How to Write a First Draft that’s Bad and Sucks Ass

I have always been into the idea of “shitty first drafts,” but, embarrassingly enough, I had not actually read the chapter of “Bird by Bird” that the phrase comes from. In fact, I had not read any part of “Bird by Bird,” which is itself an oversight, but come on, if I were reading books every day when would I find time to watch Magic: the Gathering videos on YouTube? Anyway, the essay is really good. You should read it. Here, I’ll even give you a link.

The essay is helpful, and funny, and does a really good job of explaining why one writes a shitty first draft, and reassuring the reader that it’s okay to do so. What it doesn’t do is explain how to write a shitty first draft. Maybe this is because Anne Lamott belives it’s self explanatory: to write a shitty first draft, you simply write something that is shitty, for the first time. Maybe it’s because the purpose of the essay is merely to inform people that it’s okay to write a shitty first draft, with the assumption that all people need is permission to let go of their perfectionism and they will simply do so. But for people like me, for whom perfectionism is about as easy to let go of as a live wire, it might take a little more.

I have known since I was very small that my perfectionism actively hindered my achievement. In first grade I was put in a remedial reading group because I insisted that — since I could not read novels meant for adults — I could not read at all. To this day, there is a petulant little child in me who would rather do nothing than do something suboptimally. I could theorize about why this is. But I have already spent a lot of time and money doing therapy about this, and in the end I have discovered that where this impulse comes from is much less interesting than what I can do about it. Here is what I do about it:

Don’t start – continue.

In college I had to write a lot of essays, and I often wrote them at the last minute because I needed the rest of my time for watching Magic: the Gathering videos on YouTube. The hardest part of those essays was always coming up with the first line. I would sit, sometimes for hours, trying to come up with something that would grab the readers’ attention, make them laugh, introduce my topic, and make a plate of delicious waffles. It never worked. So instead of doing that, I started button mashing. At the beginning of every essay, I would write my name and date, and then I would literally just roll my hands across the keyboard for a couple of seconds like I was having a siezure. Then I would add a period at the end of the “sentence.” Then I would write the second sentence of the essay, and go from there.

“I can go back later and write a better first sentence,” I would tell myself. In practice, I usually just ended up deleting the keyboard mashing and using the second sentence as the first sentence. It didn’t really matter either way. The point of the exercise was to skip over the part where the page was blank, by filling the top of the page with literal gibberish, so that I could get on with the actual work.

I still do a version of this, and it still gets me past the first line. But most written works are comprised of at least several lines, and I can’t button-mash my way through all of them. Once the initial euphoria of A New Thing wears off, I’m often left gazing up at a sheer wall of text without any text on it. What to do, then?

Don’t continue – conclude.

When I stop writing, whether it’s for the day, or just to take a break, I try not to stop at the end of a thought. Whether it’s a new chapter in a book, or a new paragraph in a blog post, starting a brand new thing on a brand new day is a recipe for crippling neurosis. Instead, I’ll stop in the middle of a chapter, the middle of a paragraph — hell, the middle of a sentence if I’m feeling spicy.

My brain may hate starting things, but it loathes not finishing things. If I do not allow myself to finish a thing before stepping away from it, I know that some small part of my brain, a tiny mind-goblin, will continue fiddling with that loose end until he’s figured out how to knit a sweater with it. And then I’ll sit back down to write, and there will be a sweater waiting for me. I still have to turn the sweater into words, but that’s the risk you run when you mix metaphors.

This works from the other direction too: if I’m banging my head against a particular paragraph, and if I’m mindful enough to realize that’s what I’m doing, I just stop. I go do something else — wash the dishes, or play with the cat, or watch Magic: The Gathering videos on YouTube. I don’t have to worry that I won’t come back to the writing later, because my particular neurosis means I have to come back to it later — maybe not the same day, but eventually.

By stumbling forward in this way, I’m able to make it through the bulk of the writing process. Unfortunately, there’s still the matter of actually finishing a thing, which is the bit which my perfectionism resists the most. So once again, I have to make a mental substitution:

Don’t conclude — get to the end.

