The Black Snake of Wounded Vanity
First Post (Lucius the Conqueror)
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The Black Snake of Wounded Vanity
“The Black Snake of Wounded Vanity” comes from part 5, chapter 1 of Fyodor Dostoevsky’s 1866 masterpiece, Crime and Punishment. I love this line. Wounded vanity does, in fact, to me, feel like a “black snake” slithering around in your guts. As a writer—ergo, as a man with an ego the size of the Empire State Building—I grasp this feeling inexorably. Don’t worry. I’m not a narcissist. Or at least: That’s only one fine sliver of what I may be. Anyone who’s a serious, driven writer is, in my opinion, to some extent great or small of the “narcissistic variety.” But there’s nothing wrong with that. Especially when considering the times we’re living through right now, the TikTok generation of incessant entertainment, attention, selling, buying, not thinking.
Anyway this is my first post. I have two other stacks. For more political and cultural commentary check out my other one, “Sincere American Writing.”
A random riff.
Four days ago I moved in with my girlfriend. Into her house, which she owns, an hour north of Santa Barbara, where I’ve been living the past 18 months. (And where I moved to unexpectedly from Manhattan. Long story.) It’s been good so far, if not also somewhat stressful. She’s 37; I’m 40. We share similar worldviews and have similar values but our personalities are both similar and yet also vastly opposite; in some ways almost diametrically opposed. She can be dark, brooding, capricious. (Which I, too, can sometimes be.) We both seem to have anger issues. We both come from childhood trauma. Wounded pride seems to be our stock-in-trade.
And yet, we simultaneously compliment each other almost perfectly. We’ve been together five months. On our first date, back in late August, 2022, we sat down at a Mexican restaurant—both swearing diabolical starvation—and, for three hours, proceeded to gaze into each other’s eyes, converse wonderfully the entire time, and not touch a single scrap of our food. It rocketed up from there. And now we’re in this “thing.” For me it’s a major blessing, especially after 2.5 years (I know I’m not alone here) of complete and total stagnant loneliness and brutal isolation. (Add in a teenage niece’s suicide attempt in 2021 and my father’s terminal cancer and…yeah.) Thank you Pandemic.
Finally, at 40, I feel like a “man.” Not that this word can actually, definitively be defined anymore. (Can any words be defined anymore? What does the word “racism” mean anymore? How about sex? Gender?) Most Americans seem to think that manhood, womanhood, “adulthood” broadly speaking means having kids, being married, owning property, making a lot of money. I disagree. I simply know too many abhorrent, reprehensible, childish people who happen to also have kids, be married, own property. I think of adulthood more in terms of emotional growth. How self-aware are you? Are you able to genuinely listen to other people? Can you handle hearing different viewpoints from your own?
Changing tacks for a moment. My girlfriend has two cats and a dog. I have a 6.5-year-old Tuxedo cat. He’s my “son” and best friend. My ex and I got him in June, 2016, when I was still living north of Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has literally changed my life and saved me many times. He went to Manhattan with me for 2.3 years. And then to Santa Barbara when my father got diagnosed. And then to Lompoc where I am now. (Temporarily.) He’s a part of my nature now; he occupies a chunk of my heart and soul.
So my cat—Lucius—has been staying apart from her cats, in her teenage son’s vacant room. Her cats have not had direct contact with mine yet, but there’ve been many sightings, brutal hissing, paw-performance, theatrical yowling. (Kind of like young Woke leftist radicals.) But the dog is another story entirely. He likes to sneak past the plastic gate barrier we put up, rush down the hall, open the door somehow (like a damn human) to her son’s room, and harass Lucius by eating all the food in his white bowl. (The misfit bastard!) Usually Lucius just observes and cries while I fix the problem.
But not this morning.
The dog did his usual surreptitious routine. I heard some noise across the house. I was on the couch, reading Hitch-22, Christopher Hitchens’s 2010 memoir. I suddenly stopped reading, cocking my ears. Damn it! I knew it! Again! I leapt up, briefly spying the cold deep blue of early morning (it might have been around 6:45am) and trudged, annoyed, down the hallway. The barrier, of course, had been nosed open like a bull through a piece of construction paper. I shook my head. Smiling sarcastically, I plowed ahead. The door to my girlfriend’s teenage son’s room was wide open. Ugh.
When I opened the door I spotted her dog greedily glugging down the last of Lucius’s food. Caught! Red-handed!
I clapped loudly and yelled at the dog to get out. Confused, his blue eyes glaring at me in earnest desire for kindness, he lazily meandered out. But he wouldn’t get away that easy.
The second the dog left the room Lucius came out swinging, like a madman prize-fighter coming to reclaim his crown. He got up on two legs, his black and white fur magnificent and magisterial, and swatted the air back and forth perhaps half a dozen times in succession, his taloned-paws cutting the air like big Xs. At the same time he growled with multiple angry hisses emitting, along with some raging, almost psychologically debilitating deep-gut yowls. It was as if he were chasing his former assailant into the street after being insulted, screaming, And don’t come back, motherfucker!
The dog ran. Lucius returned to his lair, his butt swaying like a black bear. His pride had been wounded. He’d felt his own black snake of wounded pride. He had to show the intruder what was what. And he did! Pride reclaimed!
I guess that’s partially why I started this Stack. To reclaim my own wounded [literary] pride. I’ve had a few dozen short stories and essays published in traditional magazines and journals, but, after 12 completed novels…still no literary agent. Several books received many full manuscript reads. One book—an autobiographical YA novel—had dozens of full reads including three full reads by one specific agent. But, alas: No literary dice. So, here I am. On Substack.
Ok. I promised myself I’d keep these posts at 1,000 words or under. I just barely went over.
Until next time, my fellow Black Snakes.
Hey. Just found you. Thanks for writing. Cheers!