Why editing is so much harder than writing.

Rich Engle

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I have been very lucky the two times I used editors, my favorite being MSK, who furthermore says he will once-over the novel I'm working on.

I get editing jobs all the time, but rarely prose. One thing I wanted to learn was what it is like on the other side of the counter, so I took a shot on one.

This came out of regular day-to-day artist/musician/writer stuff. I put in two blistering years recording an album, which is now done. It is called TV Glare, the band is On The Air. Cover art was commissioned to caricaturist Victor Pross. At the same time, he released his book "Icons and Idols: Pop Goes The Culture," and I wrote one of the two forwards. My forthcoming novel will be fully illustrated by Victor, and he is also writing a novel (this has been announced) called "The Hungry Artist."

I won't tell you the title of mine because, well, it just has to wait.

Anyway, he was warming up his writing skills (being, after all, a painter), and threw what I thought was a very neat story at me, which I ended up editing for him--this will appear in the revised version of Icons. You learn a lot about yourself, and others when you edit. It is a fine line. But I think that the story must first be good, and real; after that the rest is just tweaking, discussion. So here's how it came out (I think I have most of the bugs gone, many of which I created myself by fiddling with it too much). The core of the story, I believe, is very much in alignment with many O-values (like actually having to work hard to make things, being uncompromising, and such). See what you think.



A short story by Victor Pross

I AWOKE TO A RAINY NOON AND THE CLUTTER OF my room at Mason Court, to the remnants of the prior night’s painting session scattered about me. It was chronic, nearly a forensic scene: paints, half-eaten pizza, paint-smeared rags, brushes, dishes strewn all about the easel and table. What really happened here last night?

I putted around, starting out by fixing a greasy fried egg sandwich and a cup of coffee. I pulled out a cigarette, patted my pockets, and found, sadly, that I had no matches. So I strolled over to the stove and lit up. Returning to the easel where my canvas rested, I flopped down on my stool, grimacing at the painting. Feeling anxious, I randomly picked up an art magazine and flipped through its pages, looking for inspiration, an idea--anything. Tossing the magazine across the room, I attempted to paint again, as if I were robotically bookmarked from where I left off last night.

The hours passed. Finishing the painting, but still feeling unsatisfied, I turned inward, searching my mind for further images and ideas as the world passed by me outside the window. Taking a break, I looked around the squalor of my room, my head turning counter-clockwise, taking in the sight. I felt a crushing sense of depression. In an attempt to fight the feeling off, I began a new painting but I ended up tossing my brush on a nearby table with a heavy sigh. I felt blocked and despondent. I was dry. The blank canvas seemed to mock me. I wiped my brow and stepped away from the easel, as if the distance between me and the canvas would offer me a new prospective. Nothing. I stood at the window, my arms spread wide, holding on to each side of the frame, cigarette dangling from my mouth, and gazed at the tiny sliver of city beneath me.

I surrendered to a feeling that my work was basically aimless, and lacked a technique that accomplished artists seem to master so effortlessly. Of course, I knew that they had perfected their craft by disciplined study and constant practice. Their apparent “effortlessness” was illusory. Intellectually, I knew this. Emotionally, I still felt frustrated. I looked at the canvas, sneering at the image. Ah, fuck this shit. I turned and snatched the canvas from the easel, and snapped it in half. God, I hated New York’s Mason Court: It was slowly smothering me.

When I first arrived in New York a year before, I was intimidated by so large a city--having come from a small town I called “Nothingville;” I was intimidated by the city’s size, its relentless pace, and, obviously, its well-founded reputation for violence.

The city is seedy. Fire sirens wail all night while steam billows hellishly from the manholes, and the subways are defaced with graffiti. The behavior of New Yorkers is dour and metallic, as if to be polite proves a weakness (I have since grown accustomed to this, and consider New York the center of the universe). True, it is a city of big business, and the tall skyscrapers can seem ruthlessly arrogant and indifferent to the security of struggling artists. It is generally assumed that big business and the artist are in opposition, but one does find business and the arts coexisting: from a Pharaoh’s tomb to pop art, New York money has endowed dozens of galleries and museums. And the art world, I finally learned, is also Big Business<tm>.

Admittedly, Mason Court had a homey yet Bohemian atmosphere. It was a notorious mousetrap for every kind of disenfranchised artist, every kind of would-be-should-be artist who had ever dreamed to paint, write, dance, illustrate, make a film, compose music, write poetry or to simply be recognized as an artist. Whoever came or went, they pursued the American Dream as they conceived it. Sadly, most all of them, eventually, submitted--bloodied and bowed by the crushing blows of disappointment, and the endless loop of failure after failure.

Many faux artists forget their dreams. A real artist is incapable of doing that. That’s how you separate one from the other. I didn’t forget my dreams. Man, are you crazy? I couldn’t do that. I wanted to be an artist: it was that simple. I was set ablaze with the spirit of creativity. The colors burning within me were more vivid than the pigments in my paint.

Sitting in my little room at Mason Court, I thought of little else but the paintings I would create, feeling elated that I had discovered my niche: satirical caricature. It was like a radiating force beckoning me onward, enlisting my most passionate determination.

There were many different kinds of artists at Mason Court, but the rooms were similar in architectural structure. The only thing that distinguished Mason Court’s rooms from one another depended upon how the occupant within stamped their personality upon its face. Each tenant had made their small space a proud spot to call home, attempting to transform their tiny, bleak billet-space into a charming little cottage: a home away from home. These efforts were crude at best, for there was no escaping the stigma of the impoverished artist: every room had furniture, clothing, scraps and chotchka obviously scooped up from second-hand stores.

When I first moved in, my room appeared as though I was either ready to leave or had just arrived: there were no decorative touches, no hanging plants, no fresh coats of paint, no framed pictures. It had sparse furniture: a brass bed, a table, and a dresser. The only thing that suggested that a human being lived there was a small record player, and a few milk crates containing a small record collection and paintings. Eventually the room became my sanctuary, a retreat from the world, a room stocked with art supplies, books, and hundreds of LPs massed on a ten foot shelf.

Since the time I had moved in, a year ago, I hadn’t accomplished much, other than having been written up in an article, which was no big deal. It appeared, in fact, in the magazine I tossed across the room. Retrieving it, I turned to the page that richly displayed photos of my work. I read the article, seeking inspiration from the words. Instead, I let out a mirthless chuckle, shaking my head in contemptuous amusement.

In part, it read:

“Misanthrope Victor Pross paints caricatures of recognizable archetypes and stereotypes, small town eccentrics out of Sinclair Lewis, often Midwestern but just as likely to be Southern or Southern California, New Englander or big city New Yorkers. He’s a keen observer of character types. He punches and pulls the divine human form into Silly Putty shapes, a form he figures is more appropriate than what God designed, a being he does not grant the virtue of existence. Pross does more than observe characters—he searches them out and eggs them on in conversation, as a kind of research project. He aims his brand of caricaturing at the cerebrum; he peppers his striking imagery with visual clues thus revealing deeper traits of his subject’s personality. All this, he states, is to amuse the artistic intelligentsia. Pross will lampoon everything he deems ludicrous in culture. He has a craved affection for pop culture, an acute eye for the irreverent and a skewed view of life that sees the world through a cracked bottle of seltzer. He is the confrontational artist. But for all of his radical exaggeration and darkly subversive caricaturing, his work is essentially grounded in the real world. His grotesque caricatures do not necessarily harp on physical imperfections. They are a study of spiritual imperfections and intellectual maladies. This is the heart and soul of his art.”

