Chipping Away 04/06/21

How does one build a readership from the ground up? It seems at times to be a huge task, almost impossible. Back in the day, before the algorithms fully took over social media, you could do it. That’s how I got my initial boost: people were actually able to see the things that I was doing, and they clicked through and liked (or disliked) what they saw.

2021 is a completely different online landscape. People are shuttled into the tightly controlled hallways of Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, where the powers that be decide what you want to look at. There’s no real “browsing” online anymore. It’s all curated. I went to a used bookstore the other day and felt great. There was curation, of course, but there were also stacks and stacks of books with nothing guiding my search. In many ways, that’s how the internet used to work.

At this point, it’s not like my books are chilling in a used bookstore, somewhere. It’s more like they’re in the back of the store, down a hallway, guarded by several bouncers who need to hear specific passcodes to let you in, then down another hallway, where you’re finally led into a room with stacks and stacks of books and a man with goat legs asks you three cryptic questions and maybe, MAYBE comes back with my book.

Then there’s the issue of whether you’ll like it or not.

So what do you do?

You have to pretend as though the internet doesn’t exist. My little mantra lately has been “how did people become writers before the internet?” They organized live events, they flyered, they investigated channels of traditional publishing, they xeroxed copies of things and gave them away. They got creative, because you had to be creative. All of this goes without saying, you know, they wrote cool shit too. They put in work, basically.

It’s a slow process. You have to chip away at it, day by day, and eventually you’ll get somewhere. It’s not a dire situation. It’s just today.

I hope you have a good one.

No Vape 04/05/21

I lost my vape three times in the past three days, which is a sign from the universe that it’s time to be done with it.

I have quit cigarettes and vapes for months at a time, so this is not a new or unique experience for me. I know what to expect going in. First, I’ll be very confident. I’ll have a little craving, but hey, it’s easy, just push that away.

Then, your whole brain chemistry changes. It’s not that you want to vape, it’s that the vape is actually in your hand right now, and when you look and see that it isn’t, you have this profound sense of loss, as though you’re out of joint.

But hey. Done it before, I’ll do it again.

Not drinking should make the whole thing easier, as the two went together hand in hand. It’s hard to get buzzed and not want a little nicotine to go along with it.

Writing through that, I had a craving hit me like a wave! Electricity throughout my body. I hope the intensity of this one means it’ll wear itself out early.

I have experienced every type of nicotine detox imaginable. Some have been very easy, and the two days zip by like nothing. Others have been wild and difficult. There’s no real rhyme or reason to the whole thing.

Anyway, wish me luck. I’m cutting this one short because I’m kind of PISSED OFF and need to go clean the house, keep my head out of this thing.

See ya tomorrow.

Blighttown, 300 Million, & Alice Knott 04/04/21

I stayed up too late last night playing Dark Souls. I got to Blighttown, an infamous spot in the game. When I’d read about or watched YouTube videos on DS, everybody said, “When you get to Blighttown, you are officially in the shit.”

It’s deep underneath the maps you’ve been exploring, everything is lit by torches, everything is rotting. Everything poisons you, and if you get poisoned, your health starts to drain until you fix it with a purple moss clump. Those are starting to run out, though…and now you’ve gotten toxic, not poisoned…and slimy growling things are chasing you up and around narrow paths, swinging corpses at you, and when you kill them, you collect shit pies.

It reminds me in many ways of the Silent Hill games, aesthetically at least. It’s claustrophobic and vertigo-inducing. But…I’m having a blast. I get really scared when I play scary games, and I don’t usually enjoy them. Once I beat Silent Hill 3, I told myself I was done putting myself through stuff like that, even though I had fun. At this point, though, that was about… 14 years ago. Dear god.

