It is a diary form of writing. All that, “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved” was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically – any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace. Everything’s the opposite. But I sincerely believe in love and peace. I am a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.
-John Lennon interviewed by Playboy magazine in 1980, answering a question about the song ‘Getting Better’
My shit smelled like shit. That was what I was thinking about last week. I’d been eating shit/shittily (Luna bars, pre-packaged luncheon meat, ‘veggie’ corn dogs, small bottles of cheap red wine) for weeks and conversely to what some people (read: vegetarians/vegans) will tell you, your shit actually smells ‘better,’ or less, the shittier you eat. But I got tired of it, shitting less; I decided I wanted to eat (and shit) healthier. I vowed to only eat fresh fruit and vegetables and hemp milk smoothies for forty-eight hours. Almost immediately, like within a matter of forty-five minutes post the first salad, my shit smelled bad, like… shit. This was the frame of mind I was in – this and a marked cynicism brought on by a combination of the stage I had reached in my writing career (the stage in which agents/editors/bigger publishers are to be coveted/sought out/sucked off/kissed) and what I viewed as the ongoing hypocrisy of the writing community to which I once believed, but no longer felt, I belonged – when I downloaded Cult of Loretta onto my Kindle and went out onto my balcony to read it, bundled beneath layers of sweat shirts and pants, in the sun. A few days before, standing around a bonfire at her house, I’d told Chelsea I had no more goals remaining with regard to my writing. Nor, I said, could I get excited about any books currently being published. My heart and mind were stone. Or I was stone. Or I was full of shit. Or I was hurt. Or I was depressed. Or I was a liar. Or I was lying to myself. Or I was lying to Chelsea.
The beginning Cult of Loretta goes something like this (I say something because I’ve pulled these excerpts from different pages of the opening quarter of the book):
In 1998, Loretta watched Elliott Smith perform “Miss Misery” at the Oscars and thought it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen in her rotten excuse for a life.
One day I caught Loretta texting a customer she’d met at the club. She denied it and called me paranoid. Then she admitted she got high with him and let him go down on her in a Ford Mustang. She said she felt really bad about it but couldn’t help it; she wasn’t attracted to me anymore since I never had any money and didn’t do anything all day but write stories nobody wanted to read.
She never said ‘we’ anymore, but then again I didn’t even know what ‘we’ was.
“Who’s Ken?” I asked.
“My boyfriend,” she said.
“I thought I was your boyfriend.”
“You know what I mean.”
I was only a third into the book when I sent a text message to the book’s publisher that went something like: “I’m in love with this Loretta book! I’m probably going to interview the author for Hobart.”
I went back out into the cold sun.
I read another twenty pages.
I came back inside to send another text message to the book’s publisher. “I changed my mind,” I said. “I’m not going to interview him.” (The book’s publisher is accustomed to my insanities, my changes of heart; I imagine him shrugging his shoulders, going back to reading a book about fish.)
I had decided I didn’t want to know anything about him, the author, this ‘Kevin Maloney.’ I was afraid of what discoveries I might make if I delved too closely into his personal life. I worried I’d find out things I didn’t want to find out, things that would make me dislike him and color my feelings for the book, things like that he hated country music and didn’t like buying bottles of water from ‘petroleum companies’ (read: gas stations) and thought Kid Rock was a bad person for using the word ‘gay’ in place of ‘dumb’ or because Kid Rock didn’t alter his speech when a Rolling Stone or Esquire ‘journalist’ was around, or because Kid Rock talked how most of us talk when a Rolling Stone or Esquire ‘journalist’ isn’t around.
[I had recently had a disheartening text exchange with a good friend of mine who had formerly lived in Michigan and gone to see Kid Rock with me a few summers back and now lived in L.A. I’d sent her a photo of Kid Rock’s new CD cover. She’d replied that she had read some things online and was ‘having trouble separating the music from the artist.’ I was having a hard time separating my relationship with my friend from my friend’s relationship with social media. I didn’t think Kid Rock had changed.]
