Publicly Stroking Your Ego can lead to a place in literary history…

…or being arrested for public indecency!

(sorry this is long)

Dear Charlie,

I believe such a passionate email, deserves a considerate reply. Please forgive me for taking so long to reply. I totally loved your email – more than I have loved the last pieces of fiction I’ve read. Probably more than I would have enjoyed any of the NYT bestseller list over the past year. It has lingered with me since I first read it on my way to work, via my BlackBerry on what has to be one of the most tedious weeks of the whole year. Returning from a holiday always brings out my client’s worst emergencies. As if 5 days without me will make the world suddenly spin off its axis & into the ether, or something close to that.

So now that I have sated everyone & they can have a wonderful weekend, it is time for me to do what I do best. Write a passionate response that will match yours. Although, I can hardly be angry at someone I’ve just met, and especially not one who even in his annoyance with something I said – did not answer the question at the heart of what I wrote. Logically – you offered no evidence that Literature is not dead. You have offered me no proof that timeless classics are being born. I do not of course fault you for that, indeed even while I agree with most of what you wrote, I fault who I am rightly upset with. The publishing industry and our society.

Your response, while emotional & full of passionate jabs at me, was not great writing, your point was crystal clear. To take me down a peg. If you knew me, which you obviously don’t – you’d realize foremost that I don’t need to be brought down a peg. Had we spent more time together, aside from a brief introduction in a crowded and noisy bar, you’d soon realize my sense of humor – is usually too cerebral. It is occasionally as dry as any table wine and too often darkly humorous. No one takes me seriously and those who do find dire consequences. Like getting mad at me for no good reason. For I do not take myself seriously. Especially as a writer, I’m working on changing that.

As I ruminated on this matter, I couldn’t think what I said that would upset you. I never declared that writers like Rowling were awful, in fact I take umbrage with the publishers clearly. I do not look down on any writer, not even Barbara Cartland. I stand in awe of them. I think Rowling is a genius. How can I argue with a woman who could out her character (a noticeable pedophile attracted to Harry & always protecting him) and have it splashed across the headlines in papers or on the nightly newscast across the world & probably translated into god knows how many languages. I clearly state that I am as craven when it comes to wanting to be a vehicle of consumerism (see the screenplay reference), and in no way look down on it. That modernity now equals consumerism is a fact of life, and not of my making, and not even a particularly original thought of my making. You have but to listen to sociologist or women’s magazines or Men’s Health to realize it is so. In fact evidence can even be found in a Notable 100 books listed by the New York Times here:

HOW TO TALK ABOUT BOOKS YOU HAVEN’T READ. By Pierre Bayard. Translated by Jeffrey Mehlman. (Bloomsbury, $19.95.) A French literature professor wants to assuage our guilt over the ways we actually read and discuss books.

As a cultural critic almost from birth, I know it is part of my charm and much of what makes my writing work for people. They can connect with it because even if they don’t agree with me or see it the way I do, they generally think about what I say long after I’ve said it. I’m not bragging, I’m quite humbled by this phenomenon. If you knew me better you’d know my southern heritage predisposes me to self-deprecation like very few others can lay claim to. I am after all a 40+ man who has had a long series of dead-end jobs, who now babysits the rich, and dreams of writing the worst American novel ever. I hope it sells enough that I can afford a house, some health insurance, and maybe a 401k so that I won’t have to wipe people’s asses until I need a home health aide or god forbid a retirement community.

I have no savings, no future, no life. I work. Period. I am a poet, the lowliest of all writer’s and the one that is most derided. If I sound pretentious to you – my superiority only extends to one realm, the lyric potential of the written word. In fact I prefer my works spoken, but hate spoken word poetry that is so popular. I do not want to read something that is really great, I want perfection in pitch, tone, and delivery. That is a tall order to fill, and as I clearly point out in the email that irritated you so far, and had you lighting into me – I believe that we need a shift. A shift from Modern Literature. No one movement, no one style, no philosophy has propelled us beyond what has become a rather dull period in history. I ache for the future that I dreamed of as a small kid sitting in front of my very first toy – a non-electric typewriter.

