Category Archives: Gripes

As Trump Grows So Grows the Nation

Meditating on President Trump’s July 4th Speech at Mt. Rushmore and Roger Kimball’s comments thereupon, what strikes me is that the man has grown in office. This observation will strike many as ridiculous because they regard Trump as flawed in his origins and even more flawed now. Indeed, his seminal flaws dictate his ultimate degeneracy. He was worthless and obnoxious before and, necessarily, no matter what he does or says, he can only be worthless and obnoxious now. Bad trees produce bad fruit, you might say.

A puritanical intolerance for anything that issues from a flawed human character has, over the years, insinuated itself into our post-modern education and politics . None of the Apostle’s “test everything, keep what is good” for post-modernity. Only the totally pure can be tolerated. An imperfection at the origins of an enterprise cannot be overcome and improved; it can only fester and become worse; the whole undertaking must be rejected root and branch.

This is the attitude of President Trump’s critics: because he was a nasty businessman, a corrupt capitalist, he can only be nasty and corrupt. No matter how he behaves in office, no matter how he tries to reign in the administrative state, to challenge America’s autocratic enemies, to preserve free speech and other Constitutional rights, to speak out in defense of American history and tradition, he cannot rise to the occasion. He can only be as nasty and corrupt as he was ab origine. He must be cast out and utterly destroyed. There is no possibility that he could exceed the limitations of his past, that he could grow in knowledge and wisdom, that he could become more and better than he was. In short, from the standpoint of the postmodern Puritan, there is no possibility of redemption.

As it is with Trump, so it is with America herself. The postmodern Puritan ascribes to a historical determinism that declares America irredeemable. Her past dictates her present and her future. Because her origins are less-than-pure, all that America has been or has accomplished must be rejected as hopelessly corrupt. All her symbols, heroes, memories must be rejected without exception. The compromise with slavery implied in the Constitution taints everything American with its hypocrisy for all time. That the nation may have grown to realize more perfectly the virtues implicit in her flawed origins cannot be admitted. Racist then, we must be racist now. Our past defines us; we can only purge ourselves by erasing our past.

Of course, to erase the past, you must erase whatever good it contained. To erase it completely, you must erase those fragments of the past that people carry as integral parts of themselves, what we colloquially call “memory.” But the only way to extirpate memory completely and finally is to exterminate the people who carry it. Such is the bitter, remorseless, puritanical logic that sent French aristocrats to the guillotine, European Jews to the gas chambers, and Russian patriots to the Gulag.

To paraphrase another American president, this is not who we are. Not at all.

The essence of America, of her settlers and her pioneers, is the sense that we can better ourselves. We can go into a new land, better ourselves by toil and sweat, and prosper. In doing so, we need not exterminate our past, because we are not limited by it. We can surpass it. We can choose what is good in our forefathers; cherish their successes; reject their failures; try to live up to their highest aspirations, aspirations which we may discover to reach heights greater than even they guessed.

We are Americans and ours is the American Revolution, not the French. Our revolution is grounded in the flesh and blood of our history, not in the fancies of our intellects. We reach higher than our fathers, but we stand on their foundations. We dare not forget them, because in forgetting them, we divide ourselves from our past, from our memory, from our very selves. And a house divided against itself cannot stand.


What’s Going On – March 27, 2020

Here in Boston, we’re not quite locked down because of the coronavirus, but we are hunkered down by choice. Nobody’s going out. People are mostly working from home. We take walks, hoping we won’t run into anybody. We shy away from any kind of social contact. All in all, it’s pretty much the way an author lives all the time.

One good thing, for me at least, is that there’s time to do all the little things that are usually relegated to the back burner. I’ve corrected a few weaknesses in this website: had a long chat with my hosting service’s support staff, at the end of which they determined that they couldn’t help me and I’d have to fix the problem myself. I managed to do it. It only took me the better part of a week. But I now know what “Rest API” is.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I’m aware of its existence. I don’t really have any deep understanding of it. I know when it’s creating a problem and which button I need to press to deal with it.

When you come right down to it, my relationship with Rest API is magical. I don’t mean that I’m enchanted by it. I mean that, when it acts up, I say the code equivalent of “Abracadabra” and it slithers back into whatever hole it crawled out of.

I suspect the “Abracadabra” factor in modern life explains why fantasy has become such a popular genre. When I was a boy, I knew what electricity was, at least functionally. I knew what a carburetor did. I knew what a distributor cap did. Most gadgets were mechanical. You could open them up, look inside, and, if you paid attention, you could understand them. Now, you have to speak the doggone thing’s language.

You’ll notice I’ve installed a video widget at the top of the right-hand column. Now you don’t have to scroll down my posts to see me in my videos. My bearded mug will always be at the top of the column, staring at you, urging you to press the little arrow button to listen to me read from my assorted writings. I’ll be on every page. In the age of Abracadabra, technology has sealed off every avenue of escape.

