It's remarkable to me how people are frequently unaware how unfunny and unoriginal they can be, while thinking the converse. Everywhere I turn now, I see someone punctuating what they intend as a clever comment--and it's never clever--with "Asking for a friend." You see this all the time on social media. It never occurs to these people that something isn't funny if millions of people are repeating the same thing as though they were the inventor of it.
I have been mostly useless this week. Then again, my version of useless is going to be someone else's five years of productivity in publishing. An essay came out on Aretha Franklin's first live album for The Daily Beast. Last Friday I wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News that I had pitched the night before. Had it filed by eight AM Friday. So that ran. I discussed both pieces on the radio on Tuesday.
I've worked some more on a short story, "Floor It A.C.," but it gets hard because you feel there's no point. After I achieve things, this bigoted, jealousy-laden industry doubles down. For instance, after I had fiction in Harper's in April, life got worse than ever. More places banned me. When you achieve, when you are legit, when you are not one of them, they positively cum on themselves when they think they're stopping your momentum. They get off on that. That perceived power. I published eleven works in eighteen days, then. We're talking big things, in addition to that story. Fiction in Glimmer Train, major op-eds, work in Rolling Stone. Genius and legitimacy gets you hated in 2018 publishing. Genius and legitimacy are what can allow you to impact and change the world. The more of each you have, the more of the world you can impact and change. But first you have to get past publishing. You have to find a way to transcend their system.
I've written four short stories thus far this summer that will always last, if they get out there. So while that's happening, and you're fronted with the same people you know who hate you, who only publish shite by their friends, it can be hard to just crank another. Not that the cranking, in and of itself, is hard for me. Writing is easier for me than I would imagine anything has ever been for anyone else. There's a lot I'm not good at, helpless with, but I'm not going to pretend not to be what I am as an artist. I also think it's axiomatic to anyone who reads the work, looks over what has been done with an entire system trying to suppress that person. Imagine if there were support and backing? Or just not roadblock after roadblock? Imagine if 99% of what I write wasn't going to people who hate me, asking them, indirectly, to maybe be less toxic, or how about just doing your job and not being totally unfair? You can be 99.9% unfair, and I'll carry the day. Just don't be 100% corrupt and unfair.
I worked on some other stories, too. One is called "Context Tree." The other one I came up with and have been doing some head work on on walks and while in Amory Parks, is called "The Woman Who Listened to Orson Welles." Others have come to me. One started to ten minutes ago. But I need to give it some time. Let it have some time in my head. It will tell me not what it wants to be, but rather what it is. The stories tell me, the characters tell me. And they know that I'm going to trust them to do that. Every time. Without fail. It is a very powerful feeling. And it's not one I had two years ago, five years ago. This development, it's different. Others have joined the ranks of titles and pieces I dash off on scraps of paper and backs of Starbucks napkins that serve as the pre-writing work I do. Once a story makes it to a list like this, it's near its time to get composed. So there's "First Eye," "The Five Basic Food Groups," "Dunedin," and "Freazy Freakies" in that group.
I wrote an essay on Ted Williams and the Negro leagues for The Daily Beast. That should run August 30. Very strong. Any day now there should be a Daily Beast essay on Hunter Davies' authorized Beatles bio, which I think is one of the two best Beatles bios. I have little respect for Mark Lewisohn as a writer, and I wouldn't put Tune In in the top ten. The man can't write. He can research, but he can't write.
I sold an essay on an outtake of the Beatles' "Revolution" to The Smart Set. On Tuesday I wrote an op-ed that I sold yesterday to The Wall Street Journal. It's on how women are every bit as sexist as men, the jumping off point being my love of the ballet and a Boston Ballet shirt I own and the sexist comments and screeds and accusations that stem from something so simple as a T-shirt. But it's actually a funny piece. There's a Gargamel joke.
You don't want to wag your finger at people. Have an idea that is correct, build up matchless prose around it, through it, for it, in tandem with it; be motivated from a place of truth, goodness, and decency, pull no punches, and deploy humor; realize, too, that asking a question is the same as making a kind of statement. No one understands this. But the best statements are often questions.
