Last week was the hardest I have worked. I don't want to do this journal because it exposes me to people who are sick. So I haven't been doing it. I shouldn't be giving these pages away for free, either.
I slept ten hours across the entire week. At one point, having worked forty hours straight, I wrote a suicide note at 3:30 in the morning. I sat there thinking, "What do you want to do? How do you want to handle this?"
Then I wrote as strong a work of fiction as I have yet written called "Add Friend," which is about 2000 words long, and went to bed after at 5:30 and got up at 7:03 when my sister texted to check on me and I wrote an op-ed on Oscar Wilde.
These are just the most evil people there has ever been. What I did on Friday was probably the most disturbing day I've ever had. If there was one day in my entire career to look at as the proof of what I am, the range, all I can do, the extent of this discrimination and blackballing, it would be Friday. Because I threw everything I have out there, everything I could think of, I went to the furthest edges of my talent. I tried every kind of book, every kind of story, every kind of pitch, every kind of honest email. I must have written 20,000 words. I could do an entry on here just listing what was done on that one day. I don't even know if anyone could believe it, unless you knew me. I wouldn't provide backstory, just put it out there as "this is what I did, what I tried." You see these evil people just throw the email away without opening it because it comes from the devil that is Fleming.
Rolling Stone editor who likes me said to me that I am the only one who is actually doing it and everyone else is just media, himself included. It was nice of him to say.
Last week I wrote three op-eds. I wrote three short stories: the one I have mentioned, "Spondee," "Pat It and Prick It." I revised another called "One Played, One Cried," which is about a man whose family is suffering, and he has an opportunity to bring in some much needed money, by selling some heroin to John Coltrane, who has recently gotten clean, or tried to. The title riffs on the Coltrane number, "One Up, One Down." I applied for a writing job. It's this new music outlet. Would be easy to do, and if it was steady money that would ease some pressure. I did my NEA Grant application, too, which resulted in the creation of a twenty-five page pdf that acts as a primer for Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives. You create a new kind of fiction. Forty plus years go into your development to be able to write a kind of innovative work that no one has ever written anything like before. Then you look at these people. What they put out. You read the descriptions: "Four middle aged white women, living the good life after early retirement in Fairfield County, have to confront some hard truths about themselves when a Black family moves into the neighborhood. Pitched as Amanda Gorman meets Between the World and Me meets Roxane Gay, I Ain't Your Sister, Sister went at auction for a seven figure deal," and it will be repped by some fraud like Bill Clegg.
And you just think, "Even if I wasn't hated and blackballed, what is the point?" All of this slop-drivel and pretending like it's not the worst writing ever. Like the same person is going to be like, "Give me this masterpiece that does things nothing else has done!" They can't think that way. It's beyond them. Is this where I say, "Prove me wrong"? If there's someone out there to prove me wrong they'll just do it. Because that's who they are and that's what's in them. They wouldn't need a challenge or pep talk from me.
People used to say to me, "It only takes one person," but that's not true. You have everyone in this industry behind you, or yo have no one. It takes the village. One person can go rogue and put forward the best writing there has yet been. But then it just appears where it appears. You are paid for it what you're paid for it. And without the village, it stops there. And because you wrote something so great, and it ran where it did, on top of that, these people will hate you more. So you actually backwards when you succeed that way with work they could not do, and you get it against all odds, without people lining things up for you. Then you pay a price. You deal with the discrimination getting worse. While you are also told, via the news cycle is your privilege, and you watch the worst people you could imagine, in the people in publishing, pretend to care about fairness, equality, the quality of one's work, and what they have achieved in their career, and achieved recently.
This is Tuesday's Downtown segment, which went over a half hour, and is pure genius. All of these years of doing radio, and it leads nowhere. Kimball did a really good job--he challenged me. Ask me your hardest questions. That's what I like.
I have a cover for the Scrooge book. I saw it the other day. I had chosen the image. The rest of the design is consistent throughout this particular series.
I wrote a story this morning that is as intense as anything I've ever composed, called "Savings Time." It was not the story I thought I'd write today, but it was the story I ended up writing.
The American Interest refuses to pay me for the Charlie Parker feature they ran in August. I beg for my money. They won't give it to me. It's pretty clear that they simply intend to rob me.
