The Unknown: The Red Line.
Unknown posing for reporters.

At some point it had simply gone too far.

We had begun to live out the hypertext.
We were decadent, overfed, shallow and vain.
Scott, who has practically no hair to begin with,
Was traveling with a personal stylist.
Dirk, who for years has prided himself on his poverty,
Spent millions on automobiles. He would never buy just
One at a time, saying that he would need a different color
BMW for each day of the week, to match the Excaliburs.
His followers emptied their retirement accounts,
Leaving nothing for themselves,
Catering to his every whim,
Of which there were many.
William had become mean and withdrawn.
Many of his friends were no longer speaking to him.
It had become necessary to travel with a security guard,
Because we never knew when he might run into another
Writer named William.
We still liked him, of course.
But we had begun to question whether he liked himself.
Frank was the only one who was holding together, more
Or less.
This was still his first flush of fame, since he came late
To the party.
He wasn’t like us; we were drowning in it.
He was just beginning to sip it.
He was churning out work like a madman,
Most of it sexually-oriented poetry,
Which was odd,
Since Frank had never been a poet before.

He confided to us later that
He was only planning on writing poetry
For a short time, in order to fund his fiction habit.
Poetry? Hmmm . . . money there,” he said.

On weekends, he would leave us, and make
The rounds of poetry circuits, the writers’ colonies,
Readings at small colleges, a panel at the AWP,
All the real high-paying gigs.
His curious mix of postmodern technique,
And a purely lumpen sense of sentiment,
Got him on the cover of Poets and Writers.

As writers, we were excited, almost exclusively,
By the dark side of fame, by the idea that we ourselves
Could (and had) become the kind of writers
That we most reviled (in behavior—this is not to say
That any of us had thrown up our arms and started
Writing about people who live in the suburbs and
Have affairs in the house and around the garden—there
Is more than enough of that shit to go around—or that
We had come up with some kind of formula, like some
Unmentionably famous horror writers—or that we would
Ever embrace the sterile academicism of some of the
Lesser metafictionists—or that we even had within us
The potential to write commercial crap like Sidney Sheldon or
The law degrees required to write a
Best-seller, or the kind of odd patience it takes
To write the kind of quaint conventional realism that regularly emerges
From university writing programs, the kind of insular-crowd-pleasing,
Normalized prose that many middle-of-
M.F.A. programs typically encourage, toady little
Stories, each with a prepackaged epiphany that an embarrassed
Joyce would have called petty). No.

What we had become, however, was overexposed
And commodified. There were plastic action figures. There were
Lunchboxes (Dirk in a white Moses robe, William and Scott in black
suits, Frank in surfing gear.) There were more groupies
Than we could count. People with advanced degrees were
Following us around and taking notes. Grad students had dissertations
In the works. We were seen on several different news programs,
And we had done the whole circuit of talk shows.
All that already lagging behind us, grown tired.

The funny thing about fame is that it doesn’t really
Lead many more people to read your books,
It just leads them to buy your books,
To talk about them from the reviews,
To fetishize the volume, a coffee table
Ornament at best, a doorstop at the worst,
A famous book leads people
To assume that they know you personally,
Without ever even skimming through the work itself.
We had seen it happen to other writers,
And that was a fate we intended to avoid.

But it sucks you in, all that
Wealth and notoriety.
It had gotten to the point where we
Were disappointed if there wasn’t at least
One scurrilous rumor about us
In every issue of the Weekly World News.
We were junkies for our own publicity,
We had begun to believe it,
And it in turn had eclipsed us
(Whatever “us” it was that we began with)
We had written ourselves out of our own range,
And become cartoons for the paparazzi to
Animate with flashbulb light,
We had come to expect exemplary service,
And forgotten who exactly we were to begin with.

We squabbled amongst ourselves
Over small details.
We were petty and vindictive.
We all had serious drug problems.
We were becoming stagnant.
We would go for hours, sometimes
Whole afternoons, without writing at all.
We were like rock stars without music.

It was clear.
That something.
Needed to be done.
Luckily, we were writers,
Writing our own lives,
So we could go back and change them,
As we ourselves changed.



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The Unknown at Spineless Books.