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Take a note, take a lesson, find a start

Friday 6/3/22

For the first time this week, after things really kicked in on Monday, I seem to have less mucus. I've been swimming in the stuff up until now. Head and lungs. I haven't showered in days and am going to do that now and get some air, maybe go to the MFA. I've already rushed to the bank this morning to cash a depressingly small check for a feature I wrote. It's been a kind of lost week. For me. I sent one of the Beatles books to a publisher late yesterday afternoon. There were the two op-eds I wrote, the story I started. Some entries on here. But definitely not the kind of week I can be having. I slept a lot last night--missed the entire basketball game. Just trying to get better as quickly as possible.

I applied for the Deems Taylor/Virgil Thomson Award this morning, the information regarding which a friend had sent me. I wouldn't have known about it otherwise, so I appreciated that. I don't really know anything about this award. I don't know what the award pays, if it pays at all. Would have to be something, I'd think. But it took thirty seconds to apply. They want a book, a piece, a liner note, pertaining to American music, from last year. Obviously I have a huge amount of things to pick from. I uploaded the JazzTimes John Coltrane feature on Ascension, which is now in The Root of the Chord: Writings on the Essential Power and Artistry of Jazz. I need a publisher for that. Kimball was nice enough to check in on how I was feeling. I appreciated that, too. Someone else said that Brackets was the most exciting work of fiction they had read, which was nice. They said that they really didn't know what to say, they didn't have adequate words. But right now, it's all about getting available books situated. Two Beatles books, jazz book, Cheer Pack, two essay collections, There Is No Doubt. These books are on the clock--they need to have homes and publication dates.

This was a letter from last night to the editor in chief at McSweeney's, with another editor there copied--who was previously one of my editors at the San Francisco Chronicle--regarding "Fitty":

I'm sure you remain shook and horrified by what happened in Texas. I know you don't like me, blocked me out, what have you. But literature is supposed to impact the world. It's supposed to matter. To make a difference in lives. To reflect the times, channel the times, and transcend them. Literature is meant to give us hope, no matter how hard life can be. I'm asking you to take twenty minutes and read the attached. Run it. Let it impact the world. Or the people who read it, anyway. I wrote it in 2019. I revised it in 2021. I worked on it again this year in prepping it for a book called There Is No Doubt: Story Girls. It's about a school shooting, but so much more. It is of this age and for the ages. We are here to do good in the world when we can. This is the story version of that. I've mentioned this work before to you in an earlier guise. But if you read it, there's no way you're just going to go, "well, whatever, it's fine, not that good." This story matters, however you feel about me. (McMurtrie: I worked for you for a long time. You're a good man and one of the best editors I've ever had. There have been hundreds, and you are in that group that can be counted on hand. Please read this. You'll know how good it is. I'm not overselling it. I also hope you're well, sir, and can perhaps make it to one of those West Coast NBA Finals games and cheer on our Celtics.)

Someone called me about their daughter. She is sensitive, and she wanted to go out of state for a visit to where my friend grew up. His mother died a couple summers ago, and his dad is sick. Physically, and he has dementia. My friend told me that his parents' house now looks more like a hospital. His girl hasn't handled her grandmother's death well. She has other issues--she's bullied at school. She's very smart. She's the girl I'm writing that story for. Or I will. I'm still working it out. He's trying to protect her. Says he doesn't want to destroy her memories. And what do I think?

So I told him that memories don't work that way. They're not taken from us in that manner. They're taken from us when someone does something horrific to us. There are no happy memories I have of the person I was married to, for instance. After evil like that, they go away. They're corrupted. They're kind of raped away from you, if you will. I said to my friend, "Why don't you leave it up to the child? Let her make up her own mind. Be honest with her. Tell her the situation. What the home looks like now. How your dad is. If she wants to go, take her with you. If not, don't."

I added that it's defeatist, in a way, to automatically not have her go, which is what other people were telling him. Because what is the worse case scenario? She has a miserable weekend, surrounded by parents who love her (because if she goes, the whole family will go, not must my friend in his role as the good son--which he certainly is), and her sister, who has a more blithe attitude in general. But she comes home when the weekend is over. And maybe she gets the closure she needs. And a part of the past is papered over. The memories don't go away. But she moves forward. And it's a life lesson.

Sometimes, when we seek to protect people, we're doing the opposite, because we're shielding them from life. You read any story right now written by anyone else--no exceptions--and there's no life in it. Not currently. Not the guts. Not the real deal. The entire thing is a shield from life by people who have no life in them, let alone the lifeblood of talent, that animates and is itself reality; nay, more real still.

When we shield someone from life, we make things that aren't maybe that hard, harder. And we make harder things things that seem insurmountable. We don't ready them for the world; or keep them ready for the world. And we always must be ready for the world. As parents, we can control the environment to a degree, and for the benefit of children; but we can't take it away, and we shouldn't. Sometimes it's our job to stand behind them with a hand on their back, so that they know we are there, but also so that they may see.

I've decided that eventually I will write a book about a life of reading Thoreau. The experience, the practical application, the idea of kinship and friendship with the texts. Something conversational and human. Thoreau went down those two rivers for his first book. One should go down the rivers of his writings, do a travelogue that way. Thoreau is a delight for me. Something I let myself read after a long day if I've worked hard enough. This book is quite far down the line, but I am filing the idea away. When I do that, my mind remains at work. Things come to me. Get developed. Books get written, in part, when I'm not even writing them. Regarding Thoreau's first book, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers: No one would publish it. As a result, Thoreau self-published the book. No one bought it, and the printer refused to store the copies. Thoreau had to cart away 700 of them. He said that his library was 900 books, with most of them being by himself. This was a great book. Okay, I get it, you can say that now it doesn't read in a "modern" or current way, but I think you'd be surprised there. But it did then. It was about other things, and Thoreau did not have those other things going for him at the time. Later, Thoreau sold the boat used for his journey to Nathaniel Hawthorne--what a place Concord must have been at the time, right?--for $7 and a rowing lesson. They get into the river, and Thoreau starts moving the boat wherever he pleases, with great skill, while Hawthorne just couldn't get the hang of it. Maybe he did in time, with practice, I don't know.


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