Some time ago I entered several writing contests–vague little things with various prompts. The styles I went for were diverse: short fiction, flash fiction (specific word count narratives, ranging as low as 50 words; I tried 50 and another at 100), of course essays, and even some poetry. I am not a poet. I do not even particularly like poetry, although any writer can learn movement, rhythm and style from the lingering ups and downs and sideways flourishes of language for language’s sake that makes up so much poetry. If you are interested, I actually won one of these contests, a negligible cash prize and publication in a magazine none of you will ever read.
I am a generally unhappy individual, consumed far more often than is healthy with the decline of humanity, the death of our ability to live upon earth, and the genuine tragedy and hatefulness of our choices since we first clawed our way out of the slime. Doctors have diagnosed me with numerous grim-sounding conditions over the years, sometimes changing their ideas (as I continue changing doctors, fatefully disillusioned with the psychiatric profession). I have taken some long, hard time studying psychological states. My professional life is a probing of motives, a quest for empathetic understanding of the characters that spring out of my mind, mostly a reflection of a sliver of myself given free reign over their singular obsessions.
But I generally write non-fiction these days, discarding the freedom of invention, of being the cruel god to my characters I have always mercilessly been, and now I find myself restrained by the facts, by the truth. You might think that this limits imaginative expression, but you would be wrong.
Writing the truth gives the author a deep understanding of human nature. I can suggest that this is the case for every author of history and biography, but there is a distinction that must be made before we can clarify what, exactly, is ‘the truth.’ As the title of this website insists, I “record editorial history.”
Some time ago I wrote an introduction to this website. I have been writing essays under this heading since 1993, back when I was in college and still hopeful that the future might eventually go my way (I have about fifteen notebooks filled with angry, sometimes emotional rants, as well as an evolution of style and substance that makes me frequently proud.) Originally these were merely reviews, commentary about historical persons and current events. They were editorials, pure and simple–opinions of mine based in an idea discerned an interest in hard reality.
As I grew older and increasingly hopeless I had a serious change–a breaking point if you will–and the direction of my writing, already pitch black, devolved into a darkness so deep that I sometimes feared my rage would cause me go blind. And then I noticed something, the culture arguing senselessly with itself, every person taking a momentarily passionate side, shouting their bias, and then losing interest as they marched onward towards the next cause of the moment. This may have been a final moment of disillusion for me, but it wasn’t. It truly wasn’t. I believe it was this nonsense that forced me to finally come of age.
My quest became to study the facts, like a scientist seeking a breakthrough that could change the world. Of course my arrogant ambitions in those days was to win a Nobel Prize for Literature, but that was merely a hope having very little to do with the goal. I was going to study belief–belief systems and fanatical ideologies. I would stop taking sides and actually listen to what people were saying and screaming about. Wasn’t this also the truth? Wasn’t the fact that larger and growing swaths of people believed certain things that may or may not be true another fact? Don’t opinions impact the world? Isn’t, say, religion a massive influence on the decisions people make, on the agendas they follow and even the people those occasional monsters choose to kill? And religion, of course, is an improvable fact, existing as it does in a consumption of much of the world’s development, art and resources, but certainly something also filled with dark fantasies, parabolic mythology, heroic fairy tales and complete nonsense, probably even absurd in the primitive times when the tales were invented. But this does not make religion any less powerful as a motive force.
I was going to study opinions, record them like any historian seeking to understand the present through the agonies and triumphs of the past. As far as I could tell this was a new approach to history–a reckoning with the lies people have told themselves to justify real world actions, giving me the freedom to dive deeply into people I will not and can never know, and seek out the causes of their ways of thinking. And of course I might be wrong, as so many historians prove to be after time passes and their own biases are uncovered. But I felt I had some an understanding of the method–I was writing editorials about editorials. I was outright declaring that all truth has a relative scale, not so much in its actuality, but in human acceptance. It is true that many people refuse to accept the truth as truth. This is an important reality. This is what, in all my writing, I have attempted, regardless of the format I choose to state it: fiction, of course essays, sometimes even poetry, this has been my goal, my agenda, perhaps even an example of the fanaticism of my personal belief.
I will leave this here today with an example of what I am talking about, a poem I wrote (free-verse), that did not win anything. When a writer enters a contest they are always convinced they will win, and when they usually do not, reactions range from rage to depression to forced indifference. We never understand how anyone considered anything by another person better than our own masterpiece. I rarely take it personally, but the following piece lost to a hideously politically correct work (offering insight into what the judges were looking for) of tripe declaring, to my utter contempt, that people need to learn that some words should be banned and that feelings are more important than free speech. They were ranting against racism in a petty, ignorant, nearly fascist way. And I believed that my work, dealing with a similar topic, was a far better expression of the larger and more important theme. I was not about banning anything. I was preaching absolute freedom. Anyway, here:
“Love and Destruction”
It was 1923 when I finally fell in love.
I was a white man, well to do.
My grandfather had been a hero in the civil war.
He loved only the white race and hated all others.
‘Mud people,’ he called them.
And this is how I was raised.
We lived on a farm–cotton and tobacco and nothing to eat.
Most of our workers were black.
They worked the fields
They sang their songs
They fulfilled every stereotype that my mother and father believed.
And they were all treated horribly.
It was like slavery reborn.
And I loved it.
I was told to love it like the way it had always been.
But I never understood
The concept of race.
I saw human as human.
The hated liberals would sometimes start shouting.
They would claim that they ‘do not see color,’ which is absurd.
Of course they see it.
There would be no reason to say this if they didn’t.
My perspective was different.
I saw color, but I hated all humanity.
To me we are all equally worthless.
And I have no patience for superficial hatreds.
Get to know a person, I say.
You’ll find a much better reason to hate them.
Then it all changed.
I was fifty-seven years old, owner of the farm and never married.
I hated children.
I hated women.
I hated myself.
Self-destructively I took up with my black housemaid.
I wanted to shock the world.
I wanted them to hate me too.
But she was good.
She was kind.
And when she discovered that I was sick, she promised to take care of me.
And we fell in love.
We were married.
I started feeling better and we decided to have a child.
It was stillborn.
Mariana died in childbirth.
And I was all alone once more.
I look to the sky at night
And all I can see is black and white.
And I wish I’d lived my life
In a better way.
©2018, 2019, 2020 Lance Polin