Why Write A Novel Laid In The 1980s?  Isn't That Passé?

Isn't It Egotistic To Write A Novel In The First-Person?


Political Correctness


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There are two answers to that question.  One of the answers deals with the genesis of the novel; the other with the question of relevance, itself, and what that means.


1.  I originally began writing the novel in 1980, foresaw a lengthy (but reasonable) task lying ahead of me, and therefore calibrated the start-time of the novel's main story line as about 1986.  It was my intention to write a novel immersed in, and interacting with, my own times.  I hoped that it would lead me more directly, via the potential impact of culture, into engagement with the troubling issues of my own era of youth, at its most intense, hopeful and ambitious.  Inspired by the culture heroes of the 1950s and 1960s who had done so much to move the earth on their watch - titans like Kerouac, Ginsberg, Dylan, and Lennon - and impressed by some of the surviving warriors and emerging figures of the late 1970s and early 1980s, who I wished to join in some capacity - the novel was to be my entry into the defining turbulence of my generation.  At that time, the Cold War was still raging, 'Star Wars' defense systems were being planned and old treaties controlling the nuclear environment (such as the ABM Treaty of 1972) thrown out the window; Apartheid was up and running and even seemed to be getting support in high places; revolutions, counterrevolutions and counterinsurgency were rampant in Central America, there were death squads in El Salvador and campaigns of genocide in Guatemala; conservative forces were in the midst of launching a cultural war against 'liberals', progressives and the concept of the secular state; military spending was going up, social services were being cut, and the poor were being blamed for being poor.  The natural environment was also being shamelessly degraded and threatened, and progress made previously in stemming the tide of the ecological calamity was, itself, being rolled back.  And, of course, new waves of conformity were smashing down upon the individual, whose gains in lifestyle-freedom in the 1960s were now being attacked as 'un-American' or 'decadent.'  The incipient MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS drew on all of this and sought to right the wrongs via a powerful fantasy which would spill over into reality, and inspire real people to take real actions in the real world.  Rather like the ceremonies performed in some cultures before the hunt, in which a ritualized enactment of the successful hunt desired would be carried out (with the expectation that the intention, visualization and dramatization of that outcome would magically interact with, and shape, the real world), the writing of THE MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS was always meant to be more than the creation of a mere work of fiction:  it was meant to be something of a magic spell cast into the world to affect it, and subject it to the unleashed power of the community of readers brought together by the book, and energized by the dream embodied by it.  Perhaps it should be said, here, that I always recognized the debts I owed.  The book was not meant to START something amazing - that something amazing was already here, imbedded in the human sense of justice and life, and the struggles of millions of people already carrying pieces of the world on their shoulders.  The book was meant to REFLECT that back at the people who were doing more than I was, to REMIND them of their strength and help to POPULATE their battles with new allies:  to bring many disparate pieces of the necessary global transformation together in a new configuration  of alliances, and with an enlarged and empowered sense of unity.

However, this initial plan of mine - this dream of injecting a book about the 1980s, written during the 1980s, into the 1980s, in order to affect the 1980s, did not come to pass.  Economic struggles, relationship demands, my own flaws as a writer (especially my lack of succinctness) and close-minded publishers all combined to beat me back from my beloved desk which I have always referred to as 'the mighty cockpit'; to ground my flights of activist fantasy (my revolution camouflaged as fiction), and drive me back into the woodwork of neutralized dreamers, who are everywhere around us, trying to reach us through the silence of the weights that are crushing them.  Stunted in this way, I did the best I could in the 1980s and in the years that followed, contributing as a part-time activist and, hopefully, being a good friend to my friends (for the hope of the world is rooted in friendship). But the book was gone...

Only two decades later, around the year 2006, was I finally able to fight my way back to a lifestyle-territory which would allow me to pick up the unfinished novel that was my youth's beating heart, and try to bring it back to life.  Literary CPR was in order, but was it too late?  Was the novel dead, its time past, its hope no longer resonant, its joy now numb from loss and from age?  How does an old man pick up a young man's novel, and run with it, with old legs?  My first plan was merely to 'cap' the novel - to type it up into a presentable form from the original handwritten pages, and then round off its sad, truncated form with some kind of summary of what was to have happened, accompanied by an apology ('the writer is dead, killed by a world that does not love writers.') But as I typed up the part of the novel I had managed to write in the 1980s before I was dragged back into the world of donkey-people without time or a voice, I fell in love with the terribly imperfect tale which was soaked with my aspirations, illusions, and most precious dreams.  I felt that to merely cap it off would be a terrible injustice, and something unbearably sad, like burying the person you most love; watching their coffin being lowered into the ground and knowing that no one and nothing else will ever fill that empty place in your life.  You will be empty forever, utterly desolate and alone. And I rose up against that.  Inspired by my love of who I had tried to be, and all the people who were at my side when I tried to be that person, I fought against my tiredness and age, to will new growth into the story; I let my youth grab me and drag me back into it, pushed my aches to the side, forced open the door of weariness which led to the treasure room, where the jewels of the imagination still sparkled.  I would not let this novel die, I fought for it, with every last ounce of strength!  And so - years later, and with the aches I pushed aside, now that it is done, reasserting their presence - here it is:  THE MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS!  Which brings us to the second answer to the question of 'isn't this novel passé?'


