BLOG THIS! Highly Suspect Wisdom for the Widely Disinterested Masses
I was asked in April to contribute a piece of fiction to a Pandemic Anthology, which I immediately wrote a draft of but then forgot all about, too occupied by other strains of madness and the slow Jack Torrance-izing of my quarantined soul, and so missed the deadline. This little piece has remained a sad file on my emotionally withholding laptop, but has now broken the pixel-surface gasping for air and seems especially timely now.
A Letter For My Infant Son, To Be Read In Thirty Years
Amidst this all, my wife has given birth. We have an infant boy, so beautiful even his midnight wail suffuses me with love. And so, being somewhat prescient, I have decided that during the Swine-99 outbreak of 2050 my son will be a young and struggling writer. Therefore I have decided to pen him a letter, with actual ink on actual paper, to be unopened and unread until the age of thirty. Hopefully, as a paring knife bites into the crease of yellowed envelope it will not only carry but deliver true meaning. A flash of recognition. A bolt of not-quite-lightning from the not-entirely-believable past. Or, maybe just act as a fleeting diversion in a time that is almost certain to be so much worse than it is now.
November 3rd, 2020
Well, madness abounds. Of course, as always, there is beauty within the madness, or possibly formed because of it. There is no lasting art that did not arise from some sort of deprivation, whether great or small, from pandemic to plain ennui. "The Sorrows Of Young Werther" didn’t write itself, you know? On the other hand, maybe I’m really talking about the bushes in front of our porch that have barely survived over the last ten years due to lack of light, but have somehow bloomed this month, flowering for the first time ever! I know you want to become a novelist, which is for any of us an agonizing decision on myriad fronts, most especially the one where you are almost certainly doomed to failure regardless of your evident or complete lack of talent, as all realms of art are as far away from both the meaning and practice of meritocracy as is mathematically possible, and so I’ve often thought about what kind of advice I might provide you. Then along comes this virus, which has gripped the world like Tommie Smith's raised and clenched fist, making it apparent, or even more apparent, that I know nothing at all. Who am I to give you counsel? But, if forced at vaccine needle point, I suppose I would say that it is in this time that those who would artfully record their honest and emotive perceptions are needed more than ever. There are refrigerator trucks full of bodies parked outside funeral homes in the Bronx, idling with diesel fumes even as I type this, and that fact alone can and should bring one nearly to tears, but perhaps afterward also prompt the reflection (delivered as a groundbreaking avant-garde verse poem in the Homeric tradition?)—that it is essential to take stock in what we really want in this life. In this world. To be wealthy and famous? To have the respect of our peers? To go to bed every night knowing we accomplished at least one genuinely exceptional thing? Or maybe we secretly welcome the chaos and nihilism, our deepest desire to abandon the false shade of community and connection, wanting only to be left to our devices, hermetic, in pure silicon despondence, forever addled by the Tyranny Of Small Technologies.
Sad, I know.
Perhaps this is not information you care to possess about your father, or worse have already astutely presumed, but I am inclined toward pessimism and despair. I do not see a rosy future. I drink heavily and low into the mist late at night, naked in the back yard, strangling the neck of a bottle of near-empty Gentleman Jack, fearful of the lessons our leaders have taught us so well: there are no solutions, nothing can be fixed, we are, as beasts, doomed to doom ourselves.
And then I stand over your crib! I kiss your hands and feet. I smell your sweet pea-n-carrot breath, dear Brexit, and my depression fades. The world is beautiful after all! It cannot be denied. We will find a way through this because we must. For you and all the tiny Brexits like you. And so I wake refreshed, make scalding coffee and bacon and eggs and little baby sausages and toast with real creamery butter and I know we will all be okay.
Listen, it has been a century since we have been swept with something so virulent as this, and I often find myself thinking back to 1918 and the Spanish Flu and those who endured it with no bulwark except a faithless faith, their rudimentary medicines and unrefrigerated food, the spittoons and lack of hand-washing and weaponized sneezes, not even a rudimentary conception of atoms or bacteria or the near perfection of the RNA of a virus. The terror of not knowing if the plague, biblical or otherwise, would ever end. Or even if it did, still might come back every Spring until it cleaved into the last of their hearts and lungs and there was no one left to sweat themselves away under a dirty blanket upon a dirtier floor, without even a mild understanding of what afflicted them.
We are lucky, after all.
