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Of bogs, carols, socks, stories, directors

Ready for bed. Exhausted. But I have not been performing well. I have not been in my email in a long time. I don't even want to see it. It's just too depressing. For the fourth day in a row I climbed the Monument, but just once. I got stuck behind some tourists today, so there was no running, but my wind was okay--wasn't breathing hard by the time I got to the top or anything. The two times before I ran the first 150 steps. Probably not as easy as it sounds. Tomorrow I'll climb at least twice, and by the end of the weekend I'll do it three times, hopefully. At that point I'm close to where I minimally want to be--you can make the jump from three climbs to five pretty quickly. Once you're doing it five times a day, you can also add on pretty easily. One trick is to get your legs under you. It's a two-part process, legs and lungs. If you haven't done in it in a while, and you do it twice, your legs will be messed up for a few days. But not if you do it once. That's the threshold. I've learned this from experience. Do it once for a few days in a row, and your legs are fine.

Today I did busy work. I sat at the Starbucks and I read Louisa May Alcott stuff for a Washington Post piece. I listened to Sam Cooke's My Kind of Blues, Zeppelin's fourth album, the Beatles' Hollywood Bowl set--the one from a couple years back--plus most of Live Cream Volume II, and A Festival of Nine Carols from King's Chapel. That last one is on account of the Scrooge book I'm doing. Wouldn't it have been something to have been at King's in the late 1890s at Christmastime? You could have gone to the rooms of M.R. James for the premiere--meaning, he'd read it, for the first time--of a ghost story he had written for Christmas, then you could have tramped through a light dusting of snow to the chapel to hear the King's singers perform Christmas carols. Actually, the order probably would have been reversed. But would that not be one of the greatest nights one could have on earth? "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" is my favorite carol. Minor key, very dark, the devil puts in an appearance. It's actually, chord-wise, a very Lennonesque composition. And quite ghostly. Which is one of my favorite things about Christmas, or was back when I used to be able to enjoy things, and hopefully will be again.

Not optimistic about with this Red Sox ALDS series. Hope I'm wrong. Not that I care very much about sports. I enjoy nothing anymore. Nothing. Not a second of anything. I have no idea what fun even feels like anymore. And it's been that way for over six years. Everything is predicated on getting out of this situation, on a future others tell me will arrive, which I despair, with a worse-than-death-like certainty, never will. I did hear some of the Astros v. Indians game, which had Don Orsillo doing the play-by-play and Eckersley handling color. People nationally really do not seem to like the job Eckersley does. I think he's a really strong analyst--he knows the game, and really knows pitching--but I can see how his lingo-shtick could irritate people. He's gotten caught up with it. I don't mind it. I don't really care one way or the other. But for others I'd say he's doing too much of the "bridge" and "cheese" and "pair of shoes" stuff. Orsillo, meanwhile, sounds awful. By which I mean--and I don't say this to be cruel--that he sounds like he has heart issues. He's only forty-nine. I looked it up. But he sounds like a different human than he did three years ago. You can hear heart issues sometimes in a person's voice. Ever see the Granada TV version of Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett as the detective? Brett had heart issues a few seasons in, and you could see it and hear it. Maybe it's something else. It's probably something else. But he didn't sound good. He had a pretty decent TV voice before. And with heart-related thoughts in mind, I take a huge swig of the straight-from-the-bog--meaning no sugar--cranberry juice that I "buy special," as they say, for my blood pressure health.

Got some cheap Boston Symphony Orchestra tickets. More things to go to by myself. Which makes me feel lonely, but there is not a moment of my life at this juncture where it is not as though I am being chewed bodily, ala Inferno-style, by the Loneliness Monster. There were some women I could have gone on dates with this week, ranging from a twenty-year-old Harvard student to a forty-three-year-old never-married woman up in Newburyport who liked reading and birding and the sea, but I was just too bored. There was not that mental acuity, that spark of the dynamic, that I am looking for and that I find I cannot do without with a person. Anyway. I go to the Wednesday morning rehearsals and the Friday matinees. Those are the cheap tickets. And also the performances where everyone but me is over eighty. I feel spry and like I'm ready to be a solid NHL second line center at these things. You want to leave as soon as the last bar is complete, or else you're going to be in there for twenty minutes behind hundreds of people with walkers. That probably sounds mean, but it's actually how it is. Range of performances for me and the oldsters: Liszt, Elgar, Bach, Mahler, Williams, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich.