I have a book coming out early next year. It took me a long time to write because it was a very ambitious project and I initially had no idea what I was doing. There is a part near the end of the book that is VERY complicated and VERY ambitious, and there was a period of some weeks where I had no idea how to land it. And because I had no idea how to land it, I couldn’t even bring myself to start it. It’s hard to jump out of a plane when you’re not sure whether you’re wearing a parachute.

What I did, eventually, is give myself an exercise: I made myself write the entire sequence as if I were a five-year-old explaining an action sequence from a transformers movie. “And then the good guy comes out of the ocean in a big wet car with a gun on it and it goes BOOOOOOOM” and so on. I knew I wasn’t going to use the five-year-old version in my manuscript — it was too shitty even for a shitty first draft — but it allowed me to write to the end of the scene.

Basically, I try not to get hung up on landing the plane. Sometimes I just crash the plane into the ground and come back later to comb through the wreckage. I shovel the details from my patchy outline into the manuscript, and hit save, and tell myself I’ll come back and tidy it up in the second draft. Sometimes I even do!

The important thing is to get to the end, whatever I have to tell myself. Because once I’ve made it to the end, once I’ve “gotten it down,” as Lamott says in her essay, the task of writing becomes ENTIRELY different. It transforms from an additive process to a subtractive one, from painting to sculpture. For me, at least, that resets the clock on my exhaustion — the new task gives me new energy. I just have to trick myself into getting there.

If this all sounds like an elaborate campaign of self-deception, well-spotted. I lie to myself at the beginning, by telling myself it’s actually the middle. I lie to myself in the middle, by telling myself it’s actually the end. I lie to myself at the end, by telling myself the ending isn’t all that important. There’s nothing inherently wrong with deception. We lie to children all the time, for their own good, or just because it’s funny. Why not lie to ourselves for the same reasons? After all, isn’t perfectionism a self-deception all on its own? The mistaken belief that my ideas are so important and good that they don’t even deserve to exist if I can’t express them flawlessly? In the face of that horse shit, I think lying to myself is an act of ultimate justice.

I want to be clear, because I fear it may get lost in all of this: I genuinely enjoy writing. I like finding unusual ways to say things. I like making myself laugh, and sometimes cry. I like wrestling with story puzzles and inventing goofy characters. And ideally, if I had all the time and all the money in the world, I would like to engage in a writing process free from self-deception, a zenlike routine where I give myself as much time as I need, and go on a lot of walks, and occasionally appear on podcasts or actual play DnD series so that people remember who I am. That’s not the world I live in. For better or for worse, I have to finish my stories relatively quickly, and I have to do it between all of the other shit that’s important to me.

This means that, unavoidably, there will be some pain. But I’ve decided the pain is worth it, because it’s getting me closer to something I adore. And, more importantly, I’ve found as many ways as I can to make it not so painful. Because if it was just pain, if the pain was greater than the joy, that would be a very strong signal to stop doing what I’m doing, and do something else. This is very important. I do not want anyone to come away from this thinking that my advice is “tell yourself whatever lies you need to hear to keep you grinding away at your joyless project forever.” What an unhinged position to take. No thank you.

All I’m trying to do is share the ways I’ve managed to trick myself into letting me write. I’ve used them all in this post, in fact. I just went up and deleted the first paragraph of this post (which originally began, “Writing is hard and bad and you shouldn’t do it if you have anything else going on.”) Every time I was called away to do something else, I made sure to leave in the middle of a paragraph, with maybe a sentence-worth of notes about what I was planning to say next. And now that I’m here at the end, rather than coming up with something clever or pithy to say, I’m just going to end it.

“Show, Don’t Tell?” more like “Go, To Hell” send tweet

If you want to get punched in the throat by me, a great way to accomplish this is to tell me that a piece of my writing needs to “show, not tell.” Hell, I’ll punch you in the throat if you say that about someone else’s writing in front of me. Actually, maybe I have an anger problem that needs addressing but THAT IS NOT WHY I AM WRITING THIS POST. I am writing this post because every time I hear somebody parrot this dank linguistic meme as a substitute for having an actual considered opinion about a piece of writing it spikes my blood pressure, and my doctor says I need to keep an eye on that, and I’m not going to cut back on salt so this is what I’m doing about it.

