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"Lucian", short story excerpt

Sunday 3/1/20

You write like a badass, son. Came up with, began, completed, a new short story yesterday called "Lucian." How do I do this? Write the stories, that is? Write so many? It is quite simple. And also very complicated.

Many will occur to me. They will just come. They come in. I can be doing anything. I can be talking on the radio and one just comes. It's just what happens here. Or, I might see something or hear something and it will come from that. I can write a story off of anything. You could say to me, "Write a story about a pencil," and I could blow your mind with a story about a pencil. I can go inside the idea and inhabit the humanity and imbue the story with humanity. I saw some item recently about a guy who died who sold pretzels on a local campus. People had conversations with him about all kinds of things. That's all I needed. I could invent a story from that.

Other times I just need to write a story, because it's all I am hanging on to right now. I can control one thing: I can sit down and create the greatest work any human has ever created. I can do that. I can decide to do that. I have control over that. There isn't anyone else who can do it. This ought to be the hardest thing you could ever do, the least likely thing you could be able to do if you wanted to. I can do it. Whenever I wish. But I have control over nothing else. And having that work doesn't help me, it cannot go anywhere right now, it can't fix any of these problems presently, or it hasn't, anyway.

But I can invent at will. My mind can create anything, an endless amount of stories, and I can inhabit those characters fully, bring their human nature out into the world, make all visible and felt. My characters can be humans, animals, colors, forms of architecture, musical notes, portions of a painting. I can do it over 7000 words, over 400 words, I can do female narrators, child narrators, male narrators, third person narrators, second person, weird, in-between narrative voices; stories to terrify, to make people laugh, big, bracing, populist stories, avant-garde, experimental stories, but always accessible, with my policy of no reader gets left behind.

Almost every other writer does one thing one way and most are lousy at doing their one thing. Consider Ben Loory. Bad writer. Does his tacky gimmick every time. His little fairy tale thing. Can do nothing else. (And, of course, can do no nonfiction and is not an expert on anything.) There's nothing there, no substance, same length, same shtick, no characters ever have names (it's always "the man," "the girl," "the wife," which is also from the Blake Butler and Matt Bell school of bad writing, though they are worse than Ben Loory is, and at least you can read a Ben Loory piece--as in, get through it [they're all even the same length!]--meaningless as it is), exact same story every time out. He's talentless and he's one of them, so they hook him up. You can look him up if you want. I don't feel like looking at his twaddle right now. I need to climb the Monument. But I will put up an excerpt of the new story. (Question: Can I even say the phrase "new story" anymore? That sounds like the thing you wrote four months ago which was the last story you wrote. So, if I wrote this story this morning, and it's the new story, what does that make "Starshine" and "Subway Friend" from the past few days? Are they old stories now?)

(Also: I received a politely worded complaint a little while back about the dearth of new blog posts over a two week period. I put up a lot on here. It's a lot of work. If I just wrote this blog, as work of art and many other things, it's enough to make a legacy. It's also more writing, if I only did this, than anyone writes anything else right now, by far. Most of what I write is not the blog, nor the stories, nor the books, nor the nonfiction, but letters to people who despise me, who control everything right now. It's hard to convey to someone exactly how many words I write per day and give a sense of what that means. But it's never less than 10,000 words a day. Do you know how much that is? And it is soul-obliterating. It's begging bad people to let it be about the work and not their grudges that were manufactured out of nothing; it's writing works that are obviously better than other works that you know will be suppressed as you are creating them; can you imagine what that is like? If you go to the blog of another writer, someone who writes nothing, publishes nothing save when they are hooked up, might write a single story every two years, has no expertise about anything, knows fuck all about anything, but gets licked and praised by the members of the community constantly, you'll see that their blog will have like one new post a month. Or a season. Or a year. That post won't say anything you might care about, because they don't have anything to say that you might care about. But it's pretty damn sporadic. If somebody wants to check in with a friendly note and see if I'm not dead, I appreciate that. You want to say that you liked Dark March and will I Skype with your book club, yes, cool. I will be charming and funny and interesting for your book club. Especially if there are some smart, single hot women in the book club! I'm joking. Well, you know, I am sort of joking. Obviously I am dealing with a kind of loneliness, many kinds of loneliness, that most people would find unfathomable. But we need to be careful with the whole "let's take this person for granted" thing just because I do a lot of stuff that no one else does. I make endless creation look easy. But the truth is, I am barely hanging on right now. This is not a life. It might seem romantic and inspirational and there is so much art being produced, and it's a fit guy going to interesting things and being funny, but there are so many days where I almost give in and end it. Here's the thing. I knew somebody once named Keith Botsford. Not a good guy. He died a year or two ago. Had a mess of wives throughout his life, and had correspondence with my evil ex-wife after she did what she did. I didn't have correspondence with her. Or explanation from her. That mystery was pieced together later. He was in Costa Rica, talking to her from afar, and he wouldn't tell me what she said. Just a toxic person. I helped him out when I could--he was a pretty good writer sometimes. He knew about art and sports, but not nearly as much as he thought. He was an editor and he published a story of mine before I knew him called "Send Me Your Pillow," which is the last story--it's an emotional apocalypse, redeemed by love--in Between Cloud and Horizon, which, for some reason, is the book of mine I've probably cited the least, which makes no sense, except that it's the one book from that pre-2012 period. I feel like my life almost began--my hell life--in the spring of that year, and it voided everything prior. Anyway, back then--circa 2010--I wouldn't write, oh, 1/5000th as much as I write now. I still wrote more than anyone else. By a lot. What writers try to do with me--I see it all the time--is they try to get me down to their level. They do this because it makes them feel better about who they are, what they can and cannot do. I don't go along with it. They'll say, "Well, the reason you and I do this is to just reach a few people and know our words matter." Screw that, dude. That's not why I do this. Ha. Right. Or they'll be very condescending, this person who has published four things on blogs you've never heard of. "Oh, it seems like you have a nice little thing going." Pretty typical comment they'll make to me. It's like Dylan circa 1965 reduced to going to open mic night at the Bell in Hand and some Boston bro coming over and saying, "Hey, not bad tonight, Bobby, this is why we do this, for the free pitcher of beer after." That's the reality of my situation right now. Boulevard, which is shafting me pretty hard at present, wanted to do a music symposium once, and they asked me to get people to contribute. I got a guy at MOJO to do it, someone I worked for at Rolling Stone, and Botsford. But there we are in 2010, and Botsford says to me, "You need to write less. No one has an endless supply of ideas and words. You are going to run out." I knew why he said it. It would have made him feel better for me to be more like he was. I'm never going to run out. It's not possible. Schubert was on his death bed. People came to see him, say goodbye. And he's crying. He wasn't crying because he wasn't going to see these fuckers again. He was crying because he was dying and new ideas were still coming to him. I'm not going to run out of ideas or words or works of art. If I lived to be a trillion I wouldn't. But I can run out of the ability, the strength, the will, to keep going on. It is touch and go as it is, where I honestly do not know in the morning if I will live into the next day. Anyway. That's partially an explanation about why there was a dip in blog posts. There has obviously been a lot of late.)

