September 23, 2004

Unrequited Messiah

While I’m making dull lists, here’s my top fifteen novels, in no order:

Harry Crews- All We Need of Hell
Jim Thompson- A Hell of a Woman
Richard Yates- Revolutionary Road
John Steinbeck- The Grapes of Wrath
Dostoevsky- Crime and Punishment
Hubert Selby- Last Exit to Brooklyn
Charles Bukowski- Ham on Rye
Denis Johnson- Jesus’ Son
F. Scott Fitzgerald- The Beautiful and Damned
Philip K. Dick- Ubik
George Gissing- New Grub Street
George Orwell- Keep the Aspidistra Flying
James Baldwin- Another Country
William Burroughs- Junkie
Truman Capote- In Cold Blood

It gives some sense of who I am. Most of the writers, except for two, are long since dead. I am a contemporary writer who doesn’t read very much contemporary fiction. This makes me feel wrong.

To tell the truth, I make these lists so someone typing William Burroughs in Google might come across my site.

At this point in my writing life, I am becoming more interested in getting read than actually writing. I’ve done a lot of unrequited writing in my time and it’s been pretty deeply discouraging. Contemporary Press, are you listening? You’ve had my novel for months. Bleak House Press? You have 50 pages, want more? Lately, I haven’t been feeling like a writer. Writing fiction into the wind feels pointless. Recently, all I have been writing is this blog. Everything is writing to a certain degree, and it’s somewhat satisfying, but still I feel guilt-ridden. It’s a sickness of the vain and ambitious.

I always felt somewhere deep that I would be a successful writer. I used to feel like I was part of the history of writing in a beautiful way. I wanted to be a giant. Really, who doesn’t. Success always felt like it was around the corner. I don’t know if this was delusion or what. Now I wonder if this was immature idealism. Success has yet to come and I am losing some faith. Some writer God is playing with me, wondering what will break me or make me stronger.

All hope is not lost, however. If it was, I wouldn’t even write this blog. I still feel some undercurrent of inevitability, however faint. I have to. I just can’t use it to justify bad behavior--arrogance, depression. I may have been getting a swelled head before my time. Enough humbling already--what’s the final lesson I have to learn before I become who I’ve wanted to be? Whatever the answer, I’ve been getting great comments on this site, including an offer to read at a book festival. This is progress.


Anonymous said...

"I still feel some undercurrent of inevitability, however faint."

You want inevitability?

You're gonna die some day.

Nothing else is promised, guaranteed, or owed to you.

Get over yourself. G-D bless.

Henry Baum said...

I was prepared for that, making such an obvious display of ego. I figured people would take my "Unrequited Messiah" title seriously. Being nakedly self-studying in this blog is going to open me up to criticism for being self-involved. Ironically, I thought this was my most honest post yet. I was writing exactly what has been swirling around in my mind, rather than writing for an audience.

The "Get over yourself" line has been leveled at me before. I want to have the avenue to be able to express myself and for people to have the avenue to be able to listen or read it. I’m disappointed that it hasn’t worked out as well as I’ve liked. Really, so what? My "sense of inevitability" is another way of saying "confidence." In the past I’ve felt good about my chances. I’ve worked very hard, though probably not hard enough, or else I really would be owed something.

Actually this comment made me feel like shit, as all criticism does. You can tell by how much time I’m devoting to it--there’s a real window into my bruisable soul. It feels bad to inspire a small kind of hate in somebody. Why bother attacking a stranger anonymously? Death may be inevitable but I have the sneaking suspicion that it’s preferable to the stupid limbo we experience down here in the material world.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where you got hate from that. The best lesson I've ever learned was that I am no better or worse than anybody else, in absolute terms. What I think of myself is irrelevant. Those are not who I am. What anybody else thinks, the same. My actions and creations are who I am. That's not hate, baby -- it's love. Albeit not the fun kind!

Beliefs, confidence, lack thereof, all immaterial. The only thing that matters is what I *do*. If my actions are aligned with my heart, it doesn't really even matter much whether I succeed or fail...

Your choice of the term "inevitablility" implies a cosmic debt towards you. The word "confidence" has a totally different meaning. It is self-generated and self-owned.

So my intention was not to hurt but to point this out.

Do you see how you may have set yourself up to be cut down (to human size)?

You can't assume everybody knows your grandiosity is not genuine but used for ironic effect.