2.  Even though THE MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS was meant for the 1980s, and the audience of the 1980s, if you look at things another way, we live in a world of constantly recurring themes.  Each generation has its own unique tasks to fulfill, its own unique friends, enemies, challenges, its own special identity; and yet, the archetypes of the struggle persist.  Just as the deck of Tarot cards has the Emperor, the High Priestess, the Hierophant, the Hanged Man, and the Lovers, so history has its archetypal forces, its eternal characters and its recurring forms of battle.  Cases in point:

(a) You have Euripides writing about Antigone in the 5th Century BC, and hundreds of thousands of people marching in the streets and engaging in civil disobedience in the AD 1960s in defiance of the 'tyrannical father':  'treasonous' to the 'laws of men' out of loyalty to the 'laws of the gods.' Antigone reborn.   

(b) You have Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus giving their lives for the sake of social justice in 2nd-century Rome, and Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King paying for their own beautiful ideals in the same way, their assassinations inflicting the same traumatic wounds on society over 2000 years later. 

(c) You have Hannibal Barca's crushing defeats of Roman armies in the 3rd-century BC, warded off by the amazing resilience and will of the Roman people; then, in the middle of the 20th century AD, you have the British smashed on land and bombarded by air, standing up to the incredible fury of the Nazi Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, and weathering the seemingly invincible storm until victory can finally be achieved.

(d)  On a less pivotal but still impactful note, in the 2nd-century AD you have Rome's love of the racehorse Passerinus, the key component on legendary charioteer Gaius Appuleius Diocles' gifted team.  What a beautiful and magnificent animal, and what a wonderful bond between man and horse!  Rome falls in love with them, and momentarily forgets its troubles.  Centuries later, you have Secretariat ridden by Ron Turcotte capturing the imagination and hearts of the American public, creating a magical and wholly irrational sentiment that is nonetheless somehow very profound.

(e)  Finally, you have Moliere's brilliant satires on human behavior, folly, and hypocrisy inspired by the world of 17th-century France, yet only need to look around you today to see the same behaviors and follies, cloaked in new cultural expressions, everywhere alive and well.  Pity the little we have grown!  God bless the ancient barb that still draws blood!

In all these cases, the precise historical-cultural material changes, but the archetypal force underlying it remains and retains its relevance.  Within each time, we can recognize figures from our own times, and vividly perceive our own struggles and our own dreams, our own issues and our own longings:  the ages and decades are merely different settings for the same soul-essences and event-essences, which have assumed different outward forms.  In this sense, time is but a different landscape for the story to take place in: whether that story occurs in a jungle as opposed to the arctic, or in a desert as opposed to a forest, or on another planet as opposed to on the earth, or in the 1980s as opposed to the 2010s, matters little so long as the drama is there and the heart and soul of our eternal striving, suffering and redemption is present.  Thus, a novel laid in the 1980s, so long as the characters and the conflicts are universal and resonant enough, is far from passé.  And I feel this is particularly so with this novel, appearing in this time when so much remains to be done:  when the rumblings of our utopian yearning are as loud as ever, and the night above as dark as ever.

Of course, steps have been taken to explain the existence of a history of the 1980s which is not known to anyone but me!  (If things had gone according to my initial plan, the novel would have taken place in the future relative to the reader, so of course he/she would not be familiar with its story - but now that the novel is taking place in the past relative to the reader, the discrepancy between his/her memory and my account must be resolved!)  Thankfully, we have manipulations of time, alternate realities, other dimensions, parallel time tracks, and a host of other sci-fi possibilities in our toolkit with which to remedy the situation!  They have proved most useful!  And in this way - by counting on the continued resonance of the archetypal dramas embodied in the story, and by adopting a sci-fi concept able to explain the existence of a different history than the one we remember - I have been able to rescue THE MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS from the environment of its origin in the 1980s, and bring it intact and fully functional to this moment in time, which is where I find myself at the end of a very long journey.  Now I see it as a novel which binds together three times, in perpetual service to the free-thinkers and justice-seekers of the planet earth:  the 1960s, whose idealism and cultural-seeking ignited the free spirit within me and defined my soul's trajectory for the rest of my life; the 1980s which was the fiery center of my youth, filling me with the desire to be a part of the great global transformation which had already subsided (and which I therefore needed to help resurrect in the 1980s); and this time, and all times that follow, when people may have need of personality, the unobstructed power of the life force coupled with conscience, and inextinguishable hope in the possibility of a worthy human future.

No, this novel of the 1980s is not passé - its time has just arrived!

JRS Sept 2014

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I hope not!  The story in THE MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS is largely conveyed through the first-person narrative of Freddy Wells (with other parts being conveyed by the hardly invisible narrator Victor Rutherford, and a couple of other fictional voices).  People who know me will at once suspect that I have modeled Freddy Wells upon myself, and that my novel is therefore something of a self-inflation/self-rescue-attempt via fiction:  a case of "the poor, insignificant writer saving himself by creating a superior fantasy version of himself, who then proceeds to do, in fantasy, all the things the real one could not and cannot do in reality."  Or, as others might put of it, a case of "the minnow dreaming itself a whale..."  And is that not, ultimately, egotistic and self-aggrandizing?

