I have no tremendous tale of romance to relay. I did not hear from the Trader Joe's woman. One takes a shot. Live your life like a thrown knife, as a character of mine says in Dark March, I think it is. It's Dark March or The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe. You ought to get them and read them if you have not; neither is like anything you've ever seen.
The (normal) rule of these pages, of this journal, is I write not for me, not to me, but as something self-contained, autonomous. I am documenting a unique story, a unique quest, the life of a unique artist, aiming to alter so much, and reach so many. I am writing these pages as books that happen to be composed in the naked, plain view of the public, and I am documenting many things, including how publishing currently works, which is to say, I am documenting what goes down, how everything works, in as corrupt, backwards, discriminatory an industry as there has ever been, an industry that has killed off reading.
Comments are turned off, because I am not here, on these pages, to do social media, or anything social media-esque (you can find me elsewhere for that on Twitter and at my Facebook author page). I am not here to do online back-and-forth. I say what I say, I write what I write, and it is there, that is the end, and the start, as when one creates a novel, the story that is the work of art. I write to reach, I write to connect, I write to impel, to teach, to inspire, to bring light, to rally, to make laugh. And to document for history.
My prevailing rule is thus: If it is true, it may be said.
I hitched my wagon to the truth some time ago, which seems as radical a concept as there might be in this age. I hitched it to the truth in an industry that has blackballed me, which will seem strange, as in a given week I will publish more than most people do or could in a decade. But this is complicated, and that's another reason this journal exists. Everything is explained, detailed, documented, exposed, brought to light, here. Unpacked, as we say these days.
People are free to contact me privately, which is easily done. I take a moment to say all of this now, on account that there are a lot of new subscribers, and to those new subscribers, I say welcome. True, there are people who hate-read these pages, people who read these pages to see if their name is here, their corruption, cronyism, logrolling, lack of talent exposed, which means a new entry for them will swiftly be ascending the ranks of the Google search, due the popularity of this blog and the 100% truth it evinces, but we are not talking to those people right now.
Everyone else, who thinks, grows, cares, fosters, in whichever way you can and do, friendship, character, the mind, the soul, the guts of your humanity, I welcome you.
You're my people. And I am yours.
Tell your friends, your family, bring them in. Eyeballs are means.
Back to our regularly scheduled programming.
Time to gather in one place the publications of the last few days. Here is a new feature on Bessie Smith in JazzTimes; this is a personal essay--via the 1949 film, Holiday Affair (with Robert Mitchum and Janet Leigh)--on contending with a blue holiday; here is a feature in The American Interest on the most racially significant concert ever given in his country--well, two, actually--from NYC's Carnegie Hall in the late 1930s; and here is an op-ed from The Wall Street Journal, looking at my Week Game, which has been played many times in these pages--and I suppose this entry here is a form of it--and how I gave up drinking, and how I write so much in short periods of time, though this, of course, but a huge explanation, and I could also give you an explanation on why that makes publishing people want to end the life and career of such a man and artist.
The other day I really put the screws to my short story, "Loading the Shaft," which is about a mom--who is also a hockey mom and a doctor--looking back on a time in her life when she played hockey as a girl, and her own mother had to go away, while she was simultaneously tasked with sending her closest friend away as well. It's a sports story--there is no better sports story--but it's also not a sports story. You can love hockey and love it, you can give nary a fig about hockey and love it just as much. It was 6000 words long, but I sat there and with zero emotion, I cut it down to 5000 words.
The removed words are better than what one will find in any published story, but that's not the point; the point is strengthening what remains, which is then altered, because all that matters is the best work of art and entertainment is what exists in the end. But some beautiful things do go. Poetics and turns of phrases that people would give a leg and a soul to be able to create, but again, that's not the point. The story is the point, the ultimate point. The story that results, in the end. I have composed nothing finer than this work. But as a dictum of essentiality: the story is all, the story is everything, not the ego, not the line one was fond of. The story the story the story the story. Not trying to prove you're smarter than other people like the hollowed-out MFA'ers, not your ego, your projected-insecurity. The story. Nothing else, for when it is done right, it is all.
I sent the work--as in offered it--to some people who despise me (not everyone I sent it to despises me; should people in either camp read these words, they know where they stand in the breakdown of these matters, just as they know I know where they stand), who would rather do anything than allow me to advance, add something else to my achievement coffers. We are at war. 2020 is a year of war. I also think it can be a year of the war being won, and this entire anti-reading, anti-merit, anti-connectivity, anti-art, anti-entertainment system is coming down. I think I am right here, right now, and we are quite beyond merely poised. Poised is a kind of relative ancient history. The injustice and corruption and bigotry is too real, too easily documented, and this work is too good, too unlike anything else, too beyond anything else, as am I, and my will and strength are not going anywhere; they are, somehow, growing.
