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"Fitty" (excerpt)

Monday 6/24/19

In what has become a regular occurrence since the early spring, I had a panic attack yesterday lasting several hours in which I struggled to breathe. I am sure my heart rate gets up around 200 BPM. My wrist feels like it has a jackhammer in it.

I have a friend--the term makes me so uncomfortable, because really I have no friends--whom I have had to ask not to text me or phone me again. I simply want to know that I will not be hearing from them, so that there can be zero expectations and I can thus bypass the letdowns and lies that are inevitable, that add further stressors to my days. I don't want the signs of another broken promise flaunted in front of my face. I don't want to see the broken promise streak hit fifty lies in a row, like I'm refuse you can neither throw out nor recycle. I'd rather just clear the table of the ceaseless examples of disrespect that go beyond of pale of how little you can ask of someone, and have the table be empty. When there is so much bad in one's life, and so little good, you want to try and clear away some of the bad; you end up with a corner patch of land that is scorched and ugly where nothing will grow, but at least there are less venomous vines to entwine and feast on your flesh.

This friend set up everything as, "tell me what you need, and I will do it," and what that means is they're going to say they'll call and never call, never take a call, make me chase them for weeks, not even read my work. (When they do check in, they used to like to say I'd make a billion dollars, change the world, it would all be awesome, so so awesome, and it would be soon! Then they'd disappear again and make me chase them like they were an editor who loathed me, having insufficient self-awareness to realize the irony of this.) Their presence in my life meant a daily middle finger, a flouting of how little regard they had for me.

That's mostly all I know. It's what I have to deal with with for work. So long as I am fighting--that is, still alive and capable of fighting--that situation/reality is not going anywhere--it's a daily, ceaseless barrage of assault and brutalization--until the solution is found, and I am the tide-reverser. I can't have it in my personal life, too. My personal life isn't about fun--there is no fun right now--and it's not about brilliant conversations that thrill me.

I can't hang out with my people, because my people are dead. Your Shakespeares, your Dickenses, your Picassos, your Bachs, that kind of person doesn't exist anymore. I am either the last of something, or the first of something. It's not about art, those personal relationships, it's not about changing the world, it's at best about people who can help in this cause, as I have helped them with my work, my example, my wisdom, my friendship--and when they are doing the opposite of helping, and you are on the verge of death already, you have to walk away, however much that hurts.

Is it embarrassing to be this alone? I wouldn't say it is for me. It's upsetting, certainly. Searing. You'll be walking along, just trying to keep going, on a Saturday morning, and the awareness of how cut apart you are will go straight through. If someone says, "When was the last time you heard from so and so," you know your answer will shock them. They'll feel bad for you as they take a kind of stock of their own lives, grateful that they could not give such an answer as you just gave. That hurts, of course. It wrecks you. And it's such a one-off. Not a lot of other people say, "Yeah, it's the same for me." That makes it devilishly personal. When something is that, it's inevitable that you say, "am I less likable than just about anyone? Than anyone? What is it about me?"

But, I also know exactly what I am. I'm not alone because I'm an ugly, talentless, unfunny, uncultured moron devoid of social skills. Even those people aren't alone. I'm the opposite of all of that. What is more terrifying to me is that the greater you are, the more screwed you seem to be. Then again, I am increasingly of the mind that everyone is totally alone, it's just camouflaged better. I wonder how much actual connection, true connection, there is right now. I think it's basically nonexistent.

I can't take on more pain than what I already have, so as I've collapsed and broken down, I've had to make decisions of self-preservation that are every bit as black-and-white medical as "if this wound is not closed right now, the patient will bleed to death." You know when baby alligators are born, everyone eats them? Everyone they will later eat. Little fish eat them, birds, turtles. A crayfish is a problem. Right now, I'm a baby alligator. I am vulnerable and I hit my quota on what I could take. That's why I had a nervous breakdown this spring. I have known people who move me closer to death. They are so angry, so simple, so defensive, and I can't share with them what I know, because people don't do reality, they don't do self-awareness, they don't do growth. They aren't strong enough to do those things. They don't have enough inner security to do them. They have ego.

