Western water tower, Frank Tellez.
Western water tower, Frank Tellez, 2007.

I wrote the Western into a dusty hole. Maybe it’ll get up and mosey on again, maybe not. I know you’re supposed to finish what you start, but sometimes that’s just a pep phrase, something you tweet with #amwriting for some virtual pats on the back.

I’ve been reading good stuff, which is half of what you need to do to write good stuff. Maybe I’ll just be in a deep reading phase for a while. I’ve found a virtual kinship with Jonathan Franzen in his collected essays. The fact that he irritates many people pleases me.

I’m keenly interested in what he has to say about our devices, our social media, and our neuroses:

The striking thing about all consumer products — and none more so than electronic devices and applications — is that they’re designed to be immensely likable. This is, in fact, the definition of a consumer product, in contrast to the product that is simply itself and whose makers aren’t fixated on your liking it. (I’m thinking here of jet engines, laboratory equipment, serious art and literature.)

But if you consider this in human terms, and you imagine a person defined by a desperation to be liked, what do you see? You see a person without integrity, without a center. In more pathological cases, you see a narcissist — a person who can’t tolerate the tarnishing of his or her self-image that not being liked represents, and who therefore either withdraws from human contact or goes to extreme, integrity-sacrificing lengths to be likable.

If you dedicate your existence to being likable, however, and if you adopt whatever cool persona is necessary to make it happen, it suggests that you’ve despaired of being loved for who you really are. And if you succeed in manipulating other people into liking you, it will be hard not to feel, at some level, contempt for those people, because they’ve fallen for your shtick. You may find yourself becoming depressed, or alcoholic, or, if you’re Donald Trump, running for president (and then quitting).

He said this in 2011, not last week. This is a man whose book was made an Oprah Book Club selection, and his response was… nonplussed.

I learned that he was friends with David Foster Wallace, who taught creative writing at my alma mater’s sister college, Pomona, until taking his own life in 2008. So it’s like he’s this older brother in a parallel world. Or at least that’s the shelf I’m putting him on, for now, as I enter the early phase of reader-love.

What I find compelling about his thoughts, such as the quote above, is not that I’m above it all with him — but that this is something I need to work on. I get excited when someone likes my writing, whether tweet or novel, and worry when they don’t. I’m sick of both. I want my writing to be enjoyed, but I don’t want to attach that to my self-worth. Publishing is too much of a bitch-goddess for that.

the_displacement_trilogyMy last two books — Oyu’s Trident and The Woman in the ’61 Checker — I wrote for my daughter, Rose. We go on long walks and talk story, both her ideas and my own, so if she likes it, I’m good. I can’t write for the world. I can write so one person will enjoy it, and people who are like her can tag along.

Speaking of reading pleasure, I’ve got a Kindle Countdown thing going on with THE DISPLACEMENT TRILOGY, my three-volume scifi story (300 Miles to Galveston, Missionaries of Omo, and Oyu’s Trident). It’s $1.99 for 521 pages, and has a groovy new cover. Give it a look, and see if it’s a ride you want to join. You can preview the first 10%, or FIVE WHOLE FREAKING CHAPTERS, online, which is way more than anyone should read on a laptop browser. So if you enjoy the first chapter, just buy the damn thing. It’s the cost of a Big Gulp.

And if you don’t like it… that’s OK. I don’t like guacamole, but it’s still much appreciated. To me it looks and tastes like Play-Doh.


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