The Crowning Achievements of Coronavirus

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Obligatory documentation of the empty toilet paper aisle (suburb of Atlanta, GA).

  • Staying at home and ordering in is an act of heroism in the developed world.
  • Staying at home and ordering in is too much to ask of some Americans. Wonder whether the people who attended Spring Break during corona-season are more or less likely to be drunk drivers?
  • Referring to a virus by the country of its origin is racist. Time to issue reparations to Spain.
  • Trump didn’t do enough.
  • Trump did too much.
  • Trump caused corona.
  • Thanks, Obama.
  • The fear of not being able to wipe one’s anus comfortably is worse than the fear of starvation (somebody tell these people that bowel movements cease during starvation, please).
  • For those who do fear starvation, Southerners prefer alcohol and chips where Northerners prefer soda and frozen meals. How can my fellow Southerners be more obese but have less appreciation for caloric density?!
  • Bill Gates left Microsoft to team up with MIT on solving this problem. The solution? An infrared visible tattoo that administers vaccine and testifies to the fact that it has been administered. Great. ‘Papers please’ wasn’t enough, we needed to go ahead and incorporate The Mark of the Beast. It wasn’t sufficient that the Dalai Lama has been displaced, Muslims cannot make their pilgrimages, Jews are rumored to have begun reconvening a Sanhedrin upon the birth of the long-awaited perfect red heifer, etc, etc. We needed to start beta-testing the key premise of how the Antichrist will rule the world. Mr. Gates, I know those DMT clockwork elves you encountered at all those Eyes Wide Shut ‘summits’ told you to do this, and that they’re some benevolent talking-to-Jody-Foster-in-Contact aliens, and that you can help them usher in the next stage of human evolution, but unless you consider Dante’s Inferno to be a great vacation pamphlet, it’s time to pump the breaks.
  • 2008 taught us that if a bank is sufficiently ‘big,’ the United States government will not allow it to fail. 2020 now adds the realization that, because these big banks would fail if their corporate debtors defaulted, the businesses they loan to cannot be allowed to fail either. This seems to have given birth to the first purely verbal internet meme in memory: “We have privatized profits and publicized losses.” This wide-spread realization, that the average citizen is required to pull themselves up by the bootstraps, while captains of industry and their financiers are infinitely coddled, is–it seems an understatement to say–the stuff revolutions are made of. Indeed, I am left to ponder whether this meme will eventually be cited alongside “Let them eat cake” in the history books. The fact that this cat has been let out of the bag (more of a tiger) has not entirely escaped the powers-that-be, for instead of a brazen ’08 style bail-out they are now taking public stake in the companies they wish to save. Though no less of a catastrophic precedent to set given enough time to play out, this does at least feel a bit more honest. Instead of having politicians bail out the businesses they are shareholders of, just have their government own them outright–saves on money manager fees. And if that’s not good enough, send a pittance of Fed monopoly money to the masses so they don’t start constructing the guillotines quite yet. I am left feeling numb at the realization that we appear deadset upon discovering a sci-fi dystopia Worst of Both Worlds: small business capitalism alongside Big Business socialism, and no hint of irony in sight.
  • Farmer and trucker unions should reorganize into massive, 99% bank-indebted corporations ASAP.

Authors’ (Financial) Self-Pity

The Authors Guild has released its report, The Profession of Author in the 21st Century, and therein they play their role as advocates quite well. And though they are arguably on my side, working for my potential, hypothetical benefit, I cannot help but ponder if a similar report was penned by some scriveners’ guild at the advent of the printing press.

We are greeted firstly with the figure that

half (54%) of full-time authors surveyed earned less than the federal
poverty threshold of $12,488 from their writing.

$12,488 divided by 2,080 (full-time hours per year) equals almost exactly $6.00 per hour. So, right off the bat, we’re expected to believe that anyone is writing full-time for less than a fast-food restaurant’s entry wage. Perhaps it is judgemental of me, but it sure seems like these “full-time authors” are either

  • of independent means, in which case the profitability of their writing does not effect their ability to continue writing
  • playing fast and loose with “full-time.”

Quickly on this figure’s heels comes the claim that

An alarming 23% of full-time authors reported earning zero income from books in 2017.

The definition of spending 40 hours a week on a pursuit that doesn’t generate income is a “hobby,” not a “full-time” job. I say this as one hobbyist among many who would love to transition to full-time some day.

