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Not one more thing

Wednesday 12/16/20

Things go poorly. It won't do me any good to re-state what I've already tried to communicate to my sister, as it were.


Sometimes people who read these pages write me, and one of the worst feelings I have is that they have no idea who I am (I mean this in the important sense, not "do you know who I am?" way), what I do, what I'm trying to do, what I'm facing, what I'm about as an artist. It feels like being gaslit. You think, "How could someone read all of that and come away with what they've come away?" It makes me think you can't so much as convey, "I had an orange for lunch" to somebody and have it be understood. If I'm not understood, if this isn't understood, what I am and what I do, I have no chance.


Today my late sister would have turned forty-years-old. Still so young. Kerrin, I am sorry I did not do a better job looking over you. I think about how you are probably looking over me now, and understand that I need it. I love you.


It's difficult for me to talk to another writer, even when they're a really solid person, because it is almost unavoidable that they'll compare you to them. What they're trying to do to, what I'm trying to do. There's no overlap. Everything is on such a different scale. They'll subscribe to hopes and expectations and rules that could not be further from my world. The attitude is very defeatist. It's oriented around "can't," rather than, "Why not?" I do what are, to me, very basic things. For example, I have an idea, I pitch it. I was talking to someone yesterday that I like a lot, and that was just inconceivable to them. That anyone would do that, that you were allowed to do that, that anything could come of that.


The problem of comprehension is one of the larger problems I face. I don't think anyone gets what I do. I don't think we can accept that someone is what I am. It's one of my biggest fears. There has to be precedent. Other examples. But what if someone was the leading authority on so many different subjects? What if they wrote the best fiction, of so many different forms? Is that person doomed? Are they doomed if they are truly the leading authority on Mozart and hockey? And much more?


An example from this week was I had written this op-ed on Beethoven. I sent it to someone I write for. I know they don't have a clue what I am. If I write for you, and it's a piece on the Beatles and popular music, you're going to think that's my area of expertise, if I have one. Whatever I do first, more or less, and you'll think that's my "thing." Baseball. (Just like--and there is someone on Twitter I know is this way--who reads my music writing first, they'll not want to read anything else, any fiction, for example. Because the music writing, to them, is so good. Anything else would have to be a lot worse. That's how people think, especially after they've experienced great work in one area. I don't have any following, any platform, any "official story" where people are told, officially, in a way, what I am, where the hype builds up.)


When I turn around and give you something else on something else unrelated, you'll be dubious. Because could the expert on synthetic cubism really be the expert on Victorian ghost stories? Just to make up an example. Often, then, the person making these editorial decisions will think I'm a generalist, a jack-of-all trades. They're not going to come to this site and dig in. Or dig in with a Google search. Because we don't work that way--it's not human nature to think, "maybe they're an expert on all of it!"


Why would you? You listen to Jack Edwards call a Boston Bruins game. You'd fall over if you went to the MFA after and saw he had a sculpture next to one by David Smith, and you'd explode on your way home if you stopped at the bookstore and saw he had some fiction in one magazine and a feature on John Coltrane in another. Then what? You go home and find he has a website and you start reading a journal like this? You click on a radio interview and he's discussing a painting from the nineteenth century? You can keep adding. Then you learn he blackballed, hated, is out there running his thousands of stairs to keep going, he's entirely alone, etc. How do you add that up? It's like it's too much for the brain. It's so much, that the effect is that none of it is seen, because it's not understood, computed, accepted.


The editor held my Beethoven op-ed as a placeholder. Like if he needed it. (Beethoven's 250th birthday is this week.) Because he thinks I tried my hand at writing on Beethoven. I've written so much about classical music in my career. At core classical venues like Gramophone and Fanfare. They're not on the site. Not all of it is on this site. A fraction of what I've done is. I've written about Beethoven for The Washington Post, The Atlantic, The Smart Set. Talked about Beethoven on NPR. An op-ed comes in from someone else, who just writes about one thing, and that leaps mine, which is returned to me. Not a quality thing, not a competition thing. An assumption thing. If you looked at my jazz writings, you just saw my jazz writings, you'd think I was the foremost jazz writer in the world. You'd think I did nothing but study jazz, listen to jazz, write about jazz. Eat, breathe, sleep jazz. But it's such a small part of what I do. All of those writings on jazz in JazzTimes, DownBeat, The American Interest, The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The American Scholar, Rolling Stone, and so on.


My point isn't so much the editor, or editors. I'm talking about a prevailing problem. With everyone. I once met with a dim, simple agent in NYC. And she said to me, "It'd be better if you wrote on food, three times a year, and nothing else." And I'm staring at this person, and I ask why. She said, "Because then I'd understand what you do."


There's some truth to that. She would have. I'm thinking, "What I do is be the mega-genius, surely we can make some money off of someone who is unique in history? How about we work on that? And kick ass in one area after another."


But she just wanted some simple boob from academia, with pretentious "literary fiction" or a mandarin book about David Foster Wallace (now this particular agent race hustles, to the complete absence of surprise to anyone with a kernel of a brain) to make no money, kick no asses, dominate no spheres. She represented the worst, most boring writers. And I just thought, "forget this, this woman would be an anchor around your neck. You are going places that she could never, in a billion years, conceive of."


