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American BanjoThe following is a passage from my novel American Banjo, a story about several generations of an aristocratic American family. It was released earlier this year on Amazon.com.

From the diary of Sandra Eccles:

There is a simple elegance to life. There is a simple elegance to a good mystery. You jump on a ship looking for adventure, looking for drama, looking for meaning. And just as you find the object of your desire, your desire evaporates. I seek drama, and I find drama.

I think of Occam’s razor; the simplest explanation is the best one. The simplest way to write a sentence is the best way.

I wonder if I’m mature enough to live my life simply. I start to think of my father. I hate to think that he might have been right. That my defiance was a play I didn’t understand, and now that I do, the defiance means nothing. But you negotiate the paths to wisdom only through action, through praxis; you may climb a mountain only to find there is no longer a mountain to see. That is mountains. And that is philosophy. The journey was the thing. It was good you made the journey. But the wisdom isn’t what you found. The wisdom came from knowing you had to look.

I think about this after returning home and gazing upon the sleeping, topless figure of the woman who tried to steal money from me—the woman who is now my wife. How we got here is not important. I’ve walked through different rooms of life with her and the room we started in has been demolished. I can no longer know the me before Sieglinde. Nor care about who she was before or who I was.

She wasn’t a thief as I found her. She was asleep. People who sleep are innocent.

I had seen Priscilla earlier that day. Priscilla, the doyenne of my scene, the brilliant lawyer who had helped establish the intellectual underpinnings of “judicial interpretation as violence,” the woman who rebelled through textures, seemed to have become sweet on me … as a mother or something more.

“I have to say, when you were at the party the other night without Sieglinde, I began to worry.”

“About?”

“You two have been together for what … 18 months?”

“Two years.”

“What do you talk about?”

“It was a relationship born in a crisis. We emerged from that together.”

“Crisis isn’t a value.”

Priscilla pushed my hair back where she thought she saw a bruise or something. I pulled away. Evidently, she’d heard things.

“Is this an intervention?”

“I’ve come to care about you, Sandra. You’re focused. You’re ambitious. You hurt Sieglinde with a curt remark and don’t notice. She watches you talking to other women.”

“I can’t think about that. This is my book. My career. I won’t be stopped.”

“But she’s your lover. What if she wanted you to stop? For a baby, maybe.”

“I can’t be held back by that.”

“So leave her.”

I snorted a bit.

“I can’t do that either.”

Priscilla, wiser than anybody I’d ever met, waited for an explanation as she sipped her green tea.

“I can’t do it because she was the one who made me what I am. She brought me out.”

“Which makes her not even as important as your mother, who you probably wouldn’t respect anywhere near as much. You really feel as if you owe her your life? The way a child owes something to a parent?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Well, sooner or later, a child can’t owe something to a parent. She must know that what a parent gives to a child besides life is something more precious. Eventually, the parent must give that child freedom. That’s part of the contract.”

“In what law? Not the Torah?”

“In life. In love. You can’t sacrifice yourself for Sieglinde. You don’t owe her your soul. You don’t owe that to anybody.”

“Stop. I won’t do it. I won’t cut her loose.”

She didn’t talk for a long time, then finally …

“There are other people who want you,” Priscilla said. “Women who want to be with you. Who see your value. You don’t have to compromise. I found out a long time ago, even before I left my husband, what it means to be a whole person.”

“And what’s that?”

“Nobody can take on the responsibility of making you happy. And you can’t take on the responsibility of making somebody else happy. It’s too much to ask. And if you do, you’re not really allowing them to live up to being fully human.”

I drank tea and listened, and she pushed my hair back again.

“Cut her loose.”

Copyright 2012.

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American BanjoI have just released my sixth novel, American Banjo, as an e-book on Amazon.com. I plan to release the novel in paperback version, hopefully later this year, along with all my other novels.

The plot: An heirloom Federal-style banjo clock build in 1804 is passed down through eight generations of a secretive family of ultra-high-net-worth Americans. Built shortly after the American Revolution, it has come to mean something different to all its holders. To Sandra Eccles, one of the family’s daughters, the clock may prove the guilt or innocence of not only a few founding fathers, but also her storied grandfather, who made munitions in World War II. His possession of a painting that might have been stolen from a Jewish family by the Nazis leads Sandra to try to uncover a puzzling skein of relationships and help her determine how good her forebears really were and what they were after.

I piece together the story line from various “diaries” of the characters, a cast from different times and places in American history, whose dreams and aspirations and ethics are different, even though the ways they aspire are somehow the same.