Finishing the article, I again tossed the magazine to a corner of the room, knocking over a stack of books resting on my nightstand. Sometimes I feel as if my so-called gift wasn’t more like a curse. I sometimes think that if I had not been endowed by some gift-dispensing God of the universe with the ability to draw, I perhaps would have taken up a more “practical” career, like accounting or dentistry. But those laments fade when I imagine myself as a non-artist gazing over the shoulder of some artist sputtering something obtuse like “Wow, that’s really good, I wish I could do that. Why, I can’t even draw a stick man!”.

I remembered someone once exclaimed how lucky I was to have the “natural ability” to draw---as if it all materialized out of thin air because I had wished for it or because I had a genetic predisposition to hone whatever nature gave me. I just want to slap people like that. They don’t see the sleepless nights, the empty refrigerator, the hours of practice, the body wilted with exhaustion in pursuit of a goal. They simply day-dream with wishes swelling up in their heads but they don’t take any action to have them realized. And then they curse that ambition is futile.

“Balls, man,” I muttered, trying to shake off the depression that descended on me like just another grimy, New York City rain. Too many thoughts crowded my head—magazine articles, cheap talk, the past, ex-girlfriends.

Turning sharply to the left, I flipped on an extra light as if that would chase away this terrible feeling clouding me. I caught myself in the mirror. Standing still before it, I tried to discern if my inner life was visible in physical appearance. But my face stared back at me, challenging me to define myself by the reflected image alone. While so many others seek to escape their inner world, I was obsessed with delving into it.

Switching the light off, I held my head heaven bound, focusing on the ceiling’s patterns, my forearm over my eyes, drifting in thought. I found myself recalling when I first moved into my piss-poor room, my first impression of the little pile of stones, with its slightly discolored beige of brown deco brickwork that was the Mason Court building. I was told it was clean and very economical, but it was a far cry from the comfortable apartment that I shared with my ex-girlfriend.

From the moment I walked into Mason Court: the place gave me the creeps; I had a particularly unsettling moment the first time I entered the front lobby.

“I hope you’re no trouble,” said the hairy overweight landlord when he handed me the key to my room, mistaking my zest for cockiness.

“I’m no trouble,” I responded with a light shrug, “I’m an artist and I have a lot of work to do.” I cocked my head toward the cumbersome canvases I had hauled with my luggage.

“Artist, eh?” cackled the landlord.

“That’s right.”

“Sure, why not?” he muttered derisively and shot a glance to the heavens.

I said nothing.

“We have another Mason Court artist, hmm?” the landlord said, opening the door to my new home.

I entered the room, dropping my luggage to the floor with a thud, casting my eyes around the room. It looked clean but smelled of indigence.

“Do you know where the nearest art store is?” I asked.

The landlord chuckled, giving me an indignant gawk as he pulled shut the door behind him, leaving me alone to the silence and stillness of my room.

That was a year ago.

Shaking off this memory, I decided to get out of my depressing little room for the night and hit the streets and meld into the unwashed masses.

I showered and combed my hair to a shining crown of dark-brown wavy perfection, looking the part of Elvis in Jailhouse Rock, the wavy locks draping over my forehead. I put on a clean t-shirt and pants and fussed with my hair one last time before departing.

Scrubbed and determined, I pressed on as if destiny had me favorably included in her plans. There is no getting away from what I am—an artist. I will succeed. Period. I need to draw and paint like a drowning man needs air. I am an artist! It is in my blood. Damn it, I am an artist. And with a burst of energy, propelled by this thought---I am an artist—I jumped up and retrieved my sketchpad as if to rebuke any possible lingering doubt roving around in my head.

I slipped right into that human pool, hoping the cool summer air would give me an idea for a painting. One might want to know the creative process I go through to create a painting or drawing—especially when drawing “everyday people” and not just famous faces.

It’s simple: I observe people.

That’s about it. People inspire me—even though I like so few of them. British philosopher J.G. Bennett once said “If you have an unpleasant nature, and dislike people, it is no obstacle to The Work.“ Easier said than done; often, when found (as we so commonly are found) in dire need, our canvassing the streets of humanity renders great spots--little places where a man not only can get clear (or hide, depending upon what he‘s been up to), but also see really interesting shit go down, it’s almost guaranteed. That kind of place. One of these I had discovered was a place called “Sal’s Diner.” It was inspiration served on a silver platter. You found all types of people there.

Sal’s was a sleazy little joint, a nothing place. It looked as though it were frozen in the 1950s. Frozen in the 1950's places have a definite smell; it is an old stench, riddled with many flavors--each one is distinct.  When you stroll into Sal's that smell comes back to you: the smell of sleaze, perhaps the rot of bad juniper berries, intermingling with the seasoned salt, the sweat of who-knows-how-many patrons, the general muskiness that builds in such a place.  It was a place of many flavors, not all of them good but being entwined in a manner so as to create a particular aroma, or scent, depending on how one‘s palette read it. The grilled cheese sandwiches tasted like cement and the cream always turned your coffee Battleship Grey. It was a regular haunt for every type of social plankton and derelict, a hangout for all the local losers: pimps, crackheads, cantankerous senior citizens, white trash, aging trollops refusing to act their age, art students and welfare cases—not often the cream of humanity, but more like the grit you don’t mind feeling in your teeth when you’re trying to enjoy any kind of thin soup that you managed to get your hands on. Gumbo, strange brew.

Clearly, it was a haven for an artist of my freakish ilk. Sometimes, Sal’s Diner even felt like “home” to me, albeit a dysfunctional one.

Yes, it was Sal’s Diner that inspired me. It is the sheer folly of humanity that inspires the funny (and sometimes disturbing) images that I paint.

I was just another regular and nobody ever imagined that for one reason or another would openly bring my pencils and sketch-pad to turn Sal’s into a makeshift, on-site art studio, one dedicated to catching the seamy, the strange, the real action…dirty little secrets and never-to-be-fully known human dramas; to take the gumbo, the pastiche, and morphing it into something still the same, but more.

You can never replace an experience, but if you wish to convey it, it’s mostly a matter of increasing the wattage a little bit, to bring out whatever it was that happened to you while you were watching. Realism, for sure, is no match for places like this.

I sat down at my usual table. Immediately, my eyes fell over the room like a searchlight, covering its expanse, illuminating the expressions of the various patrons.

Sitting across from me was Sally Barton, an aging wench who was seen in many of the cities tackiest bars singing pathetic, dismal versions of the Pretender’s ‘Brass in Pocket’. She pounced weakly for any bit of love from the throngs of drunks, friends, and strangers, all riding high on shooters with beer chasers.