I think I can sell the Beethoven op-ed, which is not a solution, given that I have three op-eds to sell right now, quickly, and if this one place takes this particular piece, I lose them for the piece I kind of had planned for them, and quickly I have more pieces than venues I could do them with. They're "use them or lose them" pieces, pegged to the Christmas season of 2020. The result will be that I wrote works for nothing--no publication, no money. So many doors have been closed in my face because of what I continue to achieve, and in many ways it would have been easier to sell them all ten years ago when I was far less successful in my track record. I know now that every major thing I achieve will also be a huge setback. There will be envy, blow-back, the whisper network, animus.


You can even see the expectations that people have when they sign up for this site/blog. They'll sign up on a Tuesday, unsubscribe by Friday. They're getting what they didn't expect, and they won't know what it is usually. They'll see email notifications in their inbox for updates. They'll think, "That's annoying, another from that guy's site." Because you just assume that it's shilling for a product. Akin to the publicists who hammer my inbox. You're not going to think it's art, and life, and truths, and an epic story of endurance that is inspiring and teaches and serves up a form of hope. Because who does that? And who does that daily? You just wanted to sign up for an alert like once a month or every other month about that person whose hockey piece or Beatles piece you liked, and sure, what the hey, you'll check out another when it comes out. Down the road.


That's the expectation. I don't think that I say things that people find all that offensive. I get that everything is offensive now. You can say a great truth of life, and if someone lives in a such a way that is contrary to that great truth of life--and they can even know it--they can be offended by the airing of that great truth of life. They can dislike the person who communicated it. They can walk away, hit delete, stop reading, unsubscribe, etc.


But I don't think that's actually offensive. I don't have a journal where I do what a lot of people do, and rail about politics all day. I don't write constructions like, "If you exercise without a mask, you are a total moron who deserves to die." I see a lot of that. In fact, it's a norm. I don't say things of this nature. I read where someone took a shot at me on a Beatles site, saying I wrote a highly opinionated blog, a kind of warning about me. When you see the words highly or very opinionated, we all know what that means: that person is a hothead prick. They're uncaring. They take big swings at that and those which they do not like.


Do I document what goes on in publishing? I do. But I think the behavior of those bad, base, bigoted people that I mention, speaks for itself. Am I supposed to keep their secrets? Am I supposed to enable a twisted, backwards, corrupt industry? Why would I do that? Why would you want me to do that unless you were one of those people?


I don't think this journal is "highly opinionated" at all. I think it couldn't be further from that. I would never say that Thoreau's journals or Montaigne's essays are "highly opinionated." I'd say that about hotheads on Twitter spewing hate all day, in huge, hyperbolic terms. I think too much to be highly opinionated. I am also too hard on my self and too self-aware to be highly opinionated.


But, there it is: sign up, get some notifications, maybe check something out, unsubscribe, screw this guy. Whatever. What are you going to read instead that is better, that is more human? But often people just want less, and they want what is tantamount to next to nothing. I can't give you next to nothing. That agent I mentioned? She was someone who wanted next to nothing. And what she puts into the world, is nothing of any value, any consequence, anything at all. It's just there. It's just one more thing. Do you really want just one more thing?


One small point of note is that I have been fighting again thus far this week. I've started to face things again. Small things. Mail, email. But that's a lot more than usual since the breakdown last year.


None of this is really news, but a quick rundown of a few items of business and work from the past couple days. I sold a piece on Seabury Quinn's 1948 novel, Roads, to The Smart Set. It's "weird fiction," from Arkham House, an origin story of Santa Claus, with his career beginning as a centurion-type. Christ is in it, Pontius Pilate, elf people. Something of mine--either an essay about climbing the Monument, or a short story--will be in Salmagundi in April. All of this is before, but the publication timeline is new. Around the same time, a short story called "The Last Field," which had been accepted by The Atlantic and Harper's, and returned to me by both, will be in Post Road. That's a swing of thousands of dollars, to the negative. I received the contract for Musings with Franklin. Here's yesterday's Downtown segment.


Yesterday I wrote a 2500 word story that was excellent, called "The Nookery." Probably doesn't make sense to say what it's about, because if you lay out the subject matter, it sounds like the most depressing thing I've ever written. Grim and horrible and, like I said, as depressing as you can get. When it's actually a really beautiful, uplifting story. A healing story of how we are taught lessons and who might teach us whom we don't expect.


I talked to someone about doing a book on Joy Division. And had kind of a frustrating exchange about this possible Billie Holiday book. These are all things that would be huge amounts of work for free. Which I could do, each of them, in a month or two. Were that to happen, the body of work continues to grow in other unique ways, and what I am becomes even harder to understand and accept. And I'll get more upset, because now I'll be the person who did this and this and this, too, and I'll be sitting here as poor as ever, as loathed as ever, as passed over as ever, watching people who can't write get hooked up, get paid, get awarded. So why even do the great books? That's just how it is right now.


Finally opened a birthday card from my sister yesterday. She wrote a note that said, "Your time will come." Hope she's right.