Wednesday, August 28, 2013

I am Jack's screeching profanity

So about a week ago I concluded another little internet adventure.

I know a guy.  I'll call him Jack.   I've never met Jack in person, but several years ago... nearly ten, in fact... I made his acquaintance over the Internet.

Jack and I have a lot in common.  He's like ten years younger than I am, but he's a geek and a nerd and a general misanthrope without a lot in the way of social skills.  He tends to dislike people in general, and most people in specific, almost as much as I do.

As you might expect, we got along famously.... for a while.  Then he said something that annoyed me, or I said something that annoyed him... more than we were already annoying each other, I mean, because I'm sure we were, being generally annoying people... and it crossed a threshold and we were done.

Except, every once in a while, he'll send me an email, drop by my old blog, tell me what's going on... and, inevitably, invite me to some chat forum he's moderating, because he thinks I'll 'be good for the interaction'.

Last time he did this, I put it off, because my history with chat forums is kind of like the Washington Capitols' history with the Harlem Globetrotters, and by that, I do not mean, they provide me with a steady source of income.   No, I mean, when I interact with them, I inevitably lose.  

But eventually, after a few weeks of him importuning me every week or so, I went over and signed up and... oops!  He had just quit that forum in a huff.  

So a few more years pass by and suddenly here he is in my Gmail box again.  He's got another forum going, there's some good geek conversation going on there but he thinks I'd really enjoy it, he's the mod so he's got my back and he guarantees I won't have the same issues there as I've had in the past... come on in!

So I went in.

Well, it wasn't exactly scintillating conversation.  The forum is ostensibly dedicated to some obscure boardgame I've never heard of and don't play.  But they have a general chat forum where about a dozen geeks hang out and talk about comics and movies and sci fi in general (I deliberately use the term 'sci fi' in hopes of pissing off Harlan Ellison; I realize Mr. Ellison is unlikely to ever read anything I've written, but, still, we all have to have a dream) and, you know, that was okay.

Not great.  But okay.

But what Jack did not tell me when he was assuring me he would have my back and I wouldn't have any of the problems I had had with crazed mods abusing their authority on other forums was... that, because he's trying to get more attention for this forum, so, I guess, someday it can be as popular as 4chan or some shit, he has imposed an absolute ban on all vulgarity.

So, we're all adults and we're all geeks and we're all free to say anything we want... but no fucks, no shits, no goddams, no bitches, no taking the name of our Savior Jesus H Fucking Christ in vain, please.

Because if that stuff shows up, the search engines classify the site as 'adult', and the hits drop off.  

Well, fuck all that.

I am a profane motherfucker.  I do not swear as much as I did, once, in fourth grade, when it was a necessary rite of passage, nor do I swear as much as I did, briefly, in Army Infantry Basic Training, where it is impossible to communicate without profanity.

But there are times when one simply cannot convey a thought or an idea or an emotion without certain vulgar, pungent anglo saxonisms.  

Beyond that, I simply dislike it when people tell me what words I may, and may not, use to communicate.  I have come to accept some verboten words -- such as 'nigger', specifically -- because late in my life, I have come to an understanding as to the enormous weight of malice and hatred and cruelty that that word carries, coming from a white man when spoken to, or even in the hearing of, a non white man.  And I understand that refraining from using that word casually or, really, at all, unless one is specifically discussing the word itself, is a gesture of respect and acknowledgement on the part of the Caucasian race towards non Caucasians.  And I even accept that the usage of that word, and the emotional freight that it carries, varies enormously when a non Caucasian uses it.  

But, you know, that was a big one for me to swallow, because language is language and I hate it when ANYone tells me there are certain words I must not use, ever.  

So, anyway.  There's an automatic filter on this forum that takes forbidden words and changes them into other words.  Such as, 'shit' becomes 'poop'.  'Bitch' become 'female dog'.   And 'douche' becomes, for reasons I could not being to understand or articulate, 'female washing'.

