The below is from Tuesday, only appearing now. I remain sick, no improvement, and I don't feel like going through this and blending it all into today, and it shouldn't sit behind the curtain any longer either. So:
I've been sick again, going back to the end of last week, which is unusual for me. If I didn't have the COVID a few weeks ago, I guess I have it now. A bad, at times painful cough--infrequently what doctors call a productive cough, and more a cough that just hurts. Fever, chills. Still, I ran 3000 stairs and walked six miles on Saturday, ran 3000 stairs and walked five miles on Sunday. The stairs were making matters worse, so yesterday I just walked nine miles instead. Last week, I ran 5000 miles each on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and ran the 5000 straight without stopping on the middle day, then 3000 each on Wednesday and Thursday, for 21,000 on the week, before laying out on Friday, when I began to feel poorly.
The six miles of walking on this past Saturday was important, because I walked them for the purpose of coming up with a new subtitle for There Is No Doubt. That's walking hard and thinking hard. It occurred to me to have a subtitle that makes it more overt that these stories all feature female main characters. Plus, I'm doing a second book--frankly, I'm already into a third book as well--that continues the idea.
What I like to do--especially for me, and given the books I've already done--is have subtitles for story volumes that don't contain the word "stories." For instance, with Brackets, the book is a compendium of fabula, fantasy, fuckery, and hope. That's what it is. I have never viewed it as a story collection. The word "stories" was added to the cover against my wishes. I really don't like having words on the covers of books that are not in the title or the author's name. I think that's cheap and cheating. Absolutely not for me. And it's tacky. Inefficient. The subtitle said plainly what the book was made up of, with a lot of specificity, far more than some generic term--or what can be a most generic term, with the books I create.
What "stories" usually means is, "hey, I suck at writing, I got an MFA, I wrote these ten awful stories that I workshopped to these other soulless, privileged freaks like me, to bore you off your tits that no one wants to read and which no one could ever care about, and I'm sticking them together in this book because they're what I did and that's my sole reason for sticking them together, so here you go. And it will never, ever, ever, ever, ever be any different with me, because I have absolutely nothing else in me, nothing to give, I sure as shit can't invent, and it's just this, but I know some people, and so that's why you're learning about my meaningless shit at all."
"Stories," with Brackets, was a lessening by falsified billing. A misrepresentation given the totality, the whole. And given what that generic, stapled-on term, "Stories," means when it's out there as this cut-apart word on the cover of other books. I mean, does that vanilla term, "Stories," really do it justice? That term has a connotation; and that connotation is far from what the totality of that book is. Which is why the subtitle is what it is, and lays out for you what it does.
Special books need special language. Anyone could write any of those shitty, same-y, "literary fiction" collections. Any fucking one. The ironic thing is, the guy who is employed to clean up the leaves of the yards of these people at their Darien, CT home, and who just started speaking English two years ago, could write a better book than an Emma Straub. The language would be more interesting, and it would be more real, with the added perk that you wouldn't be dealing with the doily-ied fustian of a nepotist. That person's text to their boss asking for a day off for their kid's third grade graduation would be a better piece of writing. It's impossible to write worse than these people, even if you've never written in your life. And no, nothing about anything by me is going to be like any of that. Including the titles to the subtitles to the covers to the descriptions on the back. The concept of the whole. The intent. I am not here to do with anything--a single sentence, even, let alone a book--what any of these fuckers are here to do. They're not here for it. It's just whatever--it's what their parents did, or the expectations of their blue-booded BS peerage. Recognize, seize it, go with it. Have the vision or the intelligence or the competence or the courage--which is a sad definition of courage, but all the same, even a near-coward should be able to get there, if not a total coward--on that end of things to know that this is different, and that's okay, and that is awesome, so let it be so, because it will ultimately take you to great places. If the world knows about you at some point, it's going to be because of this. A book or books by that guy. It won't be any of these other books or writers. It's not going to be Mark Doten or Elif Batuman or some random talentless flavor of the month who knew the right people, was the right color, or orientation, gave you absolutely nothing to invest yourself in emotionally, but went to Yale, had this agent some clacking, human crustacean of a senior editor likes to get lunch with because they're equally dead inside, blah blah blah.