I liked the narrator of Cult of Loretta too much to risk not liking the author (and we all know how easy it is to confuse one for the other when first person narration is in use!). I liked that he seemed to be having as hard of a time coping as I was. I liked that he wasn’t getting anything that he wanted from life, that life was shitting on him left and right, and by ‘life’ I mean this woman Loretta; Loretta seemed to be shitting on him constantly. And yet, he still kept right on keeping on. He still kept loving her. He still let her shit on him. Again and again and again.
There was something comforting in that.
“What’s wrong?” asked Stephanie.
Because I’d stopped moving my fingers, which gave this sex act a decidedly gynecological vibe.
“Nothing,” I said.
I tried moving my fingers again, but when Stephanie moaned, I started crying. I said that I was sorry, but this was actually a test, which I’d almost failed but then passed at the last second. To prove it, I pulled Loretta’s letter out of my pocket and read it to her.
She said, “It sounds like she’s breaking up with you.”
I said, “That’s what I thought at first, but then I realized this is her crazy way of saying she loves me.”
“I don’t know,” said Stephanie. “There’s that part about her having sex with her college professor.”
I’d forgotten about that part and became extremely depressed.
I identified with both the narrator and Loretta. I guess that’s what I found comforting. My own worst qualities and failings as a human being played out in someone else’s life - even if a fictional one - as distraction from my own. Someone else failing worse, failing more comically, but also, more endearingly and strangely and tragically, and with a lot of drugs (which I am always too much of a chicken-shit to take).
Loretta figured out pretty quick that she loved screw more than she loved Bennie…Our days were nightmares and our evenings were like enemas of glass, but inside the pain was the end of pain and inside of that was a deeper ‘us,” better than ourselves.
Another night we got so high I broke into our next-door neighbor’s house and stole their television so we could watch The Simpsons. I asked Loretta where I should put it. She said on top of the TV, which is how we discovered that we already had a TV.
The First Time I Started This Essay I Started It This Way (or, I am Losing My Train of Thought and This is a Cheap Way of Getting It Back)
I have been feeling joyless about literature and the literary world lately.
A combination of social media allegations and criminalization taking over the conversation within the literary community and the increased viewing of myself and my friends (by outside forces and by ourselves perhaps due to those outside forces) as ‘marketable’ or ‘not marketable’ – and to what degree – ‘extremely marketable’ or ‘fairly marketable’ or ‘I wouldn’t say you are completely unmarketable’ or ‘completely unmarketable’ - of either - in terms of our writing, in terms of our ‘art,’ which felt like, ‘in terms of ourselves.’
(This is a review of Kevin Maloney’s Cult of Loretta (Lazy Fascist Press), I swear. Eventually. You’ll see.)
Literature wasn’t fun anymore. Maybe it hadn’t been fun for a while and I just hadn’t noticed. (Maybe literature isn’t supposed to be ‘fun.’ And/or maybe I used the word ‘fun’ as a lazy stand in for a collection of other words like ‘exhilarating’ and ‘stimulating’ and ‘inspiring’ (Maybe I didn’t mean ‘literature’ either. Maybe I meant ‘writing’ or ‘publishing’ or ‘writing/publishing’ or ‘participating in a literary movement’ or ‘feeling part of a literary community.’ I think I meant anything that happens outside of sitting alone in one’s bedroom typing words into a document or writing them onto a notepad).) (Maybe it was merely time to mature (read: maybe I haven’t matured).)
The first five years had felt exciting; publishing anything, anywhere, getting to know other writers, partying and sleeping with other writers, publishing more stuff in other places, publishing other writers, seeing the books you’ve written and published in bookstores, touring with other writers, marrying other writers, reading really cool books by other writers, seeing writers you know get mentioned in places you never thought anyone you would ever know would get mentioned, being best friends with other writers, becoming enemies with other writers…
Maybe things started changing (for me) in 2010, 2011. (Maybe this is when everyone else reached maturation and I stagnated.)