You don't want to have ego. I said that to Emma. You want to get to a state where you can be impartial about what you are and what you are not. What you see, what you are not seeing. Because it's only then that you can work at growing. It doesn't just happen. I had a thesis advisor I've talked about on here. Youngren. Dead now. His daughter worked at The New Yorker. He didn't tell me. He had work given to him at The Atlantic. People thought he was unique because he wrote on both jazz and classical music. Isn't that funny? This was 1997, and I remember how that was touted as almost unbelievable. Look at me, right? Isn't that hilarious? Puts things into perspective. If he was this unbelievable idea of a man because he wrote on two forms of music, can you even imagine what I am? That's one of the biggest problems right now. No one is going to come out and say--if they even see it and can accept it--that Da Vinci, Michelangelo, is in our midst, but bigger, much bigger. I am terrified that what I am is so big that people can't see it, that it's too much for their brains to hold or accept, even allow as possible, thus they block it out, as if they'd taken medicine to pinch off those particular ocular nerves.

Youngren would spread the word of promising undergrad writers, and years later I learned that he never said a word in my favor--or even brought me up--to anyone. I used to go to lunch with this man, we were kind of friends. What was I like at twenty-two? Well, let's just say you wouldn't have known a twenty-two-year-old like me. Anyway, when I asked Youngren how he got into the positions he had gotten into--how he got that Atlantic assignment, for instance--he said that "You just kind of all into it."

This is what the silver spoon brigade thinks and how they talk. The people given things without earning them. And I think about growth like that. Do you understand the point I'm making? You don't fall into growth. Sure, some things might occur in your life that force changes in some parts of you. But real, sustained growth of consequence is something you have to work at. When my evil ex-wife--even all of these years later its hard to compute that level of planned, orchestrated evil, or do the psychological math on what someone like that must be comprised of--did what she did, I walked, alone, I literally wandered the earth, relentlessly blaming myself.

I looked at myself, on thirty mile walks, from every angle, excoriating myself, trying to identify faults and fix them. It was humbling. I broke myself down every day when I left this disaster zone of an apartment to walk ten miles, twenty, whatever the number. And you know what? I blamed myself for a lot of things that were not my fault. That wasn't good. But it was part of the process to better understanding myself and what I was really about. Being wrong can be part of your growth process. I would say it usually is. That doesn't feel good. Who wants to do that? Your ego? It gets steamrolled. If you're fortunate, it is destroyed. It goes away. You realize the folly of having an ego at all. Ego is what you want something to be; it's not what something is. What something is is all that really matters. It is only when you remove the ego, that you can become secure enough in the truth to put down roots in it and grow that way.

Most people just want what they are doing to be reinforced or not noticed. And with everyone else they know, that won't be a problem. Those people will want the same reinforcement--it's like a pact--and they don't have the courage to stand up for what is right, and people hardly notice anything anymore. They live up their own asses. People exist in their own asses where they play a psychological version of Pong. You know that game?

Very simple. It's all about internalized ass Pong now. Know the truth, and the people in your life are apt to dislike you. They might not even think they do. Things play out on different levels of our consciousness, though. Get rich and famous, and they're apt to like you. We'll deal with that later. So, while ending my life is an option, it is going to be my decision, not one influenced by people I can remove from my life. That's how I look at things now. I can put an end to all of this. If it gets much worse, that is my bailout. But I have to be clear-headed about it.

