Terrible day. Barely held on. Checked email for first time in 2.5 weeks. It feels like being operated on. Between the blacklist and subsequent lack of responses, and publishing's classism in which a recent Yale grad--and this is so typical--who has already been handed three cushy jobs at the absolute highest level of publishing, who possesses no intelligence, nor talent, who has never earned a thing in life, talks down to me in the middle of a boilerplate form/lie. Tough to hang on today. No hope. Didn't climb. Didn't walk. Paid the government $1300 I hardly have. Stayed up until 2 last night researching people's response to Boston radio hosts.
What I learned: no one likes anyone on Boston sports radio, but people listen because they are in their cars. They don't like the negativity, the arrogance, the laziness. I extended the research to national figures. Many of whom are writers. The commenters--all of whom were intelligent, I would say--objected to hack writing. They objected to the writers only being able to write on one subject and subsequently repeating themselves a lot. Some of these radio people had blogs and they charged for access to the blog. People did not want to pay it because 1. The writing was deemed not good enough 2. The writing was deemed not versatile enough 3. There was less content because the writer/radio person had their priorities split, the prevailing opinion being that to write an interesting blog you'd have to pretty much focus on that exclusively.
What did this tell me? There is a market for me. Smart people would like me. Meatheads would like me. My problem is not my wares. My problem is I am not getting to market. In publishing, that is because of publishing. It has nothing to do with me or the appeal or reach of the work. But I worry: one of the things people cared about is that they wanted the host to sound kind, but not sugary. I do not want to be the person on my blog having to fight. Having to be negative. But I don't know what to do. If I shut up and smile, these people are going to get away with it, and I am going to die poor and in anonymity and likely by my own hand and likely in the near future. I try to show the full range of my life and hopefully that is enough to show people that I am a kind man. The bartender at Durgin Park said to me, "People want to be around people who smile, not who frown." He also said you can't fight City Hall. I told John about these comments. John said, "That's good American advice. It's also not relevant with you." Is John correct? Was the bartender correct? Am I simply in an impossible situation where defeat and death is all that can result?
I think I sound...I think I sound exactly how you wish to sound on the radio. (Side note: Was dispiriting today to have a former radio producer call me a freelancer. I am not a freelancer any more than I am a journalist or a generalist.) I think I sound kind and commanding and open and playful and authoritative and real. I think I sound secure and in-control and possessed of emotion. I don't think I sound whiny or negative or arrogant or a like a bully. I saw a lot of people discussing Adam Jones. No one liked him. He made people despair for humanity. No one liked Felger. No one liked any of the people, and yet because there were no other options for sports radio, in this case, people listened, in small doses. There is a market for me, and it's a big one. Markets. I think people want what I do. I think I hit many sweet spots at once. I do that as a writer, and I do that as a speaker and personality. The markets are there. I wouldn't say the demand is there, because people are not saying, "We want this." But you can piece it together. You know what they don't want. And no one can express that they want something they can't conceive of. And yet, you can still figure out, if you know that thing, how people would go for it based on other things they've said. It was very telling to me that in this society where you are told you have to be one niche of a niche of a niche, these radio consumers did not want someone who could not do a bunch of things really well. One person said, "You can't read anyone all the time, because people only have one or two things to say, and they say them the same way. You can't expect more." You can't? Come and meet me, come and see what I do. I'll always give you something new, I will always surprise you. I can only surprise you. As it is, I'm a bit like Santa Claus right now, but with anonymity, and no universal love, in that here I am at the North Pole, I'm snowed in, and I can't deliver to market. But the market is out there.
I begged so many more people today. It's so beneath me. It is so degrading. I wish I were hated because I was a bad person, or I wish I was ignored because I was terrible at writing. But the reason for the hate and the ignoring are because of my good qualities, and then it's like what do you do? I don't want to be on here documenting any of this. I don't want to light people up. And good God I have so much crap on these people. I have it right in the emails. Their entire world of bigotry and corruption. Do you think I want to come on here and discuss that? I don't even want to be treated fairly. I just don't want to be treated 100% unfairly. And i don't know what to do. I don't want to be some joy and life suck here. But I also don't want humanity to miss out on what I can do and do for it. That has to be the priority. Or maybe the fix is just completely in.
