Monday, October 2, 2017


     First, for all those of you waiting with bated breath to hear whether I finally finished Innocents: Yes, the novel is now complete in first draft. After my editor has tightened the seams and picked off the lint, it will be winging its way to you. It’s a bit shorter than I’d originally imagined, but it covers the themes I intended, so I’m going to resist the temptation to expand it for no reason other than bulk.

     Second, indie writer Alma Boykin has an impressive essay up about “vocations:”

     What happens when experts, teachers, cultural leaders, and others tell people that they have no vocation and can not have one? When a generation is informed that not only can they not follow the paths of their fathers and mothers—especially fathers—but that such plans and dreams are outdated and pointless because the world has changed and the now-vocationless are doomed from birth? When there is no other option suggested, or perhaps no option that does not mean becoming dependent and being reminded of that dependence on a near-daily basis? I would posit that we may be seeing that today in the US, and possibly Europe as well, although various parts of Europe have their own problems that date back to WWI if not somewhat farther.

     The entire essay is eminently worth your time. Please read it all – and having done so, reflect, if you will, on the incredibly common attitude, especially prevalent among young persons on the Left, that disdains the vocations of our forebears, demanding something newer / easier / more remunerative / more “fulfilling” than the occupations those forebears followed. It puts me in mind of an old Animals tune:

In this dirty old part of the city
Where the sun refuse to shine
People tell me there ain't no use in trying

Now my girl you're so young and pretty
And one thing I know is true
You'll be dead before your time is due
I know...

Watch my daddy in bed a-dyin’
Watch his hair been turning gray
He's been workin’ and slavin’ his life away
Oh yes, I know it
He's been working so hard
I've been working too babe
Every night and day
Yeah yeah yeah yeah

We gotta get out of this place
If it's the last thing we ever do
We gotta get out of this place
'Cause girl, there's a better life
For me and you

     Pure Sixties’ English working-class resentment of the English working-class lot, topped with a fantasy that there’s an escape somewhere, if only dyin’ old Daddy and his resentful proletarian son could recognize it and grasp it. But there wasn’t then...and there isn’t now, here or there, as the Powers That Be have contrived to ensure.

     It’s not clear that the great majority of our parents, grandparents, et cetera felt that they’d been “called” to the trades they adopted. No doubt some did. Others might have gone unreflectively and more or less automatically into the family business. (Of course, that was easier when there were more family businesses and the BLEEP!ing IRS wasn’t doing its damnedest to kill them off.) And others, an unknown but probably significant percentage, followed the line of least resistance wherever it might lead them. But if anecdotal evidence can be relied upon, few rebelled against “the system” as so many do today. Few looked upon the life paths chosen by their predecessors with unmixed contempt.

     As loudly as the rebels of all ages have complained about the chafing of “society’s rules,” there has never been a successful society that didn’t lay out preferred courses for its young and urge them to feel “called” to one. There’s a hidden truth in there that even the canniest analysts tend to miss: the great majority of us are not nearly creative nor potent enough to design unique yet viable futures for ourselves.

     It’s an old observation that every man wants to be his own boss...right up to the moment he discovers what an unrelenting hardass that S.O.B. must be to keep food on the table. That’s another facet of our inadequate knowledge of ourselves: our propensity to superimpose our gauzy fantasies over the hard reality beneath. For most of Mankind, individual happiness and social utility are best served by conformity: i.e., by choosing from the menu of life paths presented by the world as it is, rather than imagining oneself as a trailblazer.

     Enter that lowest of all the emotions: envy. They who resent others who have made the accommodations reality requires for adequate happiness and security will do whatever they can to demean, discourage, and destroy the contented conformists around them. If the Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omni-Benevolent State, with its generous welfare systems, can be induced to help, so much the better for the resenters. If they must be in chains, let everyone be so!

     If you’ve been casting about for the covert engines that power the Leftist chaoticians laboring to twist the minds and souls of our progeny and rampaging randomly through our cities, I suggest that the answer might be found in the above.

     I had a friend named Bruce, way back in college, who was something of a mentor to me. He was firmly of the opinion that “if you want society’s prizes, you have to play society’s game.” It might have been in part a defense of his own, consciously chosen, strikingly gray-flannel path through life: get his degree, get hired by a large corporation, spend forty or fifty years laboring in its vineyard, and retire to enjoy a few years of peace before God pulls the flush chain. As I lost touch with him shortly after he graduated, I have no idea whether things worked out as he expected. I hope they did; of the people I remember from those days, he was one of the few who seemed to be at peace with himself.

     As it happened, I too followed a relatively conventional path, though much of my working life was spent at smaller companies. But I was always a little disturbed by Bruce’s acceptance of ways so many of our coevals spat upon. It might have been the tenor of the times and nothing else. Certainly attitudes changed dramatically after the Seventies were behind us, even if we seem to be in a period of reversion just now.

     The stark truth of the matter is plain: It’s a rare man who’s both fit by his aptitudes to strike out on a wholly new trail and likely to be happy for having done so. “Society’s game,” in Bruce’s words, might seem drearily conformist to the innately rebellious youth. (I‘d wanted to be a baseball player or an astronaut.) But it’s also rich in well proven courses, any of which can be navigated by most and will reliably repay an honest effort to do so. To choose one of those courses, to commit oneself to it sincerely, and to give it one’s best amounts to victory in the “game.” Remarkably, the terms of the game don’t require that there be a loser.

     We storytellers might be the luckiest of all men. We get to have it both ways: a conventional life path that puts coffee and cakes on the table, and a “second life” in which the fantasies we harbor that reality declines to accommodate can run free. It’s a unique species of blessing, eminently worthy of a prayer of gratitude...right after I finish polishing my incredibly awkward first draft of Innocents.

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