The embarrassment and the guilt I'd feel, having no more ability than something larval, and being put forward, paid, awarded, would just kill me. It would fucking kill me. I'd be mortified. You can only be mentally ill if you're an Amanda Gorman. And such a soulless, delusional narcissist. And hollow inside. With nothing to give anyone. I wouldn't be able to live with myself. You'd have to be so mentally ill to make a go of lying to yourself that way so that you could get out of bed, something that almost all of these people struggle with, and then they see me, and here's my greatest sin against the people of publishing: I make it even harder for them--I make it harder than anything else does, and it's not close--for them to lie to themselves. They are writers who also hardly write at all. Gee, I wonder why that is. And I'd know that I was a tool, and that no one honestly liked anything I ever wrote. I'd hate myself. I'd really have to have no love for myself. No self-respect.
So, yes, different. A totally different figure of totally different intentions. Just like the book is different--any of the books--and that I write that this industry tries to suppress because I can do what I can do, and I do it. Without pause. Relentlessly. Undeniably. With more regularity than the sun coming up, and the sun going down.
Anyway, I know what the subtitle for There Is No Doubt now is. It's two words. I don't want to put it up on here now, though. I'll keep it inside of me for now. That's efficient: a total of six words between title and subtitle. Rarely will one see that. As it happens, the full title--when said as I intend it to be said--of that second volume is the same number of words--six--between its main title and subtitle.
I know what the cover should be, too. I've known for a while, and mentioned it in these pages. But I know the shade now, also. It should be easy for someone to do/execute, and it will look better than every other cover out there. It's a note of depressing irony that all of the covers of the books I see now are as basic, generic, blah, as the texts they contain.
I wrote a story this AM. It needs work. Sunday marked 2156 days, or 308 weeks, without a drink. I came up with an idea for a Fourth of July op-ed. I wrote this 1200 word piece about Uvalde. Came up with assorted ideas pertaining to Judy Garland's centennial and will write an op-ed about her shortly. Was going to go to the Brattle yesterday for a screening of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, but it's cool in there, and I thought I'd be too uncomfortable, which was the right choice. I began an essay on Arthur Alexander and one on the 1942 film Moontide. Worked on "Hear Fishy" and came up with an important new story. Wrote an op-ed about stair selves.
I've noticed that no one now knows when to use "everyday" and "every day" and "anymore" and "any more" now. I'm not just talking about the endless parade of morons I see on dating sites; I mean major--whatever that means--newspapers and magazines. I'm seeing it in headlines every day. I've also noticed--and I notice these things precisely when they become the new way of how things are--that these magazines and newspaper don't know how adverbs work. For instance, yesterday I saw, "the such and such ball club needs to sign so and so quick" rather than "quickly." We devolve more by the week. Publishing has as much to do as anything with the destruction of culture, because language is everything. How we express ourselves is everything. It's central to progress, the growth of the individual, connection between humans. No one reads, because publishing doesn't give anyone worth reading. You can't overstate the effect that has on society. The trickle down effect, too, to people who wouldn't read one way or the other. Because they'd still come in some form of contact with intelligence and individuality; there'd be the rub-off effect. This is so simple. "I don't want any more donuts." "I don't love her anymore." The former is a quantity, the second is temporal. Get it? Easy. "I eat an apple every day." "Her health was an everyday concern." The former is a unit of measurement. The latter is an adjective. I don't know how a smart guy like Buddy Holly managed to get it wrong, but his "Everyday" should have been "Every Day."
I can't believe I watched the entirety of Midnight Mass. It was like, "Hey, limited series: shut up. Seriously--stop talking." Talks your face off. Talk talk talk talk talk. I was laughing by the end--it's just so over-done--as I kept hammering that forward-ahead button just to get through the damn thing. I had Netflix again briefly, and it's just garbage on there. Everything is so Netflix-y. I can tell you before it happens how the editing will go. I say it out loud: "Jump cut time!" And then boom, right on cue.
