I am heading out shortly for a prodigious amount of exercise and then will return for a prodigious amount of work. My stomach is bothering me right now after having begun the day like I begin many days, vomiting intensely after weeping for twenty minutes.
I lost $2000 the other day, between four masterful pieces. Money is so hard for me to come by right now. You have the blacklisting. You have an industry that is dying. I could name thirty places I wrote for--prominent places--that are no more. The years and years of cronyism and bad writing has killed off the industry, and soon it will be no more.
Do you think submitting to the Alaska Quarterly Review means anything? How can you live in 2020 and think it does? It never did. No one ever read it, no one ever cared, it was always just plastic, formulaic writing. You can see that MFA tone coming from miles away. It amused me recently to see Ronald Spatz panhandling on the front page of the AQR. A petty, tyrant of a man. No ability. But running that place meant everything to him, the sad power trip over something entirely inconsequential. Not one single work in all of those decades worth a damn. Not a single work with the spark of human life, of magic, of true connectivity. They're begging for money on the front page because they lost their funding from the university. The pathetic dream, the pathetic power trip, draws to its close. Then where is your identity? Because you have no power anywhere else. This meaninglessness was your everything. Not that this was ever power. It was pettiness. You can't think anyone reads the magazine. It's just other bad writers who desperately want to be a part of this diseased community because they have nothing else. The community espouses the same kind of writing because tricking kids and families into paying to get into the system--that is, get into an MFA program, and then later stock these lit mags with silver-spooned, talentless, brainwashed, frequently racist and sexist, toxic drones--is the only revenue there is. And true, there's no marketing, but even if the world knew about the AQR, no normal person in the world would be at all interested in anything that ever ran in it. You can't care. There's nothing to care about. They'll put out a few more issues and then they will cease to be.
At the higher circulation venues, these people are looking after each other more than ever, which seems impossible. A venue will fold, and someone will throw a lifeline to the people who lost jobs at another place that is soon going to cease to be, and it's like, hmmm, maybe you could actually work on publishing better work and see what business looks like then? It's as if a bunch of blue bloods who had huge inheritances have burned through most of that money and now they live in breaking down country estates, but they're clinging to the old way of life, always in need of a bailout. Downton Abbey vibe. The four pieces were, as I said, masterful. But you are subjected to complete caprices. They can make up any reason. Any facts which are not facts. They can decide to say something about your subject that is patently false, and that will be the reason something doesn't run. They don't know the subject. They assume you don't know more than they do, because they're that arrogant. That limited of vision. Had they seen evidence of you knowing about a different subject, they will think it's impossible that you could know about others, all different, as well and much. You are shackled to their shortcomings. They can project whatever they wish upon you. You pay the price of their inabilities, just like you do their lack of talent, pettiness, anger, envy. Then you smile. And ask if you can do it again. They might ignore this, and send you an email bragging about themselves. You then have to kiss their ass about how amazing they are. You're just trying to make a couple hundred bucks. And those are close to the best people you ever deal with. Most won't even reply.
It's never the work that matters. It is who is presenting the work that matters. They look at the relationship of that individual to themselves, and what is said about that individual. If you know nothing about Charlie Parker and can't write at all, but you have connections, you can write a piece that goes "Charlie Parker played jazz and jazz is a kind of music and he's important because he is important and BLM and that is important and Charlie Parker played jazz and he was good," and that'll get you in. You could have never heard of Charlie Parker the day before. Or if you are "the award-winning so and so" or so and so is your agent or these are the kind of people who blurb your terrible writing.
The writing itself is never a factor. By which I mean there are virtually no exceptions. The work is never evaluated, except insofar as it can work against you. (As in, "Wait, this is different, this doesn't rehash our boring rules, hey, this is wrong, get it out of here, I insist upon work that sucks, bores, and matches other work that sucks and bores!") The qualifications of the person in question are never so much as thought of. I did get a chuckle the other day when I saw that Curtis Sittenfeld guest edited Best American Short Stories. The worst stories in America are collected annually in BASS. (Tough to be more unctuous than series editor Heidi Pitlor.) The stories of the least consequence and meaning. The most formulaic. It's a staid strokathon for the well-heeled in a dying industry that promotes the people of the least talent.