Part of the problem with “show don’t tell” as a piece of writing advice is that nobody’s super clear on what “showing” or “telling” actually are, so let’s start by knocking together a definition. I want to be fair about this, so let’s start with a quote from someone who epitomizes the style that “show don’t tell” champions: Mister Earnest “Bigdick Rhinokiller” Hemingway:

If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.

In other words, if you’re clever about it, you can lead your reader to understand the facts of the story without straight up saying what you mean. That gives us a pretty good working definition: “showing” means communicating things to your reader via indirect implication. “Telling” is the opposite: directly stating whatever it is you want your reader to know. “Show, don’t tell” implies that one of these things (showing) is good, and the other one (telling) is bad. Oops, I just told you what it means. Fuck me, I guess.

Now look, I get that teaching writing is hard. Ideally it requires a careful analysis of what is and isn’t working in an individual’s work, an understanding of their intentions, guided reading of relevant authors, and a buttload of practice. In the face of all that, I understand the temptation of a hard and fast, one-size-fits-all rule like “show, don’t tell.” But it seems to me that anyone who seriously champions this literary rule must not have read very much literature. Let’s take, for example, the first line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina:

“Happy families are all alike. Each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Everyone agrees that this line whips. But there’s not much left to the imagination, is there? Tolstoy just comes straight out and tells us a clever thought he had about families. So clearly some good writers get away with using telling to begin their novels. But surely it’s always better to begin a novel by showing, right? Uh oh:

“Mr. Jack Hyde… he smiles down at me, his blue eyes twinkling, as he leans against my desk. ‘Excellent work, Ana. I think we’re going to make a great team.’”

This is the first line of E.L. James’ seminal work, Fifty Shades Darker. Note the provocative use of ellipses, and the author’s admirable restraint in not mentioning Mr. Hyde’s massive boner. Personally, I find this sentence to be cloying, overwritten, and cliched. It’s certainly no Anna Karenina.

Now, maybe it’s unfair to compare a revered work of literature with the second book in a softcore porn saga. But I’m not arguing that all telling is good and that all showing is bad. All I’m trying to prove is that it’s possible to do amazing things with telling, and to do less than great things with showing. I think it’s also clear from these examples that the two techniques have wildly different uses (although maybe it’s not clear exactly what those uses are yet).

This is the nuance that gets lost in the clickbait blog posts that promise you One Weird Trick That Will Change Your Writing Forever. These posts usually contain an “example sentence” that is meant to represent telling, like:

He was very sad.

And then they “rewrite it” into something “better” like:

He sniffled, and wiped at one red-rimmed eye with his sleeve.

SEE?? ISN’T THAT BETTER? MAKE SURE TO LIKE AND SUBSCRIBE! Except… there’s no way to actually know which sentence is better without reading the rest of the story it’s a part of. Maybe you like the second one better because it’s got more “flavor” or whatever, but most stories are not one sentence. Most stories are made out of several sentences, and each sentence contributes to the whole. And guess what? EVERY story uses at least SOME telling, because you can’t tell a story with just vibes.

A better way to explore showing versus telling is to look at actual examples of showing and telling – ideally one of each, from the same author – so that we can figure out what each technique accomplishes in practice. I’m going to use Borges, because pretty much every single one of his stories is about a labyrinth of some sort, which gives us a nice point of comparison. Let’s compare two of his labyrinths: the one described in “The House of Asterion,” and the one described in “The Library of Babel.”

First, an excerpt from “The House of Asterion.” (If you’re not familiar with the story, the narrator is the legendary Minotaur. Whoops, spoilers.)

