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It's (not) all relative

Wednesday 3/11/20

Nothing is relative. Something might not be known enough or understood well enough, but what we call relativism--or how we default to saying "it's relative"--is a matter of what we do not know and, as some people say, putting a pin in it. It's a way of drawing an X through our ignorance and ascribing culpability to the way of the world, rather than our inability to go far enough, or the reality that in a given case we have not yet gone far enough and understood all that there is. What relativism says is "there are no absolutes," which, of course, is itself an absolute.


I have not been doing well, which must come with the disclaimer that even by the standards of my present situation and state and quality of life, it is worse still of late. I have gone from one attack of panic to the next, hyperventilating, and I bruised the back of my head because I must have passed out on the basement stairs, because I came to there yesterday, like I had been sleeping on them.


I have not been able to face anything. When I try to my heart feels like it is going to explode, but not before it first leaves my body, comes right out of my throat so that I will see it explode first. I have not been composing even. I have written nothing since Friday, in terms of words on the screen, though I have come up with a number of things on the op-ed front and also a story that would be huge, that would be absolutely massive, which I am still working out, which will get its own post on here, but I know, you know, everyone knows, that when it is done, the publishing industry is not going to let anyone see it because it is by Colin Fleming. (Until it does, until someone does; and then later I will say something much different, but I won't say it until after the fact, I won't build in the subjunctive in a sentence like the one above, or the hypothetical of the "If" or "Unless.") Even if it could do them and their business--the business of their magazine--a world of good, they'd rather not have that happen if it means treating my work fairly. One problem. Another problem being that it will be a full-on masterpiece, which means it will be new, fresh, dynamic, not yet another awful MFA-machined retread.


Let me put it this way, while also touching on some other stuff I find interesting. My mother is also adopted, in a way. Half-adopted, let's call it. Her biological father was a drunk. She didn't know him. In fact, the one time she saw him, she was on the T with my grandmother. And my grandmother says, as they're pulling out of the station, "See that guy over there on the platform?" And my mom looks at this man wearing a cap somewhat like the one I sometimes wear, which is why my mother--and we don't have much, if any, congress anymore--I think, didn't care for my hat, I think. She says yes, she sees him, and my grandmother goes, "That's your father," as they pull away. I'm off topic. It's just an interesting anecdote. But then my grandmother remarried, and the man she married adopted my mother and her older brother, whom I've written about in here, Gerard.


He sired more kids, like my uncle Mark, who helps me with my taxes, but that involves me sitting in a chair in front of him, while he essentially shames me, treats me like I am a failure, a failure with no ability, him telling me I'm never going to get anywhere, that I will never get past this blacklist (which I tried to explain to him a couple years ago, as I actually cried in his fucking office), I should quit. I have nightmares about my uncle Mark, and I can say that here, because he would never read a word I write. He likely thinks I have no talent, and I should just face it. And we're sitting there last year, I feel so small like I want to die, he's repeating that I'll never get anywhere, and I say, "You don't know what I do. You have no clue what I do. You've never read a word I've written." And it's true. And that's what he said. He said, "It's true, I've never read you." Just like that. Never even once thought, I should get one of my nephew's books, or visit his site, or read a sports thing he wrote, I like sports, or listen to him on the radio, like my work must suck or to have to partake of it is a form of punishment. And he'll reference people--local writers (like someone who works for the Globe, and has never done anything else)--who would trade their career in a second for what they would think mine is, based off of my achievements, my ability, before they knew, naturally, the situation I am in. Because you'd see the achievements and think I'm raking it in and beloved. Not beyond poor, despised, barely clinging to life if it's even life.


This grandfather was born in 1899. He had my uncle Mark when he was in his late fifties, at least. And I remember when I went over the house, I'd sit with this grandfather--he died when I was very young--and you had to watch Lawrence Welk with him. It always had to be Welk. Do you know who Lawrence Welk was? He was this bandleader who played the accordion, but it's not like he played jazz, more like Muzak. Elevator Muzak. On TV. You'd watch him and his orchestra play Muzak. It was a chore to get through, to put it charitably. And my grandfather was not into--obviously this is before my time--stuff like Elvis. That was shocking and he didn't get it. He's not a guy who could ever get Elvis. He was a guy where it had to be Lawrence Welk.


