* I wrote a short story yesterday called "Under Benches," for which my nephew gave me the idea. (Some of you saw the work with a different title--the title changed.) Until recently, he believed that people were buried under the park benches that were dedicated to them. He's six. The story is very beautiful, wise, and touching. I received his theory two days ago, knew that night I was going to write the story, figured out most of it, and executed it formally the next morning. It's a ghost story, in a way, but not a scary one. A gentle and loving story. I wrote it like a bedtime story you'd read to a child, in terms of the tone and timbre, but a story for adults.
* I have been running pretty much every day, but on Sunday I ran three miles, walked fifteen, and ran the stairs at Boston College ten times. It's over 100 stairs to the top. An obese man who was working the grounds yelled at me about not wearing a mask on these stairs, as I worked out, with no one near me--and, of course, zero scientific proof that this virus can be passed in such circumstances. Power. Everyone wants it, no matter how petty the level. If you look like you're about to have a heart attack in the next twenty minutes or so, you lay yourself open when you go around trying to browbeat people about health and fitness.
* Sunday marked 1435 days, or 205 weeks, without a drink.
* I watched El Camino Christmas. Do you think people who make movies like this--and there are so many of them on Netflix--reach a point where they just say, "Eh, that's good enough, it doesn't have to be that good," and then just finish up? Or do you think they are really trying their best? If you're Tim Allen, and you've been around that long, why would you be in something like this and say lines like he does? Wouldn't you feel ridiculous? You have to know it's ridiculous, I'd think. When he's out in front of the store with the cut-out of the beer girl, and he's talking to it, it's pretty embarrassing. I know there's a lot of money involved, so that's why you'd do it, but clearly with just a little effort it could be that much less embarrassing. Everybody could just work a little bit harder and a little bit smarter and make almost all of the new films I see a lot better. It's like they're not even vetted, though. And you already have so much money to begin with when you sign up to play a part in a movie like this. It's not the same as doing it because you need the money. You probably don't even notice that you made the money. So why would you voluntarily embarrass yourself? Or you just can't tell and maybe think you're showing range, like this is something new you are displaying for your fans?
* All of the professional sports leagues should cancel their seasons. I'm going to pitch an op-ed saying as much. No one is ever going to take these championships seriously, if play does resume or start. It's money, that's the driver--I don't really think the integrity of the seasons is a factor. You're not going to get true results of what a championship means in the various sports. You're going to get something else. The truest champion might come from the NBA, because it's such a star-dominated, rather than team-regulated, league. But everything else is going to be a kind of false positive, I think. Just let it go. This year is going to be half over before you know it. Come back next year. Sometimes it's okay to just wait.
* On Sunday I watched The Boy with Green Hair (1948). I must say, the boy's parents suck. They're supposed to be heroes but they abandon their kid. Most mornings, before I begin to compose, I watch a bit of a film to rev up. Salesman (1969) was a recent example, today it was Les Diaboliques (1955). In 1946, Dean Stockwell was also in a film called The Green Years. Weird that he was in multiple films with green in the title and in so short an amount of time.
* I read about a Cape Cod ice cream store that re-opened, with the policy that you had to call at least an hour in advance with your order. People being sub-animals, they turned up whenever they pleased, not phoning in an order at all, demanding ice cream and verbally abusing a teenage girl who worked there. I'm almost always embarrassed for humans. I put myself in the perspective of what an alien looking in would think. You wouldn't think, "wow, these people are impressive, so formidable." You'd think, "what asinine fools humans are." Adults are almost more like children than children are. I think we peak early, as kids who actually learn, show signs of decency, then we regress for the rest of our lives. And if you don't, or you do the opposite, I think you pay, and you have a hard time not being lonely, not being without much in the way of people. Because it's so hard to find the people you would need--there just aren't that many out there.
* Since having written the above item, I saw that the store was flush with donations. I have mixed feelings on this. There is such privilege involved in who receives help in that assistance often does not go to the people or businesses who most deserve it--or just what they have coming to them. It comes to who gets favorable coverage (which itself is never about justice or truth, but always about pandering for lowest common denominator clicks). Then you are just hooked up. That bothers me. You don't begrudge the place because often they haven't done anything wrong (though plenty of people bilk the system and hop on social media to play the heart strings, and lie and con), but what about the people getting shafted a lot harder who don't get that break of good press? I hate the message it sends.
* Today (it's not yet 9 AM) I wrote a 2800 word feature for The American Interest on the cinematic techniques of The Last Dance and the myth of the short attention span.
* Today on Downtown I'll discuss the Wall Street Journal sports op-ed that should be out any day now. It was going to run last Tuesday, but I didn't see the final edit in time, so it got pushed back. They were nice about it. I'll also talk about The Andy Griffith Show, which is apparently bad now--everything is bad--and also unreleased, rare live concert recordings from 1966-67 from likes of Cream, Yardbirds, Animals, Stones, Who, Doors. The Yardbirds item is a bootleg called Last Rave-Up in LA. What I like about the Yardbirds with a document like this is that you can study their music--the sophistication of it--like you can study Bach or Coltrane. The band is near its end at this point, and Jimmy Page is the lead guitarist, of course. They're not as good as the Beck-led version of the band, but this is harmonically rich and complicated music, and not a version of the band you'd expect, given how little-documented the period was. For instance, they play an interpretation of the Velvet Underground's "I'm Waiting for the Man," at one concert seguing into it from a Howlin' Wolf number. The set-list is shocking--would you ever expect the Page Yardbirds to be stretching out with "New York City Blues" in concert in 1967? They were electric baroque artists. I find it fascinating. The Yardbirds playing "Hey Gyp"? That's crazy.