What a question does is say, "This can be that." It has that allowance built into it. It's by its very nature a statement. What's happening with the op-eds I do is that I'm taking out the voice of opposition. No one is going to come at me, for what I've written, because there's something definitive there. And it's self-evident, not deniable. What people who come after you seek is an argument that is not well made, from someone they don't think is smarter than they are, or if they are, it's not by too much. That's why a piece that's not really well-written, but is more or less correct in its opinions, can get shared a lot, because everyone feels like they can put in their two cents. The matter is not closed because the writer has not been definitive. Matt Damon, for instance, will say things that are accurate. This is different than writing, but same idea. But he won't say them exceptionally well. So, people put their two cents in. He's right, but he's not definitive. And he's probably smarter than most of these people, but not in a way that is so extreme as to intimidate the holy fuck out of them. Usually, when I write an op-ed that runs in some huge circulation venue, I will not receive a single letter about it from anyone. Not even the crazies. Here's the site, it's dead easy to get in touch with me with your eloquent opinion, or your drunken threat. But there's never anything. Because you're being definitive. When you are, people think more about what has been said or read. They're more affected. It stays with them, is carried around by them. Reoccurs to them at later points.
I've learned a lot about the op-ed game in this first year of doing them. I'm sure no one is doing this, hopping from op-ed section to op-ed section. People either write them for the venue they write them for, because someone gave them a job that had nothing to do with talent. I see op-ed staff writers that I write circles around while I sleep. They're not there because someone thinks they're these brilliant masters of discourse and brilliant prose. They got hooked up. That's all publishing is, usually. People hire people and put out books by people and the quality of that work and what it can do in the world is never the primary concern. It's never the secondary concern, the tertiary concern. It is about other things. None of them are good, just, geared towards truth, beauty, entertainment. It's all so much sickness and pettiness and fear and like taking care of like. But this isn't 1992-era Michael Jordan taking care of like. This is an awkward, clumsy, athletically incapable second grader being made a basketball captain that day in gym class and looking after like. The en masse version of that second grader.
I started by first writing fiction. Then I wrote on rock, jazz, classical. On film, On sports. On art. On literature. I do not believe there is a person who knows more about a single one of those subjects, and anyone who wishes to quarrel can consult the body of work, which allows me to make that statement. My rule is that if I think anyone knows as much about a subject, anywhere, I will not pitch it. People in this industry hate when you walk the walk. It threatens them. At this point, only the last four years' worth of work has been uploaded on the site, because I get behind. Then I moved into radio. And while I've never listened to myself after the fact on the radio, I know the level I do radio at. I'm someone who has studied radio's entire history. Thousands of hours listening to radio. I was prepared. And about a year ago, I moved into op-eds. I've figured out a lot about the op-ed game. I've learned how some places could care less about news or truth, and it's all about an agenda. One very, very, very prominent venue, for instance, told me that they agreed with an idea, but they were not going to say anything critical of an African American, no matter how valid, because they were playing to their readers. That right there, my friends, is your real racism in this country.
Had a quick conversation with this site's webmaster, and she made some changes, which included making a section specifically for the op-eds. There is also a newsletter now. In theory. I haven't played around with it yet. The thinking is is that I'll send one out every three months, and it will kind of be like one of those Christmas cards--a quarterly version of one, anyway--saying what's going on, what's new, what's coming out.
As for this blog, a series is being planned and written in which each individual post will focus on laying bare the corruption, hypocrisy, and flat out shitty writing related to a venue, editor, or writer, which sometimes involves all three at once, and overlaps--because the roots of this foul swamp are constantly intertwined--with other venues, editors, writers. It's not too late to repent. To be professional. To do your job. To be about more than cronyism, more than pettiness, manufactured grudges. When it all is said and done, you are not going to want to end up as a blog entry on this website. That is not going to be good for you in the court of public opinion.
It's the next morning now. This was to go up yesterday, but the site has been buggy. The cursor was randomly jumping around, such that you'd hit the space bar and a word ten lines up would be erased instead. Finally seems to be fixed. I have not been doing a good job exercising this week. I feel like a fat load. Last Friday I ran three miles, walked three, and climbed the Monument twice; then on Saturday I ran three miles and walked ten; on Sunday I walked thirteen miles and did but a single Monument climb. That's been it. Nothing since. I need to be doing my stuff daily. I sent out some strong pitches last night. One pertained to John Lennon and "Imagine"--which I think is a terrible song in every way; musically, structurally, lyrically; naff and naive, insincere, unconvincing; another to a Babe Ruth biography; another to humorous ghost stories for Halloween; some Rolling Stone things.
