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Tuesday 7/23/19

10:00 in AM. Up very late last night. More head work on "Staycation," mulling of other new stories "Wing-Nuts" and "Prepared." "Fitty," "Staycation," "A man outside a playground"--funny how I started that a couple months ago, it's so strong, I know where it is going, and I have not yet returned to it because I wrote half a dozen other stories in the interim--and "Daws, Rooks, Crows," will, I think, be cluster stories that give me insight about this novel I have in mind, Wing Wax. It is about two people, very far apart in age, but both still young in a number of senses, and their relationship and their respective and shared journeys over several decades. It is about the idea of pure friendship, something I have come to learn about, my understanding of it deepening to the point that it has become total. Even with our best friends, we don't have what I think of as pure friendship. But I have been made aware of its existence, and its power, I was found by it, and I realize here that this is to be one of the great subjects of my life as an artist.


My ex-Harper's editor, James Marcus, whose unwarranted, capricious firing cost me as well--a lot of money there, more stories running, nonfiction features--remarked to me one time, after reading a story called "Hang It on the Limb"--which is in Cheer Pack: Stories, one of the many completed books kicking around here with me--that I could write something profound and moving on the relationship between two people very far apart in age. I always listen to what James says. That stuck with me. That was a few years ago now. It would play in my brain. I had no ideas along those lines, but it always kept coming back to me. I mean daily. Granted, in terms of thought volume, I don't even think we want to try and guess how many ideas go through my mind or are in it concurrently at a given point of a day. But when something like that happens, there is usually a reason. I wait out the reason. I have a strange relationship with my artistic future that way, very faith-based. I know there is a reason, and I know it will be made plain to me. This year, it has been. More of the novel needs to be made plain to me, now. Or I just need two weeks to think on it exclusively. I've never done that before. I think it would go a long way here. But I also need to finish the cluster stories.


It is difficult to convey to someone how difficult it is to have to write EVERYTHING. That would be breaking me down no matter what, having to write so much of so much, fitting it all in, even if I had physical comforts, happiness, friends, a life, security, recognition. To do all of these critical pieces, all of these arts pieces, all of this fiction, all of these books on music and film, all of these novels, all of the op-eds, all of the journal writings, even...you are trying to bang out fifteen note-perfect pieces in ten days to bring in a tiny bit of money, so you can sweat your ass off to have an hour to write some fiction masterpiece for the ages, or add on to one. What it must be like to just write a single book, to sit there and just do it, I can barely conceive of. One thing I think I would do, if I finally get past these people and have success, is write as much, but just do one thing at a time for a while. Or mostly one thing. Focus on just a single book, and if a lucrative opportunity comes my way and it's something I care about, knock that out on the side, or do an occasional short story, but just focus on the book. Knowing the world is awaiting it, knowing that scores of people are waiting to judge it, to see what I did next, if I grew, if I regressed--ha--what I had invented, where I had gone to next. It could be as many words a day, but trying to fit EVERYTHING in is murder. And most of what you write are letters to people who loathe you. All of that time and energy and word count directed away from the creation of more works of value. Most of my written output--if we're counting that kind of thing, the letter, the pitch, the follow-up--is dumped down a drain. So what you see, with the published works and this journal, is a very small percentage of what I write, given the works that are suppressed, which is probably twenty books' worth, and the behind-the-scenes letters stuff.


I can't do the whole "all eggs in one basket" thing right now because then they only have to block me on one front. They simply have to barricade the one road i have tried to build into the citadel where my revolution will take place. So I need to build many roads for the chance to have one be the way to victory. I cannot leave anything to one. I have to build, create, attack from all directions. And one needs to pay out true. So I have to do everything at once. Expose them here. Write better fiction than anyone. Write on art, film, music, sports, literature, better than anyone, do the radio better, say the things no one has the balls to say which are correct, entertain, bring truth, bring humor, do the books, do this journal. That's what the plan has become. And trust that. Have faith. Hold on. Stay alive. Be ready for when the moment comes to be the flood that blows out all of this bullshit, that makes the difference. I don't know that it's the best plan. But it's where it's at right now.