That's what it is like with these publishing people, in addition to the hate, discrimination. Anything new, anything that is actually good, they don't want it. They want Lawrence Welk. They want the same old crap that is familiar to them, no matter that no one in the world wants it or likes it. Now you might cite to me something that sold, but no one liked it. The sales happened because of the marketing, how it was pushed at you, the Pulitzer it won, and then it had a sticker on the front, and its own table at the bookstore, and it was recommended for your book club and everyone in it bought it. But the people who got it hated it. They bought less books going forward because they were burned here with all of the lies of hype. But there's no organic liking. None of the fiction right now is likeable. "Fitty" is likeable, it is the most powerful work you will read, it is one of the most powerful experiences you will have in your life--and I mean like the birth of your kids, your wedding day, the death of a parent, the afternoon you graduated from medical school, your first orgasm--and they won't let you see it.


Do you think I would talk about this story that way if it was just okay? If it was just a pretty good story? If it was "just" a great story? How many times has it come up on here? If I'm talking about it this way, I either have to be crazy, or it has to be the best thing ever, right? When you see the story later, you're going to say to yourself, "Holy shit, if anything, he was underselling it, that is the best thing I have ever read." Well, hopefully you won't say that if you've read the rest of my work or a part of it, but while this story isn't better than the rest of my output, it's the story of right now, this age, the story that would be like an army on the march into culture, discourse, even law-making, the news cycle. And soon I'll be doing a story like that again--by like that, I mean a certain kind of story, but more on this later--and the same thing will happen. Until it doesn't. Which will bring me back to these pages to say, "Well, this time, something very different happened, and we are away now."


I have climbed the Monument at least five times for thirteen days in a row now. I have not gone yet today. A couple days ago, I climbed five times in twenty-six minutes, which is about as fast as I can go. The weather was vernal. As I came in, I said hello to this one park ranger who replied, "It's always a pleasure to see you." He has an interest in what I do, though he doesn't know the why of what I do. I don't much break stride when I come in, as you'd imagine, so at most it's a very hurried "hello" from me on most days, but what this guy does is he tells people standing around what I am going to do, like he's bragging about me. "You can climb, if you'd like, but this guy here is going up five or six straight times." He's proud of it. We kind of have this father-son, Monument-style, weird thing going.


So I'm climbing, and I get this idea. They have these little holders on the wall across from the desk the rangers stand at, which you slide a piece of paper into. Mounted cheap plastic frames. So if you're a retired history teacher and you you self-published a pamphlet on Johnny Tremain and you want to come in and talk about it, you can do that. This isn't the actual Bunker Hill museum--that's across the street (where the restrooms are). There are a couple paintings you can look at, a cannon, a water fountain, the rangers stand, and that's it.


I did that op-ed for The Wall Street Journal on New Year's talking about the Week Game, and in that piece I discussed how the Monument helped keep me going, give up drinking, write more than anyone has ever written. (Which has made me more hated by publishing people, but I didn't get into that.) People don't like to climb the Monument. They do it because it's here, they complain as they do it, and the payoff, I guess, is the view for most of them. Not the journey up the stairs. And everyone asks me while I'm climbing what I'm doing, how many times I'm going up and down, how often I do this, etc. No one else does what I do in there. I would posit that in the 175+ years the Monument has stood, no one has done what I do in it, which always strikes me as curious, because to me it was such an obvious, given of a thing to do. I honestly didn't think it was creative or quirky or notable or anything at all when I started climbing. Seemed logical. I think ultimately if I get where I am going, this will loom large in my legend. People will come here to climb the Monument because I did. I think people are going to know this obelisk more for what the greatest artist ever did in it, than they are a Pyrrhic battle of the Revolution.


