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Kevin Elster, workouts, the news, the fragility of the body, American Short Fiction, levels

Wednesday 10/12/22

I had an odd dream last night about an ex-girlfriend from college. We were adults now, and I was pining for her in some heartbroken way and hoping to get her back. This was very strange. She was a Kansas City Royals fan in this dream and was wearing a Royals jersey, though she was from upstate New York. In the dream, the conversation about her Royals fandom become one with a Kevin Elster origin story. Elster was a shortstop for the Mets who never played for the Royals. She said something about what an amazing guy he was, and Elster had a reputation of being anything but. I said something to the effect, and we had a dream fight over Kevin Elster.

This past Sunday 2289 days, or 327 weeks, without a drink. Kimball asked me about it yesterday and that was a good reminder to consistently update the information.

On Sunday I ran the Monument three times, walked there miles, did 300 push-ups. Did 100 push-ups and ran 5000 stairs on Monday back at Government Center. Went to Copp's Hill Burial Ground and strolled about in the autumn sunshine. Also did push-ups there. I do push-ups at most places I go to now.

I watched the 1988 remake of The Blob, which was mostly slated when it came out, but it's pretty good. By which I mean, if you went to see it at the movies back then, it would have registered as satisfactory entertainment and you hadn't wasted your time going.

The stories one awakes to in the news. It makes you wonder if humans have always been this awful. I know we are far stupider than we have ever been. We are far lazier than we have ever been. We are far more mentally ill than we have ever been. Most people are now deeply mentally ill. It's hard to find a single person who isn't. We are far more insecure than we've ever been. Far more narcissistic. We speak less well than at any time going back to caveman days. Do I have to say cave person? The acts of atrocity I read about, though, and their regularity, makes you wonder if they've always been committed at this rate and regularity, only there wasn't a mean to bring it all to your eyeballs with this rapidity. A man poured boiling water down the throat of an infant. It's like there's a wire in people, and it's a flimsy wire. Mere string. And it's so easy for that wire-string to snap, and the person is then a monster.

I saw this other story about two young woman--each twenty-five-years-old--who had recently graduated from grad school together where they studied to be physical therapists. They were best friends and they were in an Uber the other and the car got into a crash on the Zakim Bridge and both young women died. I think several things when I see a story like this. I feel horrible for the victims and their families. Unspeakable horror. Their whole lives ahead of them. That time and work they'd put in to help people and now that they were beginning that part of their lives, it was over. Families don't come back from that. Parents don't come back from that. I go past the Zakim every time I head to Charlestown to run the stairs in the Monument. I can see it from Bunker Hill itself.

Bridges scare me. Bridges like that. And the Tobin. Not covered bridges. Part of it is the height. But there's a shadowy, portending mystery present on bridges. To me, at least. I am going to write a story about the Tobin. A horror story. From the distance, the Zakim looks calm. It looks beautiful, lit up as it is, with its distinctive design, and how it mirrors the Bunker Hill Monument itself. I think about time. I think about health. I think, "okay, drink the tea, run the stairs, you can't do anything if you're not hear to do it." I think about my mom. I think about my friend John and his two girls. I think about the nature of "reporting" and how that's almost always gross at an outlet like this one, where they don't care about people or getting any story straight, they care about what will get this clicks. And that's why this was the lead story on the site. Because these were two attractive young women and good friends. If it had been a couple of thirty-something male friends from Medford, it wouldn't have been up there like that.

I think about the fragility of the body. That one does all one can to shore up that body, but it doesn't become metal, it remains a kind of fleshy sack filled with water. I think about making sure to put myself in the best positions. Which isn't to say that they didn't. It's just what I think. It's what I remind myself. One thing I often think when listening to Gunsmoke radio episodes is that it would be so easy for Marshal Dillon to let his guard down. To not be careful. He actually said in an episode I heard last night, "I'm always careful," to someone who told him to be so. There are people in alleys looking to shoot him. It'd be easy to walk past such an alley without giving it a thought. You're just walking. But he never does. He remembers. Rarely do others remind him. You have to think that way in your way in your life. I remind myself to be careful crossing the street with all of the streets I cross. That I am not going to be able to change the world--not in my own lifetime, anyway--more than anyone has ever changed it--to the good--if I get run over and die.

