This was almost my last day. Bad. Harder to hang on. Could have gone either way. That close. Fifty-fifty. As close as it has been. If I had been at the subway I am certain I would be no more. You look at things for what might be the last time and you know it.
Neighbor texted me at 7 in the morning, wanting help with her resignation letter, so I helped her. Then I completed "Post-Fletcher." 5300 words. Three writing sessions. Spaced over a week. I sent it to some people I know. I would wager that none of them will say anything. No one--in terms of the public--will see it now. Will anyone ever see it? When will anyone ever see it?
Post-Fletcher had a way of getting people down. Fletcher wondered if he made them feel like they were lacking something in their own lives. But the ghost itself was not in a good way. Sure, it tried to stay busy with the clamming and the reading. It also was seen at an antiques store that Trish and Fletcher had liked, and it hung around a school playground where Trish had once wowed Fletcher, shortly after they were married, with a tumbling routine left over from her days as an All-State high school gymnast.
“I swear, six. I can do it. You watch.”
“What? Six flips? There is no way that can happen.”
“So here, husband of mine. Right here, right now.”
He liked when she called him that. A possessive can make you feel loved even when you already know you are loved. The extra.
“Like you, ghost of mine,” Fletcher said in the direction of Post-Fletcher, who was now standing—occupying the space—where Trish had finished her final tumble. The ghost looked at him, and, for the first time, seemingly not through him. It appeared to be pleading. Or that was how Fletcher read its expression, anyway. It’s not an exact science, reading the expression of your ghost’s face.
He tried to get better at these modes of perception, because Fletcher felt responsible for his ghost. Perhaps if he could understand it better, that would help. He followed it across town, at all hours of day and night. He stood by him as he clammed, bog turtle ghost at its side; waited for him at the cemetery’s edge for when he was done with his morning’s ablutions, went to the homes of various neighbors when they called Danton and Sandy and said would someone please do something with this creature, this wraith, this holy terror upon their front lawn, the kids wanted to set up a volleyball net or some such.
He was his ghost’s shepherd.
Walked three miles. Climbed the Monument five times. Sent a new project to Netflix. I listened to The Thelonious Monk Orchestra at Town Hall, the Shadow of Knight's Gloria, McCartney, the Ferry Cross the Mersey soundtrack. That McCartney album is pretty bad. He sounds almost completely creatively burnt out. The Pacemakers' "It's Gonna Be Alright" is near about a signature tune for the British beat movement. I saw it used to good effect in a British Invasion documentary once. The Monk set is his first recording with tenor player Charlie Rouse, who is awesome. Best horn man Monk ever had--better with him than John Coltrane. Coltrane is overrated. I feel that people don't think about Coltrane, they just say what they think they should say, what everyone says. Along those lines: Ernest Hemingway is a bad writer (by great writer standards--not the standards of today's MFA programs), William Faulkner an overrated one, Charles Dickens underrated.
Emma phoned at nine in the morning. She had been on the Cape with a friend and the friend's family had dropped her off and Emma's parents were out of town and she was locked out. Had to rearrange my day and look after her. Parents did not return until twelve hours later. Emma wanted to get notebooks to draw and write in, so I helped her find those (Staples). We went down Newbury Street and she told me what fancy stores she likes. Then we sat in the Public Garden and saw the ducklings.
After that we went up on the roof of our building. The people who have lots of parties were up there on one side drinking Coors, and two women--roommates--who were arguing about a couch on the other. There weren't enough chairs for Emma and me. She lay down on a mat and tried to sleep and I read James Agee's film criticism while Emma played music she likes--and which I like, of course--on her phone: Joy Division (actually, Warsaw), and the Animals. I don't tell her what to play. (She was looking for the Kinks at first, but changed her mind.) But when she plays something, I will teach her a few things about what we are listening to. (She also teaches me things about other things.) I have no idea what people think we are to each other. If people hear us talking to each other, they must be really confused. I sometimes catch people trying to listen in, or who give themselves away by cracking up over something we have said to each other.
Then we went to Starbucks so she could charge her phone. When we were at Starbucks Emma said to me--she may have read it here--"Do you remember when you said that in over seven years you have not had a single second of peace or happiness?" I said I did. it is true. I have not looked forward to anything. I have not enjoyed a day. A second. I have been, this entire time, only conscious of being tortured alive. I can't stress that enough. There has not been a single second where i have not been completely conscious of this hell, this worse than hell, always feeling its grip. I only know the constant feeling of pain. The pain can go away if my work has a chance, a chance that anyone else, with the tiniest sliver of this ability, would have had fifteen years ago while they were being universally lionized. She said that she liked when she came into Starbucks and I saw her and I smiled. That made her happy, even though she knew I wasn't happy, if I knew what she meant, because she wants to help me she said like I help her, even if she can't do as much as I do for her.
