What’s Anarchy?

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Anarchy: When you hear that word, what comes to mind? Is it crime and chaos, mobs breaking into convenient stores, a hellish inferno rising over civilization? If your friend one day proclaimed himself an anarchist, would you consider calling the police?

You would be dead wrong.

In the words of Noam Chomsky: “Anarchism … is an expression of the idea that the burden of proof is always on those who argue that authority and domination are necessary … If they cannot, then the institutions they defend should be considered illegitimate.”

Since I was a teenager, I held a brewing suspicion and hatred of nationalism. At school, I silently mouthed the Pledge of Allegiance, because I was a Christian, and believed in the rule of God, not man. To think, I had not even heard the words of Dave Andrews: “Jesus Christ was the supreme example of authentic anarchy … working to empower people and enable them to realize their potential.”

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At Trump Rallies, Regressive Left Rears Its Hideous Head

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As Donald Trump closes in on the presidential nomination, his rallies have become increasingly beleaguered by thousands of protesters. A rally in Chicago was canceled due to safety concerns from protesters. One weekend in Ohio, a man “yelling, screaming and flailing his arms” jumped the barrier surrounding the stage, but was tackled by Secret Service before he could reach Trump.

The ideological fissure yawns ever wider …

Public figures across the board — John Kasich, Ted Cruz, Bill de Blasio, Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan, Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama — have condemned Trump for dividing the American people and for inciting violence, hate and fear.

So then what do you call shutting down a peaceful rally — be it loud, obnoxious and quasi-fascist — but nonetheless peaceful?
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Jamestown Plows: The Case For Free-Market Transportation

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I have heard many a citizen complain of the snow plowing in their neighborhoods — it takes them so long, they don’t finish the job, or the snow was piled up in an inconvenient place. Even during the spring, these streets are troublesome. We find ourselves dodging potholes and jostling over dangerous fissures that either bust our vehicles or earn a ticket from police.

Sadly, because a bureaucracy is in charge, if there is to be any hope of decent streets, we would need to vote in a representative who would press for improved infrastructure, which would inevitably mean raising taxes, without any certainty of improvement. Even with a wider budget, there is still no promise that the conditions of the streets will improve at all.

Libertarians have such a simple solution to all of these woes, and it’s only three words.

Free-market transportation.

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Are You Tired Of The Opinion War?

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You may have noticed that this column took a hiatus; it wasn’t just because of the hectic holidays. I was overwhelmed by the bulk of fan mail piling on my desk and filling up my email inbox, and my schedule was booked answering phone calls from enthusiastic readers. I even considered retiring — why proclaim my views anymore? I had changed the minds of every newspaper reader within twenty miles. Everyone agrees with me. Mission accomplished.

HA.

Truth is, I’m tired of the opinion war. It’s as if the nation and the world is frozen in a icy block of eternal, unresolved discussion. Teetering on the edge of an all-out catastrophe.

I suspect that the increasing polarization of politics coincides — if it is not caused — by the near-omnipresence of social media. News can be tweeted or blogged faster than newspapers can publish it. Conclusions are slanted and warped toward our agendas before we can assess all of the facts. Smartphones wait in our pockets like revolvers in holsters, prepared to be drawn the moment an angry rant or a vociferous meme rears its ugly head.

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The Adam Bomb Prepares To Nuke NaNoWriMo

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Breaking news: I have made a last-minute decision to participate in NaNoWriMo.

What is this NaNoWriMo you speak of, you ask? Why, November is National Novel Writing Month. Beginning at midnight, as soon as I’m off work and stepping through my front door, I will embark on a grand and lonely quest to write 50,000 words within the next 30 days. Do the math, and that means I should pump out 1,667 words a day if I wish to stay on top of things.

But it need not be lonely. Like a magician opening his coat and doves flying from his sleeves, I send out my invitation to the great cloud of witnesses that is the internet, to join me in this noble endeavor.

NaNoWriMo, I find, is overwhelmingly attended by novice writers more than professionals. It strikes me more as amateurs patting each other on the back and fueling their delusions of talent and self-grandeur, while the end product is meant for its own end of satisfaction. I hear they’ll publish your book free, so you can put it on your shelf, and gaze at it every night before bed and pretend you’re a writer for the rest of your small, sad life.

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Why Generals Play Risk In The Break Room

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Risk. The only board game I could play instead of eat or sleep.