And yet, I am having so much fun playing this game. I poked around the internet, reading essays about the game, and came across this very academic but nonetheless accurate summation of the difficulty curve of the game:

The process of continually cycling through attempts in the game is the most visible facet of difficulty at play in these games.  The experience is built with the expectation of continued loss and trial-and-error. Regardless of how well the player memorizes the game, or how well they might execute optimal strategies, character death and game difficulty are still an ever-present reality due to the progressive and scaling nature of the effectance curve.  In effect, this model of difficulty is about negotiating and mitigating the continuous presence of losing conditions. Failure is constant, ever-present, and to a certain extent, beyond the scope of player control. Despite this, Souls games remain an incredibly popular and successful franchise with a significant following. Players continue to engage and play, despite the punishing efforts of the game to thwart them.

http://www.firstpersonscholar.com/the-fun-is-in-the-dying/

Of course, because I am a writer, I started thinking about this difficulty and learning curve in terms of the novel. This may seem like an impossible comparison to make. Video games and novels are obviously very different, and a participant (I don’t like “consumer” anymore and want to stop saying it) in a work of art approaches the two forms differently. Nevertheless!

The concept of difficult learning curves that actually encourage participation reminded me of one of my favorite books of last year: Alice Knott by Blake Butler. Aesthetically, Butler’s books remind me of black metal songs, or Dark Souls. Everything is rotting and ugly. As I wrote in my World Literature Today review of the book: “There is a hypnotic nastiness to some of this book, but it’s a ritual, a trial, and when you get through it, you’ve gone somewhere. It’s a book that is about its doing as much as it is about what it is about. It is shattering the space of the page into a new form of chaos and, as such, is a constant becoming.”

Dark Souls is a trial! It’s also about the experience of doing as much as it is about a story (there really isn’t one), and when you get through it, you feel like you’ve accomplished something. I was going to put a quote from my Kindle copy of AK here, but I take the worst notes, highlight passages and can’t remember why I highlighted them, they often don’t make sense, so I’m going to cheat here and go to a different book of Butler’s, 300,000,000, and nab some Goodreads quotes:

“Blood helicopters chopped across my slim cerebrum like fresh diamonds, rings in screaming on small hands coming awake inside my linings, each after its own way to reach beyond me.”

“After the confession, still inside his sleeping, a massive boil shaped like a bird’s egg appears on his left hand between his point finger and his thumb. When medics drain the boil, from the pustule’s face floods a creamy darkish oil. The runoff will be stored in a glass vial in a black locker several miles from Gravey’s fleshy self, no one seeing what the wet does in the darkness when no longer watched.”

“The shrinking house was packed in angles of mushy arm meat and abdomens in such ways I couldn’t walk to see who was there or what food I would not eat. The sexdrives of the molding prior bodies of the dead refracted through me in the silence of the act of spreading of our silence outside the house. We clearly knew one day we’d have to all kill one another to become All, and why not begin now?”

Gross! I received both AK and 300 for review, and I recall, especially with the latter, that when I got through the book I felt like I had been through something. Many similar reviews bare that out as well. There are intermittent moments of pleasure throughout, and the books aren’t too long, because they’re already endurance tests. And yet, you learn how to read the book, how to navigate it, when to let your eyes glaze over and when to pay attention. When you leave the book you feel like it’s following you around. It’s powerful stuff! And not for people who want coherent, easy reading.

How can we apply this concept to books in general? I think that, with my current WIP, I was trying too much to make it a palatable read, something that a larger general audience can work with. But that’s never how I’ve written books. Critics get mad at my weird endings, they get mad that there are too many characters, that it’s too minimalistic, that sometimes it reads like a script. And playing through DS, and thinking back to 300 and AK made me have an epiphany as I tried to fall asleep at 1:00am last night: I have to lean into those tendencies. I have to make the book fun for me to write. The reason why I have tons of characters and strange occurrences, and why I don’t tell the reader what’s going on, is because that’s what makes it fun for me!

We should embrace a slight difficulty curve, if that’s a thing that we enjoy doing. Because writing is about expressing who you are. Some people like Final Fantasy. Some people like Dark Souls. Some like both!