Which, you know, greatly dilutes and even changes the meaning and impact of my words, when I write and post them.

So I complained bitterly about the autofilter  to my friend Jack the mod who had begged me to come join this forum while promising me he would have my back, and was told, nope, sorry, the swear filter is non  negotiable, because God forbid search engines classify this site, which is entirely for the usage of adults, as an adult site.  

So I was dealing with the autofilter.  I didn't like it, it aggravated the fucking shit out of me, but, still, I was dealing.  It's not like the level of attention or stimulus I was receiving from the site in exchange for my incredibly fucking brilliant posts was, you know, anything extraordinary or, really, even more than nominal... I wasn't laughing my ass off or gasping at anyone else's sparkling wit or astonishing insights or anything.    

But, still... dealing.

But then, my friend Jack posts something exceptionally dimwitted about how he would write Wonder Woman, if he were given the chance.  (Something to do with 'she's the strongest woman in the world!  And nobody seems to ever play that up!  Well, I would play that up!  Plus, I'd make Steve Trevor cool in a way no one else ever  has that I haven't thought up yet!')

And we got into it a little bit because, well, I am a comics geek of some knowledge and I have given quite a bit of thought to Wonder Woman over the  years and while there is a great deal about the basic  Wonder Woman concept that is... troublesome... to say the least... one will not take that poor, emotionally crippled, twisted, psychologically stunted character concept and correct it by writing stories that play up the fact that she is "the strongest woman in the world!"

(Even if that was some kind of extraordinary characterization engine -- and it's not -- Wonder Woman is not "the strongest woman in the world!"  That, in the DC Universe, would be either Supergirl or Power Girl.  Or possibly Lois Lane or Lana Lang, if either of them  have drunk a magic potion lately.)

So I waxed rhapsodic about how most successful characters and concepts had a central concept/characterization driver without which they do not function, and that the major problem with Wonder Woman is that she does not have anything such.  

(Example:  Spider-man makes Peter Parker miserable.  Peter Parker could be perfectly happy if he could give up being Spider-man... he's constantly covered up in babes, he's a brilliant scientist, he's a gifted photographer, he has all kinds of influential friends and contacts.  But Spider-man constantly fucks his life up.  But he cannot give up being Spider-Man, because Spider-man is his eternal penance for Failing Uncle Ben.   All good Spider-man stories are driven by this basic premise. Occasionally writers have forgotten this basic premise, as Stan Lee did when he had Parker marry Mary Jane  Watson after revealing his secret identity to her.  This was a mistake.  Parker needs to be lonely and miserable because Spider-man always comes between him and those he loves.  Otherwise, the Spider-man concept does not work.  This is also why Spider-man should never join a superhero team or have close superhero friends.  Spider-man is the source of Parker's misery.)

None of these wonderfully articulated and elaborately supported and frankly irrefutable points fazed Jack in the slightest.  Instead of acquiescing to my superior knowledge and intellect and acknowledging me his master in this and every other possible area,  he simply repeated --  "She has a concept!  She's... THE STRONGEST WOMAN IN THE WORLD!!!!"  He then advised that not every character or concept needs a defining theme or central characterization engine, and asked me to please describe Captain America's central character concept.

So, I spent about twenty minutes answering his question.  (Short answer:  Cap has no concept.  But Cap was poorly written throughout the Golden Age and for much of the Silver Age because of this.  Steve Englehart briefly gave Steve Rogers a concept when he had him stop being Captain America after he felt betrayed by his country.  But then he had to take that concept away again, because sales demands dictated that  Steve had to become Captain America again, even though, realistically, he never would have... the reality of America is something that Steve Rogers, decent man that he is, would never willingly represent.  He should have stayed Nomad forever, and someone considerably more conservative and gung ho should have taken over the Captain America mantle.   But the mighty dollar is god everywhere, and even Steve Rogers must bow his head before it; frankly, it was amazing that Marvel had ever let Englehart mess around with the central premise of the title as much as he did, for as long as he did.)

