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In search of solutions

Wednesday 5/20/20

I have a lot to get to today, I'm trying to be quick about this, and just get caught up on here. Yesterday and Monday I ran three miles each day. On Sunday I walked fifteen miles, and ran up those stairs at Boston College ten straight times. That day marked 1442 days without a drink, so 206 weeks. I am less than a fortnight away from four alcohol-free years, but you never assume these things before they happen. You never assume a given day. Just like you never assume a single Bunker Hill Monument climb. You earn each day and each climb.

I finished the Bob Dylan feature for Quillette and filed it yesterday. It ran a little long. Hopefully that will be fine. I also completed my short story, "A Problem to Be Solved," which I worked on for what was a long time for me. There are certain stories right now--and this by no means a thorough list, it's just a few examples--I feel very good about--this one, "Fitty," "Six Feet Away," "Rain Dried," "Skip Shack." Along with "Fitty" and "Six Feet Away," this new story is one of those kinds of stories that would become news itself if the right place published it right now. You know what's galling, too, about the whole "Six Feet Away" situation, is not only is it this definitive work of art sourced from COVID-19, it features a Michael Jordan rookie as part of the plot, and I had the story and offered it to places like The New Yorker well before The Last Dance began to air. And they just can't see it. You just can't get these people to connect the dots to big business. You cannot get them to budge off of their old ways, the hallmarks they are looking for, that bad writing they need to put forward. And that's when they don't straight-up hate you going in, which is rare.

I'll see some of these people look at "Six Feet Away" sixty, seventy times. I'll see them forward the email to people, and I know who the people are. I know the nature of the gossip and hate-talk sessions. I know what's going on. They don't know I see it. Unfortunately, it's looking like I'm going to have to confront someone with this information today. I see you in there literally 187 times. But you're not going to respond. I know what you are up to. I see you forwarded the email to the ex-employee who had been the boss before and who wanted me dead. They don't even work there anymore. The level of unprofessionalism and childishness here is unprecedented. From these so-called intellectual elites.

Here's a feature on F. Scott Fitzgerald in The American Interest. Here is yesterday's Downtown segment in which we discussed James Agee, Gunsmoke (the whole series just came out on DVD), Out of the Past, the sub-genre of the noir-Western, and also the aforementioned short story, "A Problem to Be Solved," which Kimball had read. I pitched a very neat idea on Christopher Cross's "Sailing" that would be a funny piece which I'd like to do. Also pitched JazzTimes on doing something on Clifford Brown, his tragic history with automobiles, two visits that were paid to him by Dizzy Gillespie and Fats Navarro, and his Bee Hive sessions with Max Roach and Sonny Rollins, but that didn't seem to go anywhere. They asked me about writing a feature on Charlie Parker, though, and what angle would I take if they commissioned 2500 words. Very rarely--less than ten times in my career--has anyone ever asked me a question like this--and no one has ever reached out to me and said, "Hey, say this by you, would you like to do something for us?" Has not happened once. For anything. Fiction, nonfiction, op-eds. Anything. Because this is not about the work at all. Ever. It's entirely about the rep, the connections, who is in your circle.

I'd like to do this feature, but it's a problem that I've offered JazzTimes like ten pieces I already wrote, which was a lot of effort, a lot of words, a lot of great work, and presumably because of the budget, they are not going in--they are not even being responded to. That's not the normal publishing stuff--this guy is great and we like each other quite a bit. Or I like him. I assume he likes me. I know that he views my jazz writing as art, which is why he asked me the Parker question, and I much more care about that than if you like me personally. But he's a good guy. I pitched something on Pac-Man, believe it or not. On Saturday morning, I was interviewed for another segment of Songs of Note. This time I discussed the Doors' "Five to One" via Milton's Satan, Blue Cheer, Charlie Parker, Rimbaud, Kobe Bryant, the Stooges' "No Fun." I really like Ryan. He's a good guy, and he's also reached out to me, asking if I need anything, because he knows what I am going through or dealing with. To some degree. I do want to correct something, though, ever so gently. He posted this link, and in a couple instances he said something about how if you don't like the Doors, you won't like it, but if you like them even a little, you'll like it. One needs to be careful with that kind of thing.