Find out what you enjoy, and try to take it even further. That’s all you can really do.

Is It Okay to Laugh? 04/03/21

I was doing some light doomscrolling last night after a fun Dark Souls session (I killed a hydra after a dozen tries, got the Capra Demon in one). I came upon a very unfunny video in which a comedian attempts to convey just how “not okay” comedies from the early 2000’s are:

The joke here is that being a sex pest is bad. I’m on board with that. Here’s the thing, though: are the jokes funny? Well, in the case of this video, no, because this guy’s joke depends on them not being funny. The facial expressions are a lot, too. He’s really hamming it up!

There were many, many films released in this genre (bro humor?), and they have a wide variety of jokes within them, and some of them are funny, and some aren’t. Humor evolves, which is why it’s hard to go back and watch, say, Ace Ventura. Not because it’s offensive, but because we’ve moved on. Although Ace talking out of his ass will remain a classic.

In the comments, I noticed this exchange, which I found by turns hilarious, frightening, and kind of sweet: a couple of folks trying to figure out what exactly is and isn’t funny anymore.

I don’t need to tell you that this completely misses the point of what makes things funny or not, in the same way you can’t pin down something that’s sexy…it just kind of is. Everybody has a line, where things they used to think are funny (or sexy) aren’t anymore. We individually feel when a comedian goes over a line…but that’s their job, and we have to be lenient with them. The worst thing you can do is simply not laugh.

One of my favorite podcasts is Cum Town, which is noted for being very offensive. Sometimes I’ll be in my car and think to myself c’mon man… and other times I’ll be laughing my ass off. It’s a private experience, though, something I’m allowed to do as an adult in the privacy of my own home (or car). And if they “cross a line” with my own personal boundaries as to what I think is cool and not cool…hey, I signed up for it. I clicked the buttons, I subscribed to the podcast, I made the choice to potentially be offended. Then I let it go.

And that’s why both these well-meaning people and the people who are just generally controlling and fascistic in nature (it is what it is…some people have cops in their hearts) have it completely wrong: you can’t dictate what people are allowed to think and respond to privately. Or in the safe space of a comedy club.

Everything on Twitter is kayfabe, so I don’t take most of this seriously. It seeps out into popular culture, but I can’t pretend like art was great up until the scolds showed up. Shitty stuff has always been around. I’d say on balance it’s about the same ratio of good to bad stuff. The pearl clutching and moral panic around this shit, however, is going to be embarrassing for a lot of people in a few decades. They’re going to look back on this and think damn, I can’t believe I asked Twitter for help in deciding for me what is and isn’t funny. Like bro, just laugh, man. You’re literally by yourself! No one can see you.

I remember when I was a kid, I used to think God was watching everything I did, so if I’d blaspheme, I’d apologize to empty air. There’s power in transgressing that, and one day people will find power in transgressing this newest iteration of piety.

In the meantime, I’ll just keep laughing at Cum Town.

Dark Souls 04/02/21

It’s hard for me to concentrate lately, what with all of the life things going on. I played some Dark Souls last night, farming some souls to get my Vitality up. When I first played the game on Switch, I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t understand how Hollowing worked, or Kindling, or even really stats in general. I kind of plowed through, never spending my souls, losing them all, having tough times on boss fights.

Eventually, you learn how to play the game, and it becomes more fun. The levels are all interconnected, too, leading to the feeling of the world slowly but surely opening up, becoming less intense as it becomes more dense. I don’t know, it might be one of the best games that I’ve ever played.

I took a hiatus from gaming for oh, I don’t know, fifteen years or so. My PS2 broke right after I beat Metal Gear Solid 2, and ever since then I just haven’t fucked with it, except for a brief time in 2006 or so when I played through Silent Hill 2 and 3.

I think that playing these difficult games have helped to make my life better. I look forward to the hour or two of time I have blocked off at the end of the day to cut on the system, drink a few Topo Chicos, and explore. I like building up my character, finding rings, fighting monsters. It’s something to unwind.

