Rough. Lost $1200. It's not just that you're dealing with evil people. When you do hear back, it's so much jumping through hoops, and so often there is no consistency. It's not like you can say, "This worked, so this should work." It's all caprice. The whims of incompetent people. Whatever they're in the mood for that day. That moment. Today someone unaccepted a short story they had accepted in July. I said, nope, that's twisted, that is so wrong, and they said, "you're right, our mistake." I had to do the story over, as it were. Someone else had me do edits--and they were a lot of edits, though I had the sense that on a different day at a different time, they would have been completely different edits--and then they signed off on a bunch of pieces. This was a while ago. They always forget I did the edits. This place owes me money for a lot of work going back to 2018. They haven't paid me once for many pieces since late 2017. And the rate is horrible. It can be a 5000 word piece for $200. They told me a few weeks back a piece would be running today. I asked them to keep me informed in these matters, so that I can plan. I do a lot of radio, it would make sense for me to talk about the piece on the radio. Does the piece run today? Nah. Then they ask me about three pieces and where we stand. With one of them I had to say, "You ran it already. It came out last year." The other two were the ones I did the edits (in their case, that's like adding 2000 words and changing the rest) on that they keep forgetting they have and simply need to publish. These are the best places I deal with. The lost $1200 was for three op-eds. I give you the same thing every time. I don't screw up. It's not going to happen. I never perform less than optimally. You get my best every time. And my best isn't like, "oh, it's kind of patchy." But with this guy, I have no clue what he is going to say. He sends me off on a lot of fool's errands, so that I have to write ten pieces for every one he prints. But I need that money.
Right now I am writing an op-ed on why college is the last place you should be if you wish to write well. That has an F. Scott Fitzgerald tie-in. I went through most of the emails. There are a few I have to open which I don't particularly want to see right now. But for the most part there is nothing. The blacklisting is awfully far-reaching at this point. People are willing to hurt themselves and their product if it means keeping me out. If you say something to someone who treats you horribly, insults you, publishes only their friends, it's like you've burned their family in a pogrom in front of them. There is no perspective. They want total submission. They are so insanely sensitive that when you say anything back along the lines of, "hey, this maybe isn't right, what has been happening all of these years, and how you keep sending me emails trashing me 'by accident,'" they get this blood oath going against you. You have to worship these people. Or be exactly like them. It wouldn't be enough for me to worship them. They resent me so many ways over because of our differences. My ability, range, productivity. Among other things.
It's starting to look like I'm going to be doing a short book on the British version of The Office. I have to formally put something together this weekend. But, again, what will that mean when I am blacklisted and there could be no coverage, no reviews, no support? What it will mean is another masterpiece that no one sees.
Here is an op-ed that ran today in the New York Daily News. I think it's a great piece of sports writing. I think it's the best thing ever written on the Miracle on Ice hockey squad. Something completely fresh. You don't want that person as a sports writer on staff? You could pick any of these subjects. You don't think when I'm on that Songs of Note podcast my guy there doesn't think, "Damn, this guy knows the most about music?" Of course he does. And that's going to be the case with any of my subjects. I wrote that hockey op-ed yesterday. Same day I wrote a story called "The Endurance Cup." Short. But very long other ways. I spent most of the day writing it. As hard as anything I've ever written. It's 500 words. Today I wrote a 2700 word story about sodomy. It's called "Chart a Course." I'm innovating every day. I'm inventing entirely new kinds of storytelling and ways to use language every day. A couple days ago I wrote a story called "Bitonalities," which is told in two different keys, so at every point in the story when one thing is happening, something not that thing with a relation to that thing is happening in a bitonal synchronicity.
Also this week I wrote a story called "The Bone Hole." It's about a dam that can only be plugged with a person. The water breaks through otherwise and carries away people who have had love the longest. In some ways it's a story about sacrifices beyond love. There was a story called "My Nub Skin." I almost don't want to say this, because people hold it against me, can make them hate me, make them doubt me--because, after all, how could you do this much and have it all be great?--but I have now written twenty-six short stories in 2020. That's just the short fiction I'm talking about, of course. But it's bad, because it's just hate, it's just a lot of work with nowhere for any of it to go.
