Sometime around 2010, the lingering anxiety of G.W. Bush–era warmongering and Neoconservative crypto-theocracy collided in my mind with the idea of musical dogma, and out popped “Sacred Chords,” the story of a musician/veteran suffering from PTSD, imprisoned for playing forbidden chords. As I moved from unpublished novice to barely-published author, I hung onto this story when many others went into the trunk. Something about it rang true. I kept sending it out. Nearly a decade after the first draft, several revisions and numerous rejections later, and seven years to the day from the first time I sent “Sacred Chords” into the wild, it was accepted for publication in Recognize Fascism. I think of it as The Little Story That Could.
I relate this not just as a little motivational anecdote, but also because I think it’s relevant to our current moment in history, as we come to terms with an increasingly dystopic reality of climate crisis, pandemic, and political upheaval. While the concatenation of religion, music, and war in “Sacred Chords” may seem fantastical, I don’t think it’s as farfetched as it appears. Authoritarianism takes many forms, by its very nature. It is a chameleon. When I wrote “Sacred Chords,” the American Religious Right loomed large in my mind as an imminent threat. Now we have the Alt-Right, but it’s the same wolf in a different sheep’s clothing. Both are more concerned with malicious control, with oppression and reinforcement of a white, male power structure, than with any of the ideals they give lip service. Just look how right-wing Evangelicals fell in behind a president who is about as un-Christian as it’s possible to be.
As he systematically undermines democratic institutions, propagandizes to cast doubt on the upcoming election, and moves to stack the Supreme Court with his own appointees, Americans face the very real and chilling possibility of a dictatorship. Many of us who believe in democracy feel like we’re backing a story that’s doomed to fail. We are all of us the authors of democracy, a story still being written. In the world of fiction, our competition would be other worthy authors, but here we have real opponents, those who vilify our story as wrong and deserving of destruction. But our story still rings true. We can’t give up on it, even if it takes a decade, or many decades, full of revision and rejection, before our collective story of an equitable, inclusive way forward becomes The Little Story That Could.
In this analogy, “submit” becomes a kind of contronym — a word which is its own opposite. For writers, in these times as in any other, the key is: keep writing, and submit, submit, submit. For all of us struggling against the rising tide of fascism, our mantra must be: keep fighting, and do not submit, do not submit, do not submit.