This makes me think to myself, Damn dude, you should probably be reading or writing or something. But you need downtime. You have to rest and reset your mind. After a day of working on edits and perusing Twitter, I’ve seen pretty much everything I need to see. I’m done with words, at that point. So the video games are nice.

Yesterday I was in an area called Firelink Shrine, and I was going to ride an elevator up to Undead Burg. I fell off the elevator and ended up at the bottom of a pit. I thought that I was stuck. Then, a crack of light. I wandered down a short dark tunnel and out into an area with four chests, each of them full of cool items and power-ups. More than beating the bosses, this was the coolest moment of the game for me. You’re stumbling around in the dark, and you find something amazing completely by accident. It’s not a replicable experience in anything other than real life, I guess.

I would highly recommend these games as a good way to pass the time. They’re difficult-ish, but not really as bad as they’re made out to be. There’s just a learning curve. Once you know what you’re doing, the challenges become things that you can surmount, leading to the good feelings, rinse and repeat.

I’m not sure if I’m all that interested in other games. I lost track of Red Dead and GTA V after a few weeks. They were easy, I was whipping through them quick. I need something a little more tough.

It beats getting drunk.

Anti-War Thinking 04/01/21

I’ve been anti-war since I can remember. It started with being in high school during the Bush presidency. Most musicians I looked up to carried an anti-authoritarian ideology, and being against military intervention flowed from that. It’s not sexy. I didn’t learn it from Marx or something. Jello Biafra did a corny impression on Cage’s Hell’s Winter album, and that’s all I needed. System of a Down shaped how I thought. That’s pretty much it.

Growing up in Oklahoma, being in high school when 9/11 happened, I found myself surrounded by God-fearing Christians who wanted nothing more than to send our military off to Iraq and kill our enemies. Never mind that it didn’t make any sense. It’s been stated a hundred thousand times.

The piece that I was missing back then, and really didn’t get until very, very recently, was that war comes from warlike thinking, and we have warlike thinking deeply ingrained into our everyday lives. Charles Eisenstein is really good on this. In his Climate: A New Story, he attempts to trouble the common arguments both for and against climate change, not necessarily to make you think it’s “fake” or “real,” but to take stock of the narratives you bring to the argument. His website has a ton of great essays since the beginning of the pandemic pointing out that these exact rhetorical strategies have been in use for the past year. There is an enemy that must be eliminated to protect the innocent. Good and evil. A show of force to eliminate the evil. On and on it goes.

I engage in warlike thinking all the time. Whenever the BLM protests were going on last summer, I felt a simmering rage against the police officers who whacked people with their batons, safe in their numbers and authority. I felt murderous when I saw them push an old man to the ground hard enough to make him bleed from his brain, out his ears. I would get drunk and post that I would love nothing more than to fight a cop one on one, never mind that I don’t know how to fight, not really. Every fight I’ve ever been in has been hilarious, a wild flailing of limbs, exhiliration, more booze, but come on, man. I’m not a warrior.

What I’m saying is, I understand where it comes from. It’s a need for catharsis, and a need for tribal belonging. When I posted things like that, I really wanted my friends to show up in the comments, say things like “hell yeah man, let’s do it!” The need for friendship hit me strong during the pandemic, when it felt like most people simply stopped talking to me, stopped engaging with me, mostly after I question (and continue to question) the narrative around this whole mess we’re in. But I digress.

How does this square with being anti-war? The answer is that it doesn’t. I was talking to a buddy on the phone, this was months ago, I was still drinking at the time, and he is truly anti-war. I asked him what he would do if a fight came to his doorstep. How would he defend himself? His answer was, “I guess I would just die.”

That stuck with me.