(Interestingly, modern Marvel messes around with the central premises of their various titles all the time.  But modern comics aren't supposed to make money and, in fact, rarely do.  They are regarded these days as mostly free advertising for multimillion dollar movie and TV tie ins.)

So I typed all this up at considerably greater length and with enormous wit and, yes, a few profanities, and when next I looked at the post, not only were there the usual comical autocorrects, but also, in places where the autofilter had apparently failed, my good buddy Jack had gone in and thoughtfully substituted lines of asterisks for words he felt were improper or would convey entirely the wrong impression as regards his forum to the world at large, or, at least, its search engines.

So I fucking quit.

Jack's not happy with me, but, you know, I yam what I yam and that's all whut I yam.  

Plus, fuck it.

Use this

I get that editors and publishers may have strict standards, or need their contributors to adhere to very specific formatting guidelines.  I really do understand that.  And I understand that, even in instances where these writing gigs don't pay you a cent, still, the editor/publisher has every right to expect that those they select to contribute to their publication will have to be both able and willing to jump through their hoops.

But here's what I don't get.  An editor or publisher needs new book reviewers.  They send out the call -- hey!  review books for us!  Get free books!  You respond, saying, hey, I'd love to review books for you.

They respond back to you.  You need to format your reviews this way, you need to include the following things in your reviews, you need to follow a certain sort of style... and, oh yeah... sorry, forgot to mention this before... you need to live in a country you don't actually live in.

Sorry, didn't I mention that?

Also, they include about two paragraphs of snotty bullshit about how, if you're working for them, you can't use a pseudonym, you have to write under your own name, and hey, maybe you'll find that to be a liberating experience, to behave in a more mature fashion for a change... this last because, apparently, you wrote to them from an email address that was more creative than

Even that, though, is not the kiss of death.  What is the kiss of death, for me, at least, is when they employ the following phrase:  "If you can't do this, then I can't use  you."

Here's the thing: There is a very small number of people in this world who are allowed to 'use' me without paying me money.  In fact, that list is pretty much, my wife, and when she 'uses' me, well, it's fun for both of us.

If you're offering me the opportunity to do the one thing in the world I do really well and you don't want to pay me to do it, well, you better talk awful sweet to me.

Telling me that you "can't use me" just makes you a fucking douchebag.

A 'will' issue

The trainer drew what looked like a U on the whiteboard with his marker. "This is the worst thing we can see," he announced to the class.

"A capital U?" Doc mused to himself... or so he'd thought, until the trainer snapped an over-the-shoulder glare at him.

"This," the trainer went on, indicating the upper points of the U, "shows two good scores on a monitored call... but this," here he tapped the lowermost part of the U's downward arc, "shows a failing score in between those two calls. That means it's not that a person can't do it yet... we can train for that." He tapped the 'U' again. "This means that you can do it... but sometimes, you just won't. So this is a will issue."

"And that's the worst thing you can see," Doc said.

"Absolutely," the trainer affirmed. "I can give you skill. I can't correct attitude."

"Sure you can," Doc said. "Correcting attitude... what you call a will issue... is actually easy."

The trainer gave him another glare, this time straight on. "Okay, I'll bite," he said, finally. "How do I easily correct a will issue?"

Doc shrugged. "The easiest way is to pay me more money to do it your way," he said. "There's another way, too, that's somewhat harder, but, honestly, still not that difficult."

"And what's that?" the trainer asked.

"Respect," Doc said. "That will work every time, too."

"If you're not doing the job I want you to do," the trainer said, slowly, "why should I pay you more? Much less respect you?"

"If you're not paying me something remotely approaching a fair market value for the work you want out of me, much less treating me with anything remotely approaching respect," Doc replied, "why should I do what you want me to do?"

"Because otherwise I'm gonna fire you," the trainer said, relieved to be back on firm ground again.

"And that," Doc said, regretfully, "is the source of the attitude problems you're so worried about."