I have also been working on many new stories, and an essay on Cape Cod and the Beatles, which I think I will be able to sell for a negligible amount of money. An editor whom I have written for for years has given me the exact same response--word for word--for over three months now. So I had to ask them--though I've done nothing wrong at all, or even different--if I've done something to bother them, and I hope we're cool. I'm always subjugating myself like that. It's demeaning. Debasing.
I talked briefly to someone who is supposed to care about me, and I mentioned how much I was working, and they said I was lying. Okay. I really don't have many places to turn to right now, or people to turn to. I have myself and I have the work, and the latter grows and gets better every day, but that doesn't help, it only hurts, and then that hurts all the more because of it. In part because it takes even the pretense of the sliver of hope away. I also came up with an op-ed idea pertaining to hope. Ironically.
I don't lie.
Today marks 1722 days, or 246 weeks, without a drink. I noticed that a number of people were crueler to me when I stopped drinking. When I got in shape. When they could come on here and read that on a given Sunday I'd walked twenty miles and published two things and written two stories and gone to the museum and read half a book. People don't like that. They don't want to read that. It makes them feel bad about themselves. It makes them resent you. Even when they don't consciously express their thoughts that way to themselves. It's not hard to see. There is so much brunt you end up bearing. You get some many verbally abusive remarks. You get so much coldness. Projection. Passive aggressive behavior. I don't know if you can be good in this world and grow and not be alone if you're not already with someone, with people. And I think the better you are, the more you grow, the more amazing it is what you do, then the more alone you are. The less chance you have for any kind of liveablle life. That's how it is for me right now.
The problems with the website persist, but I'm told that it may be operational again this week. If it is, I'll start making the updates, and filling in the links to all of the various sections, and I will be torching some evil people on here. I will lay them out in full, share the correspondence, show exactly how their operation works, and how they work.
There's also a new piece in JazzTimes on Walter Page, who was Count Basie's bassist, and a kind of sonic liberator. I must write a feature for JazzTimes on John Colrane's Ascension, plus pieces on Charlie Christian and Eric Dolphy.
A writer/professor wrote me this about "Fitty" and "Girls of the Nimbus," what I would personally pick, were I limited to two options, as the best things I've written.
"Anyone reading those two stories who does not want them is beyond hope."
This is an email conversation with a different professor/provost, about a different story, the recently composed "Transitionings", which came up in relation to the NEA Grant process and me having to select a writing sample:
N: I am thinking now about the story you wrote recently that is essentially 6 to 8 stories that run consecutively. Do you know the one I mean?
C: They're all part of one story--"Transitionings," is what I think you probably mean. The main character is a human life and growth. The main character is a kind of concept, an idea. We see the character in different forms. And we see the course of life. It's ingenious. Why do you ask? N: Yes, that's the one. This would be what I would recommend for NEA. It's awesome. I could also see an editor wanting to "selectively edit" it, but only for length. Basically, you simply delete a section or two and it would still be as formally integral as a sculpture. For example, the two that start "there is a boy" and "there is another boy"--I could see an editor wanting to "cut" one or the other to remove a bit of repetition. There's nothing like what you do in "Transitionings." There's no fiction like it. In each section you capture what I described once before as the essence of relationships. "Fitty" does the same thing, writ large. C: I hear you. Of course, you also probably know that I am exactly aware of what you're talking about with that example, and that I did that with awareness and intent. At the same time, yes, if that was with an editor at some better place, I would be flexible. But I don't really make mistakes at this point where something has to be pointed out to me. Everything is deliberate and conscious. I also know exactly what you mean, to the degree that as I write it, as I re-read it, as I work the story over, I'm aware of that possible input from an editor. But I also have my reasons. Later, if need be, I have my flexibility. I have many reasons, in truth, for every single choice like that that I make. But I did imagine that exact conversation that you suggest. I sent "Transitionings" to Harper's, The New Yorker, Granta. There's an email from Granta I haven't opened yet. I'm sure that child turned it down after barely glancing at it, if at all. The other venues ignored me, of course. Nice. I'm a Harper's contributor with my fiction, and now I have to beg for a token response and I have work of this power. I end up going around like some prose mendicant.