People send me DMs all the time with goofy shit writers say on Facebook or Twitter. They know I’ll get a kick out of it (I don’t get a kick out of it, not anymore, but they won’t stop so it’s a part of my day, I guess). Lots of violent rhetoric over there. Not tisk tisking this at all, as I’m trying not to judge people for being where I was only months ago. But still, man, talking about stabbing, shooting, punching, beating, and everyone is hooting, hollering, and howling at this shit. Social capital through threats of violence. It’s bizarre to see, but very human all the same.

There’s been some great work being done over at Rune Soup to bring attention to this warlike thinking, particularly by quoting people like Charles Eistenstein and Bayo Akomolafe, who has this line: “What if how we respond to a crisis is part of the crisis?”

That’s worth sitting with.

What if responding to a government that uses violence and lies to advance material interests by using violence and lies to advance our material interests is simply feeding the same gods? They get their pound of flesh either way. It makes no difference where it comes from.

You can’t win this game. Between the militarized power of the police and the militarized control of information found on Big Tech platforms, those arenas have been locked up. All you’re doing by playing their game is offering a moment of entertainment.

I say you. But I’m not just picking on the left for warlike thinking, obviously. Most people have it. In fact, “left” and “right” dichotomies don’t really work anymore, not in my estimation anyway. You have traditional conservatives (usually in the “boomer” generation) and traditional liberals (usually in the “boomer” generation) who hang out in the swamp of Facebook. You have disingenuous radlib blue checks on Twitter, and disingenuous radcon blue checks on Gab. If you go down another level, though, you start to find people with sets of principles, who often find themselves in a lot of hot water, because principles naturally clash with ideologies. These people are easy to dunk on, because another principle of principles is that you have to follow them to their logical conclusions. Meaning, if you present someone with principles with an insane hypothetical, their answer can only be insane…if they’re sticking to their principles. That’s what my hypothetical to my friend was: “What if this insane thing happens?” His answer, in turn, matched the insanity: “I would die.”

So, I could take that insane answer (that I baited him into) and use it to say, “This guys nuts, look at where his principles got him.” But we both know that, more than likely, people aren’t going to storm into his house and try to kill him. It’s not a non-zero chance, but it’s unlikely.

A true principle of nonviolence is going to sound insane to a violent society. I’m not someone who has this true principle, by the way. Not yet, at least. Don’t mistake me for someone preaching from on high. I’m still working this shit out. That’s what blogs are good for.

What does a different way of thinking look like? How do we get out of the gladitorial arena and into something productive?

Those are thoughts for another time.

Four Books That Changed Me 03/31/21

Sometimes Twitter has neat memes. Today I saw some pals posting pics of “four books that changed [them].” I like that framing of important books, because it removes the pesky qualifiers about whether or not the book is “good” or “bad” or “important.” While all three of those are subjective, nothing is more subjective than whether or not a book “changed” someone. It’s more personal, more fun to think about. Here are my four:

1)

This would have been the summer of 2005. Just out of high school, I drove to Orlando to spend time with my grandparents. My aunt had just bought a large new house in the same neighborhood as Shaquille O’Neal. I set this monster down smack dab in the middle of one of those big empty rooms, breaking its spine, and lay on my belly on this rough “carpet” that reminded me of straw and just read all day long, stopping to eat and run errands and cookout and hang with the family. The book still took me the whole summer to read. It was the only book I read those two months. Just a massive thing, and I’m a slow reader, but I stuck with it. The first (and probably last) great “achievement” in my reading life.

This book simply changed my whole idea of what books could do. The long sentences, where I’d get lost halfway through and my OCD would force me back to the beginning, so that I had to do it all in one breath. The book was an endurance test, but when I got to some passages (particularly the end) I felt dizzy, high in a good way. At this point I’d been introduced to drinking, spending a good portion of high school at my friend’s “drinking apartment” where his mom would supply us with Everclear and we’d mix it with orange juice (so she could keep tabs, not the worst idea honestly). Drinking for me was still fun, but I was kind of looking into a kind of future with Don Gately, not my future, but a cartoon exaggeration of it, and I kind of knew that at the time.