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This guy quoted in the Atlantic supports Bernie Sanders but says he will consider voting for Donald Trump if Hillary Clinton gets the nomination for president.

Let me condense his long, rambling speech for you: “If I do not get my way, I will burn everything down.” Why? Because his career in the arts didn’t take off. This is not the first time I have heard this argument: “Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders is going to make my creative career manifest.”

I myself am an artist, too, dear readers, but I also know one or two things about the economics of art, and the idea of a middle-class or even rich artist is a byproduct of mid-20th century capital formation, not socialism. It was enabled by excess industrial capacity created by a large military industrial complex and cheap gas following WW II and the extra leisure time and spending money enjoyed by a rising bourgeois class. Let’s not forget advances in technology such as recording and film that displaced music publishing houses and theaters that had come before (and do we cry for them?) In much of human history, artists were funded by wealthy patrons or by the church or by selling their art as cheap catch-penny entertainment. Unfortunately, our recent experience has made for a greedy demand among artists that they have a God-given right to money and fans that will validate their choices and identity, even though that whole idea is staked on something the market demand won’t bear.

Sorry it didn’t work out, but it’s your own fault for not having curiosity about a few issues.

I say this as an artist and not a terrible one in my own estimation: If your art doesn’t pay for itself, get a real fucking job until it does. It will enhance your esteem and give you some perspective. When you lack that perspective, the rest of America bears the burden, crossing our fingers that you won’t elect a psychopath out of spite.

Can good countries fund the arts? Of course they can. Up to a certain point. Can they make anybody who wants to be an artist a wealthy artist? No. There is a supply and demand problem. Everybody wants to make art but there are not enough consumers to match all that supply. They only have time for so much entertainment and only so many artists can reasonably make it (for whatever value they bring whether it’s artistic genius or cultural resonance). After the revolution in Nicaragua, everybody wanted to be a poet. You know what the socialist Sandinista government told them? “Pick cotton, please.” Socialism injects a much needed safety net into a mean capitalist system (and the United States is already socialist and has been for a good long time). But the entire idea of our system of capital is that it allocates resources better than centralized planning. Capital gave us freedom to do things that collectivism did not. Like make music in our spare time or even professionally. That’s because we pay people to do things for us that it would be too crushing to have to do ourselves, things that would put us back on farms, selling stuff by a river. You have to be able to eat and wear clothes and find shelter (paid for with capital) before concerning yourself with your Stravinsky-inspired piano piece. Other people need food and clothes before they can hear it.

Bernie Sanders supporters say they have been mocked and scorned. When, exactly, did this mockery and scorn take place? Was Hillary constantly calling Bernie Sanders a “commie” this year? No, she was talking with him substantively up until a few months ago. When it looked like he wouldn’t pull ahead it votes or delegates, the conversation got increasingly stupid. The meaningless phrase “establishment” was used against Clinton next to the other meaningless phrase “corporatist.” Calls went out that the election was rigged. It wasn’t. Bernie Sanders has never had a lead in votes or pledged delegates. Never. To call Hillary Clinton’s election a coronation is to suppress an expression of democracy. It is to be on the fascist side. Geddit?

“Hillary hatred” has been a thing much longer than “Bernie hatred” which means that mockery Sanders supporters feel is largely a product of their imaginations and out-of-control persecution complexes.

LBJ, FDR, JFK, John Maynard Keynes … these were all establishment figures. They all did things that helped our economy and society and they did it in a liberal style and mode. Nobody cares if they were “establishment.” When you call Hillary Clinton the “e” word, you are not impressing anybody that you are engaged in issues as much as that you have low self-esteem and that it’s likely richly deserved. Fact is, Hillary Clinton has done a lot of questionable things (like voting for the Iraq War) but she also has a tremendous amount of accomplishments and a fairly liberal voting record (if you look). If you say she is the same as a Republican–not because you did the due diligence and looked up her record but because you have staked your identity on repeating things you hear from other liberals at picnics and rallies–then unfortunately you are no better than Republicans at barbecues, nodding at their dads as they drunkenly yell “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” You have, in fact, revoked your right to call yourself smarter than rednecks or think of your choices as more reasonable and thought out. You might be just another joiner.

So let me tell you what’s really going on with the kid in the Atlantic piece (and he is a child):

When you are totally impotent; when a changing world baffles you and leaves you feeling helpless; when you haven’t the imagination to think your way out of the mess that false assumptions have led you into, sometimes the only way you can feel a sense of power and facility is by your power to negate and destroy. This is something people on the left and the right can now shake hands on. That and the following idea: “I will not let reason violate my identity.” Kumbaya.

 

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