Then I think about people in this business who have so little to do, to just sit back and be fat cats, gazing at their guts, collecting big checks, hating me because "fuck this guy, he's in my inbox yet again with something he wrote, I'll show him, the asshole"--in other words, ignored, banned for life--and who think they're overtaxed with work. They'd die if they tried to live a week doing all of this. They would die by Wednesday. They have no idea what hard is. They have no idea what busy is, pressure is, always having to be at this standard is. There is no room for mistakes in my world, there is no down time, no pleasure, no leisure. I have to roll out of bed and write better and faster than anyone ever has, on myriad subjects I need to know better than anyone has ever known them. I just have to know everything, basically. I don't research it. I have to have already known it. That in a few short months I have written works like Meatheads Say the Realest Things, "Dot," "Dunedin," "Post-Fletcher," "Who Is and Who Isn't," "Fitty," "You're Up, You're Down, You're Up," "Flashlight Tag," "Three Snakes"--you're talking the funniest book, the defining story of the 21st century, some of the scariest fiction ever, innovations of style and form that are brand bloody new, personal essays for all to connect with, a new form of ghost story--I get more depressed. I know artists over history, I know what they create, I know the time periods over which they created a given run of work; it's never been this compacted nor rangy, nor protean, nor replete with so much newness in terms of advances. And it's happening pretty daily here and pretty casually, it would seem. Over a month, I literally create more works of art than I cough and sneeze. This morning I wrote a 900 word piece which I have already filed on Herman Melville's poetry for The Washington Post. A few lines:


Melville was what I think of as a rhythmicist. Some writers have better feel than almost all other writers; they know when to break off a line, when to follow a torrent of words with a single-syllable hard-stop. That’s HM. “The Portent”—about the hanging of John Brown—is the American letters version of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”: “Hidden in the cap/Is the anguish none can draw,” the poet intones, “But the streaming beard is shown/(Weird John Brown)/The meteor of the war.”


That penultimate line is pure Melville, a weird fellow himself, Messianic and as salt of the earth as a lump of sodium, a king who wiped his face on the back of his sleeve. Clarel (1876), the longest poem in American history, is the “all-in” poetical analogue to Moby-Dick. It is nuts, 18,000 lines, pitting Christian doctrine vs. Darwinism via a religious pilgrimage to the Holy Land that reads like God and Satan syllogistically duking it out in Paradise Lost, with earthy, Emerson-esque New England-isms, an author throwing himself down a chasm of “What are we really here for?” inquiry. If you ran into this version of Melville on Ye Olde version of Tinder, he would not self-bill as “chill.”


This is as bracing as American poetry has ever gotten. Do you need all 18,000 lines? Nope. But spend an hour navigating your own personal pinnace of self through these straits of the soul, and you can’t help but know yours a touch better.


I look at what other writers write right now, and I just see so much ordinariness. I see nothing special. I see nothing that anyone else could not do. They just happen to have those gigs. But I do not see a sprig of talent. I see no invention at the level of language. I see nothing to lodge in the head, nothing you enjoy reading back or reading over slowly, savoring. I see ordinary people with no gift for the written word, let alone ideas that illuminate the depths of human nature, and the individual, on a person by person basis, no matter how different they are from each other. That's pretty much all I see when I read what I read.


The above? I could drool that out in my sleep. That's just how it comes out. And the difference, the gap, I think is the most obvious thing there has ever been, pretty much. I don't think it's much more missable than the gap between 105 degrees outside and -5. And I can do it on everything. Wait--that's misleading. I do do it on everything. Run through the links on the tabs of this website. A very small portion of what I do, but look at it all. I don't think someone can read something I wrote on a given subject and think someone out there knows more about it. It's not like you couldn't hire me to be your film person, or your jazz person, or your op-ed person, or your literature person, because I'm someone who writes a little on a lot of things; nope, I write more on each of the things than anyone who just writes on that one thing.


I write and publish more on film than your exclusive film person. "We're looking for someone who specializes only in film." Bullshit. You want to hook up someone who sucks who is your buddy or a system person or both. Because even while I do everything I do, I do what they do better than they do and I do more of it. And the proof is all over this website. You can't fake links, bro. (Insert meathead laugh.) And I have an industry blockading me. That reduces 100% down to 2%; think of it like a blocked artery; they've blocked it, and it's 98% blocked. Are they scared of what happens if I get free? If this is me in prison, what does free Colin look like? What does that situation look like? Are they worried that they would themselves not be able to get free of my work, that they'd have to see it and see it touted everywhere, and read what people were writing about it? The lion is going to get out. I have to think that at some point the lion is getting out. Are they scared of what is going to happen to them when he does get out, and it inevitably comes out how they behaved, what they ignored, what they were offered and instead led their prejudices rule them? That's all in there. These are all things.