Kevin Elster was a bad hitter. Then, during his age thirty-one season, he all of a sudden hits 24 homers and drives in 99. He had no year anywhere close to this. Sketchy.

Someone wrote me to say that they had finished Brackets, and every part of it was amazing and the best book they had ever read. Then they added how angry they were. Angry at these evil people, angry because of the blackballing, angry that more wasn't done on the book's behalf, that nothing was done. Angry about the things that were said to me by the party who put it out. Angry about the intentional lack of support. Angry that a masterpiece of a book is treated this way when what is lauded and awarded is lauded and awarded. Shoved onto those lists for best books of the year, having already been shoved onto lists for the books that you needed to check out. When nothing could be more obvious than the distance in quality between this book and all of those others. Meaningless works that any bad writing could do that people in the industry just lie about because of the kind of person they were done by.

This is a strange situation for me, because I'm living this, and it's as if there this moment where the person who is cognizant of this almost expects me to provide some form of therapy for them. Then they catch themselves. I know how awful they feel. How awful they feel for me. They tell me it's all going to payoff and pay out. All of it. Then I hang up the phone and go back to what I was doing.

This person screenshot the last page of the book. Or the last half of it. Because of everything mentioned above, because it was happening, and because I knew the rest of it was going to happen, I tried, when the book was going through the process of coming out, of having as little to do with it as possible. Because of all this. There are things I worry that I'm going to have to put up on here that were said to me by the party involved that will just be so ugly. I don't want to put them up. That's often why I don't check the email. Because I'm going to have to do ugly, ugly things. And no one will see those things and have any doubt about what is what and who is wrong and who is incompetent or bigoted or who behaved atrociously, when I just want to get my work and books out, and move forward to where I am going. All I have to do, on my side, is show what I said or did, and to show the work. The work always wins. No one can look at the work and do anything against it as work. No one can look at it and look at anything by anyone else and think they're kind of close, or the latter is better. It can't be done. All the more so because all of that other work is terrible. Take me out of it. No one, when forced to look at it, can honestly mount an argument for the quality of these pieces and books by these other people. Knock yourself out with "The Donkey at the Gates of the Kingdom of Heaven" from The Sun, which we've discussed in an entry about Sy Safransky, or the awful likes of "Bodies of Water" in American Short Fiction, which we've also discussed.

At ASF, you have bigots like Rebecca Markovits, Adeena Reitberger, and Nate Brown. The two women bigots are just going to put forward system people, then they're going to tell a weak, toady of a quasi-human like Nate Brown to send galleys and cut checks, and this guy is so pathetic, that doing that will be the entirety of his literary life. Can you even imagine being that pathetic? How you have to stretch the doing of menial tasks into some excuse for a writing career? The pettiness you'd then exude? While knowing you failed completely. You will only and ever be a failure. That no one will ever want or need to read a single sentence you ever write or have written. Then I come along. Not a system person, and better than all of these people. And with a legit track record--and not the product of a series of handout and reach-arounds--that none of these frauds can touch. How do we think that's going to go with people like these? I glanced at the new issue, and there's Justin Taylor. No one has ever written with less imagination than Taylor. He just takes his boring, Brooklyn, aging hipster life, where he knows nothing, has nothing to offer, and fictionalizes it. And because he's in that community, The New Yorker slaps it in there, and American Short Fiction when The New Yorker tells his agent that they're passing on that particular story. He dumps it off on them.

And bigots like Markovits and Reitberger, because this non-writer who calls himself a writer and has things handed to him has the golden pass of the subculture of broken freaks, take it sight-unseen, because of what he represents to them. That's how you go into that venue. The rest of the time, they collect money from people they charge to submit who they have no intention of publishing, because this is who they're publishing. And people are so stupid, they pay these bigots for a form rejection note. They're laughing at you. They're stealing from you. Sure, every now and again, they'll put someone like that in from the slush, so they can say they did. (But you better check the right color and gender boxes, and if you are a straight white male under a certain age, you better look as weak and feeble as a bowl of oatmeal, with your little milquetoast, academia-approved outfit on, lest you threaten the oh-so-delicate sensibilities of these people.) But it's a con. At the lowest, least relevant level. Imagine that being your life? Everything on which your sense of self and self-esteem is built? Year in, year out, for decades. It's what you brag about. You don't create anything. You don't know anything. And you're a bigot. A sad, pathetic, broken bigot.

