Wednesday, October 12, 2011

And the final two ads

 So the ad campaign I ran last week went well. At left, there are two more images, as I switched the ad content out every 24 hours. Ultimately, I had over 100 click-throughs to the Literary Outlaw website, which means there must have been something compelling enough in either the text or the image to make someone click to read more. And that is somewhat gratifying.

"Conceived in the New Liberty" was, as I suspected, rejected by the group that invited me to submit my work. While an invitation sounds hopeful, it was merely a pro-forma note sent to previous contributors. They said "Conceived..." "did not resonate with them." I find this a funny sort of reaction, since some of what is currently happening in Washington, D.C. and New York City is fairly similar to what appears in the story, which is actually set in Washington, D.C. and has a band of proselytizing anarchists (a group I read is also attending the real life demonstrations). Of course, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are not burning facscimiles of The Constitution. The reason I included this in the story and made it such a narrative cornerstone is not because I condone it or seek to incite this kind of behavior. I included it because I can see it actually happening. Let me explain.

Yesterday, in a class I teach--a college-level course--I asked the students if they had heard of Ernest Hemingway. I received blank stares from my mid-day class. To have graduated from high school and not heard of Ernest Hemingway indicates to me that something is wrong with our educational system. Of course, there is a far stretch between knowing about Ernest Hemingway and understanding our nation's founding doctrines. I'll admit that. However, I'll bet if you asked many high school graduates what the 6th Amendment guarantees, they wouldn't be able to tell you. This is frightening. Why? Because if its existence and function are not understood, how easily can we be persuaded that they are no longer relevant?  With the triumph of uninformed opinion over fact in many so-called news programs, with the rise of uncivil discourse, with the proliferation of media by which untruths can be propagated and history rewritten, will students fight the removal of these rights? Maybe. But not until it's too late, until these rights are already rescinded. So this is what I was getting at with the story.
I see what's coming out of high schools, out of GED programs, and I'll admit, I'm afraid. We've got an entire generation lured by technology, entirely without curiosity, unwilling to learn, bored to death by a lecture on critical thinking, logical fallacies, and propaganda. Often, they collect their Pell Grant money and disappear, never to be seen again after the first four weeks of classes. There are exceptions to this behavior, but they are few. So, how easily will they be persuaded to undo the foundation of our nation, to walk apathetically or with misplaced anger into a new era of martial law before realizing they've made a terrible mistake? And maybe they will never realize it.

I've decided that submitting to journals is like spitting into the wind. My words come back to me, usually with a curt or snarky response. And so the last of my works, submitted at the beginning of the year and up until July, have finally returned, all of them rejected. I am a writer without a  traditional audience. And I say traditional because I know, based on the ad campaign, that I gained at least a few readers, even if this contact was fleeting. The fact that my words have met with someone else's eyes is a very good thing.

Last week, I found this fantastic quote by George Orwell. It comes from a preface to Animal Farm, and discusses his difficulties in getting the text published. The preface is apparently rare in reprints of the book, but it is reproduced in its entirety here: "The Freedom of the Press". The quote that I find especially powerful opens paragraph five: "Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban."

I would go so far as to say that even in the independent writing world, which by its early definition championed the bold idea and served as the author's Salon des Refuses, has its own insular system in place, whereby only certain styles, certain ideas, and certain writers are elevated, while others are marginalized, ignored, and devalued. How can a writer combat this? It's pretty thorny problem, and one with no easy resolution, other than to go off on your own to trumpet your message yourself. At least there is that potential. It's quite a comfort.

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