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In which displeasure with craft essays is expressed

Monday 2/4/19

Julie Adams died at ninety-two. I tried to get someone to have me write about her, but no takers. She was in Creature from the Black Lagoon in 1954, the last of the great Universal horror films, and the first after a stretch of barren years. The most mature--well, The Mummy is in the discussion--of the Universal horrors, and a potent eco-parable about what humans do to the earth, it contains what is tantamount to a fluvial duet between Adams and the creature, their swimming motions mirroring each other at different columnar vectors of the frame. Ever seen Jaws? You know that shooting style--the shark's perspective--of looking up towards the surface at a swimmer? The original swimmer in that set-up was Julie Adams in Creature from the Black Lagoon.



What a hack Dan Shaughnessy is. The Globe's pet prose troll. I don't know if he believes anything he writes, or he's just stupid. The Red Sox will always be my favorite team, but I still find this unit that won the championship somewhat unlikable--not that I really care about niceties; results matter to me--and their owner is King Creepy. I find it creepy, too, Robert Kraft's romance with the woman who is my age who also has another boyfriend, that he's that sad, really, that he needs this kind of trophy companion who clearly doesn't care for him that much--or, let's be honest, at all, since it's about money--and Henry has his own version of this. Do these people have no shame? They are with you for money. That's it. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if someone wasn't with me for me. And if I was old and flabby and you're with me because I'm rich and that's it? How little self-respect can you have? Henry clearly is threatened by the Patriots, and even the Sox' congratulatory note yesterday was passive aggressive and there have been a number of left-handed compliments from them since. Football is just more popular. I like baseball 100x more--1000x more--but people like football more. The masses. Baseball is more of a thinking person's game, from a fan's standpoint, whereas football is more of a thinking person's game from a coaching staff's standpoint.


I saw some of that Maroon 5 halftime appearance. Do people honestly listen to this of their own free will? You put this on and sit down with a Maroon 5 album? It's for the car? The gym? Why would anyone like this? What is there to like about this? They should just put a copy of Electric Ladyland on during the half and let people hang out and talk.


Here is how smart I think Belichick is: they signed Josh Gordon knowing he'd eventually get popped for drugs and not make it through the season. They did this to win games, to get a bye, pasting it together, and then knowing that they'd change everything up stylistically once he was popped, and no one would be ready for it, and nothing would be on tape, because that's the way they had to do it this year.


Someone named Corbin Smith did a piece for The Daily Beast saying that all Patriots supporters were white supremacists. I showed it to my friend John the other day. It was a nasty, irresponsible, clickbait-y piece, with a lot of hate in it--sounds like it was written by someone who needs some help, actually--by someone who, again, I don't know if they're this stupid, or that desperate to do anything to get attention, but this was the prose version of cutting off your hair and eating it and while the cameras are on you calling everyone who happens to root for a given sports team a Nazi. This is separate from what I do at The Daily Beast. I have two editors there. One is my music and film and sports editor, my other is my books and art editor. And both are true professionals, pleasures to deal with, stand-up people, prompt, fair, smart. Would that all editors were like these two. This Corbin Smith made his Twitter private after, because, as you might expect, people on both the left and the right went after him. He could not take it. He looks about forty, and I would say he's published fifteen pieces in his career for three or four outlets.


As it turns out, there is another Corbin Smith, who is a writer in Seattle who covers the Seahawks. And he received one hateful message after another, releasing several statements that he was not the writer of this other toxic piece, he would never write something like that. I wrote this guy today. He was on his guard at first, because everyone is threatening him bodily harm, I guess. I just said to him that I was sorry he had the bad luck to have this occur, but that he had handled it like a true gentleman, and it would soon pass and at least people saw what a smart and classy guy he was because he handled the situation well, and it would probably bring him more readers in the end. He told me that hardly anyone had said anything nice to him. I do that sometimes, maybe more than someone might think. I wrote a guy who regularly writes about film for The Daily Beast the other day. A stranger to me. He works his ass off. Writes a lot. Most writers hardly write at all. They want to talk about writing. They have no ability to even fill up a page, let alone fill it up with anything good, and they are lazy. The laziest kind of people there are. So I wrote that guy saying I really admired him. Which is true. I'll do that. You'll get this random letter from me. I watch a lot of stuff. I watch a lot of stuff play out. Sometimes I send them to people getting a raw deal, telling them to hang in there, because I know this kind of thing does make a difference. It's made a difference to me sometimes in my life. Part of the reason is because so few people do this. That's what almost everyone says when I contact them--that they don't get nice notes. And if they're getting pasted by thousands of people because of some internet campaign, they basically get no positive reinforcement.