I have another theory!

According to that (most convenient) theory, literature and art is largely built upon acts of identification - upon the existence of material which we can relate to and hurl ourselves into and immerse ourselves in and become a fundamental part of.  That is what makes it gripping, personal, and relevant...  Rather than viewing that experience of identification as egotistic (when we bond with a hero, for example), we can regard it as healing, expanding, sometimes cathartic, and sometimes metamorphic:  as an aid in our survival in a world of stress and degradation, and as a tool in our growth and our development into fuller human beings.  For me, the writing of a novel narrated by a character modeled on some aspects of myself, and then built up (and in some cases lowered) with massive amounts of fantasy, was not so much an attempt to erase my shortcomings with a dream, or to adopt a pretense of being more than I was, as it was an attempt to become more than I was.  By projecting a mythic self beyond the borders of my abilities and accomplishments, it was surely my deepest hope to expand my capabilities and those of all others finding resonance in the character I had created, who was a vessel meant for cohabitation by millions; to draw us beyond the borders of our limitations towards the star of fantasy we, together (through the writing and reading of the novel), had put into sky; and to thereby become bigger, and better able to serve the needs of the earth.  Such has always been the role of heroes, and the justification for writers shaping the clay of their prosaic reality into heroic forms; and the justification for readers occupying those created forms with their psyches.  THE MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS is a novel about problems of all kinds - some solved in specific times and places, but nonetheless representative of problems that still exist, and some totally unsolved; and it is a novel of human beings becoming greater than they were to start in order to take on these problems which would otherwise be too much for them.  In this context, the stirring-up of the hero energy in each of us through the empowering battle-cry of fantasy is an exceedingly acceptable activity, in my opinion, and one which I will not blame myself for!

Besides all this, there is just the technical and aesthetic aspect of writing in the first-person, which I have always found attractive (though I have not always utilized it).  Melville used this narrative style in MOBY DICK; Dostoevsky used it in NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND; HG Wells used it in THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, Jules Verne in 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA, and Edgar Rice Burroughs favored it in his tales of BARSOOM.  It has been around and got around.  What I especially like about the style is the way it allows a greater infusion of personality into the tale:  the way it is able to somehow make it more direct, more engaging, more open to reader involvement, and more spacious for the development of feeling and thought.  The story is no longer seen through a remote lens, as it were, but felt from the inside of a participant:  it comes straight out of his mind, leaps vigorously from his heart, emerges smoldering out of his guts; there is intimacy and thereness in it, something of the diary and the stamp of the eyewitness to add credibility to it.  Of course, there are drawbacks, as well (the typical drawbacks of seeing things from the ground), but also ways of getting around most of those drawbacks, especially in the presence of forgiving readers!

For both of these reasons - for the greater emotional connection afforded by the first-person narrative, and for the desire to use this novel as a means of self-construction (among other things) - I chose (or just began) to write THE MARCH OF THE ECCENTRICS in the first-person (mainly).  Next time we'll talk about my use of parentheses!


JRS, Oct 2014

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Inhibitions - my great enemy in life:  destroyer, imprisoner, limiter - I rise up against you in open revolt, I take arms against you with my writing.  Everything denied to me, stolen from me, censored by me in loyalty to those who understood half as much as me and felt half as much as me, I pour it into my writing:  to it, I offer this sanctuary of fiction, this second chance; and when it has grown strong enough behind closed doors, this life I feared to live -- and when it has been brought back to life -- I shall throw open the doors to the world I hid from, and let it out, that you shall know it, and through it, know what I am meant to give! 

Inhibitions - not just a form of politeness, not just an innocent concession to convention...

As the years add up, the wear and tear of repressing one's own life force begins to exact a toll.  It is as in the autumn, when the green vibrancy of the forest begins to falter and fade, when the leaves dry up, turn beautiful colors that are their way of saying good-bye, and flutter like lost opportunities to the ground, leaving behind them trees that are bare and sad, like people who have forgotten how to sing and dance:  like people sitting alone with memories, many of which are only regrets...

What damage my inhibitions have done!

I think of the girls I was too afraid to ask out - that terrible fear of rejection, of doing something wrong, of creating something awkward and miserable for everyone.  What rivers of beauty flowed past me while I stood by, helpless on the shore!  And whose life may I have wrecked by not being in it?

I think of the breaks I threw away: once again the fear of rejection, the fear of possibly finding out I was despised, of having fragile things I was fond of dropped and broken; sometimes, the fear of becoming like everyone else, of groveling, licking, and begging in order to receive a crown, to be anointed King through an act of abject submission ... the fear so exaggerated that I would not even knock on a door.

I think of the friendships and relationships I could have made fully bloom, but which I let stay low, at altitudes of disappointment and friction, because I had been taught that asking for more was selfish, dangerous... you do not rock the boat that floats, even if it is headed towards the island of dissatisfaction.