I told her that there is nothing about her that makes me unhappy and I have been fortunate to get to know someone as special as she is. I don't share a lot of specifics with Emma, due to the age gap and the power dynamic (though I'd say that unless I'm telling her to make sure she grabs a jacket or to put Neosporin on a cut, I talk to her as an equal, save what I leave out, because of the aforementioned power discrepancy and age gap). She knows a lot, being the most mentally gifted person I have known, and, in many ways, the wisest. But I told her this time--I'm not sure why; it felt important, though, that I should--that it is very difficult knowing that you do something better than anyone has done anything else, ever, and you are so hated, hated by so many people who want to stop your work from reaching people, and living like I live, and getting better at what I do all the time, every day, only for everything in life to get worse, and for there to be more hate and envy. To be denied what no one else would be denied. While you are alone. And most of the people you know--you don't even want to call them friends or family--can't say so much as "congrats" when you achieve something. Not that that is very important compared to the practically unfathomable, imponderable levels of injustice at play, perpetually at play, which seem to control my entire fate.
But even at the most basic levels of human decency, the bare minimum levels, the prevailing theme is consistent. Remarkably, disturbingly, terrifyingly consistent. Almost supernaturally consistent. Maybe supernaturally consistent. If I have a friend of twenty-five years, that friend is not going to so much as say to me, "Congrats on your new book." Other people don't do this with their friends, even when the book is garbage, let alone great art, great entertainment, something special. This becomes a matter of accepting that such a person is not my friend, and other things they do, and don't do--very bad things, even abusive things--are dangerous for my well-being when I am so close to the edge. They could kill me. If I make that decision (rather than just give in to a feeling, as I almost did on Friday), I want it to be entirely my own in view of what I am dealing with, not another fresh strain of hell brought into my life by someone I have the choice not to have in my life. To be honest, if I was not in this historically unique situation that no one who has done a portion of what I have done has ever been in, I would have stopped knowing quite a few people years ago. Fame and money would have exposed me to more people, more groups of people, and I hope that happens. But I've been so alone. And people took advantage of that, they could get away with a lot with me, plus people always feel like I am Super Man and I will find a way, and even people who don't dislike me are almost always scared of me because of my mind. It has been that way my entire life. I am nice. I think that's obvious from these pages. I think I'm more than nice. I think I am truly good, to be honest, and the person in these pages is certainly the person in this life. This you could not fake. I have to accept that right now hardly anyone in this world cares about me. It's just the reality. Doesn't mean it always has to be that way, or will be that way. But that's what it is right now. I have faced that. I know this to be true almost as much as I know anything to be true.
All in all, even if I was loved by a good group of people, that would not make a dent in the real issues. It is very hard to keep going and remain alive, let alone keep surging deeper into lands that no artist has previously explored and settled, knowing that the work you make that could mean so much to so many millions of people, impact the world at large, and live forever, will be suppressed because of who you are and what you can do. And because you terrify a certain group of very petty, clannish, pretentious, insecure, elitist people who have no precedent for what you are, and cannot accept what you are, even when they don't despise you, which is infrequently. Those people are cowards. They just want to put out meaningless work (actually, "want" is the wrong word; they don't care at all; just so long as they can keep getting paid, no one complains, and they can lie to themselves) that resembles other meaningless work. That is their gospel: Their unholy, anti-art, anti-entertainment, anti-truth, anti-humor, anti-drama, anti-reading gospel.
That portion of that conversation with Emma was probably the truest, least fettered exchange--it was not a long one--I've had with anyone in a long time. Years. Maybe ever. Because it was someone who cared and was doing nothing except listening, receiving, processing. I see it in her eyes. Eyes that absolutely pull you in. Eyes that you can see see the world as few people's eyes do. Maybe I will help this child, this young woman, become a writer who can access the depths of her mind. Maybe I can help show her what writing can really be, as she simultaneously journeys towards what that is. Maybe I will do what I am trying to do, on this grand historical scale, and in the moment of the days of my life, and in the moment of the prime of my life, and when she is older, she will be able to make great works of art and they will get to the world because of what I helped change in the world, and because I got people reading again. Maybe she helps keep me from killing myself so that I somehow keep waking up and doing what I do and a chance comes and change to rock this world, to all but split it in two, while helping it be whole, occurs.