How could you be entertained by any of this? People would lunch on banana peel sandwiches, though, if that's all there was. There is nothing out there right now that is any good. No films, no TV shows, certainly no books. When that's the reality, and it's mostly just one big shit sandwich, for reasons stated in this journal again and again, then the banana peel sandwich becomes the popular thing that everyone checks out, because there's less waste matter in it.
But is there? There really isn't. You're staring at plastic. Staring at soulless plastic. I don't believe that anyone honestly likes any of it. I'm not saying everyone is trying to lie. I think they can think they do, but I don't think they really do. If I ate shit sandwiches and you gave me a banana peel sandwich, I could tell you I liked that a lot more. Maybe? And if that's all there was, well, something has to be first, right? There has to be a best, and something has to get awarded, but that means nothing. Right now, it means you have some soulless plastic, you check the right boxes, you know the right people, and you are the right kind of person. An edgeless blob of nullity-putty.
Let's say that something happens in your brain that is measurable when you honestly like something. Some chemical is produced or released. So that a device could be strapped to you and there'd be a plus reading. I don't believe if we strapped that machine to anyone right now, that any book, film, TV show, music, would get above that zero base level. Then culture changes, because all standards change. Standards devolve. Tim Tebow becomes the best quarterback ever because all of the other quarterbacks can't throw the ball five yards without making it bounce and he can throw it six before the bounce happens. And if Brady comes along, or someone infinitely better than Brady, that person will be feared and hated and shunned by the Tebow crowd and the bouncers, because that group can also throw a ball pretty close to four or five yards with just the one bounce, so we have our parallelism. No entertainment right now is about quality or actually entertaining anyone. It's about providing comfort. "I could do that." "They're not smarter than I am."
People work less hard to be good at anything, because you don't have to be good at anything--your entertainment doesn't need to be entertaining--for you to be successful. So who would work hard? And if you were born with ability--and there's slim chance of that--the ability means nothing--it doesn't come out to dance and dance well--if you are not investing the whole of your life and being in developing it. That would be someone who went against the grain of their entire environment, their culture, and society. Who is going to do that? It's like an MFA program. It's impossible to go to an MFA program and be someone who could ever write anything of value. There has never been an exception. There never will be. A human will fly by flapping their arms before a writer who went into an MFA program produces anything of consequence. That makes you angry? Prove me wrong: write something real for the world to care about. Join me. Needle me over it later. We can give you a nickname. Call you The Exception. But I don't think you exist. What I think happens when I say something true like that, is people who know it to be true take their own doubt and self-hate and they will cast it on me. This is not a productive way to be. Ownership is. Own what is real, because it's real whether or not you wish it to be, and do something about it. A good writer, a good person, a good thinker, only puts their energies there. Whereas, I know these people. Everything will go to making me the bad guy. These pages show how awful and inconsequential stories like "Office Hours" are from The Atlantic. That person was chosen because of gender, race, mediocrity, background, connections. Because she and her work are soulless plastic. What are the chances that she doesn't have an MFA and an Ivy League background? (I just looked it up: Ling Ma, MFA, Cornell, 2015. Always the same. And there is no one who can read that story and give me one honest sentence as to what makes it good.)