I think of the people who may have died because I was not a tiger, because I did not charge with utter disregard for the opinions of the tame which have become a wall encircling us, strangling us, stunting us, keeping us away from what we need to live.  I think of the people whose hope withered on the vine of my religion of not upsetting strangers, of not making waves, of not overturning things, of not disturbing the tranquility of our slow murder.  

I think of my years of loyalty to the blind, the brainwashed, the manipulative, and the already-beaten; I think of my years of servitude to the crushed and the broken:  my suicidal deference to the furious slaves, who swarm like bees to defend the hive that is killing them, which is their new faith; my self-effacing solidarity with the victims of the great soul theft, those of the empty eyes and fragile nerves, jumping at the slightest sign of passion, which frightens them like the shadow of a predator.

Inhibitions!  I have had enough of them!  I have lost enough years to them, lost enough friends to them:  people who I was too dutiful to pull out of the quicksand; people who needed a bank robber, a mugger, a guerrilla, not a conformist -- or what is just as bad as a conformist, a halfway rebel, a rebel who did not go all the way, a rebel still tied to those who were destroying him, clearing his conscience but not changing a thing!  (And what worse sin is there in a poison world, than not changing a thing?)

I know that some people will peer into this book, in which I lived, in fantasy, the life I had been trained not to live in reality, and they will scream:  "Blasphemy!  Shamelessness!  Perversity!  Corruption!"  And they will scream this with their feet standing in the mud of a world that uses people like they were slaves, draining them and breaking them and discarding them; they will say this while standing in the mud of a world that tosses millions into the pit of poverty, a world whose smokestacks billow clouds of poison into the air, and whose philosophies fill the earth with the haze of injustice; they will say this while standing in the mud of violence, war, oppression, indifference, prejudice and hate.   And I will finally answer back:  "I don't care."  The time of being held back by false allegiances is over.  In the hands of those who would hold me back, the world is dying.  Their morality and the high places from which they despise me have done nothing to ameliorate the disaster.  Their loud voices, for which I have kept mine quiet, have not given the answer, their hands on the ship's wheel have not guided us to land. It is a time for new captains, new navigators, new compasses, new hearts - hearts that feel, not follow.  

Yes, it is time for the inhibitions to go.  It is time for the social restraints to be cut, for the devitalizing, life-diminishing protocol of submission to short-sightedness and brokenness to be discarded. 

This book is filled with life, and no apologies are needed. 

Off with the cobwebs of ancient times, of stifled times!

Do you make love while wearing pajamas?  Why should my book treat sex like a frightened Puritan, closing its eyes during an act that is at the very center of life? 

When you are outraged and angry, do you say:  "Please do not behave like that, it is not nice"?  Why should my book cut off the legs of reality and force characters who are furious, on the street or on the battlefield, to speak like they were elementary school teachers in a classroom filled with seven-year-olds?

When you read the newspapers of the world, do you see only headlines about good people, kind people, normal people, helpful people and unthreatening people and situations?  Why shouldn't my book have the same rights as a newspaper, why should it be pushed into representing a non-controversial golden world that has never existed? 

To cushion the blows of literature in that way would be to destroy its impact, to cut it off from reality, and to thereby ruin its ability to connect with reality and to affect reality.  What are we writing for, then?  Just to provide another distraction, another way to numbly pass the time from birth to death, another form of amusement park ride or donut or candy bar, another means of avoiding recognizing our predicament, or recognizing the plight of those who have been cast into the unheard canyons?

I reject that vision of literature, and I reject the inhibitions which would serve it!  I reject the inhibitions that would silence my true voice; I reject the inhibitions that would keep me from my brothers, hiding in the pockets of obliviousness which we have created to foster separateness; I reject the inhibitions that would keep the lock on the gate to life and the cork in the bottle of love.

From now on until the day I die, I will not repress myself, because in my repression of myself is concealed the repression of multitudes who, like me, believe they are alone; in my repression of myself lies coiled the mastery of the callous and the ineptitude of the compassionate, the might of the vicious, and the harmlessness of the beautiful.  From here on in, I shall cease to care what the world thinks of me, because I care about the world.  Even for those who think they are my enemies and will persecute me for writing this book, I must at last stand up; their hatred of me shall one day expand them. 

Inhibitions - be gone!  For years I have put the pieces of myself I dared not expose into the safety of my writing, insulated myself from mobs, from parents, from teachers, from neighbors, from anyone successfully dipped into the mainstream and now coated with it, who might attack me once they knew who I really was:  attack me with their ire, or worse yet, with their disappointment.  That writing was once my escape, my secret of secrets (like a clandestine love affair), my hide-out, the place I lived apart from the world once 'the lights went out.'  The fact that I lived fully only there gave my writing a life and power and richness that could never have been created by a man more successfully integrated into the world.  But it also exiled me, made me invisible, removed my soul from circulation, banished things that could have helped others to another dimension.  I became the Emperor of the Moon, but on the earth I was a pauper, a tumbleweed blown about by winds I had never even spoken to. 

