Working harder--somehow--composing at a higher level, again--somehow--life is getting worse; much. Have had major breakthrough on new short story, "A man outside of a playground." Everything is now worked out. Working out other new story, which is about a man who no longer lives in his house--he's going to sell it--but he lives in the same town, and he's at a barbecue, at the beach, trying to go on with a life that had been cracked apart, when a buddy/town alderman tells him that they have a problem. People are spotting this still-living man's ghost. This guy has to do something about. He's not dead yet, but he basically becomes his ghost's steward. The man's name is Fletcher. The story is called "Post-Fletcher." A fetch, as you might know, is a ghost of someone still living. I am still working out other aspects, but I have the tones, many images, the voice, the blended styles of terror, humor, profundity. I had intended to figure out the rest of it now (it's quarter of 2 on Friday afternoon), but I am just so tired. I am just so exhausted. I am so much more demoralized than I am exhausted, because it feels at this point that if I wrote the cure for cancer and the easing of all human suffering into each and every thing I wrote, that still would not help me. It would only continue to get worse. As people beyond awful get tongued and put forward. Also, I have worked hard today on an essay on Maupassant and how painting has informed how I write--and also music--far more than anyone else's books have. Furthermore, I have began work on an wonderful essay about nightmares and what they have meant to my development as an artist. Here, I will show you the first five paragraphs. It's called "Riding the Mare: A Love Affair with a Creature of the Night."
I was never a good sleeper even when I was very young, which is usually before too much in life could have happened to you. I was scared to go to bed, because I’d often have nightmares, which were vivid and violently vivid.
We speak sometimes of the “hyperreal”—that is, a rendering, an eyeful, of reality that appears more real than real, like the standard lens of the microscope has been shuttled out in favor of a glass of greater strength, and those simple legs of the grasshopper now look like an excised portion of a daemon’s mandible from hell. Still the same object, though. Those were my nightmares. Even in my sleep, it felt as though a fist with icicle fingers, complete with whorled, hoarfrost knuckles, held my heart, as if to caution, by way of a looming threat, “One swift squeeze and this entire organ will go up in juices.”
One nightmare veteran, a reoccurring cast member—he was like the highly versatile character actor of my terror-dream movies—I dubbed Mr. Creed. The door across the way from my room had a pattern of charry knots upon it, these tennis ball and chestnut-sized tight circumferences of obsidian that cohered into the visage of an old man’s face, an old man much pain-wracked. He looked as though he felt like whomever met his gaze was the individual responsible for his anguish. So, naturally, sleep time would become comeuppance time. This was problematic for me, but what I figured was good sport for him. Sometimes I had to avoid running into him in the woods, other times while walking the neighborhood alone, after a storm, when no on ever seemed to venture outside in my dreams, save Creed. He was a nightly stressor, this guy, wreaking havoc with my kid blood pressure.
My parents, though, were accommodating when I begged, “enough, I can’t deal with this upstairs business for a while.” They would let me grab a sleeping bag and camp out in the living room next to the family room. Me in my Aqua-Man Underoos, my room-adjacent parents watching Dallas, or else a Boston Bruins hockey game. As I hit double digits in age, these nightmares began to dissipate, until they were no more. My fears of going to bed were replaced by a different kind of haunting; what to do when you lie in darkness, and your brain will not surcease its activity.
I was prone to outsized bouts of imagination and the ceaseless inventing of games during the day, but at night, alone in my room, the door cracked ever-so-slightly (just in case inspiration struck Mr. Creed, and he resumed his ways of yore) so that its cedar edge made for a kind of wavy penumbra with the blanched apricot-glow of the hallway, I found that I could not evade an accounting of my choices from my afternoon. Had I done right by this friend, should I have tried harder on my math test, could you really circumvent the ways of a bully with a well-placed nose bopping, was my sister as irksome as I believed, or did I tease this out, and if I did, isn’t that something of an older brother’s job?
Speaks for itself, doesn't it?
