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Tuesday 11/24/20

So I think I have the cover design for Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives. I came up with it last night in bed. That's what I do in bed--I lay there and think, or figure out stories. Then I thought about it some more today. It's a simple image, but an effective one--you have to illustrate the concept. Show this idea of "longer on the inside" visually, and also the idea of infinitely human lives. I think you can do that with three graphics--two of which are the same, and stock graphics at that--and one of which is a simple symbol. The two larger images are feminine--which makes sense, given that so many of these stories are told by, or are about, women or girls. There may not be a single stand-alone masculine story. The protagonist of "Underoos" is a boy, but he is the protagonist because of his relational connection to an important female. The three short stories I've written this week all have female main characters. Two of the three last week--but even when you produce a sound, to put it in musical terms, people have to be aware that you also have the opposite of that sound, even if it's not sounded--but in this way it is. That's the multiplicity of humanness.

Here is today's Downtown segment, with the honorable and generous Mr. Pratt filling in for Kimball. We talked mostly about Meatheads and Longer on the Inside. I very much enjoy talking to Pratt--he asks me quite specific questions about what I do as a writer and artist. I like that--I like explaining certain highly specific things. And I don't know what he's going to ask me. I like that, too. I have no idea what he might come up with, and I like being put on the spot, so to speak.

I wrote a story today called "Little Gloves." I knew I'd be writing it for a while. It's for Longer on the Inside. The story is about a woman who, when she was two, was riding in the backseat of the car with her dad--a single parent, but we aren't told exactly why. It's winter--January--and the dad hits a girl on her bike. He gets out, checks on her, and she's gone. He gets in the car, and they drive away. It's his daughter's first memory, but he doesn't know that his daughter has it. She never tells him. He's this ideal parent. And they're a family. A family that might not have been. She plays Little League, and on an Opening Day, there's a dedication for the field in the name of the girl on from the January day. The father is the manager. And his kid--Clara--is lined up on the third baseline with her teammates. She knows the park is dedicated to the girl. She sees the girl's mother, father, and her brother in the stands. The story is third person, and it's being relayed when Clara is the age her father was, give or take, when she tried to convince herself that he made the best decisions, even the hardest one, and he made one for her. Clara's friend Josephine works in a museum. She's a curator. She's been invited to London on a prestigious project, but her daughter Emily--who is a senior in high school, heading into her sophomore year--doesn't want to go. She and her mom are headstrong. They love each other but they fight, in part because they're so similar. Clara lives in the farmhouse that she grew up in. She had cleared out the root cellar to give painting lessons, gave them to Emily when she was very little, and sometimes after a row with her mom when she was older, Emily would crash at Clara's house. And now she's going to live with her for that winter/spring semester, to finish up high school, while her mom is away for a few months. The entire story plays out in 1100 words, and I know there is no one else who could do that. It is so richly complicated. I don't mean complicated in terms of being read, accessed, immersed in--I mean the motives, the emotions, the truths, the regrets, the horrors, the various connections, from person to person, family to family, age to age, are complicated. A person could think about this one story and this one story alone for the rest of their lives and never run out of things to think about. And it is beautiful and searing, too. And to be frank, it's pretty typical of everything in this book.

This is a quote from Orson Welles:

"The only good artists are feminine. I don't believe an artist exists whose dominant characteristic is not feminine."

He goes on to say that the artist needs both the masculine and the feminine. Even when one is not visibly present, it must be present in the way that a note of silence is present in work of music. You have to be aware of its presence in the paintbox, even if it's not coloring the canvas.

In that context, he's talking about male artists, and he's completely correct. That's brilliantly perceptive, and you see the lack of what Welles is speaking about in publishing more than anywhere right now. There's hardly any talent, hardly any imagination. There is autobiography from people who have no life experiences, which they call fiction. That's why there are so many awful stories about writers and MFA programs. In my view, there is no developed talent whatsoever in the world of contemporary fiction. You will have beta males straining to come off as tough guys. That's the straight male minority. That's childish and sad. Pathetic. The majority of what you see is a kind of jejune, pandering, "this is the best china" version of fiction from the majority, which is mostly female, but not feminine in the way Welles means. Welles' point is that singleness is only possible because of duality, multiplicity.