I need to get back to work, making sure all my links work and doing other such things. Maybe, before the day ends, I’ll get back to writing my current work-in-progress, “The Molasses Man,” a short story. I don’t know exactly what it’s about yet, but the characters will tell me in time.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m working on two collections at the moment, one of nostalgic stories and the other of fantasies. The former will contain my previously published but currently unavailable story, “The Reincarnation of Lou Gehrig.” It should be out in early summer. As for the latter, I’ve decided to re-issue “The Richest Man in Babylon, Revisited,” as the headliner for a number of new stories. Look for it in late summer or early fall.

That’s it for now. Stay healthy, everyone.

Writing Advice, That Which I Rarely Give

Lucy's Writing Advice
Two Cents For Five

I rarely give writing advice. I rarely give any kind of advice and never if not asked. My aversion to advice-giving stems from certain experiences in my youth with which I will not bore you here. Suffice it to say that, when not giving advice in my professional capacity as an attorney, I try to keep my mouth shut.

But I was on Twitter not so long ago and came across a tweet from a young writer who wondered if an author should write about characters whose background he did not share. More generally, he wondered if an author should write about things of which he had little or no experience.

His immediate concern was how he could add “diversity” to his scenarios if he could not write about characters with ethnic and racial backgrounds different from his own. His tweet set me to thinking and I sent him a reply. But his concerns require a more elaborate response than fits in a tweet. Here it is.

First, let me say that “diversity” and I are not friends. I regard it as one of those notions that have become so ubiquitous and elastic as to lack any meaning whatsoever. It is not so much a word encapsulating a thought as it is a club with which to beat people who have the temerity to disagree with you.

Second, I am a great believer in writing about people, places and things you know. Depth of knowledge and an intimate understanding of subject matter are, to my mind, of much greater advantage to a story-teller than striving after any superficial “diversity.” The real diversity isn’t in people’s skin color or culture or even in their experiences. The real diversity is in the choices they make in the face of their circumstances. You can find tremendous diversity in the most homogeneous groups if you are willing to plumb the depths of the human soul.

Having made the case for writing about what you know, let me turn around and argue against it.

Snoopy Types While Woodstock Watches
The Novelist

The real skill of the novelist is in getting into people’s heads. Paradoxically, when you succeed in getting into other people’s heads, you end up revealing more about what’s in your own head than you would have thought possible or palatable, but that’s another story. The story here is that, if a novelist can’t explore what other people are thinking and feeling and deciding, then there is nothing for him to do. He may as well give up.

The greater the difference between character and novelist, the more the novelist will need to stretch himself to understand the character. But it’s always worth the effort, even if it’s not done well. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “[a]nything worth doing is worth doing badly.” Only by exertion and risking failure can you hope to understand other people.

Those who worry about “cultural appropriation” or who believe that you can’t comprehend another human’s response to circumstances you have not directly experienced don’t realize the implications of their attitudes. Ultimately, every human being is unique. If we can’t understand those different from us, we can’t understand anybody and communication is impossible. That’s about as absurd as things can get.

It’s an absurdity that denies human nature, by which I mean it denies the notion that, beneath all the differences, some shallow and some deep, there is at root some things all humans share, something you are simply because you are human. It is the greatest triumph of the novelist, of any author, to reveal these deep unities of the human spirit.

I was once sitting in a huge conference room in a huge investment bank in New York City. I was taking part in a meeting about a corporation’s initial public offering of stock. Dozens of people were attending the meeting and my participation was only intermittently required. At one point, I found myself sitting at a distance from the action next to a young Chinese woman who was an intern with the investment bank.

We chatted during our common downtime. She told me of a conversation she’d had with her grandparents before she left China. They were farmers in their small village. They were afraid of the gulf opening up between them and their grand-daughter, afraid that, coming to America, she would lose her “Chinese-ness.”

I answered that I had, many years before, had a similar conversation with my Italian grand-father. I remarked that, since then, I had met many Americans with Italian names who had little else connecting them to their Italian heritage. She remarked that, in China, they had a phrase to describe their analogous phenomenon: they called such people, “hollow bamboo,” Chinese on the outside, nothing on the inside.

In that moment, transcending our differences of age, sex, culture, civilization, religion, we found common human ground. Unearthing and illuminating this common ground is the calling of the novelist.



The Marketing Process

Although I’ve been on Twitter (@JoeEliseon) and Facebook and Google+ for several years and joined Instagram (I think) a couple of months ago, I’m not much of a social media type. Twitter is the only one I’m comfortable with.

FB leaves me cold. (I apologize to everyone who sent me birthday greetings last month – I only look at FB every six weeks or so and I missed them.) I hate the way FB constantly scrolls up when you move your cursor. I hate the multiple columns. They give your screen a crowded look. Moreover, I find the display non-intuitive. I can’t figure out where my groups are, or if I’m in a group.

G+ is simply a mystery to me. They reorganized it some time ago. I had gotten up to speed on it, then they changed everything around.

None of these “tools” are very good at enabling you to organize your own space, the way you would your own desk or workbench.

But that’s the least of it.

There’s marketing.

I don’t even want to talk about it. Here’s the fifth video in my
Snarkey & Putts: Paranormal Attorneys-at-Law, The Case of the Undead Arbitrator series. Hope you enjoy it.