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Throw the knife

Friday 12/11/20

Sent out a pitch last night for an op-ed that is somewhat Star Wars-related. "I was thinking about this Star Wars news today out of Disney, with the ten series/films coming. I say: enough. There's a larger societal trend of re-chewing already chewed meat. I knew someone who said, 'Live your life like a thrown knife,' and I think the same should go for art and entertainment. Create something new. Move on. Franz Kafka's publisher wrote him one time and said that they'd never experienced a writer who was less interested in what he'd just written. Why? Because Kafka always focused on what was next, what he could invent that he hadn't before. Have we lost any understanding of what this means? I think we have. And I think that contributes to a devolution in art and entertainment, and, ultimately, us."


Am I talking about myself? Yeah, for the most part. Realistically I haven no expectation that anyone is going to create anything new, let alone create something new constantly.


I wrote a new story this morning called "Captains' Practice." For Longer on the Inside. It's a sports story, so even if you are not blackballed by an industry, there's not a lot you could do with it, because publishing people usually hate sports. Gym class remains a traumatic memory. These are the first three paragraphs:


***


I think I’m older than I am, hardened, because I sit with a gas station coffee between my legs in an empty rink parking lot, cassette of the Stones’ Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out playing. I understand in “Stray Cat Blues” that he’s talking about the size of somebody’s pussy. I get things like that. Hardened gas station coffee man in the car, first year he can drive, bag of gear in the back with shin pads that smell like swamp reeds and drying cum with a pinch of chlorine.


“Gotta leave you something,” I imagine my dad saying if he had a choice. Box of tapes that doesn’t look like much. Doors’ Absolutely Live, Having a Rave-Up with the Yardbirds, Cream’s Wheels of Fire. Dark. Different from saying all darkness, no light. Because there’s the faint trace with the former. One street lamp for the whole parking lot. Before school on a Monday morning in the ass end of January when the Christmas wreaths that are still up start to look rusted, like the snow piles filled with minestrone-colored runoff from the roads.


You see those pebbles in the snow and I think of them like pimples on cheeks, pit marks, wonder if the snow wants to scratch them off. Like cuts are better than acne, fresher, more generally human and less specifically teen. Captains’ practice on the last Monday of every month of hockey season, no coaches. Show to run for three seniors. Dude who works the Zamboni arrives, opens the rink. Throw on my gear in the locker room downstairs as the other guys come in generally smelling like post-nasal drip. Not a single brush brought to a mouth at four in the morning. The drills devolve. Half-assed attempts at three-on-twos and breakout plays. A tip drill where I stand in front of the goalie and Chase Scala fires the puck from the point up around my neck but there’s not a damn thing I can do about it because he’s been on the team for four years and I’m a sophomore.


***


So that's strong. I wrote an op-ed on Handel's "Amen" chorus from Messiah. A taste:


"But here’s the thing, if you’re up for looking at Christmas differently: the 'Hallelujah' chorus is absolutely dusted by the chorus that closes Messiah. That would be the greatest achievement of Handel’s career, or just about that of any other composer.


"I’m talking about the 'Amen' chorus, in which Handel takes that single word, and creates an entire citadel of meaning, resonance, surprise, with a gobsmacking nod and salute to the human capacity for wonder.

"The 'Amen' chorus surrounds you. It’s like life that way. Immersive, cyclonically ethereal and yet aware of the grind. But seeking that which we have not experienced or known is what elevates us above that slog, the effort we invest to see the world anew.


"It’s but a repeated word, sounded again and again, and yet, with Handel’s lived-in genius for tone painting, the word “Amen” seems to encase the very nature of possibility itself. To contain, paradoxically, the infinite. Or to point—melodically—to whatever the infinite can best represent in our lives."


I didn't see a lot of the Patriots game last night. Saw enough early on to know they wouldn't be able to move the ball. I don't know what to make of the quarterback situation. I don't understand why they thought Newton would be good enough. Did you give away the season right there? What's harder to grasp to me is why they stay with him. Is Stidham that bad? I guess he could be. He can throw the ball. Newton physically can't throw. He doesn't have the physical skills to play the position any longer. And it's not like he's an astute quarterback. Is Stidham a total moron on the football field? I can't believe Belichick made any kind of a deal with Newton, that if he took the low contract he'd play no matter what. You don't know what people see in practice, so you're groping about for answers. But the whole thing is strange to me. I understand that the Patriots' receivers are awful. But even when they're open, Newton can't get the ball there. Has no touch. Fires at players' feet. Takes a long time for the ball to come out. I think the Belichick-Brady union had to end, but what you see in New England is ugly, and what you see in Tampa is ugly. I saw a headline today--I don't remember where--that said that "only" twelve teams have a real chance to win the Super Bowl. Only twelve? That's some shoddy headline writing, because that would be a huge amount, if it were true. Wide open. I guess there is a wide open component, in that you have one team obviously better than every other team.


