You can skip this. Bottom line: whew. Short version: fears of a self-generated auto-lousy / skill-draining field appear to be misguided. Long version:
Have I mentioned I’m working on a book?
No, I can't do that to you. Can't talk about that. Nothing duller. Let's have an old retro ad:
It’s a Listerine ad from 1951. Daughter has just returned from the Prom, and all the boys wanted to dance with her. Her! They even ignored that pretty blonde girl all the other girls secretly admire and think about and scheme about and want to be friends with but HATE and you know why, Mom? Because she smelled! Seriously! Not me!
Mom doesn’t seem to be in the same plane as the happy daughter, frankly. It’s like she’s checking for underarm stubble or back-moles. The first time I saw this ad I was instantly reminded of one of my least favorite paintings in the entire world, a pre-Raphaelite abomination called “The Awakening Conscience.” Maybe that young lady wasn't having a religious epiphany; maybe she always looked like a fresh-struck gong.
Anyway. Have I mentioned I’m working on a book?
It’s due in a few days. I promised delivery on Thursday, but it looks like I’ll be shipping it off Friday morning. Heretofore I’d sent them printed copies, but this will be all digital. The book won’t exist until it’s actually printed, which I find interesting; it’s just ones an zeroes until someone in Portugal pushes a button and the presses run. (I think they’re printing in Portugal this time. Could be China.)
This is the fourth book in my annotated pop-culture series, to give it all a pretentious title, and I have to confess: I had doubts. After all, it’s a sequel to the much-beloved Gallery of Regrettable Food, and I wondered if I could repeat whatever virtues and attributes made that book successful. I wrote it over the course of six weeks, and didn’t review anything I’d written. The last week I’ve been assembling and arranging and exporting the finished material, and tonight something very unusual happened:
I laughed. Out loud. I never laugh at anything I do. I hate everything I do, frankly. Every book is a fresh humiliation. It could be so much more, if only I didn’t suck like a black hole nine parsecs wide! That’s an inevitable result of steeping yourself in your own work, I suppose, and it keeps me being complacent. I always pin my hopes on the next project, the next column, the next Bleat, the next book. Assume the last one was horrid, but the next one will bowl 'em over.
But I laughed. I don’t know if it was my mood, or the music, or the usual Tuesday night relief – I’d turned in three columns earlier in the day and was feeling all loosey-goosey fancy-free – but I looked at the page, and I laughed. It was actually an illustration I’d used for the original Galllery website ten years ago. I drilled down into the archives on another drive, and I found what I’d said back then:
Could it be? For years I’ve assumed I’ve been on the inevitable downward coasting spiral since, oh, 1999; could I possibly have improved?
I got out the original Gallery book, and yea: I read it. I compared. I judged. I put the book down, walked outside, consulted with a small cigar, and went back to my office to compare again. I picked out pages at random, compared them with the first book.
To my absolute delight and amazement, the next book is about six times better than its predecessor. It’s the best one I’ve done so far. Since publication is nine months off, this isn’t a sales pitch – in fact I’m beat and I have nothing more to add today at all. I’m just saying this because I’m very, very happy, and because the book is good and you will like it.
So. What’s next, in the immediate future? I finish the book in the next three days. Monday we return to the usual updates – Matchbooks, Odd comics, Curious Lucre, Fargo, and the Diner. I’m going to give myself a month before starting the next book. Friday night used to be devoted to preparing the material for the next week, but I have to confess: in my spare time I’ve been working on Lucre and Fargo and a new Bleat design, so Friday night will be a celebration. I will break out the Macallan 18 year old and burn the final DVD. And come Monday, I hope I’ll give you something more interesting than the words arrayed above.
Sorry, but I’m just pleased. And relieved.
See you tomorrow, with less self-congratulatory bleatage. Tomorrow’s topics: the joys of cracking ice with your daughter, the tiresome requirements of internet tit-for-tattery, and the uselessness of waving at men who speak no English. See you then.