Having hosted an artist’s salon; friends who are authors; and a host of different artists in many disciplines – I find the same recurring theme. The problem is systemic. It is also merely reflective of the culture at large. Aimless. The aim is to consume, nothing more. Get the rarest most precious thing and use up the earth’s resources for just a small portion of the population. For a writer that translates apparently in writing a book that appeals to the widest common denominator, across “many different generations” and then is made into a series of movies and into licensed products. I don’t want people dressing up as my characters running through the streets before the final volume, as sickly twisted as that might be, it would be an anti-climax – until I outed a main character as straight!

You have mistaken me for something I wish to be worthy of. You can hardly be well read – when you haven’t finished a piece of fiction in over several decades. Let me not lay claim to the wonderful character you have obviously created, as I am not so admirable. I never said the Brontes’ created a miasma, and I have no idea how I led you to believe that I was jealous Rowling thought of it before me or that her being a woman had anything to do with it. I do love & prefer Kundera/Dostoyevsky. In fact the latter can give me an orgasm. A literary one obviously not a literal one.

Reading mostly non-fiction for decades (which is the ugliest of language’s offerings), and thinking non-stop about life, culture, art even in its simplest of forms ~ like morning coffee, and scripting stories about everyone I see on the subway, has predisposed me to thinking that I can write a novel that someone will want to read. It is probably a pipe dream, yet I thought by having a culturally diverse writer’s workshop to help shape my writing to be available to the broadest spectrum would help it sell. That hardly sounds like someone who would refuse a check, or someone that you accuse of wrongly inferred notions.

In a rather long life, there have been very few people that have entered my life that I have not made laugh. I am a funny guy. Again, not bragging – it is just a fact. That you didn’t find humor in what I wrote, will be laid fully at your feet. I howled at your response. What you also don’t know about me – is that I’ve suffered from a writer’s block for as long as I can remember. All of my writing has been for friends, and for good friends and usually in email form. Something else you assume but didn’t know – is that I have a friends who are writers, published, world-wide, well known authors. Again a fact not braggadocios. I have had deep probing discussions about the publishing industry (esp. the independent variety), and I know what awaits me out there. What I’ve learned from them informs my opinion of modern literature.

Anything I write will immediately be donned “Gay” and ghettoized into some far flung reaches of the local Barnes & Noble. I assume you are a straight white male – since I met you with your girlfriend. Your work will end up in “Fiction & Literature” – you will be called the next James Patterson, etc… while against my wishes Armisted Maupin (the gayest name ever!) will have to write a blurb for my book jacket for it to sell. I will have to smile & say “Thanks”. So you will forgive my dissatisfaction with the realms of publishing when several of the people that I’ve invited to participate in the workshop will end up in the “Chick Lit” & “African American” sections. A ghettoization or parsing of so-called “Modern Fiction” is insane. Ultimately insulting. It is also proof positive that Literature is Dead. It only comes in one variety as far as I know, even though academia, with their feminist & gay studies are clearly leading the world into a politically correct but compartmentalized representation.

Your assumptions about me, my writing, or my workshop are fallacious. In fact they almost seem sophomoric. You are not excluded for having an opinion about me, or my pretentions, those are encouraged. It sounds as if you need a dose of constructive criticism, perhaps you need to lighten up. I don’t know what kind of week you had, but honestly – you aren’t mad at me, or even anything I said – as I hope I have proved by pointing out the flaws in your ‘logic’. I couldn’t figure out though from what you wrote whether you even wanted to participate. If you do, you are welcome. Whether you consider me a friend you can write for or not is of no concern to me. If you knew me – you know I’d never buy you a coke, but warn you about drinking them and what that says about you. Cultural critic through & through. Yet I would serve it at the workshop if that is what you drink.