Later, we get a little less fast-and-loose with the definition when we are told that

For “full-time authors” who earned any income (excluding those who earned zero
income), the median writing-related income was $20,300, of which book-related income was $11,900. These full-time authors contributed 48% of their household’s total income in 2017.

The U.S.’s median household income in 2017 was $61,372. Multiplied for the other half, this means households with a full-time writer in them achieve a median of $40,600, or 2/3rds that of their non-writer peers. I am not economically-fluent enough to hazard a guess, but I would still pose the question: is 2/3rds really that shocking, when one considers that this is an artistic profession competing against trades and sciences?

Perhaps more interesting is the insight that

The number of self-published books increased 40% between 2017 and 2018 alone, to 1.6 million titles, according to Bowker, the agency that issues ISBN numbers.

Here we have a concrete factor that may harm serious authors (be they hobbyists or working professionals). They are being drowned out and diluted down by everyone-and-their-monkey’s-uncle “publishing.” One suspects that this began with social media itself rather than the availability of self-publishing services; for good or ill we have made everyone with an opinion “a writer,” however informed, original, or vice versa they may be. Who dares try to put the lid back on Pandora’s box?

After a few mandatory lashes of leftwing self-flagellation about inequalities in publishing (including the ‘no duh’ instances of Stephen Kings and JK Rowlings financially kicking our collective behinds), we finally get to the heart of the matter.

In 2017, only about 53% of Americans read a book that wasn’t for work or school, down from about 57% in 2002; only about 42% of Americans read a novel, according to the National Endowment for the Arts.

In a country where only half of people read by choice at all, and where most of them–like any other human–are only going to take a purchasing chance on a name they’ve heard before, shame on us if we’re surprised that writing isn’t a viable profession any more. Jeff Bezos may be the antichrist of the publishing world, but he isn’t the one who made Americans decide to stop reading.

The final and perhaps most cringe-worthy instance within this study is its unironic citation of the essay How to Lose a Third of a Million Dollars Without Really Trying. To summarize, this is the sadly-true tale of an author who made the transition from hobbyist to professional, only to find that making the financial decisions of a stereotypical 1980’s rockstar was probably a bad move. Numerous repetitions and variations upon, “why didn’t someone tell me?!” ensue. I have a couple thoughts on this.

  • If you have the discipline to read books in order to research your own, you can take an afternoon to read Dave Ramsey.
  • Anyone who could go through the current smarmy hazing ritual of seeking a literary agent, only to then expect that they are going to offer you sage advice at the pyramid’s peak, probably needs to live a little bit longer before they try to impart information to others in book-form.

To summarize: Bukowski was right, and now we know how painters feel.

Political Paradox & What Lies Beneath

I’ve long held, somewhat in keeping with the Eastern idea of yin and yang, that extremes on opposite ends of the political spectrum will eventually become indiscernible. They do, after all, share an inherently extremist nature, and the personalities drawn to extremism are usually slight variations upon one another, whether their wide-eyed, tight-fisted credo be religious or atheist, fascist or communist.

This, coupled with my general sense that the politics of the developed world have become almost entirely faux (more on that in a moment), has caused me to anticipate the day when Rightwingers would espouse liberal ideas, and Leftwingers would espouse illiberal ideas, without the slightest hint of irony. (Self-awareness, after all, tends to put a damper on extremism). Based on myriad recent articles, this wait may be over.

Let me briefly summarize what I mean by faux-politics. I believe the developed world has become jaded and trite to the extent that no significant political change is possible in the absence of mortal danger. To those who live with universal access to indoor plumbing, grocery stores, and libraries, much less the internet, no amount of self-righteous political indignation is going to inspire them to take action in a meaningful (and thus difficult or risky) fashion. Workers of the World Unite, right after I finish this Netflix series! Or, to put it another way, the Orange Man may be bad, but not so bad that it’s worth risking my precious life over.

The only genuine exceptions to this rule are, unfortunately, the lone mass-murderers of the past two decades, who conduct their ‘revolution’ against the entire species. I suspect there is some terrible truth undergirding these madmen–perhaps a mere sense that we have transcended race, class, and all other metrics by which to accurately apportion political blame, since we have all contributed whatever dollars we had to turning God’s creation into one big theme park. One cannot help but notice that they seem to have more-or-less replaced the serial killers are of the ’70s and ’80s. The attitude, the stance, of the contemporary killer is fundamentally different. Theirs is not crime to be gotten away with, but a gospel to be shouted from the rooftops.

