A Novel Idea

I don’t even especially like reading novels. 

Before the Covid-19 outbreak, my normal pattern was to read two or three novels during the week and a half I’d go down to Florida every year, and maybe trudge through another half a novel over the other fifty weeks inside of a year. And yet, whenever I feel a sense of malaise or a lack of contentment with my working life, my brain always travels to this far off magical land of being a wealthy novelist. 

The story goes something like this: After waking up in the middle of the morning closer to lunchtime, and taking an hour to read the paper and drink my coffee, I sit down and give a concentrated two, maybe 2 1/2 hours of a creative burst of energy, dictating five or six thousand words for my latest tome in close succession. I then tend to social matters, maybe squeeze in a round of golf or a nap, and then it’s dinner time. Lather, rinse, repeat. 

Some days I would go on the radio and tell people why I think I’m so brilliant, and how I got to be so smart and creative, and give one of those self-righteous, finger wagging tutorials that only a baby boomer could possibly love, about the value of dedication, practice, and hard work. Oh, and making sure that you do “what you love” for a living, that’s the only way to go.  

I would then whisk away to a book signing at a local book shop, where a bunch of doe eyed fans would lavish me with praise, telling me how my latest magnum opus made them feel things that they thought they could not feel, and how my writing was an inspiration for them. 

Obviously, this kind of fantasy is just that: a fantasy. In truth it’s more a crock of shit than any sort of plausible fantasy. And yet it feels so warm and comfortable, like a blanket that just got taken out of the dryer. Who wants to sit in cold and damp reality when you can snuggle up to bullshit? 

And it’s not even that it’s unattainable. If my numerous failed novels have taught me nothing, it’s that actually writing an 80,000-word, cohesive narrative is—and you’ll have to brace for this one—a lot of fucking work! I know, who would have thought? Very few novelists (i.e., none) sit around on a Mac book in a coffee shop and look very self-important in between New York Times bestsellers. Those kinds of people who engage in that creative kabuki theatre, letting everyone see them right that next great screenplay, probably don’t amount to diddly squat.  

From my copyeditor Facebook page, I’ve met a lot of people who work as self-published novelists. That sounds like an even uglier, more disgusting way to make a living as a creative writer. Not only do you have the lack of certainty of a big publisher behind you, but also you need to hustle and sell your thing, and who’s buying a self-published novel from an unknown? Your parents, your friends, and the other associates whose arm you twist on Facebook. All of a sudden, I went from Ernest fucking Hemingway, to one of those “momtrepreneurs” I see online on my Instagram, trying to convince me that their latest pyramid scheme makes them a “business owner.” but they do that because it’s simply not a sustainable model that everyone who is creative and wants the right is going to be able to make money writing novels. 

But as I’ve talked about on this blog in another creative endeavors, you really lose a lot of charge and motivation to do things if the only reason why you’re doing it is money, absent any sort of passion or desire. And I don’t know that novel writing is really something that I’m excited about. My enjoyment of reading them is tenuous at best at this point in my life. Writing them is exhausting. And to be honest I kind of don’t want to do much of anything these days. 

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I finally turned on comments after a decade.

I hate most form of online commentary. Twitter and Facebook have really democratized the ability to give one’s opinion on a whole variety of subjects, regardless of whether or not you have any expertise or if anyone should ever hear your voice. In today’s covid-19 climate, everyone is an expert on epidemiology, economics, constitutional law, and all forms of partisan politics.

Outside of trolls, I don’t think anybody actually finds any utility in the comments below a news article. Seriously, who fucking reads these things? My mom does, and seems to get a certain schadenfreude arguing with people and having them respond angrily to her. Yet I for one can’t see any sort of value to doing that.

On that glib and gloomy note, I decided to open up comments on my blog. When I started the first iteration of this nearly ten years ago, I swore that I would never do that, because as a general rule of thumb I don’t care about what other peoples opinions are of me. Or more accurately, I’m so thin skinned as a general rule of thumb that I don’t want to deal with someone’s negative opinion of me, because one shitty comment might be enough to unravel a regular writing habit that I’m undertaking, and I feel that that would be detrimental.

So why do it? Well, I’ve been thinking more and more about trying to cut my teeth as a real writer. I don’t know what that looks like, but a lot of seasoned writers seem to have a blog, and successful blogs have this magical, mystical, elusive sauce known as “engagement.” there are a lot of shiny buzzwords about writing online or doing creative things online. My skin crawls when I hear someone refer to themselves as a “content creator.” You make YouTube videos, bro. Or you write a blog. It’s such a lazy catchall to just call it “content.” Content sounds like something that you fill a mattress with when you run out of cotton and springs, just this catchall for scraps of garbage and seagull remains.