It seems to me, that if you wanted to – you could probably write very well, and I would like very much to read what you write – whether or not you participate in the workshop. Your qualms with me are very ill-informed, that I don’t live up to whatever ideal you had, or if I’ve made you feel insecure in something I’ve said – please accept my apologies. It was not my intention, and my aim was only to follow up with an interested party. I speak confidently. I’ve waited on celebrities, losers, and been the reason a porn star had to die. As I mentioned in the beginning – the world would spin off its axis if I didn’t do what I do – so forgive me for having a swelled head, but my job encourages it. I can say without any wavering that whatever I wanted to charge right now – my client’s would pay to make their lives easier. So why don’t I enjoy my job with all this money, and all this power?

Because I am not writing.

That is the only thing I want to do. Far from the simple desire to put coin in my pocket (as I already have that), I want to write something that a hundred years from now – a silly pretentious faggot like myself will read & say that it changed his life. I don’t even need to be paid to do it (as this email clearly illustrates) to get something from it. Do I want to be discovered upon my death or live the latter part of my life in poverty waiting on my social security check? Hardly.

My literary icons are not particularly gifted at first glance, but ask me and I can rhapsodize for hours about why they are more relevant now then their “high period”. The trifecta is Genet>Mishima>Burroughs. Each one as powerful today as they were upon first publishing. They created something new, of the same material that we all have access to. Yet they shine so brilliantly that a millennia from now they will still hold something for whatever the future generations becomes. Their names never appeared in a font size that eclipsed the title. If you are naïve enough to think that an author picks that or any author enjoys that – then you are the egomaniac, and may not be doing this for all the right reasons. A writer should want people to attach themselves to the story. The publishing company recognizes that you are more drawn to that particular author’s pseudonym and will grab the book on that alone. Just as you would reach for Clariol over Pantene. Brand Loyalty. Just as Jon Edwards said so eloquently – I don’t want people to choose me because I am a white male, over a woman or a black man. (That is a paraphrasing –albeit broad- of what he said). My work has unfortunately been referred to as “like David Sedaris'”, and believe me if I ever become famous, I will have to go to great lengths to keep that from happening. Not because he isn’t a good writer, but because that comparison would be detrimental and completely off-base.

Anyone who has shared their art with me, has found me nothing but exuberant! In fact sometimes almost intimidating you might say. I can be so enthusiastic it scares most artists who quickly retreat into self-deprecation. You met me in a Karaoke bar where I embarrass myself frequently, so I’m familiar with the flip side. Anytime I’ve had to deliver criticism – I’ve done so as deftly as possible. I have tried to treat the person as I would want to be treated or as I would treat a loved one (not family, but the ones I really care for). I take it quite seriously, and will not shirk it to make someone happy but clueless. That I consider the cruelest. My brand of frankness is not for everyone, and I can usually weed out the people who are easily upset by my comments. Those are usually the people who can’t quite grasp my unusual take on things. Then I think how banal I can be. How everything I think – makes its way into some news story almost immediately after I think it, and I think how connected I am to the rest of humanity. Again I have a healthy ego, even when its being humiliated.

My writing is horrible, yet as a writer I hold great potential. As a reader I am the worst, and as a lover of literature there is probably no one as passionate. If you think so low of me, I can hardly see why you wasted the words you did. However, I completely appreciate your attempt to set me straight. That I give no credit to the many talented writers is probably because the publishing industry is trying to woo the people who will lay out good money for a thick book they won’t finish, over the tastes of someone like me who would prefer to read it in a public library (but they are sorely underfunded right now and almost in danger of closing) or worse catering to the audiobook crowd. I don’t drive a car, but would gladly translate my opus via the spoken word for those too lazy to read. Mostly for the check.

