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What to do

Thursday 3/14/19

NPR told me to go away for several months. That's not good. I went through a week and a half's worth of email today, and it was all bad. You can really watch an industry die through my inbox. There's no money. None of these places have money. What work they give out goes to their staffers, and there's not enough work for them to do very much. Salon won't use me right now, maybe never again. Ditto Rolling Stone. This would not really be a problem if I was not dealing with the blacklisting. Had I not been dealing with one, I'd already have enough money to last me the rest of my life, if I never earned another cent, though without the blacklisting I don't see a limit to what I could earn.

But that's not germane right now. NPR only pays you $150. It's not the money there. I was on so many times over five years--and I'll be back on--and my thinking was--my hope was--it'd help open up opportunities for me in radio. I don't think anyone can listen to me on the radio and think anyone is better at radio, but this is a matter of who one knows. And, also, what leverage one has. Talent isn't leverage. Not on its own. Talent is what can allow you to do things of significance and influential scope, after you have reached the position that leverage--or who you know--put you in. I reached out to someone else at Netflix, but again, I don't have leverage. Fiction in The New Yorker might give me some, even if the rest of their fiction is dreadful, but fiction in Harper's made life far worse. So I don't know what can give me leverage. A problem is I then have to try harder, and that pisses people off. They don't think, "Right, here's this genius who does everything and does it so well and comes up with so many great ideas and they're in my inbox again." They think, "This person is fucking annoying." Then they just shut you off and out. Except the smarter people here, and the better people. There are so few of them, though. They are glad that such a person is reaching out to them until something works, or works again. This isn't a business where people try to improve their product. It's a business where people mostly want to be left alone, not be asked to do more than they do. And if no one complains and they get to leave on time in the evening, that's all they want. They're certainly not visionaries. They're not talent scouts. They just don't want complaints, more work, and they want to go home.

I was wondering why the San Francisco Chronicle had not paid me for an op-ed, and then they told me that they never intended to pay me. They take their pieces for free. Oh. Wonderful. Wonderful wonderful wonderful. The Wall Street Journal turned down the St. Patrick's Day op-ed--and I got a light rebuke, and a criticism, which is fine--which I then sold to the New York Daily News. Boulevard won't write me back. Post Road won't write me back. I am going to be out of places that pay me at all soon. I need to make this leap. To radio, to film, to a staff job I can do from home in Boston that will give me a platform and clout, to a readership, to name recognition and fame. This barge I'm on is going underwater.

I am so tired right now. I wrote an 1100 word piece on Nat King Cole for his centennial that I am trying to sell to JazzTimes. This is the opening paragraph.

As someone who sang as if his lungs were lined with silk, there’s little wonder that Nat King Cole is revered as one of the towering crooners of the era of recorded sound. With his great heaping of talent, Cole was a veritable Wonder Mountain unto himself, the earthly balladeer whose voice always seemed to be flirting with contrails. In the top-tier schema of American entertainment icons, his name rests alongside a select few: Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Louis Armstrong, James Dean, Babe Ruth. And of course we have “The Christmas Song,” in any one of four versions—go with the first, from 1946—that is as festal as wreaths and crèches, and probably more central to the holiday season for many.

Wouldn't you like to be able to write like that? Ah, teasing. Well, I'm not, too, I guess. I mean, just look at it. You can't argue with what it is. It's exactly how I talk as well, so that's exactly what you get on radio, and what you'd get on TV, and I do not mean to be Vanity Smurf here, but I am a good looking guy as well, certainly, and surely that does not hurt. (I felt like I was pretty unattractive in the past when I was heavier, before I gave up the drink.) I don't know what I'm going to do or what could possibly save me. This is all I can or will do. I'll end my life before I stop doing this every waking second of every day. It is everything I am here for. It's why I believe in God. I know that my ability comes from something larger than myself. I knew someone once who thought making the best art was a matter of "skill and vision." Nothing more. Skill and vision is barely the start of it. I think that's why a lot of people I consider my siblings--Bach, Shakespeare, Dylan, Welles, Van Gogh--believed in God, too. Because they were them. They knew what they were, they knew all of the extra that was there that wasn't skill, vision, their choosing, or even human in some ways. But I believe I'm better at what I do than what they did. I believe it has more widespread appeal. I don't write Finnegans Wake. I'm not Gertrude Stein. And I can do so much in tandem with my writing--the radio, the television, the films, public speaking--that are, in my view, of a piece with it. Extensions. But right now I am mostly hated, envied, feared, in a business that is also dying--so this bit is additionally taking me away from the people who like me and respect me and want to work with me if they could--and writing better works than anyone and grinding away my life doing these pieces that pay me so little for so much effort.

I go fast, yeah? I mean, clearly. If you read this journal, you must wonder how the hell someone does even just this, let alone everything described herein, which you should know is a piecemeal description of what I am doing. The Catch-22 is that having to work harder, produce more, means I somehow publish even more, and the people who loathe me loathe me more as a result. I come around to them with my fresh batch links--because it's really all I have to barter with, that I'm doing great work, often, and I would be great for you and your venue--and my follow-up inquiry, and they see that--because they do nothing and have no talent--as an affront. Get it? But while I go fast, I'd not want to labor over the amount of exegesis it would take to get you to understand how much energy it siphons from you to write a 2000 word work of genius in an hour. You are wrecked after. Then you have to go outside to walk, to climb a Monument, because you're still fighting this fight, on the sinking barge, because there is a giant ass land mass that you can get to to, that you should have been on long ago, which you can rule--benevolently--for the greater good of of people. I don't mean rule, really. Like with authority over anyone. I just mean where you're up in the tallest perch that everyone can see, and it's very important to them to learn from you which way the wind blows.

After the Cole piece, having not perked up with a perusal of Tinder and Pornub--good Christ these are grim fucking days--I wrote the opening of a new story I mentioned here, called "Double Loaded Stupid."

My dad trafficked in kindness the way other fathers traded in that old school manly scrip of at-a-distance stoicism once thought central to the business of being a father, which might make it strange to some that my dad’s favorite expression was to term something, or someone, double loaded stupid. “So dumb you don’t even know how dumb you’re being,” he would say.

Those words played in my head—I remember them like they were jack rabbits working at a game of leapfrog—when I watched God freeze my father’s heart as I glanced into the side mirror of the car to catch an ugly eyeful of my dad’s dick—I thought he’d be down the gully in the woods—while he took a weak-streamed piss on the side of the road and fell over to crack his head open on the pavement, in what had gathered of his small puddle, which made for less of a splash, and more the dispersal of a few bubbles.

I knew he was dead right away. There was no bend or buckle to any of his body, like the Mortis Monster had already gotten to him in that cold February air, upon which he perhaps traveled faster to newly minted corpses. That was the end of our last road trip, of which there had been many. Well, leaving out the word “last.”

I mean, that obviously is what it is. We all know it for what it is. Ditto the Cole, ditto any of the excerpts here, ditto any of these entries. There's no mystery in terms of it all being past what other writers can do. There's no doubt about its appeal. Anyone who reads it connects with it, in a soul-deep way. And it's entertaining. And memorable. It lodges in you. Different things do different things. I am sure there are people out there who would find themselves helping to keep themselves alive because of this journal, even. We all know what's inspiring and what isn't. It's hard to inspire, it's not hard to recognize when someone or something is providing inspiration. I don't know what to do.


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