The numbers continue to be terrifying. That NYDN piece is obviously an excellent piece. The NYDN is obviously a high circulation newspaper. They shared the piece on their Twitter feed and tagged me. I shared it. I didn't pick up one follower. I never do. It's like the better what you have is, the more screwed you are. But none? That's where we move into the whole "Am I cursed?" territory. Because it seems utterly impossible for that to happen--and it's what happens every time, with everything everywhere--without a curse.
So consider this. If I take something like this blog post, and I post it on my Facebook author page, you know what happens? 0-2 people--think about that--will click on the link. It tells you those numbers. I posted the NYDN op-ed there. 15 people saw it, 3 clicked on it. That's what it is going to happen. Whether it was when I had fiction in Harper's, or there's an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, that fine Aaron Hernandez piece from The American Interest the other day, a link to one of my radio appearances, a link to a post on here pouring out my soul, a link to one of these story excerpts. It's always going to be like 15 people see it, 2 click on it. What's more, I know who the 2 people are.
It's terrifying, man. It's terrifying to be this out there, be doing this much this well, and those are the numbers you are seeing. They are not numbers you can get if you are anyone else not doing anything, really. Was I like Hitler in another life? And now it's "cursed by the universe" time? It's hard to keep going. There's no joy, there is nothing to look forward to. It feels like all day, in a horrible apartment, entirely alone, with no friends, no family in my life, no support, I type and I type and I type, like I'm just typing to myself, because no one sees it, it seems. I have the analytics to see who sees it on my end. And there is nothing I can write, no matter how good it is--or where it might even run--that helps, that makes a dent in this hell. And on top of that, any book I might do will be suppressed, and I walk around knowing that literally thousands of people in an industry hate me. A bad industry where it's all about being a kind of person, which then, if you are that kind of person, enters you into a popularity contest. That's what it's all about. The work has nothing to do with it, except that if you're doing fresh, compelling work, that really works against you. Because they want their old, tired, boring forms that no one understands or enjoys or is moved by.
The story isn't just about sodomy, by the way, or even really about it; it's a great piece of writing that does things totally unexpected. It's a very beautiful story, actually. I'll put up a little excerpt here. Like I said, it's called "Chart a Course." It puts me somewhat in mind of "Dunes Under Sand," from The Anglerfish Comedy Troupe.
The bar on Sundays was mostly empty, which is why I went to it, in part. Probably a solid 40% of the reason. 50% was given over to how alone I was. I am. I don’t go there any more, but the past tense makes me uncomfortable in describing—descrying?—my aloneness-status. I’m uncomfortable when I feel I’m being inaccurate. The last 10% was to drink. I wasn’t getting drunk. It would have been a lot of days since I laughed or looked forward to anything, so if it was early fall and the Samuel Adams Winter Lager was coming out, I could say to myself, “That’s something to look forward to, we can try it this weekend, right?” You’re pretty alone when you refer to yourself as “we” in your head. “Our head.” No. That makes it sound like you’re talking to your dick.
The bartender was my age. For a while we didn’t talk. If a tourist asked him a question and he didn’t know the answer, I piped in. We spoke indirectly to each other, you might say. I’d always have a book, and later he asked me if I was a professor. I don’t think I looked particularly professorial. Usually the same maroon hoodie from my old high school. The frowsy, sartorial form of a mid-life crisis. You can go to the movies on your own. The symphony. Matinees are better. Cafes. Bars when they are largely empty. By then I had a strong sense of where I could go. You can eat a scone in a bakery with tables. You can’t eat at a restaurant at night where someone seats you.
He had to be there and it felt like I did, too, so we talked. One day he said, “You know, I count you as a friend.” He was giving me some life advice. That’s how he led into it. Relationships have these green light moments. A green light moment, having happened, need not be reprised. It’s a one-time light. Then that avenue just always has the green light for you to drive down it, until the relationship is gone or changed, which, of course, can be the same thing, even when you’re sitting side-by-side.
