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The Holly and the Ivy

Monday 11/16/20

I think something I'd like to do this year is various entries about overlooked works of Christmas art and entertainment. I know it's only November 16, but I can get into Christmas stuff on January 23, or in mid-May, because I just love Christmas so much. I like the idea of people being nicer to each other than usual--though I know they're not. And the colors, the smells, the shortened days, the mystery, the ghost stories, the films, the sounds, the music of Christmas, those carols in a minor key that remain uplifting, which feel like they are connecting you to something larger. I had very happy Christmases when I was a child, looked forward to them so much. I think they taught me about dreaming, too. Now they are hard and I'm alone, but I guess I dream about future Christmases, in better circumstances, like I used to dream about what Santa would be leaving and things of that nature.

I should say something, too, about the nature of this journal. The email notification issue is apparently fixed, going by what a few people have told me, and because people are unsubscribing, including someone I did a lot of great work for for free, which was very much a middle finger to me, in my view. At the same time, the traffic goes up. As usual, I am not aware what is going on in these matters, but I know my plan, I know why I'm doing what I feel and think I must be doing, and I know the value of that. So I try not to get caught up in small matters like this. The thing with a blog--and I really don't like that term, because this isn't a blog as other blogs are--is that you have to provide a means of subscribing. Everything being equal, I wouldn't want to do that. When this journal becomes better known than it is, perhaps I'll do away with that function, as people will simply know how this work. That there is always new content. The notifications are really for blogs that don't add much new material. Because of what they are, someone isn't getting an email alert a day. Or three. Or five. I wouldn't want the alerts personally, but that's because I simply go to sites I like routinely. I make up my mind to go. I don't need a prompt or to be reminded.

Clearly what I'm doing is a different kind of undertaking. This is more like a computer-based version of Pepys' diaries or Thoreau's journals. I don't know how Thoreau would handle this right now. I thought, okay, maybe just get rid of the alerts, until someone I know who has read more of my work than anyone in the world--and more of my correspondence--and who has known me for twenty-five years, said that they'd missed a lot of entries because the alerts hadn't been coming, and they don't rely on them, necessarily, but each time they get one, they come here. And without them, they check once a week, and some things, so it seemed to me, fell between cracks.

It's one of those damned if you do, damned if you don't things. I'm not writing a blog that shares a casserole recipe, or tries to do what end up being bad jokes--"takes"--on silly super hero movies. I'm not doing a blog about my yoga sessions. I am doing a journal about the human soul. And a singular journey by a singular artist and person. A singular mind. A person in great pain, right now, who is trying to get somewhere that is important. For them, yes, but for the world, and that is more important.

I should say, simply, why I write this journal. I write it because it is art. It is work of right now, that documents this age, and a unique person in this age, their attempt to contribute to that age and help the people in it, and find a place of belonging themselves. That's one reason. Another is to expose an industry that has done society so much harm. Because no one else will do it. No one else will have this person's background, body of work, and quantity of experiences. They will not know the truth like this person knows it and lives it. That's another reason. I write it to help people who think they cannot carry on in what they are facing. I try to provide an example of endurance. I try to offer hope. I think people can look at my life and say, "that man is totally alone. He is facing so many different things. He is unloved. But each day he works harder than anyone, he creates art unlike any art. He fights. I'm not alone. I am loved. I am not facing what this man is facing. But I am facing what I am facing, and now maybe I understand that better, can handle that with renewed vigor and fight and hope." So that's another reason. I write this journal for history, because it tells my story, which I think--I do believe this--will always be around. I think this is history that I'm living right now. And this is the period I must get through to make my mark upon this world. I write this journal to talk about art, to show that it need not be some academic concern of fossils, how it can bring beauty, joy, meaning. I look at how art functions, how it is made, across many forms of art--film, music, literature, architecture, dance, painting, television, radio. So that's another reason. I use it to warm-up for formal writing. To get something done and down, to build momentum. That's another reason. And I write it for me. To keep myself organized, focused. To even just keep track of certain things as mundane as how many thousands of stairs I ran in a week, or how long I've gone without drinking. Because they're also not that mundane, really, in this context. I don't write this journal for the sort of person who thinks in terms of, "He said something I don't agree with about John Lennon, why, I'm going to unsubscribe." You're not my kind of person. You wouldn't be Pepys' either. Or Thoreau's. Ultimately, this journal is about art because it is art, and justice in a real way, because publishing is an evil, bigoted industry, and it is is about strength, hope, and perhaps ultimately, more than anything, about love. Love begins with vulnerability and openness. Love is about enriching the lives of one's fellow humans. And love is certainly living your life so that others may live theirs better. This is a journal of love, and I have to say some things that are hard sometimes. If that causes you to go, that causes you to go--but I would look inside my own heart, if I were you, rather than castigate mine.

I'll share a truism that we can all see right now. The people who have massive followings, who we turn to on our social media to see what they're saying, are uniformly the same. They are simple. They are often not very intelligent. But they all do the same thing: And that is to repeat one single damn thing/idea/thesis again and again and again and again and again. One subject. Not even one subject. One portion of one subject. They beat it into the ground. They hammer at it relentlessly. And if you agree with that one single thing they say, and you're following them, that's the sole reason you're following them: To have this one thing you agree on repeatedly constantly. That's the audience for that person with the 2.3 million Twitter followers, that person who makes their millions of dollars a year. That's what they do, that's all they do. If you feel that way about that one thing, you're into what they do. And if you're not, you're not. Though you might hate follow, which also boosts their numbers. But they never go from idea to idea, subject to subject. What that means is, they never risk losing anyone else. The more you talk about, the more you know about, the more you risk losing people, because someone might be with you on nine straight subjects in a row, but if they disagree with the tenth, they're out.

