The Book Bug

Published 23 September 2013

Humans are storytellers. Everything is a narrative with us: Wait’ll you hear what happened to me today at work!

I get it. I do.

I get that your air force pilot daddy was the best ever, that he was the embodiment of “top gun” before Tom Cruise was a gleam in his mother’s eye, and that on his preflight inspections he (your daddy) walked around the fuselage and tightened bolts with his bare hands.* And I get those intense dreams you have, too, the kind that make you think you should write them down, turn them into a novel or something.

But why do you want to publish it? No, really, I’m curious.

A good friend of mine wrote a memoir and I read it, critiqued it, and told her, gently, that she shouldn’t give up her day job. But she wanted it to be published. She pursued traditional publication until she realized it wouldn’t happen—and she had an “in,” more than one, friends who hand-walked her manuscript in and because of that she got nice long critiques from in-house editors explaining in great detail why the answer was no (things I’d already told her)—and then, because she believed so strongly it was a story that needed to be told, she self-published it. She’s sold a few copies to friends and fam.

Some time ago the New York Times ran a piece about this very subject. It said 81 percent of Americans feel they have a book in them. I heard on NPR once that some folks see having published a book as a form of immortality. Note that word published. Writer (and writing teacher) Anne Lamott, speaking about her writing students, says (in her book Bird by Bird),

The problem that comes up over and over again is that these people want to be published. They kind of want to write, but they really want to be published. You’ll never get to where you want to be that way [simply by being published], I tell them.

Why do you want to do this? I asked my friend. “I want to leave something behind,” she said. About this the Times says,

Beyond the obvious motivation for wanting to write a book—hoping to win fame or fortune—my guess is that many people who feel they have a book “in them” doubtless see writing it as a way of establishing their own significance. … If only oblivion awaits, how does one leave behind evidence that one lived?

Write a book, of course. Not … paint a picture, build a monument, climb a mountain, or even, you know, run naked across the field at a Major League baseball game. No, write a book.

The Book Bug—it’s like the imperative that makes those salmon swim upstream (and believe me, writing a book that will get published is absolutely that hard: it could kill you). Why would anyone want to do it? When the Boy was in high school he declared his intent to go to college and major in music, and every one of his music teachers said a version of this: don’t do it unless you can’t imagine doing anything else (because it’s hard) (and it doesn’t pay well).

This will sound familiar to my friends who are published writers. Many of them have been writing since they were very young. Like the Boy, they simply can’t imagine doing anything else.

And they worry when they’re between book deals. Because the road to publication is hard. It takes years of practice. And there are no guarantees.

But I can guarantee that there are good reasons to write. Don’t worry about the rest. Write to express yourself, write because it scratches a creative itch, write to organize your thoughts (I do this a lot). Write, perhaps, because you have a story to tell. Lamott says even if your audience is small, “to have written your version is an honorable thing.” I told my friend, “Your children and grandchildren will be really happy to have this.” And they will.

*I’m not making this up. My father’s old crewmembers actually told me this at his funeral, though I believe it was a combination of grief and love talking.


The Potential to Be Catastrophic

“Today, on the federal holiday of Labor Day, Judge Aileen M. Cannon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida granted former president Trump’s request for a special master to review the nearly 11,000 documents FBI agents seized in their search of the Trump Organization’s property at Mar-a-Lago on August 8.

The special master will examine the documents, some of which have the highest classification markings, to remove personal items or those covered by attorney-client privilege or those that might be covered by executive privilege (although President Joe Biden, who holds the presidency and thus should be able to determine that privilege, has waived it). The order temporarily stops the Department of Justice from reviewing or using the materials as part of their investigation into Trump’s mishandling of classified information.

That is, a Trump-appointed judge, confirmed by the Senate on November 13, 2020, after Trump had lost the election, has stepped between the Department of Justice and the former president in the investigation of classified documents stolen from the government.

Legal analysts appear to be appalled by the poor quality of the opinion. …

Cannon’s decision addresses only the criminal investigation of the former president by the Department of Justice, and it is not clear how much of a delay it will create. While that is on hold, at least temporarily, the intelligence assessment by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence will proceed without check. It is still unclear what documents are missing, and who has had unauthorized access to the information Trump took.

This breach of our national security has the potential to be catastrophic.”

