Copy for the book jacket

I visited the website for Jeanne Safer’s literary agent.   Safer writes insightful, useful books on difficult subjects, how to deal with a toxic sibling, what there is to celebrate at the death of a difficult parent, when not to forgive.   I admire her writing on these taboo subjects and figured her agent might be a good place to start my search for an agent for the difficult book I am wrestling with.   The agency has a query page that reads, in pertinent part: 

We love discovering new talent and welcome your query.

If your project is in keeping with the kinds of books we take on, we want to hear from you. In non-fiction, we represent narrative, popular science, memoir, history, psychology, business, biography, food, and travel.

So far, so good.  But they don’t want me to send them my svelte 1,700 word evocation of the book I’m writing, they have a better idea.

Synopsis (up to two paragraphs).   Briefly pitch your project, indicating what makes it unique and compelling. Imagine writing the jacket copy for your book.

I wrote one the other day, 319 words, two paragraphs (the second actually two paragraphs)  pretty good, but not really the jacket copy they were looking for.   I will try again now.

The Book of Irv is a son’s memoir of his father’s life, a life that ended with terrible regrets.   It is a meditation on anger and the power of reconciliation, even when it arrives tragically late.   Irv Widaen triumphed over a childhood of grinding poverty during the Great Depression to live the American Dream.  He was an idealist with a deep commitment to bending the moral arc of history toward justice.  A specialist in Human Relations, he brought warring gang leaders together.    A man of great empathy and a quick, irreverent wit, he quickly won people over.  His own children referred to him as the Dreaded Unit, or the D.U..

The D.U. saw the world as a battlefield.   He fought his children to the death over dinner every night.  Almost his entire family was massacred back in Europe during World War Two; there were other unspeakable, inescapable terrors in his earlier life.   Heartbroken and desperate, he viewed life as a zero sum game.   He did harm to both of his children by constantly denying their feelings, while imbuing them with the highest ideals about fairness, identification with the oppressed and kindness to animals.  The Book of Irv interweaves his personal story with the turbulent history of his times.  His pessimistic insistence that people cannot fundamentally change is set against his realization, as he was dying, that he should have had more insight.  At the heart of the book is the dialogue the difficult father and troubled son should have been having all along.   The D.U.’s skeleton smiles in his grave to finally have this chance to be heard.

264 words

Totalitarian Tendencies

Of course, it’s always problematic to make comparisons between current events and infamous low points in human history, no matter how emotionally vexing those current events may be.   I call for an end (until it becomes undeniable, at which point I’ll be unable to post calls for anything) to the comparisons of brutal policymakers to Nazis or other totalitarian regimes.

Taking young children from their mothers’ arms is not the same, clearly, as wrenching a baby from the mother and smashing a rifle butt against its tiny head.   Putting a crying child in a cage for indefinite detention is not anywhere near as horrific as putting a child in a gas chamber.  You can’t even fairly compare those two things, caging and murdering.   So calling a government policy that dehumanizes certain classes of children and designates them for this kind of inhumane treatment “Nazi-like” sounds like hyperbole and is easily enough dismissed by the hard pragmatists who believe that this kind of harsh, tough, zero-tolerance policy that makes parents pay a brutally high price, their connection with their children, will deter desperate people from coming to our borders.

It is easy to condemn this sort of policy as the terroristic tactic of people consumed by unreasoning hatred of the objects of their policy.   The people coming to the US southern border are portrayed by proponents of these harsh policies as criminals, rapists, terrorists, a hoard posing untold dangers to our eternally threatened nation, incredible dangers, unbelievably bad dangers, really dangerous dangers.   That many of them are running from terrors directly produced by, say, our own imbecilic ninety year selective drug prohibition regime, our eternal War on Drugs, is beside the point.  Those violent drug gangs are the problem, not the ongoing American law enforcement idiocy that has only produced a massively lucrative product for these increasingly violent foreign (and domestic) criminals to peddle.    

Fleeing gang violence, says our tiny, racist top law enforcement official, is no longer grounds for political asylum, it’s your goddamn problem, deal with it, you brown, non-English speaking losers.  Neither is fleeing a spouse who beats the living shit out of you and threatens to kill you.   Nothing to see here!  No longer America’s role, to provide a haven for women and children who will otherwise be killed in their home countries, or teenagers facing death if they refuse to join a drug cartel’s street gang.

