On Sunday night Emma knocked on my door. I don't like when people knock on my door. I'm embarrassed by how I live with this apartment situation, and though I look like I am someone who does many brave things and that is true--though I am not doing nearly as many as I should be doing right now and need to be doing and I am struggling to find the way--I am traumatized. You wouldn't know it by my actions or words, necessarily, but I am always scared now. Pulse-pounding scared. At all times.
The times it goes down a little is when I compose--because then I have complete control and complete control to do something better than anyone has ever done anything else--and when I climb the Monument. But if someone has to knock, it is better it is Emma than someone else. I often have no clue where she is, or even what state she is in, and we will just encounter each other. This is different from our scheduled visits. I opened the door but there was no one there, which made me think I had imagined the sound, but then Emma popped her head back from around the corner, with Benny underfoot. I did not hear what she said at first but it turns out she just wanted to stop by to tell me that she loved me. I heard the next thing she said which was "Girls like when you say it back" which she did with her joking face on and her hand cupped to the side of her mouth like she was telling me a secret and giving me a life tip. And she told me the sides of my face looked nice.
She is pretty funny when she gives me life pointers. I was mostly confused, then Benny saw his reflection in the hallway window and started barking at it like he wanted to murder this rival dog newly upon the scene, and off the two of them went, and back I returned to what I was doing, which, truth be told, was crying. Anyway. I printed out a copy of the latest short story, whose title did change, to "(field watcher)", as is my practice. I give Emma the first copy. Well, more or less. A bunch of times I've emailed it to a number of people--John, my sister, my mom, Norberg at St. Joe's, my friend Derek, Kimball, Bruce Pratt, Dan Wickett, Lisa Jayne Gordon, perhaps the Admiral, Aaron Cohen, sometimes a few others. But I always give Emma a printout. A while ago she summoned me upstairs. Sometimes she does this to try to get me to eat something, other times to see her room if she has organized it. The girl has two volumes of Milton, Frank Norris's McTeague, Bulgakov's The Master and Magarita in Italian. Also the Han Solo trilogy which I'm curious about, and lots of YA novels. I need to ask her for a list of scary/edgy YA novels. I have come up with the start of an idea. I think--well, think as in I am certain--I could write a dynamite YA novel quite easily. Yes, I know, I have 450 other things to write. I get it. She showed me this special nook she has--it's a protected nook!--where she keeps my writings. An honor, certainly. I inscribe all of these stories, just for her, each at the top right hand corner. So today I made sure to clear up any confusion from the other night.
Not, of course, that there really was any. I often tell Emma that I love her, because I do. But I also make sure to make this known from time to time because though I know she knows it--she feels it as well; I feel like we are preternaturally in tune, at times, to each other's feelings--I also understand that she looks at me as this larger-than-life figure and she is at an age where there can be self-doubt--not that that's an age-specific thing, really--and I would not want her to think she's peripheral to me because I have larger things--the largest things a person has had, really--going on. The stakes. The truth is, if I get this done, if I have the impact on this world befitting what I am and can do, and have it in my lifetime, and there I sit, with everything that would come with that, the recognition, the money, the hundreds of platforms, the shores, the woods, happiness, my relationship with this person will still be one of the most important things in my life. If you know me--and I guess you do if you read these pages--that says a lot, I think.
A funny-ish concluding thought or two: The other day I was heading out, talking to John on the phone, an unpleasant conversation about how utterly screwed I believe I am (whereas he thinks the opposite and that my time draws ever-closer), what to do, how to get out of this, discussing how to handle the latest obvious instance of discrimination/blackballing, when I opened the door to find Emma standing outside the building. She knows of John and vice versa and that he has a cat--this is embarrassing--named Pixie, so I gave her the phone and said "say hello to John," adding "dazzle him with your wit, I have talked you up, reveal the fecundity of your mind, be clever, do it now." It was pretty amusing, then she said "shut up, bitch"--to me, not to John.