I am currently reading the master Umberto Eco’s ‘On Literature’ and find fault with him, in fact I find fault with everything, not as a way of setting myself above anything, but as living & breathing or embodying the consumerist age – that it should fulfill me. That is the conundrum. I will never be happy. From the Guttenberg Press to the desktop publishing age – what has changed? Do you feel the power that lies in the world wide web and blogs over the traditional archetypes? Can you sense the profound shift to user-submitted content? Has YouTube made you reevaluate your writing? If it hasn’t then I may ask why you are not pondering as long and hard as I have on the cultural shift. Yet perhaps a deepening of our friendship would enrich that.

I am hardly as immodest as you propose me to be. I am a very simple man, who speaks very confidently about my opinions. It was encouraged in my youth, and I can’t shake that, nor would I want to. Adjusting to people’s misinterpretation of that, and not letting it define me, is a hallmark of my mid-life wisdom. I am pretentious, yet not even remotely in the ways you accuse me of in your misguided response. For whatever injustice you feel I have done to you, please accept an earnest southern apology full of suffusive gesturing. You will never quite know if it is sincere. That will be the beauty of it.

So in one brief sentence you admit your own pretentiousness & then tear into me for mine. I think the word is Hy-Pocricy said in the best Tennessee Williams voice I can muster is in order. Or Truman Capote if you want real annoyance.

My life’s mission it seems is to aid in ushering into the world a new literature, a new philosophy, and to propel psychoanalyses into a new age. I will probably die long before these dreams are realized, yet they help get me out of bed in the morning, and even though I occasionally forget the mission statement – I believe in the preposterous and utter pretentiousness of that dream. You should make nice with Dostoyevsky or hell, Ibsen. Those men knew a damn good story. That you wouldn’t want to read this all the time is understandable, but come on – if you read that truly, the world will be revealed to you within. Mailer said in his last appearance at the New York Public Library with Gunter Grass – that TV has killed narrative. Entire generations have grown up with their narrative experience interrupted every 8-10 minutes with ads. Why is no author addressing this in their work? (I personally am hoping that subscription channels & TIVO will be the end of that)

We are after all – retelling the same story. Ours is a shared history. Man is a conversational animal, who long before the written word had a story-telling tradition going back for centuries to the first word uttered. That is the reason myths & religions are so powerful. They are retelling the same story, over & over again, and having it last millennia. In fact my theory of Christianity is that it is the most powerful & pervasive of the world-dominating religions, because it was the most effective at adapting & modifying the ‘pagan’ religions and their myths. It assimilated everything it touched. It started by taking Judaica and then folding in everything it planned to conquer going forward. It was the Borg, or was the Borg an allusion to Christianity. We may never know.

You may never know how much I thoroughly appreciated your response. I haven’t felt this passionate in months, or at least not to the point of writing four pages until four in the morning. I would caution you as you go through life not to assume you know anything about a person you’ve just met. That is dangerous territory, and I have learned not to judge an author based upon his writing. That is the most dangerous. I have recently suffered because of my writing & lost two friends. I have gained many more because of it, but they may never replace the two that were lost, but what choice do I have? I can just go forward trying to process everything I encounter via the written word. If that doesn’t work, where will I turn? It is a bit late in life to develop a new calling. Although I’m quite sure that if this falls on its face – that is exactly what I will do.

My ambition is great, my scruples are Machiavellian, and my humor is riotous. I crack myself up all the time, and it is time I use that to entertain the world at large. My obligation is to do that in a way that doesn’t have the sole aim of entertainment, for that is the plaything of the idle minded American consumer, but to reach hopefully into people’s hearts, and tickle their curiosity, and all the while make them think at the end of this experience that they don’t know the world very well, and there is always something we can take away from it. It will be my transformation through this process that will be the most profound. I believe very earnestly in the magnet that is hanging on my refrigerator, and only recently found a way to apply it to my life now, after years of a defeatist attitude: “Be the change you wish to see in the world”; for all the brilliance that it has been beaming out at me for years, it resonates now.

