Someone on Facebook messaged me to ask if it was the real me. I said that I had no idea what this meant, adding that though I did not post on my own Facebook wall anymore, having transitioned my posts, as such, to this very journal, I sometimes posted comments on the walls of others (it's a very small group--Howard, Kimball, a few others), but that was it. I did see things, though. I added no more to the last statement than that. As I have said here, I see the favor-trading, the log-rolling, the latest examples of terrible writing that unwell people pretend is amazing. I see the identity politics, the true racism, how they set each other up for awards, for book deals, the quid pro quo. But that was neither here nor there. The person then clarified to say that I was not the "me" of my work or site. Really? You know this about me? The projected assumption is that you are like they are, and as they know others to be. "Others" being writers. With the lifeless work, the static, stock sites that only change when the news section is updated to feature a new glowing, insincere review of one of their books, or a blurb from someone, that was all but bought and paid for. In many ways it was--the quid pro quo. Being a system person who went to the right school, has the right agent, writes the same dreadful work as all of the other such system, is also a kind of payment form for positive reviews in the right places. To someone like a Stephanie Merry at The Washington Post, for instance, it's not a lot different than forking over cash.
Do I seem like those other writers to you? Does my weekly output, in terms of what it is, at the level of the language, and the overarching level of idea, seem that way to you? The human truths? And in the quantities in which that singular and emotionally integrated, and intensely, rigorously structured, work is produced? Does this journal read to you as though it were not the real Colin Fleming, and that I play some character? Do I sound like I adopt a persona on the radio? Of course not. But such a concept is beyond the minds of most writers and would-be writers and self-billed writers. For them, writing is performative. They are 1. Playing at something and 2. Unable to imbue what it is they create with even the same level of "naturalness" as when they are off elsewhere in their life. Even just tooling around on Facebook. It is the adoption of a persona, writing for them. It is a going down on the reality meter. The "real" meter. The flesh-and-blood meter. The authenticity meter. This does not mean I write autobiography. As I said on Downtown the other day, of the 200 short stories I have written now in two years, well over 100 of them feature female protagonists and/or narrators. (Both of the short stories composed this week, "August Autumn" and "Taffy and Grilled Cheese," feature female protagonists, with the latter being told in the third person, and the former in this arresting third/first person hybrid, with implied second person.) I am not a female. I said it recently, and I will say it again: I am story. I am not male, in a way, I am not female, in a way, I am story.
That never stops. In everything I do in life, I am story. Now, there are infinite levels to me, but the idea that "real me" is more sincere, less performative, than "writer me" is typical of how these people can only think. It's that simple for them. But more than that, it speaks to the cardboard quality of their work. A comment like this implies that the work is less real than the person who hops on Facebook to make some comments. That's "real." Natural. I have no fake moments in my life. That does not mean, if I had to, I could not go to a party and smile and charm, even if I thought talking to some of the people there was akin to a drill boring into my skull. But I don't have adopted personas. I don't act. I cross the bloody street with sincerity. The implication that I am less real in my work, or in this journal, is truly insulting to me. Of course, it was likely that this person hadn't seen either. But that you would be presumptive is deeply off-putting to me. Maybe find out first? Maybe make the barest attempt to find out first, which involves clicking that little mouse thing and coming to this site. I was told this was a compliment. Not to this kind of person that I am. To their kind of person? Yep, I'm sure it is. But they have no talent for writing, and save in the rarest of instances, possess absolutely no sincerity in anything.
Speaking of Facebook, let me give you an example of how these people talk. When I read this, I know everything I need to know about this person as a writer, and their character. I might look them up later, and what I'll learn, as I did in this case, is that they are handed awards and nominations--the Man Booker prize, with this particular example--and you will see on their wall that all they do is praise and praise and praise and tongue and tongue and tongue their cronies. It is an adverb orgy. You will see the word "delicious" used to describe works. (Word of warning: Stay the hell away from anyone in this life who uses the adjective of delicious for anything but food.) All of it is fawning, empty, obsequious, and it is precisely this kind of person, who conducts themselves this way, whose books and scattered works--for they write very little, and are awarded often--that the people of this system want. I should add that what you are about to read was accompanied by many photos of abundant flowers in a rococo vase--a visual metaphor if there ever was one--and the next day this individual was still going on about this, in subsequent posts, including photos of the rug with the hole in it. The comments, of course, were themselves fawning, sickening, lapping. Tongues can not stretch far enough for these people to do all of the licking they wish to do.
The research began in March 2014; the writing, in November 2018. I delivered on Sunday afternoon. Healthy birth weight. A few tears of gratitude after a labour of love, obsession and stamina - rather against the odds and in the face of some of the most significant pressures of my writing life. Ultimately, none of the above matters - because it's simply a joy to have made something, and a privilege for it to have a home in the world, with the extraordinary Penguin next spring, and the equally extraordinary Penguin Canada. With thanks to my many dear friends who have scarcely, if at all, seen or heard from me for an entire year (except perhaps here in my 'water cooler' place), and who are still - miraculously - my friends. With thanks to my beautiful mother and sister for the surprise of these most gorgeous flowers yesterday. The hole in my rug marks the spot where I wrote this book. It was a perfectly good rug when it and I first met, but I like a writing spot with a view, and couldn't be moved. Now I might even be sad to see my novel's friend, the hole, go.
The drama, the narcissism, the complete lack of perspective, all over what is ultimately piffle, because that is what this person writes. But they talk this way, they conduct themselves this way. And all the others who do the same thing, a number of whom are in positions to help them, never for a second, feel threatened by someone like this and their ability. And you cannot overstate how important that is to this kind of person. You never think they're smarter than you are, you never think they write better, they make writing sound oh-so-hard. It's like giving birth over most of a decade. It involves a year when one can scarcely take the time to talk to a single person. That comforts these people. They don't want someone ripping a work for the ages every single bloody day--and often more than one work for the ages--and knowing all the stuff about seemingly all the stuff, and then walking twenty miles, and writing more, getting more ideas, publishing more things. Good God they don't want that. They want that person less than they want any other kind of person. They want the shit above. Well, I got some news for you: This is changing. And I'm going to make sure this changes, and people have real reasons to read again. Not this pretend, froufrou garbage. Which doesn't mean, here's some super serious stuff to better you, now drink your medicine. It doesn't mean that at all. Stamina. Please. You think you have any idea what stamina is? And the four years of "research" for your piffle? Four years?! You could become an expert on the Civil War in four years. You could learn two new languages in four years. A person like the above wouldn't last through the morning of a single day in my world. Man Booker prize. Where does the bullshit end? It doesn't end anywhere here right now. But it is going to.
And now I'm going to create a work that will always last. I'll be back in a bit.