Each year since my life came apart in 2012, I have had someone kind enough to help me out with a financial thing. It's a once a year thing. It's a bookkeeping thing, let us call it. This doesn't take long, given the state of my finances. This bookkeeping thing is not something I am good at, and I appreciate the help, though each year I end up sharing more than I did the year before, to account for my financial numbers. I don't want someone thinking I'm a layabout or not good at what I do. So this year I went into some depth about my situation. This person who helps me has known me my entire life.
Normally, in a person-to-person exchange, I don't like to try and go into what is happening here. Unless we are close, you know my work, you have seen lots of correspondence, accounts, proof--so you're probably on my email chain. Because you can't say, "Look, I'm the greatest genius there has been, an industry is standing against me, I am fighting for my life, if I achieve some amazing thing, or fifty of them, life gets worse, and I'm the leading expert on A, B, C, D, E, etc., which is not otherwise humanly possible, and that ups the hate, and I'm the best on the radio, and that ups it, and I write the best fiction, and that ups it." You just can't go into it. When people ask you, "Why is this happening?" what they expect is a one to two sentence answer. (They also usually believe that the better someone is at something, the more they are rewarded for being good at that thing.) A lot of their problems and why they are happening can be explained that way. I had to create this record here, this Many Moment More journal. And we are just beginning to get into why this is happening. The information I have, that I can just start pouring into these pages, the emails; but I hate having to do that. But I may just have to.
This person who helps me will mention some local media person that they have heard of as an example of someone far more successful than I am. The irony being is that the complete converse is true, and if you asked that local media person whose career they would rather have, with you spelling out what I've done--leaving my name out of it--in every single last instance they would answer mine. But they would naturally be incredulous that that could be someone's career. You're not "supposed" to be any of these things that I am, let alone all of them at once. It's hard to accept. It would be hard for me to accept if it was someone else who was the world's leading Beatles authority and also its best writer on hockey and who had the great fiction and was the best writer on film, etc. That would scramble my brain. I'd have a hard time coming to grips with that. Of course, this trade-off with the local media person is based upon track record, not what I am compensated. This media person would likely assume I am wealthy at the moment. I get that a lot, because if you read me, it's a logical conclusion, and also if you know the track record. You're not going to even think in terms of a dastardly campaign against that person. You'd have to be shown that. You'd have to read this journal, or know me, or do some deducing on your own. "Wait--how is it that no one, ever, has plugged something this guy has done online? Why are there literally zero reviews? Why is he at indies?" And on and on.
So this year we are sitting there, after I've given this person more information, and they say to me, "I don't think it will ever change for you." And it's like...thanks. I respond by saying, you don't even know my work, you don't even know what I do. And they say, "It's true. I have never read your work." And it's like, you've known me my entire life. You never read a book of mine? Never read an article of mine? Which is hard to do, if you read at all, even if you don't know me. Never popped over to the site? It's upsetting. But having zero clue what I do or the level I do it all at doesn't stop them from telling me that I'm just flat out screwed.
I'm on a new dating site. It is better than most of them, though that's a very low bar to have to clear. I'm being inundated with hundreds of notes from exceedingly attractive women. I am interested in none of them. None of them have anything to say, let alone anything interesting. I'll say something interesting back, thinking--hoping--maybe that will trigger some thoughtful response, but its vapidity after vapidity. Can anyone think of anything arresting to say? How's my evening? Happy Friday! "I had to look up every word in your profile I feel so much smarter now LOL." Shoot me. I have an alias in this app, because of the public nature of my job. And the alias is the name of a very famous character in literature. It's not a name anyone out in the world would have as their name. And there is not a single soul save one English teacher who recognized the name of this character, who is, in fact, in two works--the most famous play in human history, and a proto-Modernist novel from the eighteenth century. (Despite some of these people being English professors, self-professed writers, self-professed passionate readers.) That was to be expected, but still depressing. And this is not a "women are dumb" thing, because I'm sure the guys are every bit as bad, but I'm not looking to date guys, am I? So I'm not interacting with them. And you realize, too, the ratcheted up level of entitlement. A lot of women just wish to be praised. "Okay, I'll give you a chance to try and impress me." In what universe am I going to try to impress you? I'm here to connect with someone smart, articulate, passionate, humane, and human. And if you dare to politely say you are not interested, it's like they can't accept this. I meet all kinds of people I am not interested in. I meet doctors, lawyers, I meet models. I meet a strange amount of models. I meet models studying to become doctors. But if you don't have something interesting to say, how on earth could I, of all people, be interested in you? Because you're hot? Lots of people are hot. If it was just about finding someone hot, that's not a problem at this point. Why is that? I don't know exactly. I am definitely rated as more attractive than I was ten years ago. I'm chalking this up to the non-drinking and the Monument. Do people really just subsist on mindless small talk? How do you pull that off? You're just happy that someone will have you and they look nice? That's so sad. I can't do that. Maybe someone will surprise me.