When I caught my breath, I walked another four miles, bringing yesterday's total miles covered on foot to fourteen. I ran three today, walked three. I sat for eight straight hours at the cafe, preparing to write for tomorrow. Emma's mom was sitting across from me, staring, and I don't even know how long I went without seeing her. My own world. Emma wants me to take her to a free anime screening tomorrow at the Brattle, which is going to be difficult, given the things that are bound to happen first--I always make sure to not show her too much about what I'm going through, given her age, vulnerability, and her concern for me--and I'll also have to do Downtown while on the go with her, but she is looking forward to this and I don't like to disappoint her. I don't have money and her family doesn't have money and this is, like I said, free. (I have a Brattle pass myself, which is about to expire.)

Plus, she's a friend. That I can say without any doubt. I care about her more than anyone I've ever cared about. I didn't draw anything up this way, and it's certainly not anything I've ever expected, but that's what it is. It's pure friendship. Entirely pure. We want nothing from each other, we have no agendas, we don't want to be anything other than the friends we are, we don't do anything cruel to each other, when one of us makes a mistake, we apologize, we have a policy never to lie to each other, she's smarter than anyone I've ever met, I'm smarter than anyone there has been, we have a unique, special, deep connection.

(She's so funny. Last night I texted her a screenshot of the latest depressingly dim bulb of a person on Hinge, which is a dating site. The photo contained this profile nugget: "I still listen to hanson's mmmbop lol," to which Emma commented, "Honestly shut the fuck up if you're that dumb.")

She is also the only person I have been with in person who has never bored me. I usually get bored with everyone inside of five seconds. You wouldn't know it--I don't really show it, and I seem so interested, and I'm fully present, and I'm saying my smart and funny things, but I am likely bored out of my mind, though as this is transpiring, I'm probably writing three stories in my mind, drafting a dozen letters, planning the next part of a book--but that's the norm. Maybe we just have it for right now, for the summer, or maybe we have it ten years from now and I live in Rockport and have a house on the Cape and my hot, brilliant, kind wife and I invite Emma the burgeoning writer to come stay with us for a weekend and we are always friends, and she gets to be a part of my success, and I get to always be a part of her journey, and I'm on here thirty years out--and maybe that is volume #157 in hardcovers of the Fleming journals--saying something about an interaction with this person whom so many people have read about. I am certain that this journal is the definitive record of what it was like to live as an intelligent person in the twenty-first century, which makes it the definitive history of what life is like right now. Among other things.

She joined Twitter so she could follow me, then she followed Kimball, which was funny ("Hey, I know that guy," she said). She posted about Fellini, Van Gogh, and Schubert, and those three posts--by a child--were far more interesting and better written than anything I've seen on the platform. I would do anything for her. You know what she did the other night? She stayed up late--despite being fastidious about going to bed early--thinking what she could write about Buried on the Beaches to let people know what she thought about it.

She was very nervous. "I want to write something great, that is worthy of the book." I told her how I appreciative I was, to relax, that I am sure she would do an awesome job, that I didn't want her to be stressed out. I think I actually said, "Chill, my little friend. You're an excellent writer. This is really sweet of you and I appreciate it." And she did do an awesome job, in her specific, Emma-esque way. And I didn't even ask her. Other people I know for twenty, thirty, forty years? I have to beg. Repeatedly. And they still probably wouldn't do it. Some might. Maybe I'm wrong. But they didn't in the past.

I mentioned writing tomorrow. It will be many things. I'll document that here. But I can hardly tell you how difficult it is to work that hard, to sit down and compose like that, when each note of genius in your own work stabs you through your heart, and you wish what you were creating just flat out sucked instead. Because you know--unless you are wrong, and God how desperate you are to be wrong this one time more than any other time--that no matter what you create, if it is the greatest work ever created--and it will be--it will be suppressed.

I come back to the likes of John Freeman, with his quote, "If you wrote the Bible, I would not publish it." (The entry on him is coming. Let's expose these people for what they are, and how far it goes.) And that's better than most--he at least spelled it out. Others have his exact same mindset, only they don't spell it out, because they view it as a form of power that I'll still send whatever and they can ignore that and watch me twist.

