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The cornucopia

Monday 6/13/22

The more human you are, the better you will write. Being human isn't being about born and and having a name and a job and a driver's license and a spouse and kids and this is your species because what else are you, a raccoon? None of that has anything to do with it. Those things can inform that quality of being human. But you can also have all of them and not be human at all. So much goes into writing at the highest level. And you need all of it. The knowledge of everything. All the subjects. Unparalleled insight into human nature. You have to know how the mysteries behind all of human life work. What they hold. The language. And you need to be more human than others are human. Just one of these things won't do it. You need to know what it means to be more human. How increasing one's humanness is always the goal. It does not just happen, though some start much further along.

Little is rarer than true connection. A person who is not open to all forms of true connection is unlikely to ever experience any form of true connection.

A text from yesterday morning:

I wrote a story today called "Fuck 'Em Up." It's about a guy who sees horrible things, and thinks, "fuck 'em up." Like violence against women in a movie. A sidewalk beating. His mom dying. His daughter getting bad news. His wife pulling away from him. A gull with a dead squirrel. We see his dad. The Beatles are in it, baseball, his cardiologist, hockey, COVID, eBay, college, vegan pizza, He-Man figures. It would make someone cry. All in less than 1000 words.

I wrote a story this morning about a falling leaf. It's its big event, which everything has built to. And as the leaf is going falling through the air, wanting to savor this central, defining moment, it's distracted by another leaf, falling alongside it. They have means of communicating. And the quiet leaf has this retort to what the other leaf has conveyed. It ends up missing out on this experience, the way it wanted to experience it. Now it's on the ground. There's uncertainty, peril. Winter coming on. I think it will really affect people. This shouldn't even be able to be a character, but one gets pulled in. Cares a surprising amount. There are other things happening beyond the literal, and that's where we are all involved, so this is a human story, too, and we are most invested in human stories, whatever form they take, and become more invested with the more human that they are. There are five new stories in a little more than a week. They need work and time. I will work hard on them to get them where they should be.

This is the first sentence of one of them: "The day I met God—and it was just the one time—a voice told me he was out back."

Ran 5000 stairs Saturday and 3000 yesterday. Did 100 push-ups each day. Yesterday marked 2170 days, or 310 weeks, without a drink of alcohol. I think it's more than that, to be honest. But when I lose count--like when I'm running the stairs--I always assume the lower number. I could have sworn I stopped drinking in May 2016, though, and I could have fumbled the math. Whatever. This is the official tally, so call it two weeks short of six years. I don't know why I sweated so much yesterday, given that it was only 3000 stairs. Coming back I saw the former mentee in the hallway. She was going to see her boyfriend. Looking at me she said, "Oh my God, Colin," like she was alarmed by said amount of sweat. I hope that's a sign that the workout was solid and is benefiting me.

I have multiple ideas for a book in the Oxford University Press's Very Short Introductions series. The books are meant to be primers, but they can be arresting volumes all the same. In other words, you wouldn't automatically be limited so that it'd just be this intro. It would be an intro, but it can be much more. It can be definitive. It can be an all-timer of a book. That's how I would do it. While also satisfying the requirements. There's a smart way to do this. For a while now, I've been thinking about what I might do. I put together this pitch about F. Scott Fitzgerald, and, frankly, I didn't like how I was spoken to by that particular editor, who told me they don't do books on authors for the most part. As I was staring at one on Franz Kafka. There are two other editors, though. I am exceptionally well-versed in this series. I know what the deal is. I know the subjects, who writes these books, how they read. There are no half-measures in my world. I don't idly say something because I want to do it. The topics can seem huge. Philosophy, for example, is an entry in the series. These are my ideas: Thoreau, the Beatles, comedy, jazz, mystery, baseball. Any of those, I could crush, as they say.