Now, as I have reflected upon all this, and palpably felt the lessening pulse of my days on the earth, I have finally made the conscious decision to transform my lifelong refuge of writing into a launching pad, and to return to the world with all the fruits of my retreat.  It does not matter if, on account of it, I am battered, destroyed, thrown into the corner of contempt, or abandoned - nothing that can be done to me by the world is worse than what I have already done to myself! Even if I have only a few moments left to live, I shall live them as me, giving every moment:  giving what I have hoarded, giving what I have run from.  The mask of the little-known writer shall be cast aside, and with held head high, I shall say, "I was put here to be this, to do this, to be your friend, or the thorn in your side.  Maybe you need the pain --  the awakening pain." 

I shall say, "The duty I felt to be silent, to be respectful of the great mismanagement and misinterpretation of human existence which I received from the lords of the wreckage, is today replaced by my Duty to Life: by my Duty to the Life that is clamoring inside me and begging to come out; by my Duty to the Life that was put inside me by the very same power that makes the cosmos spin and burn and cool into habitable places; by my Duty to the Life I was sent here with; by my Duty to the Life that sees things differently; and by my Duty of bringing what Life put inside me to you...

"We are all messengers bringing pieces of the disassembled enlightenment, which we are meant to put together, to the earth - what will become of the message if any one of us forgets to bring our part; if any one of us caves in to the idea of bringing only what others want us to bring, and not what we are meant to bring?    Where colors lack courage, there is no rainbow.  I choose the Duty of bringing my color to the world... 

"I choose, today, to show the world that the me it has known till now is only the tip of the iceberg, and to reveal, through me, the submerged vastness which resides in every one of us, below our deference to the insufficient norm.   I choose, today, to unclothe my strange mind and to reveal the full package of what I am and what I can do, so that I may offer its fertile quirks to the puzzle of salvation we are trying to solve together.

"I choose today, to blow the trumpet of myself, hoping that it will create a meeting place where kindred spirits, recognizing the call, may come from around the world to build a palace of acceptance for each other: the birthplace of a new consciousness, a new will, a new world."

Yes, inhibitions, dear inhibitions - I know you have tried to protect me, but you have been like a father telling a child, "Do not go out of the house; outside there are scorpions and snakes."  True though that may be, there are also people in need, beautiful and deserving people;  there are opportunities and duties, treasures and chances to give away treasures; there are suns to ignite, and cold worlds waiting.  Inhibitions, your time is up.  The salvation you offer is not equal to the destruction you guarantee.

I hope that anyone offended by my lack of inhibitions in The March of the Eccentrics will take note of these words, and understand why I have decided to write so freely and to hold nothing back.  I hope they will take into account the years of loyalty I gave to them and their spent philosophies, even as vast tracts of hope disintegrated, covering me over with the debris of my fealty.  I once bowed down to them with the ineffectiveness of my dissent.  Now I charge forward like a man who is out of time, fiercely, madly, to bring forth the obvious (which I waited in vain for them to bring).  

No, do not blame me for my lack of inhibitions, I will not listen!

Blame me only for the inhibitions I let rule me for so long!

Blame me for the fact that it is only now that I dare to cease caring what 'decent people' think of me:  the 'decent people' who have buried the earth, and from whose hands we must now rescue the earth with Life:  undiluted, unbound Life, activated, renewed, and empowered -- Life brought back to life!

JRS - Oct 2014

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What a complicated concept!

On the one hand, it has come into being as a reaction to terrible injustices, prejudices, mentalities of contempt and ignorance, and represents an advance in human consciousness, a step forward, a corner of history turned. 

On the other hand, it represents the birth of a new pole of judgment, the freezing of progress into convention, and the replacement of true solidarity and compassion with formulas:  rituals of behavior that often lack substance.

There are shades of repression in it, strings of control coming out of it, echoes of our pilgrim past proffering new forms of stocks and dunking stools; we have new buttons to push, new stereotypes to rattle, and sharp-edged buzz-words dripping with simplicity to hurl into the midst of multi-layered truths.  We have all the tools necessary for lying to ourselves.

In some cases, Political Correctness is the consummate act of sensitivity and social responsibility, the rightful correction of previous errors, the rightful opening-up to a new worldview and the learning of the protocols that support the flourishing of justice.  In other cases, it is the ultimate cop-out, merely another club to join, another hat to wear, providing easy access to the illusion of being enlightened, and an effortless alternative to really caring.   In still other ways, it is like the laws against loitering, which may lurk quiescently beneath the surface, 'on the books' but not 'enforced', until the unpopular character comes along and is charged with a crime that for everyone else was not a crime. In that case, Political Correctness is not a new vision of the world or a code of conduct, but merely a tool in the control and domination of others.

I guess it is natural for free spirits to balk at any trend which might somehow confine them or cramp their style, just as it is natural for complex souls to distrust oversimplifications.  (Even if they mainly fit inside the simple box, they will not be happy if their foot which is sticking out is held against them).  And yet, at the same time, these free spirits and complex souls of liberal inclinations in no way wish to lend their discomfiture as ammunition to the repressive forces of the Right, whose heavy hand gave birth to the reaction which spawned Political Correctness as a probably overzealous defense system.