And hey, isn't irony supposed to be Bad? :-p

Henry Baum said...

Thanks for elucidating. "You’re going to die" sounded pretty aggressive to me. Believe me, I’ve tried to reconcile the issue of being egoless while still being ambitious. I mean "egoless" in the Buddhist sense. Wanting to make an impact is not a bad impulse. It’s not all about being worshipped as an artist.

Having readers is part of the process of writing. Having a lot of readers can be a powerful experience. I’m also a songwriter and I think music needs an audience even more. Writing is a prayer, and a prayer left unanswered is dispiriting. You say belief is immaterial. What you create or "do" is all that matters. To my mind, what you create and what you believe are the same thing.

Anonymous said...

Try looking at it this way:

The act of writing is a prayer; the completed work is the answer to the prayer.

Anonymous said...

Two egomaniacs in a pissing contest. You're both obnoxious, and posing as spiritual people. Sad.

Henry Baum said...

Sheesh, why does this topic insult people so much. A pissing contest. We’re just imperfect people trying to figure out how things work. What gives you the right to attack my sense of spirituality as a pose and sad? Sounds like a pissy expression of your ego as well.

Anonymous said...

I admit to being an egomaniac at times, and I guess I can be pretty obnoxious as well.
But I'm not posing; I am a genuinely spiritual obnoxious egomaniac!


BTW Henry,
I'm gonna stop being anonymous.
This is SB Montag.
You know I love you and respect you as an artist.
So now you know I'm not attacking you but just engaging you on stuff.
Our emails are too brief and telegraphic. This is more real.

Henry Baum said...


Lurker, voyeur, friend. You said: The best lesson I've ever learned was that I am no better or worse than anybody else.

I hate to say it but you're a better songwriter than most everybody. That might not make you a better person, but it's a whole lot more than most people can say.

Glad to know you're reading.

Andrew said...

"Lately, I haven’t been feeling like a writer. Writing fiction into the wind feels pointless. Recently, all I have been writing is this blog. Everything is writing to a certain degree, and it’s somewhat satisfying, but still I feel guilt-ridden. It’s a sickness of the vain and ambitious."

Ah, but it is a beautiful sickness, is it not? Kierkegaard's first words of Either/Or are: "What is a poet? An unhappy person who conceals profound anguish in his heart but whose lips are so formed that as sighs and cries pass over them they sound like beautiful music."

Much of what you write can't be answered, I think. The only semi-adequate answer is for one soul to sing to another in the same tune; to say that they have knowledge of the same dark thing. If I say that I too have this sickness, if only in a less advanced stage, does that have any meaning?

I wonder what success and history are, though. I bet it's as much luck as anything that causes some to be chosen by the hand of history for "greatness" and others not. The most that I can aspire to is that I may touch one other person with my writing, wherever that person may be. Anything more is foolish to me.

BTW, what's up with people hiding behind Anons? It doesn't take that much time to register with Blogger. So do it.

Dave said...

Hey Henry, I live in the L.A. area as well. I like your list - nice to see Denis Johnson and Harry Crews appreciated. Somehow I think we need to talk. I don't know why, but like attracts like. Anyhow, email me at so I can reply back....if you want.

darling maggot said...

good googly moogly, all i wanted to do in this comment section was recommend a new-ish writer by the name of david mitchell. his novels in order, "ghostwritten", "number 9 dream" and his newest, "cloud atlas". check him out. ghostwritten was shortlisted for the booker prize, i think. as is cloud atlas.

(all artists "need" to "get over themselves". but they seldom do, thank god, because if they did we'd have a lot less great art. in any case i find "get over yourself" to be a rather trite, vague and generally unconstructive response to someone in an existential moment.)

Anonymous said...

Hey, darling maggot --

Get over yourself!!!


darling maggot said...

i'm trying!

Anonymous said...

sadly, i don't have any hope. maybe it's my lack of beliefs. or maybe it's because i really can't write as well as my friend once told me. hurtful things stay with you.

xo. war.

Anonymous said...

yer right, ha ha, I was looking for "ash tree"' the plant. That's funny cuz I like yer site. I also like Bukowski. Now that's serendipity for ya. The chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table, as it were. If you could write like and ash, the words would be supple, strong, flexible, and sacred. Imagine that. Also makes great fuel with little or no smoke, unlike books. Sorry, I don't have a blog, so must be annonymous, I guess.

blue marauder, or.......the lucky rabbit

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