So if literature is dead, then I have to help resuscitate it. Is that impossible? Only if I think it is. Remembering the whole time that I am not a novelist. I can’t commit – I prefer short stories, they hold possibilities, they leave you wanting more. Yet my heart belongs to poetry – with its economy of words, its endless interpretations, and its ability to make you believe there is someone who knows you so well that they can peer into your soul.

Thank you for setting me straight, I scrub people’s toilets to pay my rent, but I love it. My opinions are shite, and very few people would stoop to tell me so. I have found that the people I should cultivate in my life are the ones who would disagree with me, and not the ones who offend easily. Like the two that I just lost. Now I look around & see that in place of those two people I have gained many more. That pleases me to no end, and I can hardly be upset that you have to sacrifice a few to gain a kingdom. That was my Thanksgiving prayer.

Whether this has changed your mind, again has no relevance in my life, I have enjoyed writing this – so that is reward unto itself. If you continue to think me a snob also has no relation to my life or my writing. So I guess the question is: How can we save Literature from an excruciating death? Which is what I would have inferred had I received my email to you.

So going forward, and for the umpteenth time, I’ve made a career decision – to introduce myself as a writer, and not a person who scrubs toilets or babysits rich New Yorkers. Even if all I write is this, and my passionate emails to friends, and occasionally blog. If I find a readership, and line my pockets in the process, I can only hope that it continues to humble me the way being knee-deep in diapers would. If that makes me an idealist, then I will wear that badge proudly too. Since it seems that a byproduct of consumerism is rating everything on how well it pleases you or fills some psychological need that Madison Avenue has deemed as a trend worthy of making someone else rich. Let me continue to have bold opinions.

I have earned my world-weary attitude, every shred of it. I want more, and if having a bon mot every now and then about the world in general & certain industry offends someone, then I must be doing something right. Mark my words, whether you participate or not, I will change the world of Literature. Since I am so damn tired of waiting for it to change. If you look back at every era – it starts with a scandal from Flaubert’s ‘Madame Bovary’ to Burroughs win in court against indecency laws – which give you Skine-Max, and the thriving porn industry, or the scandal of the Paris Salon’s and a bull dyke & her little cub, it happens because someone dared to step beyond the pale – see beyond what was happening in the world of the pulp, and flesh out something truly unique.

These are tough times and the population of the world is full of irony, and kids today are far more sexually advanced, Porn is now on the level of rock stardom. In fact the girl who was just murdered – gets a Porn Star label, not poor victim – but Porn Star as if it is something to be proud of (more like something to sell papers or get people to watch), while her family may be dying of shame – in some part of the world, people are cheering. It is probably just porn starlets who now have to be murdered to have their 15 minutes of fame. I think they will settle for being almost murdered.

My world view is not everyone’s, nor would I imagine a world that did. That would be awful. Yet I also won’t apologize for being literate, offbeat, or anything else – just because the world wants pulp. I won’t dumb down anything, and will just hope there are enough people out there who want to read something as twisted as what I offer. Hopefully it will lead to a regular gig poking holes at humanity’s sacred cows. I don’t think that would pay very well, so I’ll stick with the movie script scheme, that I know can offer me a retirement deal.

So in conclusion, Charlie, again I thank you – a thousand times over. For in making me feel wretched, or trying to, you actually made me feel hopeful. It is funny how that works. After writing that email to you, I also checked out the notable books on the NYT website, and found the first chapter of “Kafka on the Shore” and had a revelation, that maybe not all is lost. My opinions like my life, is ever evolving, mutable as desire, and continually refreshed. It seems that is the way of the world these days, to cycle through hopes & dreams with an ever growing rush, until one day you fall down the waterfall into death. Or the sickness unto it.

September 11th radically altered my life, and I had hoped that it would irrevocably change the arts community. In losing a dear friend that day I also lost my voice, this is the time and the year that I get it back. In imagining a world of literary readers who are world-weary of serialized fiction and want something innovative is my goal. One I am very committed to. If I can’t find smart, funny people in New York, I may not find them anywhere.

So I guess the real question is, are you ready for an adventure?