top of page

F and F

Thursday 8/8/19

* Text exchange:

C: Everything feels like a trillion billion miles away and insurmountable. From last June until now is the best I've ever written. It's so depressing and upsetting.

J: Yeah I get that - but you are just going to have to keep going - you're getting closer everyday - you really are

* Had a dream about my dad last night. He was going to drive across the country with me--or half of it, anyway. Picking me up at some kind of camp, but I did not seem to be a child. He had to pack me up. He told me that he knew I was not always going to be alone.

* Also had a dream about my friend Derek who lives in NYC. Friend of over twenty years. I don't talk to Derek much because if I don't talk to you with some regularity, it's impossible just to pick up and start talking, given where my life has gone, given how borderline unbelievable most of its components are. So what I do is I will include people on emails. If they read them, they know, to a degree, what is going on, what has happened, what I am doing, what the fight is. If they don't, they don't, and I am living a life I could never catch them up on at this point. It's hard for me to just talk to anyone, because all I know is pain.

And I create, try, fight. I don't really have "hey, how are you, that's great, me too" conversations. I hope to someday. I can't right now. I guess I kind of hope people like Derek know what is happening. And also believe in me. Believe in my outcome, which will be even more historically unprecedented than that which has happened to me. In my dream Derek sent me two texts, saying that he knew I was close. I don't know why I am having that kind of dream now, or the one about my dad. Because I so desperately wish and want? Or maybe something else? I really don't see what John sees, I don't think. But I also kind of...I don't know. What I'm doing right now, what I am daily doing right now...there has just never been anything remotely like it in history. I don't think one can think I'm a jerk for saying that. I don't think it's very arguable. And it's just so well documented now.

* Got an assist from my mom, who sent me a note in the mail that I had gotten a name wrong in my essay, "Dot." Having all of the names correct doesn't really matter to me--it's not the point--but I would rather have them correct than not correct, all things being equal. The essay is about what makes or does not make a person good, about how we perceive this, too. We are so quick to make a qualitative decision of someone's moral worth, based upon surface appearance. Look at the Covington kid. An image. And people I know, people I like, were like rabid dogs ripping him. I had a great aunt named Dorothy. Dot. I put up some of the excerpts from the piece here. And she was a family legend. Not in the best way. She talked about God a lot, and her bowels. She loved prune juice, which, as you would imagine, proved central to the bowel talk. She also liked scaring you when you went into the basement, saying there was this dude--part tramp, part supernatural being--down there named Willie Winkle who was going to abduct you. She came across as ornery. She often called people fat. You'd be like, "hello, nice to see you again, how are you?" and she'd be like, "wow, you really look fat." But when my mom was growing up, she didn't get a lot of attention, being older than most of her brothers, and her family was poor, so she couldn't do much. She was on her own a lot. And Aunt Dot took my mom out, took her into Boston, two ladies out on the town, treated her, and treated her really well. Made my mom feel special. She meant a lot to my mom. And when I think about whether people are good or bad, or what their blend is, I think about Aunt Dot. Aunt Dot had a brother who got drunk and fell off a roof and died. She doted on him, you could tell, because she always said he'd be a politician, he was such a beautiful talker. This guy must have fallen off the roof in the 1940s or 1950s. I didn't remember the name of the brother, so I put in Lester for a stopgap, but my mom had the info for me, and he was in fact Ted, so I'll fix the essay now. Assist from mom. That is why they call her the Adam Oates of mothers. (They don't call her that. But it's a thought.)