Someone said to me a few days ago that the could not believe that there is anyone who wouldn't fight off anyone else to have published any of those four works. They didn't mean this in the sense that they couldn't actually believe it. They know the drill, this individual. But it's telling that someone can know publishing behind the scenes to a degree that few people in this world do--I share the emails with a core group--and still struggle to reconcile the clear power of the work with the idea that anyone could be so out of their mind, or twisted, or bad at their job, or filled with resentment, not to insist on publishing such work, have a real need to publish that work.
A college provost reached out to me yesterday to say that all of the work I was creating was untouchable, every last piece was better than what anyone is writing, and that if anyone can rise from the ashes of a dying, backwards system, and start something new, it is I. A few people said that to me this week, using different words, from different walks of life. Anyone who reads the work openly and fairly knows. Anyone who puts in the time to follow the career, the scope of the work, knows that this is a historically unique artist. That this is someone who can do things no one has ever been able to do. It's sufficiently obvious at this point that I can say this.
This past week a personal essay ran in The Smart Set on the impact moving had on my family. I talked on the radio about the first ever fiction JazzTimes has run in their half-century history--which I wrote--and said personal essay. I actually listened to this after the fact. I never do that. It depresses me to hear how I sound light years beyond anyone else on the radio. You can't compare. That's the thing. You can't compare me to other people. As a writer, an artist, any of it. There is no comparison. But that's part of the problem. Huge part. I wrote an op-ed on Jimi Hendrix. I wrote an op-ed on "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." I wrote a 3000 word essay on Linus and Curse of the Cat People.
I finished the two long short stories, "Rehearsal Visit" and "Green Glass Door." I wrote four other short stories--"One Played, One Cried," "Figures of Action," "Bruise Blood," "The Wad." One is a music story, one is a gay story, one is a story of homelessness, one is about a sexually promiscuous college roommate that looks like it's going to be one kind of thing--it's very funny from the jump of the first paragraph--that opens up into something else entirely, which is truly surprising, sobering, powerful, with congruity maintained. That is--the ribald beginning is not what you may assume it is at first.
When you write well, you're writing both forwards and backwards. People tend not to get this. The work has to move in one direction--left to right--but it also has to read right to left. You should be able to read an amazing story backwards. An amazing book. That should also be a reading experience if one wishes to have it. The meaning is consistent both ways, but it is revealed in different ways. Just like a book cover--you should be able to "read" a book cover before you read the book, and after you read the book, and it should be different each time, though the meaning is implicit, present, all the time. When you return to page five, after reading page six, page five should read a different way. Do you see what I mean? But it should still be consistent in that meaning. This isn't about tricks. You read the beginning of this story after reading other parts, and it's different than what you thought, but it's also still what you thought. The whole story functions that way, it funnels you along that journey where things are both what they seem, and a lot more than what they seem.
There is not a venue in America that would publish it right now, even if it didn't have my name at the top, because it is that different from everything else, and it's raw and real--though you will find no prose as sophisticated--and some of the language would terrify these people to the point that they'd have to book a fourth session with their therapist that week. They like things so dainty. Their idea of a thrill in reading is seeing the words amuse-bouche. They hate life. They want no life in fiction. They want none of the realness of life. They want no truth. They want that MFA tone. It all sounds exactly alike. They want to be coddled and pandered to; they want a complete absence of stake, investment. They want placebo. They want to know that they took care of someone just like them. They want to pay the sickness--the classism--forward.