Some people said some nice things about that architecture piece from yesterday. I can say this now, because it's out there, but I wrote it in twenty minutes. That's all. That's what I can do. Someone on Twitter said that that was real writing. People get it, when they see it. People are lazy, though, and normally they're not going to look up someone whose name they don't already know. If a lesser writer like Stephen King wrote it, people would be talking about it, you'd see that trend, there would be more sales, etc. Because they know the name going in. I don't think if you took the names off of them and gave someone a story by me and a story by Stephen King that anyone, out of however many people you wish to bring in, would say, "Oh yeah, this Stephen King one is better, he's better at the writing." I don't believe that would ever happen. I think what this work is and what I am is the most obvious thing there has ever been. But I don't think anyone can even conceive of how fucked up this industry is. How pathologically rancid, rotten, fucked up it is, from the brain to the feet. It is just ass backwards fucked up and nothing happens for the right reason. Nothing. If this works out for me, these same people are going to fawn and praise, and act like they knew it all along. Writers out there who wish to write, trust me. Look at what I do. Look at where I've published and how often. I'll publish three more things by Sunday. Everything in publishing is a lie. It's not about your talent, except insofar as you have talent, your talent, right now--I am fighting to change this--will work against you. The more you have, the more it will work against you. We need to change this.
If you know me--and I really don't know many people any more--you will know that it hurt me a great deal that next to no one in my life said a peep about my books Dark March and The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe. I'll tie those books a lot, but I'll not write better books than them. And they were written during a time of great change in my life, when I thought--incorrectly--that life could not become harder, and as I was something of an artistic chrysalis. This person here, this artist, emerged in the creation of those two books. Writing them changed my life because of the impact they had upon me as works of art. I made them, but they impacted me. Or maybe I didn't make them. Maybe I was just some portal. But their impact upon me was profound. They are life-changers. But, they're also very good books, but things get in your head when there is not a kind word in many years. Even when you go to where I've gone, you are still, on some level, human. Kimball was nice enough today to tell me that he loved Dark March. I guess he had read it a while ago but I finally just asked him directly. He told me his two favorite stories--they were interesting choices--but I suppose I never looked at that book as a story collection. It really isn't. It's a book. I don't like calling the parts of it stories or chapters. I don't know what they are. On their own they are stories. But within the book they are parts of a whole. Story collections usually do not have book-ness to them. They're not really books. They're assemblies. I don't like non-book books. I need maximum book-ness. That's what Dark March is.
One of my old publishers, Dzanc, has held three of my books for well over a year now. I am told that the editor there thinks I am a genius. She turned down Musings with Franklin. And the prevarication continues on these books. I reach out. I am cordial. I share links, maybe. I get, "Congratulations on getting yourself out there," like I'm twenty-four and managed to publish three things as an eager beaver just starting out. Well over a year later, this is where we are at. How long is it supposed to take? And this is a publisher of mine? And we're sitting at like fifteen months? You die. People only live so long. (Sometimes, admittedly, I send the links I send as if to say, "look how much I do. Maybe you could do your version of that, person with the much easier life and more money and who doesn't have to write 50,000 words a week?") With the guy believed to be a genius. I should add, too, that the four books--well, we're down to three--are completely different from each other. They could not be more different. One of those books is Cheer Pack: Stories, which has "Find the Edges" from Harper's in it. Is that how it should be with the genius with the four books? Maybe just do two of the books--for which you're paying $2000, total, for two masterpieces--and look to the future with a guy, a singular talent, a singular fire in the sky, who is ultimately going to get past the people who hold him back, and who is going to make you money and is worth your investment and a little faith. I have problems right now. But I'll tell you something I don't have: I don't have a ceiling. The problems will eventually be solved. I've never received more than $1000 for a book. And that was just once. The Barnes and Noble Review pays $750 for a 750 word book review. Four Daily Beast pieces and that's more than I've ever been paid for a book.
An op-ed and two op-ed ideas were turned down at a place I write op-eds for today. This person did what they normally do, and told me how stupid I am, etc. But, I don't mind this, because this editor is better than most in that they reply, nearly every time, and sometimes they pay me. Some pretty horrific things are said to me, though. And I just take it. I shared with some friends one time the emails documenting this venue's copy editing process. It was a total clown show. Someone wrote, "If you hadn't shown me this, I would never have believed this could happen in publishing." It really was nothing compared to most of what I see. You just accept it. Then you try and fix the errors they have created, without them knowing you fixed them--because they can get angry, like you think you're smarter than they are--to save everyone embarrassment, and charges against you, the writer, that you are some moron who can't even get facts straight.