He's talking about obverse and reverse each existing because of their shared duality--that's the humanness, the ultimate multiplicity. That latter category--the chinaware fiction--dominates fiction right now. Both kinds are equally pointless. There is nothing masculine about the chinaware fiction, because the people who write it have a limited paintbox--they can only paint in the one watered-down color. There is no multiplicity of humanness present. Again, that idea of you sound the note, but there is also a suggestion of what that note is not. It's like having something in a story that is not in a story, if one follows my meaning. There is a feel-able, detectable presence that might not be a presence in the story itself, in terms of explicit statement--but you know it's there, or could be. It's present that way. It's present in the sense that you know all of the colors of the paintbox are here, only maybe not all of them are being used right now, for this story. But they are on hand, they are present that way. Whereas, with chinaware fiction, you know the palette has been denuded. Or never got filled. So, some people have a kind of cheap masculine thing going, others a cheap feminine thing. By "cheap" I mean all surface, all one color, all-strained into being. A very limited form of being. That's not actually masculine, as Welles means it. Nor is it feminine. And it's certainly not both. And when you don't have both, you don't have either, you have no chance at the multiplicity of humanness, and really what you have is absolutely nothing.

Chinaware fiction exists for a demographic of people with money (almost always women who think they are writers, inform people they are writers, are in academia, or a combo, but write next to nothing, and certainly nothing of originality), no taste, who tell themselves they are smart because they "mean" to get caught up on their reading and read a backlog of stories by people like this, who always have a flavor-of-the-month vibe, because that's how publishing pushes them. It also exists because the people who write it have no talent and can't write anything else anyway. They were reared in affluence. Privilege. Entitlement. Reared to be narcissists. But delicate narcissists who cannot handle the guts of life, of truth, let alone assimilate the former into prose art, provide a beacon of the latter in immersive and entertaining narrative form. So now they write narcissistic stories of affluence, privilege, entitlement, with an absolute zero of emotional stakes--because in their own lives, that is all they can handle. They don't write because of their ability to invent--they write because they can be a part of a class structure that dominates publishing, and while many things (none of any substance whatsoever) will vet your inclusion in that class structure, your lack of talent will not be a hindrance. A preponderance of it, will make you the devil. That's a sliding scale--the more talent, the more you are the devil.

Publishing pushes class at you--a class level. It's doesn't push the best work. It's threatened by the best work, of which there is so little, everything being this big ball of same-ness, because the best work stands outside of the publishing class system on account that by definition it will be made by someone who does not play those surface-level games, given that they are legitimate, and cannot so much as even pretend to be of the same stuff of the false, hollow gods of a false, hollow system. Their work alone cuts them apart from what the representatives of the class system are doing. And that work is not repeatable, cannot be imitated. The fiction industry markets itself to other writers and would-be writers--people for whom work they can imitate is comforting. Work not far removed from their own. And mediocrity is never far removed from mediocrity.

But even the members of group that amounts to the demo at large--the Darien housewife who enjoys making complaints that her neighbor's landscaper has started his mower two minutes before 7 AM--won't read the stories, because they also know--on some level; not one where they admit things to themselves--that they are meaningless, and it's just a parade of this meaninglessness, hyped meaninglessness within a bubble community--that's how few people read now--so they'll buy a "literary" magazine tote bag instead, and call themselves smart on account of that. And this is a big part of the reason so few people read now.

This process not only kills off reading--it makes it almost impossible for work worth reading to make it to people who would profit by and enjoy reading it. What then happens is that nobody reads. What also happens, with nobody reading, and the people who do write all writing a certain way, is that no one who was born with talent develops that talent because 1. You'd have to be doing things no one else is doing and going against the grain of everything everyone else is writing and that you are told is "amazing" in blurbs and reviews that are simply lying and 2. For that person to reach the people that their talent--their developed talent--should be reaching, they'd all but have to start a revolution.