I spoke with the new Washington Post books editor. I'm writing for her about Louisa May Alcott and book influenced by Little Women. I think I'm going to enjoy working with her. She seems really professional and smart and communicative. I have op-ed editors, for instance, who have no problem saying to me, "Look, this sucks, I don't want it." Does it suck? No. Do I think they're wrong in these instances? Trust me, I know the level of whatever it is I've done. These people can be capricious, they can be over-stressed, and that person who says that to me is responsive. When you respond at all, even if you want to tell me something sucks, we'll work together. We'll come together. We'll come together often. I'll roll with you, you'll read the next one, and it's not personal. It's simply a means to an end. You almost never get this in publishing. Because for almost everyone in this so-called industry, it's never about business or money. It's about accessorizing your doll house with little simulacrum people who look and sound and think just like you. Who never do anything new, or compelling. No one complains (by which I mean, your fellow system people; the world at large has moved on to other things, because they stopped caring long ago about what you were telling them was great), and that's a big thing for you. You're not passionate about any of this. It's just what you do, where you could fit in.
Started watching The Green Room last night. We'll see how it develops, but a problem I'm seeing in many movies now is that you just do not care about the characters. For instance, I watched The Ritual. What stock characters. Not even stock. Just human stand-ins. You can't even pinpoint a personality trait in a single person in these films, often. It's almost like they're there simply because warm, living bodies are needed. Started watching Father Brown this morning, too. (It's not yet 7.) A story came to me last night while I slept. It's tied in to the news, in a way, things happening now. "The Five Basic Food Groups" is also that way (no title yet for this sleep-sourced one), and you wonder if, in addition to the hate and discrimination, you'll be able to get past the reluctance these people almost always have for something that would actually generate a lot of discussion and some controversy, that becomes a flashpoint. I don't mean a fake one, like that ridiculously bad New Yorker story, "Cat Person," which featured prose no better than any prose an average fifteen-year-old could write. But the latter would have written with more urgency, it would have been vastly less pedestrian, but that's what publishing people want: Nothing real, but faux-real. Faux-real is super safe. They want something to look cutting edge (which is how they spin it), but to be as safe, in reality, as anything and everything else in their life. They don't live and strive, they exist and drift. And lie. Lie to the world, lie to themselves. You put in/publish something like this, some of these works I'm doing/have done this summer, you give me some backing, and we'll go on the Today show and talk about it, and make those rounds, and we will light it the fuck up, everywhere, for real. This isn't going to be some awkward, talentless writer talking into his shirt collar because he can barely look a person in the eye, mumbling meaninglessness.
I think I will go see Summer of 84 at the Somerville Theatre either today or this weekend. End of the engagement there.
I guess it seems like an interesting premise for a story--these kids think the guy next door is a murderer, maybe. Not super original, though. It's set in the 1980s. I like the 1980s. I like seeing the period details. I think people were more well, in general, in the 1980s, pre-internet. There were videos games, of course, but even if you were hardcore into them, you still played outside a lot, you still used your imagination playing outside. Personal echo chambers were more rare.
It had looked like there was a good chance I'd be on NPR's Weekend Edition discussing the Byrds' Sweetheart of the Radio. I have a new producer there. Two things have to happen to do a segment: the producer has to like what you pitched, and then the people the producer pitches it to have to like it. In this case, that was the hosts, and they weren't keen on a Byrds segment. So, now we're talking about a Hendrix one. Hendrix is more in the "generalist" zone, and that kind of thing can have a higher batting average. I have good back-ups for this idea, just in case. I'd like to do something this fall and at Christmastime, ideally. The Christmas idea I have is awesome. If I put it here, though, someone will steal it. So, as Dylan sang, I'll keep it with mine for now.
I think there will be a piece out today in The American Interest on William Wellman's The Ox-Bow Incident and its relevance to right now. We'll see. A personal essay, taken from the book I've just finished, Glue God: Essays (and tips) for Repairing a Broken Self was supposed to run Monday and did not. Eh, things get moved around. It comes out when it comes out.
Actually, Gargamel was a cat person, wasn't he? But he never would have written something that prosaic. What the hell was his cat's name? Right: Azrael. (Did you know that Azrael the angel's job is to write and erase the names of humans in a huge book, when they are born and when they die? So he writes and erases, writes and erases, and that's how he spends his life.) That cat sucked at catching Smurfs. You'd think he'd have come upon Vanity Smurf, say, admiring himself in a stream, and picked him off, dead easy. The mysteries of life, yes?