We cannot underestimate the vital role that terrorism and the threat of violent physical force plays in human affairs.  By terrorism and violent force, I refer to the routinized violence threatened or visited on citizens by states, by nations and coalitions of nations.  This state violence causes the vast majority of deaths by terrorism (though it is rarely referred to as terrorism, for obvious reasons).  Deadly violence, and the terrifying threat of its instant deployment, and more recently fear of non-government terrorism, and the need for extreme measures to protect the populace from Terror with a capital T,  is always used by the status quo to maintain order and to influence political relations.  

The old debate over who is the terrorist is now all the rage, in our terrified of terror Post-9-11 world.  Those illegal Mexicans, Guatemalans and Hondurans are TERRORISTS, we are told by American law enforcement.   The protesters in Gaza, every one of them according to the Israeli Minister of Defense, down to the medics and members of the international press:  TERRORISTS!   When you’re fighting terror, the gloves must come off, obviously.

The I.C.E. agents who forcibly take the kids from their potential terrorist parents are only protecting law abiding citizens from criminals and terrorists, the worst of the worst, shameless terrorists using their own babies as human shields!    Those terrorists in Gaza?   We have every right to kill as many as we need to in order to make them stop hating our freedom!    Israeli leaders, particularly the extreme nationalistic right wing ones, are fond of reminding the world that Israel is the region’s only real democracy.   Therefore any means needed will be employed to defend it from haters, including opening fire on unarmed protesters, with special bullets designed to do maximum damage on impact.

The moral battle is won by the most skilled story-tellers, the people who can make us empathize the most with their point of view.  With that in mind, Israeli lawmakers are considering a law making it illegal to photograph Israeli soldiers in a way that could potentially harm Israeli military morale.  Showing a photo of an Israeli soldier cuffing a belligerent Palestinian teenager could really harm the morale of the sorely tested Israeli army.   Five years in prison for the photographer who has caused this harm to Israeli democracy, ten if the photograph, according to the law, undermines the security of the state.  They are voting on this important measure as I type these words.  Nothing to see here!  

The motto of every great democracy– Nothing to see here!   Criminalize those who take pictures of things that are nobody’s business, merely the democratic sausage we all love being made.  We are no slouches in this department, here in the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave.  Dubya Bush’s daddy made it illegal to photograph and broadcast images of the coffins of dead American soldiers.  How bad was it for morale to see, day after day, those dead Americans coming home from war zones?!   No more of that shit, citizens of a democracy do not need that kind of incredibly depressing shit, it only creates prejudice.  It sets our people against lawful war as the solution to every business-related foreign problem our leaders seek to solve by violent means. 

Recently our perpetually petulant president withdrew the U.S. from the the Human Rights Council in the United Nations.  Who needs fake fucking Human Rights from a bunch of self-righteous loser hypocrites?  This sudden departure from the council did not come out of nowhere.  First the council unfairly condemned Israel for having snipers shoot countless protesters, killing scores, hospitalizing thousands.   Next they attacked us directly!     The UN Council on Human Rights is poised to release a report about the extent and conditions of extreme poverty in the United States.

“It’s patently ridiculous for the United Nations to examine poverty in America,” U.S. Ambassador Haley Barber said in response to the Special Rapporteur’s report.   Fair enough, Ms. Barber, if you say so.   Just because the U.S. has vast numbers of citizens,  an estimated 5.3 million (out of 40 million in poverty), living in desperate Third World type poverty is none of anyone’s damn business.  Making a big deal about falling American life expectancy, an infant mortality rate as high as in many very poor countries, America’s informed choice not to recognize the human rights of children,  outrageous meddling!   It is no business of a bunch of Socialist America haters to “impartially” investigate and write preposterous, hateful, patently ridiculous reports about us.   They’re our fucking poor people and we’ll deal with those selfish parasites, including the 13 million so-called children in poverty, as we fucking see fit, Sir.  We’ve got your Human Rights Council right here (grab crotch), bitches!

It’s not right to call them Nazis, I’ll be the first to remind you.  Assholes, yes, vicious assholes, sure, but Nazis… not quite yet.   Still, this administration is taking steady, consistent steps toward a kind of American authoritarianism.   The destruction of critical thought is the first thing that must be achieved, to allow incoherent partisan buzzwords to carry every argument.  

Think of the incoherent messages about this policy of taking children from their parents, the citing of biblical scripture to justify it, the denials about the policy, the indignant objection to cages being referred to as cages, the blaming of Democrats for the policy, the sudden reversal of the policy by executive order.  None of that really matters, if we are really ready for the end of our democracy.   The silencing of all thoughtful criticism leads to the acceptance of incoherent narratives.  This process is crucial for anyone seeking absolute control over a population.  Silence the critics and you’re most of the way home.  The lying media, enemy of the people, knows this too.  Those bastards need to be made to fall into line, by hook or by crook.