I finish, the sweat is pouring off of me, and I go over to the ranger, and I say, "I have a great promotional idea for you, and for me." Then I go into my thing, "What if I told you there was a piece in such in such a venue, about the Monument, and how it helped a successful author stay alive, give up drinking, blah blah blah," and say we could print out the piece, stick it in one of these mounted paper holders somewhere inside, and it's this whole new slant on what it might mean to climb. Mix it up a bit. Give people a different perspective. And then, a lot of times, they're going to see the guy himself going up and down. It's neat. Tuck it away out of the way if you want. There's nothing to do in this building, basically. It's a cool human interest story, and there are none of those in association with this Monument since the day that battle was fought. (Unless you count the time Route 66 shot part of an episode there, but I bet you anything the Monument people themselves are not aware of this, just like they somehow--because of course--managed to be completely oblivious to a story about them from just a couple months ago in a newspaper with like a 20 million circulation. How does that not come to your attention? How is that not on your website? Simple: everyone sucks at almost everything they do now. There is no competence. That is why there is no merit, no meritocracy. Everything is about luck and being hooked up, and cronyism, and who you know, and nothing else, where the people who are the most mediocre--because they are the least threatening--get hooked up the most. Which is one reason I am so terrified, because no one is ever going to help me in big ways and the kind of numbers I'd need all has to come from what I do, start from what I do. Is that possible? It never happens. Has it ever happened?)


And he looks at me, and he says, "Well, it can be hard to clear this kind of thing. Maybe the website, and it has to be vetted by a committee, and there are government laws, and then we have two other sites, a black history site and a Harbor Islands site, and it would maybe have to go there." I'm thinking, meanwhile, good grief, I shouldn't have said anything. I add that I'm not black--if you're even allowed to say that anymore--and it's not about the Harbor Islands, and what's more, this piece, in the highest circulation newspaper in America, features an illustration of the very spot upon which we are standing. It's actually the entrance right into this room. And you can see the obelisk itself, of course.


This is also what I am dealing with in publishing. Look at it this way. You're the best quarterback ever, you can sling it like no one ever has. You're primed to win title after title, to cop a dozen Super Bowls in a row, the ultimate dynasty, you're going to change how the game is played time and time again, as you rack up Super Bowl victories. And you come into the locker room to meet the rest of the team, and in the corner you have four drunks, two dudes who just had lobotomies, a few wide receivers missing both their arms, and a racoon, and that's your squad. "Go deep, racoon, do a crossing pattern with one of the lobotomy guys." Only, in my case, that's my squad--moron upon moron upon moron, with no vision, simple, broken people--and they also hate me and want me dead. Quite literally dead, as we have seen. And this was different, but some of the same idea. It's like, dude, just print out the thing in the office across the street, stick it into a slot. Takes five minutes. See what happens. Instead it becomes this big thing that will never happen, because it was creative, fresh, different, compelling, and it didn't suck ass in the most boring way that things suck ass. It wasn't the same old, same old. Yeah, I know, this is a little thing of no consequence. But even that can't happen, if it's not the same old, same old.


Out in the world, and in the publishing world, this is great if you suck. If you are totally mediocre. Because then you just have to suck and have gone to Yale and come from money and have no ethics or character, and the right agent, and the system will provide for you. What will it provide? It's not going to provide much money. Your work won't have the legs, because it sucks, once it reaches the people. It will reach some of them, yes, but then it's game over. That's the final whistle. Because they are not truly going to be interested, your work is not going to connect with them. But you'll have the awards, you'll have the book deals, you'll have the coverage, the puff piece reviews saying your shitty work is awesome--though even you know it isn't--and you're taken care of. With that stuff. You'll teach, because you'll need the money (though there is also a good chance you have a trust fund), because your work is utterly legless and you don't do enough of it and cannot do enough of it, and also because you get to talk down to young people, talk about yourself, and inculcate them in your kind of shitty writing, and the shitty writing of your friends, who are exactly like you, thus helping your way of life, your system, roll on.