We become oriented to soulless plastic-ness. It's what we consume. We seek out people who make it and are the human version of it. That's who gets the platform, the following. How can anyone be so stupid not realize what that does to the world? There is nothing worse. Publishing plays right into this, too. What that industry has done seeps through everything in culture, like I said, including into the lives of people who never read--let alone anything good--and were never going to. Because of everything else they come in contact with and what they become a product of. They're influenced by an environment and population, the very way people talk, they very ways they never think, the ways they shut themselves off from any feelings or truth, that is itself influenced by the end of not just literature, but reading. That is what publishing is most about: killing reading. That helps kill the power of language. Kill the power of language, we're killing off the power and possibilities--the accessibility--of connection. We are more alone than ever. And when you trace everything back, the current version of the publishing industry has as much to do with that as anything one can name. Coupled with the illusory self that the internet provides, and you get a society in which almost everyone is profoundly mentally ill. With nothing to stop the free-fall. They certainly can't talk about it: they don't have the language skills, and they don't have real relationships and connections. They have Netflix. They have Amanda Gorman trending on Twitter. They have likes. They don't have themselves, they don't have a lot to live for, outside of their offspring, should they have any. Childrearing is largely about utility now. Save mommy and daddy from their emptiness, please, baby girl or boy. That's not a successful recipe for raising someone who might turn out to be any different. When that person's time comes to grasp at utility--the way our world is now--they will simply continue the pattern, just as the pattern itself has its larger continuing theme of devolution. We do not connect. We can hug people all we like, but ultimately, we need our words. Real words, true words, brave words, words sourced from and inspired by vulnerability. We need the kind of words that the publishing industry wants us to see or have or hold less than any other kinds of words. That industry has made it impossible--unless you are me--to create those words, because of all you'd have to be, do, the decades of development, while going against everything and everyone in that industry, for everyone and everything. No one is going to have any of the things necessary to do that, let alone all of them. I have all of them. And that's why we're here, and the situation stands where it stands, and the stakes are what they are.
When this happens--and it's the full measure of our society now, and what I am here to reverse--everything becomes distorted. Looking for substance makes you a monster. Having any standards makes you a demon. There is no perspective once standards are distorted to the point of not existing.
I'll see it on a dating site. I'll say that I'm looking for someone of substance. Who communicates readily and well. Grows. Has passions or wants to. Doesn't communicate in abbreviations. I get the most toxic, passive aggressive notes based off of this, by people who act as though they're caught in the greatest throes of fear of their lives. "You have so many demands." They're functioning illiterates, so one will have to forgive me, because even that simple sentence is something the likes of which you'll never see, but one gets the idea. (It's astounding how many of these women write, "I dont want anyone too waist my time .") Virtually none of them know that "waste" is its own word, and not one of them, so far as I can tell, have a clue that the word "complement" exists. "I'm looking for someone to compliment my height." Ah, sure you are. Holy fuck are you dumb. When it's really nothing more than the above. Stated pretty much that way--or not more voluminously.
Do you understand? That becomes an assault by me, to other people, because they are nothing. They have no inner life, no standards, no purpose. They're just empty. And terrified. And they all think and talk the same way, because of all I've said above. This is everywhere. It's in our daily interactions, in the world of romance, social media, and it's certainly in publishing. It's why almost everyone is alone, and so many more people than you think have a huge drinking problem. You know so many people in your life who think don't, but they do.
That's all publishing is. I always say, "Why be alive? What is the point?" This isn't saying, hey, find a closet and hang yourself in it, but what are you fucking doing? How is this different, though? So you can eat some cheeseburgers and have some orgasms? Because it's not more than that. The thing about it, too, is the flagrant lack of self-respect everyone has. Be something. Aren't you special? Shouldn't you have fucking standards and shouldn't you not be so scared? Don't you want more? Don't you want to be more? Why would you want to be the least you can be to get by, if you care about yourself at all? Shouldn't it be the opposite? People do not love themselves. People don't even kind of vaguely like themselves for the most part. They don't want to be inside of themselves, they don't want to be themselves. This is why an entire industry stands against me--because I make them feel that more than anyone or anything else ever could, because of 1. What I am 2. What they know more than anything me to be.
So when they see other people who are just like them, creating the same shit sandwiches, that gives them comfort. That eases their guilt. This is real guilt--not white suburban woman skin color guilt. I would say they're going to take it out on someone like me, but there is no one like me, and it's going to be taken out on just me--to this degree. For now. As a character of mine says, "for now isn't always."