The irony being that if you got this story where a lot of people would see it, they'd lose their shit for it, they'd clamor for more. They'd also quote from it liberally--there are some great lines that would become part of the national vernacular--but you can't expect people in publishing to have that kind of vision. They're just looking for the same old crap that no one likes that is killing off their industry which they're not bright enough to put together anyway. They can't connect the dots. Are there some exceptions? A few. Are there important roles to play going forward? Yes yes yes. Play a role. Be a difference maker and help get us to work that matters, that can get people caring and reading again. Reading in ways that haven't read in a long time. Or ever.
What else, from the past week? I haven't seen it myself yet, but I know the new issue of JazzTimes is out, and I have a 2500 word piece on Charlie Parker in it that is sublime--which is actually the word the editor used to describe it, after he said it was a work of art--and also an essay on George Floyd and John Coltrane that would rock America if one of the beloved people of the system wrote it.
I would say that you have to be militant in your pathological nature--which many people now work to build up in themselves--to always be looking for something to find offensive. At which point you can then white knight, and do one of those "be better" things.
There is no more self-serving, hypocritical, condescending, narcissistic, grandstanding phrase in all of the American argot right now than "be better." I believe that it's impossible for a person to say it once. Say it once, and I bet anything you say it a thousand times. Mike Milbury is a hockey analyst. He played in the 1970s and 80s. Went to Colgate. Average NHL player. Was a coach. His persona is that of "I cut through the BS" guy. Not a good GM, another role he had. Was going to be the BC head coach in 1994, but that fell through and Jerry York was hired instead. The Woke want to destroy Milbury because he made a comment that there would be no women to distract players in the NHL playoff Bubble. He was being glib. Out come the attackers, the mob, misandrists saying that he hates women, this is why it's so hard for females to work in hockey-related positions, that it's on hockey players if they want to hump the reporter interviewing them between periods, etc.
People are commonly sick, people are commonly simple. What someone would normally do now is say, "I don't even like Milbury, but..." I don't see the point of that. There are not a lot of thinkers, talkers, I have especial use for. Thoreau. I don't look at things that way. But what he meant was here's this situation. The situation is the situation. These guys are in this Bubble. They're away from their families. They're only with each other. They're not trying to hook up with women in bars. (Sex also drains the legs, as you know, if you've ever had sex and played hockey.) They're not getting up in the middle of the night when the kid starts crying. They're not tending to a to-do list a wife has for them. Someone else back home is picking up that slack. When you remove outside factors--even when they are good things--you have less to focus on, and you can focus on other things differently.
Take this COVID situation. Going back to March 2012, there has not been a week in which I have not created more than any other writer in the world. There have been many weeks when I have created more than any writer will create over years. I have these folders in my computer for each year. They have four writing folders in the big folder. They are broken down by seasons. Each one is absolutely jammed. Moving through the years, you'll see more and more individual files within the folders. It's almost comical to start looking back in the 2018 folders and moving forward to now. And you must realize that between late March and December 31 of 2012, I wrote fifty-two short stories, sixty magazine pieces (and many millions of words to a faithless wife, who had decided to betray me, took my home, and caused me to have a stroke; hours after which I was writing again). And that was me at my least productive, in these eight years.
I have no life. I have no friends, I haven't been with anyone romantically in more than five years, I am entirely alone. I'm hated, I'm blackballed, I do what no one else can do, and there are some people who know about that, and think I'm going to change the world a hell of a lot, and they encourage me to keep going, because they also believe the world needs me and my work, and this is building to something unlike which the world has ever seen. But I have no kids. I don't go out to eat. I don't go over someone's house. I don't have dates. I don't go off on weekend trips with a girlfriend. I'm entirely alone. I work so hard for a number of reasons. The changing the world thing, for one, and so that I will be in a better place later, for another, and not alone. Be where I want to be. Be with people, too, whom I deserve. I go to many things alone. Or I did. Baseball games, hockey games, the ballet, the symphony, museums, the woods of Concord, films. Always alone. But a lot of things. On a typical pre-COVID week, I'd be at two films at the Brattle, a concert a Symphony Hall, a college hockey game, Boston Ballet, and inside the MFA two or three times as a stop on my long walks.