There are people who provide art and entertainment in how they talk and the ideas of which they talk. Their manner of talking. Their humor, insight beyond their putative subject. Their personality. The force of that personality. The energy of it. The quality of mind. The depth and rapidity of thought. The command of language. The musicality of language and voice. If Orson Welles was going to be interviewed about a fish factory in Nova Scotia for forty-five minutes, the fish factory is almost irrelevant. What is relevant is Welles, the artist-talker. That's the show. The show is not the subject with such a person. With other people, far more limited, yes--you need to like the subject. Maybe you used to work in a fish factory. It is the same with me, but more so. The difference being, because of what I have been denied, thus far, and kept back from, recognition-wise, common knowledge-wise, people are not going to put this in those terms. They are going to experience me that way, but they are not going to label me that way, and discuss me in the nomenclature of someone who is officially billed as that way--the genius speaks, or what have you. Even people who like me. Like me a lot. Who pull for me. Who would not and will not be surprised at all when I am generally billed this way, as though it were a given of givens.

I can address it here. But right now, that's limited, and that's not a solution. I still should address it, so that it is here later, and can help people understand someone who is unlike anyone they have known or imagined. Because people need help with that, even beyond their own eyeballs. No one else is going to provide any of that help right now, so I will attempt to elucidate certain aspects of myself when I can, and I can on here. If I were someone else, there'd be no need--it would be a case of, yes, if you like the Doors, you'll like this, and if not, it probably won't interest you. But when I do it, it's not really about the Doors at all. You may know more than anyone about the Doors, and I will give you more that you can take away as new things you now know. But it's really not about the Doors.

Ryan does a great job, I think--he asks strong questions and I feel like these podcasts are all the better for it.

I began a new story which is excellent called "Excelsior." The title refers to the shavings in packing crates. It is a kind of ghost story, but as usual with me, it is more, it is many things at once. "A Problem to Be Solved" was certainly that way, a work of science fiction that is social realism and commentary. The story is set well off from now--we know that people live longer, but we don't know the exact year. Maybe 100 years in the future, 200 years in the future. What we see is the possible fallout of this age. This age, right here, right now. 40% of the world has been killed by a virus. An human hubris in regards to combating that virus. We're not told what the virus is. Whether or not it's COVID-19 is immaterial. That it is a virus is what matters. There is another joint problem, though--computers are winning what has become a kind of war with humanity. Humans are literally being absorbed into their computer screens. They are disappearing. But they still can't stop looking. We've reached a point in medical science where not only have we discovered that there is a soul, but that the soul can be seen, it can be measured. And people volunteer to have machines hooked up to their souls, so that if their computer takes them, we can try to find out where they went. Maybe we can rescue people.

The narrator has lost his wife this way. She was pregnant. He learns, via an altered picture after he tries to kill himself in his tub by taking the computer in with him, that in whatever world his wife is in, his child is dead. The government keeps cutting everyone checks, at first because of the way the virus was handled, and then because everyone sued the government when it did nothing to protect their loved ones from the whole computer-absorption issue. Eventually, computers are eradicated. People don't go outside. They don't have friends. They live in huge houses, with many floors, wings, a track upstairs, maybe, because the money just keeps coming. And everyone is entirely alone. They don't die when they normally would have, and people start to learn that time does not heal all--not nearly. And this narrator, is visited by this alien form. And this alien form is kind of like an energy parasite in reverse. She looks like his wife--not exactly, but in the manner that someone might ask if they were sisters. What this form asks him to do is die with her, which is what her species does. But something is lost in translation, because what die means for her is not what die means for him, or for us.