Everything old is... still old

I'm now officially over all these idiotic photos of antiquated or obsolete devices accompanied by cutesy captions inveigling me to 'Like' if I know what this is.

I understand the desire to feel superior to others. And I am sympathetic to that desire when it manifests as an urge for older folk like myself to feel that our age and experience makes us in some way better than the younger generation, which often if not always seems arrogant, clueless, and aggravatingly heedless of our wisdom... and even more irritatingly, the apple of the world's eye and the focus of all media attention, while our steadily aging generation often seems to be overlooked if not entirely forgotten.

I get all that, I do.
But the fact that you can look at a picture of a channel changing knob on a 70s era TV set and know what it is, and your teenage or twenty something child will not, does not make you better or smarter or wiser than your teenage or twenty something child. The fact that you take pleasure and pride in such a dubious and pointless non-accomplishment does, however, indicate that in fact, you are no smarter, no better, and absolutely no wiser than ANYone else, much less anyone younger than you.

I guarantee you, there are many many pictures of devices and artifacts, there are many many words and phrases, that your teenage and twenty something child will immediately recognize, and you/I will not. This does not make them smarter, better, or wiser than us.

Yes, they are arrogant, yes, they do not respect us, yes, the world and its media dote on the young, and it's really, really annoying. I know this. I understand it. I get it.

I was young once, too.

Now, I'm not.

It doesn't make me any better than anyone else who is a different age from me. It doesn't make me worse, either. My age is neither something to be proud of, nor something to be ashamed of. The fact that I can identify a 45 rpm single converter for a turntable, an 8 track tape, a 3.5 and 5.25 inch floppy disc, an ethernet cord, and name every member of the Silver Age Justice League of America... means nothing.

Get over it.


Lately, I walk into the break room downstairs and somebody is on the TV, pontificating on some steroids scandal in some major league professional sport or other.

Apparently, this is a serious moral issue.

I've given it about as much thought as I can stand to... which is about, I don't know, two minutes worth... and I've decided, I don't care.

I mean, I don't care about sports that much anyway. And I can see how you could get all entangled in this whole libertarian vs "the good of the sport" debate, and yes, I understand that if those in charge of these things just said "What the hell, you're adults, take anything you want to", then this would place enormous pressure on... well... all professional athletes who wish to remain competitive to destroy their health by taking performance enhancers, plus, it kind of ruins the whole spirit of the competition if people are artificially raising their physical capacities through drugs, etc, etc.

And There Need To Be Rules.

But here's my thing: there is no one involved in any of this that isn't there because they want to be. And the league minimum salaries for these major league sports are high enough that anyone who plays a couple of years at any level should be able to sock enough money away to live off comfortably for the rest of their life. And nobody is going to have to take performance enhancers to get through 2 or 3 years in any major league sport.

Hell, there are athletes in every sport that make a cool million a year and they almost never play in any games.

So it's all this huge artificial and ultimately pointless continuum that has been created entirely to make money. Which it does; billions if not trillions of dollars a year, in an era when we can't feed all our people, when millions need work, when we can't keep our infrastructure maintained.

When you want to start taxing the rich motherfuckers who take millions/billions/trillions out of this industry every year, and I mean, seriously taxing the motherfucking SHIT out of these bloated, gluttonous greed-besotted bitches, then I'll be happy to weigh in.

But steroid abuse? Screw it. I don't have the RAM to waste on this nonsense.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

A beautiful gun

Guy who sits next to me: Look at that. That's a beautiful picture right there.

Me: (looking at his screen, which shows a woman holding a machine gun) What?

GWSNTM: That's a Bushmaster blah blah blah double barrelled blah blah automatic machine gun blah blah blah. Beautiful gun.

Me: And private citizens need to own those why?

GWSNTM: (baffled silence)

Me: Seriously. You or I need one of those why?

GWSNTM: It's... it's a beautiful gun. I used to have one.