He’d tell me about the women from his past, which was more a commentary on social mores as he saw them, what he liked, his nature, make-up. He was showering once at a bathhouse in South Boston and he said this big black dude—his phrase—was looking him up and down. “I’m really okay with being seen naked,” he said. Said it with the same tone as when he once remarked, “Don’t get me wrong, I love sex.” He struck me as spiritedly earthy. If I was a professor, I might have termed him a cross between Montaigne and Gauguin, but I wasn’t. He’d been an English major. “I could tell he wanted to fuck me,” he said. “Un huh,” I replied. Bunch of conversations like that.
I’d made a joke once. I said something about charting a course to Anal Land, getting in on the earthiness. I was very alone. I’d lost a lot of weight after my divorce. My wife’s first husband did as well. He shaved his head. Made me think, when she showed me photos—she had a weird amount of current photos of him—that he had entered battle mode. I had to go on the radio once for work to talk about something I’d done. It was Christmastime. It’s funny—some bars fill up to the gills at Christmas. Others that didn’t have many people in them get even fewer. Our bar was the second kind. I began a sentence to the host of the radio program by saying, “And you know, Rachel, it’s just like when Santa Claus charts a course to your chimney…” I even got the soot-imagery in there.
I came into the bar that Sunday and my friend goes, “Damn, I can’t believe you did that, I was laughing my ass off.” I hadn’t laughed in so long. I didn’t laugh then. I had a Winter Lager. They had been out for a while, of course, by that point. When I’d leave every time after that particular Sunday, my friend would say, “chart a course, my man, chart a course.” A few tourists came to think it was a local saying, and they said it too, maybe like I’d say “y’all” if I went to Georgia, but I think that makes you sound like an idiot, which would make me uncomfortable, so maybe I’d just say, “chart a fucking course, Georgians.”
That’s a little mean-spirited. Perhaps Mississippians took anal-based Boston rhetoric back to the Mississippi, skimmed rocks into the river while intoning the words, never knowing what they meant, which was essentially nothing, save how alone someone was.
We’re sitting in the bar, and my friend tells me that I’m quite venomous. I ask
ed him what he meant. He said the things I posted online about my industry. I said those things are true. What has been happening has been happening for a lot of years. Eventually someone must say something. I am not a confrontational person. But a time came when nothing was left.
Yeah, that’s not true, he said. “You’ve very venomous.”
Venom is an interesting concept. It’s a way to get sustenance. It’s not a way to be mean. Not in nature. An asp isn’t going through the jungle thinking it’s going to make everyone feel like shit that day. But it probably wants to eat. You’re left with what you’re left with, if you’re going to swallow any meat.
I asked my friend for an example. I knew I’d lost a lot of reason. Maybe I was doing something I wasn’t aware of. I lost the weight and some reason. I was still heavier than I should have been, which made me ponder how heavy I had been before. Did she like when I was up there? On there? I don’t know the proper terminology. Yes, I do. I’m prevaricating. It’s awkward. I don’t think I could stand behind a bar and pour drinks and say to someone, “I’ve always enjoyed sex.” One time he was telling me about a younger woman he’d gone out with, adding, “If girls didn’t have daddy issues, I’d never get laid.” A tourist nodded. The tourist was with his wife. They struck me as pretty open-minded people. When we got our house, we went in there the day we closed. We fucked on the hardwood kitchen floor. Noting else in the place. Not a towel, certainly not a mattress. The house was near the road and she was worried that people would hear her breathing, grunting. I wonder how loud she thought she was. Her breath was more like someone’s when they’re jogging.
“Yeah, I can’t give you an example for that,” he said.
“No. I don’t have that kind of time to scroll through everything. Not a good use of my energy. Big negative energy drain. It’s just that you’re venomous. Look, can I tell you something?”
