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Friday 10/4/19

I don't think anything is going to come of yesterday's op-ed. Soon I am going to have a full-length book's worth of op-eds I could not sell. And what am I supposed to do with that? These are just dozens and dozens of works that the world will never see? They are great pieces of writing at the level of the sentence and in their ideas. The originality of those ideas, the bravery of them, too, their clarity. But you cannot do anything with an op-ed once its day in the news cycle sun has passed. Of course, John feels differently. Of course he does. He opines that it will all be seen, in my lifetime, and pieces that have endured this short-term fate--for it is but a short-term one in his view--will instead be collected in a book later, not because of their standing within the news cycle, but because of their fire and artistry, which transcends the news cycle. This guy. I love him, but I seriously am wondering if he is crazy.


He thinks the problem is largely one of visibility. Of course, there's no mystery about being blackballed by an entire industry, but reaching the people of that industry--and the industry sells largely only to the people in it (one reason it is dying)--is not the goal. The goal is far more epochal. I fear that the problem, beyond being the most hated person in an industry, is that this is a post-recognition world. I am not sure anyone can even recognize quality anymore, or if they can, if they care. I am terrified that the quality of something may be absolutely irrelevant. All I have is my quality. My work is not going to be a little better than the next-best; it's going to be an amount that's not measurable. I know that. That's nothing I sweat. At the same time, I think anyone who reads these pages, who reads the work--the formal work, I mean--knows this too. They can tell. John would say we are dealing in such small numbers, that we cannot tell anything yet. I have fifty Twitter followers. You can't do that if you're someone else. If you're ninety-years-old and you just downloaded Twitter, and you live in a rest home, give it a month and you'll have more than fifty followers.


You can't be in one of the places I am in, once, and not have 2000 followers. But there it is. That's unique to me. Same with my Facebook author page. No one goes to it. No one "likes" it. Again, it's fifty people (a fraction of whom are among the fifty Twitter followers). This journal. It's not seen. People don't sign up for this. John was saying that there's no way that this should not be a subscription-based blog, that people would pay good money for it. Yeah, well, not now. I also worry that there's too much work. Let me put it in these terms. This blog goes back to June of last year. We are nearing 400 entries. (Quickly: I know it's hard to go through old entries, because you lose your place when you hit the back button, and what's supposed to happen is each entry opens in a new tab. I had said a bunch of weeks ago that I had contacted Andrea about this, to see if she could figure out something, but I have not heard back from her in all of this time. I will try her again.) A lot of those entries are many thousands of words long. If I did nothing else, think about how much work--and art, and entertainment--that is. I have completed thirty-seven works of short fiction in that same amount of time. Eight other stories, as of this morning, are in progress right now. Buried came out within that time frame.


To provide a bit more perspective: about seventy blog/journal entries make a full-length book. The thirty-seven short stories are two books. That number is about to hit fifty stories. So, right there, in sixteen months, you are talking eight books, plus the novel, so that's nine books, before you get into the essays and personal essays. From the guy who spends most of his life trying to deal with people who have locked him out. Most of what I write is given over to that. Those letters. So what does this look like if that person is not having to do that, if they have a platform, if they have help, assistants, people to run their affairs and financial affairs? A manager. Publicists. Then one person becomes an entire industry unto themselves, and that industry includes every kind of work there can be. Or, anyway: novels, stories, op-eds, screenplays, films, radio programs, television, children's books, YA books, arts writing, sports writing, public speaking, horror books, sci-fi books, thrillers, mystery, humor books, music books, film books, essay collections, memoirs, life treatises. And that person is then working less hard, by far, than they are right now.


Another book was sold, which I have not even gone into here. Another was written in a week. That does not include the op-eds, the personal essays, the pieces on art, music, film, sports, literature. It doesn't include the radio. That's not human. I don't think one can term me arrogant for saying that. My modus operandi with this journal was to tell the truth. I've not steered from that. Part of telling the truth is not pretending I'm something other than what I plainly am. I think we can agree that it's not human. As in, it's not humanly possible--and that's before we get to the quality, which is leagues beyond the volume in terms of notability--so what is it? I think it's more, if you confine it to a year, than the biggest fan could ever see/read/experience, and I've been doing this for a long time. That is hugely worrisome. The Beatles did not have much material. You can fly through all of it in a single day. We are coming up on a quarter of a century of me creating work. I haven't been doing it like this for all of that time, but for the last seven plus years, it's been pretty consistent, though now I'm past any point I had been at previously.