One of the worst feelings I have is when I am composing a story--or even before I start to formally compose it--and I know, because of the constant blackballing, because of how good it is, because of how many people would love it--for most literary magazines only publish MFA-sanctioned pretentiousness that you're not supposed to actually enjoy--that it could be very hard to get out there. Sounds crazy, doesn't it, when you look at where my fiction has appeared? But that's how it is. The more my stories appeared in "better" places, the harder it got for the next ones. But this is definitely one of the worst feelings I have. I'd put any story of mine up against any story out there by anyone right now in a "taste test" of 100 random readers who are outside of this system, and I think I'm going to bat 1.000 at the conclusion of the study. In some ways, that says as much about what is out there as it does about what I do. But quite apart from that, I know the level of these works. So my new course is to stop sending them to most places, or, sometimes, any places right now. Stockpile them, for when this hell is behind me, and it's just one period of reaping leading to another people of reaping. I think these people hate me to a degree that if they knew I could cure their loved ones of cancer, they'd let their loved ones die rather than fail to stop my progress. I have some friends who think they'll just flip-flop later, when enough stuff, whatever that may be--fame, money, awards--has piled up. But what I did for a while today, after I decided I wanted to write one of the new stories I know I will be writing--that is, I had the idea, which had lived in my head for a while now; a couple years, in this case--was to lie in bed, and just flat out write it. All of the lines. Speak with the characters directly, learn the story, from them, that I'm to tell. They exist. They're more real than the people out in the world. I just have to go to them, when I'm ready to go to them, and they give me the story. This one's really good. It's as strong as anything I've done, and I've not formally typed a word yet. It's called "Dunedin," and takes place in that place in Florida, the title being a kind of pun on "done Eden"--as in, Eden no longer, the fall. It's a modern--well, -ish; most of the narrative unfolds in 1987, in early spring--a retelling of the fall from Eden. But a subtle one, such that it's not overt, it's not on the nose, but that it is clear on this level at that readerly level, for most readers, just beyond the conscious level. It's felt-understood, rather than overt-understood-understood. Though there are some people--for you are writing to all kinds of levels, simultaneously--who will clock on to that on the first-up, conscious level, if you will. I've nailed the voice, too.

I screened more Outer Limits episodes for this Weekly Standard essay I have to write and write soon and quickly. I also read a lot of stuff pertaining to Leo McCarey's The Awful Truth and Make Way for Tomorrow. Make Way for Tomorrow might be one of the three greatest American films. McCarey did a number of things I value and do myself. The shifts from something gutting to something hilarious, the understanding that those things necessarily ride together. That idea of the characters being out there, that you could encounter them, that they are both not you and entirely some very real part of you, even if it's a part that they're helping you discover in that very moment of partaking of their story. Then, the emotional intensity. Leo McCarey was as good as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Orson Welles. Sometimes he was better. If you know the film, you know how misleading this one sheet poster is. The studio was terrified of people learning what the plot was, or even just the subject matter, before they saw the film, because they thought it would turn everyone off to the film. Which was more or less true. But I can't imagine anyone who has ever seen it has not loved it deeply. It's just too good, too powerful, too human, too beautiful.

The Red Sox are off to a really good start. Sale blew away the Yankees in the top of the first, and now J.D. Martinez just crushed a three run homer. Like I said, my predictions of late suck. Which is good here.


It is now almost 1:30 in the AM and I cannot sleep. Isn't that always the way? I'm stressed about money. I have to really hunker down and bill collect hard. And I have to write a lot fast, so I can get those needed funds and then have time to write this film book in a crazily short amount of time, which can't be the only thing I'm doing or even close to it in that time. I need to finish The Freeze Tag Sessions and get a novel out there. This is what's keeping me up, all of it--well, for starters. Iceberg tip. So I'm drinking no fat milk for my blood pressure and watching Fiend Without a Face, a really strong 1950s sci-fi film that is also a proto-gore work. The Red Sox game, which I was open to sleeping through in exchange for an early start that is likely not going to happen, was not relaxing. That bullpen. Yikes. The Yankees ran out of time, pretty much. Their bullpen held the Sox down. Sandy Leon was a big reason the Sox won. He's nowhere near the hitter that Jason Varitek was, but he's much better defensively. Trot Nixon threw out the first pitch. I wonder if other people find it strange that so many of these former professional athletes, who are only in their early forties, are in the same shape as standard out-of-shape guys. Seems like they shouldn't be? They were professional athletes only a few years ago. What happens? Do they just stop exercising all together and eat a lot? It's something I wonder about. He seems like a nice guy. Was also there to raise money for hurricane relief and from what I understand was standing outside a gate on Jersey Street doing just that. Always admired his effort as a player, and he was one of the best pure fastball hitters I ever saw. He could turn on any fastball.

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