Yesterday morning, the first morning of the year--though I put no stock in these distinctions and demarcations; I have evolved beyond all of that in my steadfastness of creation and purpose--I composed a new Wall Street Journal op-ed, and completed another short story, called "The Krait," which is every bit as good as "Loading the Shaft," though completely different, in that manner that makes one wonder how the same works could be written by one person, though the execution, command, artistry makes it clear straight away that only one person could have written both or either. The story is about a young girl--a teenager--who is friendless. She's cycled through various relationships, and she doesn't really have anyone. There is this kid in her neighborhood whom everyone both looks up to and is terrified of.
His yard is this kind of junkyard, with car frames, box-springs, what have you, scattered about. And he keeps animals--lizards, snakes, turtles--scattered around in terrariums. There's this old discarded bookcase, a deep bookcase, with a panel--actually, two panels--plastered over its front, a hole cut into the panels. And the story, the rumor, is that there is a krait inside--a kind of poisonous snake. And they talk about putting a hand in, but no one will do it, but this girl decides that she is going to, she's going to, not necessarily try to impress these kids, but something. And it's very surprising. When you write it, you know you have it. You're doing it, you don't even know exactly how it might work out, but you know you have it. You own something that does not fully exist yet. It's in your hand, all of that power of art, a work of art that will always exist and matter. And you have it even as you're doing it, and you know it. And you can do it any time, you can complete it any time, you can go with the power any time. Here is an excerpt from the op-ed, which asks the question, "is it okay to be weak?":
In our age of the hastily flung aspersion, there is an insult above most others we love to launch. When wishing to say that a person doesn’t have what it takes to face the world, let alone do well in it, we call them weak. “You’re weak, dude.”
The insult simultaneously undercuts intelligence, character, will, drive—the Swiss Army knife of putdowns. It’s also woefully misguided, because we have lost sight of what weakness actually is.
My favorite novel is To Walk the Night from 1937 by William Sloane. It’s a sci-fi-fi/horror blend centering on two best friends, one of whom shoots himself in the head, though not of his own choosing. The surviving friend is trying to explain to his late buddy’s father what happened, and the latter intones, “The one unforgiveable fault is weakness.”
I agree—provided we understand what he means by weakness, which is not about trying and failing. It’s not about being savaged by pain and struggling to rally. It’s not about an inability to do a certain number of reps at the gym. It’s not about who walks away from a Twitter spitting match.
Weakness is when we do a kind of double-take in our brains, and we say, “I know I ought to do this, but I have eyes on me, I want an easier result, I want instant gratification.” It’s electing not to do what Spike Lee pithily, and vitally, called the right thing.
I can forgive a lot. The angry outburst, projection that comes from a place of great pain, when someone else’s hurt needs to go somewhere. Those are reactionary human failings, just as there are naturally gradations of weakness. If I’m at the symphony and something moves me to tears, I am going to cry. Thinking you can’t is a prelude to weakness. You’re suppressing your natural, even beautiful, response to something on account of a fear that you’ll be judged as inferior, “off,” weak. Worrying about weakness is a way to inch closer to it.
And here is an excerpt from the new bit of "The Krait" from yesterday:
“I will put my arm in the hole and feel for the snake,” Corrina said, though she was unsure why she added the second part. Certainly it would be enough to make her arm and hand disappear within the bookshelf, she needn’t strain to make contact with the snake.
It might be frightened and remain in a corner, coiled low and small, until the hand were removed. Hector was drinking beer, perched on the outside of a car frame that had been outfitted with a warehouse shelf that stuck out of the hulk like a coffee-colored tongue or a displaced diving board. The shelf rocked beneath his ass as he jerked a foot in spasmodic rhythm, like the car frame had been a mattress spring in a previous metallic life.
Corrina thought how if he heard music in his head it must have been very angular, or with no strict tempo. At school she tried to play the piano that way, because the music she heard in her own head also did not have a regular tempo, but something else was probably going on with Hector. They would not share tempi, she was pretty certain, or irregular tempi.
Hector liked to drink his beer in front of the other children. They didn’t drink any of the beer, but each of them tried to put forward a look on their faces that said, “Yeah, this is cool, I get it, no big deal here, I could have several pops if I wanted, but I have shit to do later and I overdid it yesterday anyway.”
There was a half dozen kids on the ground. Miguel tried to look seasoned and assured by chewing a blade of grass. He only chewed grass when he was near Hector. Luisa’s head was by Hector’s dangling foot. She usually sat under him when she could, looking at his thigh when he would talk, pretending to be looking at his mouth but that the sun had misdirected her eyes, caused them to reroute. Not that he spoke very often. He’d spit. Corrina had said to Luisa that it was like a dog marking his territory, so Luisa said “shut up” and Corrina told herself the remonstration was a joke when she really understood that it was not in all probability.
