Jesse S. Mitchell
You believe in democracy, right? Of course you do, everyone does anymore. It is almost a biological requirement for human classification in the western hemisphere at this point. But do you believe it exists, that is still exists, that it ever did it exist? This is where our answers will likely diverge. Because I do not. I do not imagine we live in a necessarily democratic time or a remarkably representative one either. Democracy takes work. Hard work. Difficult work. It means before any action can take place, thoughts must be composed, words uttered (sometimes words in languages we do not want to hear or accept) and understandings reached. Our hot blood must be allowed temporarily to cool. This is problematic for our animal natures and it smacks of weakness and flaccidness to us. But it is more than that; democracy and democratic action also carries with it the unpleasant nature of tolerance and requires at its base, to work properly, an acceptance and lenience towards attitudes and behaviors we find suspect and unnerving. You know, rule by the most, rights for the rest. Even the most ugly and desperate of us. It is a hard nut.
But still, I believe in democracy and I do think it is a real possibility, and that the promise of this country was not a pre-made republic but one in the offing…after long and arduous work. Towards this future we should be working. I write a lot about forward movement and momentum, and the line from the movie ‘Annie Hall’ about sharks enters my mind. A relationship is like a shark: it must keep moving forward or it dies. I accept that and my marriage is a happy one, so I assume our shark is healthy and properly ambulatory . I think the sentiment works for society on a whole as well. We must continue to move forward or we will die. America will pass away as the America we believe it is or hope it will be. And this is how I believe in democracy, as the future of things.
I get a lot of rejection letters. (The shark lines didn’t convince you?) I have been thinking about this fact quite a bit lately. They used to bother me but now, they just seem to be a strange kind of benchmark, a landmark. They let me know where I am and what it is am doing. A compass to point out my direction and my skewed intentions. Mainly because no matter how hard I try to research magazines and presses, I always seem to end up submitting my work to the worst possible ones for me and my ‘sort of thing’. I accidentally send out a great deal of my material to journals devoted to the beauty of birds and their feathers and wild rushing rivers and autumnal splendor. No good. Ultimately, they respond in a few short weeks with a hearty ‘thank you for giving us a chance to read your work “Panache the Skin-tag”, and while we enjoyed the vast use of vocabulary, Laudanum and soap made from dried eel bones is too esoteric for us…also we are unaware of who this Gigi Allin is and why he should be mentioned with Colette so intimately together (Together? Mentioned together? In flagrante delicto is what I said. I don‘t know why I try.)
Or I manage to find a journal with a semi-interesting, almost-gone name, like ‘Retired Bus Driver Quarterly’ and I think, hey, now this may be just surreal enough to publish some of my stuff, only to wait patiently to find that ‘Retired Bus Driver Quarterly’ is just that, a trade journal for retired bus drivers and they didn’t understand a word of my e-mail and simply gave me the address for subscription complaints.
Why do these two streams of thought so closely inhabit my mind today? Well, because it becomes clearer and clearer to me everyday, that I am in the minority on most things and in most things. Even within the arts community, I operate pretty much on the very edges. In society, politically, culturally, spiritually…and because of that I must deal with a great deal of sociological rejection as it were…I know that I will never be the face of middle America, my views will never be the driving zeitgeist of civilization. I won’t make the laws, probably better that way, you have no idea what left-wing liberal hell I would bring if I were left in charge. Drugs and Gays everywhere, roaming the streets like Andy Dick. I don’t just predict this, I promise it. I’d shut down the churches, abolish the army and hide all the TVs. Guns and knives would be all gone; people would have to cut their baked potatoes with other baked potatoes. It would be madness. (I have a good friend named Bob McClanahan who always said he wouldn’t just legalize weed, he would make it mandatory. This is the kind of thing I am talking about.) But I live and I have opinions and they add up to make the wonderful tapestry that is a healthy culture. I don’t have to be in charge. I don’t have to be the only thing happening. Retired bus drivers don’t have to hear what I am saying and really that is better for both of us. But I still live here and I go along with you as we move forward (so our shark doesn’t die) and I, and every other person even slightly like me, has something to add, something you could not get anywhere else, something we need or something we are definitely going to need, for we can never discount the new challenges of the coming years. I guess what I am saying is that freedom is about choice, a lot of choice, purity of choice. Even when the choices aren’t what you would choose, you must protect and extend the availability and reality of choice. And democracy is about voice, a lot of voice, purity of voice, and even when you don’t care to hear what those voices say and even if you choose not to listen you must protect and broadcast those voices. And you have to take the whole and we have to remember that America is not done and we are not yet free, that time is coming but only if we make it happen. And in summation, we should all endeavor to be loud and free and keep our sharks moving (and stop sending me rejection letters).