763 days without a drink as of yesterday, or, 109 weeks. I could not sleep last night, and was up until three, rose at half past six, started composing a bit after seven, and soon had a 1700 word piece on 2001: A Space Odyssey. I just wrote another one a while ago that should be out soon. They are completely different in content. An essay on D.J. Fontana and his role in rock and roll history would have ran on Friday, I believe, had I logged into my email to approve the final version, but I was late to the game; I expect that will go up today.
The non-drinking thing is kind of in a blah phase at the moment. A few weeks back, I hit two drink-free years, and that was neat. I'm competitive. With myself. And, believe me, I would like nothing more--and it's one thing I fight for--to have the vile, anti-business that is publishing, where it's perpetually sixty-nine'ing, the untalented and broken lapping away at each other, be a meritocracy where you try to destroy every other writer based on talent, just run them into the ground with how much more of it you have. Like in sports. That's one of the things I'm fighting to bring about, which I will bring about. As it is, even with this non-drinking thing, I get into it.
A few weeks on Downtown with Rich Kimball, I talked about giving up the drink, and the assumptions people make. We also discussed a great film (Saturday Night and Sunday Morning), a great classical music work (Brahms' Academic Festival Overture), and a great book (Donleavy'sThe Ginger Man) celebrating having your tipple. Someone's going to assume you were a drunken mess. I was not a drunken mess. At the same time, I could drink twenty units of alcohol a day, and be absolutely fine. Which is not good, long-term. Plus, I have to outlast my enemies, I have to be in Zulu warrior mode in all facets of my being to have the energy to always be on in every way, from the level I compose at, to the ideas I'm coming up with, the energy I'm fighting back with, the strength needed to get off the mat when I'm abused, robbed, banned, blacklisted, suppressed. That, for me, is physical and mental. And my life has been such a disaster for these opening decades (and the public unboxing of all of that has commenced, because the world is going to know), with so much tragedy and death and abuse, and when I get to where I'm going--and I'm getting there if I have to stab God in the throat and kick the Devil in the balls if he's laying on, too--I'm going to enjoy it. I'm going to reap. There will be the change and the making of what has to happen, the larger good, but I will also reap on a personal level. I want to reach 100. I want to get past 100.
So I gave up the the drink. One night I was sitting there, and said, "right, you can drink whatever you wish tonight, but at midnight, it's a new day, new week, Sunday, the start, and you are done, my friend." And so I was. Will power. When I drank a lot I tried to sweat a lot in the morning, on epic walks, to get that booze out of my system. I do the same thing now, only without the booze. I've come to be a big believer in sweat. I have zero medical accountability for how salubrious it is, but I believe it. Those toxins leave. This is why I tend to overdress on my grueling workouts and walks. Yesterday, for instance, I walked twenty miles. Hence, my reddish facial hue:
I put on my Celtics hoodie, despite the weather, and sweated right through that sucker:
Sexiness! No, that's awful. My bad. That's pretty gross. Though, I don't know, workout sweat is a totally different beast than "it's hot, I'm going about my day and this sucks I'm sweating all over myself" sweat. Someone else could probably expatiate upon the various different kinds.
Tomorrow on Downtown with Rich Kimball I'll talk about my short story, "Last Light Out," which is in the current spring/summer issue of Glimmer Train. I have to look at the story. When I do, I'll remember every last comma about it, but it's not in my head right now. The Beatles could be that way, where a while after doing some work of art, they'd have to ask someone what songs were on that particular LP. Could be Rubber Soul, could be Revolver. Happened. My focus these days is selling a short story called "Cheer Pack," which is as strong as anything I've written in my life. The reality, though, is that the better a short story is, the more people would like it, connect with it, be entertained by it, thrilled by it, have their hearts broken by it, the more they would think about it, the harder it is to get published. It's the title story of a new collection that the Glimmer Train story is in, plus stories from Harper's, Cincinnati Review, VQR (where the new regime has banned me; seeing where my stories subsequently ran after he lip-served me with token rejections, and me raising the point, caused editor Paul Reyes to block my email, despite the work I'm doing, where I'm doing it, and the multiple pieces I did for the VQR), Boulevard, Commentary.