The reaction to "Girls of the Nimbus" from the people I know befits what the story is. Going around begging to people who hate you asking them to let it be about the work, because it's the work that matters, costs me some of my soul. With a work like this, that would do so much for the venue to feature it. You say, "It's the work that matters most, right?" but you're saying that to people who aren't wired that way. The work is the least of what matters. The people who have read it and have felt its impact would probably be surprised to learn that it was not a war story at first. It's also not a war story. It's unique. But it was this other thing at first. A lot of that thing was intact, when I hit upon what becomes the driving action. After a fashion. But then you have that action within the action, and they're both different and related taking place at two different times in this woman's life--one time as a young adult, the other time as a ten-year-old girl.


I know what goes into these venues and why. I know with such specificity. I can tell you why someone has their given piece in Conjunctions. The relationship. So then what do I do? Write about that on here? I have, and I do when I have to, but I never want it to come to that. I just want the work to have the fair chance it merits. I don't want to be discriminated against because of who I am, what I can do, what I have done, what I do every week. I don't want to be made to suffer because of someone else's lack of a quality they want to have, or their envy, or their insecurity, or their racism or sexism. Their laziness. Lack of imagination. Inability to generate any work.


There's a line in "Girls of the Nimbus" that is apt: "Those who wish to be the real deal always know the real deal when they see it."


A problem is is that these places don't answer to anyone. These people don't answer to anyone. They don't answer to a free trade market, because they've killed off reading. The system exists to sell work, in low numbers, to other people in the system. Other writers and pretend writers and academics and whatever else. When you push your industry so far into the margins, so beyond the purview of the general public, you can do whatever you wish, because you only answer to yourself. And if you don't have a conscience, or scruples, or a solid base of self, things will just be diseased and stay diseased, enabled in that prevailing rot by people who are similar. No one tells the truth in the entire system. When no one tells the truth, and it's lie after lie after lie, the falsities become the status quo, the norm. Then everything is inverted. Bad is good, good is bad, unfunny is funny, Lydia Davis and T.C. Boyle are good writers. The sick house of falsity becomes, to these people, akin to a sunny day outside. They can't tell the difference. They hate themselves either way. And if you deepen their self-hate, because of how you contrast with who and what they are, you will be the one who pays for that when they have that moment--and it's all they have with you--to be offered your work, because in their mind, you're in their hands. That's their chance, the one time they have a higher ground than you. Not a moral higher ground. A place of leverage or power. There's nothing you can write--and it can be the actual best thing ever written, it could be something that would make a lot of money, reach lots of people--that will result in that thing--which is very likely not even a big thing--working out for your work as the work merits it working out with that kind of person, until and if something forces their hand. They're going to opt to exercise that power over you in a negative, petty fashion, no matter how much they and their venue stand to gain. (They will also default to what they've seen before; the new frightens and repels them. They can only put forward the likes of that which they have seen before. And before. And before. And before. Anything else might as well be written in an alien language--even if, ironically, seventeen million people out there in the world would love it.) That's always going to matter less to them. And it's not like they can think of other times where it mattered at all, the numbers of sales or the people reached, because all they're doing is putting in the same crap again and again. By the same bad writers who are like how they are. Who have a background and skill set--non-skill set--they are comfortable with.


That's one of the selling points of the system--community for those who have a hard time locating it elsewhere, who are not strong enough to stand on their own. But it's not real community. Healthy community. It's classism and a kind of "mean girls" community of pettiness, low-level power, sniveling toxicity, passive aggressiveness. Who does it affect? Not a lot of people, really, because those who do write tend to be this sort of person, and that kind of person binds together with others of their ilk, they're not threatened by each other. Others would be driven away. Those with character. Because you'd find no succor here. And those with talent. Because you wouldn't be encouraged. You'd be shouted down (but in a cowardly behind-the-scenes way), because to have talent is to write in a manner these people don't. The way they write is a way that anyone without talent can adopt and imitate. That's how you get enough people to stock the community. And to create the work that can't add a damn thing of value to a life.


A person is wrong if they do not think there is a direct correlation between where we are as a culture and a society and what the publishing industry and system now is. Such a person couldn't be much more wrong.


Anyway. I'll keep trying. Like I said, I'm not losing to these people. Too much is at stake. I should exercise.


***


Ran three miles. Let's wrap up the Week Game. Wrote four short stories. Wrote an op-ed. Did these blog posts. Talked on the radio. Finished "Nimbus." Just worked on "Eede Upstairs" in my head on my run. Going to be a major one. I'll go slow with it. Published an op-ed in the WSJ. Again, as always, my week is a career for these people. And I don't count this kind of thing in the stats of the Week Game, but I also wrote and sent 100 letters.


Thrown knife.