The other night while drunk I jotted and then posted some longish remarks about Che Guevara, and more specifically about this wonderful hefty biography of him that I’m reading by Jon Lee Anderson, and now, looking back, it sounds a bit too flippant, too vulgar and angry, so I took it down and in the wake of it I’m feeling burned out.
Just by all the stuff I’ve been reading and thinking about.
Which feels ridiculous cuz it’s all basically recreational.
This morning my roommate woke up angry cuz he had to drive twenty miles to his job’s campus and commence some onerous two-week training program that he knows he’s gonna hate. He charged out of his room at 7 a.m., same moment I did, saying he needed to use the bathroom first, “You have the luxury of not having to work,” he barked, and then he clapped the back of one hand into the palm of the other and said, “I need to be out of here in ten minutes.”
It irked me, the suggestion that I’m not doing work, though I know he didn’t quite mean it in the way I was choosing to take it.
Then I was at the coffee shop at 8 in the morning, writing for a little while, reading alternately from Anderson’s biography of Che Guevara and Ana Ferrer’s great new book Cuba: An American History, and I started feeling burned out. The novel I’m working on is set in Cuba, there’s a revolution at the center of it–and there’s something absolutely enchanting about the research!, and constructing this milieu on the page, but even though I’m making demonstrable and substantive progress every day, it feels like nothing’s happening.
And it’s this feeling of straining toward nothingness that’s got me on the ropes.
This evening while reading the final chapters of Bob Woodward’s Rage, the second volume in his soon-to-be-completed trilogy about the Trump administration, I was amused and irked by a passage where he’s basically transcribing a phone conversation he had with the president back in like March of 2020, when the nation went into quarantine at the spread of COVID-19, and he’s pointing out how impatient Trump gets with the constant COVID questions.
Not just impatient but bored.
He sighs deeply into the phone. He blows frustrated raspberries into the phone while Woodward’s asking a question.
And to be honest, as someone who’s really no fan at all of Donald Trump, I sympathized with him in that scene. It made me think of how a president needs to be prepared, during a crisis, to confront the same unbudging national issue with unrelenting attention and activity, sometimes for months or years at a time. I don’t get the impression that Trump was really hustling to get things done about the pandemic, nor do I think anything he did was driven by compassion, but he did sit there, in that hot seat of scrutiny and prodding, which is more than I’d ever volunteer to do. And it’s clear in the course of the book that he’s kinda dissolving, mentally and emotionally, repeating himself more and more, speaking in ever less -sequiting non-sequiturs. At one point Woodward says, of people who won’t budge to help with the panic, “God will never forgive them,” to which Trump responds, “Yeah I’ll never forgive them.”
Also–and this is what marvels me about all presidential biographies–Woodward illustrates that, at any given moment, Trump’s office is juggling the threat of nuclear war with North Korea, boundary-pushing military activity from China, Black Lives Matter protests going on all over the country, environmental concerns…
(I listened to Bob Woodward’s appearance on Armchair Expert, Dax Shepherd’s podcast, and since Woodward’s been breaking top government stories for several decades I had a lofty idea of how he might present himself, stoic and tough to read, unsmiling, as clipped in conversation as he is in his prose. But no, he’s delightful! Energetic and willing to say “fuck” when quoting an old friend or, more commonly, the president himself. Woodward’s in his 70s, though, and he’s upfront in saying that, as his wife pointed out to him while listening in on his calls with the president, he let his temper get away from him. Trump dodged almost every question, could never stay on a subject, refused accountability for anything. Woodward started raising his voice in many of the calls. As his wife told him, “It sounds like you’re telling him what to do.” Also there’s a point in the conversation where he says, about some above-and-beyond measure he took to get a latenight interview with someone for this book, “I said to myself, ‘I’m 74 years old, I’m tired, why am I doing this,’” and I’m wondering if maybe, were I to go back and read some of his books from the 1980s and ‘90s, would I find a more objective and less personable Woodward? I don’t think so. I hope not.)
A regular at my bar who’s 66 but looks younger and has a great baritone voice told me the other day that, while he’s outright contemptuous of Trump, he’s also a political junkie, and a history buff, and he says that, “Knowing how hard that job is, and how old he is, I’ve been genuinely impressed by his stamina.”
I guess, if you’ve gotta give the guy something…
Anyway. I’m really in the final sprint toward finishing the first draft of the novel and I have a feeling that, once it’s done, if I spend the ensuing weeks doing any recreational reading at all it’ll be novels, or funnybooks, a diet of the very lightest things until it’s time to crunch over the broken glass prose of the early drafts, cleaning it up.
It’s tiring but rewarding.