Of course, I am not without distractions. Like the ram about to charge, I run through the stone galleries until I fall dizzy to the floor. I crouch in the shadow of a pool or around a corner and pretend I am being followed. There are roofs from which I let myself fall until I am bloody. … But of all the games, I prefer the one about the other Asterion. I pretend that he comes to visit me and that I show him my house. With great obeisance I say to him “Now we shall return to the first intersection” or “Now we shall come out into another courtyard” Or “I knew you would like the drain” or “Now you will see a pool that was filled with sand” or “You will soon see how the cellar branches out”.”

This is a pretty classic example of showing. The narrator (Asterion) never once calls his home a labyrinth (In most of his stories, Borges can’t use that word enough). Instead, the labyrinth is implied through action, dialogue, and sensory detail. The result is an eerie feeling of being trapped in the labyrinth with the unlucky Asterion, seeing his home as he sees it. Hemingway would be proud.

Now let’s look at “The Library of Babel”:

The universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries … The arrangement of the galleries is always the same: Twenty bookshelves, five to each side, line four of the hexagon’s six sides … each bookshelf holds thirty-two books identical in format; each book contains four hundred ten pages; each page, forty lines; each line, approximately eighty black letters”

Immediately we can see the difference between the two descriptions. The labyrinth in “Asterion” is dark, twisting and confused, seen as it is through the eyes of the person trapped in it. The Library of Babel is no less baffling, but its strangeness comes from the unearthly clarity and scope of its design, rather than the visceral experience of being trapped inside. You can almost see Borges setting up the wide shot in this passage, giving us a bird’s eye view of the entire impossible library at once. The description of the Library is so clear, in fact, that some cunning computer programmers were actually able to faithfully create a digital version of it. Both stories are terrifying in their own way, but Asterion’s labyrinth is terrifying in a personal way, while the Library of Babel is terrifying in a cosmic horror sort of way.

So showing is great at creating empathy – Asterion’s description immediately puts us in the labyrinth with him – while telling excels at creating clarity. This is especially useful when describing big things – big concepts, as well as things that are physically big (the Library of Babel happens to be both). Telling won’t necessarily give the reader a feeling of how big a thing is (that’s what showing is for), but it can allow them to imagine the entire big thing at once.

That bigness and distance is sometimes weaponized against telling. I’ve heard it said that showing is better because it’s more immersive, and thus more capable of evoking strong emotion. While it’s true that showing is more immersive (because it places the reader directly within the world of the story) immersion is not the only way to evoke strong emotion. Like, have you read the end of the original Grimm’s version of the Cinderella story? It goes like this:

On the way to church the elder was on the right side of the bridal couple and the younger on the left. The doves came along and pecked out one of the elder sister’s eyes and one of the younger sister’s eyes. Afterward, on the way out, the elder was on the left side and the younger on the right, and the doves pecked out both the remaining eyes. So both sisters were punished with blindness to the end of their days for being so wicked and false.

I don’t know about you, but I find the above description chilling specifically because of the distance and precision with which it’s described. I don’t need to see the eyeball goo, or hear the screams. The calm, direct language of the passage makes me feel like I’m having one of those fucked up nightmares where I’m at the grocery store and I discover I no longer have teeth. If that’s the effect you’re trying to achieve, this is a way to achieve it.

There’s another interesting thing about Grimm’s fairytales in this context: all of them are transcriptions of stories told by unknown storytellers throughout Germany. See what I did there? “Tellers”? “Telling”? God, I’m so clever. When a story is told aloud, it’s impossible to ignore the storyteller. They’re right there in front of you. When you’re reading a story, on the other hand, it can be easy to forget who’s telling it. That’s part of what we refer to as immersion in literature. It’s another compelling use for showing. If you want to remind the reader who’s telling the story, though… well… telling is good for that. Here’s an example from all-timer T.H. White’s The Once and Future King:

“’Couldn’t send them to Eton, I suppose?’ Inquired sir Grummore cautiously. ‘Long way and all that, we know.’

It was not really Eton that he mentioned, for the College of Blessed Mary was not founded until 1440, but it was a place of the same sort. Also they were drinking Metheglyn, not port, but by mentioning the modern wine it is easier to give you the feel.”