—Heather Cox Richardson, political historian, on her substack Letters From an American, 5 September 2022

UPDATE: On 9/22/22 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta overturned the decision of Judge Aileen Cannon, agreeing with DOJ that the classified documents should be exempt from that decision. It ruled that the DOJ and the FBI can proceed with both the national security investigation of the documents with classified markings that Trump stole from the national government and the criminal investigation of that theft.

A Poem About Traveling

Try to travel, otherwise you may become racist, and you may end up believing that your skin is the only one to be right, that your language is the most romantic and that you were the first to be the first. 
Travel, because if you don’t travel then your thoughts won’t be strengthened, won’t get filled with ideas. Your dreams will be born with fragile legs and then you end up believing in tv-shows, and in those who invent enemies that fit perfectly with your nightmares to make you live in terror.
Travel, because travel teaches to say good morning to everyone regardless of which sun we come from. 
Travel, because travel teaches to say goodnight to everyone regardless of the darkness that we carry inside.
Travel, because traveling teaches to resist, not to depend, to accept others, not just for who they are but also for what they can never be, to know what we are capable of, to feel part of a family beyond borders, beyond traditions and culture. Traveling teaches us to be beyond. 
Travel, otherwise you end up believing that you are made only for a panorama and instead inside you there are wonderful landscapes still to visit. 
Gio Evan, poet and songwriter, translated from Italian, seen on his Facebook page


Cleanliness Is Next to Godliness? Nah.

In 1978 I went to Columbia, South Carolina, for a family reunion (the Clark/Clarkes). One branch of the family goes back to the 1790s in what was then called the Edgefield District (now Edgefield County). While there I’d also be visiting the archives at the University of South Carolina to do some genealogical research.

I stayed with my Aunt Kippy. She also fueled my interest in the family history by taking me to gravesites, giving me old family photos, and a couple of privately printed family history books. (Also, I should add, more than one excellent recipe.) At the reunion itself—attended by people I didn’t know from Georgia to Maryland—one thing I noted about us Clark(e)s is we tended to be blond (I’d been a platinum blond from birth to about age four), had nice teeth, and we ladies were a bit wide in the hips.

I was twenty-five, and while I loved the time I spent with Kip (she’d been a big part of my life growing up), I was a little appalled by the state of her housekeeping (a lot of clutter, stacks of books, some dust). She was seventy-one at the time—just a smidge older than I am right now.

A decade later, I was thinking the same thing about the way my father and his second wife lived. The kitchen, in particular, was cluttered to an extent that would have driven me mad, and given that Daddy was the one who’d taught me how to wipe down a kitchen counter, I just couldn’t understand how he could live with the mess. (I bit my tongue, of course.)

I’ve just been thinking of these stories, I think, because I was standing in my own kitchen wiping down the stove so I could start cooking supper, and this morning a friend of mine—a man who is a serious cook—had posted a meme that made me laugh out loud: “My favorite thing is to clean the kitchen so I can cook dinner so I can clean the kitchen again until I die.” Um, yeah.

Gerry and I had some cabinets built last year precisely to unclutter our kitchen (though I’m occasionally discouraged by my inability to keep it as clean as I once did*—probably because we have more counter space now). It’s never-ending, and I have many things to do, of course. Don’t laugh, now!

After my divorce in 1990, a longtime friend visited my son and I in our apartment, and laughed when she saw it. “You always used to keep such a clean house, Jamie,” she’d said. I reminded her that was working two jobs and had a kid in elementary school. What the what, right? In those years I used to say my priorities were homework, supper, and clean underwear. Anything else was just gravy.


Pack Rat

Lest you think all these little* family stories I’ve been writing up are coming out of the blue … yesterday Gerry repotted a peace lily for me that was sent to my mother’s funeral. In 1987. Yep. (I have a ficus gifted to me in 1992 when third-grade Jesse and I moved into the house I purchased after my divorce too. The plant was about eighteen inches tall, a couple of twigs, really; came from Kroger, was probably $2.99. It is now taller than I am. And wider.)

I also have the set of dishes my mother bought in preparation to marry my dad, mostly intact. I’ve always thought it came from Marshall Field’s in Chicago—Mom had worked there sometime during that scant five years between leaving college and marrying my dad in January 1950, and in my growing up years the words Marshall Field’s was said often enough that I remember it—but she was living in St. Louis (that’s all I know) in the months (that’s all I know) prior to her departure for South Carolina and marriage.

I have my grandmother Bessie’s china (very incomplete set), and all of her pink Depression glass. It’s beautiful.

