My 4-Year Old’s First Short Story

In keeping with a promise I made if he sat and completed a story, I present to you, The Attack of Finley, by Dempsey McGevna…

 

Matthew, Joanne, Jackson and Dempsey were sitting home one day when the big baby Finley attacked the world.

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Dempsey grabbed a gun and tried to shoot her, but she was too invincible. Finley grabbed the gun and shot Dempsey and Jackson but they were invincible too. So the Finleynators grabbed a thing that circles around, so we ran out the door and there was a parkour, so we could run out and parkour our way out.

The End.

 

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Why Are My Fellow Liberals Burning Books?

 

I can’t believe we have to tell liberals of all people to stop this neo-book-burning.

     In the past few weeks both inflammatory trolls Milo Yiannopoulos and Ann Coulter were disinvited to speak at reputable college campuses—the most mind-boggling of which was Ann Coulter’s rebuff at what used to be a beacon of free speech, UC Berkley.

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     These are the most recent, but there are others who have been disinvited, and still others who presented their speech and then were pelted with fists and eggs and everything else on their way out of the building. The alt-right bloggers reacted as expected: calling the protesters “snowflakes” and decrying the onslaught of a “politically correct” agenda. Politically correct, by the way, is generally a person’s way of saying “aw man, I can’t say nigger anymore? I will not stand for this facism!” In short, nothing surprised me about the heat Milo and Ann drew to their event, and nothing surprised me about their response to that heat.

     What does surprise me is the rise of think-pieces, most notably in The New York Times, suggesting that these sometimes violent and certainly mob-like reactions should be celebrated and recognized as our youngest generation “redefining” the parameters of free speech.

     Redefining the parameters? Free speech doesn’t have parameters. Or conditions. That’s why it’s called “free speech.” It’s free. Its properties are implied in the word “free.” A synonym for “free” is “liberal” and yet it’s people who identify as liberal ironically instilling parameters and conditions upon our concept of free speech.

     In the New York Times piece, NYU professor Ulrich Baer suggests that what protesters (and the college administrators who are folding to their pressure) are doing is establishing a type of free speech that protects the greater good, or at the very least, a greater number of people.

     “The recent student demonstrations at Auburn against Spencer’s visit — as well as protests on other campuses against Charles Murray, Milo Yiannopoulos and others — should be understood as an attempt to ensure the conditions of free speech for a greater group of people, rather than censorship.”

“The conditions of free speech.”  The only “conditions” we should establish when it comes to free speech is when speech leads to widespread panic that can cost lives, like shouting “fire” in a crowded theater, or saying the city ran out of bike racks in Williamsburg. Even in these cases I’m queasy about acquiescing that kind of interpretive power to the masses. Just a few short months ago, in a conversation with a fellow NYC school teacher, she actually blamed Richard Spencer for getting punched. If Spencer’s views weren’t so abhorrent, she said, he wouldn’t have incited people to the point of violence. The level to which we have become comfortable with justifying violence because we don’t like a speaker’s message astounds and frightens me. The winds can and do change at any point. We have to keep free speech free.

Free speech with conditions isn’t free speech. Characterizing it the way Baer does in the passage above is nothing short of spin. It’s killing women and children and then calling it “collateral damage,” and I think liberals like this NYU professor know it.     

We Live In A Time When We Have More Speech, Not Less

There’s no question that we have a history of delegitimizing whole segments of the world’s population. Baer opens his piece with an anecdote about a female Holocaust survivor who approaches a scholar of the Holocaust. The scholar dismissively says “Madame, you are an experience, not an argument.” Only since the 1990s, Baer asserts, have we began to acknowledge experience as a very powerful form of argument. Fair enough. But in that situation, which occurred around 1985, the female Holocaust survivor had to go home feeling like her voice didn’t matter. Nowadays, that same woman has a myriad of platforms (including college campuses) on which to shout her experiences.

     (Case in point, The New York Times has never heard of me and would never publish this opinion piece, but guess what? You’re reading it!)

     Such is the case with segments of our population who have been marginalized and feel de-legitimized by mainstream culture—ethnic and racial minorities, women, the LGBQT community—there are platforms for all of these voices (including college campuses!) and I think that’s a powerful thing. This can only make for a stronger society.

     So why in hell would we want to put conditions to free speech in an age when technology has allowed literally everybody to be heard? It’s time to ask, who is really being de-legitimized here?

Are We Really Protesting Content?

     Another specious argument coming from the left (I still can’t believe it’s the left doing this) is that there are some topics that are not debatable, or at least not worthy of debate. Topics such as the moral grounds for eugenics, the dangers of miscegenation, or the inferiority/superiority of one race over another: are not up for debate and are not worth discussing. Fine. But are those the topics Ann Coulter or Milo planned to discuss? Or have we decided, simply, that Ann Coulter’s views repulse us, so we’re going to protest them, violently if necessary, and get the intellectual backing of NYU professors in the New York Times? Baer gives these protesters far too much credit. They simply don’t like these speakers’ views (neither do I, for the record), they resent the fact that they have an audience, so they want to shut them down.