Want to know something remarkable? Look at all of the op-eds I've written. Look how ostensibly controversial some of them are. I am, obviously, saying things that no one else would say in print. Do you know how many hateful letters I've received? None. Not a one. Do you know why? This Corbin Smith guy, I'm sure, received hundreds, if not thousands. I don't receive any because I'm not trying to hoodwink you into a click. I am saying things that are actually true, and I'm saying them better than anyone else could say them. I am being definitive. I present truth distilled. That's where I am in the evolution of my game. And no one can come back with anything. Want to argue with my prose and my thinking and presentation? Good luck with that one. I am too locked in right now as a thinker and an artist. This can be bad, too, because what it means, at this juncture, before I get past the harbor blockade of publishing, is that people read the piece, accept what it says, and they move on, because there's no wiggle room in it for their "two cents." I've covered it from the left, from the right, from the top, from the bottom. I've taken out the possibility of the hostile countermanding voice.


And people who think highly of something by someone whose name they don't know have a full experience, a great experience, but people are lazy, and if they don't already know you because of your name value, they're not going to look any further. What you did simply becomes that experience, which they might think about for a long time. Have it return to their thoughts and feelings. But they don't know the name. They can thus return again and again to your work, and maybe around the tenth time, they think, "oh, it's that guy again." But when the name is still not a household name, that changes things, it changes what that person is going to do going forward. They don't buy the book then, they don't give the book as a gift to someone, they don't rave on Twitter about what they just experienced, even though that experience is deeper and truer and more impactful than others they are raving about on Twitter, with people who have the name recognition, because their Twitter friends will recognize the name. The germane net result--the problem to be solved--is that someone has just read something great, but by someone who is not a household name, because of the publishing harbor blockade. It doesn't become the news item to be talked about in the sense of, "Did you see that piece in such and such by Fleming?" There is the recognized better writing; but there is not yet the brand association. When I have that, everything else gets sorted, quickly. We lightning strike, all changes.


But back to what I would consider basic publishing business: Clicks are cheap. If a magazine or site wants to last, it has to realize this. Trying to shock via headlines and subsequent content for the click is a business-killer. It undercuts your credibility. You end up with pieces that either insult people's intelligence or smear groups with hate--Corbin Smith did both. You also produce pieces that are much more likely to be scanned rather than read. The eye flicks around for the controversial pull-quote type remarks. What a lot of venues don't get is that it isn't the number of clicks that matter for the longer term success of the brand, it's what those pieces are doing with their audience. In other words, you'd rather have twenty-five people read a piece and really have it soak into them, so that they carry it around, tell others about it, return to your brand for more experiences like this, than 100 people who click on that piece for thirteen seconds, don't read it, and can't tell you what it was about twenty seconds later. That's not a business model that is going to sustain you. That's a panic move that too many sites and magazines made. And it's one of the causes for why they are folding.


Tomorrow I'll discuss A.A. Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh books on Downtown. I walked the three miles today to Charlestown and back, but the Monument was closed once again. It was fifty degrees. Fifty degrees. No snow, no rain, all sunshine. And the Monument was closed for weather? But if it's twenty degrees and snowing in December it's open? There must be some loophole that allows the park rangers to close the Monument for climbing in January and February and they take advantage of it to be lazy. It's not like they go up and down it--they just stand at the desk downstairs. But if someone is sick in there or has a heart attack they have to go in, so perhaps they just want to remove every last chance of having to do anything.