Once the possibility of  coherent public discussion is eliminated, the rest is pretty much downhill for any motherfucker, already in the highest position in our government, who would become Supreme Leader.   The test of American democracy is upon us all.  The good news is that’s its a pass/fail exam, which is also, sadly, the bad news.

 

Delcog III

Here on Delcog III we don’t mess around with pie in the sky, or touchy feeliness either.  Life here is as frightening as it wants to be, and nobody on the planet has any quaint illusions that it could be any different. 

“Oh, yeah, Delcog III, isn’t that a bit lame, sir?” a blunt reader might ask.

“A bit lame, earthling, sure, as lame as you like.  It could not be otherwise, no matter what color glasses you put on, no matter what olfactory filter you dial in.  The air here, for example, you cannot breathe it.  When your tank runs out you will die in four or five agonizing minutes,”  the Delcog looked off indifferently, then went back about its business.

And you wonder, who is the narrator here?  Who is Delcog?  Why am I suddenly part of this story?   Is it true about the atmosphere on “Delcog III”?  Am I living in a fool’s paradise of bottled air, will it run out and will I asphyxiate?

“You may scoff at Deleterious Cognition,” said the Delcog, “you may think it is the same as plain pessimism, or depression, mere expectation of the worst.  But it is more than a passive expectation of the worst, I assure you, my soon to be oxygen deprived friend,” the Delcog gave its version of a smile.  It was as bad as the confident prediction of an agonizing death.  

“Cognition,” continued the Delcog mercilessly, “is a thought process that involves perception, gathering information, digesting it and using it to make informed predictions while assessing various risk factors.  You label it Deleterious and we embrace that label, yes, cognition can be deleterious– to wishful illusion, for one thing.  Your dreams, my friend, they depend very much on your oxygen supply.  I note that you are wearing a four hour tank and that the gauge reads 5%.  Let us do the math together– 50% would be 2 hours of breathing time, or 120 minutes.  5% of four hours, therefore, is a tenth of 2 hours or 12 minutes.  I suppose we can round it down to eleven now.”

You know, I’m thinking I don’t have to take this kind of crap from some pedantic literary invention, yet I stand here, under the winking blackness.  I’m interested to hear what this sick bastard has to say.

“Of course you are,” said the Delcog agreeably, moving seamlessly into the past tense, “instead of making your way back to the ship to replenish your air supply you are listening to me rattle on with breath so bad that, I dare say, if you were not wearing the mask and breathing apparatus you would be unable to stand so close to me.  The ship, by the way, is at least seven minutes from us, so in three or four minutes the point will be as moot, as mute, as the song you imagine you are hearing.”  

The music I hadn’t been aware of swelled thrillingly, and along with it a sense of hope, soaring.  That is one amazing aspect of music I sometimes forget, it can fill you with feeling, sometimes impossible to express except through music.  

“Yes, that’s fantastic,” said the Delcog with a slight smirk, “talk about music, since it is more precious, apparently, than life itself.  It’s kind of funny: choosing music over life, since in the afterlife everybody is deaf.”

Now the Delcog had gone too far.  I was thinking about zapping him with my bop gun, raising some funk and a little sand too.  But what if he was right about the atmosphere being poison for me to breathe?  

“By way of example,” the Delcog said, “and forgetting about your insoluble breathing emergency a few minutes from now, you are writing this instead of working on a business plan, instead of figuring out how to recruit the crucial people that will allow your plan to move forward, instead of working on strategies to network and sell your idea.  Whatever you think about capitalism, baby, you’ve got to raise capital if you want your own business.  The widgets your business will make are no different than any other widgets, they’ve got to be branded, marketed, dressed in short skirts and marched out into the marketplace.  You think you are doing something special since you are ‘nonprofit’.   That’s very funny, if you think about it for a minute.  Oh, I forgot, you don’t really have a minute… that’s a little Delcog III joke… you actually have maybe nine minutes, or, actually, two– to decide to hightail it back to the ship and see if they can get the hatch open in time.” 

It was wearying talking to this guy, but I was already weary.  I got to thinking it was a long shot to make it back to the ship in time to save myself.  The music had stopped, I felt sick, sweaty and claustrophobic in my space suit.  I had to get out of it.  I pulled off the face mask, and, outside of the fartlike smell of the Delcog, who hadn’t been wrong about his breath, the air was very much like the air in a dank basement.  It didn’t smell very fresh, but it was fine to breathe.  I winked at the Delcog and went on my miserable way, shrugging into a long sideways leap in the low gravity of Delcog III.