Let's just go through this for the records as a new week begins. This past week I came up with and mostly wrote seven new short stories. I say "mostly," because one of them isn't in manuscript, by which I mean, it's there as a complete story to be worked on. It's a lot of the way there. I came up with and began two other stories, and I worked on "Up the Sea." So that's work on ten stories this week. I wrote an essay on the Fourth of July and Hawthorne's Mosses from an Old Manse; began the essay on Carlton Fisk and catchers; talked on the radio about Sherlock Holmes, hockey, and baseball; and had a Beatles piece come out. Then there were the nine entries in this journal. As per usual: my week is your career. Who do I mean by the "your"? Everyone in publishing who sucks at writing, can only do one sliver of a meaningless thing, and hardly ever writes at all. So who am I talking about? Again, pretty much everyone. That's before we get into the quality, the radical invention, the imagination, the expertise in area after after, demonstrated and undeniable, and the art for the ages. And this is why they lock me out. And because every single week is some version of this.
I walked five miles yesterday. No exercise Thursday. Wednesday I ran 2000 stairs and did 100 push-ups.
People have replaced the word "have" with "do." Next time you're at a cafe or restaurant, note how people order. No one says "I'll also have a muffin." I never hear that anymore. It's, "I'll also do a muffin." Do a muffin? "Can I also do..." Listen. You'll hear it all the time now.
People not from Boston think that Boston is full of intelligent people. Like everywhere, Boston is full of morons. It's how the world is. I do notice a lot of Boston resentment, though, particularly from people in rural areas and the South, as if everyone in Boston was this formidable intellectual. People don't like that--they think it's elitist, because, obviously, they're so insecure about their own intelligence. This is the same as it is for the person in the South who goes on about being pro-God and pro-guns and "you better not have gotten that clot shot vaccine thingy and let's go Brandon!" and David Remnick of The New Yorker. They're at the same level of intelligence, and equally insecure; the difference is, one grew up with money, connections, and has a galling and undeserved sense of entitlement that creates a greater gap between that person and reality, but of which they're also aware, in the gut and when the lights are off, and why they hate and fear someone, and would hate and fear anyone, who is the real deal that they have never been. But they're really not that far away from each other, a Remnick and the LGB noodlin'-type, and in terms of mental acumen, they're each working with the same bag of sticks. Environment (which can go back far) is the separator; not intelligence. Anyway--people from these places, I've noticed, have this idea about how things are here which is so off. Today I saw a man in his late fifties at the Dunkin' Donuts, dumping a half dozen packets of sugar into his massive ice coffee, who was wearing a Wes Welker Patriots jersey. On a Friday morning in June. Because what's a better time and place for your Wes Welker jersey as a grown man than a summer weekday morning just outside of Faneuil Hall? That's more your typical Bostonian. That guy. All the variations of that guy. All ages. But there's your archetype. If he lived in Southie, he'd have a visible tattoo--maybe on his neck. So I knew he wasn't from there. I probably don't have to try and describe the sweet music made by his mouth when he talked and asked for more packets of sugar because why just have six when you can shoot for double digits?
One of the perks about not drinking at all is you get to read new studies and articles--as I did yesterday, with this piece on WebMD--about all of the bad things drinking does to you and they can be fun to peruse for the non-drinker. I think, "Whoa! Those people are fucked!" I took a couple screenshots--one of them was an X-ray of the brain of someone in their forties who didn't drink, and then someone in their forties who did, and what a difference!--and texted them to a binge drinker I know. That probably wasn't wholly necessary on my part. I guess I could technically claim that I was being helpful. I mean, I don't want him to croak, or get the dementia, and he's kind of dementia-y already, I'd say, but that's almost everyone I know. I watch when someone I know has to do two things at once, or they have to contend with a little pressure, a setback, some stress, because I'm starting to see that the life choices people made--often out of cowardice and convenience, rather than conviction and purpose--is coming due and catching up to them. You know what every last one of them does? They fall the fuck apart. Can't think. Can't perform well. They get sick, all of these things start happening to their bodies, a lot of it stemming from the mental. And I think, "Wow, imagine if you were me for three minutes with how things are here?" And I have to perform at the highest level under the most duress and stress, while subsumed in what feels like--if it isn't the actual thing--total hopelessness, and the knowledge that this has not happened to anyone before. Not what this. Not why this is. Anyway, this individual will say things to me like, "I only drink to get drunk." Ah. So he wouldn't have a dram of a single malt, or a refreshing beer on a summer's day. Nope. He'd be hammering back ten drinks, fast. One night on the phone I heard his little girl say, "You're drunk." You know what's fucked up, too? If I make it to Sunday without a drink, that will be six years. I'll post