Looking back at the countless discarded iterations of the work in progress, one thing is clear: much of my effort has been focused on the exorcism of sarcasm and the simmering resentment towards the place I call home. Earlier drafts were written in a different headspace: I only saw the present as an amalgamation of the past and the perception of returning to this place as failure; I failed to see it for what it is. This normally would be the place that I would pontificate on what, precisely, “it” is, but I don’t know: maybe that’s the whole point of writing the book, to explore the question and deliver myself a dosage of understanding that makes my existence here more (present) / (tolerable) / (resembling a life) / (all of the above).
With each passing day, the Trump crazy train hurtles towards its inevitable derailment.
Nixon—for all of his paranoia—had the self-awareness and sense of history to know when the game was over; Trump lacks any of that. He replaces it instead with a superhuman ability to convince himself that his word is the truth and that his truth is reality. His is a life fueled by ego and the distortion of truth to his own benefit. There is no sense of place, there is no self-awareness; there is only his perception in that particular moment and, when reality—not the manufactured reality of glossy New York tabloids that sustained him but the reality of the world around him, of his past coming back to haunt him when he picks one fight too many, when he thinks himself too invulnerable, real reality—intrudes on that perception, all hell breaks loose.
It isn’t a question of if but one of when. In our last constitutional crisis of conscience, a paranoid yet self-aware and intelligent president resigned in disgrace; we have now only a paranoid tabloid junkie as we face this one. It will get far worse before it gets better.
I want to write these pieces more when I’m not writing them than when I’m writing them though their value becomes apparent in the act of writing them: a 20-minute warm-up to orient my brain into the necessary mode to be courageous enough to write horribly so that I may revise the work in progress into somewhat less horrible writing. They are a challenge, a challenge of endurance and of non-attachment: write them, post them, forget them, get on with the work.
After nearly two months and innumerable blinks in exhaustion and frustration, the summer’s Big Read, Miguel de Cervantes’s DON QUIXOTE, is complete. Resulting in a considerable to-read traffic jam (now 30+ books) exacerbated by the wonders of the local library’s $5.00 a bag book sale, a desire to read only short novels for a while, and an appreciation for how much literature still owes to Cervantes’s staggering work—the outsized influence of QUIXOTE on Borges (“Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”) / Quixote as precursor to the archetypal private eye: that figure that ventures through a world known or unknown and acts as a nigh-unchanging catalyst for revelations about those who populate that world, illuminating the views of the time and acting as a message in a bottle centuries hence; it is those around him who change—Sam Spade and Philip Marlow owe a debt to him / and, perhaps most head-scratchingly— how much of KICK ASS did Mark Millar base on QUIXOTE? (Note, these are only off the top of my head; I too am stunned that I included a luminary like Borges and a… less-than luminary like Millar in the same sentence).
A writing goal: rewrite QUIXOTE from the perspective of Rocinante and Dapple, easily the two most tragic figures in the tale.
Current read: IN THE COUNTRY OF LAST THINGS, by Paul Auster.
Local library sale over the last week. Went on Saturday for the final day, $5.00 per grocery bag. Came out with two and a half bags filled, one slung over my shoulder in my Guardian tote, the QUIXOTE traffic jam now a 30+ book pile-up, a glorious sight of spines and titles and possibilities.
Down ramps and stairs pointed out by persistent locative signage, the sale. A room of books begging to find a home and a row of VHS tapes that triggered fond memories of my grandfather renting movies from that library when I was growing up, movies he thought I should see. $0.50 rentals, or maybe $0.75. Row of red clamshells (for single-cassette films) and large charcoal clamshells (for the double-cassette films). Had I found some of the films I was raised on—the Bela Lugosi DRACULA (1931) (RIP Martin Landau), the double cassette charcoal clamshells of the Republic serials of William Whitney and John English, MYSTERIOUS DOCTOR SATAN (1940), THE ADVENTURES OF CAPTAIN MARVEL (1941), I would have filled even more grocery bags with memories. Briefly tempted by a VHS copy of THE ROCKETEER (1991) though I talked myself out of it.
Among the treasures: 1957’s A TREASURY OF THE WORLD’S GREAT DIARIES, edited by Philip Dunaway and Mel Evans. Looking forward to digging into it and seeing what awaits. Also: an early hardback of ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE to join my early paperback copy of the same.
QUIXOTE progress: p. 815 of 891. Light at the end of the tunnel. The traffic jam honks.
A Sunday thing in lieu of new words, a compendium of links read and links created.
