The Accidental Randian?

Ayn_Rand1I am a writer – of novels, short stories, essays, this blog, girls soccer recaps for the online version of my local paper and, occasionally, grocery lists.

To be fair, I don’t earn income as a writer – not really – which is why I’m an attorney by day.  But just because I make little money at writing[1] doesn’t mean I’m not a writer.  After all, hardly anybody makes a living as an artist of any type, so if income is the dividing line between ‘writer’ and ‘not writer,’ as opposed to metrics like ‘I write’ or ‘I don’t write’, I guess John Kennedy Toole and Emily Dickinson weren’t real writers because they earned no income from writing in their lifetime.[2]

So, while I’m not a professional writer, I am a writer, and fairly prolific.  Over the past six or seven years I’ve published a dozen or so books[3] across genres as different as YA, adult drama, family stories and comedy.  Still, prolific or not, I’m not exactly an undiscovered genius[4], mostly because I’m no genius at all[5] – no need to argue the ‘undiscovered’ part.  If anything, I’m more an undiscovered good, but not great.  A thing or two I’ve written has been great, but on the whole I’m merely good.[6]

To be clear, the genius v. good-but-not-great debate is not something I obsess over.  It’s my fault I’m not a better writer and if I just spent a little more time in the editing process before turning my words loose on the world, my so-called-abilities would seem greatly improved.  But, because I’m willing to accept it’s better to be artificially finished with a thing than it is to spend all my sanity obsessing over it, it means I’m sometimes willing to accept flawed work simply so I can move on and spend my energies on trying to make the next one great.  Does this mean I’ve compromised myself?  Obviously.  But to be fair, while my work is not uniformly great, I’m also not so compromised I’ve put out any out-and-out stinkers.[7]  And since forward motion is more valuable to me than the pointless search for perfection[8], I can live with good, but not great.

To sum up: I’m not bad, I could be better, and I’m happy enough with it.

Now, the thing about me is I don’t think of myself as a writer of grand statements – I don’t make ‘message’ books.  Instead, my writing shades towards a B-picture sensibility, in that I’m not here to spout philosophy or ideology, I’m just here to entertain.

Still, I do have a couple of stock story subjects I like to return to – death of a parent, divorce and disappointment – but I don’t go back to this well all the time because I have anything profound to say about them, other than death sucks, divorce should be avoided and accepting life as a disappointment is the only way you’ll ever be truly happy[9].  It’s just these topics come with built-in conflict and I’m too lazy to choose others.  But to say my work is about man’s inhumanity to man or some other such thing is just nonsense, because I don’t do messages.

So, if my work has a message, it’s only by accident, one of which seemed to happen with the book I’m putting the finishing touches on now.

Right now, there are two things you should know:

  1. My soon-to-be-completed novel is called Hot Water Cold and is a unique dystopian sci-fi story that basically ignores the dystopic and sci-fi elements. Instead, it focuses on a low-level government employee butting heads with a massive, faceless bureaucracy, all in an effort to get hot water in his apartment.  Amidst this, the normally passive man suddenly finds his id made flesh.
  2. I recently did some mediator training for my day job and one of the skills we worked on was seeing people’s positions in terms of their underlying interests. In other words, we worked on examining the motivations behind what people do – examine and interpret with the intent of satisfying the underlying interest.

Now, keep those two things in mind – new novel and examination – because those two things are the problem.

You see, just as I started the endgame on Hot Water Cold I couldn’t help thinking about what it was about – not the plot, but it’s underling interests, i.e. it’s grand statements.  And when I did, it became clear I didn’t just write some absurdist story about a man and hot water, I wrote a political story about an individual struggling against the might of the collective.  And the more I thought about it, the more it started to look as if I’d accidentally[10] written a book that might fit in quite easily with the objectivist philosophy of Ayn Rand.

