I have never smoked anything in my life.As a kid with chronic bronchitis few things scared me as much as being unable to breathe.I have not assassinated anyone or consorted with aliens—at least not that I know of.Otherwise I think I understand the Smoking Man.As far as my X-Files rewatching saga goes, I recently reached “The Musings of a Cigarette Smoking Man.”I remember the first time I saw it I found it improbable that the assassinations of the 1960s were the work of a single man. What hit me this time around, however, was the Smoking Man’s real frustration in life.He wants to be a writer.Having completed several novels myself, none published, I have received pin-head letters very much like those he does in this episode, only in greater quantities.When he finally finds a publisher, he writes his resignation letter to whomever hires assassins and those who change the course of history.I know just how he feels.
You’d think that by the logic of any reasonable system that those who work in an industry might have some inside tracks.Some, no doubt, do.Others of us in publishing are just like the average, uninformed person on the street.Publishing is a cliquish place.A friend with some success getting novels published advised me to look at the names of editors and editorial boards on the literary journals that get noticed.“You’ll see the same ones coming up over and over,” he said.It is, as the Smoking Man discovered, a kind of cabal, which is, I suspect, the point of making him out as a frustrated novelist.He can set the course of history, but he can’t get a legitimate novel published.Cue the X-Files theme.
I know many academics who write fiction.My second novel (depending how you count these things—this one was never finished) was a pet project while I worked at Nashotah House.I knew I wouldn’t be able to publish it when I worked there.In fact, my first fiction publication only came three years after being shoved out of the nest of academe.I’ve completed seven novels now and I’ve managed to get some short stories published.Then again, I don’t have clandestine knowledge from a lifetime of access to the truth about alien-human interaction.I don’t shoot people for a living.I’m not even a professor any more.Still, I think I can begin to understand why someone might turn toward a more interesting career, given the situation when it comes to getting published.
Popular historians love a good coincidence. I suppose it is a way of reading order into a chaotic world where many events, in the final analysis, just don’t make sense. Perhaps academic historians shy away from coincidental events—after all, they contain a whiff of the improbable about them, and academics can admit no greater force driving our efforts toward a civil existence. The rest of us, however, like to note them. This week contains the anniversaries of a couple of significant landmarks of United States history, and they may somehow be related. November 19 marked the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address while November 22 is the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The events, a century and three days apart, stand for transitions in American society, and the implications of both still linger on as unfairness and fear continue to haunt our hopes for a future where all might indeed be considered created equal—and not just all men, but all people—and where optimism might edge out cynicism in the political world.
Of course, both Lincoln and Kennedy died at the hands of assassins. America has never been terribly comfortable with dreamers. The century that separated the Gettysburg Address from Kennedy’s tragic death was not enough time to swing the ship of state around to bring about a world of dreams. Unfortunately, war also defined both presidencies. The dream of a world at peace has been more difficult to attain than a human desire for such a world would seem to merit. If we all (or most) want a world at peace, why can’t we bring it about? Unfortunately, it seems that a basic sense of justice is lacking.
Perhaps it is a coincidence that many of the world’s religions stress the concept of a just society. By far the majority of the world population associates itself with one form of religious belief or another. Not all religions get along, however. Many of the conflicts that have erupted into wars have had a basis in differing religions. Power is easily seized from dreamers, religious or not. Watching modern elections is a terribly sobering event. We don’t advertise what we might accomplish, but rather what is so wrong with the other guy so that we win by a paltry default. Victory for whom? And why consider it a victory? A friend once suggested that Christians should start out as bishops and eventually be promoted to the level of laity. I thought it was a brilliant idea that could be applied to politics as well. Think of it: elected officials as servants of the people. Of course, by coincidence, I am a hopeless dreamer.