That's where they "best" me. I demolish them everywhere else. In all of the good virtues--talent, industriousness, productivity, success, doing things the right way--they do and have nothing, and I'm their converse. This is where they pay me back. I can't appeal to the millions of people who would love the work and turn it into its own industry, because these other people drove all of those people away as readers. They are not there right now. I should be able to put my back against them for leverage, but they're off somewhere else. So I search for that thing to put my back against. Or I hope that it finds me. This can't happen without that thing at my back, whatever it may be. Whatever it may be at first. Right now there's just a black hole at my back.

Want an example of what is being composed that fits the above bill? This is the start of a new short story of mine called "Fitty." Jean Renoir released a film in 1937 called Grand Illusion, which he hoped would put an end to wars. This didn't happen, of course, and he was gutted, which is kind of odd. You'd think he'd have a better sense of reality.

I harbor no such illusions that this story of mine--which is about our gun violence epidemic--will change gun laws, but I do know that it would break the heart of America and cause everyone who experiences it to think about school shootings in a way they never had before.

No work of art could conceivably take the approach to this subject that I am taking. I have the entire story in my head. It is a masterpiece that will shake you to your bottom timber. And I have been delaying creating the story in full. In part because I don't want it to be over. When I compose, I am in total control. If I can write something better than anything Shakespeare ever wrote, I can and do.

I know exactly what the quality of the work is in terms of the reality of the work. I also know what its appeal is, in terms of the scope of appeal, if it had a chance. Then, when it's done, I still know all of that, and now I have to deal with what is going to happen because of a moribund industry class system filled with thousands of people who also hate me. For whom the mere mention of my name puts the very hairs of their asses on fire.

Dr. Pettigran had a way of stirring his coffee with his spoon, long after the liquid had become lukewarm, as if nursing a fancy that the utensil was one of those candy-flavored swizzle sticks and its eventual dissolution would enhance his powers of psychiatric perception. Soluble carbohydrates as cerebration fuel.

Carlene noted the clinking of metal against ceramic. It sounded like the aqueous variant of a bullet locking into a chamber.

“You were saying,” Dr. Pettigran resumed.

“I was saying that if you’re in an elevator, and you have a mug and a bottle of liquid, your favorite drink, and someone cuts the cord at the top, like in some spy film, and on the way down you try and pour yourself a last toast, the liquid won’t come out of the bottle. Because of gravity.”

“Is that true?”

“I haven’t tested it. But I think so, yes.”

“And that is like what these stairs are to you? And the voice of the child you hear in the room upstairs?”

“I don’t know. They’re a little like that, I guess. I hadn’t thought of it. Probably.”

Yep. I know what that is, you know what that is, we all know the kind of place, as a work of art, as a piece of living, surging, breathing prose, it's going to end up at. You know that if you read these pages, if you read my fiction, if you read my books. Or from the excerpt already.

It is what it is, isn't it?

When you create powerful fiction, you're creating this situation where you have a mountain, an iceberg, an asteroid. You can make the mountain move, you can control the speed of how fast each thing moves. Each of these things has parts of the others woven into them. They've been built up that way. They are threaded, but separate. They're going to come together, these titanic masses, from the land, the sea, the sky. Think of it as triangulating human experience. You are going to make them collide. That's exciting. Because people can see them, but they don't know how this powerful impact is going to play out.

It can play out so many ways. But the point is, you have the asteroid, the iceberg, the mountain. You'll find them in every great work of literature. You'll find them not at all today with the safe, formulaic, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, physically anemic workshop writing that is all one sees in fiction. Maybe you see dollies and tiddlywinks collide there. It's nothing anyone cares about, or could care about.

It is what the John Freemans of this world are publishing, provided the person behind the featherweight collision is also their friend and an accepted member of a certain level of the publishing caste system. They took reading from you, from us. They blame a lot of other things, but it's them. Amazon, Netflix, the internet, should have helped out writing and publishing, and they would have, too, if lots of great works that would add value and meaning and entertainment to lives were being created. But they are not, so those other things are scapegoated. There is nothing to share or disseminate, because there is nothing worth sharing or disseminating.