I turn, for my examples of this political paradox (illiberal liberals and liberal conservatives) to two articles in particular. The first is by a feminist group attempting to goad governments into banning sex robots before they become as commonplace as Iphones. And while the article is quite old in internet time, their cause is just now gaining traction. Herein we witness persons ideologically liberal calling on the government to ban a sex toy, condemning pornography entire, and opining that there is a

crisis brewing in human attachment. Attachment is the ability for humans to form stable, long lasting, meaningful interpersonal relationships that support mutual co-existence throughout life.

Let us scan the horizon for flying pigs upon the realization that leftists are now worrying about ‘family values!’ One has to wonder how many snide comments were made by these very campaigners against Christian conservatives for the identical hand-wringing and pearl-clutching that they are now frantically engaged in decades later? It appears they who made the promiscuous beds have realized they must now lie in them. One can almost picture their heads spinning ala The Exorcist as they unsuccessfully attempt to figure out how to undo male sexual liberation without curtailing female sexual liberation. Consider these passages:

Hierarchical male loss of power that is organised through traditional power structures have been diminishing over the last 100 years, the 1960s which marked the rise of feminism aimed to improve equality between the sexes, yet a commercial prostitution and porn trade grew up in parallel, that was open and legal…In the 1960s and 1970s, women had less representation in political life to stop the legalisation of pornography and an expanding commercial sex trade. Women are not on the margins any longer, and we can face head on this attack on female humanity by male dominated robotics, AI and sex industries.

To recap:

  • sexual liberation occurred “in parallel,” but had nothing to do with, “commercial prostitution and porn”
  • the empathetic, ethical half of the population would have stopped these things if they could, but couldn’t, because reasons
  • But now they can! And it will be a full-on Luddite crusade! Deus Vult?

The second, far more logical article is called The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake. For clickbait purposes, the title is far less compelling, and even does a disservice, to its own excellent article. And while the author is clearly no ideological extremist, I believe his piece can be taken as another sign of political paradox simply because The Atlantic so proudly published it. Herein we are advised to return to the clans of yore–extended, multi-generational families–rather than the mom, dad, two kids, and a dog model caused by the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution. I would have thought that, clickbait title or no, such a wholesome suggestion would be taboo among journalism’s usual individualism-at-any-cost crowd. But apparently even they have stared into the abyss of San Francisco and recoiled at what they saw there. Put down the fentanyl and get thee to a nunnery–or at least the suburbs, for Chrissakes!

Meanwhile on the right, we find the “alt-right” and the “Intellectual Dark Web” irreverently championing free speech while the far-left embraces censorship in the name of anti-fascism and combating “hate speech.” Thus a Canadian professor of psychology became American conservatism’s figurehead. I am reminded of the scene from The Simpsons Movie, wherein, at the apparent End of the World, everyone in the bar runs over to the church, and everyone in the church runs over to the bar (11 seconds in).

If I could boil this phenomenon down to a single word, I think it would have to be decentralization. Yeah, “everything’s coming apart,” but not in quite the apocalyptic way. It may feel like there are more extremists than ever before, or that they are getting louder–but this is not a sign of their strength. It’s a sign that even they are having a hard time taking themselves seriously anymore. The ego of the developed world is in its deaththrows. This process can be halted by catastrophe. But in the absence of any real problems, we are jousting at windmills. The Right is worried about free speech when there’s never been more of it; the Left is worried about violence when there’s never been less of it. We’re continuing to take turns in a game that no longer exists. I think it’ll end when we really and truly realize that we don’t need each other anymore. Necessity has been removed as a factor. We’re about to find out who we really are, and we’re going to do it alone.

Artist-Over-Art and Becoming What One Despises

Carlos Greaves’ recent McSweeney’s piece (which satirizes authors writing novels about contemporary communities they do not belong to) is one for the history books. Within it he manages to straddle the very delicate balance of espousing an opinion the political left-wing, particularly the Twitter left-wing, would wholeheartedly agree with, without coming off as a triggered snowflake exposed to right-wing lampooning. He does this with blatant, self-aware strawman-ing (watching Desperate Housewives as sufficient research) and by sharing the satirical ire among the intended authors and their effete publishers and reviewers (Ricky Martin and Antonio Banderas as the sycophantic critics of the dubious novel). While I doubt Mark Twain would endorse Greaves’ message, I suspect he would acknowledge its fine craftsmanship.