"Staycation" is another story that deals with an extremely controversial subject that is a regular theme of the news cycle, which also transcends the news cycle, ala "Fitty," ala "First Responder." I can tell that I have recently gotten better at writing. You can just tell. You know that you can lift greater amounts of weight. I feel it. During the process of writing "Fitty," I grew again. The story did not make me grow. And, truth be told, that story is no better nor worse than those that immediately proceeded it and those about to follow it. But something can happen sometimes in the process of making one story that accounts for the newly recognized and understood growth. You strengthened certain muscles. You need so little talent, you can have absolutely no talent, you can have no more talent than someone who has never written before, and that can be enough to get your fiction awards and in "the best" places, because talent is irrelevant with any of that, save that it is a deterrent. Like, if you wanted to be a writer and you thought you had no ability, you shouldn't stress that insofar as measuring yourself against others here. You should stress not doing good work that matters, but there is no one out there who should ever feel intimidated by the writers of publishing right now. They're no better than you on your worst day, if you've not tried to write anything since high school. It would be funny if this wasn't my hell. But anyone can do what these people are doing. Then people just pretend a bunch of shit is true and dance around their little camp fires. It's childish. There's nothing here. There's nothing real here. There's nothing of value.


***


Walked three miles, climbed the Monument ten times. Ran the first 100 steps the first six times, the first seventy-five the next three, the first fifty the last time because I could not get around someone. A woman asked me if this was my workout, I said that it was, she replied, "You are blessed." Interesting take. An obese man who looked like he swallowed about three of those giant cannonballs asked me as I was coming down if there was any reason to go to the top. I thought to myself, "The reduced risk of heart disease from a modicum of physical effort, for starters," but instead just said, "sure, fine." I had a couple more climbs to go, and each time I got to the top, there he was, sitting on his ass, staring into his phone, probably never looked out any of the windows. That's America right there, in one dude. Out of shape, lazy, intellectually lazy, phone.


This entire production, on ten climb days, is almost a two hour deal. Today I decided to chart how much of that time I am working in my head, just ripping through stuff. And the reality is, it's every second. It's writing in my head the entire time. I worked on "Staycation," thought more about Wing Wax and using Fitty the character and that story--I'm not done, I don't think, with the character and those stories, I may just be starting; I worked on the Joan Harrison essay, an essay about the potency of delayed gratification in our instant affirmation age, which centers on two works of art I did not experience for a long time, which I wanted to, one that I had to hunt down, which was not easy--the lone short story published by William Sloane, who wrote my all-time favorite novel in To Walk the Night--and one I just put off for a long, long time, for reasons I get into in the piece, that being take one of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life." I came up with a new idea for The Washington Post on football books, and an idea for my Wall Street Journal op-ed editor on what I call sacred cow syndrome, tied to the 60th anniversary of the release of Miles Davis's Kind of Blue next month; I thought more about this essay I want to do on Citizen Kane and how Welles's film anticipates the death of publishing; I gave more thought to an essay collection that will contain "You're Up, You're Down," about my Monument climbs, "Dot," the delayed gratification piece, the King's Quest essay, something on Joy Division, the the nightmare essay, the art and writing essay, the prevailing idea being how certain modes of openness reveal both the world to us, and us to us, and the process of sussing out those forms, with my journey being one illustrative example. I also came up with a September Wall Street Journal op-ed pertaining to the Beatles, but I held that back for now. I was also thinking about Audible, which I do not know too much about, but good quality readings of me doing stories like "Pillow Drift," "Dunedin," "Fitty" in full is something there could be a huge market for at some point. "Fitty," like "Pillow Drift," is another story that would be an amazing HBO or Netflix film, and I know how you'd do the screenplay with both, which I was also thinking about.


But most of what I was working on was "Staycation." And I made a list, too, in my head of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries that you could argue qualify as locked room mysteries. I also mulled further the stories I have recently written which I could put together to comprise a kind of Sgt. Pepper of story collections. It's been a little over a year since I began this run. That sounds weird, doesn't it, like I was sitting with my thumb up my ass before. But even for me, the level was new, beginning with the composition of "Funny Lines TK" last summer. It's just one major work after another. Not like, "oh, there's another one." Major, major works of art. I was thinking of like ten all-timers, just like your Hamlets, your Citizen Kanes, your Mona Lisas, that you could put in one single book, and I don't know how to make the decision yet with this new huge group to pick from. But it's a moot point right now, given the blackballing. Will be nice when it's not. And I keep thinking about "Fitty," that if one of these places did it where it would be worth it for me to have someone do it--I'm not doing it at a place that won't have it be seen by a ton of people; I'll just hold on to it--the people there are going to look so smart, like they are mighty and brilliant captains of industry. It's kind of ironic. It's so obvious when you read it that it is a story that is going to thrust your publication into the news and be great for business. It's the nature of the story. You don't get that kind of opportunity a ton. But it's more important to hate me. It's so fucked up.


All right. Fuck this whinging. Let's make some art. Do what you do, son. Faith.