When people I knew started to get agents, started to work with New York editors, started getting published by bigger and bigger presses.
At first that was exciting too!
People I knew were getting five thousand, ten thousand, even fifty thousand dollar advances for their books!
They were getting reviewed in The New York Times.
They had stories in The New Yorker.
Things were really happening for our crowd, our generation of writers.
I didn’t know what I wanted to happen to me. And so, as a consequence, nothing much did. (Maybe the narrator of Cult of Loretta is the one responsible for life shitting on him, not Loretta, but isn’t it prettier to blame Loretta? Do you see what I’m saying? Can you make the leap? The connection? Me? the narrator? Blaming others? not taking responsibility for our lives? Me? not taking responsibility for mine? Me?)
I finished a book. Sent it to one agent. Got a very nice rejection. And thought, ‘okay, that’s that.’ I was conflicted about publishing it anyway. I was happy to receive a rejection. Or I was relieved. An acceptance might have sent me into a deeper, longer nervous breakdown than I was already experiencing, that I’ve been experiencing off and on to some degree since last October.
(When my only child went off to college.)
(And the rape allegations began.)
I had been conflicted about seeking out an agent for years.
I was conflicted about the book I was writing for years also.
(I have a hard time relating to or understanding the unconflicted. I feel suspicious in their presence, when reading their writing.)
I remember the part in Barfly where the attractive agent lady from New York seeks out Bukowski (or, Chinaski; see, the confusion of narrator and author I was talking about earlier?) and I think they have sex but he rejects her as an agent. I wanted to be cool like Bukowski. Or like Chinaski. Or like Mickey Rourke. But Bukowski had John Martin and Black Sparrow Press. Bukowski could afford to be cool.
Or maybe that’s not right. Maybe now (as probably then) we are encouraged to always ‘better’ or one-up ourselves, to get a bigger advance, a better publisher. To feel as though we have ‘failed’ if we don’t.
Maybe Bukowski’s loyalty made him cool. Maybe his misogyny. (Just kidding, ladies!) I think it was his loyalty to himself; to always having fun with it/his writing; to refuse to ‘market’ himself or to make himself ‘marketable.’
Recently a good friend of mine went on a number of ‘meetings’ with publishers and editors in New York City. Four in twenty-four hours. She called me after. It sounded horrible. It sounded like every TV episode or movie you’ve seen in which someone has to sell him/herself/his/her TV show or movie to someone in Hollywood. “Who do you know?” was a legit question she was asked. When my name came up, people seemed uncomfortable. Or maybe we’re just being paranoid. I get that a lot lately. The not being sure if I’m being paranoid.
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID, DOESN’T MEAN THE BOOKSTORE ISN’T DELIBERATLY NOT STOCKING YOUR BOOK
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID, DOESN’T MEAN SHEILA HETI DROPPED OUT OF MODERATING A CONVERSATION BETWEEN TAO AND MIRA AT A NYC BOOKSTORE IN JUNE DUE TO A CHANGE IN TRAVEL PLANS
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID, DOESN’T MEAN IT’S NORMAL FOR SIX WEST COAST BOOKSTORES TO ‘DECLINE TO HOST’ TAO AND MIRA OR THAT IT DOESN’T HAVE EVERYTHING TO DO WITH THE GAWKER/JEZEBEL HEADLINES FROM LAST OCTOBER EVEN IF NO ONE IS SAYING OUTRIGHT IT HAS TO DO WITH THE GAWKER/JEZEBEL HEADLINES FROM LAST OCTOBER
I kept noticing every time I went into the independent bookstore in my town that my book wasn’t on the shelf. We kept asking if they needed any copies of Fast Machine and they kept saying no and ordering more copies of Women and Even Though I Don’t Miss You, which were displayed prominently around the main room, as well as on the shelves.