Here's the except from the story.


When Melissa was born, they had to take her out of the side of me. Not the actual side, like my flank, where I had a trace of love handle start to show last year until picking up another yoga class. But she was angled—she side-shifted, like an edge of my pelvis held a glass window she wanted to get to for a peek outside.

Bodies work that way. They’re windows and doors. She sometimes asks me to show her my scar when we have our long days. That’s her term for the afternoons I am off from work and the two of us draw and dump pebbles into bowls of bright paints that we put in terra cotta pots and make paper flowers of all designs and heights.

I wanted the scar fade into me—it made me think of barracuda teeth—until I saw how much she liked to run her finger over it, say it was a trail. Maybe we couldn’t see the steps in between, but we could see where we took our first ones together.

“Did you get that from a poem?” I’ll ask her. “You know I didn’t,” she says, mock hurt, as if she couldn’t pen whatever she wished on her own. I stopped rubbing coconut oil on the scar after that. “It’s like a bellylace,” she’d say. “What?” I’d ask. “A necklace for your belly. Only it doesn’t go all the way around.” She called them our long days because she wanted to look forward to each one lasting so neither of us had to worry about them being over too fast.

When Edward and I were dating we were at schools almost a thousand miles apart. I was a student, he was a young professor. He had flown out to visit in the early portion of what we were doing, which he believed in more than I did, though I didn’t disbelieve. We always had breakfast at the same diner, the only place to sit down and have breakfast in a small college town that felt like a single quadrangle with only a few shops and one de facto pub, all on the northern edge.

I didn’t have any money. Edward was a man who never forgot anything, even then. But we got up to leave and I had to remind him to pay. Such a small detail now, that man who never forgot things like that, forgetting. But he was so happy. Could have waded out into low tide and not known he was wet. I dropped him at the airport around dusk the next day. You tend to only think of dusk in certain places. Not cities. There has to be a certain quantity of pine trees and, let’s say, the chance that you might spot a deer or coyote. This was a dusk place. The cornfields you drove past on the way to the airport sold it. His flight was cancelled, so he called me and I had to go back and get him. He wouldn’t be leaving until the morning. We had another night together. And he kept talking about everything we’d do, like we had so much time. We’d watch this movie he wanted me to see, we’d fuck, listen to music, fuck again. He wanted a long day, though it was already like eight o’clock and his flight was for six AM and I was thinking I didn’t want to get up to drive him and he’d probably be horny in the morning, as he usually was, and it was just so damn cold in my room.

One of the girls I lived with had a hedgehog. He was regarded as adorable because of this one photo we had of him where he looked like he was smiling. But if you came by and wanted to see him, expecting he’d kind of perform—which it looked like he was poised to do in the photo, a real ham, Jimmy Cagney of the bristled mammal set—you’d see he was scared shitless to the point that you’d wonder if hedgehogs could live in nature, how they could possibly fend for themselves. Ours was frightened of Tic Tacs, but eventually he’d eat a few. As soon as he was on the carpet, he’d go into a ball when you tried to play with him. His little eyes would peek out, but if you made a motion, as a joke, like you were going to step on him—and it’s not like he knew you were joking—he’d simply look up at the bottom of your shoe and give himself over to what was going to happen next, wouldn’t even make the pretense of rolling away. His name was Lucian. One of the girls was an art history major. She does promotional work for Clif Bars now.

I cheated on Edward a lot, but I used the past tense with my peccadillos as if I was referring to a way I had been before I knew him and I was embarrassed but I still wanted him to know, to a degree. “I’d be mortified if you knew how I was,” I’d say. “We were so debauched. It was so debauched.” His face looked pained, but what I was telling him was ostensibly from a time before we knew each other. I wanted that face to be like an etching plate, and I could strike the same print again and again later, if I needed it, if I felt he didn’t care. I told him I’d been with two guys at once, a guy and a girl at once, acting like I was sad but I knew my tone was effervescent. I felt like champagne bubbles.

I’d go to class buzzed in the morning, but the drinking made me less tired, though this wasn’t who I wanted to be, so I saw a therapist at school. They had you fill out a form. One of the questions was how many sexual partners you had over the last semester, and I answered honestly because I wanted to feel a different way. Just under that was a question about who you lived with, so I said three girls and a hedgehog named Lucian.


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