“Why are you still bothering yourself about this book, Elie?” asked the skeleton of my father from his grave outside of Peekskill. “Isn’t it abundantly clear to you yet that you’ve been pursuing a mirage for the last few years? An admirable mirage, I’d say, but a bodiless, speculative, profitless phantom nonetheless. Why fret now?”
That’s a tough question, man.
“Might it not be time to face the facts, the sad facts and nothing but the brutal facts? You have good ideas, you’re a bright guy, you can sometimes tell a story in a compelling way, but you don’t seem to understand that people who make their way in the world, roll up their sleeves, learn the ropes, do the hard work, undaunted, day after day no matter what, almost always also have the kind of help you will never have?”
This is where I was afraid you were going.
“Look, I’m not comparing your life, your desire to tell a story that’s important to you, to that heir of Maidenform Bras whose dynamic grandmother, with only the sackful of diamonds she was able to smuggle out of Europe as the Nazis closed in and her winning personality and hard work in her new country, provided a fabulous, privileged life for her author grandson, who was able to get a publisher to pay him to go back and visit the sorrows and lost treasures of the life they left behind in Vienna or wherever it was, to retrace his successful family’s journey from terror to prosperity. You have nothing to go visit, no discoveries to make, no villa to walk through, picturing your grandparents’ knickknacks and heirlooms there. Your family’s voyage, in almost every case, was from terror to anonymous mass death.
“Our people were poor, anonymous, the kind of Jews that other, wealthier, more cultured German Jews invented the word “kike” for. We were the embarrassingly provincial Jews, smelling of garlic and body odor, who had no idea how to make their way in the larger world. We come from wailing, superstitious, ignorant stock, Elie, and you should be honest about that. The fatalism of all those crazy victims is a factor in your fatal lack of real-world hubris.”
Jesus, dad, perhaps I should let you sleep today.
“Plenty of time for that, Elie, all I do here is sleep. Look, I don’t want to make this sound like a moral failing on your part. Your mother and I didn’t know how to help you, how to advise you about anything. It was clear from an early age that you were a bright and a talented boy. We had no clue how to guide you. You were a challenge to us, always ready to fight us. Granted, we started some of it, maybe most of it, but, as you know at this point, we were doing the best we knew how within the limits of our own demon-filled lives.”
I am thinking of the flight of the turkey vultures I saw earlier, far off in the grey sky over Northern Westchester. Riding the thermals with their long, comical wings. A life of searching for carrion, swooping in to chase off other scavengers and have a death-seasoned meal. Not bad, I suppose.
“Jesus, stop feeling sorry for yourself! Nobody ever had an easy time getting a book published, unless you’re famous or something like that. Jackie Onassis calls Carly Simon, croons in her ear that there is a fabulous memoir of her life to be written, encourages her, sends her a large advance. People want to know about the beautiful, vulnerable, talented Carly Simon, so there’s a ready market for her book. You know how it is if you want to get paid, it’s all about marketing, Elie.
“Take off your fucking author’s hat and put on your marketing hat, figure out all that SEO shit, how to create multiple thirsty funnels to drive a flood of visitors (potential followers and subscribers, one and all) to your content-perfected, preferably monetized affiliate website where you can prove to a literary agent that you are a good bet, you and the 150,000 people already actively reading your work every day, that you are precisely the kind of ambitious and talented unknown writer to earn them a nice 15% for their hard work.
“On second thought, feel sorry for yourself, Elie.” The skeleton of my father gave me a thoughtful look.
Yeah, I know, Proverbs 26:13. The sluggard says “there is a lion in the way, yea, a lion is in the street!”
“Yay, indeed. A lion, no doubt. A lion in the street and then you die. That’s life, Elie. And into every life some lions must wander. You should keep reading those guides about how to find a literary agent. Yes, we know about the internet platform you have no idea how to build, the rambling, spaghetti-like path you have always taken in this world, but maybe you will stumble on something, somewhere, that will give you hope for a helping hand. And remember, you are writing a quirky kind of creative non-fiction, this book about me, an unknown man who spoke so little about himself, except through temper tantrums and humor. I was fucking funny, Elie, you have to admit that.”
Yes, pater, in more ways than one.
“Ha ha,” said the skeleton of the pater, deadpan.
Well, this ain’t helping either one of us today, pops, so I’m out.
“Go in good health,” said the skeleton, somehow not making it sound like the famous Yiddish curse it also is.