I have noticed that when someone asks either of us about the other, or the nature of our particular relationship, we each have a tendency to say, "we're tight, man," and leave it at that. I think that is apposite. Friends are friends, and there are all kinds of relationships, but I would say that there isn't a label for this one and that's fitting. John was reading a story of mine recently--"Best Life," which was composed in late July, I believe--and he asked if there was a little bit of him in a particular character. Often times, when people ask me questions like this, it annoys me. What people who don't create will tend to think is that you're taking stuff from your life. Why do they think that? It's projection. They don't mean harm. It's just a very limited way to think, which I find frustrating to have to deal with. I invent. Now, if I have some feeling in my life, or a memory, or there is someone's name I find useful, that can be like a strand of twine.
Does that make sense? That twine is wrapped with so many other strands, to make the rope, that it's just a strand that's in there. It's not what the thing is. It's not the rope. John and I have known each other for more than twenty years now. We met at a hardware store where we both worked in Cleveland Circle. We smoked back then. Hard to think of me as a smoker, I grant. I'd be up all night writing, I'd walk down the street to the store at like dawn, John would be outside, smoking, he'd give me the cigarette out of his mouth, asking how my progress was. We go back deep into this journey. A journey which he believes will result in someone changing the world to the good more than anyone has. We clash a lot. He does not come off his line, and to his credit, he handles all of my arguments, he stands in and faces the realities, he knows the names, he knows what we call the pieces of the pie in terms of all of the things I need to overcome.
He'll say, "I wish I could just tell you you gave it a shot, it didn't happen, come hang drywall with me, because I hate to see you like this, it's more pain than anyone else has had to deal with, but it's going to work out." He knows a lot about what I do, as much as an external person--that is, someone who is not in my head with me--might know about my process and processes, as such. So it does not bother me when he asks, because I know that he gets it. I told him, truthfully, that no, that character had nothing to do with him, but that a character in "Chix and Quarters" from Buried on the Beaches--the Stokie character, whom you'll remember straight away if you read the book--did have a little John in him, in that the first day I met John in like 1997, I thought he was the coolest guy I had ever seen. He had been out the night before on Cape Cod, and his girlfriend had tried to run him over with a jeep or something and he had fallen out of a lifeguard stand. We were friends right away. I mean, obviously, right? Of course we'd be friends.
That sensation of being instantly taken aback with someone was in there, but again, it's not the same sensation, it's not plopping in a memory, because the person in the story who has the memory isn't me. They have autonomy. My characters are as real and dimensional--I'll say more so, often--than any flesh and blood person in the world. They are not me. But I was talking to Norberg a few weeks ago. You never know when you are writing works that are all at the same qualitative level, but so different from each other, what a person might single out. It doesn't necessarily indicate anything that they're talking about one story and not others. Could just be what was on their min that day, or something from their own life or past, that it is Tuesday and not Wednesday. He was talking at length about the power of "Take a Leg," the opioid story--again, another perfect for the times, that would trend and pop and flash everywhere, with backing--and how he prays that someone will put it out.
Norberg goes back further than John, and he knows all about the blackballing, the hate, the fear, the envy, the suppression. He's seen literally hundreds of thousands of emails. These stories, "Leg," "Patriarchy," "Fitty," "Staycation," were all written (among other works) within mere days of each other, if one can believe that. If one can believe that now, it's in part because they have not read the stories in full. Having read the stories in pull, and being told that they date from the same fortnight, is almost too hard a thing, I would say, to believe or accept. You'd have to be on board with what I am, you'd have to accept that someone could be that. I despair and worry greatly that that is too hard a thing for people to see and accept, as it's beyond the ken of what we think is possible. John tells me people will know. We shall see. Anyway, "Fitty" came up, and Norberg said something about Emma, like I had channeled something of our relationship into the story. That's not really true, I would say. But at the same time, I would say that if I had not met Emma, I would not have written "Fitty," which is the story of the twenty-first century. It's not better than these other stories. But if the twenty-century had one story to represent it and represent it best, that story is "Fitty." I would say, too, that if our lawmakers read this story--which means running in the right place and having a chance to do what I know it would--you'd see different gun legislation. You'd see lives being saved. It's not just some "oh, look, a good story," or "hey, here's some Lydia Davis crap, let's pretend it's not awful." It matters.