John is correct, nobody sees any of it. I lose people off of the fifty followers I have on Twitter. I can have a piece in a place that has a circulation of ten million, and I'm not going to pick up a single website subscriber, a Twitter follower, a FB follower. That's how it works for me. It's not how it could work for anyone else. That's not being dramatic. That's reality. What is going on? I don't know if it matters. Am I cursed? Well, yes, of course it seems like I am. I don't see how you couldn't at least entertain the cursed theory. You will find nothing in the world--literally nothing--resembling a situation where someone who does a portion of what I do has the numbers I have. No other human could have numbers that low. Doing any of it. Doing any of it poorly. (Though it does seem that it is much better if you do do it poorly.) What matters is that that's how it is. John thinks I am going to have the platform, the visibility, then all of it will change drastically, suddenly. I've tried absolutely everything I can think of, which is to say, I think I've tried everything anyone could think of. There is nothing I can do. Nothing ever happens. Then I create more unique art. More of it just piles up, in a post-art, post-recognition, post-talent, post-entertainment, pro-mediocrity world.


Having said all of that, I believe, still--or part of me does--that there is nothing more obvious (and I realize this now sounds contradictory), nor has there ever been, than the quality of this work to anyone who looks at it, or at least anyone who is not one of the broken, petty, discriminatory, pretentious, MFA-rammed machines of this industry, and I think most of them know it, too. Those who do not are those who believe, for instance, that there is genre fiction and there is literary fiction, nothing else, and with the latter, there must be no plot, no actual story, it's just supposed to be some boring mood that mirrors, in literary fiction form, the boring husk of an insecure, pretentious person that they are. Those are their hallmarks they go in looking for, filling out their little checklists. So, yes, by dint of providing a story and characters that you connect with, that person can think I do it all wrong. I don't do literary fiction. I don't do genre. I do something unique to me. On the nonfiction side, these people can insist that everything needs to read like homework (or be about feminism, being a person of color, or gay or trans), and I always entertain you, while giving you more expertise at the same time, but I make it engaging, I give you an experience. It's not like reading anything else, whether I'm doing a story, a novel, a piece on Mozart, a piece on Tarkington, a piece on Picasso, a piece on hockey, sharing something from my life, plucking out the verities of human nature and casting them in prose as much like music as words upon a page. I think almost everything out there is absolute garbage in the writing realm, and even if it were all great, I still think the gap in quality would be as plain to just about anyone as the day is to the night--a Scandinavian night on the shortest day of the year, compared to the sunniest day on the equator. This being the case might make me feel even more terrified.


I sent the novel, Chads Say What: Being a Novel Novel in Laughter for People Tired of Crying But Relieved Not to Be a Bro (and the Unification of America) to a place that already had the essay collection, Glue God: Essays (and Tips) for Repairing a Broken Self. I sent an essay on Ambrose Bierce to The Smart Set, as well as one on Curse of the Cat People/Linus/identity/Halloween. There is another there waiting to run on King's Quest and how it shaped me as a writer. Or helped me shape me. I pitched ARTnews on two ideas, one pertaining to Hans Hofmann, the other other Winslow Homer. I pitched the TLS on a piece on a 1968 sci-fi novel called Past Master, which involves a failed utopian world in 2535 and the recruitment of Sir Thomas More via time travel. I sent two essays to Jazzwise, one on Bessie Smith, the other on Jimmy Blanton. I have never written for them. I don't know how they work or what they pay. Yesterday I completed a 4000 word essay on the 1949 film Holiday Affair, which I hope to be able to sell--though it won't be for much--to run at Christmas. I think I'm supposed to write on Mosaic's upcoming Hank Mobley box set for JazzTimes. That one I would be paid for, but it's even less than with the essays there and it doesn't help me with the nine pieces I wrote thinking--or hoping---I could sell to them, which is not happening right now at all. 25,000 words' worth of the flat out best jazz writing, and they just don't have the budget to give me $200 for a 2000 word essay. Do you know how much work a 2000 word essay is for someone? That takes them months. So the rate is awful to begin with. $2000 would be a bad rate. So I'm not even getting the bad rate right now and will be fortunate to get it for any of these pieces and it's looking more like I just wrote 25,000 words for nothing.


The nightmare deepens. My life is a nightmare serial. Each subsequent chapter is darker than the last. The serial has no end, it's like it will always run at this theater, a new crate of film reels arrives outside and each is threaded through the projector, an endless supply of nightmare. The piece I wrote for JazzTimes on Billie Holiday's last recording session--which occurred here in Boston--that ran online has been reprinted in the November issue, but I do not get paid a second time. The title of my jazz book has changed to The Root of the Chord: Writings on Jazz's Uniquely American Modes of Genius.


I need something to discuss on Downtown next week, so I will just figure this out now while I am here. I'll do horror films between 1959 and 1973, because I think that's an interesting period, with two pictures that are always cited as classics that I think little of. The Exorcist makes me giggle. I don't know how anyone finds that film scary. I don't rate Rosemary's Baby highly either. Val Lewton's The Seventh Victim was a superior handling of the same material. So we can talk about those films, plus House on Haunted Hill, The Innocents, Carnival of Souls, The Masque of the Red Death, Quatermass and the Pit.


It just occurred to me that in thinking up these subjects for these segments I have never once thought, "You might want to save that for later, for when you get low on ideas." My well is bottomless. My expertise is bottomless. And here I am. I would be better off possessing not an iota of talent and being thoroughly mediocre and crafting meaninglessness about race and gender, getting hooked up by people equally as mediocre who viewed me as like them and not a threat, someone they wanted to take care of on account of espousing their self-same form of meaninglessness. A comforting shadow, rather than a bolt of lighting, beam in the sky.


I haven't put up any radio segments on here in quite some time. What I try to do is put then in the News section as they occur, then archive them in the On air tab, while also interweaving them in these pages. I've put up little of what I've done overall in this journal over the last seven or eight weeks. My thinking was I'd give some summary accounting of the most prolific period of my career--in terms of creation--but then I just create more, and that does not happen. I will try to find the time. But here are the recent radio segments. This is on the early days of the NFL, where the Red Sox faltered this year (and why 2018 might not have been as magical as one might thing), Washington Irving's "Rip Van Winkle," and Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker. This is on fall art (Van Gogh, William Sloane's The Edge of Running Water, John Clare, Charlie Parker, The Gorgon). This is a discussion of the last three stories in my book, Buried on the Beaches: Cape Stories for Hooked Hearts and Driftwood Souls. This is on Friends (the sitcom), Antonioni's Blow-Up, late period Yardbirds. This wraps up a discussion on A Hard Day's Night (the film), and gets into three things I witness daily that terrify me. Here's the first part of the A Hard Day's Night discussion, plus Andrew Luck's retirement, the ballet, concepts of gender. This is on the 1984 Red Sox--a squad that mirrored this year's team--plus a box set of early Universal horror films, and various recordings by Miles Davis surrounding his Kind of Blue record. This looks at a lot of films from 1954. This is on the Stone Roses, Joy Division, the noir film D.O.A. and the sequel to Robinson Crusoe.


I have not exercised since Monday. That's bad. I have to fix that now. It's just too easy to give up if I let myself give up.


***


Walked three miles, climbed the Monument three times. Not much, but something anyway. I see that Bruins play-by-play announcer Jack Edwards is in trouble for saying something about hockey karma--as in a player deserved to get hurt--during last night's opener against the Stars in Dallas. I fell asleep in the second period. (Wouldn't you doing this everyday?) People on Twitter want to destroy Edwards now. Here is the thing with him: he's out of control. Not screaming out of control. He's rhetorically out of control. He thinks he's an orator. Like he's Mark Antony for hockey announcers. An announcer should never express satisfaction when a player is injured. You can do that as a player, but that's contingent on the severity of the injury. If your opponent is shook up and leaving the ice, you can say something. But if they're on the ice, not getting up, you need to zip it and be a good sport. I don't think Edwards is a bad guy. He is dorky, he could, I suppose, be some know-it-all uncle type if you knew him in real life, but he doesn't seem like a mean man who honestly wants people to suffer. He said something dumb. Do you know how often everyone else would be caught saying something dumb if they were mic'ed up? I get it, that's not their job, but they talk about people like this as though if it were their job, they'd have a blemish free record. They're the same people who try to destroy everyone who might step over one of their lines. Imagine if we opened up everybody's phones--their text messages--for the world to see? Would anyone on earth not be crucified? Of course not. The man should apologize, people should let him apologize, and everyone should move on.


Having said that, it's different if his remarks came before it seemed like a very serious injury. I still think that's not a play-by-play guy's place, but Twitter never cares about context. Like, let's say some guy gets popped with a shoulder check, the announcer says, "he had that coming, he's been playing on the edge and going over it," then the guy drops to the ice and has a seizure. Twitter will ring you up for being glad a guy had a seizure. But that would not have been what happened. I am not interested enough to find out what happened here, but I am also not a terrible person who hates myself and compensates for that by trying to hurt people I do not know as much as possible with the assistance of a phone (often while I self-medicate). But, that's just me.


I see also that Martin Scorsese is in trouble for saying that superhero movies are not real cinema. I have no idea what that means. Not real cinema how? Movies that get shown on big screens, even when they suck, are cinema. Because they're not Jean Vigo-type of pictures? It's not Godard, Murnau, Ford? He means something like that. I don't watch superhero movies. No interest. My sole interest in them is that Emma likes them. Sometimes I talk to her about them. But I doubt they're much worse than Scorsese movies. He's not good at making movies. He's better at talking about them. But his movies? He repeats himself over and over and over. Definitely has his formula. Even in the moment of their happening, I find his movies out of touch. They strike me as poor cinema. He also has no range. I can't remember ever finding anything in a Scorsese film vaguely surprising. It's all telegraphed. Then, when you've seen a few, you know exactly how the others will go. A very limited skill set, but passion for movies, which makes it stranger that he's also lazy. The 1941 serial Adventures of Captain Marvel is actually a pretty good superhero movie. Speaking of serials. James Agee's extended 1947 review of Vigo's Zero for Conduct is excellent, by the way. It's an exciting piece of criticism.