Donald Trump, Dinosaurs, and the Holocaust

When I was a kid, maybe nine or ten, I had a nightmare that informed the way I live my life, and the way I conceive of safety. I was stuck in some kind of a Jurassic Park-type situation, chased through a multi-level industrial building by man-eating dinosaurs. I still remember the fluorescent lighting and the metal-grate stairs, and the feeling that there were several other people trying to escape the dinosaurs too, but not in any kind of coherent group. It was every man and every kid for himself.

Chased through this labyrinth, I found an elevator and dove in, hoping for shelter. When I turned around, my brother was running toward the closing doors, hoping to get in with me. The “Door Open” button was right there, but I didn’t press it. Instead I cried, “Sorry!” as the door closed, too afraid of being eaten to protect my own big brother.

Then a T-Rex tore open the door and ate me anyway.

As a young Jewish boy, the grandchild of a “hidden child” holocaust survivor and the great-nephew and great-grandchild of holocaust non-survivors, I grew up still very much in the shadow of that 20th century horror. Holocaust narratives, both fictional and biographical, were everywhere. The first graphic novel I ever read was Maus. For me and my contemporaries, it was natural to concoct fantasies of how we might have survived those times, had we been there.

After this dream, I stopped fantasizing about survival.

When you read enough holocaust survival narratives, the true theme that emerges is that people survived more through luck than anything else. I don’t mean to minimize the considerable skill that was often involved in staying under the radar – my own grandmother learned three languages fluently so that she’d be able to blend into Belgian society without suspicion. But most of those who perished – and nearly everyone did – were not killed for lack of skill or virtue. They just got unlucky.

After the dream, I rethought the “game” of survival, and came to terms with the fact that had I been there, I would almost certainly have been among the unlucky majority. Once I had reconciled with the inevitability of my death, my focus shifted from the question of how to survive, to the question of how to retain my humanity in the face of fear.

For many American Jews, including myself, the election of Donald Trump fills us with existential terror. The candidate openly endorsed by the KKK and other white supremacist anti-semitic groups has won the White House, and he’s an authoritarian whose party has achieved universal dominance up and down the ballot. Even before the election, the FBI was already functioning partially as his secret police. Not only can It happen here, but it very well might.

I spoke recently with the same friend whose comment had prompted this post a few months ago about fleeing an (at the time only potential) Donald Trump presidency. She said she had since read my post and appreciated it, but what can we do, practically speaking? What good can we really hope to accomplish, besides keeping our families safe?

I had some ideas and suggestions, but the basic truth is that I don’t know. It sort of depends how bad things get, both for us and for others. It could get really bad. But there’s no escaping the power of an antisemitic United States, and if the dinosaur is going to get me anyway, by God I’m going to hit Door Open.

A Common Misunderstanding of HRC’s Strategy

I went on a massive Twitter rant this morning while I should have been writing book 2 (it’ll be done on time! I promise!), and I figure, now that I’ve spent all this time ranting about this, I may as well get some more mileage out of it by putting it up on my website. It all started with an article in Slate by Will Saletan, in which he points out that Hillary Clinton’s recent “alt-right” speech sought to make Donald Trump unacceptable to mainstream Republicans, but didn’t try to tie down-ballot GOPers to him. So far so good, but Saletan then makes the analytical error of assuming this means she’ll be more conciliatory with Congressional Republicans. Take it away, me!

 

 

Yes, I Read My Reviews

It has become a maxim among published authors that you shouldn’t read your reviews. “Stay off of Goodreads!” people say. “They’re mean there!”

I never listen to that advice, and I’d like to explain why.

The main argument for not reading your reviews is twofold:

1) Reading reviews of your books can distract you from the real work of producing more books.

2) Reviews are not meant for authors, but for other readers. They’re a dialogue of which we are not / should not be a part.

Now, as a friend pointed out recently, there are people for whom this is excellent advice, and those people greatly benefit from the way Don’t Read Your Reviews is reinforced within writing circles. We authors are a stereotypically neurotic bunch, and we might easily be paralyzed by some hateful – or, worse, insightful – critique we see on the internet. For many, that’s a risk not worth taking.

But for me, I’ll read every review I can find. Sure, it can be distracting, and yes, a bad review can ruin my day, but the feedback of actual readers is incredibly valuable. It’s amazing to me that so many of us expect to improve our craft over time without ever internalizing the critiques of those who did not enjoy our writing. You’ll never be able to please everyone, of course, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take note of the common themes shared by critiques of your work, especially those that are common to both your detractors and your fans. That’s valuable data, and we ignore it at our own peril.

Now, there’s an argument to be made that since A) everyone has different tastes and B) the reading public is large enough that a writer can be extremely successful while pleasing only a small fraction of it, therefore we should pay more attention to what our fans like about our writing than to what our critics dislike about it. But when baseball players want to improve, they don’t watch video playbacks of themselves hitting the ball. They watch the at-bats where they missed.

In this sense, the fact that reviews are not for us is beside the point. That argument serves well to explain why we authors shouldn’t respond to reviews, but it does nothing to explain why we shouldn’t pay attention to them. Reviews are learning experiences! With every review, we are given the opportunity to eavesdrop on a conversation about what makes our writing good, and what makes it flawed – why should we pass that up?