A pitiful performance of late. I've been useless. I need to find the energy and I need to force myself onward. A constant migraine again. Going on days now. It's hard having to do what is literally 100 things at once, and for no reward or relief. Major things. Hard things. But I don't care if you have to do a trillion things at once. You don't make excuses. You are not allowed to make excuses. Figure it out.
I did start an op-ed and a jazz essay. Whatever. It's not good enough. I learned today--because I did another word count--that 190,000 new words were added to this journal in the last four months. From August 1 to December 1.
I was thinking about great Christmas films and how many directors have made more than one. You know who came to mind? Bob Clark--Black Christmas (1974) and A Christmas Story (1983).
Add "The Roll of Words" to the list of stories to reread and also consider for There Is No Doubt.
I pitched a New Year's piece on the jazz song--in its various iterations--"Sing, Sing, Sing." It probably won't be assigned. I don't know where my Sun Ra feature is. This is frustrating because I need the money and I filed it in plenty of time. But, this is a good person who is good at their job, and these things happen.
There are not many good detective radio shows. You'd think there'd be a bunch, right? I usually like Dick Powell as an actor, but Richard Diamond, Private Detective, is annoying. Kind of exhausting to listen to. They ladle the crusty, wisecracking private dick stuff on heavy. Pat Novak for Hire is annoying for the same reason, and because the main character sounds like he can't be arsed. I keep thinking, "How old is this dude? He's like a teenager, but a grown-up." There are some tart lines, but there should be, since that's what they're trying to do with every line. Too many others miss. And you don't want something to be all one thing. The plots--or the arcs--are also the same from show to show. They follow a formula. I've been listening to Dragnet a bunch lately. Not only well done and entertaining, but informative. You can learn a lot from it. Again, though, it's just one thing. All serious, save maybe a wisecrack at the very end. There is no radio of this type that comes close to the level of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar. Even the half hour episodes. The five-parters with Bailey could reach the level of art. (Art is a level thing for me; it's not "a story is art, a painting is art, a concerto is art." It's a rarefied threshold.)
I saw a discussion today about what is the saddest film ever. It doesn't surprise me, but people have no experiences. They have few experiences in life. Usually. Unless misfortune befalls. Then they have that experience. But that's life. This will take the form of death, sickness, and money issues more than heartbreak--less heartbreak than ever, because people take less risks than ever. They are willing to be vulnerable less than ever. That's how the world has gone. Part of it is because performance has replaced reality--or that's what people try to have happen. Look at the Petito case. Look at many people you know. Your sad, broken ex on Instagram with the "arty" selfies, barely dressed in that manner that's meant for the sad approval of thirsty guys with double chins. Cry for attention and help. Which doesn't get answered. Because nearly everyone else is doing the same thing and that is what keeps them busy. Brokenness is a full-time affair.
Anyway, having things befall you is not the same thing as the experience of going out and looking. That's living. And they hardly ever have any experiences with music, art, literature, film. By that I mean, rarely have they gone looking. Searched. Explored. Ranged. Tried to broaden the old horizons. If it happens to land in front of their faces, fine, they'll look at it, especially if everyone else is talking about it or it's in their Twitter feed as trending.
Sure, it's the Beatles, but even still, that's why most people watched Get Back. Hey--you could have watched Let It Be all along, if you wanted. Did you? All you have to do is type it in on the Google. You'll find it. But you didn't care, did you? But you watched Get Back. Why? It's not any better. You (universal you) watched it because it was trending and people were talking about it. That was probably your motivation. And if it was out there and not landing in front of faces and being discussed--tweeted about--and not had so many bad, empty, platitudinous pieces written about it, it could have been brand spanking new and available and you wouldn't have watched it. Because it's uncommon for the thing itself--and its quality--to be any kind of motivation for anyone. Consuming--or approaching with the intent of consumption--is different than looking to experience. "What media do you consume?" We see language like that a lot. You can watch just about anything whenever you want with the internet. It's easy. No one does this. No one has any curiosity (or the energy that actuates curiosity; even at my lowest, when I feel like I can barely move, my curiosity remains and my mind drives forward).
So, people just answered with expected pablum and religious stuff, but recent religious stuff like The Passion of the Christ, because of course they won't even know that a masterpiece like Dreyer's The Passion of Joan of Arc exists. Older people said Old Yeller. Okay. One choice I did like was The Fox and the Hound, because of what I think that choice says.
That was "lesser" Disney (compared to a work of art like Snow White, which my little niece is too scared to watch, but told my mom--with confidence--that she'd watch it when she was eight; she was very clear about when the time would be right), but I bet there were a lot of people who saw that at an age in their life and a time in the world where it was a kind of experience for them about how life really worked. One of their first, maybe.