Sally was in her late forties or early fifties. Her skin was prematurely aged from tanning salons. She had a bulging waistline and wore a pink, tight fitting t-shirt that read “~Foxy~.” She sported a butterfly tattoo across her stomach that was bisected from a C-section. People rarely saw her without a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. She had a smoker’s raspy voice. When sober, she was usually engaged in various protests and causes. In the community, Sally wanted to be recognized as a leader. In the bar, she wanted to be recognized as a star. “I love you! I love you!” she cried out to the audience in response to scattered, barely-courteous applause.

“Where have you been all my life, cutie?” Sally muttered to me, her manner that of a practiced flirt, one knowing full well that she had, easily, thirty years on my tender twenty something.

I was tempted to respond by saying “Well, for the first thirty or so years---I wasn't born yet,” but I held my tongue and flashed a white toothy smile. She smiled back, winking. I cringed inside, choking back a mild nausea that came from examining the physical implication of what she was clearly suggesting (were one to run it out) but held my smile as if I were a subway poster advertising a toothpaste ad.

Then I rendered her in caricature.

The waitress came to take my order, and I sat straight up like an adroit student at his desk. She was a beauty. Cigarette clamped between straight white teeth, I smiled and winked at her as she filled my coffee cup. Taking my order, she spun on her heels while looking over her shoulder at me, smiling.

Leaning on the legs of my chair, I began to sketch other patrons with bold and confident pencil strokes, and shaping up before me on the clear white paper, human figures emerged. I was caught up in the mania of shading and detailing the drawing: I felt as if the blank page was coming to life, a life that I felt coursing throughout my whole being. I felt a hunger. And no matter how much I drew, I could not satisfy that hunger. I will never satisfy that hunger.

It wasn’t long before other Sal’s Diner denizens entered---as if they were scheduled to arrive at a certain time to pose for me.

One of the regulars at Sal’s was Guy Larson, a retired truck driver. He had made Sal’s his “home away from home” since the early 1960s. You would think he had a cot in the back. Larson, whose skin resembled fake tan leather left in the rain, was an appalling character. Looking at his dreadful comb-over, or whatever that bird's nest on his head was, I easily grabbed his essence, via a freshly-sharpened 2-H pencil. Capturing the details of his barnacled face, though, that required constantly rehoning my pencil, as if there would never be enough graphite available on this planet to fully represent such complex, gnarly landscape.

A disquieting eccentric, this rumpled old man Larson often arrived at Sal’s without his false teeth. Or, if he had his teeth in his mouth, he liked to pop them out on his tongue. He thought this was funny. He was also a twitchy chatterbox, forever boring the other patrons with his inane stories. Claiming to be the personal friend of various movie stars, he would ramble off tall tales as well as could any tabloid writer.

Sal Goldberg, the restaurant owner, was always bitching and complaining to Larson. “Vill you qvit hangin’ around here?” That always cracked me up.

Other Sal patrons consisted of modernist archetypes: paint splattering, tree-hugging socialist marionettes who read Chomsky with feverish devotion and who wept with wet-lipped sentimentality when talking about Kandinsky.

Still another of the regulars was Tammy, a nineteen-year-old art student. Some of her works were near-abstract horses, landscapes, waterfalls, sporting a barrage of colorful smears that looked similar to her tie-dyed t-shirts. The paintings were crude and pedestrian, reminiscent of 1970s velvet wall hangings. Her pure “abstract paintings” conveyed an anxious intent to please everyone by using a variety of colors, hoping that one of those colors would be a given viewer’s favorite. Tammy’s appearance was as varied as the colorful paints she used: her hair was dyed pink and light green, her eye shadow a gloss blue, and perpetually punctuated all this through the aid of tireless application of such cheap, gaudy makeup. Her bone-white skin stretched on her skeleton like a lampshade illuminating her gaudy make-up. Her penchant for tie-dyed t-shirts and surplus military jackets pleaded, by proxy, for any shred of attention that could be garnered.

Just outside of Sal’s you could spot rap-rouge-wannabes who traded insults and perceived “slights,” slights which demanded a heavy response. This was especially true if there were observing bystanders.

Just around the block from Sal’s Diner was an art school. This liberal arts college was (and surely remains) an expensive playpen inhabited by a gaggle of geeky fools and faux lunatic poseurs who often dropped into Sal’s to buy a pack of smokes. The school had all the other requisite types of students: pretentious beatniks, crude filmmakers, gay fashion designers, angry lesbians, vegan hippies, and a funky mix of neo-Beats and just plain deadbeats, all of whom made Sal’s Diner their habitat.

Here’s the strange part: of all the various cadre members and lone mongrels who wondered into Sal’s it was I who seemed to stand out by not standing out. That is, I don’t wear any kind of “costume of the age” that relegates me to a social group. In a culture saturated with mass-market nonconformity, I stood out because it was impossible to classify me. My hair style was that of James Dean, or, as I had mentioned, Elvis. True, I was given to wearing leather jackets reminiscent of Brando in The Wild One. In a certain sense, I was out-of-date. Or else I was from a different planet. As far as I was concerned, each gum chewing, attention-challenged automaton had been spiritually lobotomized, fitting perfectly in a blinkered mainstream. I was a proud outsider, my chosen attire simply an acknowledgment of those that, proven, had actually made something march. That, mixed with convenience, availability, and maybe just not really caring about the external in quite such a narcissistic fashion as most I had seen. I viewed it as a simpler, more informed choice, maybe. Certainly, less thought put in than, say, coloring your hair with Kool-Aid.

Most of the time nobody paid attention to me, but Sal, the restaurant owner, liked to observe me draw. “I love to draw these people!” I exclaimed to Sal, answering a question he never asked.

Sal liked me and always took the time to sit down with me for a small chat. At first, he was taken aback by me when I began to frequent his establishment. From his perspective, here was this strange young man coming in ordering coffee after coffee and doodling away on a sketchpad.

“Vot’s dis?” Sal asked, sitting down across from me, pointing at one of my warped sketches.

“I meet archetypes and stereotypes everyday,” I explained. “How can you avoid it? They’re everywhere. It would seem, Sal, that your Diner is a microcosm of society at large.”

“Vot?” Sal said, raising an eyebrow.

“Well, take a look around you. Sure, people say it’s wrong to generalize, but I don’t. Most people can be tossed into a certain classification, a certain pigeonhole. It’s as if God made a certain mold and, instead of breaking it, He repeated it over and over and over again: people who have the same interests, beliefs, political affiliations, expressions—the same conversational tripe. People attach themselves like flies on flypaper to the latest fads, customs, expressions, cliques, New Age cults or whatever the latest Zeitgeist offers. People’s belief systems and values are determined by their friends or church or their social environment or family or…whatever tribe they belong to. It’s rampant. They have blunted independent thinking to the latest intellectual fashions. It’s been my intention to ridicule this and to exaggerate it. Caricature is my mode of expressing this.”

“And dis’ is bad?” Sal asked, rather coyly.