Saw some of the Bruins game yesterday. What I've noticed about this team--and I suspect this is generally true across the league this year--is that you can tell what chance they have in the game during the first couple of shifts. It's a result of the condensed schedule and the fatigue. But I'm seeing lopsided games. One team has it, simply, the other doesn't. It's not the best hockey. I think there's a real chance the Bruins don't make the playoffs. Will be close. Fifty-fifty deal. They're in position right now because of their start, which was misleading--they stole a bunch of games, came back from down a bunch of goals. They need the goalie back and performing well--he wasn't playing as well as people made out--and some secondary scoring. There are a couple Hockey East quarterfinals games on today. I believe it's a single-elimination format this year. I'll check out at least some of the BC/UNH game.
I watched Stranger by the Lake (2013). Come on. There's nothing there, there's no movie, no story. Lots of hand jobs. When something is almost all gratuitousness, there can be no guts. And it is guts that matter.
This is an Easter op-ed pitch:
The idea pertains to this Anton Chekhov story called "Easter Eve" that I think holds so much wisdom for us in 2021. The story is about a man who is taking a trip across a river at night to attend an Easter celebration. He's taken across this river by a ferryman who is grieving the loss of his best friend. The best friend was an amazing storyteller, but the only person who ever heard the stories was this ferryman. The ferryman tells the man about this friend, and after the evening's festivities, the same guy takes the same ferry back home. So he's been out among all of these people, and it's been all "rah rah this" and "rah rah that." And he's struck that this ferryman has had something in his life that is so much more special, intimate, profound, human. And the point is that this is what really matters, even though we often don't look at life that way. We focus on that rah rah, so to speak, where the pack flocks. When it is the barge of this ferryman, and the experiences he has had there, with his friend, that is everything.
I found a rare recording of the Rolling Stones in Germany in 1965, and one of the Troggs in Paris in 1967. Live recordings of "Satisfaction," from the year it came out, are very difficult to locate, discounting The Ed Sullivan Show version.
This is a St. Patrick's Day op-ed pitch:
We've become a meme/gif verbal culture. By which I mean, we parrot, repeat, mimic, rather than communicate with each other in story form. The fresh relaying of incident, experience, ideas that have been sourced from the fabric of our lives.
The Irish have always been masters of this, the idea of speaking in story, if you will. I think it binds us in powerful ways that we so often lack now. And a great way to get back in touch with the spirit is through the simple, and rewarding, exercise of reading aloud.
I'm not saying to take down Finnegans Wake and plow through 750 pages with a scholarly codex by one's side. But read a poem of Yeats, some pages from Joyce's Ulysses, lines from Synge's evocative Aran Islands and reconnect with fresh language. Burbling, bracing, conversational story-speak. Get away from the endless parade of "checks notes," "asking for a friend," "now do so and so," "at the end of the day."
Story is in our DNA, and as we deny story, the telling of the fresh tale, our DNA mutates, and in ways that I believe lessen us and facilitate a kind of backsliding that leads to disconnection. Which leads to a whole tranche of other less-than-ideal things.
I got a number of emails from people on the email chain about a story I wrote called "Till." I check my record and I see the story was written January 29. These are writers, and they understand that they can't do something like this, and they're not threatened by it. They understand that I can do what they wouldn't be able to. They value that. They treasure the work. They want to see me go far, change the world. They believe in that. What I do and what I am does not cause them to think worse of themselves. Which is so often what happens to me in publishing. I have to explain this precisely, because it can sound weird. These days--and it maybe was not this way years ago, but I've changed a lot--when I write something, it goes, in a way, from my mind. A great white shark is designed to kill. To procreate, and create baby sharks that are also designed to kill. I am designed to create. And then create what is next, after having created. So, I can hold the conception, and some, or even all, of the exact words of a story in my head for years. Then I will write the story, and everything goes away. It occupies no more space in my mind. That doesn't mean I don't come and revise the work. I even did that with "Fitty." (Eventually someone will run that story. And people who have seen it referenced again and again here, will be like, "Jesus Christ, that's why he talked about, and how backwards does a system have to be to try and suppress a work of art like this?" Trust me--what I say in these pages is understatement.) If I sit down with that work again, all of the reasons for the choices I made, and what I was thinking when I wrote the work, will be with me. It's not so much as return to me, as they come out of the annex. But I can write something and have no clue what it was a day later. Because I am that shark. What can then happen is I get a bunch of emails about the story and people are saying what a masterpiece it is, how it literally took the breath out of their chests. Then I think, "hmmmm." I go back and I look at the story. And I am floored. I am staggered by its quality. And because of the nature of how I create, I just did it and moved on. I don't linger. I don't bask. I get depressed, too, because the story is so obviously what it is, and my situation is what it is, and the story is not going to change anything right now. "Till" is about a woman--a geologist--who has had some kind of loss. We're not privy to the nature of the loss as the story begins, with her volunteering at her local church. She works with the pastor filling little plastic bags with soil from the grounds. The consecrated grounds. People who are elderly, who might have moved away, or are in retirement homes, send in money for these bags. What starts happening is that bones start showing up in these bags. And other things. By that I don't mean body parts or teeth. I mean something I won't say here. The woman talks about kinds of till--glacial till, for instance. And though this is what she does for volunteer work--we have the sense it's because she can't be alone in her home, or wants to limit that--she buys some of the bags and has them sent to herself. She spreads newspaper on her kitchen table, and empties their contents, and something just utterly gutting occurs. I'm reading the story--which is for Longer on the Inside--and I'm thinking, "Who the hell thinks of this?" And it's something I didn't even know what these people were talking about when the letters started coming in.