"Fitty" obviously is and will be, whenever that time comes, which is hopefully still here in the prime of my life, from a physical standpoint, an artistic standpoint. But that's a whole different kettle of fish, many ways over.

I screened Damn the Defiant!, a 1962 British naval picture with Alec Guinness with Dirk Bogarde. Realize, the Kitchen Sink movement was in full force--that means black and white pictures--but the English around this time really had a knack for color. I think it was the Hammer influence. Being a man of the sea, I like pictures like this, even when they are flawed, as this one is. There's a backstory about mutiny that is all unclear undercurrent; you don't know what is really going on, which makes this idea of mutineers being pardoned even more confusing. They would not have been pardoned, but here that's an easy thing to attain, and you have no idea why. The Horatio Hornblower films from twenty years ago owe a debt to this movie. The fire ship part. There was also a sword dance, which I like because it reminds me of the Revels and Christmas. Now that plastic bags are banned, I use a Revels Christmas green tote back when I go to the market or the CVS. I bring a little Christmas around.

I listened to a lot of Louis Armstrong and King Oliver, the Pink Floyd Germin/Ation set--Pink Floyd are the rock version of the book Tristram Shandy--as well as the new Stan Getz 1961 Village Gate set, the Beatles' Hollywood Bowl album, and the first Swinging Blue Jeans LP (which is very good). I am nearly done rereading The Love You Make, which I am doing because of my own Beatles book, Same Band You've Never Known.

As a teenager, I recall reading The Love You Make on Cape Cod, on vacation, while listening to a cassette of the Hollywood Bowl album. How different things are now as I read and listen, and instead of being on the Cape, there is Buried on the Beaches, the book that millions would love that no one is going to see right now. I remarked thusly on Twitter: "I reread The Love You Make. 100x the book Tune In is. If you want bricklayer prose that will tell you what the Beatles called themselves for a week in 1961, go with Tune. If you want a full-bodied reading experience, go with Love. Books should be books, not mausolea of minutiae."

Mark Lewisohn is an awful writer. Rather, he's not a writer. He's a researcher who was given a lot of money to dig up a lot of tiny facts that I don't think mean very much and put them together in a book. Books. I care about the reading experience. Not how many facts you jammed in. I feel like if you gave me his notes in a dossier, I could get just as much out of reading them as Tune In. That's antithetical to the point of what a book should be.

The hockey Hall of Fame announcement is tomorrow. Will and should get in: Hayley Wickenheiser. Likely will not get in but should: Tom Barrasso, Doug Wilson, Vladimir Krutov, Theo Fleury. Who could very well get in but should not: Curtis Joseph, Daniel Alfredsson. There is going to be a push to get Alfredsson in. I feel like there has also been movement on Roenick's behalf, and he should not get in either. Tim Kerr would be a far better choice.

I saw The Eyes of Orson Welles over the weekend at the Brattle. Sharp. Mark Cousins knows his Welles. He knows the films intimately, conversationally. Academics, for instance, usually memorize things. They have no applied knowledge with their given subject. You know how when I'm on the radio, I'll make some point about hockey by making a point about a Mozart sonata or Fitzgerald's prose? That's know things truly. You apply them when relevant. Easily. That's how Cousins knows Welles's work. Simon Callow also knows Welles's work that way. And he's an excellent writer.

I now preface this kind of thing with a word like "unfortunately," but I came up with the start of another short story over the weekend as well. I know how it ends, I know the concept, I don't know some key specifics yet. It's a kind of walkabout. An urban walkabout. Involving an older woman, and some neighborhood regulars.

Have not seen Emma in a few days, but she texted me her new avatar for me on her phone, which is Stewie Griffin, whom she says I am a lot like. I am mostly prepared to accept this and understand her reasoning.


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