But yes, in a free market, capitalist society, you must constantly churn and create, not unlike producing boots on an assembly line, because there is nobody that can seem to monetize creative works unless they produce it with the reliability of an auto assembly line. It is sort of weird and antithetical to how I think about being creative. I would very much relish the opportunity to only write when I feel like writing, or I have something particular and meaningful to say. It would be fantastic if I felt extremely creative every single Monday, and then had the opportunity to upload it every single Tuesday, with the regularity of a weekly chat show, or other forms of media entertainment. That’s how the economy works. But I don’t think that’s how art works.

But you can’t just shout inside of an empty walk-in closet and hope to become a radio personality. There needs to be ears attuned to what you’re doing. And so the idea is to constantly churn out new *shudder* “content,” have people comment on the ones that they like and don’t like, and potentially get more people to read my blog because they wanna see my feedback on their stupid comments. Although really, the fact that this opening blog post is dripping with condescension and negativity is probably not the right tone to begin such engagement with.

I would love if this blog helped me to connect with people that I find genuinely interesting. In a perfect world, if I meet like minded fellows through the comments on my blog, I’d love to have some of you in on my podcast. Yes, I have a podcast. I sort of took the summer off, not deliberately, but just because with starting a new job, I started to feel really burnt out. I think eventually I’m going to make new episodes for it, but once you get out of the “oh God, I have to make a new episode every week,” mentality, it takes a lot of effort and discipline to get back into that sphere.

If you have any thoughts or ideas, put them in the comments. I do plan on very zealously moderating, as this coincides in a moment in my life where I very freely block people on Twitter and unfriend them on Facebook. Because now that the pandemic has created a full hermitage for me, the likelihood of ever seeing any of these people in real life has become so small, but I really don’t care if I don’t hear bad or negative opinions. Happy weekend.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Weekend (kind of sucks to be honest)

Back when I was in high school, I lived for the weekend. To get away from the drudgeries of school for even two days of playing video games and goofing off was sublime. And with the benefit of hindsight, I can safely say that most of what I learned in those five days of the week was completely and utterly a waste of fucking time. I know it is some trendy neoliberal thing to complain that schools aren’t doing enough to teach you “real jobs,” as though the only thing that has any value in the world is computer coding, skilled trades, and business related math. I don’t share this glib view of the world, but I certainly think a lot of the activities that they gave us in high school or really busy work that didn’t either fuel anything “work” related, nor were they particularly enjoyable or satisfying. I’m talking about drawing Bohr-Rutherford diagrams, and that week and half at the beginning of every school year or I had to take old paper shopping bags and wrap the covers to my math and science textbooks, lest that beautiful plastic sheen somehow become degraded.

The weekend was always restorative, and gave me a chance to focus on the things that were important to me. Which to me meant an endless array of hobbies. Even evenings too, albeit with the constraints of homework. And into my twenties, although homework assignments very seldom fit neatly within the weekday paradigm, I definitely got time off to myself on Saturdays and parts of Sundays without having to cannibalise too much of my free time. I could take a whole Saturday afternoon to play squash, then leisurely lounge around waiting for dinner time.

But now I am in my thirties. I am old, I am fat, and I’m married with kids. This means that a given weekend is dragging around your old, fat carcass, even though your bones and ligaments are telling you that rest is best, to go and do some kind of activity with your wife and toddlers. It usually involves a lot of needless running, followed by screaming and yelling. And also toddlers (ba-dump-tss!). Now, it is culturally taboo to say that you don’t enjoy spending time with your kids. But just the same, there is nothing restorative or relaxing about chasing after kids at a playground all morning, followed by a chaotic lunch, an angry nap, a chaotic dinner, followed by a chaotic bath time and chaotic bedtime.

Normally I get around to doing these blog posts on Monday morning, as soon as the nanny has arrived, and provided me with respite for the week. Of course, I sit to write this particular post on a Tuesday, having just emerged from the August long day weekend. A long weekend is usually something to be jubilant about. But that assumes you look forward to weekends. Now, I look forward to Monday mornings, when I can take a break and relax, by… going to work? No, it doesn’t make sense to me either, dear reader. But that’s what it is now. I can sneak in a few games of chess on my phone, and go to the bathroom in peace; I have to take these small victories.

My job is OK, but certainly not something that I would refer to as my dream or my absolute ideal. But the point is that in my particular situation, it’s just slightly less unbearable than the time that I spend on weekends. Now when you put it that way, it does sound a bit depressing, but I’ve yet to figure out how to put a positive spin on that situation. And of course, before I can even finish publishing this blog post, I’m being told that the nanny has to take two weeks off to attend to a personal matter. I shudder to think how I’m going to be roped into this nightmare going forward. I have some ideas, and I don’t like them.

Anyway, we live in a pressure cooker of world history where people are expected to work every single day, check emails after work is done, and the pandemic has exacerbated that with a real lack of child care and any ability to actually take any time off. And so the notion of “free time,” which was so ingrained to me growing up as an only child, is now just a fleeting fiction. At least when I’m working, and things aren’t too busy, I can dictate A blog post, or keep up on my chess training.

So in that particular set of circumstances, long weekends are “long” in the absolute worst possible sense of the word.