Perhaps I get that which I deserve and have coming to me. I don't know. But I do know, and at least I've known it once, what pure friendship is. Pure friendship is receiving. You both receive. You both receive the other. It is pure openness. No agenda, no working on your next thing you're going to say in your head, no jealousy, no intimidation (which I am so familiar with; the number of people in my life who would rather not say anything to me, the vaguest word of kindness, for their fear of me thinking they're stupid, or what they said wasn't smart enough, has resulted in people saying nothing to me, not basic things they'd say to a dog, and these people have no idea how cruel this was to me, how their fear, which I in no way engendered, save by being infinitely smarter than they were, which is not my fault, helped make me so alone), no passive aggressiveness, no talking over each other, no idiocy, no projection, no unspoken cheap thoughts that are so easy to read nonetheless (I'm related--though not by blood--to someone who asks me questions and her insulting innuendos are so obvious, and she lives in enough of a bubble that she thinks I don't know; and if I notice these things, and were to comment on them, I am at fault--and negative adjectives are applied--in the view of people like this), no desire for the two people to be something else than what they are. That's pure friendship. I think of it as pure light. A field of yellow-gold blazing light, light that maybe aliens keep in jars because perhaps you almost have to be an alien and not from this world to know what it is and how precious it is. There are no other colors, even at the edges. That is pure friendship, and I understand that now.
Brad Marchand came in around ten past five to get a coffee before the start of Game 1 of the Finals. Emma told me how incredibly hot he was (she usually likes women more, or guys who are not masculine looking, but I guess Marchand was an exception; I showed her a Sports Illustrated article I wrote about him and she commented on the ideas and language, rightly opining that these things are more important than nominal subject matter, which is why such writing can have appeal to people not into the subject matter on its own; I said, "Yes, exactly." She took a photo with Marchand once. Then the Starbucks closed and we had nowhere to go, so I took her to Cafe Dello Sport on Hanover. She had a hot chocolate and I had a tea because I was cold and starting to feel sick. Her parents finally called and we walked home. We were both sunburned. Oh--I also wrote a review of that Pat Metheny show from Rockport in the morning.
The explorations of the album’s themes, in extended, free-flowing pieces, have the feel of dusty quadrilles played on a carillon. Metheny has a marvelous bell-like tone to his acoustic work, and yet such mathematical precision in his playing. You have the sense that if you took any given figure, one freshly extemporized, and placed a level atop it, as one would across the lintel of a door, that figure will be perfectly balanced.
He rocks it up, too. There are times where we feel like we are in the throes of a Duane Eddy number, but via the hard-strumming of a Liverpool beat act. Other times he goes full blues, as if we are on Maxwell Street in Chicago in the mid-1960s, and this is what the man who followed Robert Nighthawk sounded like.
For one tune—we might call it the negation of a tune—Metheny all but destroys his guitar. It’s a performance of sound necrosis, a kind of music reaching our ears, but barely, as Metheny strafes his fretboard. You think that he must be cutting up his hands, so violently is he running them along the strings, strangling his instrument. Sound hits the air, then dies almost instantly.
Jeff Beck did something like this on electric guitar at the close of the Yardbirds’ “I’m a Man,” but the auto-destruction quotient here is higher. You wonder if it will ever be possible for this guitar to be in tune again. It’s thrilling, a kind of sound that is sound that is not sound that is sound, a ceaseless refraction, both rhythmic and arrhythmic; neither dead nor alive, but abeyant. Or the sound made by the ghost of one form of guitar music, as it manipulates a well-calloused finger and emits a six-string cry of “behold.”
And I gave Emma a printout of "Post-Fletcher." This is a photo she surreptitiously took of me as I was passing out at Starbucks:
This is one I took of her in the Public Garden, while she was fashioning a twig into a shiv, with which she stabbed me in the forearm.