Somebody did send me something regarding "Post-Fletcher." Two people, actually. One said that it was very beautiful, and sad. It's an interesting response. It reminded me of what someone said about "Find the Edges," the Harper's story. They said that it was amazing, but now they wanted to kill themselves. This would not be my reaction to either story as a reader, though they are valid reactions. In the case of "Edges," that reader was obviously being hyperbolic; what they meant was that it affected them in a deep and blazing way, and it was, I guess you'd say, sad. Personally, I find the end of that story affirming. Hopeful, even. I take hope from my read of the story. As for "Post-Fletcher," a man who is alive has a ghost. And he thinks--not quite correctly, but sort of--that he is his ghost's shepherd. He's responsible for his ghost. His ex-wife has moved across the country. She lives with a man named Jerry. And ironically, the protagonist of the story--Fletcher--is becoming closer than ever with his wife. But something happens. And it turns out that the ghost--Post-Fletcher--knows this before Fletcher does. In the non-ghost part of the story, we learn that Fletcher's ex is likely going to come back across the country to see him. But that doesn't work out. And the ghost is killing time, he's waiting for something. I can't tell you what that is here, but it's a story about timing, and it's a story about ways we can be together in ways that we never ever learn about. I find the ending--the very surprising ending--beautiful, loving, and, once more, affirming. But, that's me. This is what someone else said:
"Sometimes I think you're reading my mind. I was reading Post-Fletcher in my classroom when I got your latest blog post. Holy shit, it's just brilliant. The concept itself is so original, so inspired, and the execution is, as always, one of a kind. Had to leave class for a couple of minutes because I was tearing-up. This line, for some reason, is the one that got me: 'Fletcher thought that even ghosts must sometimes have need to kill time.' Wow. Words fail me but I'll go with fucking great."
That's what you're going for. And I don't think anyone could sincerely say words like that about any work of fiction in any American magazine right now. And that's what they don't want you to see. Work like that, from a writer like this. But if it was out there? And marketed? Allowed to have its chance, and encouraged in that chance when it had received it? We'd have a whole 'nother game being played in American letters. And the world would be a better place for it.
Speaking of which.
Last night I went to bed very early, in an attempt to divest this cold from my chest (not wanting to face the day may have also contributed). It was early enough that I missed the invite Emma texted me at 8:30. She wanted to take a walk around the block with me to show me some sketches she had made in her new notebook that we picked up on Monday. She showed me one yesterday at the Starbucks, a female nude, from the shoulders down. It was quite good. She's trying to figure out how to draw anatomy, and I am encouraging her in this, as it is the root of so much painting and drawing. Some boys had made fun of her in class, but I told her to ignore them, and they probably just like her, anyway. (Sidenote: The other day, Emma cracks a joke, makes me laugh, then whips out her camera and takes a photo, which she sends to me. I look bloated and insane in it, and cross-eyed. Not a good look. She said this wasn't so. "You look fitty, bro. Ladies like this." Fitty being Emma's word for fit.) During that extended bout of sleep, a new story came to me. I composed it in its entirety this morning--975 words. It is formally perfect. And it could not be more timely. Or, I think, timeless. But it really taps into some things happening right now. I've reread the story about fifteen times, and each time I am more taken aback by the layers and levels. This level of maturity as an artist, it would have eluded even I, seven years ago. Not that those stories were worse. They aren't. But this one I could not have written then. And it's all about a game of flashlight tag. Only it's not. It's called "Flashlight Tag." This is how it starts.
“How are we doing this?” the boy with the baseball cap on backwards asked the boy who was two heads taller than he was.
“Just spray him on the shoulder. Mark him. It’s the only jacket he has. They’re poor.” He felt bad saying it, so he added, “Well, it’s true,” but that felt beside the point.
“I don’t know, man,” Ball Cap said. “He’s big.”
“You going to pussy out?”
Ball Cap shook the can of gray spray paint. Hearing the click inside of the can was both emboldening—he felt like a craftsman, one on the job for a long time, whom the wealthiest suburban housewives trusted the most—and worrisome, like it made matters less reversible. On the edge of permanence.
