant. You don't need to tell your aunt she looks fat, but the girl you are not talking to, whom you don't feel a certain way about, you need to be honest with her. And that doesn't mean that she won't lash out, because people have feelings and in the moment feelings are not always an indication of how things will be or are. Time takes care of that. A little time. Maybe a couple days, a week. And, I said, "You might find that this girl is one of your closest friends like junior year, and you joke about this vague memory you share, because it will feel like a lot has happened since then."
She has a very good friend named Fiona, and Emma showed me a text she was about to send to Fiona, who had given her very good advice on this subject. Very wise, very mature advice. And Emma was going to say something like, "other people have given me advice and I don't need yours."
Emma can have a hard time showing her emotions. So, I gave her a sample text, something like "Thank you for being a good friend. It's hard for me to open up, but your friendship makes it easier. Please don't think I am trying to be distant. I know I have to say something to my girlfriend, and you are right, that is what's fair to her and both of us. It means a lot to me that you are there for me." And I said, "see?" As in, the difference.
To be honest, with everything I have going on, living in this historically unique hell, the pain I am in, the pressure I endure, how much I want to be dead or have this work and there is no in-between, I don't know how I have the endless patience, gentleness, to be as I am with this child. But I do. Exhausted all the time, thinking about ending my life, I don't know how I take the care I do with her, in all of the detail I take it. Her cousin died the other day and her grandfather is dying of what the cousin died of, and Emma is very scared to lose him, so we have been talking about that, too. I always find the time or the energy, even when I do not have it, frankly.
If I love you, I will do anything for you, no matter how destroyed I am. I will give unto you my entire being. I will find a way to find all of it when I have been atomized, and I will give it to you, all of it.
Which is what I give readers, and why.
Anyway, things worked out well with this person who had been her girlfriend, and they are still friends. It was cold the other morning and she couldn't get her new jacket zippered, so I bent down--Emma is 4'10"--to help her with it, and the Flaming Lips' "Do you Realize" came on the sound system of Starbucks, and I looked up and she said "what" and I just said "nothing."
At the end of November, the editor of Orion--a nature magazine--tells me to come back in January with a story called "Circle," which is perfect for them. A man is alone in the woods. Something bad happened in his life--which is explained in the story--that led him to be there by himself. To take some time. He endures an injury--horrific injury, likely from a fall. He wakes up on the ground, can't move, and there is a wolf in front of him, moving in a circle. Something has happened to the man's leg. He not getting out of this situation. And he has a decision to make. To sort of give in to the wolf, or find a way to fight it off, while not being able to stand. In one case, death comes easier, faster; in the second, it will be more protracted, painful. A bond forms between these two creatures, a mutual respect. A respect of each other's steadfastness of purpose. It's as if there are rules to this encounter. Rules of respect. When the wolf does attack, we see the choice the man has made, and how he puts his choice in motion is truly, truly surprising. No one, in a thousand years, could guess what he does. I won't tell you here. And it is bloody awesome. Perfect story for Orion.
So, on New Year's Eve--granted, a few hours before January begins--I send this guy "Circle." He reads it, tells me how awesome it is, and then says they have all of the material they can use for the next two years, so he must pass. And it's like...what? You tell me on like November 29 to come back in January, I come back, you love the story, the story is perfect for what your magazine does, you add that you are honored I sent it, but you won't take it? It's 2000 words long. It's not 25,000. It's a couple pages. And it's not like there wasn't an understanding in late November of the editorial calendar and what was upcoming, when I was told to come back in five weeks or whatever it was. I said, well, I have 100 short stories I need to place, keep this for 2022 then. Maddening. Maddening maddening maddening. I have a pretty good idea what he will say, if he says anything.
Get out of your own way, for fuck's sake. Unleash the unique beast.
You don't want to read the story I just detailed? You don't want to see what the hell happens that you could never guess would happen? Of course you do. This is what matters. This is the stuff. This is the life. I have the life, I have the life to share, and I am offering it to these people, and it's like, get the hell out of your own way.
Get the hell out of your own way, stop putting forward bad writing by bad people, unleash the beast and profit. Stop folding, stop bleeding money, start reaching people, start being in-demand, soar. Stop blaming society and Amazon and Facebook and short attention spans when you have no one to blame but yourselves and your backwards industry.
The other night Emma knocked on my door and she had on this facial mask--an exfoliation thing, which I did not know at first, and seeing her there in this mask I said, "Oh good Christ, you cannot be doing this," before she explained. A guy in the building sees her in the hall, gives her a weird look, comes back a few minutes, and Emma says, "Sir, there is some confusion, I am not in black face." Ah, awkward. We then brainstormed cover ideas for the meatheads book.
Emma gets a couple milks at the Starbucks in the morning. She has an account there now, which makes me feel better, because she has food at school. We noticed on the milk cartons that there is a space for a message to be written--presumably by some parent, to their kid, when they stick the milk in the lunch bag. Predictably, this became a game of thinking up the worst possible messages. "Why did I have you?" "I shouldn't have fought for custody." I like this one Emma wrote:
I need to be unleashed, and to overrun, all, all, all, because I bring the life.