Me: And you needed it to...?

GWSNTM: (sullen look)

Me: You needed it in case you went nuts and wanted to go shoot up a school, right?

GWSNTM: Man. You don't even...

Me: Or a movie theater. You needed to have one of those handy in case you lost your mind and decided to come kill me and 20 other people in a movie theater. Right?

I don't think he's going to show me a picture of a beautiful gun again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

A writer, a poet, a word artist, and a self expressionist walk into a bar...

The writer walked across the hardwood floor of the sprawling bar/concert venue/billiard hall. Had he been wearing high heeled cowboy boots, his footsteps would doubtless have gone clock clock clock clock, but as he was wearing sneakers, he moved as silently as a ninja... although nearly anyone could have, under the blare of some hairdo on the multiple TVs musing on just how much Tim Tebow might be able to do for his new team during the upcoming football season. 

In the back room where the Made In River City Creative Writing Contest was being held, an affable fellow held out his hand to the writer. "Here for the contest? Great! Sign up here!"

The affable fellow proffered a sheet, which the writer filled out -- name, address, phone number, email, name of piece being performed -- which phrasing bemused the writer for a moment, as, well, he normally didn't 'perform' his 'pieces'... but he plunged gamely on. 

After filling out everything to the affable fellow's satisfaction, the writer tendered a crisp ten dollar bill, hot out of the ATM in the bar's front room. The affable fellow put the tenner in a cardboard cigar box.

The writer wandered over to one of the small wooden tables and hoisted his well fed form up onto one of the wooden stools placed there. He had a short story in a manila envelope that he planned to read. The short story was about a man with the ability to travel backwards in time, which he used to solve other people's problems for them. He hoped this short story would be original enough, and well written enough, to win him this contest. First prize was $500, which wouldn't even cover the writer's rent, but it also included a publishing contract with a local publisher (that, admittedly, the writer had never heard of prior to becoming aware of this contest). And a publishing contract... well, that might be worthwhile indeed.

The writer eyed the others seated around the room. Some were dressed eccentrically, others almost formally, most were very casual. The writer himself was wearing blue jeans and a pullover black shirt... a step up from what he would normally have worn, a t-shirt with some kind of comic book or sci fi movie logo on it. 

The writer had done a little bit of research on the contest and those behind it, and was not... complacent... regarding his chances of doing well. For one thing, the local publishing company offering the contract was so small it did not, as yet, have a website, merely a Facebook page. The woman running the company, such as it was, was a local poet and self styled 'word artist'. And the other permanent contest judge was not a writer at all, but, rather, a man who owned a local art gallery that seemed devoted to using art as a medium for social change. 

The writer had nothing against poets, 'word artists', or art gallery owners who saw themselves as some sort of aesthetic guerillas, but he was reasonably sure that such people were not going to like the sort of things he wrote very much.

Still. The writer had been out there banging on brick walls for twenty years. He'd written ten or eleven novels, thirty or forty short stories, collected the usual bale of rejection slips, gone the usual electronic self publishing routes at Amazon Kindle and various other sites. He had, over the past 36 or 40 months, probably sold a few hundred electronic copies of various of his works. Spread out over 36 or 40 months, though, that didn't amount to much. 

Selling a few hundred copies of one particular novel, all at once... or maybe even just getting a bound hard copy of one of his books to put on his bookshelf... if that was all he got out of it, well, still, it would have to be an improvement, right?

And at least the 'word artist' with the apparently almost entirely hypothetical publishing company, and the social guerilla art gallery owner, weren't the only judges. There were guest judges, too. Every week the contest ran, there would be at least one guest judge.

Of course, the guest judges so far had all been poets, too... or painters. Or performance artists. Or maybe topiary sculptors or even animal trainers, he couldn't be entirely sure. None of them seemed to be 'writers', though.