There were nights when he went to bed when it was still light and no matter how early he got up in the morning it was still light. It seemed like there was hardly ever any darkness. But it was dark now. They walked into some trees, even wide trees. The night seemed to make up for all of the hours of the day that the sun got. It would be extra black when it had its chance. It would say, “Behold, sun, suck it.”
“What the fuck are you mumbling?” asked Two Heads.
“I’m just saying that it’s not usually this dark out.”
Each day--literally every single day--I become more powerful as an artist. It is the most tangible feeling I have ever had. It is the most certain feeling I have ever had. "Power" is the correct word. It's not a skill, it's not a talent. It is a power. That's the only way to describe it. Or it is the way to describe it, anyway.
I wasn't able to place this. It's an op-ed on Walt Whitman for today, his 200th birthday. I can repurpose some of this material and make it into something else--an essay. But I'll put this here.
200th years after his birth, Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass is more necessary for American than ever
Riddle for you: What’s the most surefire way to tell that someone in America is up to no good in 2019? Answer: They are busy asserting how wonderful their self-professed good deed is.
We have become a country of issue forcers and advancers of our ego-tailored personal causes. It used to be a requirement that the cause be just; now, it’s whether it’s semi-believable. That it works as narrative, with the main character being our self-aggrandizement.
This is a long way from what we might call the most American of poems and the quintessentially American spirit who birthed it. That poem is Leaves of Grass, the poet Walt Whitman, who himself was born 200 years ago, on May 31.
Whitman famously remarked that his poem was a celebration of himself, which meant something far different in those days when the Republic was only starting to unfurl. For Whitman was a master of something that has become a lost art. There is perhaps no more powerful verb—as Hamlet well knew—in English than “to be.” To be is not to pound the chest with sufficient motoric gusto, that others say, “Fine, okay, we get it, you are that thing, you win.”
To be is to accept what one is, as one grows, and to let that carry each and every day. Each relationship. Each task at work. Each new challenge. Each heraldic work of art.
Whitman was a humanist in the most deep-bottomed sense of the word. His idea of celebrating himself was accepting who he was, letting that reality be his personal sun to shine where it may, and others could accept it, or not accept, as they chose.
That’s a powerful idea. But it’s one lost on us often now. Another poet, Pete Townshend, once wrote, “You can cover up your guts, but when you cover up your nuts, you’re admitting that there must be something wrong,” a very Whitman-esque sentiment. Whitman himself was a human tapestry of what it meant to be American, as if he was an amalgamation of elements and people in the form of one person, who didn’t really resemble any other single one person, but who can, and should, matter to all.
Whitman self-published Leaves in 1855. It was a slim volume of a dozen poems. He would revisit and rework the book for the rest of his life, its page count swelling as Whitman discovered more and more verses, we might say, of his very being—his true being, not his faux-being of forced poses—which became additional sheaves of his poesy.
When Whitman writes of his sexual frolics with other men, there is no sense of “behold, my identity, let’s do some identity politics!” Everything in this poem is folded back into his essence. You accept it because it simply is. Definitive is-ness. What a concept.
Whitman understood what we often fail to grasp now: We are most human, best able to maximize our gifts, and develop new talents, when our energy is spent upon what we think of us, rather than what we can coerce others to think of us.
Did you ever hear that analogy about how the average career criminal would be a success in legal business if he devoted the same time and energy to a non-criminal activity? I’m not sure how true that is. But the thematic gist is good advice for all of us, and it’s that same thematic gist that is coded into this most American of poems.
When I see someone say, “Why would anyone care what so and so thinks? They only have twenty Twitter followers,” my heart lets out a little sigh for this person, as I think Whitman’s would. You miss out on so much when you are all about the gestural, and not about the actual, the chanting, rather than limpid, specific lines.
It takes strength, power, character, good faith, and love—and yes, self-love—to simply let things be what they are, to relinquish that control. But when you do, you don’t only join the world in better ways—you join with yourself in better ways, too.
I walked three miles and climbed the Monument three times. Ran the first 100 stairs each time. My wind was good. The cold had been in my head, so I had been doing that oh-so-sexy thing of sleeping with tissue stuffed up my nose, then it moved into my chest, which can of course affect Monument climbing. I was going to do it five times, but at the end of the third climb, a giant group of third graders entered. It was just too many. They were on the wrong side, too, and I either would have been in there for an age or it would have been candlepin bowling, and I don't need Larry Law on me, on top of everything.
(Metaphor and reminder to self: Beat these people. They control pettiness. They don't control greatness. They can only contain it for so long before they themselves are toppled.)