Publishing people like to go on Facebook and say, "Hive mind, do you know of any craft essays written by purple armadillos about how to write better dialogue?" First off: don't say "hive mind." It is also creepy. We are individuals. We should aspire to be free thinkers who listen to other free thinkers. To consult a hive of drones--for this is what a hive is made up of--is so amazingly ironic here in the age of pandemic lobotomization, but, of course, no one has the awareness to grasp what should be an obvious and troubling implication. Likewise, ditch saying, "If I'm the Rams (or any other sports team)"--because you are one person, not fifty-three plus a staff, an ownership group, etc.--and heaven help me, never, ever, ever again say "at the end of the day." Stop it.


But I am going to write the only craft essay--right here--that anyone will ever need in the rest of the history of writing. Ready? Actually have talent. Hmmm? That's all you need to know. There's your essay. Actually have talent. Wishing for talent, reading pieces about how to give your characters believable names--right, because that's how it works, now you can do it too!--is like being enabled by a drug dealer and going along with the drug dream as the stand-in for reality. It's not the manna you want it to be, because manna is reality, not fantasy, based. And if you don't have talent, you are shit out of luck. In this one area. Maybe you're a great clarinetist. That's what more people should say to people. The world would be full of readers right now, if people were honest about who has talent and who does not, and writers and would-be writers were capable of being honest with themselves, because what was celebrated, awarded, described as that which you cannot miss, would actually be good, not a saddo's lie that they desperately needed their cronies to bring about for them so they could Frankenstein some patchwork semblance of a self and ego together. The most friable of selves.


Those works, from those kinds of people, with those kinds of cronies, became the vast majority, nearly the whole, of the publishing market. It was random--or contingent upon what was playing in the new cycle at the time (it's race and gender right now)--which of those works won the awards and got the meaningless, lipstick-clotted kisses blown up their asses, but some of them had to get them--it's like being the lucky sperms, as it were, like when someone is just born into a wealthy or connected family--so they got them. That's why people don't read. Because that is the product, and there is no market for it. The market is the group that produces that kind of product. The disturbed enclave. So desperate to keep out all who are not like they are. And that market is not for the consumption of that product--because people in publishing don't even read this crap--but for social media posting about purporting to care about it, so that a claim to community can be made. Blow up the den of sickness, let the true, cool, fresh breeze and some sun come in, honest to goodness sunshine and a true wind, and people will read again. Craft essay. I actually just laughed as I typed that. Sure, craft bloody essay. Hey, Johnny Keats, got a craft essay for you! Kafka my man! Did you read that craft essay about anthropomorphizing bugs?! You all set now, brother! Come on. Craft essay. I find that fucking hilarious. I shouldn't. It's really so depressing.


Shaughnessy's piece was about how Tom Brady is now--only now--the best athlete in Boston sports history. Like, you think, dude? Who else could it be? Williams? Orr? Orr didn't do it long enough and he didn't win enough. Williams didn't win at all. Williams is the best hitter ever, and I'd say he's the fourth best baseball player ever. Orr is either the second or third greatest hockey player ever. Brady is, by an almost indecent margin, the best football player ever and maybe the greatest winner in the history of team sports. There will be kids in Boston 100 years from now who think he's a legend--an actual legend, like something invented, near mythical--rather than someone who ever actually played. I'm not a huge fan of his, but this isn't really close. I didn't mention Bill Russell. They were beating some shit teams that were barely professional teams. He was good at defense and leadership. He wasn't good enough at offense. Sure, I guess you could say that Williams wasn't good at defense. That's true. Hitting a baseball is very hard, though. He was the best at it. Something we all have tried. It's like someone saying, everyone breathes, but this guy was the best at breathing. You are beating a lot of people at something when you're the best at breathing. That's why I'd have Williams number two. Orr won the two titles. But his teams underachieved so much. And for career value, I'd rather have Bourque. Which I wrote about for Sports Illustrated once.