Saturday, January 18, 2014

Under the Stars

One of my collages.  It's directly linked to a couple of the stories in Next to Nothing.

This week a really nice reporter from Cincinnati Magazine called me up to do a short interview about my book that's about to come out in March (from Lethe Press, thank you LA Fields and Steve Berman), Next to Nothing.  It was a pleasure to talk to someone so kind and sensible about the stuff I write.  A lot of people, at least in the past, have not taken too kindly to my stories and what they mean and do.  That's not patting myself on the back or anything, just the way it is.  I mean many people get it of course and I'm grateful, but when they don't get it boy it's hurtful, as in your day job being threatened, etc.  The main reason many people have turned up their noses at my oeuvre is because the people I focus on are poor working class trash who also often happen to be gay, and they are living in situations and places that are not conducive for the "coming out" story or even hopeful tolerant little ditties about "fitting in."  I mean they "fit in," but often times they fit in with people who are "morally objectionable" as well.  And by putting air-quotes around "morally objectionable," I'm stressing the fact that every person I concentrate on in the fiction I write helps me at least question what that term means.  And then I usually go back to that epigram I'm always tossing about, the Flannery O'Connor one that actually starts off Next to Nothing:   "It is when the freak can be sensed as a figure for our essential displacement that he attains some depth in literature.” 
 
I centralize freaks in a way that doesn't allow codes of morality to interrupt their transmissions.  And for me at least that's one of the most moral actions to take.  Sounds self-aggrandizing, but that's it. 
 
Next to Nothing is a drastic, off-kilter parade of homosexuals, alcoholics, pedophiles, philanderers, adulterers, robbers, wife-beaters, transvestites, foul-mouthed kids, and so on.  It is also a Wednesday night after work where everyone is too tired to breath, some going home and feeding the kids, others having a drink, others going to their part-time jobs as caregivers at the group-home.  Some are getting ready for Wednesday night services at church and others are bracing themselves to ask other relatives for some cash till pay-day and still others are hoping their cars are going to start tomorrow morning and a few more are doing laundry, watching HBO, taking the garbage out.  It's that mix of "morally objectionable" parade and the mundane everyday where I find meaning, and even grandeur, in lives that often don't mean shit to others, and when I write those stories I don't feel anything but a connection, a direct link, to both myself and to others. 
 
We are all sinners, and we all sometimes bounce checks because we wanted to buy really good Christmas presents.  We all are evil, and we also help the old lady get her groceries into her car. 
 
By foregrounding lives that are not heroic or even upstanding, but just there, I can mitigate the need to judge and forgive, and find a place to examine my own shortcomings, my own stupidities and my own goodness.
 
I just finished reading The Great Gatsby again, which is a much more elegant and brilliant book than I will ever be able to write of course, but still it has always informed what I want to do.  Gatsby is the freak here.  He is all desire and lies and crimes, and yet he is the central figure of Nick's displacement, and ours.  "Morally objectionable," Gatsby owns a different metaphysical space, an ethereal world of wishing and hope that's completely tainted and diffused by the means he has gone to attain what he wants.  And yet he is better than most people we will ever know.
 
One of my favorite moments in the book happens toward the end, when Gatsby is summarily banished from the Buchanan household, but he still waits to see when or if Daisy will come to the window to let him know she loves him.  He is an outcast on the edge of his own paradise, and Nick is leaving after hanging out with him out of pity.  It's nighttime in West Egg, that blue-gold glow Fitzgerald loves to conjure, and Nick shouts across the lawn on his way to his train:  "They're a rotten crowd.  You're worth  the whole damn bunch put together."
 
That shout always makes me cry. 
 
Look:  God knows I'm no Fitzgerald or O'Connor, but I do have a reason to write, and it's probably linked to those two great American writers' needs to not only stylize life into a form they can create from, but also their needs to find morality outside of the "hive mind," outside of the "crowd."  Both of these canonized geniuses found ways to canonize freaks, to displace us from ourselves for a little while so we can know our own shortcomings, and understand our place under the stars.