2)

Found this one at the Ft. Sill library the summer after 8th grade. The plastic-wrapped spine stuck out to me: the title seemed enigmatic, the color pattern ugly but evocative. Then I opened the book and read that now-infamous opening line (which, at the time, if you read Writer’s Digest and other goofy lit mags like I did, had several articles written about it, it was controversial even then) and was completely hooked. At 14, I couldn’t believe a book could be this raw and nasty, and the economy of language would inform my style for the rest of my life. Me and most writers I fuck with have only ever been aping Ellroy since then. American Tabloid is the better book, and the Demon Dog himself says he went a little “overboard” stylistically with this one, but for me it was like cold water in the face, over and over, completely revelatory.

3)

Every summer I’d go to my grandmother’s house. It smelled like cigarettes and Windsong perfume, two smells that I still have a soft spot for to this day. I’d sleep in the guest bedroom, on a big white couch next to the desk where my grandma did her accounting and read. I bought this one, Survivor, Invisible Monsters, and Choke all in the same summer (’02 or ’03 I think) and inhaled them. The conversational style, the urban legends tossed off so casually, in a pre-internet way that made you feel like you were reading a secret history, the nihilistic, gross violence and sex, it was like candy to me. I started with this one, having watched the movie over and over and over, and knew right from this moment that this tore it, I was going to be a writer, I was going to make something this cool.

4)

I used to visit this messageboard for the band Dog Fashion Disco, a Mr. Bungle-esque nümetal band from Baltimore. I met several pals there who I’m still Twitter buds with to this day. When I was 18 or so, some of the DFD board members pointed me to a second messageboard, this one called The Velvet, which was built around three authors: Will Christopher Baer, Craig Clevenger, and Stephen Graham Jones. The Contortionist’s Handbook was fun (I read that one first because of its Chuck Palahniuk blurb), and I didn’t get into Stephen at all at the time (that would come a bit later…I’m now reading all of his books in order, the ones I can find anyway, and I realize now that he was the best of them all along…but hey. I was 18, it was too dense for me back then, I think). I bought Kiss Me, Judas in a very strange bookstore. I can’t remember the name of it, only that its racks were about chest height instead of being as taller or taller than me, giving the memory a dreamlike feel. The book itself was dreamlike, the first in a trilogy, followed by an inexplicable and weird sequel and a more coherent (but less good than Judas) third book. This one had a great opening line, too, something about birds and ice, and it was about a guy who got his kidney stolen by a femme fatale, waking up in a tub of ice. The metaphors in this one came on hard and fast.

I spent most of my youth reading Star Wars books, and Indiana Jones books. These were my introductions to a world outside of Lucasfilm IP, and as such they had the most foundational effects on my own writing. It’s much, much harder to think of books that changed me into adulthood…but I’ll give it some thought.

Satan’s Lapdance 03/30/21

We see how quickly the warriors of free speech crumble. It’s a shame, really.

The sad truth of the matter is that no one, on any side of the political spectrum, seems comfortable with things existing that they deem unacceptable.

Debates around “cancel culture” are often completely disingenuous, with one side claiming that they’re living under Totalitarianism, while the other side denies that it exists altogether. The truth of the matter, of course, is that everyone, almost every single person on this planet, agrees that there should be a line somewhere.

We just disagree on where that line should be.

Maybe Tim Dillon has it right, in the case of the Case of the Devil’s Lapdance:

“MONTERO” is a catchy little earworm of a song. I’ve listened to it probably a dozen times in the past few days. That’s what new and popular songs are good for, as I’ve outlined in a previous post.

The video itself is amusing. It lasts a whole three minutes. It’s cartoonish and ugly, and not anything super great. The whole thing is silly. It’s throwaway art. It’s also got a direct lines to the amusing, cartoonish, ugly videos of my youth, particularly those of Marilyn Manson, etc.