     I also take issue with Baer’s premise that speech is intended as a “public good.” Sometimes this is the case, but sometimes it’s not. The Nazi Party march in Skokie, IL did not accomplish any greater good. But it was rightfully protected.

     “The idea of freedom of speech does not mean a blanket permission to say anything anybody thinks.”

     Yes it does. But I’ll let him continue because that’s the kind of guy I am.

     “It means balancing the inherent value of a given view with the obligation to ensure that other members of a given community can participate in discourse as fully recognized         members of that community.”

     To which I ask: who was/is stopping these “other members of a given community” from “participating in discourse as fully recognized members of that community?” Those people have every right and every opportunity to speak on a number of platforms. Since when is a college barred from, say, having Ann Coulter speak on a Tuesday at 2 p.m., and an immigrant rights activist, or a transgendered or LGBQT activist speak at 3 p.m.?

     “In today’s age, we also have a simple solution that should appease all those concerned that students are insufficiently exposed to controversial views. It is called the internet, where all kinds of offensive expression flourish unfettered on a vast platform available to nearly all.”

Oh, well that’s convenient. Let’s all thank this man for granting a proper venue for people he doesn’t like to deliver their opinions. How about this: Go piss up a rope. Why don’t you go and chuff your opinions off to the ghettos of the internet? Are we really engaging in this kind of soft-headed approach to the problem, that we’re willing to tolerate speech on the internet, just not on college campuses? Wow.

A Modest Proposal

     Of course the biggest issue with all of this “redefining” and condition-creating is a simple, but large issue: Who gets to decide what’s debatable, acceptable and helpful to the greater good?

     Answer:

     Me.

     I’ll take care of it.

     From now on, all college speeches will be sent to me in advance. I’ll sit down with a panel of people whose judgment I trust, and together we’ll decide whether the speech lends itself to a greater good, legitimizes and validates marginalized people and is therefore worthy for public consumption.

     Sound good? Of course not! It’s insane. So stop it! Stop intellectually burning books and then calling it an act of advocacy for the greater good. We’ve seen this sort of collectivism before. Someone rewind that movie.

    If we’re going to go down this path, let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not “redefining” free speech. These kids aren’t “re-envisioning” the First Amendment. We’re creating a new amendment. Let’s do what George Carlin would have done, and call it what it is. Approved Speech. Free speech is gone. We have Approved Speech. Stop lying to us (and yourselves) with these rationales and euphemisms.

Here’s the Kicker!:

     Baer actually made my point for me just a few short hours after the New York Times published his piece. In the same article where he states “ I am not overly worried that even the shrillest heckler’s vetoes will end free speech in America,” he doubled back to include a legal disclaimer divorcing his views from his employer. Without a shred of irony.

Guest Blogger P. Casey Telesk presents “CRAFT: More Human Than Human: Writing as an Act of Amoral Revolution

Casey Telesk

 

Our guest blogger is P. Casey Telesk. This essay first appeared in Hippocampus Magazine in June of this year. 

P. Casey Telesk:

David Foster Wallace once said, “Fiction’s about what it is to be a fucking human being.”

What I believe about writing is similar, I think, to what Wallace was saying in the above statement. The act of writing is about discovering what it means to be a human being, to engage in a process of thought that allows for the discovery of what makes humanity tick. I write primarily fiction; however, what I’ll talk about here, as with most of my views on the craft of writing, applies to fiction and nonfiction alike.

The art of nonfiction is the act of writing about our human selves, which is also true in fiction. Fitzgerald and Hemingway, in their fiction, indicated an acute awareness of alcoholism in their characters, but were never able to acknowledge their own addiction to alcohol. In fiction, at least, there is a buffer — because, after all, it is fiction! In nonfiction there is no such buffer, as we cannot hide behind that word — fiction.

“Write what you know” is the most common piece of advice lobbed lazily at young writers. When I first began writing, I wrote about my experience of having lived with my alcoholic mother. This never made for good writing, and still doesn’t. This is because, even though 20 years have elapsed since I lived with my mother, there still isn’t enough distance between my life now and my life then for me to understand that experience to a degree at which I can write clearly about it. I believe a better piece of advice is — take what you know and write about something, anything, in a meaningful way.

I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t write about experiences you don’t understand. I urge all of us to write about our experiences, especially when we don’t necessarily understand them, or their meanings, on a larger scale. This is why we write, or why we should be writing — to discover the unknown, about ourselves, and others. As writers, we have an obligation to capture, in some way, the nature of the human experience as we see it.

