The Cover Letter
Posted on June 2, 2013 by jaschmehl
A Cover Letter, get it? (Photo credit: Leo Reynolds)
It starts like this:
To whom it may concern. (Except nobody uses the word ‘Whom’ anymore. Either you use it wrong and you sound like an idiot, or you use it correctly and everyone who reads the sentence spends a minute saying it out loud to themselves wondering if it is correct. Better to avoid it all together.)
Instead, it starts like this:
To the person reading this letter, Please, don’t stop reading until you get to the end. And I’m going to warn you now, the end is a long way off.
First, I need to explain to you what sort of Book this is. Which I can not do. Instead, I will show you why I can’t explain what sort of Book this is.
The Book will start with a bit of fiction:
“Is This An Emergency?” (Just read it – it is only 678 words. Should take you about two and a half minutes.)
See, that is most definitely fiction, right? That would never happen in real life. In reality the ‘good mother’ would have called 911, maybe waited for the police to show up and then she would have made sure to never go to that park with her kids EVER AGAIN. Then she might have told a friend about the disgusting mess she saw in the ‘bad mother’s’ house and that friend might have told me the story. Then I might have written it down with a different ending to make myself (and hopefully you) feel something.
You might be thinking that this book is ‘fiction,’ or specifically, ‘short story anthology.’ And it is, except not all of it is really fiction.
Because the next section of the book has this to say:
“Stubborn Ignorance” (Longer than the last one, but you’ve made it this far…)
Which is not fiction. Mostly. I didn’t have a tape recorder with me. And she isn’t really the ‘friend of a friend,’ unless that mutual friend is actually my not-quite-ex-husband with whom she is now living. (see, you are saying that word out loud right now, testing.)
You might say, well, Jill, you just can’t include those two bits together in the same book. A book needs a theme, a plot, something to carry it from beginning to end. Oh, really? Are there rules for this sort of thing? Is that how authors get read these days, by following the rules?
Alright, if you insist, here’s a theme for you:
Empathy. Or rather, a lack of empathy. It is missing, fading away, disappearing. We need to get it back.
The ‘good mother’ in the fictional story, (And by the way, the story I told of it being partly real? That was fiction too.) she resists the urge to distance herself from another human being. She gets involved in someone else’s problem. And you cried a little, didn’t you, when she did that. Because it is the best side of us, and you recognize that, and you want it. You crave it. But we don’t act like that in real life. We are afraid of being sucked in too far. Her empathy is what makes the story fictional.
The ignorant woman in the suicide story has no empathy for suicidal people, and she is proud of that lack. She will not allow herself to feel trapped inside sadness, because she is afraid to feel. (In real life she smokes a lot of pot, which is just another way to avoid feeling too much.) She is not alone. I see more and more people doing all they can to distance themselves from their own, but especially other people’s, emotions. Her lack of empathy, her fear of feeling another’s pain, is what makes the story non-fictional.
And in The Book I will expound upon this theme, and point out that it is the very screen you are reading these words upon that is creating this distance between us. You cannot see my face and I can not see yours. Therefore, you do not exist. Therefore, I don’t have to acknowledge your feelings because they are not real to me. And even when we meet, I know it will only last a minute or two, with more screens between us. And soon I will retreat into my nest, my cubbyhole, my comfy nook. And you will disappear into memory.
The Book will be all of that and more. But having a theme doesn’t help to explain what sort of Book this is. It does not explain which shelf (virtual, of course) to put The Book on. This will be a problem with no easy solution.
The Book is me writing, and then me writing about my writing. It is all so meta. Modern, cool, unique. Just like me. And it never ends or runs out. I will always just keep writing and then write about my writing. It is what I do. What I have always done, and what I will do, forever. No, not forever, not really. I will die, after all. And so will you.
Do you want more while we last? Good. Just give me money. I figured out I need only $66.67 a day to feed myself, keep the elements at bay, keep this computer running, and pay the government enough to keep the infrastructure that we all take for granted going. I will leave it up to you to figure out how much to charge so that I get the $66.67, after your profit, of course. I believe in profit.
Thank you for reading this far.
(By the way, The Cover Letter IS The Book.)