I was wired from the coffee. I smoked continuously and my left leg never stopped jittering. A bouncing ball of energy, I was all over the booth, slouching on one end, and then sliding to the other side, talking a mile a minute. Sal looked fascinated as he studied my drawings.

We fell silent for a moment as Sal continued to study my drawings. During this moment of respite, I turned my attention to Mr. Ferguson, who was sitting at the next table with his wife. Mr. Ferguson, who was a war veteran and had lost his arm in combat, was despite all this a rather lively and animated figure. He had the habit of punctuating his sentences with his stump arm—while his left arm remained still by his side. I couldn’t help but laugh at this freakish, carny-like spectacle: it looked like a lopped-off pink sausage with a cleft chin gesticulating about at the end. And then I felt like an ass and reproached myself for finding humor in such a thing. It was my light side purging the dark side, a moment of slapping down that often-cruel alter-ego that we so much require but so often despise.

If one skims my drawing pad, one finds every type of personality frozen in caricature. I’m ecstatic at the sight of society’s marginalia and its archetypes. It is ripe for satire, and New York City represents a true plethora: from street evangelists urging uninterested pedestrians to rid themselves of sex and drugs---to aging peroxide blondes dressing twenty years younger than their age will gracefully allow, walking their dogs in designer sweaters, and talking to their pets as if they were human---to retro punks with spiked hair held over from 1977 displaying their anti-establishment ways by wearing Halloween costumes---to high-powered hair weaved executives types on their way to a night club straight from the office---to baroque dykes with the James Dean haircuts---to transvestites who look like a wax museum version of Marylyn Monroe---but an ugly version.

Eventually Sal grew accustomed to the drawings and to this strange artist (strange from his perspective, not mine).

Occasionally my subjects caught glimpses of my treatment of them. With open mouth gapes, they recognized themselves in the works. How could they miss them? Sprawled across the length of my table were my drawings: strangely morphed caricatures of the restaurant patrons and skewered social stereotypes that exaggerated classes of people from all walks of life.

“Why don’t you draw real people?’ a patron asked, the voice a mixture of inquisitiveness and frightened irritation.

“They are real people’, I answered.

“This is how you see people?”

“How am I supposed to draw them—how I don’t see them?”

The drawings could very well be, cursorily, summed up as “offensive” but they also “impressed” upon the viewer as being very true to life. I made fun of clothing, expressions, facial features and body language, but mostly I made fun of social types; I zeroed in on and extracted broad generalities among people and focused on personality types and exaggerated those characteristics to the point of absurdity.

I appreciated the art of caricature, more so then than ever before. I enjoyed the spectacle of observing the reaction of anyone I nailed in a drawing. When people observed a grotesque drawing I had rendered of them—in dead-on accuracy---they would dissolve in self-consciousness. This had a clinical kind of fascination to me. Although one can be disconcerted at witnessing an open incision, I got some amazing glimpses of their guts, metaphorically speaking. What this excised was my prior, deeply ingrained self-doubt. From this, I knew my art had the power to reach people.

“You are a sick guy, Pross,” said one of my displeased subjects.

“How is it that I’m sick,” I responded, amazed by this sudden psychological evaluation. “The drawing portrays how you are—not me.”

Not everyone responded with agitation to the drawings of this punk caricature artist. Sal was blessed with a robust sense of humor. Holding a drawing I had rendered of him, he laughed with his whole body, his heavy-set frame shook like a bowl of Jell-O resting on the clothes dryer in final spin. In the drawing, I had Sal lurched over a hot stove stirring the day’s soup special with beads of sweat dripping into the pot. In the background, one saw an unsuspecting customer slurping the broth, bellowing, ‘Sal, I love the extra flavor you added!’

At that point, my waitress peeked over my shoulder as I drew. I look up at her to notice an affixed philosophical gawk.

“How would you describe yourself?” she asked, digging deep into some kind of metaphysical significance my drawing seemed to convey to her.

“I’m a hungry artist,” I answered, taking a sip of coffee she had just poured.

“You don’t describe yourself as a caricaturist?

“No. I’m an artist that can paint caricatures.”

“Why do you reduce people to stereotypes?”

“But I don’t. People reduce themselves to stereotypes. I capture that. I draw them. I find it hilarious.”

“To stereotype is a terrible thing.”

“To allow yourself to become a stereotype is worse.”

Annoyed, she shrugged it all off and returned to her duties.

At this point, a guy nicknamed Grover (I didn’t know his real name) came over to my table. He introduced himself with all the charm of an aggressive and slippery elected official. Whether I wanted to hear it or not, Grover told me his life story in the arts. He wanted to be a painter but he lacked the mental and visual aptitude necessary to translate lines and colors into meaningful images. He rejected abstract art, regarding it a counterfeit elitism and instead opted for Installation Art. He presented objects found on the street corners and junk heaps as a three-dimensional art.

Grover found out what type of art I created and upon hearing the answer---caricature---he emitted a derisive hyena laugh.

Tossing the art of caricature to the side, he spoke of his Installation Art, but not in a manner of attempting to bring elucidation, but rather in the style of a used car salesman trying to dispose of a product he knew was a lemon. I zeroed in on Grover’s, er, “corporeal status:”

He had thin blond hair that was receding at the hairline. He wore a thinly trimmed goatee that was, well, goat-like. His undersized blue eyes were what people often describe as “shifty.” He had a thin upper body that suddenly gave way to a barrel-like wasteline. Overall, though, he was simply no more (or no less) than another poster-boy for the white trash movement.

“Installation Art is a three-dimensional construction or arrangement of various non-artistic materials and then arranging them in such a way that they become works of art.” Grover said, taking on the tone of a tutor.

“Non-artistic materials and everyday objects?” I asked, slow to appreciate the so-called artistry of such a thing.

“Yeah, man,” Grover responded, as if I were a dimwitted child, “non-artistic objects. Materials such as toilets seats, fish tanks, coat hangers, dentures, coffee mugs and parts of a vacuum cleaner or a car…you name it. It doesn’t really matter. The trick…or the art…lies in arranging and welding these objects in such a way that it becomes art.”

A baffled look came over my face; I didn’t know what to say. Grover took this as an invitation to further qualify his ideas.

“My aim is to free art from the commerce of the capitalistic art world. Yeah, man, by taking my work out of the customary gallery and museum settings, and by making these ephemeral pieces---that aren’t marketable---I have freed and purified my art of the market forces.”

Grover saw that my eyes were not scornful, but, rather, attentive and wondering. I allowed my eyes to express puzzlement and I didn’t care if Grover noticed it.

“But don’t you want to sell your work?” I asked, my tone that of a child making an inquiry about an adult’s confusing statement. “You need to make a living.”

“Ah, that’s the conundrum, isn’t it?” Grover said, shaking his head wearily. “I want people to possess my work. And yes, given the existing social paradigm, I need to make money to live. That’s where the government comes in. The artist needs to be free of anxiety if he is to create. How can he be free to create if he is dependent upon wealthy art collectors or capitalistic gallery curators who may, or may not, choose to toss him some bread crumbs, huh?”

