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Workable definition

Tuesday 4/12/22

I wrote two stories yesterday and one today. They need work. I don't know what I have.

Ran 5000 stairs on Sunday and walked seven miles. Went to the MFA and took in the new J.M.W. Turner exhibit. Listened to the new Spoon album, Metallica's Black Album, Stone Roses demos, Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch!, Sonny Clark Trio, Jamie T's Panic Prevention.

Stairs get easier but they never get easy. In that way--which is yet another way--they are a metaphor for a well-lived life.

On Sunday night I was at the cafe reading and making notes about my various books I'm working on, and a woman came over and asked me if I'd be there a while and would watch her computer which she wanted to recharge, the plug being near my feet, and her seat being in a different part of the cafe. I said no problem. She plugged the charger in, went back to her table, and I noticed that on the cover of the laptop was a sticker that read, "There is a light that never goes out." The universe talks to me. I think that is what happens, that there are messages that I must keep going, even when it seems impossible to do so.

If I know what you’re going to do before you do it, I don’t think the story you’re writing can be any good. If I have no idea what you’re going to do each time you do it and it’s completely, humanly believable and resonant, then we’re approaching a workable definition of genius.

Keith Relf was a stud. Listened to two dynamic Yardbirds gigs the other day—an early show in London from ‘63, and a Stockholm date in ‘67. If I end up doing this book on British R&B, the former will be in it. Relf was so much better as a musician than history books lead you to believe.

On Eric Dolphy’s Out to Lunch!, Andrew Hill’s Point of Departure, and Charles Mingus’s Cornell 1964, you will encounter perhaps the three best small bands in jazz history.

One of the most beautiful things in hockey is when a team executes a full line change while in the offensive zone.

Pulling an effective starter after just 65 pitches typifies much that is wrong, irksome, and off-putting about the current brand of baseball.

Site updates: the Beatles section is up to date. I had it confirmed yesterday that I will have to erase the contents of the Literature, Film, and Music sections, and start all over again. A huge inconvenience. I've published so much that when this site came into being, in the spring of 2018, I focused on getting up a generous sample of published material. I would never have all of it--a lot of the links are dead, many things were never in link form--I mean, there must be fifty pieces I wrote for Rolling Stone for which there were no links--and the task, anyway, would be a full-time job. Like being a museum curator. Your life work could be tending to my body of work. And that is going to have to be the life work of some people at some point. But it can't be mine right now.

I figured what I could do was fill in the older links in time. Well, the way this works is the host site won't allow you to change the order of the links in the sections. You can't even swap the order of two. Years ago I stopped adding to the Literature, Film, and Music sections with new pieces that came out. That's why they appear frozen in time. But if you go to the New section--which is up to date through a couple months ago, anyway, and goes back to the day this site was launched--you'll see many film, music, and literature links there. I didn't want some piece from 2010 to appear at the top of one of those individual sections. The On air, Op-ed, Beatles, Sports, News, and Art sections are close to up to date, though I have to catch up going back to January or February or whenever it was. A lot of the art pieces I've published in the likes of ArtNews and Art in America don't have links.

The Short Fiction site is badly out of date, but I have mixed feelings on updating it at all, as I find literary magazines and what they stand for--most of them, anyway--repellant and they don't deserve our association. Most. I should be thorough, and I will be, but I admit that I put it off. I mean, Boulevard. Who really cares? I know how the Boulevard sausage is made--I have stories that will curl your tailbone. (I'll give you one for now: one of their editors once called me after they saw a review of mine of a book they wrote before it ran, and asked me to change it to praise them more, and even had sentences they'd written that they wanted me to put into the review, so that they could have a "pull quote"--that is, a quote they could take out of the review to celebrate them.) New York Tyrant. The Southwest Review. Vomit. And no, you members of this subculture of broken freaks, who have this pathetic need to defend your system no matter how in the wrong you are, it's not honest people doing honest toil and labor out of the goodness of their hearts while making much sacrifice for the glory of the upkeep of literature. It's sick freaks and their sick friends publishing shit that is anti-reading and anti-readers and maintaining their sick, bigoted community. All of these places are folding anyway, and none of them will be left in a year, two years, three years. They did it to themselves. The reality is, no one in the world publishes good fiction, and there is no good fiction in the world being written presently anyway. There's me and mine. We are it. The New Yorker, Harper's, and The Atlantic publish fiction, and are just about the only non-lit magazines to do so, but Hitler was more open-minded and catholic than the people in charge at those places, so they're not going to give it to you, and even the devil, of course, wouldn't go anywhere near the evil of a Hitler. That's just the reality of a David Remnick, a Scott Stossel, a Christopher Beha, an Ann Hulbert, a Katherine Ryder, a Deborah Treisman, a David Wallace. They know what they are, despite their life-long attempts to avoid self-awareness. I'm not breaking any news to them or positing some theory that they don't already recognize as the fundamental truth of their broken, evil existences. They just want you not to know the truth. That's what their lives are based upon. They can pretend to be outraged by what I'm saying here, but we all know it's true. So then you're just really outraged that I know, and I'm saying it. But everything else is just resignation. They are what they are.