In his 1953 Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Faulkner said: “It is [the writer’s] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.” — a statement with which I could not disagree more. We have no obligation to instill within man a hope for humanity, nor must we help him endure, though it is okay to have hope, just as it is okay to not have hope. I believe that, in order to write anything worthy of a reader’s time, it must be rooted not only in human experience, but also from a specific perspective, on a specific human experience. And, with any luck, by the end, you’ll have come to understand that human experience in some small way, and maybe even have your perspective shift at some point along your writing journey. If you’re really lucky, you’ll be enlightened by the rarest of all human experiences — coming to understand, and accept, that you simply do not understand.

Since the inception of man, we have always had the need to understand all things, creating gods to explain the sun, the moon, and the stars; blaming the Devil for the evil deeds of men; accrediting God for inexplicable happenings. We feel the incessant need to understand, to have reason, and that’s okay — from this need good writing is born. Great writing, however, occurs when we’re driven by that need, while at the same acknowledging that we do not have to understand, as well as accepting that sometimes we won’t. Inherent in what Faulkner calls the “privilege of the writer” is the assumption that the world can be understood in black and white terms, as good vs. evil, and that the great writer is capable of understanding all of it.

I could not write directly about my experiences with my mother because I didn’t understand anything about her, about what had occurred in my life as the result of her actions. I eventually realized this, and stopped writing about her. In 2009, when I began writing my novel-in-progress, I saw it as opportunity to put my mother on display, to show everyone the kind of person I believed her to be. However, almost 5 years later, once I finished the draft of the novel, I looked back over the narrative and had a massive realization; the mother is actually one of the heroes of the novel, but she is also a victim of others’ abuse. This is something I hadn’t been conscious of during the writing process. I realized consciously, but probably had known unconsciously much earlier, that my mother had suffered during her life, too, and, like the mother in my story by the novel’s end, became who she is as a result of her own suffering. Today, as a result of the process of writing the novel, I realize that we are all human, susceptible to our very own humanity, and vulnerable to the inhumane behavior of others.

I understand this clearly now, but never would I tell other writers to feel the same as I do — tell them they must understand that a person at whose hands they suffered is human, to help them, “endure by lifting his heart,” as Faulkner suggests — that’s not my job, as person, or writer — nor is it yours. The fault inherent in telling us that we can do this “by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past,” eliminates the possibility of good writing. The privilege he describes is not our duty, nor should it ever be our purpose in writing. Morality, in the biblical sense, is a very tricky subject to address in writing. Chekhov said that in order to have a good story it is necessary to have “total objectivity.” If we are imposing a morality onto our story, we are imposing judgment.

I believe I was able to capture a vital aspect of the human experience in my first draft — the fact that we all suffer. As a writer, I can share this revelation with my readers, but I cannot tell them what to do with it. Even now that I’m aware of this idea of suffering, I think it is a very simple and obvious fact, but it isn’t. I would have never understood this unless I took what I know, what I’ve experienced, and tried to apply it to my story. This is “writing what you know,” a snapshot of humanity frozen, which we can, and should share. We cannot go out and expect to search and find exactly what we’re hoping to find. Through writing, one should search for understanding, but never expect to find the exact answer you’re looking for.

Abandoning that need to understand, rejecting the “privilege” Faulkner describes, allows us to transcend our own humanity, granting us the ability to understand without understanding, which in turn makes us, for small moments at a time, more human than human — this is the true privilege of the writer, to capture the parts of humanity, good and bad, that are hard to see, or that we do not wish to see. There is a certain atrocity in the idea that we must remind man of “the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.” To suggest that one is obligated to inspire man, “to lift his heart” with only such romantic and selective parts of his vast and complex nature is simply unconscionable, essentially suggesting that history books’ only mention of Hitler be that, “he was a German leader who loved painting and dogs.” What Faulkner asks of us is detrimental to human progress, the kind of thinking held by teachers who tell schoolchildren “Columbus discovered America,” that he was a dreamer filled with a longing for adventure, but fail to mention how he was responsible for the first killings in a genocide that eventually ended with over 100 million Native Americans dead. This is why our only obligation, the only truly moral act we can commit as writers, is to hold a mirror up to humanity and ask them to look, but we cannot tell them what they should see. We cannot control or try to accomplish this; it happens by chance, the byproduct of moments when our egos briefly disappear, and we come to terms with the fact that we are only writers, that we are nothing, that not a word I have written in this essay matters, that we have no obligations or grandiose “privileges,” when we begin to understand that we do not understand anything, that we are human and nothing we believe contains any value — this is when you’ll find yourself holding up that mirror to yourself. The only thing you need to do, is turn it.

 

P. Casey Telesk published his first short story, an alternate history tale about the assassination of President Truman, in his elementary school journal at the age of eight. His 1999-2005 anthology of bad breakup poetry has not yet found a home. Born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, he received a bachelor’s degree in English literature from The Pennsylvania State University and is a graduate of the Wilkes University M.A./M.F.A. Creative Writing Program. He enjoys writing about modernist literature, the Death of Affect, and the importance of structure in literary craft.

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