I fixed "Dunedin," and I started sending it out, but that is pointless. I know. There's just no way right now. It's not going to happen. It's done before it starts with these stories. Could that change in a day? Yep. Everything can change in a day, and it's all Rainbow Brite and Care Bears here. But that day was not today. I don't like that these people are in my head now, in terms of "can it be this long?" or "can you use this phrase, because these people are bound to think" etc. etc. All of their rules. It's like you're trying to sneak something past them. You think, well, this is really good, this is really good, and now that's two good things in a row, you have to compromise, change this next really good thing to something different, you are innovating too much, this is too creative, it's too moving. Ultimately, I do what I do. But that thought process is in my head now as I go. I know how these people think. I know how they think better than how I know how my mom thinks or how John, my best friend, thinks. I don't know anyone better than I know these people. This has been almost the entirety of my life for more than two decades now. I know these people.
I began working on another story. It was a story I had already just started. It changed, fast. You know how the Beatles could go from 2/3 time to 4/4 time in a single take, when they were trying to get a song right? I went from first person to third person, boom, just like that. It opened up, which means, int his case, it got tighter--tighter than virgin pussy, as a coach of mine used to say. That's not true. Coaches don't talk like that. I don't talk like that. I heard it from a corrupt and corrupting imp. They are the worst. Definitely his fault. Note the first sentence. The italics are in the story.
"A man standing outside of a school playground, hoping not to be seen, is not a man who should be thinking about his father’s dick, Cale Nasker thought to himself as he cinched up his jacket collar, a gesture which in this moment struck him as having a condom-like aspect."
I think I know the title, but there is something that makes me also want to think of it as "A man standing outside a school playground". The tendon will stay close to the bone with this story. Tight against the bone.
I pitched the Keats idea. I'll paste in the pitch here. I had said I wouldn't because I was worried that people would steal it. Go ahead and steal it now, I guess. Putting it here probably makes it harder for people to steal it, as this is a matter of public record. Out in the open. And most people are such paint-by-numbers writers they could never bring this off anyway. Wouldn't you like to read this in The New Yorker? Tell them. The Atlantic? Tell them. New York Review of Books? Tell them, too.
This is the October, November, or December idea:
Let us call this one, the mystery of John Keats' final poem.
I have long been bewitched by a scrap of verse that Keats wrote in his annus mirabilis of 1819, as it is both unlike anything he ever did, and a grand encapsulation--in only a few lines--of everything he did. It is the most mysterious snatch of verse of which I am aware, and Keats did not even title these lines, and he composed them on the back of another poem. They comprised a sort of terror poem, and this was the last poem he ever wrote.
My thinking was that this would make for a perfect Halloween-timed piece. I view the poem as Keats' message to his eventual readers--allowing that he had any, which Keats, who remarked that his name was writ in water, was dubious of. This is part literary criticism, part literary sleuthing. How did this man come to write these final lines so unlike any in his authorial history?
They concern a transfusion of bodily fluids, largely blood, and a hand reaching across chasms of time in a central image. The poet is describing the apperceptive consciousness of being alive--in that precise, life-concluding moment--and then expresses how if the reader knew what this poet had on offer, they would exchange their existence as a kind of trade that would allow the poet to continue on with his verse.
There is nothing hubristic about this within the poem, which is one of its more remarkable aspects. But, as it were, the dying poet, addressing the living reader, is going to live again, and in both this moment of their passing, and in the future of their rising, they offer their hand to this reader, to all of us. It's a poem that bridges past, present, future. It is a time-traveling ghost poem that is among our most human works of verse.
I think it had to be something Keats wrote on the back of something else. It uses that piecemeal quality as ungirding for its totality. Keats wrote little else like it. In some ways, it's a poem of sheer terror; in others, verse of radiant hope. And belief.
I write on Keats with some regularity. There was a Washington Post piece earlier this year, and this is a piece about a singular Keats letter:
So there is that. My name is not writ in water right now. Nor in blood, nor my seed. I don't know what this counts for right now--not much, probably--but it is written, to borrow a sentiment from Fitzgerald, in the extra that I have. And I have a whole lot of extra that I have. Just because something doesn't mean anything today doesn't mean it can't mean everything tomorrow.