She asked if it hurt and I said, yeah, you little fucker, it hurt, and she asked me whether I was a pussy or a bitch and then told me about a new drawing she is working on, which corresponds to a new poem she is working on, regarding the Immaculate Conception. There is this demonic figure in it with Mary, and I suggested maybe a more neutral figure, so not demon, but not non-demon, but something arresting and thought-inducing; as if the creature were spiritually hermaphroditic. She deemed this worthy of mulling. As we neared where the ducklings were, she turned to me and said, "I want to drown, in cold water," and I asked her why she was quoting the Who's Quadrophenia to me and she said she didn't know that she was but she had a Who playlist she had been listening to on the Cape. (Quadrophenia would be a good record at the Cape.) This is typical--she absorbs things like that. What I have noticed, too, is that for much of what she brings up, I'll have written something on that something. I wrote on Quadrophenia for The Atlantic, for instance. And in these moments, I realize how singular this is, and it makes me somehow even more upset about what has happened. Because there is nothing normal about this and what I am. There is scarcely anything earthly about it. Then she brings up Longfellow and "Evangeline," and I'm thinking, Christ, I just wrote on him, too,
We were at Starbucks so long that eventually I just gave Emma my phone and told her to knock herself out on my Tinder and swipe whomever she wanted for me. Can't be a worse method than what I've been using. But it really doesn't matter. If I met the person right now that I might be with if I met them later, after this hell is concluded, if it ever finishes, we wouldn't be able to be together now. Right now, I am new Job. I am Job. But, Job got his stuff back, and a life, and in that sense, I am not sure I will become Job's second act (although I guess Job had three acts to his life--Life was Good, Life was a supernatural Hell, Life was better than before when it was Good). I might just be tragic act Job. There is no one on this earth who is going to want to go through this with me as it presently sits. Nor, I don't think, anyone smart or strong enough to go through it with me (though it would mean so much to me to be wrong). In one way, this journal is for them. It's for a lot of people. It's for a lot of reasons.
One friend--I'll use the term--scoffed that someone could ever become interested in someone because of their writings, or writings like this. I didn't say anything to them. I thought, though, "well, they'd never be interested in you that way, but we aren't the same, and you won't have in a lifetime of words what I have in a single clause, and you don't do what I do, and our jibs are galaxies apart." People are so simple, even the smarter ones. They can often only speak through the filter of what they are, their experiences. It is like they cannot allow for anything else; everything out there has to be some form of what they are. They almost never get beyond their narrow walls of Me.
The problem if you're not a member of their kind of Me, is that they take something personal, and they make it general. But they think they're speaking with specificity. They think they're talking about you, too, simply because they're addressing you in the conversation. But they don't see that they're talking entirely about them. What happens is, most people are going to be more like them. So when they have these conversations, the other person is not left out, alienated, further aware of how alone they are, with real reason to say what I could have said above, which I did not, as I said, say.
You just have to swallow it. At the station I am at. The station of this cross. Later, I wouldn't have to swallow it, because it wouldn't be said. Because other people--as in hordes of numbers--would be doing that person's thinking for them. And if I still knew that person, and I said, "Oh yes, it's funny, Amber and I met in this unique way," the friend will then view that as congruous, because now, on account of the hordes, the numbers, fame, recognition, an article they read, they don't view you as they view themselves. But you're not really friends, because you never were. They couldn't see you as a person needs to be able to see a friend. They might have admired parts of you. But a lot of what they saw was themselves.
I think the person for me will find this on her own. Read the work on her own, read these pages on her own. And if the person for me is out there, I think she'll get in touch. I don't think she is out there, increasingly. I don't think I belong in this world. And I wonder if that's what taking your own life is--a journey. Trusting in a process when you realize what you are, what all else is, and where you maybe need to try to get to. Tomorrow I know that I could awake with a sack of new projects, gold-stamped by the God of Reality, and in that sack could be the Best Novel Ever, Best Thriller Ever, Best Screenplay Ever, Best Mystery Ever, Best Short Story Ever, Best Children's Book Ever, Best Memoir Ever, Best Diary Ever, Best Essay Collection Ever, and it's not going to matter, not in this world, not right now, and not with my name at the top. If you read these pages, have you noticed that there is no coverage of my books? Not a single review? Have you noticed that there are no awards? Have you noticed that I have not been hired for a staff? Have you noticed that not a single one of my books is included on any list of Summer Beach Reads, say, or that I am not profiled anywhere, that outlets that would review your book, if you were not a writer, and produced a book tomorrow, would never cover mine unless they had to, gun to their head? Not literal gun--by this I mean, if I was massive, and you couldn't be the one place that didn't do coverage. Have you noticed that not a single masterful story has been anthologized? Have you noticed that after I published fiction in Harper's, a system made it sure that it would try harder to freeze me out, when that publication literally would have made someone else's career--look up the examples--if they had done literally nothing else as a writer, and could do nothing else. Why do you think that is? Have a look. Search the internet. This is not a person who writes better than everyone whose work appears nowhere. This is someone whose work appears constantly, despite these considerable resentments. You see what the undeniable, factual, empirical, not even slightly exaggerated response is to those realities. There is not a whiff of hyperbole--dystopian hyperbole--in a single claim I have made here. You could be a grub under a piece of bark, and in many ways, you could make a lot of the same claims I have. The grub has never been reviewed, the grub has never been anthologized, etc. Or your dead dog. Or your toddler who finger paints. We are all in the same category.