This morning I have dialed in hard on There Is No Doubt, specifically the length and possibilities there. My length is unlike any other writer's length, ever, period. The word count does not matter with me. My shorter is always longer. That's because of the depth and the design and the impact. The weight, too, of each word. I give nothing away. Every other writer right now could lose almost 100% of what they've written in a story. it's all empty calories and padding. They'll give sentences away, paragraphs, pages. Every single curve and straight line of every last letter of my work hits and hits hard. So a word isn't worth but a word. It never is in my writing. Longer on the Inside: Very Short Fictions of Infinitely Human Lives makes the point explicit. I put a lot of value in the "short" book if you can do it--the short book that is long. It's an ideal way to go. It's ideal for readers. It's ideal as a life experience. At the same time, there is flow. People always get my word counts wrong. They have no sense of the count. It's a good thing. The writing moves you downhill. It does the work. It takes you. It supplies the power of your readerly locomotion. You may have to struggle with my truths--for that can be the nature of truth--but you don't have to struggle with my prose. So, for instance, I was on the radio recently discussing "Desilva," which I shared with the host, and he loved it. Loved the excerpt on here, so I showed him the full story, which the likes of the people listed above will not let you see currently. They hate readers, in truth. They're not on the side of readers. They don't want to find readers, or encourage anyone to read. They are on the side of their egos. And it's a sad, sick, demented side. Anyway, he loved the full story, and read it three times. I believe that. I know the story. I know how good it is. And it's that kind of story. If you read it once, you'll read it many times. We were talking about it on the air, and he said that it was so short, and yet it contains so much, and he guessed the word count at 1600 words, because that's how it felt to him. You're so caught up in the experience. But it's quite a long story--4200 words, in actuality. That's what I do. That's the nature of my length. You can't apply any of the normal principles and expectations to it. The Beatles had a very different relationship with time. I have an even more different relationship than they do. And I have my relationship with length. Recognizing this was no small thing for me because it is a power. A force. The power and the force require the realization of what is there. That enhances their wielding.

The book I'm looking at right now for There Is No Doubt is 38,000 words. I have many more stories I could put into it, which all, in keeping with the work, feature a female narrator and/or protagonist. I have a number that I'm looking at, I have two to compose. But these are 38,000 Fleming words. That's different than 38,000 words. I am acutely aware of this. I can make this any length I want, in terms of raw word count, but I want to make this blow so concentrated. I'm looking at some of these other stories as almost a There Is No Doubt Part II, but that's not my priority; I'm not trying to spread things around, as it were. If you can be there for less time and get more bang than if you were there for a much greater amount of time, I want to do that. Poe believed that if you couldn't read something in a single sitting it wasn't effective. I'm not saying that. But again, I know the potency of a Fleming word in context. And I know that no one has ever written anything to touch these works. So I'm just trying to figure it out. If someone else has a book of stories that is 38,000 words long, they were straining to get to 38,000. Other writers make story collections by taking all that they could manage to write and jamming it together for no other reason than that it's by them and they think maybe they have enough. They're not vetting. They're not selecting. They don't have a virtually endless amount of material from which to make their decisions. I'm not straining to make a book. I am aiming to connect with you, reader, on the max level. The level of your soul. And this will piss people in publishing off too: it's the ultimate work of feminist literature that also transcends the limitations of any kind of "-ist" literature, and it's written by an athletic-looking Boston white male genius. They love their BS about identity politics and race and gender. You get book deals on what's between your legs and your hue. And now someone who is the wrong color and the wrong gender has written the realest of real deals as if I was their ultimate representative on the gender front, the embodiment of their expectations, instead of a man who is pure story, without limits. It's not supposed to go like that.