Without intending to kill the enjoyable catharsis of comedy by over-analysis, one can’t help but take the piece a bit literally since it comes so close on the heels of the American Dirt debacle, wherein authors have arguably called for the censorship of another author on identity-politic grounds. The offender is a “white Latina” who apparently isn’t Latina enough to write a novel about Mexico. Whether there are actual, factual inaccuracies in the book that add to the validity of these criticisms, I do not know. But I do know that I utterly detest what this phenomenon represents on a grander scale: Artist-Over-Art.

“Blind” submission processes exist for a reason–good art is good art regardless of who made it. If Hitler painted a decent architectural scene, that painting remains decent no matter how indecent the man. This is one of the many ‘unwritten rules’ of Western civilization that postmodernists (or Marxists-about-Starbucks, as I call them) would like to do away with, for it is impossible to enforce equality within any unconstrained–and thus Darwinian–space. Their argument, of course, is that inequality has been enforced by historic socio-cultural racio-religious norms, and thus that they are merely attempting to restore an equitable balance by subverting oppressive tradition. My casual reply to this is basically that I do not consider a Harrison Bergereon reality to be more desirable than a Hunger Games reality–and indeed, it seems to me that a Hunger Games has greater potential to cause unintentionally noble outcomes. And with ever-increasing numbers of presses and literary agents feeling the need to stipulate who they want to publish more-so than what they want to publish, it appears that they are well on the way to dethroning the identity-impartiality of artistic creation. Social justice, it seems, is not blind.

I suspect this outcome will be most pleasing until an ethno-state decides to appropriate it–then will there be much weeping and gnashing of teeth as the ‘antifascists’ realize that they were the ones to renew a core tenant of fascistic speech restriction. In the developed world’s smug self-satisfaction, we have utterly forgotten a crucial realization born of World War 2: whether the man with the gun is wearing the Deathshead and calls you a filthy Jew, or is wearing the Hammer-and-Sickle and calls you a filthy capitalist, he is still going to shoot you. Or, perhaps we have not forgotten it; perhaps we only care which side of the gun we are on.

I also find it odd that many of the masons who are busy paving this road to hell continue to delight in calling others Uncle Tom’s. I am afraid that the historical social-cultural racio-religious origins of that expression are from Harriet Beecher Stowe–a white woman writing about African Americans. So, per your own insistence that persons who are not from a particular community may not write about a particular community, kindly invent your own invective. Mrs Stowe isn’t the only casualty to the feminist authorship cause either: Pearl S Buck’s wonderful The Good Earth has got to go, seeing as she wasn’t Chinese. And we can’t just pick on the ladies, either. Where did that Frenchman get off critiquing Americans, anyway? There goes Democracy in America. In fact, the entire genre of travel literature can be done away with. Cya, Marco Polo. Julius Caesar contribute to our understanding of Gaul? Please! Come to think of it, we better just start burning books to be safe.

Despite these and many more unintended consequences, I don’t think I would be nearly so irked by these social justice fixations if their proselytizers seemed just a tad more genuine. Surely that’s the key to being a successful extremist or fundamentalist; you at least have to come across as consistent and committed. Think Che Guevera. While Fidel hammed it up in the 5-star hotels, he was off to the next jungle. But these callousless hands clutched about Apple products, likely shaking from their ever-burgeoning collection of antidepressants? Why, I wouldn’t follow them into a Chuck E Cheese, much less a battlefield. Unfortunately, it is those very hands that are going to start determining elections in the near future. Voyeurs who breath the air of the real world without ever having dipped a pinky within it are soon to control it. The meek shall inherit the Earth indeed; but unfortunately it seems they are not meek about letting institutions do their dirty work for them.

A Fond Farewell, & Musings on Friendship

Pyramids of cardboard are rising, bubble-wrap roles are unfurling, and contract ink is drying. The ritual of moving has commenced once more, but this time I’m headed back to a familiar place–indeed, the only place I consider truly familiar. I’ve always had a superstition that it is preferable to leave this world in roughly the same vicinity where one entered it, and now that unspoken wish is coming true. I’m headed back to Georgia, and I fully intend never to leave her again.