something on Instagram, as an experiment, and my family--cousins, uncles, aunts--won't hit the like button, because they also hate me and want me to die, though in a less overt way than publishing people do. But it's true. I lived with a family once for a summer. My aunt, uncle, two cousins. Helped with the homework. We have these bonds. They won't hit the like button. They do it automatically for everyone else and everyone in our family. I do it with them, and trust me, they are not interesting in the least, in and of themselves. Is that mean? It's not mean. It's just reality. Most people are prosaic. They'd agree. They don't want you saying it, but they think it and know it. If they wanted to be more, they can do something about it. They don't, they won't. So it's just the same shit from different people. Right? The same basic, simple shit. I don't think I'm launching a radical theory here. And still, I hit that like button. We have this cousin everyone loathes. She sucks. Do they do it with her? Yep. And they don't even like her. The polite way to put it would be to say that she's a piece of work, but I think most people would call her a bitch. Again, greatness. The problem is always greatness. It's always the same issue here. How twisted is that? How much of a truly shitty person do you have to be to behave that way to your family member? And he's the only one you do that to. He's so kind to you, too. Reaches out to you, offers any help you need when you lose your job. Which of course I did. Checks in on you. Asks if you need anything. And you still treat him that way. Remember the heroin woman I helped? I shared that link. They didn't hit the like button for that either. That's life and death shit, man. I fucking lived with you. I drove you to school. If I have a book come out, no one does it for that either. I mean, hell, I have two of my publishers actively trying to sabotage me. It's all real, all provable, all there in viewable black and white. What am I supposed to say? It's fine? It's normal? It's not totally fucking twisted and reprehensible and insane? It's all open, too, so far as I know. Anyone can go and see it. One of them is even a nurse. I don't know if you can make something this bad and indefensible even worse than what it is, but that almost does, given the health stuff involved. When you drink like thirty units of alcohol a day, which people know about, and you stop, that's a big deal. (Let alone you stop when you're totally alone, you have no support, a horrible life, a disaster and embarrassment of a home, an industry united in trying to keep you out--I mean, hell, nearly every newspaper and magazine has a moratorium on covering me or my work, and that's not even close to the worst of any of it, it's just some tidbit--and you went through a divorce that is so beyond the pale that what happened is barely believable, and you're like, "I'm going to die if I keep drinking like this, I won't be here to change the world, so I'm just going to quit cold turkey, no meetings, no sponsors, just will power, in the next hour." Kind of commendable, right? It's not supposed to happen that way. I was supposed to come to my end. All of this would kill someone fast. But then you stop drinking, you throw away that crutch and face all of this hell even more openly, and you don't fall back on it? And you know what? That took a kind of greatness. And what I realized was it made people like me even less. Because I had done that, too. By the way: never underestimate how dependent people are on alcohol. It's most people you know in 2022. They hide it. More and more as this world goes on as it does, and we devolve, and "likes" replaces liking anything or anyone truly, and we become disconnected, depressed, and more mentally ill by the day. Believe me, this is a thing that so many people are trying to keep from everyone else. But: That person you hear on the radio? That's how I sound. There's no acting there. The guy with the nice way about him and the charm and the jokes and the laughter and the easy laugh and the good nature? That how I am in life, if you were to talk to me, as these people have talked to me.) For your mortality. That is not some small thing. And it's your health. And it's like, "Nah, fuck that guy, won't even hit that like button. He will be my lone exception, what with how he does everything right and his strength and his intelligence." That's my family. So one sees how far the whole greatness problem extends. It's how everyone, just about, reacts to it. "At best." And that is the single biggest problem. That's really the problem. All of the other problems can be brought back to that main problem. When it gets flipped--when I solve it, or it solves itself via me continuing to do what I'm doing, creating on all fronts, producing on all fronts, attacking on all fronts--that's when it's go-time, and there then becomes zero limitations to how much I can impact the world. But that 180 degree flip has to happen. It's akin to the car being put in gear. Without it, I'm stuck here--with an enormous fleet of moving vans behind me, stuffed to the roofs with masterpieces.
Oh--I think I figured out the end to the Billie Holiday book, too. It pertains to the five sessions she cut in Los Angeles in January 1957. So she's near the end--it's about two and half years before her death. And we don't really think of those last couple calendar years as prime Holiday. She's heading a crack band at those LA dates, and you hear how much influence her voice exerts upon that band. This is down-played, and I think it's a big thing. She wields a lot of influence on her surroundings, and her musical surroundings. More than any singer, I think.