* There are two drunks who have been causing problems in the streets of the North End for several weeks now. Few people are out, and these guys just get drunk and make noise outside. Free range. One of them said he was going to kick my ass the other day as I was coming out of CVS. I stopped and asked him why. I was curious. He said no reason. I said that ass kickings are always better when one has a reason, which he seemed to accept. One of them was singing--well, screaming singing--"Jingle Bell Rock" the other day in the street. I love Christmas, of course, and I like when there are signs of Christmas during the off-season. When I have my house back in Rockport I will watch and listen to Christmas things year round. Why not now? Because all I do is work and I want to die, and there's not a single moment of "fun" or leisure or happiness. It's just hell. Torture. Being fully conscious of the pain. Trying to get out of this situation. I don't sit around and watch or listen to anything, and I couldn't. What I partake of is for work. I fight and do nothing else and that is how it will be until this changes and I am in a different and infinitely better situation.
* I thought Meatwad was eloquent on the subject of ass kickings.
* Owner of a coffee shop I go to was having a conversation with a meathead type--but an aging meathead. The aging meathead--who was like fifty-five--was talking about how the guys in the sports discussion forums he engages in love LeBron James, they worship that guy, he says. Seems a weird thing to me to be discussing and getting upset over at at fifty-five and you could tell that he spends a lot of time in these forums. The owner of the breakfast place says, "I'd rather have that white guy from the Jazz, what was his name?" He was talking about John Stockton. What a weird, random comparison. They don't even play the same position. Value-wise, I would say that James is more than double Stockton. He was more than twice the player, which is remarkable, given that Stockton is an obvious Hall of Famer.
* I came up with an idea to write a feature on Jacob Smith, who was an Ipswich-born housewright largely responsible for the Cape Ann skyline. One doesn't think of rural places as having skylines, but Rockport, Manchester-by-the-Sea, and Gloucester (which isn't rural, but is certainly maritime) all do. One more reason why I love them so. Those skylines are largely the result of Jacob Smith's artistry. And no one knows who he is. Of course, I do, this person born in 1766.
* I saw Super 8. Damn that's bad. This is the standard? Because the film was praised. This is good cinema now? I don't mean in the Jean Renoir sense. This is top-grade entertainment? That sucked. Are there just no standards now, or can hardly anyone make anything legitimately good? Is there just no more talent or skill? Because that's all I see. In publishing, I don't believe there's a single fiction author in the world right now with any talent. It could be that people are born with talent still, but it is never developed, or its warped, because surrounding factors and environments and people and systems halt that talent, stop it from its necessary growth stages, and no one is strong enough as an artist or individual to find their own way, to listen only to their talent, which is how I think talent can only be harnessed and developed now. Every system is going to try to grind it out of you. That's what MFA programs do. They try to kill talent. They call it something else, but they are anti-talent institutions. I see so many films now that could be made a lot better with any skill and vision. I mean as entertainment, not Godard type stuff. It's like there are no checks and balances, and I don't know whether people think what they've done is fine, it's good enough, no one will notice the shortcomings, or they feel they've really done their best job. I see errors in every film I watch that would be so easy to correct. And they just leave them in. I see pandering, as if everyone was a total moron who needs their intelligence insulted. You can be so stupid and "get" entertaining works. This isn't about try to compensate for how dumb the makers of these works think the public at large is. They don't even tend to the most basic fundamentals. I see incompetence, but when everyone is incompetence, it becomes okay, becomes accepted, becomes fine. I'm watching The Lighthouse now. As a man of the sea, and a lover of ghost stories, I should be liking this film. I have a ways to go with it yet, but I don't think they have anything. I don't think they have a story at all. I think it's like The Witch. Nothing happens in The Witch. The value of the film is how it is shot and the period details. I don't think they have a story with The Lighthouse. I am so tired of people not having a story who then do the "I can be super duper vague because it's so deep" thing. You have jack is what I see. I'm reading this tidbit on Amazon Prime about how the actors were not told what their characters saw in the light of the lighthouse when they looked up into it, and that tells me that the writer didn't know, that the writer is faking it. You don't have to put everything into a film or a story, but you need to know what is off-stage. You need to know. The creator. You need to know precisely what you are leaving out. And I don't think these people know because I don't think they have a story. They can just fool everyone who is going to praise them anyway because what's the competition? I am going to assume that as many people now are born with ability and talent as 100 years ago, 300 years ago, seventy-five years ago. But it's killed before it can be mastered, and you never see it. Because now it isn't just about having the ability and the focus--you need to be as strong as you are talented. Or close to it. And I don't think there's much strength out there. People need to be coddled. They need praise all along the road. They need to be told by lots of people that what they are doing is right (never mind if it's wrong, or if it's meaningless and totally devoid of consequence, which is almost certainly the case--one reason it's easy for people to lie and enable). I knew what I was doing was right. And lots of people said I couldn't do it, or you can't write that way, or you can't write about those things, not all of them, or you're going to run out of ideas, and I thought, yeah? I'm the best artist ever, and I'm going to be proven right in the end, with a lot of my life left. And we'll see. That's what I thought, and I kept and keep going down my road. And you see what I am. I am the real deal. No one can question my ability. You might hate me, you might want me dead, you might want to make sure, so far as you can, that my work doesn't reach the public and have its chance, but you cannot deny for a second what I am. And if I were weaker, I would have given in to forces and people around me, people who wanted me to be just like them, only able to do what they could do. If you are a real artist, you might end up loved by millions and millions of people in your lifetime--and I intend to be--but for a good stretch, you are going to be entirely alone, doing it all alone, with pretty much everyone against you. I don't think people have it in them to deal with that, let alone deal with it and keep creating, keep getting better. But I do.