Commentary was a big one. I was pleased that morning. Obviously, given the nature of the publication, most of the writers there are Jewish, and I'm not, and it was nice to be included. Unfortunately, they've dropped fiction. A lot of places are dropping fiction. Most of those places are not making the connection that the reason there is no market for the fiction in their pages is because it all sucks. They blame the readers. Stupid people, uncultured, no attention spans. But lit bizzers pretend to like that slop that no one can feel anything for. For one thing, there is no truth in it. It can be anything you want to say it is. (Art is heavy on the truth; always has been, and, if I have something to do about--and I will--it always will be; the truth is the heart and blood of art; different things are the body, the brain, and the soul, and we can go into those later; but publishing in 2018 abhors truth.) It's not an "is." Great art is an is. But what you are seeing right now is work that's an ink blot test for people to say whatever bullshit they wish about it, so that they can curry favor, belong to a community, get what they wish for their own work (empty compliments--lies--that mean nothing in the grand scheme of reality), which is often of similar value. What you will find in common with most stories right now is that they suck, they bore, and they match other stories that suck and bore. Then a given magazine has to do away with fiction. It's getting no traction with anyone. Or their magazine folds. There's no self-awareness, there's no, "you know what? Maybe it's the stories we are publishing that are the issue, and not everyone else." There is no intention to connect with people. Humans. There is the intention of maintaining the system, trading the favors, playing for zero stakes. But when you're tiny, and you play for small stakes, they seems big to you. Hence, the stupid, petty, sub-childish power plays. Then it's where you went to school, if you look and sound like them, if you're socially awkward, have the right agent, the same mentor--a concept that makes me double over with laughing--in common.
You know who your mentor should be? Talent. Effort. A questing spirit. A ceaseless process of growth that comes from worlds contained on the inside, that sift through the worlds on the outside, creating the ultimate, eternal melange where art is the offspring. Mentor. Right. Maybe have ability? But, when you don't have ability and you want to, you need something to tell yourself, some community to belong to, a blanket to throw over any and all mirrors lest you see the truth, and a kind of writing you can imitate so that you have something on the page, when you can't think up anything of your own invention. Then, when true talent and legitimacy comes along, you are not going to like that, are you?
Anyway. A problem to be solved.
And then much to reap, post-solution.
Listened to some good records yesterday before taking my long stroll. Blue Mitchell is a trumpet favorite of mine, as is this album cover. It's perfect for a Sunday morning. Maybe it's the coffee theme?
Roy Brooks didn't drum on as many sessions as I would have liked--he battled a lot of demons--but he's another favorite, ditto Junior Cook on tenor.
Then I experienced some Booker Little, who formed that genius, and tragicallly brief, partnership with Eric Dolphy. Here he is playing with another genius, Scott LaFaro. Who has ever played the bass like LaFaro?
Next, it was on to Skip James's best recordings, from before his "rediscovery." There is so little piano in the Delta blues canon that when you first hear it here it makes you jump, in a good way.
I usually wrap up a Sunday during this trying period of life by reading in the Starbucks down the street, on Atlantic Avenue. It will usually be a non-work thing I'll read. Well, everything is work and fair game and colors thoughts, gives me something. Can give me a feeling that has nothing to do with the feeling inside which I'll write a story, but maybe puts a certain liveliness in my step that causes me to walk somewhere else where I see something that leads to a thought that will lead to another that will go into a story. Maybe I see a phrase that suggests a title, cut up, reassembled, modulated, re-strung. I like to read Three Investigators books. They were this YA series I read as a kid. Loved them. I mark them up. It's impossible for me to read something without marking it up. Or it's hard, anyway. The Three Investigators were a less posh version of the Hardy Boys. But those books taught me a lot as a kid about the value of having readers think they are hanging out with the characters. That's one of the tenets of rereadability, a work's ability to bring you back again and again, even when you know the plot like you know your own name.
Finally, I got a ticket to the Vaccines' upcoming show in Cambridge. Saw their first gig in the States a few years ago. Before I lost the house I will get back, I sat there playing their debut over and over and over again, writing the book that became Dark March: Stories for When the Rest of the World is Asleep in days. That's a Vaccines hat on the front page of this site. Representing the band. Not my love of shots. This is a song from their new album. Resonates with me, naturally.
And that D.J. Fontana thing just ran, so we'll pop it up here. Cheers to my friend Howard Merritt who suggested last week I should write about this, which took a tidy fifteen minutes.