The object of the game is world domination. The board is a map of the world, albeit skewed to a Napoleonic-era perception. Players command armies, occupy territories and wage war against the other players. Alliances are made and betrayed. Manipulation is the name of the game. In terms of imbuing values, it’s worse than Monopoly.

Among my friends, I am notorious for being the “puppet master.” I prefer to wage proxy wars. Why start a fight when someone else can fight for you? If my army in Brazil is locked in a stalemate by an army in North Africa, I’ll flatter and kiss the toes of the player controlling Europe, until she realizes (seemingly without my suggestion) that the player next door in Africa is her direst threat.

War begins — did Europe start it? Or did Africa? Too late. The Mediterranean fills with corpses. The Sahara is washed in blood. When the dust settles, both players are ruined. Meanwhile, I am unharmed. Like a carrion bird, I swoop down and pick off the aftermath.

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Dust Off The Ribbon – Real Writers Use Typewriters

My Remington typewriterMy father arrived home from his rental properties and he handed me a dusty typewriter. He had stumbled upon it while rifling through junk in one of his apartments. It was utterly dilapidated: smothered in dust, sticky, half of the typebars didn’t punch, a broken paten, and the spool was missing. “Do whatever you want with it,” he said.

Oh, I did.

I scoured half of the county for someone who could fix it. Ironically, the man I finally found lives down the street from my parents. I forked over $160 to have it restored, polished up and given a new ribbon. They had to ship the typewriter to California, the only manufacturer who could find the missing parts. When I picked it up, I was informed that the typewriter was built in the late 1940’s, early ‘50s. I shudder with ecstasy, the thought that I possess the device upon which Ray Bradbury may have typed Fahrenheit 451.

It’s enormous. It’s heavy. It’s loud. And I absolutely love it.

When operating a typewriter, if you are “in the zone,” you will know it — your fingers will burn, your neck will strain, and your eardrums will be drowned by the machine gun assault of tiny key hammers battering ink onto the page. A rewarding “ding!” announces you have finished another line, and you rip the platen sidewise and start again. Line after line after line. Want to write a story and burn some calories at the same time? Buy a typewriter. You will actually break a sweat if you embark on a typing streak. I worried my neighbors would awaken. When you are writing with a typewriter, you know it, and everyone in the next room knows it.

When you finish, sit a moment. Smell the oil, the freshly polished metal. Feel the effort in your aching muscles. It doesn’t matter if nobody ever sees it. You’ll feel like a true, goddamn writer.

For a month I kept a typewriter journal. It would be my private archive of thoughts, the device through which I could blather ideas, or simply scream for joy and madness, and discover my true genius without the haunting specter of criticism. At first, it was thrilling. I fancied Sean Connery pacing behind me with a glass of whiskey in his hand, breaking the typewriter-filled silence shouting: “PUNCH THE KEYS, DAMMIT!”

There is something therapeutic, even liberating, about spilling ones thoughts onto a typewriter. It lies in the utterly unchangeable state of the page when it is finished, the permanency of the ink. I’m a rapid typist — I’ve scored around 80 words per minute — but I can’t write free hand well. The most use I have for a pen and journal is to jot down notes in the dead of night, after a dream.

Of all the keys on the keyboard, my favorite is the delete button. My self-esteem is so low, my perfectionism so obnoxiously meticulous, that every single word I write is certain to fall victim to the delete button, even if it is only to be typed again a moment later when I change my mind. A digital age child like myself will be startled to discover that, upon the typewriter, the delete button is conspicuously missing. Just like life, my friends.

That reality is terrifying. It’s also freedom. All self-doubt and self-criticism must vanish, if one is to ever finish a page upon the typewriter. When you start, you must not stop, or else the words will come out disjointed and impartial. Spelling mistakes, punctuation errors, even bad word choices must be humbly permitted if one is ever to move forward on a typewriter. If I say “Today was a bad day,” or if a character throws a coffee cup across the room, then today was a bad day and the character now has a mess to clean up. Upon the typewriter, thoughts and actions are forever printed onto the white sheet of history. Every thought, then, must be deliberate and polished.

Sadly, while writing upon a typewriter is a writing experience like no other, the device is (of course) utterly obsolete. There’s a glaringly obvious reason why they haven’t been manufactured since my parents typed their college essays. I can’t publish my thoughts — not unless I re-typed them on my computer. That’s a ton of trouble. What is its use if I’m blogging and all of my fiction submissions are electronic? My own secret fetish for the antiquated, I suppose.