I was looking forward to meeting Sheila Heti. I was a huge fan of her book, How Should A Person Be?
I couldn’t believe bookstores in which Tao had read previously - to large crowds - were ‘declining to host.’ I had never heard a bookstore representative use the phrase ‘decline to host.’ I had kind of forgotten (I know. I know.) about the ‘scandal’ when I began emailing bookstores about Mira and Tao’s book tour. I couldn’t believe someone who worked at a bookstore, surrounded by classic plays and novels about the labeling and ostracizing of people, was participating in the ostracizing of a person. I couldn’t believe that a bookstore that carried, ostensibly, books by Oscar Wilde and Anne Sexton and Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were declining to host a person based solely on social media gossip, hearsay and innuendo.
“Sartre and Beauvoir liked to refer to their entourage as ‘the Family,’ and the recurring feature of their affairs is a kind of play incest.”
“For Sartre and Beauvoir, the feeling that they were, in effect, sleeping with their own children must, as with most taboos, have juiced up the erotic fun.”
-from The New Yorker article, ‘Stand By Your Man’ by Louis Menand (September 26, 2005)
I couldn’t believe a culture of people who seemed to hold/equate no moral value in the laws of our country (or at best, pick and chose the laws they believed held moral value) – e.g. I didn’t know anyone who had waited until they were 21 to drink alcohol or anyone who had abstained from smoking marijuana until it was legal to do so - were suddenly clinging to a law that seemed to vary greatly from state to state and country to country (so that I could see no hard moral truth in its inception or in its defense) in order to socially persecute someone.
(Someone Should Inform Loretta Lynn’s Children That Their Father Was An ‘Alleged Statutory Rapist’!)
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID DOESN’T MEAN THE TWO FEMALE DJ’S DIDN’T PULL OUT OF THE NEW YORK EVENT DUE TO THE STATUTORY RAPE ALLEGATIONS
Right, because they literally did. They literally said that was why. They didn’t hide behind some lameass reason. They didn’t not reply as way of declining (hello, person at Elliott Bay Books! Fuck you, too!). They straight up said they didn’t want to be affiliated with an ‘alleged statutory rapist.’
W.W.G.G.A.D. (What Would G G Allin Do)
For a while I was really angry. I wrote long, impassioned speeches in my head to the bookstores or to the people who had declined to host. I considered pulling all SF/LD books from these bookstores. I knew that Women, for instance, was a favorite at Elliott Bay (also Powell’s). My thinking was, “you don’t want to host our authors? Fine, fuck you. You don’t get to sell Women or Even Though I Don’t Miss You then either.” But there was a distributor to go through and SPD being nonprofit didn’t have a way of/or was uninterested in blacklisting bookstores (in a similar fashion to how they had blacklisted us) or in my tit-for-tat motivations. I would have to end our contract with SPD altogether. No picking and choosing. I considered that route anyway. But as the anger lessened a bit, I began to feel guilty about deciding for my authors where their books would be sold and why. I didn’t know if it was fair for my political issues to affect the availability of their books. Maybe I was rationalizing. I felt like I was trying to be less selfish in my thinking, in my rages, more mature.
But when are rages justified? When is maturity a cover for not wanting to face another battle/for being lazy/for caving to fear-based bullshit?
JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE PARANOID DOESN’T MEAN THERE AREN’T PEOPLE WHO LITERALLY BELIEVE YOU ARE A ‘RAPE APOLOGIST’
My friend ---- was drunk. He was mumbling and vaguely incoherent. We were in a noisy bar. I could barely hear him. I was having a hard time understanding him.
I think he said something like, “you have to be careful which side you end up on” or “you have to be careful not to align yourself with the wrong side” or “you have to be careful not to align yourself with the wrong people.”
Either way, it seemed like he was worried about aligning himself with me because he felt I had aligned myself with the wrong side or the wrong people.
