Under the Shadow of Oz, Redux
in which I respond to charges I am an Anti-Semite
My friends have asked me to write this narrative to defend my reputation as a man and as a writer. They're wiser than me; so here it is.
In 2013 I wrote a story about a woodcutter who lived near Oz. In the story, Oz is evil and, at the end of the story, we see a swastika on Oz's castle, one which the woodcutter describes as "bold," as he is now under the mind control powers of Oz.
The story was called "Under the Shadow of Oz," and I sent it to an online publication called Old Timey Hedgehog in 2013.
They cheerfully accepted the story for publication, paid me 25 dollars, and we both appeared as happy as editor and writer can be in this crazy world.
Then they asked me to explain the swastika.
Was I, perhaps, an Anti-Semite?
Why did that swastika need to be in there?
Such a nasty symbol.
Ultimately, they said, if I did not explain that symbol's presence in my story, they would not publish it.
If I had been a wiser and kinder man in 2013, doubtless I would have written back a polite and kind explanation of my reasons for using the symbol in the story; if I had even known what they were, other than those "feelings" writers get. I might have said something about parallel universes, and cross-pollinating between them . . . who knows. But I didn't say that.
The swastika is a powerful symbol in part because of the legacy of the Holocaust and Nazi Germany. But the moment I was tagged with this quasi-Nazi label, I felt that there was no comeback possible, and that my story was going to be slashed for the sake of interpretations around an ancient symbol, not the actual content of my story.
I don’t respond well when cornered. The editor was Jewish; so I wrote back addressing him as “Jew,” which leant more fuel to the fire.
Never mind the strange ironies all surrounding the fact that "Jew" is an offensive word; I would be lying if I said I didn't know it could be used offensively, and I did use it that way.
And, never mind the peculiar ironies in the internet age; my friends point out that my "private letters" have been violated, and in some ways I feel they are right, but I also know the younger generation, and older people as well, looking at the reality of global mass surveillance, know that no one is ever really unscrutinized.
Still, privacy is a human right. I am not running for political office. I am a writer.
Anyway, none of that got into the discussion at the time; it was just about that story. And since then, various writers, editors and aspiring politicians of various stripes have accused me of being an Anti-Semite, or, as that editor carefully phrased it, "if you don't want to look like an Anti-Semite, you'd better . . ."
And this smear on my reputation has not been without effects; recently I was asked not to attend a poetry reading any further, one I had attended for a couple of years in Los Angeles, because the “possibly Anti-Semitic” tone of my email meant that particular literary circle would no longer be a safe space.
To be honest, which my friends would doubtless say I should not be at this point, I almost -- almost -- would be happy to be called an Anti-Semite to my face at this point, because this debate and public smearing about my writing and reputation has shown me how cold and callous some American Jewish communities can be; communities I always imagined as welcoming and enlightened, as my father viewed them in his boyhood in Los Angeles.
Ultimately, Old Timey Hedgehog technically honored its contract while violating its spirit: they published my story for a period of 24 hours, and then deleted it from their web site.
I, knowing the story still to be worthy, sent it out a few more times, and it was published not too much later, by Nonbinary Review.
The story appeared in Issue 3 of the Nonbinary Review and remained archived online for many years.
The improbably controversial story is now archived here.
I fear it is ultimately not impressive in the same and shallow way all this ridiculous gossip is; but I still like the story anyway.
But, back to that ridiculous drama:
As I told the editor in a series of tweets: I don't hate Jews, I just hate him.
Now, I don't hate him all that much. I just hate him enough.
Now, can you hate a man, and tell him that, without it being hate speech? If you hate him for who he is, and what he does? If you hate him for his behavior, and his callousness, and his penchant for Bowdlerization?
I don’t know. Maybe not any more. Maybe you're not allowed to hate people any more, as individuals.
Writing for me has always been about the truth; and it is a painful thing. Most people do not want to look at it.
But I still believe that it is writers’ duty to write the truth.
So, I am sorry for the debacle, because the resulting events -- minor and overblown as they are; another twitter tempest teapot -- hurt my friends.
Likely more will need to be said at some point; but I believe the best court is the court of public opinion. And while it is certainly myopic and forgetful, I believe it is ultimately less corrupt than US courts.
The only justice I ask is that I be permitted to continue writing and publishing my work.