And this was the thing that troubled him the most, so far... this was a 'creative writing' contest in which the words 'writer' and/or 'author' never seemed to be uttered by those who were managing and administrating it. The participants were referred to as poets. Or performers. Or were 'word artists'. Or, God love and take them all to his dear sweet Godly bosom, 'self expressionists'. 

But no one ever said the word 'writer'. It was a taboo word. It was verboten.

Well. He was here, he'd paid his ten bucks... might as well stick around and roll the dice, however loaded they apparently were.

It would, at the very least, be an experience.

The contest's advertisements had all claimed that the contest would begin at 8 pm. But there were many delays, which the writer cynically suspected might well be typical of these sorts of events, as most of them seemed to have to do with the people running the contest not knowing their asses from holes in the ground. 

Which might not have been entirely fair, as the judges, at least, seemed quite adept at finding the bar and procuring drinks for themselves. 

Finally, at 8:45, the affable fellow who had taken the writer's ten bucks walked over to a station with some electronics equipment set up at it, mercifully cut off the ska/pseudohip hop/crytoreggae/whatever the fuck non music had been blaring out of the speakers for the past hour, and said "All right, let's get this party started. Our first performer is a young lady who calls herself Twilight's Last Gleaming."

The writer firmly stifled his immediate impulse to bury his head in his hands and groan, or, alternatively, to mime the act of vomiting. 

A woman took the stage wearing a horned Viking Helmet, with an American flag hanging from her shoulders like a cape, accenting the oversized men's Hawaiian shirt she was wearing, buttoned lopsided in such a way as to show off at least half of her ample cleavage. The lower halves of the Hawaiian shirt hung down, one to mid thigh, the other past her knee. Other than the shirt, the flag, and the Viking helmet, all she seemed to be wearing was purple plastic flip flops.

She stepped to the microphone and breathily intoned, "This is a poem for all of us, for each of us, for every one of us... and..." She paused melodramatically. And then: "...for none of us."

The writer resisted the urge to take the straw out of his Pepsi and use it to rupture his own eardrums.

The eccentrically dressed woman began:

"I am no punk

ka dunk ka dunk

nor am I shrunk

ka dunk ka dunk

I'm not a lunk

ka dunk ka dunk

yet in a funk

ka dunk ka dunk..."

The recital went on for an endless droning eternity, during which the writer did the following things, in sequence:

(a) stifled the urge to beat his head against the small wooden table in front of him -- ka dunk, ka dunk -- until he lapsed into blissful unconsciousness

(b) wished the eccentrically dressed woman in Hell, or, at least, in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, or, at the very least, anywhere that he himself was not currently at

(c) wondered if he himself might have died and gone to hell and simply did not know it

(d) wished to God he could, immediately, if not sooner.

At some point during the woman's performance, she took off her Viking helmet and donned a sombrero. At another point, she did a brief but enthusiastic can-can. At yet another point, Bill Paxton came into the bar and announced that he and his vampire family were going to kill everyone in it... no. The writer opened his eyes. That last had just been wishful thinking.

When she finally finished, the room hooted and hollered and applauded its enthusiastic approval for the ka dunk ka dunk'ing performer. The writer applauded even more enthusiastically, pretty much entirely because she was finally finished.

The writer could never clearly remember the sequence of events after Twilight's Last Gleaming took the stage. The blurriness of his recollections had nothing to do with alcohol, because the writer did not drink, nor with the writer inflicting various injuries upon himself to lessen or entirely obviate his perceptions of the events occurring around him, because he was far too big a baby about pain to really do shit like that. 

No, it was mostly just the merciful defense mechanism of a psyche overloaded with a constant bombardment of pretentiousness so utterly overwhelming that, had it been converted somehow into artillery fire, would have leveled every structure standing between the Ohio River and the Preston Parkways 16 Movie Theater out near the Bullitt County line. 

The writer dimly recollected that many of the 'performances' seemed to be rather angry in tone. This didn't surprise the writer very much. He had started to read voraciously sometime prior to beginning kindergarten, he had started to write somewhere around the age of 10. Now in his early 50s, he had learned over the course of his life that all serious artistic expression, regardless of the medium it is expressed in, can be concisely summarized by four short words: 

God The World Sucks.