I screened Pushover, a fairly good Fred MacMurray noir from 1954, and another 1954 film Drive a Crooked Road, with Mickey Rooney, above-average coastal noir. Strong performances. I wrote the first 700 words of an essay on Orson Welles and his play Moby Dick--Rehearsed.
But for all of the claims of a supernumerary ego—which are hogwash; if you were this smart, you’d have a right to be aware of it, too, and not pretend otherwise—Welles was a man who signed his letters with a reminder that, “Remember, your heart is God’s little garden,” and who had a tendency—a passion—for searching out fellow travelers, in his modes of life, who loved as widely, deeply, truly as he did.
Hence, the love of Shakespeare. And also Leo McCarey, perhaps the most underrated director in the history of the American cinema, responsible for 1937’s Make Way for Tomorrow, the most beautiful of all films, in Welles’s view. Add Franz Kafka to that list, an author who took on humans as he did, via his phantasmagoric satires, because he cared enough for them that he wanted them to be more than they often settled for being.
On Downtown I discussed the vatic nature of 1950's sci-fi cinema, with the films The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing, Creature from the Black Lagoon, and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. We didn't have time to get to the other films, but they would have been Teenagers from Outer Space, Them!, the early British Quartermass pictures, and Fiend Without a Face, which I especially wish we had gotten to. But as Kimball said, we could do a second part of the discussion. Next, though, I am discussing Dark March: Stories for When the Rest of the World is Asleep, my first book, in what will be its sixth anniversary. I am curious what Kimball has to say about it. It will be good for the historical record to have this conversation, one that people can consult later.
I listened to the first set of recordings that Art Tatum made on solo piano for Norman Granz, and also the last disc of the Beatles' extended White Album package. Figured out how they do the "Birthday" guitar riff--it's Lennon on the left channel, Harrison on the right, the latter playing with a lot of English. It's actually pretty similarly to how he takes his final solo on "The End." More vibrato than you would have thought went into making the "Birthday" riff.
Emma texted me that she had a very bad headache at school and I said to try and get some Advil from the nurse, which you need permission for? I don't understand how this works. I offered to bring her some (does this make me an eighth grade drug mule?), she said she was at a playground with her schoolmates, could I get there quickly? I didn't get there quickly enough and I felt bad. She ended up coming home early and when I apologized she phoned me and said not to feel guilty and that she appreciated me thinking of her. I went to Starbucks and got her a couple things she likes, then left that and a water bottle and the Advil with her, and made my way back to Starbucks to work. I have been pretty sick for a few days now. In my head and chest.
At night, Emma called and asked if I wanted to go to the convenience store with her and though I did not feel like moving, I decided I should get juice, Gatorade, and no fat milk (this is for my heart), and maybe that would help me get better. She met me on the landing and said, "I got a boyfriend before you got a girlfriend," which I told her is not terribly surprising, considering I've not had a girlfriend in like five years. It's a boy who goes to her school. She was happy. I told her I was happy for her, and she said, "It's not my first boyfriend, but it is my first boyfriend in a while, though I have had a number of girlfriends more recently." She was quite adamant on the point.
I screened Nightfall, another in this series of Columbia noirs I am viewing. It was kind of sad. It's Jacques Tourneur, who directed Out of the Past, and you can tell he's mostly lost it. At least so far as noir went. (This same year of 1957, Tourneur also directed Night of the Demon, based upon the M.R. James short story, "Casting the Runes," and I find this to be one of the better horror pictures of its decade.) The bad guys are shockingly sadistic--and also sportive and insouciant--during the campsite scene. That was strong. There was an interesting film to make here. Some of the dialogue is ridiculous, and the plotting, too. I don't mind switchback plots. But the elements within the plot have to be believable. People in this film just set themselves up to get shot in the middle of remote fields. The killers are out there, armed, so they all just decide to turn up, unarmed. Okay.
I listened to Green Day's Dookie, Rock and Rollin' with Fats Domino, and The Million Dollar Quartet. Those guys really look up to Elvis, and it's only Christmastime 1956. They seem awed by his talent. Even Jerry Lee Lewis, who doesn't seem awed by much. And they are all awed by Chuck Berry, as you can tell from how they handle and talk about "Brown Eyed Handsome Man." Berry obviously means "Skinned" instead of "Eyed." An incredibly underrated song, from a progressive standpoint. You really hear the impromptu nature of the session. They're just screwing around with some Christmas tunes when Elvis shows up. The gospel material is some of the best music you'll hear. Jerry Lee and Elvis duetting is something else.