Okay, so here’s my advice: just like saxophone or juggling or ballroom dance, it is essential to practice feeling. Diligently and with rigor. To bathe in it, drink it, immerse yourself beneath its crashing waves. Right now, even before you finish this sentence, begin to hone your ability to touch, to finely tune your tactile senses. Be vulnerable. Be aware. Experience fully. And then write those experiences down. In lines, paragraphs, couplets, sestinas, columns of pure reportage, HTML prompts of fake reportage, short stories, long stories, Checkovian novellas, endless Dostoyevskian tomes. See everything around you. Embody true perception. Be a camera. And then record it all. Let the flash recoil, allow the celluloid to burn, invite the silver nitrate to absorb the sun's rays. Take a photo in words. Let us know, without pretense, posture, or aforethought, what you truly know.
I am sorry to tell you this, my son, but it’s possible that in the end, that's all there is.
Twelve days of creeping terror until armageddon and thus I am compelled to offer a snap of Charley as solace. She's not much of a rat deterrent, in fact they point and laugh at her while sunning their bellies in the yard noshing on wedges of Swiss, but it's entirely possible that I will take a CBD bath and stare at this picture for two hours tonight instead of watching the debate. I thought, hey, why donate money to a swing state senate race or man a phone bank or volunteer to be a poll worker or knock on doors and hand out brochures, when this could be my sole contribution to Making America Breathable Again? So help yourself, friends. Gaze deeply into her eyes. There is wisdom and comfort and possibly a martyr's 72 virgins in there. There is, if not relief, a brief respite from trepidation.
I was backing into the garage yesterday when I almost ran over a huge rat in the middle of the driveway. I stopped, as it was now under the car and didn't want to run over it, but also didn't want it to scurry into the garage and hide/start gnawing through the sheetrock. I got out and grabbed the leaf blower and gave it a good blast. The thing didn't move. Its fur did, like it was Auntie Em battening down half of Kansas before the tornado, but it refused to budge. I pulled the rest of the way into the garage and it was still there, so I went inside, figuring it would just wander off. An hour later I looked out the window and it was in the same spot, walking in demented circles, now closer to Brad Davis circling the obelisk in Midnight Express. It wobbled and slogged and crept, always counter-clockwise. I happened to be on the phone with a friend and described the scene. He said "just go kill it with a shovel. You don't want it burrowing into the house." "But it has a little pink nose," I said, knowing I was hopelessly soft and effete at heart, and always would be, "I think it's sick." He laughed, "All the more reason. It probably has Covid. Give it the Marie Antoinette." I hung up and tried to write but couldn't concentrate, went back to the window and watched the rat circle for an absurdly long time. Something had to be done. I went outside with a shovel. It didn't run, just hunkered down and stared with eyes of fathomless melancholy. Its sides were distended. I wondered if it was pregnant. Or possibly about to explode from the nerve agent Putin slipped into its saucer of tea. I cursed a series of gods, mostly Grecian, before moving onto Rome. Neither Minerva, Ceres, or Hephaestus were any help. I raised the shovel. The rat seemed to extend its jaw like a captured Ronin smoking a Gauloises, "Just make it a clean cut, eh?" And then I had a realization. This was all a play. Performance art. The rat was Karen Finley and we were doing a post-modern take on Mother Courage set in Pandemic times. The helplessness, infirmity, pointless circling, potential violence, encroaching mortality, control & power, discipline & punishment, the shaft and steel edge of unforgiving faux-Libertarian governance poised above our collective neck. Yeah, I didn't kill it. I picked it up gently and laid it under a grove of ferns, with an easy path back into the scrub. Maybe, for once, I had done a good thing. Dispensed mercy over convenience. The next morning it was still there, on its side, stiff. Two crows, jet-black and evilly beaked, no doubt dispatched from the shores of Acheron by some lesser demon, picked at its body. The sun tried, and failed, to break through an endless haze. It was a singular if too convenient metaphor for where we are all at, right now, today, in America. I swung the shovel like Greg Luzinski trying to park one in the upper deck. The crows avoided it with ease, cackling as they jetted off over the nearest roof. I scooped America Rat into a plastic bag, knotted it three times, and laid it in the trash.
A while ago my boy Greg Olear asked me to write something for the Sunday Papers edition of his newsletter PREVAIL. During the week it's straight journalism, concentrated almost entirely, and with astonishing depth, on nearly every aspect of current politics, but particularly Trump and his administration (if it deserves to be referred to as such). And unlike many other efforts of that stripe, Greg has amassed (earned) a huge following. On Sunday he lets off the gas a bit, allowing room for all varieties of fiction and other pre-election literary indulgences. In any case, below is a link to the very short epistolary story I wrote entitled "A Letter For My Infant Son, To Be Read In Thirty Years." There's an intro by Greg, and then the story appears below. Hey, check it out.