I went to the Brattle for a screening of the Marx Brothers' first film, The Cocoanuts. It's moving and hilarious when Chico and Harpo play their instruments; both men, too, have such beautiful hands. Just saw The Wizard of Oz there as well. Noel Langley is a witty writer. Watched the 1948 noir, Raw Deal, which is excellent--John Alton is to that film as Gregg Toland was to Citizen Kane. Radical cinematography, and he's clearly experimenting--and succeeding--with so much, trying every damn thing he wants and it's all working. I also saw The Mandalorian andThe Rise of Skywalker, which I will get into at greater length later, butthe latter is a non-experience. The negation of experience.
Last night I sat in a sports bar with a friend for five or six hours. She is smart and I appreciate her perspectives. Sometimes people think it's strange that I go to bars, given that I don't drink (I'm over 1300 drink-free days now), but it seems not very strange to me. Normally when I go to bars, I go during the day or early evening, by myself, to quiet bars, where I read and watch television. These are, of course, very lonely days. Sometimes, if something not horrible has happened, I will let myself get takeout, which is the height of luxury presently. I think If I am ever to meet someone I might be with, it will be through my work. She will know that well before she knows me. And I envision the conversations we will have, when I am out of this hell, when I have gotten to where I am going to get, and I nonetheless describe these times, detail them. I may go to a bar today if I get enough done to watch some of the Boston College bowl game against Cincinnati. We'll see.
This morning, I wrote a piece for the TLS on a play that Orson Welles wrote as a teenager. What does mean? It means in the space of a week or so, I have published an op-ed in the highest circulation paper in this country, written a literary piece for a vaunted venues that has existed since 1903, composed a short story, and written another op-ed for the high circulation venue. Now, one might think that is all excellent. Way to go, etc. But the reality is, doing that, in this industry, gets you hated. Extra-hated. They don't want to see someone able to do that. They don't want to see someone able to do that in five years, let alone mere days. What ought to be making the millions, the horse that ought to be rode for all it is worth, is instead a source of envy, raised hackles, fear.
An excerpt from the Orson Welles piece:
For a man branded as one likely to do a legger and skip clear of a challenge, Orson Welles, from the earliest age of his precocity, had no compunction putting a shoulder to subjects few would touch. In our age of Wokeness, where the sententious virtue signal often doubles as element of a business plan, Welles was not only legit and fearless in the causes in which he believed, he was, as the unearthing of this particular play proves, legit and fearless from the jump of boyhood.
We have to be careful with the idea of Welles the prodigy. The term implies ephemerality; a radiant burst, modishness, and then perhaps something else, diminished, in adulthood. Whereas, Welles was quite nearly fully-formed from the moment he started, as anyone knows who has experienced something like his first radio broadcast of Les Miserables (1937), to say nothing of Citizen Kane in 1941.
Jump-cut back to March 1932. Welles is just shy of his seventeenth birthday, when he partners with his mentor Roger Hill to compose the play Marching Song, about the abolitionist John Brown. Welles is in Chicago, having returned from Dublin, where he blagged his way onto the stage. He’s confident, despite limited options for employment, and with minimal assistance from Hill, he fashions his play about Brown helming a slave revolt in 1859.
The work is intensely vatic. Later in the decade Welles will direct his Voodoo Macbeth, but what a lot of people do not know is that Welles, for all of the (inaccurate) charges against him of cupidity and sloth, was a veritable caped crusader of equal rights. His civic-minded later radio programs reflect this, as do his underappreciated newspaper columns. Welles even used his pulpit to chase down race-motivated murderers.
I have started watching the new BBC production of A Christmas Carol, on account of my Scrooge book I am writing for Devil's Advocate, which posits the 1951 Alastair Sim film as a masterpiece of horror; and not just in cinematic history, but a relevant, masterpiece of horror for our increasingly disturbed age. Scrooge and Cratchit are sparring partners, rather than tyrant and serf, which is an interesting variation; and they are utilizing a truth that I have always known--Scrooge is actually quite young.
Just walked three miles and climbed the Monument five times. Fit of body, fit of mind, pure of purpose. On my first climb I wrote the bulk of a Hank Mobley piece I must do for JazzTimes on a box set of his 1960s Blue Note recordings. The words are exploding, they are splitting into other words, other colors, constructions, entire pieces, worlds are emerging between the spaces of split syllables. I feel my powers getting stronger once more; one is not conscious of a molt but rather an influx, though it as if the influx comes from a bottomless source within.
These two renditions of "Take Your Hands Off My Baby" by Little Eva and the Beatles have been much on my mind today--and playing in my head--as I contemplate one of the books I will soon be composing, Blackened Birds: The Beatles, Stones, and the African American Musical Geniuses Who Taught British White Kids How to Listen, Write, and Change the World. On NPR I mentioned the proto-hip hop beat of the Beatles' version. Little Eva swings the song, Lennon and the Beatles drive it. She says "I ain't gonna tell you," he says, "ain't a-gonna tell you." Listen to how intricate McCartney's bass playing is. Lennon's rhythm guitar is a lot like what we'll hear from him later on "She's a Woman."