“Why?” I asked, extending an open palm, my face a curious blank. “Why would you want to bring the government into it? How could any artist of integrity want anything but a willing volunteer audience or willing art collector?”

Grover laughed. It wasn’t really a laugh in the joyous sense. It was more of a smirking little titter.

“Oh, man, you’re not from around here, are you?” Let’s just say that art and business make strange bedfellows.”

“They do?”

“Yeah, they do. Business is contrary to the purity of creating art. Oil and water. Hey, that’s why I’m different from these other freaks. I don’t go around sniveling about my lot in life. I don’t whimper, like some fucking sap. I don’t give a capitalist’s rat ass about having my work displayed at Galleries. You know why, my friend? Because I’m a real artist, that’s why.”

Grover’s face was turning red, the veins on his forehead becoming more pronounced. It was usually at this point that anybody else would have excused themselves from Grover’s forced conversational grip. Not me. As I said--people fascinate me, and sometimes that fascination became unavoidably morbid given the specimens I come across.

As Grover spoke on, a curious little smile formed around the edges of my lips. I struck a match and lit a cigarette. There was something that struck me about Grover: he was openly cynical and malevolent, as if nothing on earth were of any interest or value to him. Beneath the benign surface, there was a conniving manipulator.

Before I knew what happened, I found myself migrating, pushed by Grover’s aggressive personality, to Sal’s main dinning room, a narrow alcove at the back. It had been dubbed as “Plato’s Cave.”

Plato’s Cave was a notorious hangout for “modernist” and “postmodernists” artists although I didn’t know what either term meant at the time. At Sal’s, Plato’s Cave was a dark den where eclectic artists of all types take cover at night, an aura suggesting influences of Sartre and Duchamp. The inception of Plato’s Cave came about during the 1960s where beatniks merged to talk about Existentialism and anal sex.

Grover entered the room with an air of propriety and took a seat among a throng of art school students. “Hey, man, this is Victor Pross. He’s a caricaturist.” Grover then slapped me on the back with an inappropriate gregariousness that left me cold. The table of “artists” barely mumbled, much less greet me. They merely peered out at each other from string-like hair or bush-clipped designs.

This clique was highbrow and artily snobbish, where concepts and ideas were exchanged as if they if they were sports figures and an analysts of Gertrude Stein’s work combined. Plato’s Cave was the coming together of kindred sprits to talk “purist thoughts,” in which any reference to personal success or ability was frowned upon as a distraction from the pursuit of “pure art.”

I never before saw so many people who dressed and acted alike: nose, ear, tongue, nipple, eyebrow, and lip piercings—appearances that scream to be perceived as “individualistic” but instead convey the most slavish and superficial conformity. They resembled a mob of half-civilized creatures assembled to hunker inside the tribal requiem in expectation of ceremony.

And then my entertainment began:

“Have I told you about my new creations, dude?” asked Willy, who sat near me, his question asked of nobody in particular. “It’s called Skin Off my Penis. It’s on display at the Loft Gallery.”

Willy was a pallid thin kid with blonde-died spiked hair and nose ring, a diminutive twerp who wore dark clothing as did the others.

“What is it?” asked Grover, barely able to conceal his boredom.

“Dude, get this: I have taken a simple clear drinking glass…and I…I filled it with my dead skin.”

Willy cast his eyes about to make sure he still had his audience. The faces of his friends held bland expressions. My own expression was one of incredulous and scornful bewilderment; a ruffled forehead marked the question: Is this for real?

“Dude, it took me almost five months to fill it,” Willy continued, oblivious to the indifference of his friends and my puzzlement. “I glued the glass on a purple stool for contrast.”

Feeling charitable, Grover asked: “Why did you decide to put your dead skin in the glass?”

“I wanted to put myself in my art,” Willy muttered weakly.

When Willy explained his latest artistic concoctions, he exhibited contractions of shame in the muscles of his throat; it was like having his clothes torn off under a revealing and uncomplimentary bright light. There was an inflection of defense in his nattering, as if expecting to be immediately rejected and was poised to argue in advance.

He went on to explain his Skin Off my Penis project in elaborate detail and then he complained bitterly that his artistic vision was compromised because of a “cheap government” that did not fund his project. Listening to this, I had a look on my face that a ventriloquist wears: that unnaturally fixed stare when he’s listening to his dummy.

“What are you trying to say with this piece, Willy?” Torah asked, an intense young women who wore a black shirt revealing cleavage. She had dark hair and her left eyebrow was sprinkled with a dozen piercings. Torah had done a showing at The Purple Onion Gallery displaying an empty, white painted room as her art. “I’m not trying to prove that anything can be art,” Torah explained at the opening. “I’m trying to prove that nothing can be art too.”

Before Willy could formulate an answer for Torah, Grover cut in: “So you want to put skin in a glass do you? Dude, it’s been done! I did it! I had an exhibit at the Art for Art’s Sake gallery with that very same idea. I had a large mason jar that contained my gallstones, man. They were submerged in preservative fluid, dude. Okay?”

“Are you saying that my skin isn’t art?”

“You call this little opus of yours…this Skin off My Penis art?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Is it really skin from your dick?”

“No, it’s from my arm.”

“Ah! Then you’re a fraud!”

I almost burst out laughing listening to this exchange. I wondered--could this surreal conversation actually be happening? Be, well, real? I felt myself transported to the Twilight Zone. Ponderous, man. Ponderous. I considered the possibility that someone had slipped something into my food or drink, but alas, it was not so.

Grover and Willy continued to exchange heated dialogue over this puerile subject, Grover becoming more and more excitable. Little drops of spit flew from his mouth and his complexion became an angry orange-red.

“Hey, cool it, you stupid fucker!” Mauricio demanded, bringing his fist down on the table. Everybody hushed up and turned to Mauricio.

Mauricio looked like a caricature of an early nineteenth-century French artist, complete with the dark shiny hair and thin mustachio; perhaps an errant, underfed leech had attached itself there. Nobody knew Mauricio’s last name and he preferred it that way, figuring that this added a certain mystique to his persona. He wore a t-shirt that bore a picture of Marxist poster-boy Che Guevara.

“I think it’s a brilliant idea,” Mauricio said, raising his glass to Willy.

Willy slid over to Mauricio and started to speak of his other artistic visions. Mauricio soon began to regret having offered any complimentary comments and looked for the first opportunity to escape Willy’s Venus Fly Trap-like hold on him--a slowly-digested kind of death waiting in his near-future.

Grover continued to act like Willy had stolen everything he had ever done--or even thought--from him. “Yes, yes, yes,” he would say, interrupting Willy, “I did all that—years ago.”

Willy began to feel the chill from Mauricio’s shoulder. Needing to feel the buzz of another compliment to mix with his drink, Willy turned to me.

“What do you think, dude?”

“About what?” I asked.

“About my work,” Willy snipped, irritated that he had not received his compliment by now.

“Oh, that” I paused. “I don’t get it.”

Heads turned to my direction, and conversations hushed.