I would say the saddest film is Streetwise, and it's not particularly close for me. Orson Welles rated de Sica's Shoeshine as just about the best movie there is. And he said that's because there's no camera, there's no consciousness of camera. The camera has fallen away--and all there is is life. (Similarly, the best writing makes it seem as though you're not reading at all--you're having an experience. A life experience. You are not thinking about the author or what they're doing or trying to do. Your attention remains wholly with the experience, of which you are a part. There is no one in modern fiction right now who does this. They are always calling attention to themselves as writers. They are piling up those empty descriptors, for example, at the start of the story to say, "look, I am officially writing, this is how writing works." And it's not how good writing works. And it's sure as hell not how great writing works, or how writing that is an experience of human life beyond the act of reading works. This is not the same as realism or social realism. That's not what I'm saying. Don't get caught up in that because Shoeshine is billed as realism or neorealism. Welles could have said the same thing with the right film--and the right work of writing--about space creatures and wood nymphs.)
Streetwise is like that. Umberto D. could also be in this conversation, but it works out okay in the end, doesn't it?
I've noticed that a few people are trying to bond with me over Get Back. They know what I've written on it, and they think we think the same thing, when we don't at all. They make a comment that suggests to me that they've watched something I didn't watch. I could not agree less with what they think they saw. And yet, they think that we're thinking the same way. I don't say anything. What's there that's prudent for me to say? They mean well. And I have very little support--essentially none--and people are usually too intimidated to interact with me as it is. A concern, of course, is just what people can read and comprehend. What you see a lot of though is projection. Very few people--and I have confirmed this over and over again--see anything for close to what it is. Or want to. Even if that means missing out on larger things that would actually mean more to them and do more for them. They usually want a kind of bare minimum. They have a low standard. But if they want to see the Beatles as palsy-walsy, then they're going to. I call that kind of thing Care Bearism.
As I mentioned on the radio the other night, there was this guy on Facebook who made these licking comments--again, why lick?--regarding something an editor of mine posted about Get Back by way of a theory. I didn't think much of this theory. I thought it was off at the level of the Beatles, the level of Paul McCartney, and the level of how human nature works, save in the rarest of instances.
This guy started kissing ass, saying it was so brilliant, this theory, and every single other piece--and he'd read them all!--about Get Back sucked. Meanwhile, I'm reading this. But you know what? If I was his friend, and I had said a theory, no matter how misguided, he would have kissed my ass, too, if that was possible. It's not possible with me. I do not have a kissable ass. People see me, and they see legitimacy. I radiate legitimacy. That's why there are zero compliments floating around about me. That's why when I post these pieces on Twitter, or say the fascinating things I do, that no one outside of an Aaron Cohen--a guy secure in himself, who doesn't measure himself against me--will hit the like button for. Anyway, this licker and I had like fifty "friends" in common and his grammar was atrocious, so I figured he must have been in publishing. Sure enough he was--his glory days were back in 1996 when he wrote for like The Phoenix. On his own FB page, he was bitching about how much the first episode of Get Back sucked, it was depressing. He booed from the balconies! "You suck Get Back!" Then, hours later, he was like, "It's hours later, I'm watching part two, the Beatles are such super friends and they are so happy. Get Back is brilliant."
He was an idiot. And this was all he wanted to see. And he didn't even see it. Because he's not smart enough to understand that just because you're joking with someone doesn't mean it's going awesome between you. The Beatles weren't going to scream at each other for a month. "Dear diary: January 1969: Screamed." Doesn't work that way. (Though that kind of non-literal diaristic shorthand could be useful in a story, it occurs to me.)
People cope, they stall, they try to find ways to get through things. Ever been to a family gathering that sucked? You didn't sit and glower in the corner and whip out a switchblade every time someone walked over. ("Don't make me cut you Uncle Jack!") You joked and smiled and defense-mechanismed your way through it. That's something I see in modern fiction, too. Even when someone has mastered that kind of polished MFA writing--and they use "marble" as a verb or some such and you can all but feel them taking a bow in the middle of that sentence--they're always way off on the life stuff. People don't work the way they make them work in their stories so that they'll fit within these fake little worlds of their stories. There's never truth. Human truth. Once more, if you know what you're doing, human truth can be sourced and shown anywhere; in a story about a mushroom.
