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Tell me why

By November 25, 2016 19 Comments

What’s altogether possible is that it’s not a great novel. What makes me believe I can write a novel good enough to be published these days, when traditional publication has become so blame difficult? What prompts me to believe a story I create is interesting to anyone?

I’m long past prime. No great career awaits me. No one’s going to pick up my novel hoping that if this one isn’t a winner, the next one will be. There may never be another.

Yesterday, editing this beast of a manuscript, I deleted a sentence that described wet roadside grasses shining in the early morning sun the way the spooled remains of a smashed cassette might. The sentence is gone. After all, who the heck knows what audio tape even looks like anymore? I’m a creature from the black lagoon of yesterday, and there are any number of good reasons no one will take this manuscript.

Besides, technology has created a makeover of the industry. A man left a voice mail yesterday, wondering again if I’d be interested in publishing with them, self-publishing; he’s called several times and all I’d done was type my name somewhere in a blank on their website. Publishing is terribly hard these days because it’s become ridiculously easy.

What I’m saying is there may be a thousand reasons why this manuscript of mine will never get published–or, if it does, noticed. 

Sometimes the ornery me wonders if discrimination isn’t one reason. Sometimes I can’t help thinking nobody cares about a story set out here on the edge of nowhere, a region hemorrhaging population since the 1890s, rural America on the prairie. There’s just not all that many of us here. We’re a demographic sliver–male rural white Midwestern evangelicals. 

So who gives a hang about a story that features people like me? Who wants to spend time in a novel that features no zombies or Amish women or crazed religious murderers, a novel about ordinary people way down here in fly-over country? Who cares? 

Marilynne Robinson can do it, and does, and has. I just finished Home, a novel that, like her Gideon, never leaves the same tiny Iowa town–and in the fifties. But I know Marilynne Robinson, I’ve met Marilynne Robinson, I’ve talked with Marilynne Robinson–and I’m not Marilynne Robinson. 

Still, there are times I honestly believe I’ve been marginalized. Who cares for us way out here? Certainly not Hollywood, unless it can create caricature, say a smiling religious fanatic with a wood-chipper. We’re banal and bigoted and beastly and can’t see past the greasy bills of our feed caps.

What chance does this manuscript have in the real world, is a question I ask myself. Slim and none.

I’m trying as hard as I can to understand what happened to all of us this election, specifically from my little acre out here on the edge of the Plains, trying not to drink away my misery because more than anything, what I feel is shame. I don’t understand what happened, and I’m trying. Help me.

People hated crooked Hillary–I get that. I understand she represented a status quo millions disdain or don’t trust and even fear. I get that too. I don’t share that antipathy, but I get it. The Clintons were never my favorite people.

But why rural America, the rural Midwest, Christian rural Midwesterners to be precise (eighty-some percent of the evangelical vote chose Trump) would elect to the office of President a human being arrogant about his own arrogance, a gambler whose toted a string of wives and concubines that’d turn Solomon green, a chiseler who hasn’t chipped a dime for schools or roads or military pensions in almost 20 years–why people followed him remains a profound mystery I’d love to understand.

The closest I can come from the depths of my own soul is that sneering anger I can fall into when I wonder whether anyone would ever read a novel set here, a novel about ordinary people in fly-over country. Sometimes, I’ll admit it, I grow resentful because, dang it!–I exist, all right? I’m an old white male who’s spent most of seventy years claiming to be an evangelical (never less so than now). I am the guy who elected Trump, men like me, people tired and angry about being invisible.

Is that it? Is that the baggage I can claim? Is that what made thousands chant “Lock her up”? Am I coming close? 

I’m serious. Is that what so many millions feel, so many aging evangelical white men from out here in the country? 

I just don’t know.

James C. Schaap

James Calvin Schaap is a retired English prof who has been something of a writer for most of the last 40 years. His latest work, a novel, Looking for Dawn, set in reservation country, is the story of two young women joined by their parents' mutual brokenness and, finally, a machine-shed sacrament of reconciliation. He writes and narrates a weekly essay on regional history for KWIT, public radio, Sioux City, Iowa. He and his wife Barbara live on the northern edge of Alton, Iowa, the Sgt. Floyd River a hundred yards or so from their back door. They have a cat--rather, he has them.


  • Thomas Boogaart says:

    Dang it!–I exist, all right?

    Seeing and being seen. Real intimacy is what we long for, and at the deepest level intimacyis being seen by God or so it seems to me. So I wonder in my own life, why the ache, that feeling below anger. Despite a lifetime of reflection on the biblical God, am I really a Reformed deist, and do l live in a desacralized world in which there is no “real presence,” no real seeing, no real meaning to “Send your Holy Spirit, we pray, that the bread which we break and the cup of blessing….” Has my porous soul been formed more by the values of a western world than a biblical world.
    This Thanksgiving I am surrounded by my grandchildren. They are under strict instructions not to wake Judy and I in the morning—old people (?) need their sleep. So they camp outside our door at 6:30 in the morning and quietly chatter with each other waiting for us to get up. They wake us up. We smile to each other and open the door to joyous cries of “Oma and Opa.” Seeing and being seen. Why is this not enough?

  • Wow, Jim. Now I am even more sad and confused–with a new level of insight into why.

  • Dean Mechler says:

    Too bad you will never find the answer to your question by asking it in this echo chamber….

  • I have no words, but I have to respond to this. I don’t even truly know why. Like you, I am an over-70 white male, and I guess I’m an evangelical. I’d rather say I’m a Christian, or better yet, a follower of Jesus. I’m not seeking a publisher, but I am about as wrung out about this election as you are. I guess what I want to say is, I hear you. And, being on nobody’s list of people to pay attention to or care about is painful. (But there are those kids outside the door, waiting to be delighted by us.) I want to say all kinds of reassuring things. I won’t. Just know that I hear you. Don’t stop writing.