Willy froze in position. It was at that moment when Willy perceived my unvarnished indifference. He hastily turned to Torah.

“What do you think, Torah?”

“I really like it,” she answered willingly. Willy smiled. Torah smiled back, her white teeth illuminated by that black lipstick that so easily became, long ago, de rigueur in the Goth/Vampire/otherwise-confused world she inhabited. If all else fails as an artist, just whip out the black stuff and you can run pretty good for awhile. Some people think it’s a turn-on, but for me it screams, at the least, necrophilia.

Grover’s jaw clenched, and glared at Torah.

“It moves me,” she added on, defying Grover.

“Anything else, Torah?” Willy asked.

“I’m not sure, really. Someone else might have another perspective. We should consider all viewpoints. Nobody has all the answers. But that’s just my opinion.”

Willy smiled weakly, unhappy with Torah’s wishy-washy appraisal.

Even though Torah looked as though she could chew the head off of a chicken (or, more realistically for sure be able to suck the chrome off of a trailer hitch), it was typical of her to take the position of a fence-sitter. She called it “diplomacy.” Willy hated that about her. She was always talking about the “communal spirit,” never expressing a definite view on any subject, even the weather.

The group now fell into a full discussion of art, each taking their turn to trump on the subject with Holy Writ. The views clashed and voices rose and faces redden.

Torah continued to agree with everybody.

I sat on the sidelines, silently sipping my drink, listening and watching. My cigarette smoke seemed to form a question mark. I was observing my environment as if I were an alien intelligence whose assignment was that of a social scientist. And indeed I felt “alienated” that night—more so than I had ever experienced before.

But I continued to observe: there was a relentless rain of ponderous inanities spoken, which soaked into me like some kind of swamp infection. Every philosophical utterance about art sounded like so much hackneyed banality; something was in the smirking faces, the guile of their voices. It was a shower of idiocy, striking ground as if they were Revelations, Revelations audaciously demanding acceptance.

I appeared, by contrast, as I vividly recall, cryptic and unflappable, squinting through the smoke from the cigarette dangling between my lips, never showing any reaction except for an occasional sardonic half-smile.

But I noticed I was beginning to slump in my seat; too much more of this would surely breach my barriers.

I gulped down the rest of my drink, bided all a good-bye, and slipped out from the booth. Paying my bill, I appeared oblivious to the gawks that fell upon me and I walked out the front door with my head held high.

From the street, I saw the waitress who had served me. She picked up a sheet of paper, freshly ripped from my sketchpad, and examined it closely, her eyes ablaze. It was an image of her portrayed as an angel on roller skates rolling from one table to the next. Her beautiful and angular features where exaggerated and this served to emphasize her beauty, not to degrade her. She knew this.

There I was, waving good-bye to her. She smiled and lit up with a radiant glow. She rushed over to the window and enthusiastically waved back. I raised my fingers to my lips and blew a kiss her way. Sure enough, she pantomimed “catching the kiss” and blew a kiss back. She then turned away and the last thing I saw was a disappearing derriere. Ah, to find the bright side one has to put out light of one’s own.

Arriving at Mason Court, I climbed the three flights of steps to my room, toting a bundle of new art supplies. I had just bought a bevy of new horse-stem brushes, canvases and a vast array of paints. Entering my room, I plunged into painting as if to race an hourglass. I stood before my easel painting, alternatively munching a sandwich and dabbing my brush on a blot of paint. I found great pleasure in the precision of my hand as it created images that most people couldn’t imagine. My eyes were fixed, intent in absorption, as if trying to discern something at a great distance.

Possessed with the spirit of creativity, I worked with an intense concentration and unlimited energy. I completely isolated myself in a state of agonized ecstasy. I began painting one canvas after another, working around the clock in my little shit-hole bachelor apartment. The heat was heavy, leaving one feeling as if the air could be swallowed instead of breathed. My shirt clung to my frame by wet splotches. Yet I felt clear-headed as I moved paint across the canvas, as if I could continue indefinitely without exhaustion.

Finally, a few hours later, it was done: a painting I particularly felt proud of. I painted a truthful picture of a garden-variety family, a portrait that spun Norman Rockwell on his head.

It was a study of the macabre pathology of a generic family: father, mother, son and daughter stand frozen as if posing for a photographer in a studio. The parents are all smiles, but their dysfunction and psychological scars are clearly visible as they are manifested physically. The children look insolent and sullen and they, too, are grotesque caricatures of their emotional damage. At first glance, one would tend to conclude that some hideous accident had befallen the family, their faces discoloured and deformed. But if one examines the portrait closely, it becomes clear that the truly pregnant deformities present are not really physical in nature but rather psychological and philosophical ones.

I entitled the painting Scar-Tissue Disciples of Sigmund Freud, I imagine, would have a field day trying to catalogue its symbols and meaning:

Like the scars in the flesh, like a genetic code, the fusion of prejudice, neurosis and psychosis is transmitted from one generation to another. The parents give it to the children and in turn the children give it to their children, so that eventually the whole genealogy is patterned with infected souls, like iron particles in a magnetic field!

The abstract mental states are communicated visually: the mother is wearing a crucifix. The father is a yellow block-head. The son is wearing an Earth First t-shirt and the daughter is adorned with various Nazi symbols.

“What family did you have in mind when you painted this?” it was once asked of me.

“You miss the point here,” I answered. “No one particular family posed for this painting. These caricatures are an archetype of a very real social phenomenon, an image of a splinter of a wide social illness.”

Lighting a cigarette, I stood up to stretch. I stepped back to admire my latest handiwork, feeling very satisfied with the outcome. Nevertheless I retuned to the painting for other finishing touches. It was still dark outside when I momentarily turned my attention away from the canvas. That was the last thing I remembered. I painted until I collapsed, still fully clothed, on the lumpy mattress that was my bed, my feet resting on the floor near the easel. When I awoke the next morning, I looked up at the painting feeling satisfied that it was finally finished.

And now to address the inevitable question: Am I a cynic? The only thing that I seem to hold sacrosanct, one might think, is the execution of well-crafted art. But for those who know me well see that this is not entirely true. I regard many things as sacrosanct—such as freedom, love, free-thought, etc. But at the same time, I also hold things up to ridicule and humor, such as government, religion, racism, group-think, conformity, etc. After all, you can’t feel strongly for something without despising what you perceive to be its opposite.

Sal’s Diner was my tainted oyster to create art. The general perception of the artist is that of a professional “emoter,” a solitary figure sloppy with sentiment, forever suffering for his art. The artist is seen as a misanthropic, self-absorbed pain-the-ass. This unsavory image pigeonholes all artists as an undifferentiated mass; it airbrushes away individuality such that what remains is a ridiculous caricature. In my art, I feel that it is quite appropriate to turn the tables. Sal’s Diner was as good a place as anywhere to do that—this melting pot of scamps and roughs, a variable compost of cultural caricatures

For the most part, I just wanted to observe and draw. After dozens of hours of sketching and coffee drinking over a period of months at Sal’s, I had created a symposium of clowns, symbols of vast territories of wasted human life.

