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On empathy, surviving, love, family, and right and wrong

Tuesday 12/27/22

Some people sent me really touching accounts of how they read "Best Present Ever" with their families. Not many, which was what I expected. After all, it's me. People are going to behave differently. I worked very hard with everything else that is going on--this hell--to have that story done in time so that I could make a present of it. That's not why I wrote it. Or that's not only why I wrote it. I wrote it for the world.

But this Christmas, it was a present itself to some people I know. I found out last night that my sister got it, and didn't even read it, let alone read it to her kids. That's typical. I send some people everything I write. Mostly everything. An email goes out to one person, with a bunch copied. Part of the reason for this isn't any affection or because I'm treated well by all of those people. Sometimes it's so that the work exists in other places. In other inboxes. My sister, for instance, with all of the amazing art I made this year, didn't say a single word about any of it. I expected this from my family. I've never been someone who believes that because people are "related," they love each other. I think most lives know no love at all, and family is "automatic" love, a comfort, so that they can say they are loved.

I think love is hard. It's active, the way friendship is. Love never stops knocking on the door. Love is always showing up. Love isn't a laurel one rests upon, a state one claims. Love is fleet-footed. Love never takes a load off. When there is a gap, a hole, love flows into it. Love doesn't speak of the past; love is about today, and what love will do tomorrow.

My sister is someone who looks to have many friends, but I wouldn't say she has a single actual friend. A person one counts on. Talks to. It is for show. Like most things. And when most things are for show, we are not healthy people. We are barely people at all. What makes this worse with the story is something in the story. I had suggested on here that it was interactive, in a way. I'm not going to spoil it now. Not that this story can be spoiled. I could say everything that happens in it and when you read it you'd still have the same remarkable experience if I said nothing, because that's the power of the story. There is something pertaining to my sister's children and that was part of the present from me to them. And they didn't even see it, because their mother, my sister, elected not to read it. Super. But, buy the boy some pizza and goodies to pick up at the bakery--I'm poor--and he's good to go. That's the relationship.

Christmas is a day for me now where I try to not die. I try not to give in. No one has loved Christmas more. To get through the day is to fight off death. Another family member who was upset about other things, and knows exactly how Christmas is for me, blasted me yesterday about not phoning nor texting. Which is how it's been on Christmas going back to 2012, the year when Molly did what she did. I have not talked to anyone on Christmas. I have not texted anyone, for the most part. This isn't new and it's not a surprise. Colin is gone for Christmas, right now. That's just how it is. It's not personal.

People who care about me--or who don't, but pay any attention, whether to conversations, texts, letters, or this journal--know how it is. They don't have expectations for me to make merry, and they understand that my silence is not a reflection on them. Every day I have to fight not to die. Could you live like this? Because I don't think anyone alive could survive being me for a morning right now. There is no one in the world--nor has there been in history--in this situation. It's a battle to remain alive. I think constantly that I don't belong in this world. That I am like an alien. The one alien. I think about how I stand a better chance in something else, a different world, whatever is after life. I think about the percentages. Is it worth the chance of death? That's how I think. You--the universal you--would have been dead a long time ago.

And I just keep creating. I make the best work anyone human has ever made, and I do it every single day. And no one can deny that who sees it. All of it. The range of it. I try to have faith that because of that work, and my strength, and my courage, I will have the chance to change this world to the good, to the most consequential and real degree, this world that needs me more than it has needed anyone else.

Christmas can be harder yet. It would make sense for me to go out on that day.

I have someone who loves me probably as much as anyone, but they attack me. From time to time. I will share something about empathy. Very few people in the world have the ability to empathize. It's an ability. It's honed. Worked at. It requires creativity. We go into someone else's life. That requires imagination, but also a devotion to getting that right--as close to what that life is. As close as we can to what they feel.

How do I write like I do and invent all of these characters that are more real than real? The simple answer is empathy. I go into their lives.

Here's what happens with this person I know. They have little to no empathy for me, because they just want everything to be okay for me. It pains them that it's not okay. That it's very far from okay. That causes them hurt, but they can only take so much. Thinking about my situation causes them pain. Thinking about even just this awful apartment. Especially when they live in a big house, and seemingly everyone they know has a nice life that way. And here I am, the person better than all of those people in every way. I should say that all of this was made worse by the fact that this person had just read "Best Present Ever." So, I write that, and two days later, I'm getting blasted for an alleged lack of morals and decency, because I tried to do what I do every Christmas and not die. But I didn't reach out to anyone. You'd have to be pretty stupid, or really gunning for a fight or to cut someone, to not know the drill at this point and be okay with someone who regularly shows their love for you trying to do what he needs all of his strength to do for a day.

I can't risk further blows on Christmas. The thing is, when I write something amazing, it's upsetting to hear or see what most people think about it. They can think it's the most amazing thing ever, which they do. But they can't talk. They are simple. That's not me being mean. But they know about fifty words, and they might say three of them. Or one. I have to live with everyone else's extreme limitations. That gets me down. How simple people are, how incapable of really much of anything they are, gets me down. I have to put their words through a translator often, or grade on a curve. Judge the expression on their face. The tone of their voice. They can't express themselves. I'm not suggesting others can. Look at "literary criticism." It's platitudes, cliches, hollow common adjectives, and ass-tonguing. They're just commercials for the other members of the sinecure. Or else it's jargon. Academic-speak. None of it is real. No substance is expressed. A difference is, there's nothing to express about any other fiction writer's work; and with me, there's so much to express, the feelings and thoughts are so intense, so total, and there is such a degree of awe, that it's overwhelming, an overload. And then how do you convey all of that to me, with your limited means, and to this person you're scared of, that you have on the highest pedestal? You don't. You figure I have to know, because it's the most clear thing ever.