For me, as a person who does not easily fit into any category of Left or Right (I am sort of Liberal/Left/Alternative Universe), PC is a danger zone, a landscape filled with trip wires that set off judgments not attached to how one has lived one's life, but connected mainly to how fluent one is in the gestures and vocabulary of a pretense.

For me, as a satirist and humorist, PC is a danger zone, because there is a lot of humorlessness, uptightness, and holier-than-thou righteousness in the land of the Politically Correct.  Strange, how a phenomena so associated with the liberal ethos has been so deeply infiltrated by the asphyxiating severity of Puritanism, by the dark lack of mirth and by the intensity of the Village preacher in a black hat. 

For me, as a student of the psychological depths of Man and a lover of strong and unique characters of all persuasions, races, cultures, backgrounds, and forms of madness, PC is a danger zone, because I relish (as fictional material) what is taboo if it is deep; I dive into the forbidden and unpopular if there is something worthwhile that can be brought up from it (even if it is a glimpse of what we do not wish to be or become); I get my hands and feet dirty with the truth (I do not fly above it with the angels of the latest myth), and roll open maps of paths it would be best not to take (but some people will believe I mean for them to take them, and therefore say I am a corruptor.  I also roll open maps of necessary futures).  I do not snuff out what is interesting just because someone may be allergic to it, I do not truncate great things so that times with narrow eyes can have an easy time of it, I do not destroy the flow of my writing by inserting a commissar in every sentence, and I do not drain the blood from my stories by stripping my characters of controversial personalities and flaws, which would be to turn my work into a puppet-show of superficial redundancies. 

I write what comes into my head, I run out onto the slippery ice of creative impulses, impulses not measured or prejudged, and there, wild with my pen (at first) and with my computer (now), I skid all over the place; I fall, I get up, I fall again, I rise, I run and skid and spin around, loving it, loving the lack of control and trusting in the helplessness to produce something bigger than me, trusting in it to pull something out of the chaos, to pluck from it something that order and a tight plan could never find, could never reach.  The careful steps of Political Correctness could never get that, those little, well-meaning but self-conscious, timorous steps.  Only the thoughtless bounding and leaping, only the fearless pursuit of crazy shapes and wild things without inhibitions could capture the powerful story, and that is what I was born to do - to capture the powerful story.  Though I mean no harm to Political Correctness, I could not take my eyes off of what I was pursuing just to make sure I did not run over its feet!

And so, I have written the book I have.  It is free, somewhat insane (the tether to its allies has come undone), and though friendly to the general drift of the PC world, it is not totally in sync with it.  Thus you have a major character who is a fearsome opponent of Feminism (with plenty of others trying to moderate his extremes), and come to think of it, another character as well who would certainly not be high on the N.O.W.'s list of prospective guest speakers (he, too, is not unopposed in the novel.)  You also have individuals from a wide variety of ethnic backgrounds acting in unusual ways (white to red to yellow to brown to black, from all 6 continents, no one has been left out).  Some PC folks may not be down with that, believing that every character ought to be designed as a positive role model and ideal representative of his race/creed/nationality, etc., but where would that leave us, as writers, and especially as satirists?  I have always believed that true equality comes through manifesting the humanness that is in every race, faith and land.  It is not human to be perfect, it is not human to be flawless, and besides that, it is boring!  Stereotypes of seamless perfection are just as racist as stereotypes of inferiority and wickedness, though less damaging per se.  (Still, the persistence of racism in the fiber of systems meant to check racism is a bad sign, and represents a potential source of re-infection.) We will have reached the next level in our moral development only once we are able to treat all people as equals in the world, and in our fiction freely play with them, integrating everyone into the dramas conjured by our imagination as a true individual, and no longer as the reaction to a social crisis which must be rectified. 

It is my hope that the power of the love my odd characters of the rainbow manifest will come through to calm the jumpy nerves of the PC vanguard, and that the overall effect will be to spread more brotherhood and sisterhood throughout the globe, forging a valuable lesson for all in how diversity's multitudinous strands can come together like a mighty river to change the world.

Before leaving the subject of Political Correctness behind, I think it is also fair (and probably necessary) to state that Political Correctness is not just a vice of the Liberal American mindset.  Every subculture known to Man seems to have its own pole of Political Correctness, from which judgments and controlling influences meant to guide the group emanate.  The Right-wing, which loves to rail against the Liberal form of PC, has its own versions of PC, they just don't call it that.   Furthermore, the Right-wing loves to tap into Liberal PC enclaves, and turn the energy of Liberal Political Correctness against members of the liberal establishment - in other words, it has discovered that a more successful way to undercut Liberal enemies than attacking them directly from the outside where defenses are strong, is to trip them up behind their own lines by implementing a divide-and-conquer strategy based upon identifying a PC-protocol 'slip-up', and then working it to death, cynically manipulating it until Liberal PC defenders are mobilized against their former friends.