I was the kid who begged his parents for gigantic, expensive lego sets and hot wheels tracks nine months before Christmas. When Christmas finally dawned and I unwrapped those toys from their ribbons, I played a half hour with them, then grew bored and forgot about them. When it came to gift-giving, I was the bane of my parents.

I’m ashamed. I don’t want my typewriter to be one of those toys. It dwells on my living room table, a symbol, a badge of honor. In the very least, while the computer is an opportunity to cruise the Internet, play games, or watch a movie, the typewriter serves a single function. When one sits before the typewriter, he has but one ambition …

To write.

**Here’s an excellent essay by another writer who prefers the typewriter, Brian Drake.**

Romance in Fiction (Ripped Apart and Stomped into Oblivion)

The moment I read the title of this short story, “Church Camp,” I rolled my eyes — there was no doubt that it would be anything but innocent, or fun, or even religious, God forbid. The narrator, John, a 16-year-old Catholic, goes to a Presbyterian church champ where he meets 15-year-old Mary (no, definitely not like the virgin Mary). Thereafter, the narrative follows your typical romance-story-pattern that has been recycled googolplex times; boy meets girl, they flirt, solidify a mutual crush, then they must overcome the obstacle which prevents them from coming together (differing religious denominations, camp counselors, jealous college boys), and then they finally have their fumbling yet beautiful sex in a field by a pond under the rising moon. Loons are calling, the air is warm and moist, and all seems perfect in the narrator’s world as they lay together in the afterglow of love. And then they lived happily ever after!—

NO.

In the words of Charles Baxter, a well-known literary essayist, “To complain about a tragic work of art is to be afraid or resentful of the pain of others” (Baxter 203). About halfway through the story, the narrator interrupts to set things straight with the reader: this isn’t a love story. “Amazement and passion and lust… but not love, perhaps not even respect” (Spilman). Sure enough, the sun of reality rises on the camp and Mary disappears without even saying goodbye to John. Besides a few jocular, frivolous text messages, John never sees or speaks to Mary ever again. So no, this isn’t a romance story — it isn’t even a sad love story, like The Notebook, or a tragic love story such as the classic deaths of Romeo and Juliet — it’s what I like to call an anti-love story, the rare case in which the non-celibate protagonist ends up as alone as he was before, his relationship a pointless waste of time. If “Church Camp” were adapted to film, nobody in America would wish to watch it; everyone would walk away asking themselves, their families, and their friends the same depressing question:

“Why can’t the two lovers stay together in the end?”

Spilman could have written a whole novel in which John meets Mary again later in his life, but he left the ending the way he did for good reason. Charles Baxter has written an essay which outlines the conventions for writing happy characters and writing happiness in short stories and novels. Assuming ideally that two characters “in love” are happy, happiness can only work in fiction if a character is always aware of that suffering from which he has been freed, and his happiness must be short-lived. But romance is a chronically optimistic genre. Take it from the Romance Writers of America organization, which clearly states on its website that its stories must always have “an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending” (RWA). If Spilman’s short story conformed to that popular standard, its profound effect would be lost and it would fail to be meaningful. Romance in narrative, which in this essay I will refer to as the law that two lovers must always end joyously in each other’s arms, violates Baxter’s rules regarding authentic human happiness in storytelling. 

No narrative is entirely happy. Every story, even a romance, is molded by conflict, which is caused by or produces pain that removes the character from a state of happiness and ultimately destroys his innocence. “Narratives designed to hold our interest seem to depend on trouble, conflict, secrets, duplicity, pain, cheating, lying, violence, sexual activities of every splendidly grungy variety and kind–all the features of an adult life” (Baxter 201). Madison Smartt Bell, in his book Narrative Design, takes a step further to say one cannot write a story at all without acknowledging any unhappiness in the character’s world. “To write a story with no vestige of these [rising and falling action, conflict and resolution] would be virtually impossible” (Bell 29). Every narrative is required to employ a central conflict, the problem which is introduced at the beginning of the narrative, and then our main character spends the length of the story attempting to bring to a resolution.

Even though romance is absurdly optimistic, it still adheres to the rule of conflict in narrative. Billy Mernit in his book Writing the Romantic Comedy describes the stages of plot specifically to a romance story: “The inciting incident brings man and woman together and into conflict; an inventive but credible contrivance, often amusing, which in some way sets the tone for the action to come” (Mernit 111). In “Church Camp,” the narrator via exposition presents his background information to the reader — he was dropped off at camp by his parents, had aspirations to be a priest, describes key details of the camp’s environment, explains his abrasions with the rest of the campers and the elusiveness of girls. Then, in what we can label the inciting incident, he meets Mary in a theology class and they bond arguing about celibacy. After the class laughs at John, she secretly holds his hand, and they flirt while the teacher pretends to ignore them. The tone of their relationship remains throughout the story as something forbidden and transient.