I also wrote a 2200 word essay today on Ambrose Bierce and The Devil's Dictionary. Here is an excerpt from that:
Americans are known for some things. We used to be known for jazz and baseball, and now we’re know for being adroit at casting ourselves as victims—See? Biercean!—but we’ve never excelled much at satire. I recently wrote a book called Meatheads Say the Realest Things: Satire from the End of Civilization, in part because there is a lock just waiting for a key so the door can open into a verdantly humorous and wise and torching but ironically kind-hearted land. Bierce was on my mind, without the starchy-eyed bit. Other writers had dabbled in humorous definitions of words before. Samuel Johnson, of all people, cracked wise a number of times in his vaunted dictionary, something regarding which Bierce was aware.
That first Bierce definition came in 1867. Two years later, he was deep in the vein, even providing them in his letters. They were his parlor game, the voice and character he assumed, a second self. This seemed very American to him, in part because of the lack-of-reverence-for-language-mores that you might not get with, say, the French.
“Could any one but an American humorist ever have conceived the idea of a Comic Dictionary?” he inquired of a friend. Well, let’s say they could. I’d say they’d be unlikely to have come up with something that has endured so well. Which is depressing in one way. But testimony to Bierce’s odd genius in another. For instance, let us consider his definition of Congratulation: “The civility of envy.”
That’s basically “I’ll hit the like button for you—though what you have done makes me so jealous!—so that you’ll hit the like button for me.” (I can imagine Bierce taking a crack at the Like Button itself: “A pained and insincere honorific triggered by the Return button in hopes of triggering others into responding in kind for the purpose of lying to one’s self about actually being liked. Often used with alcohol.”) Man—and he means humanity, not just men, so take up your charges of patriarchy and gendering with Bierce’s ghost, not I—is summed up as, “An animal so lost in rapturous contemplation of what he thinks he is as to undubitably overlook what he ought to be.”
Boom. Nailed. Roasted. Pig-roasted even! Wait—that last one was wrong. My bad. If anything, that’s a more veracious definition now than then. I don’t think Bierce would fare well in our world. He couldn’t even handle his own, which is why he disappeared into Mexico, ostensibly under the guise of checking out a revolution, such that we don’t even know when he died. Or even if he went to Mexico. He might have just holed up in a self-built brick adobe in Texas.
For Telephone: “An invention of the devil which abrogates some of the advantages of making a disagreeable person keep his distance.” Sounds like our cell phones and social media apps. Obviously that entry came later, but Bierce worked at this dictionary for decades. He originally called it The Demon’s Dictionary. You could argue that it was authored by the character of Lucifer himself. This would have been an Americanized version of Milton’s Lucifer; that is, super smart guy, highly eloquent, his heart heavy with lament.
We must remember: Bierce’s aim was not to be a prick. We encounter that a lot now, the idea that if you don’t shuffle along with the lobotomized rabble, you are someone who rants, someone not “chill”—the horror—someone who is “intense,” when it’s better to be a slack-assed couch habitué incapable of adding anything to life (Resident: “Unable to leave”), and you can come under attack for not wishing to join the marching line over the cliff’s edge. Bierce wanted to save you from that resulting abyss. Or, enough people to make the world worth one’s while.
He wrote a huge amount of short stories—250—and 850 fables in a period when writers of imagination actually wrote; as in, wrote often and wrote well, rather than what they do now, which is talk about writing without actually creating anything and bragging about how they are off for another writer’s colony vacation funded by someone else to birth their latest collection of short-shorts that foreground the evils of Cisgender white privilege and which no one on Earth actually wishes to read, while the treacle-chomping body politic that is publishing pretends any of this has value or could entertain you. The worm—who is just begging to die—will later turn, and they’ll hustle this nonsense out the door, to sing the praises of something antipodean, which will also be nonsense. (NB: Imagine if it wasn’t? People might care about reading again.)
For the record, I don't know that I can't win.