* Yesterday I took Emma to Charlestown with me after I composed about half of an essay on Freddie Hubbard. She complained a lot about the heat on the way over. It wasn't that hot. I bought her a juice and I climbed five times while she sat on the lawn at the bottom waiting for me. While we were walking over I told her that I wanted her to know that if she ever needs anything, or is in any kind of trouble, or worried about something, and even if it's something she doesn't want to tell her parents or tell them at the time, she can text me or phone me and I will always do anything to help her, and I just wanted to make sure we were clear about that--not that I didn't think she could take care of herself. And she said she already knew that, and I said I was glad, that it also gave me peace of mind. I get done climbing, and I said we could get ice cream. Or, rather, she could, because I only had four dollars, and the bills were soaking wet, which grossed her out. We walked back down the hill, and there was an ice cream truck parked by what was the old training ground for soldiers in the eighteenth century, and I got her some kind of red, white, and blue thing on a stick. We sat on a bench in the lovely piece of greenery that is the training field--more like an arbored plaza with war memorials and a statue these days--and I talked to her about Thoreau's journals, suggesting that she note how even though it's nonfiction, a kind of nature writing that doubles as life treatise, he never does description just to do description, which is what most fiction writers, because they are terrible at writing, do.

All of his descriptions have a larger purpose. They have utility. Maximum utility. Even as you can appreciate the straight description. Most writers--and virtually all now--have no stories to tell, they are just filling up word counts, trying to hit 2500 words or whatever. I told her never to give a sentence away. Never just have a sentence occupy space. Everything has to be moving forward as the purpose of the whole. Every last single decision you make, every letter, comma, utterance, statement, paragraph break. Every bit of description has to have a point in the context and thrust and shape of the story and the lives of the characters. Description is never a separate thing. Characters have to have the right names, not just a name we might like. There can be multiple reasons for them having the name they have.

It started raining hard when we were on the bridge coming back, and we stopped under a metal platform in the middle of it and looked down and watched the raindrops dance atop the surface of the harbor. She wanted to walk in the rain after a bit, and the rain was scant on the Boston side of the bridge, where the sun was shining, and we could still see it raining hard closer to Charlestown, only fifty yards away. Then I showered and she cleaned her room and fell asleep, and I worked at the Starbucks, reading a lot of Melville, and listening to Art Blakey's Free for All, Herbie Hancock's Empyrean Isles, and Freddie Hubbard's Breaking Point! for my Freddie Hubbard essay. Emma wanted to go back to Chinatown, and needed someone to take her, so I said, yes, okay, but I have to work some more, but once that was done and I was back in the building, she had changed her mind, and wanted to eat in the North End, and said she would take me out. Funny. We went to Cafe Dello Sport, she gets chocolate cake and a hot chocolate, I get a mocha, and when they bring the cake, which also had sorbet--it all came in a glass--they brought two spoons.

Waitress leaves, and right away Emma starts with "Oh my God, they think we are an item," her head in her hands, mortified, which made me laugh so hard I almost fell out of my chair, before I said, no, they do not, that's just what they do, when it's two people, though I do look very young, which made her do the face-in-the-palms thing again. (I do look young. I look good these days. Separate things.) Turns out she didn't have enough money, which stressed her a bit, and I said I think we can figure it out, and she chipped in a little and we did. I have wanted to pick up a few little loose ends because of the free room and board in Rhode Island, and as they gather me up in Providence, and give me food and have been there for me.

After we sat on the roof and talked some more while her parents were watching Hannibal in their apartment. They texted Emma to come home for dinner. She knew I had not eaten all day and she brought me a hot dog and ate her own dinner on the stairs, where we sat and talked some more.

If you don't know me very well, you might think this is some kind of deal of me not having kids of my own and feeling a void there. If you do know me, that theory would probably make you laugh. If you are not projecting your own stuff, and just looking at me as me. If you are smart and you possess character, I will want to know you. It's that simple (and that not simple). The smarter you are, the more character you possess, the more I will be interested in you. You can be eighty-four, you can be fifteen, in this case, you can be thirty, forty-five, you could be a talking basilisk.

It just so happens that the person I have known in my life who is the smartest person with the most character is Emma. I think, to be honest with you, it's a miracle that we live in the same building. I think the universe or God put us together. You might find it strange or confusing that I say I don't have friends, but then I'm referencing in this journal some friend of twenty plus years, or some friend who drives up to see me at a reading, and you might think, this guy doesn't just have friends, he has deep, real, lasting relationships.