But if you are great at what you do, if millions of people could truly love what you do, want it, need it in their lives, look to it, then you will not be provided for, as this stands right now. It is completely backwards. But far more people in this system need it to be the way it is, because what would they have otherwise if it was about ability and having something that could matter to people? Get it? Simple in some ways, complicated in others, like in how massively fucked up this machine is. A massive machine, too, of ever-increasing obsolescence. But as that ship sinks, what it is doing is pulling the entire written word down into its vortex, all of the words are going, all of it is getting lumped in--all the bad writing you see and that is out there, and also the amazing writing that gets coated by the same waves, that same association, of "Reading is so fucking boring." That hurts the stuff that hasn't been seen yet because it is also taking away its chances to be seen, just as that work has almost no chance within the publishing system.


I will fix it. I will fix all of this. But I need a chance. An honest chance. An honest chance, leading to the legitimate platform.


I met up with the twenty-seven-year-old the other night. We walked a bit and talked in the Public Garden. It was fine. She was nice. Smarter than most people. Lacks confidence. Struggles with some things. I think I could help with those things. I think we could probably be friends. I think she could perhaps help me with some things, too.


By the way, I have noticed that the people who call themselves writers, who write almost nothing, who hate me--there are many subsets of publishing where I am hated--have transitioned from writing nothing but posts on Facebook about AWP--which many of them did all day--to writing posts about coronavirus all day. Maybe, I don't know, have some talent? Develop some? Try to write something that actually has value for the world? Maybe focus on that? Maybe spend some time there? Hmmm? When you are someone--usually a misandrist, too--who does this all day long, and you are also the editor of a literary journal, and I come along, hell fucking no are you letting me in, with what I do and represent. Hell to the fucking no. Obviously.


You're going to put in someone who is a version of you. Why not just say it? Why not just get it out into the open? That's all that culture is. Anyone who looks at it--if they even care enough to look at it, and who does, at this point?--can see that that's all it is. I'm going to do a post on Emily Gilbert of Southampton Review. It's all she is about. It's all she does. I'm going to show you the awful work she puts in and her personal connection to the people who did the awful work. You can't believe how bad this writing is. It's not defensible. No one can say, "yes, but it is maybe good because of this," because it's obviously pure shit and any time I put any of this work up, I challenge anyone to tell me what makes it good. Not, "well, all of this is subjective," which is such a cop out. Tell me in one single sentence what makes any of the examples of this awful writing any good. One sentence. Because I guarantee that no one can. Pure meaningless shit. Badly executed. By people who don't have a clue how basic grammar, syntax, story, let alone human nature, even work. But more on that and her later. I like to give people like that their own separate entry on here, so it's easier for everyone to share around. And remember, if you have such an entry written about you and you're embarrassed and you've been exposed and you lose your job, you took it here, you forced this, you left me no choice after I tried for so long to give you the chance not to be totally corrupt. When I have you dead to rights, I have you dead to rights, I don't do half-measures, I make sure I have all of the proof. What are you going to do to me that you haven't already done to me? You've already done it all. Which is why we are here.


Here's last night's Downtown with Rich Kimball segment. Frankly, I think I was pretty terrible with this one, but that's just me, and it's really not any different qualitatively than any of the ones I do, I just have a very different--as in exactingly demanding--way of looking at what I do. But if you want to hear me in a segment in which I thought I sucked, by my standards, here you go.


I've been rereading Exley's A Fan's Notes. There was something decent in here, but it gets lost. It's very cluttered. I don't think he figured out enough of the story, and he needed a better editor. There are too many directions at once, parts don't need to be included at all, he could have gone straight ahead without sacrificing voice or feel. When I say that I say that it feels like someone just trying to add words, build up a word count, which I don't think he was necessarily doing, but it reads that way. There's a lot at the beginning about grammar. I feel like that's how I wrote when I tried to write fiction at twenty-one, twenty-two.


I have been writing the Sherlock Holmes piece on friendship and breakfast and the thumb of a hydraulic engineer as I've been writing this, so I am just going to put this post up for now and try to keep going, to be doing something productive with each thing I do and try to build some form of momentum that way.