But it gets me so down. This will change when I'm out of this position, because there will be so many more people--there will be millions--and also words are much more easily liberated from their keepers when other people are shouting forth words, and people get other ideas for words of their own. They steal and they add on. No one can talk and no one can write. Those two notes I received from those fellows about Scrooge really stood out. Those two guys could express themselves.

Now, I don't believe they thought more of the book than anyone who read it. Or just about. Some people go in wanting to hate a book I've written because it's by me. They hate me. They're envious of me. What happens is they're blown away by the book. You can't honestly hate them. They're too good. But you can have an agenda. And you can have thwarted goals. The result? They express an even greater hatred for the book--and it's very easy to expose and delineate the real motivation--after they have experienced it and know what it was and how good it is than they would have if they had been able to hate the way they wanted because they hate and envy me. I think the experience those two guys had with Scrooge was similar--with some differences--to anyone else who read the book. Or I should say, their estimation of its value.

But I tire of seeing the same old things every time from others, if they say anything at all. It's so hard for anyone to write three sentences. Let alone three intelligent sentences. Let alone three intelligent sentences that they're offering up to me for my perusal. They're scared of me. They are intimidated. They shut down.

On Christmas, I didn't really want to experience that with "Best Present Ever." If someone else wrote that, it would be the best thing they wrote in their life, no matter who it was, something they wrote over twelve years, and when it was done, they'd be exhausted, off the grid for a fortnight--they'd go to Paris, say, and decompress--and people would accept that. They'd made and given the timeless work of art, and that was plenty. That was the most "more" version of more than enough.

Me? I'm fair game to attack two days later as I try not to die. After I created and gave that present.

When one reads the story--because, at most, a dozen people reading this journal at present have seen it--this account in this entry will be all the more galling. Because of what that story is about and what it is.

But I was speaking of empathy. We can care about someone such that we don't want to think about what they're going through. We won't try to empathize. We will shut off the currents of empathy. Those currents cause us too much pain, all the more so when we don't have control to stop the other person's suffering. We're helpless. All we can do is know what they're going through. We can do more than we do do, but people never want to do as much as they can. I do. Others, no.

Here's the horrible irony. That empathy isn't put into practice. It has to be an active, imaginative practice, without respite, and constant effort to go into someone else's life and feelings. It won't just happen. Empathy cannot be stumbled into. The result being, that this other person can now attack. They don't know what they're adding to. They've taken reality and changed it into something else on their side. They've compartmentalized, but in the bad, deleterious way. Now they are adding to the problem. They can be adding to the worst suffering. To death in the making. They are a part of the problem themselves. And the person who is alone and suffering has to take it, if they are as alone as I am. What can they do? What are the options? You just opt to know no one? You don't have a single person or two? You can't really make a statement and say, "I don't want this person in my life, I have this life over here, and these people who love me."

I don't have an over there and I don't have a group over there who loves me. I have the situation I'm in right now.

I do not create problems in anyone's life. I never make a bad day worse for someone else, save the bigots in publishing who go up on these pages. I help people. At this point, I don't do much that is wrong. I don't take out my situation on anyone. All of the 200 acts of injustice and discrimination committed against me daily. That is a ballpark number. And that's just what I know directly about. I leave you as I found you, or better off, because I've helped you. That is who I am now. As I write these words, I think about how much more horrible this is considering that this was a person I gave "Best Present Ever" to, and, further, in a note separate to the one that went off to everyone else, save another person, who is my closest friend, and a person who also doesn't make bad days worse, though they're not especially suited to making them better. But sometimes they can. Enough to help me keep going. And that is all that really matters right now. It's what matters for the world. If I don't get to where I am going, the world will feel that loss more than anything. The loss will be the world's more than anything.

Do I regret giving this story to my family? Yes and no. I'd say on the whole, yes. To read the story and then act in that fashion, is to have failed the story, and what the story sets forth, what the story models, represents, embodies, what the story has given you. I don't want to say the story has a "message"--what it has is bigger than that--but to attack an innocent person three days later is to entirely miss the point of the story. Which is to say, the story was lost on the person here who did read it. And obviously, with my sister, to not even read it, well, what can one say? I alerted her ahead of time that I was creating this work as a present for her and her family, and was working hard to get it to her in time. This alert didn't even warrant a response. Her children are immortalized in this story. Someone else promised me that they would read it to those children--I had no confidence that my sister would, knowing what she's about--but that turned out not to be true. On top of this, my sister sent me a condescending, robotic note about how she was too busy. This person who deprived her children of this experience. Is that good? Am I a villain for mentioning it? Is it my duty to not mention that and act as though it's all good, it's fine? Why would that be my duty? And why would that be right? So yes, in a very real way, I regret sending this work to my family. It's not for them. And I was made to feel awful about three ways over.

As for the no: I will not let myself go down to levels I have risen above. And on my level, the amazing work is made, and it's shared, it's given to people--which can also mean, hopefully in the near future, sold for great heaping totals of money that brings in ever larger heaps of money, or sent in an email for Christmas--because I answer to what is right, not how others behave. The example set forth in the story itself is the example of my life. That's what I meant when I have said that my journey and my journey as a person has brought me here.

This is a text exchange with my closest friend from yesterday, whom I also did not speak to on Christmas, and who behaved with grace and concern and equanimity. It really takes so little sometimes. I should add that John constantly reiterates his belief and certainty that all of this is going to work out in the way I want it to, to the maximum degree, and that the day is coming. He's speaking to right now in the text. That this was the Christmas just spent. Not the Christmases of the future.


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