An aside: my binge drinking friend only does it a couple times a year, so he's not at risk. But he does have zero mental discipline, diminishing focus, and he's flustered fast. Those are different things, though. So relax, I wasn't cheering on his alcohol-sodden demise. He's very fit. He looks great.
I see that Roe v. Wade was overturned. One of the motivations of There Is No Doubt: Story Girls, was an assertion of female identity in a world where that identity is increasingly threatened. It's a very well-timed book, an important book in this way, too. And it begins with a work that could actually do something about gun laws in this country--that's how powerful "Fitty" is. That is realistic, if as many people saw it as 1. It deserves to be seen by or 2. I was some talentless flavor of the month writer with the right agent who checked the right boxes who happened to miraculously have this one masterpiece somehow. Then I go around with what I go around with, and because it's me, and the hate is that deep--the irrational, insane hate founded in nothing legitimate, nothing I've done wrong, nothing I've done to anyone (as these people rack up the beyond evil transgressions, ironically enough, as a routine part of their week)--the hate will rule all for these people. They'll cut off their head and set it ablaze to spite their nose, when it's me. No matter what good it could do in the world. For them. For their company. For their career. Reputation. The written word. Getting people actually reading again. (Even for their journal no one has ever heard of that doesn't pay--there are no limits.) In terms of money, bank accounts, putting the kid through school. If all of that was laid out and guaranteed, they're not going to go with it, again, because of that hate. (They will when they have no choice.) Which is pathological. That's what we're dealing with. But something will shake it up, something will kick loose, get to where it needs to get, catch on, explode, and then these people aren't a problem anymore. But that is their mindset right now. There isn't a single one of them who thinks the work is the issue or the reason why they're not doing whatever with it. No one thinks that. You can't even try to sing that song without your motives being made plain. And then of course you have the career and the achievements to back that up. Call it the track record. And that's with everyone, pretty much, against that guy. And that's still the track record? That's still what he's done and what he's doing? Imagine what he could do without everything and everyone against him? Imagine what he will do? You need vision in this life, man. If you're going to do anything special, or be a part of something special. Whatever your part might be to play. You need vision.
I believe that to be a great writer--I'm talking someone whose work can mean everything in the world in which they live, and which can also always last--that that person has to be a truly good person. I'm not talking about stringing words together and it's like "oh, neat phrase," though hardly anyone can do that. More. Because what you're doing, you're ultimately doing for people. You're giving to them. You're trying to help lead by reaching, and when we reach someone, we help them to lead themselves. Writing is service. I don't think you can be an asshole and do that, be focused on that, and realize that in your art. I think it takes a selflessness and a love, a concern, even with all of the attendant frustration that people are so often what they are, and all they are. They're willingly nothing, in most cases, and that brings everyone down. The culture, the society, the community. And that is maddening if you're not that way and you choose not to be that way. Most "writers"--there are so few real writers in this world--think you're supposed to be some dick and self-destructive, but that's all pretend shit from people who don't have a clue. The same people who equate boring people off their tits with proper "literary fiction." Fuck off. You give like you do, and you learn to give like no one else can--in my view, at least, because there is nothing to touch the power of the written word when that power is at its greatest and most commanding--because you will give someone as much of your soul as they require so that they might better understand their own. That doesn't mean you don't want what you might deserve. Recognition, money. That's fair. But there is nothing you care more about than that person on the other side of the table. That doesn't mean there isn't edge. You can't have more edge than my work often has. But that edge is in service to this purpose. It's not to shock--and it doesn't, because it is folded into the natural unfurling of the organic story. I have no need to peacock in front of anyone. To call attention to myself or my intellect. I am in service to story. (You also need to be a very secure person to write well, and hardly anyone in publishing is.) No one ever talks about any of this, which tells me that people don't have a clue, and no one writes this way, with these considerations, which are the only considerations that matter, if you are someone who makes art. And I think when you call yourself a writer and you're not aware of these things of which I speak, you have no clue what the writer is really there for, what the point is. It's no coincidence that most publishing people are horrible human beings. Just like it's no coincidence that hardly any of them can write worth a pedestrian damn, never mind create art.
I awoke last night to shrill over-acting from Agnes Moorhead on an episode of Suspense. Kind of sums it up about her, or at least the bad side. Welles overrated her, I think. And then awoke this morning to two texts from someone who finally read "The Parable of the Woodpecker," which is an all-timer and one of the longest stories I've done at 6200 words. It is from "forever" ago--by which I mean March, because I checked. They said, "Holy fuck that's an amazing story" and "Beyond amazing wow." I don't know what to do with that. People say so little. They don't know what to say often. Even those who are less scared of me and are less stressed about how I will view them.