Same guy also said this country was doomed because Kyle Rittenhouse was not found guilty. This country is more doomed if Rittenhouse was found guilty. Again, people want things to be a certain way even if that is the reality. Gun laws were not on trial. Or whether the young man should have been there. Or if it is totally fucking insane that a private citizen could own that kind of weaponry. Or if he was a danger to society. Or if his parents failed him and his community massively. What was on trial was the issue of self-defense. This is coming from the person who wrote the greatest anti-gun story in history, period, in "Fitty." It's so, so, so, so, so, so much more than this, but it's a school shooting story. And it's a story that I believe could impact the world, and if I was someone else--one of these favored people of the publishing system--and hadn't been banned all along--or for a very long time--at The New Yorker and The Atlantic, and it ran there, somewhere with that visibility, I believe it could even help to change gun laws. It is that powerful. It just needs to be seen in the right place. But Rittenhouse was not guilty of what was on trial. Which is obvious, if you aren't just looking to pull something out. You have to separate. Why are we here, you have to ask yourself. What is exactly on trial?
I don't really leave you that wiggle room to just make shit up--your shit--in what I write. I take away your voice. Because I present something definitive. Or, if you want to argue--which is fine--I make it so that you have to do so smartly and thoroughly. I cut down on someone's ability to talk out of their ass. To spew whatever dumb shit. Other pieces by other people encourage this, because they're doing it, too. They are ass talking. My work enables less of that. And that's often all people want now--a pass to speak from the ass, without looking ridiculous or being held intellectually accountable, which will happen via the contrast between what they say, and what someone else said or wrote. So, I put that Wall Street Journal piece up on Twitter, and The Daily Beast piece--and those two venues do, too, on their ends--and no one in the world hit the like button. You get a completely different response than you do with anything else, by everyone else, no exceptions. And it's the same every time. It's because I'm actually saying something that is accurate, and is said in such a way that there's not much one can do on the ass voice front with it.
This is a big reason why the people who are the "most successful," are the people who suck the most at what they do. Or who are the most mediocre, I should say. They could be anyone else. They just happen to have that position, that gig, that platform, those awards. They are stand-ins for the moron looking in, or the mediocre person looking on--put it however you want. They're not masters at what they do, paragons of talent and skill and wit and insight. They are the opposite of these things. As are most people. And what most people want is to look across the room, so to speak, and say, "Hey, that could be me." I don't provide you with that feeling. I provide you with things that are so much more. We are a team, me and the reader. We can be true buddies, on all of the levels of friendship, top to bottom. I'm no enabler, though.
But that is a huge problem right now for me. And that takes away a lot of my energy, to be honest. Because no matter what I do, if I do it better than anyone else can, or ever has, I'm going to be in this position or what becomes a worse position. Until and if it changes. Imagine that? Paying the price of your entire life because you're great at something--many things--and you don't suck? Being shunned, blackballed, and ostracized because of that? Having no platform, followers, support, engagement, because of that?
In the spring, The Paris Review got a new editor in Emily Stokes, replacing Emily Nemens. I have a thorough blog about Nemens coming up on here. (Once she actually emailed me--put it in writing--that why a story is taken has very little to do with the story, and concerns so many other things.) I offered Stokes "Fitty," as well as some other stories, in April. I followed-up specifically about one of them, in "Fitty," the day before Thanksgiving, saying--politely--that it's a special story, and one I believe that becomes more relevant by the day. The country was talking guns--as it often does--with the Rittenhouse verdict. And obviously, in the time since, there's the tragedy that happened this week in Michigan. You have someone lighting it up. Even with everything against him. Big pieces in big places. Regularly. A book came out in September. I believe I have a new book that came out yesterday. I'll have another book come out next month. You have all of that going on, you have this guy who has done so much in the past, doing so much now--unprecedented things in the volume and range of these things (even with an industry against him)--and you have this amazing, timely story that's also timeless, because what it is most about is something outside of the news cycle.
And you know what? I think she had blocked my email. Now you're telling me that a work that's as strong as anything I've ever done, as relevant as this work, this unique work, isn't going to make that publication better? A completely different kind of story from a completely different kind of writer? I won't go into more right now, because I'll wait and see. I want to play ball with you. I don't need you to like me and I don't need to like you, and that's irrelevant to me. The writing is what matters. And the readers. I'm comfortable mentioning what I just did, because it's all true. This is how it's gone. I'm not obliged to keep that secret. I won't do the full unloading right now, about what I do know. But this is how it goes. Constantly. There's no work-based reason for this. There's no moral-based reason; that is, I haven't done anything to you. There's no career-based reason. There's no business-based reason. There's no readers-based version. And that leaves what it leaves. Someone can get mad at me for saying that, but the real reason to get mad is because it's true. That's misdirected anger, and it takes all forms. Suppression, for one. Gossip for another. Peer pressure for a third ("We don't like him, and you're really thinking of running something he wrote?"). There's no need for any anger. There's simply a remarkable story that can really do something in this world. It's not a story for the MFA workshop. It's a story for the bloody world. And it can help stop some of the bleeding in the world.