Albany Journal – 7/25/12

I’ve just returned from a two-day trip to Allentown, New Jersey where my relatives live.  They live in a retirement community that is gated with too many security precautions and a beautiful clubhouse with two swimming pools – one indoor and one outdoor.  It’s interesting to see how well my family has done over the course of their lives.  While I understand that the story of their lives can’t be told in just a few paragraphs, what I can mention here is that my relatives personify the immigrant American dream. 

They left Lahore, Pakistan in 1972 and arrived in Staten Island with $700 in their pockets.  From that point on, and because they had their children to feed, they worked in medicine and engineering until they reached the retirement age of 65.  They are now quite well off, and I believe they are deserving of the many material gifts that many years of hard work have yielded them.  They are strict relatives – both towards myself and my brothers equally, and they are very pragmatic about what it takes to make and manage money among their sons and grandchildren.  While they never really prevented my living of the writerly life, they do sometimes castigate me for spending so much, because really, I’ve been tending to lean of them all of my life – my brothers too – in an attempt to manage my middle-aged needs.  I can say quite safely that they have no faith in the younger generation when it comes to money matters, and they mention too that their grandchildren will be worse off, simply because they will want all of these nice things, but just don’t work hard enough to obtain the things they want out of life – the things that are normally much too expensive for the lean leather of our wallets.

But the point I want to make here is that my relatives, and I’m sure many other senior citizens, are sometimes threatened by the generation before them, in that the younger ones see what they have and somehow think that it is unfair that they have it all and can live their lives in luxury and comfort while we, the younger ones, have to bear the cross of unemployment, the lack of proper health insurance, the inability to afford a nice car, etc.  I’ve talked with several young people over the course of their lives who feel that the older generation somehow stands in their way, as though society hasn’t yet made room for the newer generations, and that seniors are somehow blocking the path by consuming all of the goods and services meant for us and giving us nothing in return.

I tend to look at this as a young generation assigning blame when there is no one else but seniors there to take the blame, and so we have this generational rift between the young and the old, both trying to survive, and both of them blaming the other for their own troubles, which may include a lack of income, lack of health care, lack of work, and the whole host of other things that the younger generation just doesn’t have as of yet.  I find this a bit problematic, because while it is true that the older greneration has it all, they normally achieve these things through years of bearing the cross of going to work – day in, day out – in order for them to live comfortably for a few years in retirement before they eventually expire.  In other words, I’m starting to believe that the young people in America are already frustrated, yes, but a frustration that will soon be aimed at the generation before them if the soothing palliative of a better economy doesn’t reveal itself soon. 

What’s interesting about this too, is that young writers and poets are also beginning to live a life apart from the old, Harold Bloomian canon of literature, simply because the older generation doesn’t move out of the way to allow fresh voices in.  The young people who do get to have access to the big publishing companies and all of the promotions that they pay for are already close family members and associates of those who already have access and have been published widely by these big firms.  It’s sickening to some degree, but also practical as far as how one generation gives the reigns to a selected few whom they pre-approve of to run literature for the next several years and beyond, until they get gray and retire themselves.  What we have in literature, then, is a skewed perspective of what literature ought to be, because right now, if we were brave enough to take a look, we can see that it is quite an incestuous world that these writers, editors, and agents inhabit.  The literature gets worse and worse, as twenty year-olds, fresh out of NYU and Columbia Fine Arts programs, read over the slush pile and find things wanting, because they don’t know how to read just yet and are instantaneous gatekeepers for more experienced editors who don’t want such entry-level burdens.  This is how it has always been, I’m afraid, but in the past I don’t believe getting published and getting paid for it were as difficult. 

Nowadays, writers and poets have to market their own work – even if they are published by the wealthier publishing houses – and so, if we take the writing industry in all of its past glory, I would say that there is hardly any money in it if one doesn’t have the connections, and because there is no money in it, literature, as we know it, is dying right before our eyes.  We have too many writers and poets and not enough readers.  Actually, they should pay readers instead of writers and poets, just to balance things out and get readers to read again.  Without the reader, we are finished.  More people write today than they will ever read.

Harvey Havel is the author of five novels. This past spring, Stories from the Fall of the Empire, his sixth book and his first collection of short stories, was recently released by Publish America. Later this summer, Two Tickets to Memphis, his sixth novel, is forthcoming from Publish America as well. Havel has previously taught Writing at Bergen Community College in Paramus, New Jersey and also at SUNY Albany and the College of St. Rose, both in Albany, New York. Born in Lahore, Pakistan in 1971, Havel now resides full time in Albany, New York.