It's later--coming up on ten of nine in the AM. I wrote a short story, then ran 5000 stairs, did eighty push-ups, and came home to change my shirt, and write another story, before heading back to the stairs. The person who texted me last night about "The Parable of the Woodpecker" called me as I was halfway out of my soaked shirt, so I tossed that into the tub--too wet to put anywhere else--and answered the phone. He yelled, essentially, for five minutes straight, saying he was going to have a heart attack, that he was so angry, that this was the best thing ever written, like all of them, and did I send this to any of these people? I said, yes, of course I did. And he went off. I felt like I was hurting him. He was so upset. He was saying this was criminal, that these people actually should be in jail, and it's so bad that he wants to show up at their house on Christmas morning and beat them in front of their kids. "These sick fucking loser freaks, they all fucking know how amazing this is. It is so fucking evil what is happening here, and it is so fucking obvious." He asked me who I sent it to. I gave him some examples. Sy Safransky at The Sun, who is an insane bigot. What else are you going to say? That's what it is. This has gone on with him for twenty-five years. Then you have McSweeney's and Claire Boyle. John McMurtrie works at McSweeney's now. For years, I worked for John McMurtrie at the San Francisco Chronicle. I gave him great work, which he never even really had to edit, and we had a great relationship. I was paid very little. I never complained. Everything was handed in on time. Often as not, I reached out to publishers and got review copies so that he wouldn't have to do it, just to make his life a little easier. We were highly friendly. He's from Boston, and we'd talk about the Red Sox and the Patriots, quite apart from writing. I appealed to him when he got to McSweeney's. What are they going to pay, $200? But it is so important for these people, with their self-hatred and jealousy, to make sure that they don't allow me what is really this very small thing. It's a fucking literary journal. Can you have lower stakes? Obviously my work is better than anything in there, which is just dreadful work from the usual suspects of a certain level of the publishing caste system, and then a lot of it is about your color and your gender. You know what he did? I never heard from him again. Because he got there, he knew the stories were amazing, he knew that here was this great writer, this friendly, nice, professional man--I mean, we went back years--and Claire Boyle said, "I hate him, and you will now hate him, too." He could have said, "Why, what did he do? Because I know Colin and he's a great guy." But he didn't, and it wouldn't matter anyway, because this is how these people work. They do not stand up, or stand at all, for anything. They answer to the cliques that are their ruling bodies. They tell each other what to do, and they do it. And so that was the position he took. Why does she hate me? What have I done to her? I did nothing to her. I offered her masterpieces, which, frankly, her venue would be very fortunate to have, considering what they pay, considering their visibility, and considering the quality of the rest of the work they run. I am not one of these talentless plonkers. This work is actually special. And there is no one who reads "The Parable of the Woodpecker," "Fitty," "Dead Thomas," "Girls of the Nimbus," "Swoony and Moony," and doesn't immediately know that it beats the bag out of everything you have ever published. From the guy who is also more successful in the real way, not the handout cronyism way of publishing. And finally my friend on the phone starts apologizing, saying that he has no right to get this upset to me, when I'm the one who is living this hell, but he can't help it, because it's the most wrong and evil thing ever. And it is. "You haven't done anything to these motherfucking freaks. These sick, talentless, fucking freaks. They just want to lock you out, and this is so fucking stupid, because what does it even fucking mean? These loser fucking journals, when they know this story blows everything away. How the fuck could anyone compete with a story like that? And this shit. This fucking freak show garbage that they publish. These are simple, dumb fucking people." I pointed out that their stupidity doesn't have that much to do with it. They know what the work is. Their stupidity--real as it is--is not why they're doing this. My friend continued, "I am sure it happens all the time. Someone reads a story by you, knows it's the shit, because how could you not, and then goes into someone else's office, all excited to have a chance to put it out, and that person says they hate you, and the person who knows it was the shit, does nothing, and you never hear from them again, because that's how these people are." I mean, yeah. Of course that's how they are. But he's known this for a long time, and he was frustrated. He told me it destroys a part of him, because he reads the story, and it's the best art ever made, and he's having this experience unlike any he's ever had, "and then the bad dream kicks in, because I think, 'these people probably aren't going to let anyone read this story that Colin wrote.'"
Then we hung up, and I wrote another story. Now I'm going back out for more stairs and push-ups. Have my dry shirt on--my Boston Ballet T-shirt.