Spilman’s story continues to follow the typical formula of a romantic narrative. After we’re introduced to John and Mary, we move into Bell’s second act consisting of rising action. As defined within the framework of romance, this is when “A new development raises the stakes and clearly defines the protagonist’s goal; most successful when it sets man and woman at cross-purposes and/or their inner emotions at odds with the goal” (Mernit 112). Such a bittersweet opposition is presented when the narrator interrupts the story to announce his disappointing disclaimer. “When things were beautiful, we savored them because we knew they wouldn’t last” (Spilman). As the two lovers bond, the stakes are raised simply by clarifying the inevitable fate of separation at the end of the camp program. Romantic narratives also include the necessity of “A situation that irrevocably binds the protagonist with the antagonist… and has further implications for the outcome of the relationship” (Mernit 113). There are plenty of these between John and Mary: their arguments on the canoe about everything from God to baseball to ants develops their characters together; during a prayer session, Mary slips into tongues and John is the only camper who understands her passion; and their conversation about their parents’ relationships by a pair of birch trees, Mary’s divorced parents hints at her own inability to truly love.

Then we come to Bell’s third act, the climax, “the moment where whatever forces have been released in the opening stages of the narrative have their definitive confrontation” (Bell 27). In a romantic narrative, this would be when “Stakes reach their highest point as the romantic relationship’s importance jeopardizes the protagonist’s chance to succeed at his/her state goal—or vice versa—and his/her goal shifts” (Mernit 115). This moment of excitement is clearly the night they finally have sex. The tensions created from flirtation, naughty dreaming, jealous college boys, and wary-eyed counselors has not proved enough to thwart their love. After the climax, we experience falling action, “A decline of the plot’s movement… away from the highest peak of interest and excitement” (Bell 27). The morning after, Mary and John are separated by the camp counselors, which proves to be an inconvenience but not quite as debilitating as what a romance story typically demands. “The humiliating scene where private motivations are revealed, and either the relationship and/or the protagonist’s goal is seemingly lost forever” (Mernit 115). This fourth act is rather anticlimactic, but there is enough tension between John and the rest of the camp that it fits a vague form of humiliation and loss.

Up until this point, it would appear that a romantic narrative represents accurately the human condition; the rules for a story about two people woven together in love coincides dutifully with Bell’s rules for a coherent linear narrative and Baxter’s rule that a character cannot remain happy for too long. But when we come to the resolution of a romantic narrative, it derails and crashes, killing all of the readers on board.

According to Billy Mernit’s guide to writing romance, every romantic narrative requires the following for its conclusion: “A reconciliation that reaffirms the primal importance of the relationship; usually a happy ending that implies marriage or a serious commitment, often at the cost of some personal sacrifice to the protagonist” (Mernit 116). Every narrative calls for a resolution of some nature, but this sort of wrap-up simply does not occur in Spilman’s story. Mary does not respond to John’s text messages. He muses that he will meet Mary again in twenty years and be introduced to her family, but there is no sign of hope that this fantasy is not utterly futile. But John is not too hurt by the parting—we hardly even know how he feels—because throughout the relationship, it was clear there would never be any serious commitment, no sacrifice, and no gain. Many readers would probably feel their time was wasted, and even I as a reader am tempted to feel a bit cheated by Spilman’s ending. But this resolution is more stirring, profound, and beautiful than if John and Mary had become pen pals and went to college together and then got married.

“Church Camp” is a coming-of-age story; John loses his innocence to Mary and is awakened forever to the realities of the adult world. Imagine if their relationship had worked out like a romance; it would be like reading about Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, very boring and predictable. “Adam and Eve… are virtually non-narratable. Adam does not sit down and engage in troubled speculation concerning why he feels so good all day long” (Baxter 199-200). Instead, John develops the Aristotelian virtue of eliminating all craving, since craving leads to anguish, and so John finds himself in the garden-like setting of the pond. While John watches the lake, waiting for Mary to call back on his phone, he experiences “Das Glück im Winkel,” a German phrase, the state of being free from the longing of things you do not own, a thankfulness for the small things in life. He is not burdened with the emotional pain of having “lost” Mary, but instead appreciating the miracle of nature.

