This is the Big Reveal from the third act of the movie Punchline, a naked confession from Tom Hanks’ character, Steven Gold:
“If you’re sending someone down, you better send him fast — ‘cuz funny Steve’s going under.”
I understood that line much too well when I first I heard it. I’ve lived with it rolling around in my head for the past twenty-odd years, and now I’m living it in real life.
This is from mail Cathleen sent today to someone (one of many someones) we owe money to:
We do have a problem: Greg and I are broke just about to the point where we aren’t able to keep our business afloat. We have shut off notices for our internet and phone (we gave up TV months ago), for our electricity, for our gas, and for our water and city services. Our house is scheduled for foreclosure within the next three weeks.
Since the First of April, we’ve only closed four transactions, for a total of $9,220 in commissions. We have only one transaction in escrow right now, and that’s a short sale, so who knows when it will close. I’ve been busy getting two houses ready to list and trying to sell furniture, lithographs and anything else that might interest anyone to try to keep lights on and our pets fed.
I’ve been keeping a careful eye on our bank accounts, and right now, if we were to send you the money we owe you, we will have a bank balance of $0.00 in the business account and $1.19 in our personal account.
I’m sorry to have to share such bad news. We’ve been working like crazy to turn this situation around…
This post is not an appeal to pity. Too much the contrary. Two Foreclosure Notices ago, Cheryl Johnson tried to beg for money for us, and I shot that idea down with dispatch. The last thing I want is money I haven’t earned. But after a lifetime of working my ass off for about fifteen cents an hour, net, Greg Swann is going under — and not slowly.
This is so stupid. I am rich beyond anyone’s ability to conceive of riches. But I am rich in currencies no one else values.
I tore the lid off human joy, correcting 2,500 years’ worth of error in moral philosophy. Reader response has been gratifying if not terribly munificent, so far, but I can’t buy a review of Man Alive!
Just lately, I released my novel The Unfallen as a Kindle book. I hadn’t thought about it in this way until I had it published, but it’s a remarkably potent argument in a world where thousands of women are devouring books advising them to degrade and humiliate themselves as a strategy for attracting men. It’s also a beautiful book, a soaring symphony on the theme of romantic love. None of that matters. I can’t even get my friends to review it, and so of course it doesn’t sell.
I spoke over the weekend at The 21Convention in Austin. I ended up presenting two different times, and I could tell by the fire in the eyes of the people in the audience that I killed both times. I’ve sold two books, so far, as the result of my efforts.
And I’m having a great year in publishing! Our ability to sell houses, weak at best over the past seven years, started to dry up entirely about 18 months ago. Cathleen and I both started looking at other ways of generating income. I’ve shopped for partners or investors, and I’ve talked to people about business ideas, to no avail. I’ve been “monetizing” books, or trying to, because it’s something I can do that almost no one else can. I’ve been successful, too, relatively speaking: I’ve made far more from my writing this year than I ever have in my life.
The trouble with that observation is that “far more” is still almost nothing, quite a bit less than fifteen cents an hour for the work I’ve put in, not even counting work done in past years. I have the best laugh at my own expense, of course, since I have known for decades that writing for money is a dead letter.
I can write. I can speak. I can come up with ideas that no one has ever thought of before, ideas that awe and enflame and inspire. I can paint for you a picture of the world you have always longed to see. I can show you the life you have known in your heart should always have been yours. I can make you soar, make you weep, make you writhe and shiver and squirm and scream. I know I can do these things, because I can see it in your response to me — and I can feel it within my own skin.
What I can’t do, apparently, is make a living.
I’ve lived my whole life waiting for things that never happen, counting coins that never find their way to my pocket. More fool me, I know, but I knew all this going in. But I’m out of time to dick around. I reread The Unfallen over the weekend, and it’s a heartbreakingly beautiful book. It’s a book that deserves to sell, that has always deserved to sell, but it could not be more urgently needed than it is right now, in the age of Fifty Shades of Grey.
And so here I am, begging for attention however I can get it. I hate asking for anything from anyone; this is the white hot core of my own egoism, the place I started from when first I woke up in Fathertongue. But for thirty years, people have been saying things like this to me: “Gee, Greg, I love your writing. I sure hope you can make a living from it someday. Please let me know if there is anything I can do to help.” Since late last year I have been asking with a steadily increasing urgency for that help, without very much in the way of results.
Maybe I don’t deserve it. Maybe the writing isn’t as good as I think it is, and maybe the ideas I am so rich in truly are of no value to anyone but me. Maybe I’m 20 or 50 or 100 years ahead of my time. Or maybe this is all just a matter of bad luck. But I am out of time. Whatever miracle I have been waiting for, there could not be a better time for the Big Reveal.
If you want to help turn this drama around, here is what I need for you to do: Read The Unfallen or Christmas at the speed of life, review them at Amazon.com and, most importantly, tell your friends to read and review them.
Permit me to repeat that last bit, since I’ve been saying it for the past nine months, apparently without enough emphasis: Tell your friends to read and review them. Nothing draws a crowd like a crowd, but I can no longer afford to wait for that crowd to assemble by itself.
If you want to hire me to speak at your event, I love it. If you want to invest in me, I love it more — and I have lots of ideas for turning money into more money. If you want to regale me with tales of the big bucks I’m going to make when you don’t do what I advise you to do in the most brutal real estate market on the planet — well, that’s how I got to this juncture.
I think I’m worth quite a bit more than fifteen cents an hour. It could be that no one else agrees with that proposition, and that’s totally fine: That’s how we’re built. If you want to tell me all about how you want to help me except for the part about doing what I ask you to do when I ask you to do it, at least you’ll understand why I hate asking for things in the first place. But we are going under — and not slowly. If you really do want to do something to make a difference, there could not possibly be a moment more propitious than this one.