Just don't Dubya

Authors and other scribblers, unite! Protest our literature-impaired president by boycotting a certain letter.

Published February 9, 2001 9:13PM (EST)

This is a call to arms, a call to action, to all authors, poets, novelists, journalists -- those caring for the arts, for literature, for the life of the mind!

The frustration is apparent among those of us making a living or living a life stringing letters together to amuse and educate and delight other people. The facts: The president resting his hand on the Bible last month does not read books -- "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" doesn't count. No poet stood on the dais, because none received an invitation. The only scribblers present at Laura Bush's literary evening the day before the Inauguration produce product and not literature. The people's house, concurrent to this change in administration, is occupied by philistines. (Note to President Bush: Please do not try to get the philistines and the Israelis together for peace in the Middle East.)

Although many of us are Democrats, this is not a political appeal. There is nothing in the Republicans' platform that leads me to believe they intend to legislate a lack of respect for properly used, interesting language (although it seems so sometimes). OK, so Jimmy Carter composes verse, Jack Kennedy read voraciously and Bill Clinton at least had a library, as opposed to the less literary Republican specimens this century. But that is history. No, this is in response to having a president lacking interest in our interests. A rumor has even been floating around that the poet laureate post is history. Certainly the NEA is in jeopardy as it hasn't been in years. It's all very alarming.

Protest? Sure, you can, but is that going to do any good? And as far as our civic duties, the presidential voting machines (and butterfly ballots) are in storage until 2004. Punditry? Sure, but people eventually tune out all shrill tones. No, something drastic must be done, a dramatic, symbolic act of sacrifice.

Departing Clinton staffers, upset and looking for a device to punish their incoming rightist counterparts, committed acts of noble sabotage, in the literal sense of the term. Among other things, they pilfered a certain letter off computer keyboards all around the Executive Mansion.

And there it is, the solution, the path to a proper act of asceticism to exhibit our dissatisfaction, our distaste. An eye-catching, headline-making crusade of omission, truly dramatic, definitely drastic, totally sacrificial. It is up to us to take a page from these souls brave enough to send a message to their successors and to their boss.

Let us boycott this artless presidency by offering up a painful sacrifice for the next four -- or eight, God forbid -- years. Let's give up that letter, all of us. The letter, my fella scribblers, is pronounced "dubya."

Left holding only five-times-five letters, perhaps it'll lend us a totemic ability to get through to the small-minded, to those not listening. Perhaps not. But it'll be a strong message, I promise you.

I can't lie: Easy it is not. There are some grammatical units I could not use here to succeed at avoiding that letter. The very six-letter unit describing our occupation on our tax forms is verboten. The past tense of the third-person form of "to be," for example, is off limits. Common prepositions, you can't use. Sacrificing the first-person plural pronoun as a subject is a painful sacrifice in penning a manifesto as I have done here, let me tell you.

Difficult yes, but it can be done. French novelist Georges Perec published a book called "La Disparition" -- in English, "A Void" -- that leaves out the letter "e" completely, an amazing feat in any language, but miraculous in French. If Perec could pull off an e-less book for no reason other than literary pyrotechnics, it should be nothing indeed for us to create books, articles, verses -- hell, even grocery lists -- not using that letter!

So here, our cause is laid out for us: Let us rise up and accept the challenge. To arms, brethren! On Jan. 20, 2005, a fresh president holding different ideas about literature is going to stand on the podium and deliver the oath of office, uttering the phrase "So help me, God," and then and only then shall that letter be free again!

By Scott Holden Smith

Scott Holden Smith, a novelist, lives just outside Manhattan.

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