At one side of the white house, in spite of the commotion across the way, does nuzzled a stand of raspberry that grew next to a vegetable garden, picking out leaves and chewing them with a sidewise motion. When one pushed aside a branch to get further in, the exposed leaves glittered with dew (Spilman).

There is another small passage in which he observes the loons feeding at the lake, and this moment deeply affects him. Instead of dwelling on the loss of Mary, John appreciates the simple beauty of these loons: “It’s amazing how long they can stay under water” (Spilman). We can see that John, while watching the loons, is inwardly observing his own inability to preserve his chastity and not drown in the overwhelming futility of love. But the formulaic romance rules out any possibility of an epiphany, except when the main character “SUDDENLY REALIZES” (a popular cliche of epiphanies) that she loves her Prince Charming, or that she actually loves Mr. Biker Stud Dude more, or—oh wait!—there IS a way they can finally be together and be happy forever!!! Romances have a strong inclination to be “flashy,” since we are, after all, dealing with human lust and passion. However, “Radience doesn’t need anyone to add anything to it” (Baxter 49). But the insight John receives in Spilman’s story does not leave him stunned or immobilized. The romance is prone to excessive emotions, which leads to artificiality and chaos, wheras the best insight can land on a character as lightly as a falling feather. “The insight follows the images but is not secondary: it balances them” (Baxter 45).

John’s insights about the true beauty of nature are far more profound than anything he observes in the artificial glamour of Mary — in the eyes of a young man, a girl becomes a prize to be won or a pretty thing to dote upon, and so any passages regarding Mary’s appearance are shallow, sensuous, and undignifying. “Amazing how much ground you can cover facing each other in a canoe, especially when your canoe partner is wearing a one-piece that fits like an anatomy lesson” (Spilman). The other extreme in illustrating female human beauty is deification (take the works of Dante Alighieri for example) which is in even more desperate need of disillusionment. Note that the story is narrated in first-person, from the perspective of a John who is probably much older than the John of the story. “Happiness is not experienced, happiness is remembered” (Baxter 199).

The state of John’s being at the end of the story reflects closely to the attitude of the speaker in Czeslaw Milosz’s poem “Gift.” “Hummingbirds were stopping over honeysuckle flowers/There was no thing on earth I wanted to possess” (Baxter 203). Interestingly, this poem’s rhetoric consists entirely of negations and minimal narrative; the speaker is triumphant simply to experience a day without pain or trouble. Had Mary not abandoned John, he would have missed this vision of true beauty. “Happiness is not just a state of being but a state of being discovered in the midst of an activity” (Baxter 204). This is quite unfortunate, because this means the popular romance narrative has ingrained in the minds of the consumer-masses a materialistic fallacy that happiness consists solely of acquiring and retaining commodities, and in this context, the commodity is glamorized love. But the novelist Christopher Bram says “happiness often arises from a character’s adaptability to changing conditions” (Baxter 207). Even an award-winning romance novelist agrees that there is something artificial, even harmful, about the idealism of romance. “It perpetuates something dangerous, that there’s this notion there’s this perfect love out there, and it can distract you from the work of loving yourself” (Pritchard).

Romance is purely and always a flaw in narrative, or at least any narrative that wishes to be considered seriously by readers. Heart-throbbing passion, mutual lust, and the idyllic fantasy of perfect harmony between two people is an aped mockery of true happiness that reaches the core of a character and ushers the most insightful change. A story that will bring every pair of star-crossed lovers together is merely entertaining, a drug for those who are too weak to accept their solitary circumstances, but a good story will invite the reader into a far greater experience — the chance to learn the beauty of simply loving one’s self.

WORKS CITED

“About the Romance Genre.” MyRWA : The Romance Genre :. Romance Writers of America, n.d. Web. 05 Dec. 2013.

Baxter, Charles. Burning down the House: Essays on Fiction. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf, 1997. Print.

Mernit, Billy. Writing the Romantic Comedy: The Art and Craft of Writing Screenplays That Sell. New York: HarperCollins World, 2002. Print.

Pritchard, Melissa. “Melissa Pritchard: Publishers Weekly Q&A.” Melissa Pritchard: Publishers Weekly Q&A. Publisher’s Weekly, 03 Mar. 2005. Web. 09 Dec. 2013.

Spilman, Richard. “Church Camp.” Baltimorereview.org. Baltimore Review, 2013. Web. 08 Dec. 2013.