Highlights from a week in inputs:
This Town Melts Down (via The New York Times Magazine)
The GOP’s moral rot is the problem, not Donald Trump Jr. (via The Washington Post)
Naomi Watts: ‘My soul was being destroyed’ (via The Guardian)
What Robert Mueller Learned from Enron (via ProPublica)
The Gathering Storm vs. The Crisis of Confidence (via Foreign Policy)
Fear and Loathing in the Trump White House (via The New Yorker)
Christian Scott on Making Your Own Rules (via The Creative Independent)
How to Be a Writer on Social Media: Advice from Roxane Gay, Alexander Chee, Celeste Ng, and Adam M. Grant (via Literary Hub)
The week in Informalities:
Sunday, 09 July 2017 – Returning Again / Phase Something or Other
Monday, 10 July 2017 – CASTLEVANIA (In Concept)
Tuesday, 11 July 2017 – Desk, Et Cetera
Wednesday, 12 July 2017 – Notes on the Removal of Time
Thursday, 13 July 2017 – Of Feral Beasts
Friday, 14 July 2017 – Lynch/Ellroy
Saturday 15 July 2017 – Carbs / Twitter / Fragmentation
The next installment of my bi-weekly newsletter featuring exclusive content and access to new stories and essays, drops Sunday, 23 July. You can sign up here.
New words return tomorrow.
Since that fateful October less than a year ago when my pancreas switched from automatic to manual transmission, a new process has emerged: before each meal, I stab myself in the finger (usually the middle one) to give Tabitha, the glucometer, the blood sacrifice so that she may give me a numerical expression of how sweet I am. Then, depending on the meal, I take the proper corresponding ratio of insulin to carbs (it changes with each meal, increasing from none with breakfast because I run six miles a day to 1:10 at dinner because I’m sedentary and watching HOMELAND in the evenings). I’m eating healthier than I’ve ever eaten and most importantly, I’m genuinely feeling good for the first time in longer than I care to remember.
I’ve since started to apply this to other aspects of my life: if I must control my carb/sugar intake in food, what then is considered a carb in my other diet, the media diet?
Twitter has been a life-changer, an addiction, a source of information, and a source of anxiety, usually within the same day. Hell, within the same “check-in.” But it has to be controlled now: the fragmentation that it inspires, my brain leaping from one thought to the next like the digital voices that I allow in my head, has to be corralled. Anxiety, jealousy, success, failure, amusement, bemusement, and, of course, the resultant feelings of ineptitude when I can’t come up with the right combination of 140 characters to properly convey my feelings on a particular subject and revert to amusing GIFs.
These posts are part of that path to control or at least a modicum of being able to tell myself that. To convey the thought of the day, unlock my brain for the work at hand, and to try to bring myself a quantum of solace (bad James Bond flick, great sentiment) by not caring what people think, to de-fragment my brain by exorcising the thoughts that pass through it on the way to the work I must do to, as Leonard Cohen said, “discover my self-respect. To redeem the day. So that the day does not go down in debt.”
Both are renowned stylistic innovators known for their indelible signatures: Lynch for the unfiltered surreality of his worlds that reveals more than the unfiltered reality of most; Ellroy for the rapid-fire grit of his worlds where there are no good people, only dirty mirrors held before our faces and smashed over our heads.
Neither get the credit they deserve for their greatest talents: Lynch for his uncanny ability to elicit career-best performances from his actors, allowing them to take as much time as needed to reach the emotional core of each scene, even if its chair-shopping behind the reception desk of the Twin Peaks Sheriff’s Department; Ellroy for his unforgettable characters that bubble over with depth and pathos, characters caught in the vortex of their own darkness, losing themselves one layer at a time until only a husk remains.
In lesser projects, these great talents are obscured behind those stylistic signatures, hidden. It is when those talents are balanced with their signature styles that something truly unforgettable emerges.
A Lynch adaptation of an Ellroy novel would be a thing to behold.
Thunder rumbles and rain continues. The Morkie’s recalcitrance to piss in the rain though she will gladly jump into her overflowing kiddie pool and trundle through the house leaving a wake of dirty water in her wake.
On (other) feral beasts: in THE WRITNG LIFE, Annie Dillard speaks of the work in progress as the beast that becomes feral if you stay away from it for too long. Expanding on that notion, how many other caged beasts do we keep? How often do we feed them? Do we feed the wrong ones? Do we feed empty cages and waste what little food we have to give?
Perhaps it’s easier to deliver food to an empty cage and turn away than it is to risk losing your hand to the snarling, famished beast that paces its cage waiting for you to bring it to life. But it will only take your hand if you ignore it for the lure of the safe, empty cages.
Perhaps this is another empty cage. Or perhaps it’s how I prepare the food. Either way, it is written. To work.
What began as an effort to remove unnecessary screens from my working hours has since morphed into an effort to remove time. My watch is turned upside down; the clock on my Macbook banished from the menu bar. The only clock is an Echo Dot with a 20 minute timer set for these pieces and an alarm set for 955AM to signal that it’s time to get ready for the day’s run.
Time, like a word count, brings with it—for me—a permission to run down the clock. With each glance, the part of my brain that refuses to be present and functions only in relation to something else gives itself permission to waste time, to detach from the world of the story being written and drown itself in the “real world” of self-imposed responsibilities and unjustified perceptions of guilt over the selfishness of my chosen vocation.
I recognize, of course, that I let my brain do this to itself. I give it permission. I’m working to give that permission the same treatment as the clock on the menu bar.