Many completely disingenuous tweeters, people who are fine posting deeply disturbing memes on a platform that can be accessed by children, are suddenly very upset that kids might see this video. But I’m not being fair: Lil Nas X has been on Sesame Street, and he has stated explicitly that he wants his primary audience to be children.

Look…the dude wants his primary audience to be big. He’s a major recording audience. On one end you have a stripper pole, on the other you have Kermit the Frog. Let’s not lose sight of the goal here (selling ugly shoes).

This is part of such a long line of provocateurs provoking, shit that I really loved when I was ten or eleven, that I can’t in good conscience start wagging my finger now. You see, I was raised by a mother who really cared about me, but once I got to a certain age, there was nothing she could do about it. I was hellbound, baby! That lasted until I was oh, let’s say thirty years old.

It’s been a long journey.

On the other side of the fence, the left (liberals, mostly, but the left too) has done a bang-up job of being the Moral Police for the past four years, shitting their pants collectively whenever someone, oh, I don’t know, questions a dominant narrative? Inadequately condemns a clownish figurehead? That they really don’t have any room to start laughing when their made up enemies start clutching made up pearls.

It’s like looking in a mirror. A dark mirror…and maybe you’re a cat…

Go outside.

Strict Editing 03/29/21

I was listening to the Bret Easton Ellis podcast today, and towards the end of his (extremely lengthy) interview with Walter Kirn, they discussed the work of Gordon Lish.

Lish, as most people in the lit world know him, was basically responsible for Raymond Carver’s hyper minimalist approach. He’d go in and rewrite passages, cut almost everything out, and at the end of it you’d have these bare bones short stories. Same thing with Amy Hempel and many others.

Kirn was someone who Lish had worked with. The way he describes the process is as such: Lish would give the author $3,000 and start tinkering with their work. For a while, this system of book production yielded benefits, but as with anything, eventually it petered out.

I’ve always been struck by how inappropriate I feel Lish’s cuts and reworkings of people’s books are. That’s not the job of an editor at all. We’re supposed to bring out the best book inside the manuscript we’ve been given, not turn the book into our own thing.

I once worked with an author who paid me about the same amount of money mentioned above to work on his novel. He got an agent after that, but the agent pressured him into getting the book worked on again by an in-demand editor, a guy who’d worked on the Harry Potter series. This author paid $25k (not a typo) to get notes back. He then shared them with me. Every single line had been cut into, changed. I suppose if someone is getting paid that much money, you expect some serious work done, but both the price and the end result struck me as the opposite of what a book should look like.

Why on earth would you chop out every perceived flaw? You’re one person. There’s a balance to be struck here, and I try to do that in my own work. Am I in love with every line of every book that I work on? Well, no. I’m not in love with every line of every book I’ve written. There’s a give and take, though, a kind of loosening up required, a recognition that sometimes a sentence is just a sentence, not poetry. It serves a function. It’s…fine, I guess.

A good strategy, for someone who really wants to get the most out of the editing process, might be to hire more than one editor, each of them with a philosophy broadly similar to my own. Then, you take the things that work, and discard the rest.

Submitting your work to one genius who’s going to turn it into his own monster just seems to miss the whole point of books as self-expression. They’re not tables or chairs. There are no objectively straight lines. There are simply broad strokes you can follow, and obvious clunkers that need fixing, and maybe some developmental recommendations in this direction or the other.

It’s art, man.

Progression of Taste 03/28/21

I woke up around 7am today and drove to the nearby coffee shop. I had Mezzanine by Massive Attack on the stereo. I’m at a point where I don’t want to hear new music anymore, except for that new one by Lil Nas X where he gives a lapdance to the devil, because it’s an earworm, and having a nice little earworm in your head helps keep the demons out (ironic).