I can't do any of that right now. I create, I exercise, I eat, sleep, create. Create create create. Now, I would not call those things I did distractions, because I also worked and created while at them, but I have never formally created as much as I have in spring and summer 2020. If I had written nothing else, my body of work would be better, and it would be larger, than any artist who has come before. You can get angry, if you're the kind of person in publishing who hates me, but when it all comes out, you will say, "Damn, he was actually understating it, and by a lot." That will probably make you hate me to a yet greater degree, because it's ability and the reality of that ability that these people detest more than anything.
That's why I learned that you can never assuage them, never placate or motivate them by kissing their ass, playing their reindeer games. Because ultimately they'll want to stop you if they think you're better than they are. That's just how it is. It's not about how you behave. How polite you are when you beg them for your response. How polite you are when you beg them not to steal money from you. When you knuckle your forehead and ask to be treated like a human being. It's about what you are in that scenario. It's even about how productive you are.
Yesterday, I saw one of these people doing what they always do, whining on Facebook about how hard it is to write 200 words. And it's even harder now, this person said, with what is happening in this world, where this country is at, but they know that it's not their fault, that they're not writing, haven't written 200 words since this year began, though they tried the other day, and formatted a new document. It's Donald Trump's fault, they said. (Cue comments like, "My soul kisses your soul," from people exactly like them, who also don't write and can't write. You think these people want the likes of me around? Think that group is going to put support behind anything I do? Obviously not.)
This is typical. They take no ownership, and they can't just say what is clearly the overriding factor, reason: they haven't a jot of ability. When you light it up, produce constantly, that person--who is typical in this industry (despite the complete lack of ability, achievements, or any actual completed work, they will have an agent though, which is funny, and it will always be an agent who ignored me for ten years, back when I pursued such things)--will hate you.
They will also have a trust fund and an inheritance. Always the same.
I'm in a Bubble, though conscious of all outside my Bubble, so I don't mean it that way. I am hyper-focused. I am somehow even more focused now. Do you see the difference? I write more and better than ever in COVID, they whine, they write nothing. They blame political leadership or lack thereof. They could never, ever, ever, never, would never happen, look to themselves for accountability. That's impossible.
So, back to hockey. That's all he meant. He didn't break it down. He didn't give it the Proust treatment of twenty-seven pages. What amuses me when people pick apart someone else's words--and they'll even look up their meaning in the dictionary, and copy and paste that meaning into their Tweets--is that they're no more articulate, no more careful with their own language, no more thorough. They use the same off-the-cuff shorthand that everyone now does.
If you are a hockey player, and you are in the Bubble, there is less outside world stuff to deal with. That's just reality. That might help you play hockey better, it might not. Depends who you are. Like with me and writing, and these other writers. I couldn't go to the Brattle, so those few hours a week became another two short stories. This woman I used as an example above, she couldn't go anywhere, so she wrote nothing and whined. The hockey thing is like that. The situation being what it is, is one you can use to your advantage with what you do. You can find a way to create advantage, get the most out of your job, what is you do, in the profession, for this singular stint. Just like you can adapt and use it to get the most out of your own development, on becoming smarter, more self-aware, more physically fit. Whatever.
The team that wins the Stanley Cup will have an additional wrinkle this year. They will be a team that has guys who enjoy each other's company. They'll have to be especially tight. That's a skill of this year's unique tournament. You probably need a squad that's a good mix of ages. Can't all be young guy who just want to bust out and hump everything, because a few guys start saying "this sucks," it spreads, the team becomes less committed, and so forth. That's why the Bruins have a great shot. With mature human beings like Chara, Bergeron, Marchand. Mature human beings who seem like normal people, and decent people, leaders.
