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The metaphor of the Monument

Monday 1/1/24

Inside of the Bunker Hill Monument, no one knows me. They have no sense of what I know. What I am able to do. What I do. What I produce. How much of it I produce. How hard I work. The person I am. My character.

I am simply a man in the Monument. No one there can be intimidated by me, or envious, or threatened, or made insecure, save insofar as my physical appearance causes them to be so, or what I'm doing does, which is going up and down the obelisk, passing people multiple times.

But the truisms of the world are even to be located within an obelisk. You can get indications--and proof--of how people are. What they favor. What they don't. Who makes them comfortable and who they're inclined to like, and who--and what--doesn't make them comfortable, and is singled out as different, or "better," and a threat to self-esteem, or even just what a person prefers to try and tell themselves about themselves.

There is very little consideration in the world. If someone wants something and you're nearby and you can provide what they want, they're not going to give a second thought--or a first--as to whether they're inconveniencing you or if they're being inappropriate. It won't enter their mind.

If I'm running stairs at City Hall, and lots of people are about, someone will still ask me for directions, when they could ask someone else who is not covered in sweat, doing a vigorous workout, but I happen to be five feet closer, even though it should be obvious that I'm involved in something.

People, for the most part, only care about themselves. The person they're always putting first is them. It's about what they want, not "This could be a bad time for that other person," or "Would this be inconsiderate of me?" I'm just getting that out of the way for this discussion.

What follows is a very simple point, but it's useful because it's telling.

Who do you think most people in the Monument want to happily commiserate with? Who do you think they "like"? Are inclined to like? To be friendly with?

People who are struggling and bent over for breath like they are. Those are the people they want to like. With whom they do "jokes."

"There's a bar at the top."

Wacka wacka.

"This is my exercise for the week!"

People want people like them. In the Monument, people who are in bad shape--which is most people--labor. They see someone else laboring, and because that person is similar, they like that person.

People have no problem addressing me in the Monument, but they're often rude, snippy, defensive. The project defensiveness. I can feel their resentment. They look at me, going up, going down, focused, dedicated, not struggling, and they do not like that.

Many of them. I'm different than they are in this regard. And again, this is all they know about me. There's largely only one way for any of us to be all that different within this space, and that's in terms of how well, or not, we're able to go up these stairs.

I see faces light up when that person sees someone else struggling. Cue the jokes. They've encountered a fellow spirit. Same boat and all.

The other day there was a couple at the top, about thirty. The guy was a mess. He had taken off his jacket, his long-sleeve shirt, and had just a T-shirt on. Sitting there, panting. His girlfriend, or his wife, or whatever she was, said, "You don't realize what bad shape you're in until you climb stairs."

I hit that top step, touch it with both feet, and turn around. I don't tarry at the top. Touch, touch, and back down. But I hear these bits of conversations in that quick interval. And I thought, "You needed the stairs to tip you off? You had no idea? Really?"

Speaks to a lack of self-awareness, even in such a simple matter. These people were out of shape. You could see them on a bus and think that just as easily. Then the woman says, "I bet it's probably easier going down."

You bet that, huh? You probably went to college. And there's some mystery to you whether it's harder to go up stairs or down them? So you don't know about that thing called gravity, then?

And again, I'm just sort of flashing through. I'm not lingering. The ignorance, though, of people, of the world, even with the simplest things, is unavoidable, even here, even now, when there are so few people who go up these stairs during these days of November, December, and into the winter.

On the way down, I passed someone I had passed not long before. I get to the bottom, touch touch, and turn around to start back up, and this time I pass this same person--a guy, with his wife or girlfriend--coming down. And he says to me--like he's angry--"How many times a day do you do this?"

Now, again, I'm going up. Exertion is involved in this. No one is going to think that I might be saving my breath because I need it with this theoretically hard thing to do. That'll never enter anyone's head. I'm totally fair game for a conversation. I answer, "Five times today." But he doesn't hear me, or he's incredulous, so he says, "How many?"

I'm so polite with everyone; until--if they're in publishing--they've discriminated against me for years, and they end up in these pages. But am I impolite then? I don't think that's accurate. I tell the truth. If these people could challenge those statements and what is revealed by them, they would. But they can't, because they recognize that what I've said is factual and truthful, so they don't. They hope it won't lead to anything else bad for them is all they do, and all they can do, save say, "You're right, I've been not as I should be with you, I'm sorry, is there any way to put that in the past and move forward?"