Now, we don't know if he's really seeing a human-type alien form, if this is the energy of his lost wife coming back in another form; if this is beam of light, a feeling, an old voice inside of the head. But he experiences her as he experiences her. They have a relationship, and eventually he starts going out. In his house, he has all of these varieties of air that he can pipe in--air from a Nova Scotia lighthouse, an Ohio meadow on a spring morning, a pine forest in Oregon in winter. But he craves regular air. And he has all of these new thoughts, and he needs to walk. Something as basic as that, which is radical at this point. So out he goes into his neighborhood. And he runs into a neighbor of his who used to be his friend, and who was friends with his wife. And this guy's kids had been absorbed by computers, and the narrator had heard that this man had been as well, but there he was, cutting grass. They used to fish together off the man's deck, which abutted a pond. And he asks the narrator to make a fishing date. Eventually the alien, that creature, that life force, from some other place leaves, and the man is on his own again, but he starts doing something very different than that he had done before, and he finds that others are doing the same thing, that some version of what came to him must have come to them, and humanity finds a kind of solution, and it goes on, or restarts, and what that solution is--which is revealed in the final sentence--is, I think, un-guessable, but simple, and beautiful. It makes me cry every time I read it, and I must have proofed this thing thirty times, just grinding away on reading it, which is when you tend to become deadened to a response.

The title comes from a bit of information the guy relays--almost casually--about the first time an asteroid was going to destroy the earth. It was a given that it was going to crash right into the planet, but someone came up with a laser, no biggie, and the asteroid was destroyed, it was just a problem to be solved. And of course that phrase has other levels and layers of implication in the story. And in humanity's story.

Now are you telling me that that story is not going to do amazing things in the right venue if any of these people would get out of their own way? I don't believe that. It's too good, too important, too distinctive, too memorable, too imaginative, too timely.

But they are going to try to make sure that no one sees it. A guy like Sy Safransky at The Sun is going to try and make sure you cannot see it but that you see this inept pointlessness instead. And yes, that is the whole thing. That is what people like this pretend is great writing. And I defy anyone who has ever walked this earth to give me one single viable sentence how that story in The Sun is actually any good. According to this man, that is better than any single work I have ever written in my life.

That's what we're dealing with here.

I also wrote the first two chapters of my children's book--I think we're going back to Saturday with all of this--which is called Silas Beaverton: The Beaver With a Dream As Big As All Outdoors. The second chapter made me cry at the end. It's very sweet. I'm still figuring things out. A lot to still figure out. And a lot may change. But I am getting there. I will get it all figured out. The process of everything becoming known to me is already well started. The goal is simple--write the best children's book ever. I want to hammer Charlotte's Web. That's what I'm looking at as the competition.

Emma needed something yesterday, which is probably why I heard from her--though maybe she had something else in mind--but she texted me to say that she had found a sick bird and she didn't know what to do, that its wing was broken. I was about to head out on my run, so I detoured and went and found her/them. The bird was not sick--it was a baby starling, which she had found out in the open on the pavement, and had moved under a tree in the shade. I told her that it just couldn't fly yet, was still figuring it out, but in a day or two it would be gone, probably. Then I taught her a little about identifying local birds, but I am not sure how much she cared about that. We didn't really say a lot. Not like we used to. Anyway, she said she was going to check on the bird today and would give me an update. (Actually just texted her and suggested she bring some bread to leave and some water as well if she checks on the bird today and it is still there.)

My man Howard hooked me up with a large set of Plastic Ono Band sessions--I will endeavor to write about the record later this year--plus a Primal Scream concert from 1992 and the Curtis Fuller Mosaic box. I dowloaded a fine Cecil Taylor live album from Japan in 1973 called Akisaila, with with Jimmy Lyons on alto and Andrew Cyrille on drums--now that's a band. Trying to find a copy of the Band's Hollywood Bowl concert from 1970, which is one of the earliest bootlegs and ought to be easy to find, but have been unable to locate it. I may have a copy somewhere but nothing like that is going to be found again until I am out of here and back in my house.

I cannot get "Sailing" out of my head. Yacht rock, baby.


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