We live in a largely superficial society, sadly enough. Authentic emotion is often suppressed in favor of putting on the smiling face of the winner. The only emotions everyone in America is free to express are happiness and rage, which is a fucking shame. We are warned not to advertise that you feel sad, unless the provocation is extreme and obvious. In the case of a death, or mass murder, nobody could blame you for feeling sadness. In fact, you’d be a monster not to be sad in the aftermath of a tragedy.
But sadness for no real cause? They have medications for that. Only a loser is sad for no reason. That all this is clearly bullshit designed to foster the inauthentic, unexaminable life of the acquisitive consumer has nothing to do with it. Drive a winner car and you’ll feel better about yourself. Pretending you’re not a loser is half the battle, the constant commercial assures us.
I have a friend who’s an excellent writer. He was a professional writer for many years, a deep thinker and a man of deep feelings. It seems to be part of his professional credo that the deepest feelings do not belong in writing one does for pay. He advised me to keep it light when I was sending things to his friend, the gatekeeper for an online publisher, for $250 a pop. He writes a 1,000 word anecdote in an hour, eats lunch, gives the piece a final polish and by dinnertime he gets the thumbs up and a check for $250. Of the fifty or so he’s sent in, only one has ever been rejected and none has ever needed to be revised in any way.
I scored on the first two I sent in, and it was great, even if my pieces were a bit darker than most of the others posted on the on-line magazine. Even as a few of my thoughts were muddled by a clumsy editor trying to earn his keep. Then the hoop I had to jump through for my $250 was made smaller and smaller.
The third piece I sent was accepted for publication, and I smiled as I tallied another $250 score in my notebook. Weeks went by and I didn’t see it on-line, nor was there any check. I inquired. “Oh, I could have sworn I emailed you that I reconsidered, we’re not using it. Beautifully written and powerful, but, oddly, too personal for a personal anecdote.”
My writer friend told me over dinner to shrug it off, keep ’em light. He keeps ’em light, but I wonder how easily he’d shrug off having the $250 snatched back after the piece was accepted. He doesn’t need the money, so there’s that, but, still, it didn’t sit right with me that he’d feel nothing about having $250 plucked out of his pocket.
Later the two of us had dinner and I described the Book of Irv to him. He’d had family traumas aplenty, but his father was apparently a good and gentle soul who always treated him well. He told me it was a fascinating project, trying to conjure the complicated wonderful, monstrous Dreaded Unit father I had described to him over the years.
As we said goodbye he told me he was looking forward to reading some of the manuscript. I told him I’d send him the link to several selections, which I did when I got home. I sent the earliest incarnation of the Book of Irv site (link) and told him how much I looked forward to his take on it. I thought this piece (link) in particular, about my father asking me hopelessly for Detroit Tiger scores all through my childhood, would resonate with him. He is a huge sports fan, currently writing a book on college basketball.
The next email I had from him read:
from the late, great New Yorker cartoonist William Hamilton, speaking of his novels and screenplays:”Although I have not exactly been published or produced, I have had some things professionally typed.”
Outside of that zen koan, I never heard a word back about the pages I’d sent him.
In fairness to him, he is famous for being an affable space cadet. Once, in a restaurant, his wife’s chair fell backwards, she almost fell with it, and he didn’t seem to notice, absorbed as he was finishing his anecdote. Good natured obliviousness is one of his known characteristics. I figured he was just being himself and I later sent him a few other Irv pieces, asking what he thought. I never heard a peep.
Our email conversation petered out after he wrote, of my comparing my frustration trying to get a reply from a promising business contact who was not responding to root canal:
“Have to disagree — based on 30 yrs of extreme periodontistry, molars and their double roots are worse.”
We’d had a good laugh over dinner last April recalling Mel Brooks’ genius definition of tragedy and comedy. “Tragedy is when I break my fingernail, comedy is when you fall down a manhole and die.”
I was truly at a loss to account for his silence about my work. Since we rarely talk more than once or twice a year, I put it out of my head and kept writing.
Yesterday I wrote a piece about sports and sent it to him, hoping the note found him well and telling him the piece made me think of him, a one time competitive tennis player and a seasoned teller of tales I have always enjoyed swapping yarns with.
To my surprise, he wrote back instantly, telling me he assumed I was angry with him since I’d never written back to his several emails. I checked and the last emails I had from him were things he forwarded, months ago. I wrote telling him this and he replied that he must have sent the personal emails I’d ignored to the wrong address.
I don’t often write poems, but sometimes they seem the most direct way to process and express a specific thing. On the subway an hour later I found myself writing: