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The clang

Monday 4/5/21

The term "libtard" is so repugnant to me. Says a lot about who a person is. Terms and phrases press these buttons of indication. They reveal aspects of our intelligence, our character. Our motives. Our anger. Why we use certain words often says more about us than anything else--at least anything else we see from a distance. Were you going to make a correct point or argument, that point or argument ceases to have the potential to be correct when you build it with terms like this. Language is layers. When one layer is rot, the other layers take on the quality of the rot. There is taint by association. That's how reading works. Reading is an act of trust. The writer--it does not matter the medium--must give the reader reason to trust them. and then keep the trust in place, and build it further.

The use of the word "literally" is more rampant than I've ever seen it. Wishing to clinch an argument, and lacking linguistic skills, a person strains for that extra meaning, and thus uses "literally." The word becomes a verbal tic of the culture. It gets "in the air," as it were, and then it's being used by people who scarcely are aware they're using it. The people who write "literally" should stop themselves and look at each example of their doing so, and read the sentence back without the word. Their point does not change. It's not made less forcefully. It is made less ridiculously and desperately. But we hardly ever need "literally" in a sentence. As we've seen in these pages, it's really used for a kind of rhetorical sleight of hand. That's the proper working of the word. So it has a kind of cleverness. People cannot write cleverly. The initial focus should just be on being clear.

You almost always have to ask yourself what someone is up to. What their motive is. Very rarely do we get any kind of honest reaction or appraisal from anyone. The undiluted opinion hardly exists anymore. Or the fair take. Part of this is our insecurity and our self-loathing and self-doubt. Opinion, couched as, "what, I'm just telling you what I think"--especially unsolicited opinion--is commonly a reaction against someone else, which would be turned in the opposite direction were that someone else performing what the other party would view as a service. That can take myriad forms--a "solid" for their career, praise, attention, reinforcement of who they are, how they act, what they do. The quid pro quo is now regularly rooted in the emotional in our society. The favor trade of lies and the enabling of lies. These are often lies-to-self. The greater the remove two people are from each other, with one person feeling lacking compared to the other person, the greater the unlikelihood of an untainted, agenda-free opinion. The fallback is the cop-out of, "I gave you my honest opinion." They think it renders that other party with nothing to say. But it's not hard to know what they are up to. That makes them pathetic, and you pity them, but you also know their need to feed the beast within is what actuates their conduct--not fair and balanced thought, and not regard for you. Social media culture plays a part. It's becoming ingrained in us to say something to get something. To procure something for ourselves. It can be very cheap what that is--like I said, even just attention. We comment to induce the response of what it is we feel we need. We don't comment because we have a truth at the ready. Think of the times you've been jilted in love, and the other person wouldn't speak to you. Think of how you defaulted to brainstorming as to what you might say to induce their response. What nerve you could play upon. What you might invent. When they won't take the bait, a person gets angry. They will adopt the rectitudinous voice, but this is done to score points and to cut, by a certain point. It's simply dressed up otherwise. In that garb of, "I say this not because I want to but because it's true." That is the cop out, the machination. That we have to question motives now more than ever puts another layer of separation between us.

I am a member of various Facebook groups where I will look at the discussions. A Criterion group, hockey history group, silent film group, film noir group, Beatles books group, that kind of thing. One would think that the people in such groups would be knowledgeable about the respective subject, but they almost never are. I question if there is any knowledge in the world now. What knowledge I do see will usually come from the elderly. As if, learning and retaining knowledge is a thing of the past. To give one example: yesterday on a baseball Hall of Fame FB group, I saw people discussing the candidacy of Zach Greinke. Most didn't seem to think he was a Hall of Famer, and even more said he wasn't close to one now. This isn't an area that requires refined thinking to know what it is what, or any special mental acumen. These are basic things that a reasonably bright eight-year-old baseball fan would know. Or I did, anyway, when I was one. If Greinke retired today, he'd be a second ballot Hall of Famer. His WAR is already over 70, if you like the new metrics. He has over 200 wins and averages 15 per 162 games, if you like the older ones. He has a Cy Young, a low career ERA. When he does retire, he's probably going to be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He'll have anywhere from 220-250 wins, 3000 Ks, and a WAR between 75 and 80. Not only is that as obvious a Hall of Fame pitcher as you can be in this modern era, that would have made you a Hall of Famer pitcher easily if you pitched in the 1950s and 1960s. That's as no-brainer of a Hall of Famer as anyone is right now, save Pujuols and Trout. This isn't subtle thinking--it's not making some case for Tim Kerr for the hockey Hall of Fame. I must have read 100 of these comments.

