Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Twilight Of The Clods

Anything or anyone who falls through the (membrane around a black hole) will soon reach the region of infinite density and the end of time.
- Stephen Hawking

Only two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the universe.
- Albert Einstein

Eventually, Conniption and Blind Spot moved to New York and a New York weekly, where both were received with praise. I was glad to have them gone, in the same way that I was glad when the AM radio in my car died, thus preventing me from listening to any of the right-wing talk shows.

And deep in my gut, I knew that Conniption was selling snake oil, a cheap routine that would always prevent him from going any farther than he already inexplicably had. I considered myself a fairly shrewd judge of talent and I would have wagered all of my worldly goods on this hunch.

Well, as I mentioned before, I’m not much of a fortune teller.

One day I'm browsing the new releases in a local bookstore when one cover hits me between the eyes like a dagger:

Blind Spot. By Jim Conniption.

Momentarily staggered, I grasped a copy and stared at it in shock. What in the world could he have possibly written a book about?

Flipping through it, I got the gist of what he'd done. Reworking old columns and focusing heavily on his encroaching blindness, Conniption had stitched together a memoir that was ready made for critics to call "a darkly comic look at one man's triumph over adversity." And they did, in fact, in droves.

I was both nauseated and in awe. It was the same old crap, only he'd found an angle for it. Never having anything to say in the first place, he funneled it all into a narrative about being handicapped. He was actually trading on his blindness, becoming the sideshow geek he'd always wanted to be.

To say I grumbled about this turn of events is putting it mildly. The book kept getting incredible reviews. I began to question in earnest the entire way I viewed the world and its values. How could I be so wrong? How can the majority's judgment be so different from my own? Can no one else see through this? Was there any point in even trying to accomplish anything in the creative arena? Is that what was rewarded? Am I not appreciating something?

Every once in a while the wife would ask, "You realize you're complaining that a blind man with brain lesions is getting too many lucky breaks, right?" Well, yes, but that wasn't the point.

The news only got worse, of course. From there he went on to a second memoir about his suicidal/mental hospital period entitled Sleeping With Ernie Kovacs. On the back of this one were the usual logrolling blurbs, but there at the top was an approving quote from the reclusive genius of American Letters, J.P. Luncheon.

J.P. Luncheon. The man was the American Joyce, Proust, and Borges rolled up into a Hot Pocket.

He praised Conniption to the skies as a hero, a role model, an accomplished artist, and an example of exceptional talent and bravery.

My self-doubt increased a hundred fold. The pillars of my artistic belief system, already shaky, were threatening to collapse into a heap of splinters.

That's it, I thought. I'm living in an alternate universe, or may as well be. This is a black hole I'm in now, on the verge of sucking civilization into negative space. A Conniptionverse where, as I had predicted, everything is the opposite of what it is.

In some ways, he was ahead of his time as far as developing an American formula for success was concerned: do whatever it takes to get attention, apologize for what you did to get it, sell yourself like a hooker, and leave your self-respect at the door.

My only comfort was in knowing that he was running out of mental and physical illnesses to peddle. He had to run out of them eventually, didn't he?

As if the question had also occurred to him, his next effort was a stab at fiction which was somewhat weakly received. So not long afterwards it was back to the formula that worked. The description on the inside cover of Playing Well With Others so closely mirrored my own thoughts that I wondered if their PR department realized quite how it sounded:

After tackling the diseases of his body and the erosion of his mind, Jim Conniption, in his finest work yet, looks at the deterioration of his soul.

I felt as if a great weight had been lifted from me.

After all, after the soul there's really not anything left to sell.


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