Speaking for myself, I don’t want to be tossed on history’s trash-heaps of unrealized dreams that are made up of the faceless masses who failed to pursue their own direction, to discover their own irreplaceable individuality.

That’s the actual theme of my art.

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Uh, no. I put up a story I busted tail on editing. This is the creative writing area where we discuss process, is it not? Versus, say, coming in for no other purpose than to re-flog, uninformedly and unrelatedly, a dead horse that has no bearing whatsoever upon oneself, least of all the issue at hand (that's short story writing, in this instance). Let he without blame cast the first stone, all that, you know? It's extremely easy to go to town on just about anyone--we've all had it coming one time or another, and that definitely includes you. But the high road is a hard one--you should try it more often. If I take issue with someone, I can usually solve that simply by not reading them.

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Underhanded, my tush. In case you didn't notice, it's all over the place that my record is out and who did the cover. It's all over the place that his book is out and I wrote the forward. So do make all the noise you want. Honestly, it seems that is your mainstay anyway, versus, say, toiling away for years actually producing work. You come in and toy with people, and then buzz off...a one-trick pony, really. Is there ever anything of substance? Ever?

There is no agenda here. This is about writing and editing prose, period. I dearly love and value OL, true that. But it would be very foolish to think it no more than a marketing platform for my work--for one thing, that's not what it's for, and for another, it simply isn't big enough.

Your righteous indignation is unearned, and hypocritical as Hell. Do as you will, but you won't be doing it with me. If MSK decides to pull this whole thing down, fine with me, because it is his board. As in not yours.

Edited by Rich Engle
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Oh, I see. So now ~I~ am a plagiarist as well. Do we require, er, "evidence?" Who died and made you Elvis?

If I thought this were more than more button-pushing out of you, I might be inclined to provide it, since like any original work, it exists in many forms. In the case of a collaborative effort, it is womb-to-tomb. Early email discussions before it was even started would come first. And then there is, you see, a process of back and forth revision. These are all in a dated sequence, along with specific accompanying notes for each next iteration. You keep those. Then, near the end, what I like to do is print the whole thing out and mark it up manually before I do a near-final. In the course of explaining my process to my partner, I took closeup pictures of that, replete with my editing marks all over it. Matter of fact, I took all nineteen pages of it and laid them down in my living room and photographed them. I think that's over on my Facebook page (and no, I won't be sending you a friend request). Finally, it gets a last once-over for a couple of random tweaks.

Now, even without the benefit of this hard evidence, anyone so-inclined (why, I would not know), could simply look at a number of prior samples of both the writer's and editor's work, and through very simple induction and deduction easily determine that this document without doubt came from those two people, because style is style and it's easy to pick out. Neither of us are the best writers in the world, but we have distinct voices, and they can't be copied for any sustained length of time. There are certain rhythms, turns of phrase, other choices.

And of course there is the subject matter, which is memoir-like. Who the heck was really in NYC? Was it a clone? Did the art magazine review quoted review a clone? It exists as well. Maybe we are ALL in cahoots! Yes!

Overall, between the two of us, I'd say we put in about 50 hours into that thing. Not much, but likely much more than anything I've ever seen out of you.

If you had any decency, you'd apologize, at least to me, and retract that accusation. But it is not necessary, because the facts exist, and now, you have a rather embarrassing situation, don't you? Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do.

Anything else? If there is, email me. I've got a little time this morning, and I would be more than happy to take the gloves off.

But that wouldn't be nearly as fun for you, would it? This kind of social metaphysically driven narcissistic B.S. requires an audience, doesn't it? On the other hand, I don't require one for that kind of thing...just what I write and play. It would be fun, for a minute.

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Oh, I see. So now ~I~ am a plagiarist as well. Do we require, er, "evidence?"

Hm... what do I read? "A short story by Victor Pross". I didn't know that your name was Victor Pross. You only wrote that you edited it. As far as I know an editor is not the same as a co-author. Anyway, you edited a piece by an inveterate plagiarist. So what? He is still the same plagiarist.

Overall, between the two of us, I'd say we put in about 50 hours into that thing. Not much, but likely much more than anything I've ever seen out of you.

Then you should look better. Anyway, what I write is at least original.

If you had any decency, you'd apologize, at least to me, and retract that accusation. But it is not necessary, because the facts exist, and now, you have a rather embarrassing situation, don't you? Lucy, you got some 'splaining to do.

Fuck off with your plagiarist buddy.

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He wrote it, I edited it. There are different levels of editing, and that is agreed upon by both parties. If you read his original, you can see that I clearly functioned only as a thorough editor. Editing is not limited to running things through a grammar/spellchecker.

What I see is your failure to address anything I provided in a substantive manner. Instead, you revert to eff you drivel, as is apparently the way of your people.

Business as usual for you, it never changes. Your hole is getting deeper, dude. Tell you what--have fun with that. We'll keep rolling out our products, you can continue to stand around and talk about how other people screw in the lightbulbs--it's easier than screwing one in yourself. I think Rand had more than a few things to say about folks like you--and they didn't have anything to do with prime movers. I don't even think you'd make a good Toohey.

I'm out. I have to go and, go figure, make some other things from scratch.

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OK, I'm game. Prove that I am a plagiarist. Come on, whip it out, cowboy. I want to see how you do this. After your rousing victory, maybe you can move on to converting base metals into gold.

You did say that about me. And see, there's another problem--when and if people do make mistakes, it does not mean it becomes a permanent state--it does not roll that way by default.

And while you're at it, why don't you go ahead and tell us who you think actually did do this story, if it wasn't us.

If you call, just ask for Mr. Blue, because I'll be holding my breath, waiting for you.

C'mon, let's see whatcha got. Go Nike: Just Do It.


This Will Be The Deepest-Dug Hole In The World!

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OK, I'm game. Prove that I am a plagiarist.

Where did I say that you are a plagiarist? I've only been talking about the renowned plagiarist Victor Pross. That he is a big-time plagiarist has been proved beyond any doubt. Hey, he has been banned from this forum for exactly that reason, you remember? That you want to edit stories by that secondhander is your choice. But promoting that plagiarist by bringing such a story on this list is just a bridge too far.

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I don't believe you were being sneaky, but I do believe something has not sunk in yet.

Neither Kat nor I want any further of Pross's writing or work here on OL. (This is true of many other OL members.) There's a whole worldwide Internet for presenting it. So why here?

Please observe our wishes.

I am sorely tempted to put this thread in the Garbage Pile, but I will hold off for now.


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That's it? Let me think...no, not so much. In fact, complete blank-out.

Even better than a retraction, though, since it stands alone for all to see.

Clearly a no-can-do from you. Lions 1, Christians 0. Sorry about the mess on the floor,--maybe a little bleach or something.

But for sure, if you ever do manage to man up and admit the error of your evidence-barren accusation, just whistle. It will test my compassion, but if I get lucky, I'll do the right thing and throw a rope down that hole for you.

If I can find that much rope.