The Athletic, apparently, will hire anyone who is not me to write about hockey, and they put an emphasis on how little you know about the sport. I saw this woman in Columbus, Ohio who writes for them--and man is she bad--puling on Twitter about hockey culture, and it's not the sideline reporter's fault if player X is distracted by her beauty and can't control his libido, and it's like, "how the fuck hard do you need to try to make everything something it isn't? How miserable of a human do you need to be?" The comments had nothing to do with female announcers, reporters, coaches, and if you want to tell me that Milbury is bad at his job--I'm not going to argue--then expect to talk about how A.J. Mleczko is even worse, because she can't say a single clean sentence. She can't get one sentence out of her mouth--in her flat monotone, devoid of presence--that is not garbled, does not fall back on itself, doesn't break down after a clause, and all she does is say the word "incredible" a lot. She has that job for one reason. It's not merit. Now, I'm not saying Milbury has his job for merit. He has his for a different reason that has nothing to do with ability. Because that is how everything now works, save when it comes to a very few things--being a professional athlete, or a ballet dancer. Insert your own. Aerialist? Milbury isn't even the worst guy in those broadcasts. Are any of them any good? Patrick Sharp is okay in-studio. (Speaking of distractions--look up Patrick Sharp's behavior sometime.)
Throughout the history of art, people will go somewhere to think, to create something. The script of Citizen Kane was written that way, with portions of it done hiding out in New Mexico. Away from it all. I mentioned Thoreau earlier. John Clare. Jazz musicians have a term for this--woodsheding. Sonny Rollins stood under a damn bridge and blew his horn at night. Alone. Away from everyone. Isolated. Look at all of the writers who will never produce anything worth wiping your ass on who go to Yaddo, then brag, "I sojourned at Yaddo, endeavoring to birth my fictive potentialities in the iteration of a short-short collection in the post-Lydia Davis modality of the eco-feminist state antithetical to the heteronormative false-locus cis-dialogic."
And then an emetic hack of a favor-trading, system-worshiping, obsequious lover of classism--and thief--and tonguer of taints (just so long as they're the right taints) like John Freeman will write a blurb, put them in his magazine he named after himself. Others follow suit, and you get a Guggenheim, a genius grant, two book reviews in The New York Times, assorted prizes, speaking engagements, invites to judge contests, etc., and that is the only way any of this works to date.
Garbage. Always unreadable garbage.
And then their fellow system people--who also don't read it, and don't care--pretend it's awesome, and they spread these unread, meaningless works among themselves, the corrupt coin of the dysfunctional realm, with their empty praise and platitudes. And no one in the world reads because of them and this system which is the only one in which they can be "successful," which isn't any real success at all, it's just the pretend support of people--simply so they can be supported back--as broken and empty and as lacking in anything to give as they are.
They don't want it to be a meritocracy, because they'd stand no chance against an earthworm with a pencil. No one would kiss their ass, no one would pretend they mattered, no one would pretend they were smart, no one would pretend to care at all, no one would ever even look at them twice, and they wouldn't even have these things, which are not real things, and which is all they have.
It's not the hill they'll die on--to use a phrase you see now--because they don't have the conviction or the courage to die--even metaphorically--for anything.
But: It is the hill they will put a gate around, and make sure that it's only their kind who can gain entrance.
I am unhappy because of external factors. I have mastered the self, I have mastered art. There isn't anything I can't do with words, in terms of the creation of art and the creating of new works of art, and always unique works of art. When I get where I am going, when I am not in hell, I'll be a very happy man. You will then read in these pages what the thoughts are of the person who was as happy as anyone ever was. Because I will be covering that side of the coin as well. I'm showing you hell right now. That doesn't mean that I won't be showing something close to a sort of paradise later. And one here. Well, not in this apartment.
But many of these people could never be happy because they would never do the work of the self, could never stop with their self-hate, no matter what, and they will always try to take it out on that and who is around them, and this era of social media and fake causes and pretend outrage and pandering and virtue signaling and hypocrisy and mobs of people like the rest of these people, make that a more workable vein than ever.
But at least I know what I'm fighting against. Just like I know who and what it is I'm eventually going to overcome.