This is one more danger of the PC world - its edginess, its quickness to stampede, its shortness of slack, and its vulnerability to hypocrisy ('let he who is without sin throw the first stone', where are you?)  Labels that weigh a thousand pounds are tied around the necks of imperfect but still decent people, who are then flung into the water by those who seek to prove their immaculateness by doing the flinging.  

Not that this will ever happen to me...  But just saying...  Live and let live.  Change the world, save the people, rescue the earth, make a real difference, don't fool yourself into thinking PC is the stairway to heaven.

JRS Oct 2014

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One of the goals of The March of the Eccentrics, after promoting individual freedom, social justice and philosophical depth, is to help reorient our language.  At the moment, our language has been captured by pundits of the pared-down sentence:  the 'simple and effective' construction of ideas best suited to a culture enamored of the visual image, and born of a practical society of screwdrivers, pliers, deadlines to be met and the overriding adage of "Time is money."  The gentleman of leisure, the dilettante of gigantic libraries, the slow builder of intricate edifices, is no longer in vogue nor even respected; he is viewed as a doddering motorist in the fast lane and worthy of being honked to the side of the road.  Even as long ago as the 1950s, this perception was being pushed to the forefront of our literary M.O. by authors such as Rudolph Flesch, the creator of an incredible 'readability formula' designed to steer English sentences towards extreme simplicity, and by Strunk and White, who wrote in their famous Elements of Style:  "Vigorous writing is concise.  A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts."  Woe to the writer who penned: "What an extraordinary and utterly delicious piece of cake, I'd never imagined you the baker; well, they say that underestimating others is the great vice of our age, and far more likely to be the cause of our downfall than the atomic bomb," when he could have put it like this:  "Nice cake."  And what of Dickens?  Poor man! Were it not for the 'misguided loyalty' and institutionalized coercion of legions of English teachers, who continue to force his masterpieces down the throats of the young, surely he would have gone the way of the dinosaur by now!

It is my contention (and I will explain my theories to you in the most complex manner I am capable of), that overly simplified language, fearful of multiple clauses, conjunctions, prepositional phrases and periodic trips to the thesaurus and the dictionary, is the vehicle of arrested development.  It underestimates the individual and deconditions him to complexity, therefore capping his growth as well as the growth of the society that comes from him.  To use an example:  If you wish to move a hundred thousand tons of earth, bulldozers, loader tractors and dump trucks will do a better job than a shovel and a wheelbarrow.  They have more capacity.  In the same way, the complex sentence has a greater carrying capacity than the simple sentence:  it can transmit more weight, more ideas, more nuance, more precision.  This, in turn, serves to expand and deepen the mind of the reader.  It adds not only new and more formidable knowledge to his mind; it adds new colors to his Universe, new frequencies to his sense of hearing, it sensitizes him like a balance to feel tiny things (which may be important), it cultivates focus and breeds character. 

Of course, the argument is that the reader of the non-simplified version will not get it; that he will be turned off or stymied by the challenge, and get nothing instead of something.  And isn't it better to get less than to lose it all?  Which once again brings us to the concepts of low expectations and arrested development.

An occasional critic attacks me for not being realistic in the face of contemporary cultural trends, and that may be true: I have always been an idealist.  I am also sometimes blamed for deepening the plight of the unprepared reader.  So let's break it down:

I do not hold in contempt the contemporary reader who has been raised on simple prose built on pacing, ultra-permeability, and the assumption of extreme impatience to get to the jelly in the jelly donut.  I am not disdainful of the modern reader, so overexposed to belittling simplifications and dumbed-down concessions to his imagined limitations that he is now accustomed to writing that has no hills, to level writing, to writing with a water-stop every four-hundred yards.  

On the contrary, I am the one who respects that reader and most believes in him, the one who does not regard him as incapable and unreachable, the one who understands that we depend on him to take the world to the next level! Who he is -- that is what the world will be.  Who could ever give up on someone so important?

Thus, I approach the situation with the spirit of that, at first, highly irritating coach who is determined to get the best out of his athletes; the one who says:  "This is how you must train to go the distance!"  And at first the athletes say:  "This guy is nuts!"  But after a while, pushed beyond their initial comfort zone, they begin to notice the difference in their legs and lungs, the growing strength of their bodies, the way discomfort is slowly being transformed into power, the way impossible distances are suddenly becoming easy.  Until, at last, the hardship is replaced by euphoria, by amazing things now in their grasp, by the feeling of flying on the earth, and the pride in legs (their legs) that have finally become like wings!

This is what not giving in to 'the easiest way out' can do!  And this is why rescuing the English language from the shortcuts that are stunting us, from the pruning that is actually cutting the forest down, is so important.  It goes without saying that there is no way to rescue the English language except by using it.  And it goes without saying that this can only be done if there are writers willing to take a chance:  writers willing to buck the stifling trend, to incur the ire of formulas, to risk the disinterest of readers reared on speed and white space; writers willing to rush headlong into the possibility of a resurrection of the English language, with complex ideas and complex sentences to carry those ideas into the world:  complex sentences to bring forth the weight and the subtlety needed to construct a future which is neither frail nor foisted upon us; complex sentences to work off the sloth imparted by our civilization of disempowerment: sentences to stretch our minds, and to make us greater than we have been, so that together we can make a world greater than the one we live in now.