I know a professor who has opined that Meatheads is better than Voltaire's Candide, and I know someone else who has read it five times and given copies to their employees, with this person reporting back on the enthusiasm everyone has had for the book, these people who are not regular readers. This same individual has been on me to send a copy of the novel to Cartoon Network, because they believe it could be like The Simpsons. It's not that simple. The result of my situation at present is that no one even learns about the book, save when I have work run somewhere. A splashy op-ed, for instance. It's not the same as support, favorable coverage, and a hype train, which, of course, the people of this industry would do everything possible to deny me. I do think it could be a cartoon series, yes, and of course I had the likes of Voltaire and Swift in mind as competition. This idea of writing something totally new, and avant-garde that way, but also populist--for everyone. I wanted to create as funny a work as I could, such that this could be its identity--super funny book--were it not for an inclusive, even healing quality, that I think, ultimately, is its most salient feature. Chad is a meathead, yes, but I see so much of him in just about everyone I know. I think he's us right now. He is the Every Person. The difference is, is that he shows a modicum of self-awareness and growth. Every now and again. I think most people don't. I know some people--not guys--who are threatened by him--I can tell--precisely because they're so much like him. Not that I say that to these people. I leave it alone. But whenever he's confronted about what he's done, Chad's reaction is the reaction that almost all of us have now in those similar moments in our own lives. To give but one example. Also, a classical music composer wrote me a nice note about how much the Beethoven section--a Beethoven section in a book about a meathead--meant to him. The part with Old Grapey and his dead wife and how he comes to hear her, and how Chad is able to understand that, which he wouldn't be able to before, or earlier in the book. I like the end with Billie Holiday, John Lennon, William Shakespeare, and where Chad ends up, how he ends up. There's poignant self-doubt and a special kind of kindness in that last chapter--it's like the salve of mercy. That's a very particular kind of kindness, because it's a blend of knowing who someone is, and keeping their dignity intact.

I can't say I did an awesome job with my workout today, but at least I walked seven miles and ran the 210 stairs of Summit Path three times. I'll get up to five soon. It's hard to gauge what kind of workout these outside stairs are, when I knew exactly what three climbs meant in the Monument, or five, or ten, or twenty like I did that one time for my personal best. One difference with outside stairs is I run all of them going up. It was cold today but after one run up the stairs today sweat was dripping off of me.

Regarding the two stories composed this morning. "The Closet Game" is about a brother and a sister, and they race upstairs to this closet at the back of the spare bedroom when it sounds like there's water rushing in it. No one knows why the closet makes this sound. Their father has some ideas, but they imagine that when they open the door, they'll see a river--the end of a river--and riding along on this river will be a person, and they have to say who they see. If it's someone in the house, that means that person will die soon. They're close but they're also kind of not close, because the boy doesn't really want to play this game, because he's outside doing other things with his friend, but he feels bad for his sister, who's lonely. And the game, so to speak, spills out into their adult lives later. It's for Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives.

So, too, is "The Side Room." Architecture featured in today's stories. A girl goes into a kitchen, where her mother is chopping vegetables, asking if she can help. The mom instead tells her to go into the side room, and cheer up her dad. This room is off the kitchen, and it's like a corridor that doesn't go anywhere. So it's really narrow, only wide enough to have two chairs next to each other, but not big, plush chairs. Her dad sits there and he watches the Blue Jays games on TV. She comes in, and he leads with the score, saying the Jays are down 8-6 in the eighth, and she says they're always down 8-6 in the eighth. She talks about this story her great grandfather told her, about his great grandfather, how he lived in this town that didn't have any Black people, but this one Black guy, who knew not to stay there, was passing through. But he needed money, so he took on a few odds jobs before moving on, and there was this allegation that he did something to a high school. The great grandfather's great grandfather was one of the men of the town who chased this guy. He was really fast, but he didn't know his way around, and he backed himself into this alley--so it's kind of like this side room--with a wall at one end, and they stoned him. The great grandfather's great grandfather didn't throw any rocks, but he was there, and his actions became a part of who he was. And who he wasn't. How he felt he had failed himself. And the girl talks about the one time she heard her dad cry. It was after he lost his job. His boss had him fire some people, and he said that after that was done, he didn't have to fire anyone else, but this boss lied, and when the girl's father found out, he called this man a name that had to do with his skin color. He lost his job, and the word got out in his field. The guy doesn't know how he'll provide for his family, but the girl understands that's not what he was really crying about. Was certainly a reality and a part of it, but only a part. She sits in this side room with him, this corridor-as-room, with the Blue Jays on, and she has this thing she wants to say to him. I won't say what that is, or why she doesn't say it, but I can only imagine the debate this story would produce if it was written by the "right" kind of publishing person, who had support, and it went into the right place where it'd be seen by enough people. I think the response would be intense and far-reaching, and I think everyone would have an opinion, and a lot of those opinions would contradict each other. It's a singularly powerful work. You talk about a story for right now. But I'm writing so many stories for right now.

Speaking of sisters. My sister ordered some food for me at the bakery, which was very kind of her. She tried to order it over the weekend but they wouldn't take phone orders--must be an Easter weekend policy--and I was really grateful that she did that for me. My sister also coined the term, "Zuluing," which I like.

Downloaded an eight-disc bootleg of Byrds outtakes from 1965-66.

I sat by the harbor and it was cold. That metal, oceanside clang of lines and boats does my soul much good. The wind picks up, and I listen to a symphony of air, wave, and bobbing craft.


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