I wanted to tell him I hadn’t aligned myself with anyone or with any side.
I had disagreed with a legal term being employed with regard to two specific cases.
I wanted to tell him not to worry about what people thought; that I didn’t care what people thought.
But it was so noisy and he was drunk and incoherent and I am lazy and so I just sat silently, neither agreeing nor disagreeing, waiting for the topic of conversation to return to the rabbit he was watching who was old and who defecated a lot and everywhere.
WHAT WE TALK ABOUT WHEN WE TALK ABOUT APATHY
Do we talk about apathy? (Apathy seems like a ‘personal problem.’ A 90’s problem. Out of fashion. A passed fad. Currently the fad seems to be false excitement. About oneself. About people one knows.)
I was feeling apathetic.
I didn’t care anymore where I was published. What literary journals. What magazines. What presses.
None of them excited me anymore. I wasn’t excited about anything they were publishing/anything I was reading. Everything was ‘fine.’ Nothing was exciting. Everything felt ‘marketable.’ Nothing felt exciting. Everything felt neatly packaged and safe. Nothing felt exciting.
I wasn’t excited about anything I was writing anymore either.
I had written a novel I was (once/for many years) excited about and then felt guilty/shamed about publishing it (because I had been too honest about my inner thoughts and feelings in it, because I hadn’t done a good enough job of disguising them; because maybe I am just a shitty writer or a lazy writer or a writer uninterested in disguise or artifice or art or whatever).
Maybe my apathy was directly related to my self-censorship. (In addition to everything previously mentioned in this book review/essay.)
Then I read Cult of Loretta and I got excited again.
I sat on the ground and cried and jammed my pen into my thigh until the bouncer came over and said that what I was doing was pretty punk rock, but kind of gross and did I mind doing it somewhere other than the entrance to La Luna?
I walked around the city soaking wet, giving away all my possessions to homeless people, including: 1) a bloody pen, 2) Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, and 3) 76 cents.
I got (re)excited about the existence of presses like Lazy Fascist (which has published some of my favorite books ever!) and Short Flight/Long Drive (which…umm….lol…ditto!). And I knew I would be happy publishing with either one the rest of my life. I knew they were my Black Sparrow Press, and I didn’t have to meet with agents (I could just fuck them! haha j/k) or editors from New York City. I didn’t have to market myself or my writing. I didn’t have to care if a bookstore ‘declined’ to host my authors or me. (Guess what, there are other venues, cooler places to read than bookstores!)
Thank God for Amazon!, I thought.
Thank God for big businesses who don’t give a fuck about names on a sheet of paper in a bathroom at a ‘writers conference’ or who says what on social media or on websites pretending to engage in ‘journalism.’
MY HEART IS BROKE BUT I HAVE SOME GLUE
Last night I watched the movie Kids for the first time in a few years. It was darker and more depressing than I remembered, but also funnier and more honest or ‘real’ (one of the actors, the one who plays a kid who is fixated on ‘devirginizing' girls, said at the time people confused the movie for a documentary, that he got threatened a lot when it was released, that people wanted to fight him for being such a shitty person, for wanting to devirginize all those girls).
Instead of feeling shocked by the teens’ behavior – violently beating a kid in the park, drinking all day, smoking weed all day, smoking cigarettes all day, having sex or trying to have sex all day, swimming in the (closed) community pool at night, partying all night – I felt shocked by the repression (and quiet desperation) of the average adult in our culture today, of the average adult I knew, of myself.
I guess I had the wrong ‘take away.’
I liked the Casper character a lot. Or I liked the kid who played Casper. (It was hard to tell the difference. Just as it’s sometimes hard to distinguish a difference between narrator and author.) I liked that he was more interested in drinking forties than in fucking virgins. Or that he put more effort into drinking forties than into fucking virgins. I liked that he almost killed a dude for shit talking him in the park. I liked that he didn’t wear deodorant. I liked his insane smile.