Moving tests all the pressure points of one’s life, but primarily the one which concerns whether you’re still clinging to too much stuff. In needing to render all my possessions transportable, I’ve found a great incongruity. My ‘personal effects,’ meaning basically everything except my library and PC, are looking desirably lean.

personal effects

The same cannot be said of my books. Unbelievably, this is what my library look like after many stops at Tyler’s Half Price Books to offload the excess. A final immoderate habit to be brought into balance, perhaps:

book boxes

And while I cannot confess any general reticence to leave East Texas for my motherland, the most difficult part of the move by far has been saying goodbye to the Jacksonville Library poetry group. I owe them, and particularly the group’s founder Peter, a great debt of gratitude. While I did not and still do not consider myself to be a talented poet, I found just being immersed among similarly bookish souls not only therapeutic, but evolutionary.

When a writer finds other writers, one experiences a great relief to find that they are not necessarily the eternal Stranger in a Strange Land that they had imagined. Particular friendships may then mature into Iron Sharping Iron–the blessed ability to be told not just what is wrong with one’s work but how to fix it. People today are generally scared to help one another, for one never knows just what they are getting into when they write a blank check of kindness without the safeguard of mutual traditions and proprieties. But writers, it seems to me, have maintained their generosity, by virtue of the fact that each and every one of us is bound by an ambition that is not inherently competitive, and a loathing for linguistic mediocrity. If you do not yet feel comfortable helping the person, you may yet be willing to come to the aid of that person’s writings. Such is the loophole we scribblers have discovered to escape the burgeoning social isolationism of modernity.

Hoheisel Library Farewell

Thus, any ego that is not too delicate for a little bruising–or any ego that is at least willing to concede it is an ego–can still find mentors to sit at the feet of, or masters to apprentice beside. Similar to the meritocracy of late Japanese bushido, wherein even the masterless (ronin) Musashi could become the national sword-saint due to his self-evident superiority over those of greater rank, the meritocracy of writers remains organic and pure.

Some might find that latter paragraph incongruous with the fact that my Sage of Jacksonville was a retired professor of literature and philosophy. But I would counter that there was nothing more culturally unlikely, than for our generational divide to prove absolutely inconsequential compared to the mutual respect we immediately felt for one another as writers. Old souls are dated outside of time.

Thus, due to what began as the simple trading of self-published booklets at a library event that I debated even attending, I am leaving East Texas a far more defined (and refined) intellect than I entered it. And Peter has two officially published books of poetry to show for our collaboration. Perhaps this is miraculous. But I think Peter might agree with me that this is more a case of ‘normal’ life taking on miraculous aspects when we choose to let it.

I will confess, it would have been quite easy for me to conclude five years ago that East Texas held nothing for me–that I was on my own, excepting relatives. Indeed, I tried and failed to make friends several times, and even quit a job, due to a total cultural disconnect. But had I not–through inner stubbornness or divine intervention–continued to seek a friend, I would have missed out on the most important friendship of my life to date, and perhaps the most important I will ever have. Defeats that do not involve death are always optional. I suspect that realization is a cornerstone of many blessings this life has to offer.

A Real Writer?

I just received my first manuscript rejection from a New York literary agent.

I’m relieved to have this mandatory hazing ritual out of the way. Strangely, I feel more like “a real writer” now than any minor successes have ever caused. Perhaps I am consoled by a small sense of pride that this didn’t emotionally phase me. The juvenile phase of self-righteous indignation whenever someone calls “my baby” ugly has come and gone, thank God. (If fact, for a rejection it was quite civil).

I know that I’m happy with what I wrote; I know it can make some money for myself and some press; and I know there isn’t an agent or press on Earth who’s going to tell me “it’s perfect as it is; we’ll print it at once!”

There is an eerie peace to be had in knowing that it is now beyond my strength to alter without the aid of a professional editor. In some metaphysical sense, the process is already over. I just have to keep submitting.

Peter Hoheisel’s ‘South to the Rio Grande’ Available Now!

Hoheisel SttRG Facebook Announcement

My friend Prof. Peter Hoheisel’s new poetry book, South to the Rio Grande, is now available for purchase. It was a pleasure to work as his editor and defacto agent throughout this process, eventually finding the perfect home for this manuscript at New York’s Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

Peter is a free-verse poet inspired by the likes of Yeats and Rexroth, and his book comes as a breath of fresh air to anyone who still likes their poetry decipherable and meaningful.

You can read more about our collaboration, including an interview I conducted with him and our dual-appearance on a radio program, here.