It depends on how you look at things. I posted a random photo of me and Emma on my Facebook author page the other day. And it hurts me that my friends and family chose that one thing to "like," over everything else, things of actual consequence, with value out in the world, value for people. That that becomes, a random snapshot, the most popular post I ever did. Not links to this blog, not amazing works of art and entertainment, not pieces on so much stuff, so much amazing, fun, inspiring, enthralling reading, or achievements won at so much cost, fiction in Harper's, an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on some cutting-edge topic, appearances on NPR, new books coming out, that my friends and family tend not to buy, people who never read anything by me, so far as I often know. Maybe that's not the case, but so little is said to me. It wounds me. I get that most writing out there is dreck, it's painful to read, it's like punishment. I'm the converse of that, my work is, I'm as far away from that as anything has ever been. Reading my work doesn't even feel like reading. It feels like partaking of its own unique experience, that brings layers of additional meaning to yours, that you get caught up in, that takes you on amazing journeys, to other worlds, and the heart of yours. And I do something for everyone at their most personal level of what makes them them. I do. I have something truly, deeply for everyone. I have the perfect thing for you personally. If it's not this story, that book, it's this other one. It's what I got. There is something for everyone here, in the most tailored way.

It really wounds me at a time when I am literally fighting for my life against a lot of people who would be happy if I died, who in the meanwhile lock arms to keep me out and keep me from the world. I do think it's messed up that my group won't support me when I write a masterpiece for the ages, when I'm great on the radio, when I publish something as special as Buried on the Beaches, which is more entertaining than anything out there, and they won't acknowledge any of that, but a snapshot? That's not right, and that's not me being a dick. I still appreciate people appreciating that. But that's the one thing you're going to show appreciation of? It doesn't even make any sense. And I don't want it to be like, "I do this stuff, do me the favor of having some respect for that." I don't think that way. Shitty writers think that way. And I guess the Beatles would thank fans for buying "She Loves You" or Revolver, but the people getting that stuff are the people making out. So it goes with what I do. And if you think, "Reading must always suck and be boring," try Buried, try these pages, try the links, try the "Fitty" excerpts, try "First Responder," try "Find the Edges," try Anglerfish, try "Dot" when it comes out. That's not how it works here. And there are other things that I won't go into, right now, things that have been downright dehumanizing, abusive. Maybe not intended to have the same impact, but no different than what Molly did in terms of result, or what editors often do. Emma treats me unlike anyone has ever treated me. And I treat her unlike anyone has ever treated her, I am sure. Not because she's not loved. She very loved. We just have a different bond and rapport.

Let me put it this way. In my life, the most natural thing I have ever done is create art at the level I create it at. That is natural order at its most natural. At a similar level is the thinking of my thoughts. At this point in my life, my evolution to date, as it has thus far transpired. But after those things, interacting with Emma--which can take many forms; reading what she wrote, the two of us sitting in total silence watching the boats, exchanging a look, having a powerful conversation, sending some texts, sharing film and music recommendations--might be the most natural thing I've ever known.

But I'm not someone who is like "oooh, kids are cute." I write about kids better than anyone has, but I'll extend that out to a lot of things. I don't do that any better or worse than anything else I do. But in my own life, it's always case by case. Intelligence, character. I do feel obligated to make the maximum amount of difference in this child's life, and I'll feel that way, I expect, if I'm still here, when she is not a child, but that is because of what I can offer, and her special gifts and nature. And I also love her. I love her with the full richness of my heart, and so I want to help her as much as I can. She is fascinating and she is funny, she's surprising, and every single second to me with her is cherishable. I don't really think of her as my friend, even though she is and I am hers. I don't think of us as any label. I don't think of us as neighbors, as mentor and mentee, teacher and learner, I think of us as Emma and Colin. I guess it's all of those things at once, but the last one most.

She took this on the roof. Old North Church in the background.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page