I masturbated while watching the final scene in which Casper has sex with Chloe’s character (Jennie) while she’s passed out or blacked out on the couch. I liked that he kept saying, “It’s okay. It’s me, Casper.” (It's a horrific/horrible/tragic/devastating scene.)
Afterward I looked up the film on IMDB. I wanted to know what had happened to the kid who played Casper.
What happened, it turns out!, to the kid (Justin Pierce) who played Casper is he hung himself in a room at the Bellagio in 2000.
(Before that he was on Malcolm in the Middle. He was also in Next Friday.)
That’ll fuck you up: masturbating to a dead guy. Or finding out immediately afterward that the guy you just masturbated to is dead. That he hung himself. Alone, in a Vegas hotel room.
We rode back to Billy’s mom’s trailer on his motorcycle and Billy asked if I wanted to shoot heroin and I said sure. We stuck needles in our veins and draped our heads backwards over the railing of his bed. The porno centerfold on his wall humped us so many times we curled up into balls. At one point I woke up and Billy was leaning over me, and for a second, I thought he was about to enter me like he’d entered Loretta in this same bed almost a decade ago. His eyes looked the way the sky must look when you’re dying.
“You fucking asshole,” [Loretta] said, waving the letter in my face. “I thought you were dead.”
I asked her what the hell she was talking about.
“Your letter,” she said. I thought it was a suicide note.”
She read it back to me. She was right. It did sound like a suicide note. I wondered if I secretly wanted to die. Then I thought, Wait, of course I do.
Is it strange that a book so full of depression and pain and lovesickness and drug addiction would make me feel less cynical about writing/about literature/about being alive right at this moment?
I took the bus downtown and bought a black-and-white Mead composition notebook and a small package of pens and attempted to write a philosophical treatise about the fleeting nature of existence, only to find that I’d drawn a picture of a skull with infinity symbols for eyes and that I was more afraid of death than ever.
Maybe I always have the wrong take-away from things, movies and literature and art.
Maybe Cult of Loretta is also the funniest book I have read in a long time.
I asked [Loretta] why she kept sleeping with me if I wasn’t her boyfriend.
She pinched one of my testicles and asked me what year I thought it was.
Maybe I forgot what it is like to laugh when reading a book.
LOVE IS A DOG FROM HELL (AND SOMEONE STRONGLY URGED ME NOT TO MENTION BUKOWSKI IN THIS ESSAY AND FUCK THEM!)
During the last ‘break’ I took while writing this I looked at someone’s Twitter (who I knew) which lead to another person’s Twitter (who I did not know) which lead to the person I didn’t know’s website which lead to the person I didn’t know’s trailer for her documentary. I sat mildly interested, or vaguely interested, waiting for it to start. Words slowly began to appear on screen:
Is to burn
And to substitute them
With new truths
That run down
From the top
Of the head
And out of
At this point I was transfixed. I was ‘amen’ing’ the poetry. I was “all in.”
I waited for the author of the words to be named.
I thought it would most likely be someone I had never heard of.
Maybe the person who had made the documentary, even.
(I am ignorant of many things.)
Then the name of my favorite author appeared.
And for a minute everything made sense.
For a minute, longer, I didn’t feel apathetic anymore.
That’s how I felt reading Cult of Loretta.
That’s how I felt watching Kids.
That’s how I feel playing the used drum kit I got a couple weeks ago.
I don’t know what this essay is about.
(It is about many things and nothing!) (It is about whatever I want it to be about because I’m not writing an essay collection and no, that doesn’t make me better or cooler than you, it just means I can write a long, rambling, messy, unconstructed essay because I’m not getting paid for it and this is fun!)
I don’t like knowing what things are ‘about.’
Or I like not knowing.
Hang yourself, and you will regret it. Do not hang yourself, and you will also regret it. Hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret it either way.
-Soren Kierkegaard, “Either/Or” (this is the epigraph for Cult of Loretta; I thought it a good way to end)