My musical tastes never really evolved past my mid-20s, which is true of most people, I think. Rap music for me peaked with Danny Brown and Das Racist. By the way, some people insist on pronouncing their name like Das Boot, when it’s clear, from literally every time they say it in their songs, that it’s pronounced “dass” like “that’s”…but who cares? Me, that’s who. I will settle this score.

Mclusky and Future of the Left are the peak of rock music, Burial is the best that ambient/dubstep/garage ever got. Charli XCX is the best pop music. System of a Down and Incubus are the kings of nümetal, and also the Deftones of course. I don’t listen to country, never really have and never really will. That’s live music to me, a backdrop to smoky bars, but not something I’d willingly put on my headphones.

Even with this new conservatism, there are still hundreds of albums to revisit, back catalogues to dig into. I’m done looking for new things. I’m happy that they exist, but they serve a function for me, and that function is to be slightly different from the last earworm, but nothing more than that, not music in the sense that I’ll listen to an album, or put it on while I’m writing, or really give a shit.

It is so, so freeing to be out of the loop.

There are two types of progress. One of them is internal, where you’re constantly working on yourself, understanding that you don’t know as much as you think you do, that you’re not quite as good as you can be. This type of “progress” is more of a game, two steps forward and one (or three) steps back. You’re pushing against your own limitations.

The other kind of progress involves keeping up with the latest trends, movies, music, games, whatever. And unfortunately, the Mad Men behind the marketing have convinced us that the two are inextricably intertwined. Gnosis through consumption.

It gets complicated, because new art often does both reflect and influence culture, though my gut tells me it leans more towards “reflecting” than “influencing.” But what do I know? I’m not a kid anymore. I was definitely influenced by, say, Rage Against the Machine when I was a teen. It’s so tangled up that thinking about where to even start makes me feel tired.

I guess a way in here is to say that at the end of the day, no matter what kind of art is promoting what kind of progress (or conservatism), they all at their core (the successful ones anyway) are promoting the idea that you have some kind of influence through your buying power. Products don’t live or die based on your dollar, ideas do.

Cui bono?

It feels to me like maybe the best way to create a healthy outlook on the world, a web of interconnected, emergent beliefs and interactions, is not by following a strong marketing trend. The trick here is to not progress as a rule, but when the idea presented within the progress makes sense to you. To go back to my musical taste: let’s say a new band comes along and just works for me. I can listen to it, buy their merch, and enjoy it outside of what it “means” to like that thing. I have progressed as an exception to my rule. And that makes it actually mean something.

That’s the key, there. The alternative is “growth as a matter of course,” and I’m not sure if you’ve ever seen these dudes shaped like barrels who inject deer velvet into their balls, but growth should not always be a matter of course. It should make sense.

To avoid turning yourself into the ideological version of the Steve Buscemi “fellow kids” meme, you must first reject the idea that the newest thing is the best thing. There’s a reason capitalism, especially as it accelerates, has found a common ground with progressivism.

This idea occurred to me with the stuck boat. There were some great memes about it, and I enjoyed reading up on international trade routes, something I had never researched before. But I found out about that like, yesterday, and so did the hot take people on Twitter, who were all of a sudden experts, able to take this idea and explain not only what it means for the world, but what it should mean, and and and… Can you stop for a second? You’re doing the thing.

There’s nothing wrong with having a different web of thoughts than the one you had five years ago. I’m not so sure whether it’s right to have a different web of thoughts than the one you had five days ago. You didn’t even break those shoes in yet. With our goldfish memories we hop from one thing to the next, never staying in place long enough to live in an idea, or understand it, ever progressing, one-upping, stacking our trash up higher and higher.

I’d propose a healthy mindset to be one of either cautious progressivism, or malleable conservatism, with a healthy dose of either “I don’t know” or “that’s none of my business” thrown into the mix. Oh, and not being a dickhead. That’s an important one. But you don’t want to be progressive or conservative as a rule. Otherwise you end up like, well, *waves hand at everything*.

That’s enough for today. I’m going to listen to Mezzanine again. Then maybe some Sunn O))).