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Not to interrupt the necking party here, but, personally, I find writing harder. I am not a professional editor, though. The last work I helped with was a book, Vengeance is Mine: Justice Albanian Style by Fatos Tarifa, about customary retribution. However, my wife is an editor. She did over a hundred books for Bantam-Doubleday and about 30 more for a couple of other publishers. She has a hard time writing. She is usually grammatical, but the prose is tortured. She often gives me her work to look over, and usually takes my suggestions about style, or "sound and sense." I give her my work to catch the typos.

I write features. Most of my work has been about numismatics, though I also published about 50 articles on computers and related technologies. Another 20 or so were profiles of businesses, entrepreneurs and innovators, including engineers (of course) but also artists and actors. Only two poems appeared in print, both doggerl for computer magazines. Although one of my science fiction stories garnered a nice cash prize, that was not in a science fiction magazine, but a monthly for technical art and drafting.

Editors can be insightful or clumsy. Some editors seek to help the writer avoid inconsistencies, while others hammer an article into the preferred voice of the magazine. For the last five years, I have been writing the "Internet Connections" column for The Numismatist magazine of the ANA. I like my editors. They do good work. They prevent me from looking like a total idiot. But to myself, when they're done, I always sound like a girl.

Last year, in a criminology seminar class, our professor, a native Chinese who learned English in high school, said that American academic writing underwent a paradigm shift in the 1950s as the result of so many young people reading Hemingway. He was right.

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Take a deep breath.

I just reread the entire thread (minus the story) and I did not see where Dragonfly called you a plagiarist. He did use crude language as he loathes plagiarism, but he did not call you a plagiarist.

Why don't we all just let this one go? I know you like Pross (and I am pretty sure I know why), but every time he appears, bad vibes come along. Now you and Dragonfly are in open hostility.

Over what???!!!

Anything important? You are both good people in my book.

Please, chalk all this up to a misfire and lets move on.


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It could have been anybody, it was the first prose job I got. I was more interested in the process.

Kill the whole thing, doesn't bother me a lick.

I can tell you one thing, though...he definitely benefitted and learned from his actions (and the ones taken on him), and for that he is rightfully thankful. Usually, the embarrassment alone in such situations prevents any further move towards the light. I had to do it in a much more serious life situation, and it required every last bit in my soul to make things right. Shame, I think, is one of the most horrible of the human emotions available. You either deny it, wallow in it, or crawl out of it.

It is a good exploration of the great challenge required to exercise forgiveness, and compassion, rare coin to come by in our O-world. My experiences with him have been not only beyond above-board, but productive and enriching for both parties. The work is showing it.

So, if people think I am working with a morally-bankrupt scumbag, I would suggest looking inward, and honestly asking if they, having been publicly taken to task for a wrongful action, would have taken that to heart, and shown it through future actions. That's a lot of crow to swallow, and in the end he did it with some pretty decent dignity. An amazing amount of good came out of all of it, ugly as it was. I'm not sure who should be the most satisfied--it just doesn't happen that often. Changing behaviors, making amends, you know how seriously rough that path is. Not for sissies.

That, and the work itself (even just to date), prove that it can be done.

I'll take that one to the bank, as it stands right here and now. I wouldn't wish that kind of harsh learn on anyone--I had to do it once, he's doing it, and I know you have had to do it in your life.

Much more vital a lesson than any prose or music or art a man can grind out.

(EDIT/Add-on) I forgot to include this, and it is important at least to me. I didn't just fall off the turnip truck, you know...meaning this:

I look at my own results. I keep one foot in the past, one in the future, and straddle the middle. This is a difficult process, requiring discipline and a level of honesty that I never stop exploring; monitoring myself. Certainly not perfect science, I am, after all, human. In my case, I saw this: I had to go to Hell and back to fix things in my personal life that had done a fair amount of damage (mostly to myself, but surely affecting my most special of specials). And I can say, have been able to for a long time, that I not only made as many repairs as are possible, but am also highly confident that I won't put myself in a place where I could so easily fall into that kind of trap. Somehow, through all that though, one thing remained: my reputation as a writer and a musician remained strangely pristine. But I am a pragmatic man in terms of those careers. And, I have a pretty damn fine moral compass. That pristine-ness, though, that's special, rare: somehow I managed to not eff that part up even a lick. So, yes, I bore that rep in mind when I considered the prospect of working with him. Hundreds of emails. Point is, there was no margin for error on this one. None. If I saw, looking deeply and vigilantly, the slightest real threat to that, I would have had to 86 the notion of the collaboration. I would've done it colder than anything you've ever seen, no matter what my sentiment for him was. I did not, because there was nothing there, and I trust my own mind. I was right. More than right...the trepidation gave way to great results, more than I bargained for. My rep is like a man's word: the most valuable thing you own. He has not, nor ever will, let me down.

Finest Kind,


Edited by Rich Engle
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If it needed a lot of ediitng it was probably original with VP. If not, probably not. I wish you hadn't put this up, though, not after what VP did here.


Edited by Brant Gaede
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I just reread the entire thread (minus the story) and I did not see where Dragonfly called you a plagiarist. He did use crude language as he loathes plagiarism, but he did not call you a plagiarist.

Sure he did. As a plural. And asking who the real authorS were. C'mon.

And I guess eff-youing is OK.

Fine by me, I just don't do it anymore. Not doing a thing. Nope.

I have thirty songs to learn by tomorrow. Blast off! :)


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I just reread the entire thread (minus the story) and I did not see where Dragonfly called you a plagiarist. He did use crude language as he loathes plagiarism, but he did not call you a plagiarist.

Sure he did. As a plural. And asking who the real authorS were. C'mon.

Your reading comprehension is rather poor for a would-be editor. But of course, if the shoe fits, by all means wear it.

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Oh, I see. So now ~I~ am a plagiarist as well. Do we require, er, "evidence?" Who died and made you Elvis?


DF wondered who "the real authors" were. As editor you aren't the purported author, VP is. DF did not accuse you of plagiarism. VP has done so much plagiarism one has to assume everything coherent and grammatical under his name is probably plagiarized. As for his illustrative work, I think it's all his. I don't like any of it I've seen.


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Rich: "I can tell you one thing, though...he definitely benefitted and learned from his actions (and the ones taken on him), and for that he is rightfully thankful."

Rich. the problem is that when he finally was ejected from OL, he then spent a considerable amount of time and effort on other internet forums denying hat he was a plagiarist and angrily trashing OL (and particularly trashing Michael, who had done everything possible to help him). That does not sound ilke someone who has learned from his actions.

Rich: "It is a good exploration of the great challenge required to exercise forgiveness, and compassion, rare coin to come by in our O-world."

Forgiveness makes sense when a person who has done somehing very wrong recognizes his mistake, regrerts it, apologizes for it, and attempts to make amends. To the best of my knowledge, he has done none of these. Instead, he blamed everyone but himself, insisting he had done nothing that required forgiveness.


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  • 2 years later...

I forget who said this originally (it was not I): write in hot blood, revise in cold blood. This is very difficult to do. There is an old Latin saying which I only know in English: To each man his own shit smells sweet.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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