It’s accidental because, truth is, Ayn Rand and I are about as philosophically unaligned as two people can be.  Whereas free-market, laissez-faire, me-first bozos like Paul Ryan and his ilk are drawn to her nonsense, I’m repelled all the way to the other end of the spectrum, out there where gay marriage is no big deal,[11] where socialized medicine just makes good sense[12] and social justice is the right of all men.   Yes, I think capitalism has its place in society – as a long-distance runner, I appreciate the value of hard work and the motivating power of beating the other guy.  But, just as unfettered socialism is bad, so is unfettered capitalism.  Truth is you need both in order to avoid outright disaster but, that being said, I definitely shade more towards the socialist side of the equation.

And yet…

And yet looking at my book, Hot Water Cold, it seems I’ve subconsciously kicked my own ideology in the balls.  After all, I wrote a book in which the more liberalized, i.e. socialist elements – common ownership of property and production, and the massive, benevolent government – have gone sideways and turned tyrannical, operating at less-than-peak efficiency to the point all individual self-interest is crushed.  And when the main character decides he’s been crushed enough, they crush him some more, to the point his submerged id takes on a physical existence.  To be fair, it’s not exactly the journey Howard Roarke goes on,[13] but there are parallels.

What troubles me is that as I look at the book in this light, with it’s underlying meaning I wonder if I should even publish it.  After all, while others might not see what it seems to stand for – this Randian pabulum – I do and I’m horrified it emerged from my head.

Of course, to be fair, the book is as imperfect in its Randian philosophies as it is imperfect in rejecting socialist philosophies[14] and because of this, I have enough wiggle room to say that because I meant the book to be an absurdist tale and not a political statement and therefore managed to write something of a mixed message, it really has no message, Randian or otherwise, and therefore I don’t have to throw out a year’s worth of work.

Still, even if I can rationalize it away, I know I won’t, because I’ve never been that guy.  But at the same time, I’m also not going to throw the book away – only a complete fool on the level of Howard Roark[15] would do something as asinine as condemn his work to the trash simply because he doesn’t want to compromise.[16]

In the end I suppose I’ll just be left to ponder whether or not my book[17] is just the absurd story about hot water I meant it to be, or if instead it’s really some great metaphor about the subconscious conservative id in me yearning to break free from my stifling liberal ideology.[18]

[1] Let me cloud the issue by saying that since the bulk of what attorneys do is write, you could argue I am paid as a writer.

[2] Similarly, is Van Gogh not an artist because he couldn’t sell a thing in his lifetime?

[3]That is, if distributing my work through Smashwords and Kindle Direct and on my self-financed blog counts as being ‘published’ and not ‘self-published’.

[4] Probably not.

[5] Or maybe I am.

[6] Which honestly puts me on the same level as William Friedkin.  Or, given my propensity for being a blowhard about my favorite subjects – his is Orson Welles, mine is me – I’m actually closer to a Peter Bogdanovich.

[7] Which is something neither William Friedkin or Peter Bodganovich – or for that matter, Stephen King – can say.

[8] Always elusive.

[9] Maybe I do make statements with my work – in accepting and being happy with flawed writing, aren’t I simply saying one should make peace with their dissapointments?

[10] Not a happy accident.

[11] Yes, I’m aware Rand was an atheist and probably would not have objected to gay marriage on religious grounds.

[12] The insured already pay for healthcare of the uninsured in the higher prices charged for their health care.  Taxpayers also pay when hospital write down their losses on the uninsured.  To my mind, if you’re paying for it already, why not just load in and do it right?

[13] Yes, I read and loathed The Fountainhead

[14] Despite the equalities in the book, there is definite social strata and things like homosexuality are verboten.

[15] Really hated him and that book.

[16] I mean, really, that guy’s insane, right?

[17] Which will definitely be published.

[18] Or, as the writer, I suppose I can simple say the story has no meaning and was never meant to.  After all, as the writer, I am the ultimate authority of what my work means, aren’t I?

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