They give you a few lines of the stories in each print issue. Presumably they're going to be the grab-you lines, right? Something to pique your interest. Showy lines. Lines to recommend the story. To entice you. Here are the lines they use for the Taylor piece: "He was all tough muscle, and I realized that if he’d had the use of his legs my standing up like I did at the bar might have been the worst mistake I made all week. But then if he’d had use of his legs, a lot of things might have been different for him, this night or his whole life. Or they could have been exactly the same, I guess, because after all I had use of both of my legs, and here we were, the last two people in this parking lot."

Blah. Nothing. Boring. Flat. You are not interested and you are not going to be. If I told you that was written by someone taking a creative writing class held at the community center in town once a month--some fifty-something having signed up with a couple of her friends--you'd believe me. If I told you it was written by someone at Bunker Hill Community College because they had to take an English class to meet the school's standards for a certificate--which my mentee's father has (and also one of my oldest friends)--you'd believe me. If I told you that was supposed to be amazing writing by one of the "best" writers out there according to this sick, evil, twisted industry, there's no way you'd believe me. Would you? How about would you believe you're meant to believe that that's better than anything I've ever written? What could be harder to believe? Anything? No, right?

I looked at this screenshot this person sent me and I read my own words, which depressed me horribly, because there's nothing to touch them. I said to this person, "Can you even imagine if I sent you a link to like something in American Short Fiction, and behind that link was prose like this? As if I was saying, 'look, there's another genius out there, there's someone for the cause.'" And of course they couldn't imagine that, though they told me they were thinking the same thing. People would be flying past your window outside all of a sudden one day before that happened. Because I do send this person these links, and every time, without a single exception, it's the same awful shit. It's never any good. It never doesn't suck. It's never not laughably bad. There is no skill, no talent, let alone genius or more than genius.

That story in Brackets is called "The Taste of Smoke." Closes the book, as I said. I thought it was appropriate that that's how the book should end. I looked at the penultimate sentence of the penultimate paragraph, and thought no one else has ever lived who could write that sentence. But then I looked at the sentence that followed it, which it set up, and thought the same thing, within context and design. How the words were engineered to go together from word to word, clause to clause, sentence to sentence. That that book was composed over twenty years and is as unified as it is, as powerful and focused a statement as it is, in all of its range and diversity, is hard to believe in the good way. What it also means is that for more than two decades, I've been doing what I've been doing at the level I've been doing it. I was this artist very early on. Now, I've changed thousands of times in those two decades. The process has changed. The ease has changed. The rate has changed. I have a hundred stories in progress right now, and more than that being held in my head, after having just written 400 new ones. That wasn't me twenty years ago. I could not do that. The way I compose--the ways--changes all the time. It's just what happens, and along with it I go, because it is a force greater than myself which I answer to. I know to answer to it. As much as I know anything. More. But qualitatively? The story I am working on as I write this entry is at the same level as what I did twenty years ago, and vice versa. I was always at this level. And I have always been at it consistently. Not once every ten works. Every work. And that, to me, puts this discrimination and bigotry in yet another light.

If you want to feature a single sentence--it could just be the one--as one of those pull-quote/tease/pique the interest type of things, you could use this one from "The Taste of Smoke": "But unlike the day the crab had its deliverance on the beach outside of Timothy's shack, Timothy offered no smile of his own, knowing that in any town, in any world, in shared lives that become unshared lives, in pain's perpetual high tide, nothing ever really means what it seems to mean."

As I said--and it's silly to say it, or be in a position where saying it becomes a matter of sticking up for sanity--there is no comparison. How are you going to compete with that, save by completely rigging the system against the person who can do it? All of it.


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