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Sparklers are fun

Thursday 7/4/19

Walked three miles yesterday, climbed five more times. Forty climbs in six days. This is Tuesday's radio segment, which was about Fourth of July literature and my novel-in-progress, Musings with Franklin, which will not see the light of day until I am wealthy and famous and I can call my own shots on what comes out. It's too new. It's too different. Even if I was not the most hated person in this industry. No one here has the balls to put out something that new. They're not going to do it. By balls, I don't mean put out something that can only financially fail. There is no one in this industry who would have the balls or vision right now to put out the prose version of the Beatles, Snow White, or Star Wars if they came along. It's all just the same old crap that no one cares about and no one could care about. All they want here is enough people--an ever-shrinking number--to pretend they care about it. Most of the people in that group are the sad shills of the publishing industry, who just want some pathetic belonging to this meaningless community. Which is really an anti-community, and a haven for toxic, talentless, petty people. What else? Here is a new piece in The Washington Post from yesterday. And here is another new piece, also from yesterday, in JazzTimes, on Louis Armstrong and King Oliver. I will write my latest op-ed for The Wall Street Journal shortly. That is on how the home run is now the most boring play in sports and how it is killing baseball.

Today is the Fourth of July, the day we celebrate the birth of this nation. It has so worked out--and I guess this is something for future scholars and biographers--that on this day I have been working on a story that I view as the defining short story of our age. The defining short story of our country in the twenty-first century. The story is topical in that it is about a tragic epidemic, rendered in a way that no one else could conceive of and put into practice. And it is timeless. I despair in wondering when on earth anyone might see this, because God knows with what has happened with me and what publishing has become, a hate cauldron, people are not going to let this out right now. I'd like to be wrong. One of these days, I'm going to need to be, and that day is fast approaching, because I'll tell you, I don't have a lot left in me. I'm not going to be here in two years doing this. It feels like a minor miracle at this point when I live through some of these weekends. You know how when you run, and you get to the end, you sprint? You could never do that pace the entire time. The fastest you go is at the very end because you're about to be done. That's where I'm at so far as my life goes. I'm in that last push. Meanwhile, look at what absolute tedium this is from Laura van den Berg. It is so boring. You know it, I know it, the writer knows it, everyone knows it. But the writer is so connected and hooked up. Yes, a number of those people lie to themselves (no other way to get through the days), but if you are like this, if you write this, if they like you enough because you are safe enough and enough like them, they'll hook you up. And that's all this is. This adds no value to your life. It's not entertaining. It is dead ass, desiccated, Writing 101. All the usual suspects surrounding it, too. Another Joyce Carol Oates joke of a story. And let's put in Lydia Davis, because there's been a bigger example in the history of the world of the empress wearing no clothes and "the right" people pretending she's decked out in the finest robes. They tell you this is the best the best the best. And it's not. It's nothing. This is why no one reads. This. You have an industry saying this is the best there is. And it's not even terrible in interesting ways.

Meanwhile. This is the full first section of the story discussed above. It's called "Fitty." No one could see what is coming here. Knowing at the moment how this story unfolds, and that I am the only person who knows that right now, is like being in on a secret between yourself and God. You have that power to put this out there, to create it and unleash it. Something that powerful, and it is just in your brain right now, in your soul, within the hands of your total command of your art, and the likes of that advancing work of art has not been seen. But you're going to be blocked. For however long. You're just trying to limit how long that is.

Dr. Pettigran had a way of stirring his coffee with his spoon, long after the liquid had become lukewarm, as if nursing a fancy that the utensil was one of those candy-flavored swizzle sticks and its eventual dissolution would enhance his powers of psychiatric perception. Soluble carbohydrates as cerebration fuel.

Carlene noted the clinking of metal against ceramic. It sounded like the aqueous variant of a bullet locking into a chamber.

“You were saying,” Dr. Pettigran resumed.

“I was saying that if you’re in an elevator, and you have a mug and a bottle of liquid, your favorite drink, and someone cuts the cord at the top, like in some spy film, and on the way down you try and pour yourself a last toast, the liquid won’t come out of the bottle. Because of gravity.”

“Is that true?”

“I haven’t tested it. But I think so, yes.”

“And that is like what these stairs are to you? And the voice of the child you hear in the room upstairs?”

“I don’t know. They’re a little like that. I hadn’t thought of it. Probably.”

Carlene knew that Dr. Pettigran was going to ask what this meant to her, so she did not wait for his question.

“Have you ever lost something, and you really need to find it, but you know you might not, which makes you wonder that you’ll never find other important things? You’ve lost your locating ability. Finding that one thing is reassuring. You bargain in your head. You say, ‘Okay, if I find this right away, I’ll trade that for a year of my life.’ Just that one time. Sometimes I imagine that when I say this, I’ll be struck dead, because maybe I didn’t have the year to give, and it’s like overdrawing your bank account, you go in reverse, you go negative. When I hear the child crying, in the room at the top of the stairs, I know I can go up there, but each time I go up there it’s going to be like losing a year off my life. The child will stop crying, it will go to sleep. I think that way, when I hear the voice.”

“And you stay downstairs?”

“I stay downstairs.”

Carlene was house sitting, but she was also not house sitting. That was the de facto name for it. Two weeks had passed since The Event. There was no formal instruction that this should be the official terminology, but it was what everyone used.

“It’s actually enscorcelling,” Carlene continued.

“What is?”

Dr. Pettigran found her language amusing. “I will find some mirth here and, as they say, ‘go with it,’” he had resolved, counter to his standard style. Sometimes he jotted the new words on his pad. His pen had a knack for sounding like a feather. Carlene knew these dry scratches were not related to her care. Her green-dyed hair struck him as a whimsically elfin choice for a thirty-year-old high school English teacher. He was fond of Carlene.

“The voice of the child. Enchanting. It feels directed at me, though I know, rationally, that no one is up there. I feed the cats. When the crying stops, I go upstairs. Just once. The upstairs hallway light is on a timer. At nine o’clock, it goes off. I don’t go into her room. Fia’s room. But I check the others, then I go home.”

“You’re calling her Fia again.”

“I mean Fitty. Of course.”

“Mmmhhhm. What was that other word the other day? To accompany somebody?”


“Right. That was it.” He scratched on his pad. “You don’t feel like you should go in there while…”


Carlene’s voice was usually soft. Fitty called it pillowous, though that was not a real word. It had puffy-sleeved edges, filled with temperate breath. But sometimes, it could sound that if there were a way to strike the notes it made with a piece of flint, a spark would be drawn. “It’s not my place.”

Time to exercise, so I can keep doing this for a while longer without having a heart attack. Then I'll go to the cafe and work and get ready to write more things, so that when they come out, I can be hated yet more. That's fun. The ultimate in damned if you do, damned if you don't. Fun day.


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