The greater the talent, the more consequential the potential revolution, but also the more inescapable the hurdle--the greater the likelihood--that they'd be the only person in the world getting that revolution going. There is so little developed writerly ability right now that they couldn't do what the Beatles did, and rally and revolutionize with other beat-based guitar bands, if you will. It'd be like being the only band that made that kind of music, and everyone else in a band was beating rocks. The Beatles needed those other bands who weren't as good as they were, but who had merit, to help them get to where the Beatles got.

This artist would have to be a historical figure so far beyond the bounds of what we think a figure of history can be as to redefine the idea, and redefine various other ideas, too. And they wouldn't have reinforcements coming for some time, because everyone else who wrote never developed the ability they may have had, on account of trying to cater to this system, or the peer pressure of the writing program, bad advice of other shitty writers, trying to conform for the sake of ego, the assuaging of insecurity, bunk like "community" and being a literary citizen, what have you. And if they tried to, they'd be alone, they'd have a lot of people against them, fearing them the more that ability was developed and seen to have been developed. The greater the push they made, even the greater their success--until there a tipping point--the greater the animus. And the envy, because, truthfully, that's who everyone in the industry wishes they had the genius, the talent, the balls, the vision, the purpose, and the character to be. The greater the discrimination. They wouldn't have anyone else to turn to. They'd have no support. They'd be given less--in terms of coverage, backing, endorsement--than any other writer out there, even if that other writer had done next to nothing in their career save traded a favor or two to have a half-assed short-short run on someone's blog. That person would still have more support. They'd have to figure it out all on their own, against all odds, to reach an audience that could possibly be the biggest audience ever given what this person was able to do, what they could create, what they had created, and given all that they were.

So. I'll keep trying.

Moving on.

I've been listening to a lot of old time radio broadcasts lately. Thought I'd include a few of them here, with some words.

I am a big Judy Garland fan, as some people know. Wrote something about her recently--the first live performance of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." This is an episode of Suspense from 11/21/46--which was a Thursday, and the very day that my mother was born. So this was on that night. Pretty cool, right? The episode is called "Drive-In," which had been done before on the program with different actors. What Suspense did was cast well-known stars against type. They did it with everybody--Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, and here Judy Garland.

This episode called "The Doctor Prescribed Death" stars Bela Lugosi. He's not that much against type here--but maybe somewhat less histrionic? Shades of Dr. Phibes with this one.

This is Bonita Granville in a Suspense episode called "Bank Holiday." She was great as Nancy Drew in a series of films in the 1930s. Got a boxed set of them for my mother one year, though she wasn't as keen. They're a bit different from the books.

I did not see the Tampa Bay/LA game last night, but looking at his line, Brady must have been wretchedly bad. Interesting the way this Belichick and Brady legacy thing is playing out. I think that talk is overblown, because you have a 43-year-old quarterback, so if he doesn't light it up, what does that mean? Ten years ago you could have gotten a better compare and contrast thing going if the two had parted ways. But if we indulge in this rubric, the way it looks right now is that it was the union of the two that accounted for the success--more so than one over the other. I think Brady would wish that to be true less than Belichick. Brady is an average quarterback this year--maybe slightly above. A few weeks ago he had the impressive stats, was on pace for whatever he was on pace for--I think it was 4400 yards, 40 TDs, 8 pics. That's not going to happen now. So many QBs have huge numbers. They are the new norm. Brady won't be able to compete stats-wise, and he makes too many mistakes now to compete winning-wise. Wouldn't it be cool if there was a league where no one ever aged, and it was the ultimate best-on-best tournament? I think about that sometimes, because someone like Wayne Gretzky could just be the best forever. I wish I could compete on a playing field like that, where it's pure merit, pure talent, pure "show me the work you just produced" and it'd be me against Shakespeare and Tolstoy, and we just go at it. I'd love to compete like that.


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