Marvin Hagler died. He was my dad's favorite boxer. Mine is Joe Frazier. I remember my dad being upset when Leonard beat Hagler. He wasn't someone who carped about officiating or games after the fact, but I could tell that he thought an injustice had really transpired that night. Every now and again over the years it would come up and I could tell it still rankled him. My dad saw Marvin Hagler in a bar once, and went over and asked him if he could buy him a beer. And he did. That's something my father would have done because it was a life opportunity, and not to be wasted.
This is a pitch for a piece on a volume of O. Henry stories coming out from the Library of America:
The Library of America is putting out a collection of 101 O. Henry short stories in June. A misunderstood writer, O. Henry. As he's been handed down to us in the popular culture, one would think his remit was the "twist ending" that came to be a staple of a show like The Twilight Zone. This would be misleading, if one really digs into the catalogue, which to me seems the thrust of this volume, to show how balanced O. Henry's stories could be. We also usually think of him as weepy and melodramatic, but he had some of the gristle of a Frank Norris often. It's an arresting collection.
This is a pitch pertaining to Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, which turns 400-years-old this year:
I'm a longstanding admirer of a book that is about to turn 400-years-old. That would be Robert Burton's The Anatomy of Melancholy, a mere 900-page tome about sadness, in all of its myriad forms, that is oddly, paradoxically, life-infusing. As much as anything I've ever read and reread--I put it in the category of Montaigne's essays, and the complete fourteen volumes of Thoreau's journals.
And yet, there is nothing in literature like this book, an exploder of convention and expectation, cobbled together from sources, with Burton employing different styles, approaches, but the work always proceeding in an orderly fashion from his singular mind.
I think we are profoundly unwell right now. Mentally unwell, unwell as a culture, oftentimes strangers to ourselves. This book is an antidote, an expostulation.
Further, it's hilarious. And probably the book that has the least business being hilarious, if our expectations are any indication. There should not be mirth and whimsy here, but Laurence Sterne could have read this and though, "Oh my, Tristram and Uncle Toby and the boys need to be funnier if I'm to keep up."
It's a unique book, which I've read a mere ten times (in times of health issues, it also doubled as my official "hospital book"). But we're so damn performative in terms of what we're allegedly not going through, as we stylize our lives for social media, but here's an embrace of realness, which better helps us be real, that is like some bracing tonic for 2021.
This is an Easter pitch:
Van Gogh's The Potato Eaters is in my view the best ever Easter painting, and it has an amazing, and sobering, backstory. The painting--based on the Last Supper--haunted Van Gogh throughout his life. I especially like it in 2021 because he did what no one was doing at the time, and what we often struggle to do now: show life as it is. As our lives are. Not as we carefully stage them. It's a painting with giant, Easter balls, we might say. And it meant the world to Van Gogh, because he thought he had eally done something amazing for the first time. He wanted that to be true. But every single person who saw this painting put it down, said it was all wrong, that Van Gogh had gone too far with how dark the damn thing was, and you couldn't paint like this.
