There are many pieces of the pie--the name I give to the totality of issues/hurdles/problems I face, of which there are thousands to overcome--but one of the largest is what I call the issue of access.
I create stories--works of fiction--in which the characters are more real than I am. More real than anyone is. Ever has been. Recently I composed a story called "Out of the Book," about a character who tumbles out into the real world. We see him as he goes about his life--and the business of his life--in which he becomes less and less real, more and more like everyone else. It's a process of his lessening realness--that's his journey in his "other" story.
Something I've learned with this journal is that people want what I call "chatty Kathy." They want to feel that a connection exists--even if one does not at all--with the person behind the words of what they're reading.
So there are people who will read these pages, and never give a single thought to--or ever look at--the fiction I do, anything I do, which is on a completely different level, and features characters and stories more real than anything here.
I remember some time ago some person wrote me and she said that she'd read the blog for ten months or whatever it was, and she figured she'd buy a book, now that she was going on vacation. Many people read these pages and never look at what I actually do. Because, in their minds, that involves people that are not real. How can you have access to people who are not real? Whereas, they presume that I, Colin Fleming, author of these pages, doing a form of chatty Kathy, is real.
This is how social media works--the delusion of access. Somebody's social media honcho--say, Michael Jordan's--posts whatever about them, and then people get in the comments section, by the thousands, and act as if they're having a personal conversation with the person who didn't even make the post, who never reads the comments. It's the illusion of access. The delusion of access. Think about how people get in those comments sections and say, "Happy Birthday Mike!!!!" like he's seeing this. Or, "One time, in 1991, we made eye contact and you looked at me like..." It's not rational thinking. But that's how people want to read, in that they read at all--as if the process of their eyeballs going over someone's words are akin to whatever it is that motivates the social media commenter to say, "Hey, Mike, remember that time..."
The fiction that comes out and is awarded, and celebrated, is all meaningless wankery. It's sterile, it's dead, it has no point. There are no exceptions elsewhere right now. It's canned goods. That it is flat, that it is prosaic, is part of how it is now supposed to sound. It's what the publishing industry wants and has dealt in so long that it can't recognize anything else, or put anything else forward, save this horrible wankery. It's all desiccated casings, and no meat. When you read it--which hardly anyone does--you'll know, right away, that you're experiencing something that is supposed to be sterile and bland. It's just how it's supposed to look, go, read. And you take that for what it is. But what can happen, if you do the opposite of this, is that you're nonetheless going to be painted with the same brush before someone even gets to the work. You'll get the trickle down effect of those other experiences and expectations. If people already have access to you doing something else they like, they're going to stop there. They're not going to think, "I should check out this other stuff, from this other area, maybe it's even better." (Similarly, if someone reads music pieces you do, to give one example, and they think it's the best music writing they've read in their lives, they're going to stop there with you. They won't look further. It could be if they saw the fiction first. Or the sports writing. Or the humor book. Or the op-eds. Or the beach read. Or the "avant-garde" fiction. So a lot of it is timing, because we don't allow, frankly, for the existence of someone like what I am. We don't allow for the possibility. We are closed off to it and there being any "more," even if we don't know we are, because that's human nature--not to be open to what it is that I am.) In part because they're lazy, but also in part because of the expectations they already have. Sometimes that's because of the publishing industry and what they've tried to read in the past. Often, it's because of this fundamental idea of access. Or, both.
But back to that idea of access and how the idea of it, and the presumption of it, distorts: I experienced this recently with a nonfiction piece I wrote--a first person essay--and an interview I gave. The person who conducted the interview said it was the most emotional, inspirational piece they'd ever read in their life. And it was nothing of the kind, at least not from me. What I mean by that is, the text didn't support this at all. That's not to say that the piece wasn't brilliant, that it wasn't a great work of art, that it wasn't better than anything anyone else could write. But the thrust was not emotional or inspirational. You couldn't back up that assertion with proof from the actual piece. The text. And you certainly couldn't say that, with any validity, had you read "Fitty," "The Echo Blow," "Dead Thomas," "One Man's Gates," "Coffee Streaks," what have you.
What I do in my work takes thousands of different forms. With thousands of different characters. Thousands of different voices. Every single thing is in there. Every preference. Flavor. Type. Mode. Color. Sound. Mood. Strata of reality. Strata of existence. And it's all different.
I was saying to someone today to consider a story I wrote like "The Stopping." I can barely tell you how much effort, genius, energy, and quantity of my very soul goes into such a work. I've mentioned this story in these pages before, but I'll sum up again. A woman who works as a logger in Oregon is summoned back across the country by an older woman in Martha's Vineyard for whom she once worked as a nanny--her lone nanny job--in her mid-twenties. There was a tragedy that summer, which led the woman who tells the story to head West. We get this accounting of her journey/fucked up/heartbreaking road trip across the country at that time--sort of in-flight from what had occurred, but also so much more--and now we see her in this place once again. We think the story is about the events of that summer, and the narrator thinks this as well. That she's there to provide crucial information--which only she can provide--to this other woman, her former employer. But she ends up having this epiphany, and she sees--as we see--why she went on to make many of the choices she did in her life up until that point of thirty-eight-years-old, or whatever she is.
Now, if this woman actually existed in the world, like with a street address and a social security number, she could have written this piece and called it a personal essay. She could have put it up on her blog (where it could go viral). It's chatty Kathy. First person. Confessional. The juice, the gossip. The feelz.
And it would be received completely differently--people would be open to it, completely differently--simply because of that terminology, and the illusion of access. I've had family members who will only read these pages. It's not just insulting, it's obtuse, and it is also self-denying, for it it is to partake of something lesser when what is out there and greater is on a whole different level. It's not what I do, it's not what I am here for, it's not what my genius is, and it's not connection and real access like those stories are, like those books are, like that fiction is.
I wrote a story called "Dot." It's as strong as anything I've ever done. And if I sent it to some people saying it was a personal essay, it'd get a different response than if I sent it to them as fiction. Because they think it's access. The pipeline to connection with someone "out there." In the world. Which is an illusion, at least in part.
There are many people who will read these pages, think them brilliant, read them every day, find inspiration and insight, and it's just really shit I throw up there pretty quickly. Which isn't to run it down--because I think I've done more with this record, as an art form, than Pepys or Thoreau did with their diaries or journals, respectively. But again, it's not what I do. It's not the "most real" I get. It's not what I am here for.
I don't have anything more real than the characters I create, because there has never been anything more real in the history of the world than those characters. They are far more real than I am, or anyone is. They are as real as real can be. What they provide access to is something I cannot provide access to on my own, or just in what my life is like, or how I see my life. That is the access that matters the most. That's real access. They also provide the access for people to themselves. They provide the access of self-connection.