  • James Schaap says:

    I apologize if the tone of the matter seems despairing. I’m not. As I finished the editing that novel, I couldn’t help thinking that the manuscript was still in for some tough sledding, for reasons I’ve outlined. Fiction writers, like actors, somehow need to find something of the characters they create within themselves, and I started simply to equate my own real anxiety with what J.D. Vance and so many others claimed to be a motivating force in the millions of people (men especially) who followed and follow Trump. What prompted the post wasn’t paranoia or self-pity, only an attempt to find somewhere within me the Trump voter.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    I loved this one. Thanks so much.

  • debmechler says:

    I look forward to every one of your essays. But I get it. I ask myself, does the world need another blog, possibly another book? But if we need to write them, if our souls sing when we finish another piece, we are giving voice to our uniqueness and also the larger human condition. It resonates with someone else, hopefully. And if it doesn’t, then the face to face human connection fills the breach, for me at least. Thank you for your beautiful writing.

  • Perhaps the world just refuses to divide along Evangelical lines. Secular vs non-secular. Tell me, who IS the non-secular? It serves ego alone to imagine oneself in that category….when the philosophy itself says “there are none righteous, no, not one.”
    The trap itself may be that Evangelicals think themselves to be part of “the indwelling of the Holy Spirit” so therefore, expect not to question themselves or be questioned by anyone. Infallible.
    This may be great for the individual ego. But disastrous for change, adaptability, innovation, understanding, and empathy with other human beings. It is an apartheid.

    If everyone started at the point of “i am simply another human being like all other human beings, and I need to be moral because it is the right human thing to do.” There is your common ground with all of humanity. But religion precludes such a perspective.

  • Gordon VanderMeulen says:

    It’s pretty easy to get yourself into a self-righteous “huff” about this and count yourself as a far better “Christian” than Trump or those who voted for him, But really this is not all that difficult to understand. First, there were really only 2 choices for President. There were NO third party choices with even a prayer of getting elected. No one cares about your little protest vote when you cannot even garner 1-2% of the vote. Especially the winner who will always claim a mandate, even with 48-49% of the vote. So, the choice was between Clinton and Trump only. Second, if you would take just a little time to research the policies of these two, it’s not hard to figure out that the stated policies of Trump are far more compatible with a Christian worldview than Clinton’s. From the abortion issue to the religious liberty issue, Trump was far better choice. Add in the 2nd Amendment issue and the far better economic and business policies Trump would bring, and the choice was pretty easy for me.You may not care at all about the 2nd Amendment and I’m not here to cure you of some hoplophobia you may have, but if you allow a corrupt politician on either side of the isle to take away any constitutional right, what makes you think you could stop him from taking away a religious right or some other freedom? Clinton had already said that the church needs to change it’s views on abortion to conform with what is her view. Your OK with that? Did we have the best of choices? No, we did not. We had Trump, who you’ve described in grossly exaggerated terms and we had the corrupt and dishonest Clinton, whose deliberate actions didn’t allow her husband’s abuse and rape victims to get the justice they deserved and permitted the serial abuse to go for decades. So, over 80% of Christians made the best choice they had before them at the time.

  • Tom Sinke says:

    Amen to Gordon’s comment. Hits the nail succinctly and directly on the head.

  • James Schaap says:

    Seems The Twelve is not an echo chamber.

    • steve says:

      So the purpose of your article is to simply get people to echo your thoughts and affirm your own ideas? When people write, post, and share articles such as this, they are viewed by conservatives as arrogant, hypocritical, and judgmental. In other words, conservatives view liberals the same way that liberals view conservatives. Trump-bashing does nothing to heal our society or to create unity. And if you’re only looking for an echo chamber, you clearly are not seeking to understand in the same way you seek to be understood.

  • Randy Buist says:

    James, to Gordon’s views, I wonder if Jesus following Sunday church people even hear the gospel when it is preached? The biblical call to love our neighbors, no matter how often we preach the Good Samaritan, are largely ignored.

  • Gordon VanderMeulen says:

    Wow! Really impressive personal attack Randy. Just the kind I’ve come to expect on a secular news site from someone who has nothing to add to the argument but still needs to get in an infantile personal attack because he can’t quite come up withvalid point to make. If that’s what you’re hearing in your church, count me out.

    • Randy Buist says:

      Regardless of my attack, which may be fair, calling a site where Schaap writes as ‘secular’ shows your disregard for his voice as a Christian author over the past 40 years. Am I correct?

  • Randy Buist says:

    I believe I misunderstood Gordon’s response to me. Perhaps he was correct in my response.

    I have studied under some amazing missiologists, and I’m feeling entirely betrayed by my reformed tradition. A reformed understanding of our world, including a deep sense of concern for our neighbor via justice and mercy, was exchanged for promised pieces of silver and gold.

    I see my friends and neighbors swearing off the church as white Christian America seems indifferent to the needs of the marginalized. To be honest, we have given up our witness for the sake of Trump and his promises. We have bowed before the tower of babal.

  • Gordon VanderMeulen says:

    Keep in mind we didn’t elect a President to be our Pastor. Whoever is President doesn’t take away from the church’s mission to be what it’s called to be. It seems what you are talking about is a seperate issue from the election and who won. That being said, aren’t you at least encouraged by the people being appointed by Trump to fill cabinet and other positions? If Clinton had won, we would be seeing appointments far more hostile to people of faith.

  • Ed Bruinsma says:

    I enjoy all of your posts and would buy your book if you chose to publish it. I would require a autographed copy though. As to your spin on the election I am not sure anyone will ever figure this election out.

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