"Impossible!" some claim.  (They are persistent in their opposition.)  "You cannot save the language by writing a book that no one will read!  And the only way you can get people to read your book is to write it in the style that prevails today!"

A Catch-22?

Perhaps.  But I have done my best to cope with that.  In the midst of sometimes complex prose, and long, long journeys of narrative which are adverse to pruning (for me "trimming is a dirty word"), I have imbedded the street-talk of New York City messengers, the drug-crazed ravings of the urban lumpen-proletariat, brilliant and convoluted diatribes in Ebonics, wisdom or just plain passion in broken-English, descriptions of erotic encounters and whacked inventions, battles for the world, revolutions, street fights, explanations of the meaning of life, and spiced all that up with over 50 illustrations of fascinating characters and events.  I have soaked the novel in relevance (even though it is laid in the 1980s, it touches now at a thousand different points), and given it the possible agenda of fusing together with other movements, active in our day, to play an important role in the improvement of life on planet earth.  I have, in other words, "sweetened the deal", and by means of this dare to also carry out my crusade on behalf of the English language!

Keeping my fingers crossed,

JRS  Almost Nov, 2014

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Granted, I am not a computer whiz (the last machine I was on top of was the Hermes portable/manual typewriter, unless you count the harmonica as a machine), but I've got a gripe to send the way of Google Chrome.   This new(er) and well-received web browser has a solid reputation and, no doubt, is in many ways extremely efficient and desirable.  However, as a user of Internet Explorer, which Chrome is competing with and was supposedly designed to better, I find myself more than dissatisfied with the way it is rendering certain classic writing fonts, such as Times New Roman and Calibri, on websites.  I have, in the past, enjoyed utilizing those fonts in the preparation of material for uploading to the web; and with Internet Explorer, have always been pleased with its final appearance on the published web page.  Seen through Chrome, however, the print which is solid, aesthetic and readable via I.E., suddenly loses its competent, professional look, and seems to melt or fade into a wounded semblance of its former self:  it looks as if the fabric of the ink was stretched, torn, drawn-and-quartered into a state of barely legible thinness: something like what happens when you are laser-printing flat copy and the toner cartridge begins to go.  Google Chrome, what's up with that??????  When I first saw this effect in Chrome, I said, "Oh, xxxx!", and thought I must have committed a horrible blunder (and defenders of Google Chrome do tend to blame us, the complainers, by saying we could avert all of this with either a few tricks in coding - but I am no cyber-Houdini - or else by switching to another, thicker font).  However, when I went back to check the pages in Internet Explorer, their appearance returned to normal - and the same positive effects were achieved with Firefox, the third most popular browser in use today.  So, yet again, I must ask, Google Chrome, what's up????   What's going on?????  If what I do looks fine in I.E. and Firefox, who are you to force me to change it????

Apparently (say the Chrome pundits), if I change my fonts from my preferred ones to Arial or Verdana, fonts which are 'stronger' and 'inkier', I can get print that does not look like it is in the process of being washed off the page.  But something in me objects to that.  Why should I have to switch the fonts I have used for years?  Why can't Google Chrome render them as competently as the rivals it is supposed to be beating out?  Is there some necessary correlation between Chrome's aim for greater speed and security, and the mediocre rendering of several basic, time-honored fonts?  Must these fonts go in order to get higher functionality from other parts of the system?   It doesn't make sense to me.  More likely is the possibility that Chrome has simply chosen to de-prioritize this area of its system, or is even ignoring it, as the result of a greater focus on visual image and video, which are becoming increasingly central components of the web experience as words slowly dwindle into the background.  Chrome designers may feel that if a few heavy fonts remain viable, why not sacrifice the rest; cutting down the options for printed matter (which is now often only an accessory to visual matter) is not really a problem to be troubled by.  And apparently they feel no compunction about dragging writers (writers, who are they to stand in the way of progress????) away from the wider palette of fonts before available, to the new and consolidated bank of fonts which Chrome supports with competence.  

Whether it is because I am lazy, and do not wish to redo every single web page I have ever written in order to recreate them with fonts that Google Chrome shows kindness to - or whether it is because I am stubborn, and do not like being pushed and pulled by powerful companies to do things their way, after my way has been steamrolled over - I cannot say.  But for whatever reason, I have decided not to redo my web pages in Arial or Verdana, but to leave them in their original fonts, and to recommend that readers who wish to have a proper experience with them view them through Internet Explorer, Firefox, or some other web browser capable of (or interested in) correctly displaying them.  (I only recently learned how easy it is to download multiple, free browsers onto one's computer - yes, I am that behind the times!)

And that's it.  No further axe to grind with Google Chrome:  I am sure it is a great browser worthy of the high percentage of browser traffic which it handles.   But, regarding fonts - let me say it one more time - Google Chrome, what's up???!!!

J Rainsnow, Dec 3, 2014

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