I didn't write in these pages for a week and a half, and yet this journal comprises 50,000 new words over the last five weeks. I checked.

One of the two Beatles books is now done. By which I mean, it's in manuscript, can be shown, can go out. Needs some tidying up and fixing, but that's part of the editorial process, not the "I have an awesome book to show you, publisher," process. It's 63,000 words. I'll spend more time with it some more before doing anything. Smoothing. Checking.

Regarding the names of characters in stories: they have to have meaning, those names, beyond "hey, this is her name." Not all of them. But a bunch. But the reader can't know you're giving them those meanings. Or, rather, they have to know without knowing. Does that make sense? It can't be in the top of their mind. But the knowledge has to be back in there somewhere. They are aware, but they don't know. Sounds like a contradiction, but it's not.

Ran 3000 stairs today. Thought about writing an introduction for There Is No Doubt while doing so. Talking about the idea of being story.

Is there a more bullshit term in the world than "contributing editor"? It's like the cock ring version of a participation trophy.

Made a few changes to a story called "The Roll of Words." I'll go through all of it. It's on the list.

My legs are pretty jacked, as one would expect, from the years of stairs, but I haven't done anything for my arms in all this time, so I started doing push-ups before I go out to do the stairs. It's embarrassing how bad I am at them right now. Aspires to embarrassing. I'll get better.

Someone posted this on the Facebook yesterday. I don't know them, beyond the FB friend sense, which is not a sense at all.

I want to stop normalizing my pain—this is something that’s been feeling more & more urgent—it feels like an answer is being vocal about it, & rejecting the encouragement to suck it up, push it down, to hide it from view.

I looked at the comments. They were not helpful. Some rah-rah, some platitudes. I decided to post this:

I hope no one is actually giving you that advice in those terms. It's perfectly fine to be candid about one's experiences and state the effects to be what they are. Count on your friends, and more importantly, count on yourself. I don't know what you're going through, but hang in there.

The individual responded with this:

since the beginning of the pandemic a lot of the advice I've gotten has been a tension between suffering is normal and life is supposed to suck and be gentle with yourself. I've been trying to be gentle to myself while silently suffering, just trying to reduce the harm that I'm experiencing onto myself, but after about a year and some change I've realized that the advice was just not good and I've alienated myself from vulnerable relationships because of it.

Then me:

Filtering advice is an art. Realizing what is wise, what is projection, what is completely useful, what is partially useful, isn't easy. Doing right by one's self is more important than notions of gentleness; the latter doesn't even have the chance to exist sans the former. You have a new job, a new place to be, and we always have new internal opportunities. But you can't allow yourself not to be vulnerable; the cost is too high, even if the risks seem scary. You'll be okay.


thank you for saying all of this to me--it means more to me than you know.

Pitched something about The Penguin Guide to Jazz, which first came out in 1992. Finished watching all five seasons of Breaking Bad. More on that later.

Don't use the word "indescribable." Nothing is indescribable. There's always a way to get someone to the truth of what something is.

Here’s a fun, surprising stat: Carl Yastrzemski played centerfield in 165 games—so more than a season’s worth—with the last coming in 1982 during his age forty-two season.

The aroma of autumn is decaying leaf matter; the aroma of spring is moisture in the soil. Invisible freshets of rebirth.

Live version of Jamie T's "Alicia Quays" from 2006 on the new reissue of Panic Prevention. As I've said many times, it's one of the five, six best songs I've ever heard, and a brilliant piece of writing. People need to have thousands and thousands of other people saying something is great--usually--before they can think it. That's one reason why nothing is real in this world--it's just people saying shit. What they are saying takes precedence over the reality of the thing in question. But I am telling you, and I am not misleading you, and I know. Listen to this.


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