I have a quilt that appears in sepia-toned photographs taken in Smithville, Tennessee—Bessie’s birthplace—in the 1890s. Bessie had it when she died, and I brought it home from St. Louis.

I have the first shoes I ever wore—my parents had them coated in copper, which was the thing back then.

I have a knickknack or two from my parents’ house, and all my mom’s books.

I have an old-fashioned ten-gallon milk can I bought at a junk store in the early 1970s. Based on its shape and size, I believe it probably dates from the first half of the twentieth century. I love it.

I have my early 1960s-era Barbie dolls and their clothes (some of which were made by Bessie), in a wooden cabinet my dad built. I have my high school yearbooks, of course.

I have a lot more than this.

I am getting old, and I have no idea what to do about any of this. Hi. My name is Jamie, and I am a pack rat.

*Some are not so little, I know.



Objection XIV: The Ultimate

The truth unquestionably is, that the only path to a subversion of the republican system of the Country is, by flattering the prejudices of the people, and exciting their jealousies and apprehensions, to throw affairs into confusion, and bring on civil commotion … When a man unprincipled in private life, desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents … despotic in his ordinary demeanor—known to have scoffed in private at the principles of liberty—when such a man is seen to mount the hobby horse of popularity—to join in the cry of danger to liberty—to take every opportunity of embarrassing the General Government & bringing it under suspicion—to flatter and fall in with all the non sense of the zealots of the day—It may justly be suspected that his object is to throw things into confusion that he may “ride the storm and direct the whirlwind.”

—Alexander Hamilton, “Enclosure: Objections and Answers respecting the Administration of the Government: Objection XIV, The ultimate object of all,” responding to George Washington, August 18, 1792


Expose It

This is not just conservative versus progressive; this is a group of self-interested billionaires out to control the country so they can pollute at will, so they don’t have to pay any taxes, and so they can operate without regulation.

—Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) speaking with MSNBC’s Joy Reid on 25 August 2022, referring to Leonard Leo and his manipulation of dark money

• • •

The media’s been talking about “dark money” but what is it? Wikipedia tells us

[D]ark money refers to political spending by nonprofit organizations—for example, 501(c)(4) (social welfare), 501(c)(5) (unions), and 501(c)(6) (trade association) groups—that are not required to disclose their donors. Such organizations can receive unlimited donations from corporations, individuals and unions. In this way, their donors can spend funds to influence elections without voters knowing where the money came from. (Emphasis mine.)

Remember, if you or I want to make a political donation to a federal candidate, the candidate has to report the amount (limited at $2500) and who it came from. Nonprofits do not have these restrictions. (I’m not even going to get into PACs.) If you really want to dig into it, I highly recommend Jane Mayer’s book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right (published in 2016).

The Brennan Center reminds us, “The primary purpose of these [nonprofit/social welfare] groups cannot technically be political, but they can spend substantial amounts on political activities, such as TV commercials.” (This explains television commercials you see vaguely urging you not to undercut good American businesspeople. Read the fine print at the end, look it up. It’s probably a right-wing nonprofit group.)

In this interview with Senator Whitehouse, Reid asked, “What do these people want?” and the senator replied,

They want voter suppression, they’ve captured the Supreme Court, they want climate denial, they want deregulation, they don’t want polluters to have any enforcement against them, they want a very old-school business array for super wealthy businesses and billionaires. … What they want is a Supreme Court that will give them things that Congress won’t give them. Even when they’re in control of Congress, there are some things even elected republicans won’t do, like take away abortion rights, like make dark money the law of the land. These are the things they count on an unelected but captured Supreme Court to do, and they’ve spent $580 million capturing the Court. It’s a real operation and it just got $1.6 billion.

Whitehouse has spent his career exposing and talking about dark money. The current discussion, involving Leonard Leo, who co-chairs the conservative legal group the Federalist Society, is about that $1.6 billion donation that avoids all taxes entirely. No capital gains, no income. It’s robbing American citizens and will turn around and expose them to right-wing propaganda.

“What can we do about it?” Reid asked another question.

“Expose it,” Whitehouse said immediately. “Vote on the DISCLOSE bill. This is not just conservative versus progressive; this is a group of self-interested billionaires out to control the country so they can pollute at will, so they don’t have to pay any taxes, and so they can operate without regulation.”

So this is my contribution to exposing these cheaters. Stay focused, friends. We are this > < close to losing our democracy. Talk it up. Expose them. Vote.