What do you think the chances are of one of these people being able to do that? And it's so simple, right?

Again I answer the guy, no edge whatsoever in my voice, but rather evenness and calmness, and say, "Five today."

Well. Then you get this sarcastic-toned, repetition of what I said, not really to me, but out loud in general, this kind of "la de da, five times, isn't that impressive." And like I'm doing something wrong or bizarre, because who would actually, you know, put forward effort, have determination, and try at something that most don't think is easy, and, too, get good at it.

Now, if I'm bent over, like I'm going to heave, this guy would have wanted to do a joke about there being a bar at the top. I hear so much friendly banter like that. "They say if you do it once you never have to do it again."

Ha ha ha. What wit, what fun.

Some people are so damn proud of themselves that they made it to the top once. It's big for them. They have this look on their face of, "That was so impressive of you!"

Well, how do you think they feel when they then look and see me oh-so-casually, not even breathing hard, hit that top step and turn around to do it again? The smile dissolves. It's like I've robbed them of this thing they wanted to think about themselves.

And, frankly, I do that a lot with everyone. Not because of what I do to them, but because of what I am. And what people see me being. What I am. What I create.

I ask you: You see who people are going to like here, and who they aren't going to like? Right? At least most of the time? See how that works? Why that is?

Everything is parallelism. It determines who gets the award, the platform, the gig, the followers, the praise. Everyone wants to see someone who is like they are. Anything "more" or "better" makes someone else a threat, the enemy, someone you don't want around, someone you don't want to support, doing anything for, do right by, associate with, back, see things from, etc.

Now think about someone in publishing. With no ability. Who never works. Struggles so much to write anything. Who is awkward. Isn't an expert on anything. Has no special knowledge, never mind vast knowledge. Can't think up a single original story, forget about thousands. Requires someone hooking them up to publish whatever nonsense that they know has no real value which they've managed to produce after five years. Someone who will write less this entire year, than I will today, on this first day of the year. Someone without social skills. Someone unathletic who hates sports and sportiness. Someone who knows me. Who knows what I do. Who wouldn't be the least surprised that I began work on this day at midnight. Who knows how good whatever a given work is by me--pick a title. Doesn't matter.

How do you think that's going to go when they have say with me? When they can say, "Wow, thanks for offering us this story 'The Installation,' it's amazing, it's really generous of you, we can't pay hardly anything," or they can fuck with me? Lie to me. Ignore me. Play some bullshit game with me.

Look at a loser like Nate Brown at American Short Fiction. A guy who has done nothing in his life and never will. An embarrassing absence of...anything. Quality work. Books. Publications. Even very low-level publications. And this, too, as one of them--not as someone with thousands against him. And he knows that. And he's not even as bad as the two people running the place who are only and ever--unless it's to save their own asses--going to hook up a certain kind of person, who is connected to them, and is no threat whatsoever, because they're not any good. They're just mediocre. Ordinary. They're the person struggling on the stairs, but with the right connections, who is seen as the right kind of person, and better still if they check certain boxes (color, gender) to boot.

(I should be completely accurate here: At no time did Nate Brown have any authority whatsoever at American Short Fiction to take work. That's entirely the privilege of Adeena Reitberber and Rebecca Markovits, who exclusively hook up people in their circle, the right kind of people in the system, with none of it having to do anything with the work. Zero. One can go through this journal and find any of a number of examples of inarguably bad writing from that venue. I'm talking about this kind of person that a Nate Brown is. Where it's about the pose, the pettiness, and attempting to take a kind of revenge on someone else for being everything that other person is not, and envy.)

What do you think is going to happen? What do you think is going to happen if I publish an op-ed in Time--seems like a big deal, right?--and I put that up on Facebook in front of 5000 industry types: editors, agents, publishers, writers. How many of them do you think will so much as even hit the like button? The factual answer--you can go check--is zero. Think about that. That's just one thing from one day. Typical of me.

And that's the problem.

See how this works?

And you see a version of it--a very simple, unadorned version--in the Monument. It's how people are. It's how publishing people are way more, even, than other people.

This is the single biggest problem for me to solve, to overcome. This is the root of everything else. It all comes back to what I've described here. Now far, far, far more than ever.

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