Tomorrow on Downtown I was going to discuss Sherlock Holmes, as seen from less common angles. This would have included the novel The Hound of the Baskervilles as a book of nature writing; 1939 film version of The Hound of the Baskervilles as a horror picture; August Derleth and his Holmes-like creation, Solar Pons; Carleton Hobbs as one of the best Sherlock Holmes, on BBC radio in the 1960s; and "The Five Orange Pips," the most heartbreaking of the sixty canonical works, and one of only two in which someone dies after getting Holmes' help. But, Kimball is going to be out, and Pratt is filling in, so we will discuss Brackets. I've been talking about the stories in groups of four--and we'll finish off with two segments of three stories each to wrap up the book--with Kimball, and those have been fine talks. I think there's been some super insight and I'm glad to have it all on tape. Pratt and I will talk about the book overall. Just a different voice. I also like the comments and questions that he brings up. Different vantage point. The Holmes will keep to the week after.

I watched Double Indemnity again. I'm not convinced. I just don't believe the movie. When I watch Out of the Past, I believe everyone's motivation. I believe in them as characters. Their stories are organic. Not so with Double Indemnity. The movie wants to be something and be that thing immediately, but without convincing us it is that thing. So Fred MacMurray blitzes through what the build-up romance part, by saying "baby" a lot. It's laughable. Why is he so into her? And spare me "love at first sight." It's so the movie can do other things. I don't want anything that does something merely so other things can happen. When I say characters tell me their stories, that's what I mean. They're organic. I don't put something in to have it there. Everything is a ramp-up, a progression, but that progression, as it works itself out, also feels improvised, not preordained, and certainly not shoehorned. A lot of Double Indemnity--especially the getting going--is shoehorned. It works best on the downward slide, when MacMurray realizes he's screwed and who he is dealing with--not that you have any sympathy for him. There are some decent moments. The way that MacMurray's character dispatches Barbara Stanwyck's, after that weird hug. I like the weird hug. Edward G. Robinson is good like he usually is. The film is nowhere near what its reputation suggests, though. It's fine. It's not a lot more than fine. I like it. But it's not some outstanding film. This is a 1950 radio adaptation from the night before Halloween, with MacMurray and Stanyck reprising their roles. Interesting rule of thumb about MacMurray in general: the films in which he's talking slower--I'm serious--tend to be better films. When he's spitting the words out, they work less well. Again, they're less convincing.


It's a little bit later--coming up on ten AM. Wrote an awesome op-ed about the word "literally," that is hilarious and spot on, and does some very inventive things with language. I wrote this one longer--900 words. This is how it begins:

Recently I was at a café in which a cluster of late twenty-something women occupied the table next to mine. I mulled what I always do in these situations, and that was how I might fashion a complex romantic relationship in which we were all involved. Aka, the cornucopia.

Relax. I’m literally joking. Or, I could just tell you that I’m joking. I make this distinction because the word “literally” has become a kind of linguistic scourge in our society, and the problem goes far beyond the overuse of its three syllables.

These women were college graduates. They enthused about the old days. Some of them hadn’t seen each other in a while. They wanted to catch up—had much to share. And yet, not one of them could go five words without throwing in a literally. The words were mostly the same. There was nothing individualistic about the language any of the women used, but they each wanted to make some special points—you could tell by the frustrated vigor and volume behind those words—and when trying to do so, “literally” would be pressed into service, as if it meant “I super duper extra really mean this, so please understand that what I’m saying is significant.”

Hugs are well and good, but ultimately, we are verbal creatures, whether we wish to be or not, and we need our words—in their efficient individuality and specificity—in order to connect as specific individuals with other specific individuals. Take that away, and we’re lost. We’re reliant on memes, clichés, Twitter-speak that becomes the only existing form of real-life vernacular. Our bonds wither.

“Literally” as a would-be, lazy cure-all that fixes nothing and makes matters worse, is not a women thing. It’s an everyone thing. Consider the bro, whose favorite team just won the championship. What does he say to fellow dude-bro? “They’re literally the best team ever.” And thus the bro falls on his rhetorical sword—metaphorically—probably without even knowing it.


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