There's so much iconography at Easter. We all know the art that you see everywhere. Paintings of Christ in his trials, and up on the cross, and popping out of that cave. But this is domestic Easter, and it's about struggle and pushing forward, which to me makes it about hope. I think that's a great idea right now for a lot of people. Hope is everything, right? And it's what Easter is, above all, and this real, ballsy painting nails that.
I walked three miles yesterday and three today. Obviously not a lot, so that's pretty poor.
I was on Facebook this afternoon after my walk, and was looking at the feed of a hockey group I belong to. And I see this post about Bobby Orr and the 1976 Canada Cup by some guy. It has all of these comments about how well-written it is. And I'm reading the post thinking, "damn, this is so well-written," and it's making me feel good, right, because it's like the best writing I've seen in a long time, and I'm heartened that this person is out there. And then I realize something: I wrote these words for Sports Illustrated, and this person has plagiarized me. Unreal.
That's depressing. The one well-written thing I've seen in an age and it's my own work that someone stole. Awesome.
You know what's funny, too? When I was on Facebook, back when I posted, and I was on NPR, or had a feature in The Atlantic, or had fiction in the VQR, or an op-ed in The New York Times, I never got more than six likes when I put up a link to any of that, because of the whole hated thing and the envy thing. This guy steals my work, and within like no time there is more than 100 likes.
Sometimes I think there is no way I am not dead and in hell. Truly.
Back in July, I approached an editor at a venue I write for about doing something for Charlie Parker's centennial. I had written for this guy before. I'd tried to for about ten years. He mostly ignored me. Never gave me a shot. But I kept trying, because that is what I am reduced to right now. I had started writing for another section of this venue. This guy saw that, and I guess his attitude towards me changed somewhat. I should also add that I think this guy is a good writer himself. His work appears in a different venue that I've also written for. I was a regular there. They invited me to their Christmas parties. Now they ignore anything I send. The other day I simply asked why. What had happened. I've asked before. Groveling. They won't respond. Same person. Who is also a good writer, actually. But back to this original place. The editor said that he had already assigned something for the Parker centennial. My idea was about Parker's gig at Massey Hall in 1953, as conceivably the best jazz concert. They have this regular column that looks at overlooked works of art, and sort of pulls them into light, says why you should check them out. He says to me that once we get clear of the centennial, and it's early in the new year, I can do this piece then. Okay. We get into the new year, and I'm not hearing back. Finally he says he's been busy, he'll try and reply soon. And eventually he does, saying that, well, it'd be weird to do this Charlie Parker piece now, because his centennial was in August. And it's like...but okay. I roll with things. He asks me if there is a different Parker one we might do--which is confusing, because I thought Parker was a no-go, or maybe he means it has to have an anniversary peg--or a different jazz one we can do. This is the same venue where the other person has given me the exact same response--the same words--for three months now. This is just about the best I ever get treated. So what I do is I say, sure, I have other jazz ideas. I send him two--one on Booker Little's Out Front--with Eric Dolphy--from 1961, building in an anniversary peg--and Miles Davis's Live-Evil, form 1971, with another anniversary peg. I don't hear back. I give a few more options. One is about the outtakes of John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Another is about the first take of the Beatles' "A Day in the LIfe," saying that people know me for my Beatles writings, and no one has ever written anything, just about, pertaining to this amazing performance and vocal. I say, quite honestly, that it's one of the Beatles pieces I'd most like to read. And I give him a blues, as well, with an anniversary peg, Muddy Waters playing for Alan Lomax's tape machine at Stovall Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1941.
A woman wrote me to tell me I was very good looking. Who cares? That's your main criteria for going out with someone? And with all I have to say and it's right there in front of a person like this. And their starting point, and their stopping point, is how someone looks.
Someone read today's story, "Savings Time," which is 700 words long, and told me it is at once a poem, a philosophical treatise, and a novel.
I need to get some sneakers and some shoes. My shoes are from six years ago. They have to be the Timberlands, for my walking. The sneakers I go through so quickly, though I've been a sedentary load of late. I shaved for the first time in a week. My hair is everywhere because it is so long. I have to wear the beanie to keep it out of my eyes. This week will be hard. You have to do what you have to do. You have to believe in yourself. You have to believe in your ultimate outcome. You have to fight. And you have to continue to endure until this works.