This is not a good way to be, and if you're like this, again, I'd ask you to consider what this mindset does to society, to the concept of individualism, to connection, to critical thinking. Because this is a very real problem. What I say above is true: Every single last person who has a following functions exactly as I just said they do. Go look. Same thing, every time, about one thing. What is added to lives? The feeling of "They agree with me, there's my latest shot of cheap vindication." But, "I hate Fleming, he said that Jeopardy was mere trivia, and trivia is not knowledge, and can undercut the pursuit of knowledge." Okay--maybe you don't agree with that. It doesn't really matter, does it? Look at the argument made with that example, though, from a few entries back. One could not disagree with the quality of the argument, even if one disagree with what it is arguing. I don't do "hot takes." I don't try to get a rise out of anyone.

I try my best to deal in truths that I think are vital to our humanness. I don't think we are very good at being human right now, and I think we are often only fractionally human, and not anywhere close to fully human. When people say the point of life is to have fun, and cliches like that, I think, no, not nearly. You may have fun. At some point, I hope to have as much as anyone ever has, and I will, if I get to where I am trying to get. But the point of life is to be as fully human as possible. Perhaps, ultimately, that is the reason that encapsulates all of the reasons I gave above, for why I write this journal. Why I allow it to be seen in real time. I am not going to pretend to be things I am not. I know exactly what I am as an artist. Why do you think this is happening with this industry and this artist? Because they are middling? No--they are unlike any artist who has come before. That is why this unique situation has arisen. And then there is the work. So much work. Across so many forms. And despite the thousands of examples of it that have come out, that is such a small fraction of what has been created. It's not 1%. I published fiction in Harper's and an industry got more angry than ever with me, and said, "We are going to make it next to impossible for you to publish any more stories." I went out and wrote more than 200 of them in two years. They're not lesser artistic achievements than that Harper's story. Some, like "Fitty," are stories that would have a real bearing upon this world right now. They'd have an actual, discernible impact.

That is one small example of what I have, those two hundred plus stories. What is not being allowed to be seen. What would one have had me do? Die in poverty? Take the abuse and bigotry? Be complicit in it that way? You have to take up your own oars sometimes in this life. I am doing what I have to do. But this idea that we only seek out the company--the virtual company--of people who say one single, simple thing that we happen to agree with--and maybe we shouldn't--is what needs to be changed. It's not good for humanity, it's not good for the humanness of the individual. If someone writes a piece saying that the Beatles' Revolver is a weak album, and they're not doing it for shock value, but they're making cogent points in well-written prose, I am very interested in reading that, though I consider Revolver among the handful of finest albums ever made. I am not threatened by this divergent viewpoint. I'll enjoy it. I may learn from it--how that person structured their argument, a phrase they used, who knows. That's where we want to get to, because if we have arrived there, we know that we are secure in who we are. The whole, "well, I agreed with those six other things she said, but now the seventh, she's out," is the stuff of the sandbox. It's not the stuff of developed humanness. It's cheap and lazy. Humanness is rich and vital.

There are people--petty, evil people--who go around in industry talking about me as if I were the devil. Or worse. They say to one of their cronies, "I hate him, will you hate him, too?" and the crony says, "Sure, I'll hate him now." That's a lot of how publishing works. Some calumny from a toxic, envious, power-minded, privileged lazy person of no ability, nor moral character. And if one wishes to take those scurrilous, five words of animus as gospel--and let's face it: hate is a binding agent right now, in this world, especially if we feel we do not measure up to that whom we are now hating--then I feel bad for that person. This journal is now starting to approach 900 entries over the course of in less than thirty months. Who I am as a person is abundantly plain in these entries. One cannot fake who they are, at a moral level, an ethics level, over the course of what is over ten full books of soul, mind, and heart-baring. That's another reason I write this journal.

So. that was an unusual introduction of sorts to what will be my first Christmas art recommendation of the season. The Holly and the Ivy is a 1952 English film that works especially well here in 2020, given that where we will be, and with whom we will be, is probably much on our minds, given COVID. I know where I'll be--I'll be alone, and I'll be writing. In fact, I could very well be finishing a book that day. "The Holly and the Ivy" is also one of my favorite Christmas carols, and one that is not as well known as many others. It's almost like knowing a cool band version of Christmas carols--the, I don't know, A Certain Ratio of Yule airs. The Whole and the Ivy is about a family coming together. A family that seems to be certain things, and is not certain things. Some members have a better understanding than others, and others, however well-intentioned, have no clue. It's a film about navigating how to be with each other, even after pain. Being with people who may have caused it, or not done enough to mitigate it, or tried hard enough to understand it. And maybe it's a better film, along these lines, to mull at a Christmas season when one is not with the same people as in years past.

Strangely, it came out only three days before Christmas in England, and not until February 1954 in the States. It's a favorite of mine, a picture you can have on over and over again--it's quite companionable that way. As a heads up, it's a pretty safe bet if one wished to watch any of the films I mention in these pages and can't find them on their streaming services, that you can go to a site called's a Russian site--and type in whatever title, and you'll find the film no problem, in good quality, and you can watch for free.


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