If one is artistically expressing any other sentiment, but, especially, any sentiment that is optimistic or cheerful or even, worst of all, designed only to (God forbid it) entertain people, then one is clearly not doing Serious Art. 

And just as clearly, this contest was all about Serious Art. 

So as various performers took the stage and began to leap about, shaking their fists in the air and shouting about injustice and inequality and the plight of the working man and the existential horror that was life itself in the insectile vacuum of a universe abandoned to entropy by an uncaring God, the writer just sort of stared into space and wished they'd get it over with. It was not that he was unconcerned with such things. It was just that, in general, he felt that if someone was really all that angry about serious matters like injustice and inequality and the plight of the working man, there was probably something more effective they could do with their time than compose free verse poems about it and then leap about in a bar/concert venue/billiard hall shaking their fists while shouting their free verse poem to a crowd of generally spoiled, overfed, somewhat inebriated and enormously overstimulated middle to upper class Americans twaddle-junkies.

The crowd, however, seemed very enthusiastic about the angry performers, and the writer had to admit to himself that it was very possible he just didn't get it... or perhaps he was just a surly motherfucker who had no taste in art whatsoever.

There was also a woman who did a poem about taking her brain out and dropping it in a canister of oil, which the writer thought was really very good, and another womanl who (other than the writer himself) was the only person there who actually read a story. But it was a very long story having to do with four different women from four different tribes in some weird fantasy world who left their tribes and went off into the far ends of the Earth and sat around a fire together and realized that they were all exactly alike although they were actually nothing alike at all and went back to their tribes reassured and empowered by this realization. Or something. The writer could never clearly recall the details of the story, but at least it hadn't had a sombrero in it, or anything about the injustice or inequality or the plight of the working man (although, as to that last, the writer could not help but reflect that maybe Bill Paxton and his vampire clan could well have livened the story up a little, had they been allowed to put in an appearance). 

The writer did recollect his own 'performance'. His name had been called, there had been a perfunctory round of applause, he had approached the microphone in a state somewhere between paralysis and full on cardiac arrest, because he generally wrote his work with the intention that people would read his words on a page, and experience it that way. 'Performing' his work aloud, in front of a live audience -- this was nothing he'd ever done before, or, really, ever wanted to, and, was, frankly, terrifying.

But he stepped up there and read his story. Somehow. Fearing at any moment that he would simply faint dead away or have a stroke. Yet still, through that fog of sheer raw funk, he read his story. The story about a person who could travel backwards in time and change the immediate past, and who used this gift to help others. 

When he finished, there was silence.

And then, again, polite applause as he walked back to his seat.

No hoots. No hollers. 

The writer wondered if people would have liked his story better if he had read it while wearing a Mounty hat, and setting a small cardboard box full of styrofoam pellets on fire, which he had first labeled in big black Magic Marker letters, "AMERICAN IMPERIALISM". 

Or maybe he should have brought a dwarf along with him, to accompany him on the bagpipes while dancing a spirited jig.

And then there were a few other performers. One fellow had painted a sequence of pictures to illustrate his story, which was about a seed nurtured by a caterpillar until it grew into a giant sunflower, a tale which he recited in Dr. Seussesque doggerel. The audience hooted and hollered for him, too. 

Seeds and caterpillars were, apparently, awesome. As were angry leaping poets upset about the plight of the working man. As was ka dunk ka dunk.

Time travellers using their powers to help their fellow men? Not so much.

When the winners of the contest were announced, the writer was not surprised to discover that his name was not among those so listed. 

Which was fine, really.

Because if he'd won, and gone on to the next round, he would have had to come back the following week and listen to MORE people leaping and shouting and waving their fists in the air while wearing sombreros and Viking helmets. 

Ka dunk, ka dunk.