A compelling question. Like when people say, “Can I be honest with you?” It’s not really a question, is it? It’s polishing a stair. The last stair. The last stair, usually, going down. It will likely be the last time in that conversation you have two feet under you, because once you’re on that last stair, you’re leaving it, you’re jumping or someone’s pushing you into a jump, and now you’re in the air.
After my divorce, after the house was gone, I had to borrow some money from my mother. If it was an Old Western movie, and I was someone who drank a lot, maybe there would have been a line like, “And for God’s sake, spend it on food.”
We were arguing one day. She always felt my wife had snubbed her at a different wedding, which hadn’t happened. I hated having to defend my ex-wife. I was trying to be on the side of truth, I guess. When you don’t have a side, or anyone, it feels like you should get on the side of truth. It’s not as if truth can be like, “No, man, fuck off, y'all.” Pretty much has to hang out with you if you go over its house. Now, what you’re going to do there, or if you’re going to get anyone else to join your friend group, that’s different.
I was trying to figure out what I’d say next, because it was unpleasant for me to defend my ex-wife, so I bought some time, I said, “Can I be honest with you?” It was my lead-in, my way to get me to that polished stair I’d have to jump clear of. And she said no. “I give you money, so you can’t be honest with me. You don’t deserve that.”
Thought about that when the bartender said I was venomous. Thought about it, too, when he asked me if he could tell me something. In almost every instance you will say yes, because there’s an overarching implication about your well-being.
You can even extend that implication to how long you’ll live. Like if you keep doing this thing wrong, you’ll always be alone, and people who are alone die 11% earlier or whatever it is than people who are happily partnered, which is a lot of years, potentially.
You can get married, get a house, fuck on a floor, have a kid, then be someone without those things, respectively, 100% of the time, 100% of the time, 100% of the time, 75% of the time, and be someone who goes into a bar alone on Sundays to order Samuel Adams Winter Lager and make sodomy in-jokes that also sometimes take the form of radio shout-outs that no one would pick up on but a bartender friend, though some tourists might have carried your line back to Georgia or Mississippi.
I said, “Sure. Please tell me.” I didn’t say it sarcastically. I wanted him to tell me. I was thinking about the 11%. I am not certain (which, again, makes me uncomfortable) if I favored 11% up, or 11% down. But I didn’t want anyone to hate me. Even if maybe I wanted 11% less years.
He poured himself a beer. Poured me one. He drank a lot of beer when we were at the bar. There wasn’t anyone there, and when there was, he said he was testing the kegs. “Aeration” was the word that would make the tourists nod sagaciously, like they also tested their home kegs for the very same concern. If they were still confused, he’d add, “bubbles.” That would do it.
“People,” he began, “want something very simple, but everyone wants it, to the same degree, give or take. They want to be around people who smile, not people who frown.” He drank the beer in one sustained, seemingly effortless, chug. Maybe chug is the wrong word. He swallowed it all like it had been in a Dixie Cup.
I think about what he told me a lot. If something happens to you, and it’s awful, are you fucked if you say anything? If you don’t get over it fast enough? What if it keeps happening to you? Are you doomed if anyone sees you trying to combat it? Sees you trying to carry on? I couldn’t drink my beer. If it was food, and I was a kid, I probably would have played with it. Not a good game. It’s what your parents said, though, right? No worse a game than hanging out with the truth, maybe, over at his/her/its house, which is probably, I’d assume, just overrun with shit. There could very well be a jungle in truth’s mud room. Maybe the truth is kinky. I had a friend once and I’d go over his house. He was pretty truthful. I think that’s why we were friends. He had this relic of a sex toy. I don’t know where he got it. Was new. His new old sex toy. We sat in his room, he plugged it in, and he said, “Put this on your dick,” and I did, came in front of him while he read a magazine. Never thought of it as gay. Was just sampling something that couldn’t leave the premises. I could see him being a bartender who tested kegs and said honest things, did well with women with daddy issues. Especially if he still had that old vibrating device. I’d think of someone like Susan B. Anthony giving it a whirl and saying, “Now they don’t make them like that anymore!”