This is not the only way that T. H. White could have written this passage. He could have simply replaced “Eton” with the name of a historically appropriate college. He could have used “Eton” and not commented on it, thus achieving the same effect he’s describing in the next paragraph without having to stop and tell us what he’s doing. Instead, White chooses to explicitly give us this information, and let us know what a huge solid he’s doing us. He doesn’t open the second paragraph with “Hey, listen, T. H. White here to give you some historical context,” but we understand that it’s him talking anyway, because who else would it be?

By coming out and addressing us directly like this (on the second page of his book, no less), White is already starting to build a personal relationship with the reader. He’s telling us, “Hey, I know the historical context of the Arthurian legend is pretty dense, but don’t worry – I’ve got this covered.”

So while showing is immersive because it helps us forget we’re reading a story – by removing the barrier between us and the events of the story – telling is immersive because it helps us forget we’re reading – by removing the barrier between us and the storyteller. Both are powerful techniques, because both exploit the relationship between reader and writer. Showing gives us the details and relies on us to infer the broader facts. Telling gives us the broad facts and relies on our imaginations to embroider the little details. 

Get you a reader who can do both.

The End

So, plot twist: As of today, I will no longer be regularly updating Myths Retold. I’ll still post periodically, but the posts will probably look more like this than like this. I’ve re-geared my Patreon to support my other creative writing projects (including Face a Week, which I’m very excited about) so check that out if you want stories, novel chapters, and swears on tap. I put all this info at the top of the post so that if it really pisses you off, you can skip straight to fucking off without having to read the rest. If you want to know why I’m ending this project, though, let me do the thing I know how to do: let me tell you a story…  Continue reading

Chivalry Isn’t Dead, You Just Don’t Know What the Fuck it is.

[Hey, if you want to read more stuff I wrote, you could always buy my book. Or my other book.]

So Chivalry.

I’ve heard a lot of people say it’s dead. It used to be a lament, and then it turned into a joke, and now it’s just a fact that almost everybody accepts. Chivalry is dead, because it’s 2015 and nobody wants to suck your dick for holding the door open for them. And it’s true, nobody wants to do that to your hog in exchange for that minor favor. But that’s not what the fuck chivalry is. Chivalry is a complicated, difficult, and ultimately good code of ethics that you probably have a fundamental misunderstanding of. So let me set some things straight:

1. CHIVALRY IS NOT ABOUT TREATING WOMEN LIKE DELICATE FLOWERS

This is probably the main thing people fuck up about chivalry. The truth is, chivalry has basically fuck all to do with women, and everything to do with horses.

See, the word “chivalry” comes from the French word “chevalier,” which comes from “cheval,” which means “horse.” Chivalry is literally just “rules for if you have a horse.” This was an important set of rules to have in chivalry times. Horses were the Blackhawk Helicopters of the Middle Ages; if you had a horse, you could absolutely kill anybody who didn’t have a horse and nobody was going to say a god damn thing. The only thing stopping you was chivalry.

That’s what chivalry was for. Chivalry was – and still is – basically a way of saying, “okay, I have an optimized death machine between my legs, maybe I should look out for people who don’t have one of these.” So it’s not that chivalry is specifically about defending women because women are weak. It’s that chivalry is about defending people who don’t own horses, and in the middle ages women didn’t own shit.

It’s 2015 now. Women can own as many horses as they want. But there are still power structures built into society that put some people in metaphorical Blackhawk helicopters, and other people underneath those helicopters (sometimes the Blackhawk Helicopters are also literal). Real chivalry is about noticing when you have a horse and somebody else doesn’t. It’s about being careful not to trample people just because you can. It’s about holding the door for a dude in a wheelchair. It’s about actively trying to recruit more people of color in your workplace. Sometimes it really is about sticking up for women, but only if your help is wanted. And even then …

2. CHIVALRY IS NOT A POINTS SYSTEM REDEEMABLE FOR FREE SEX

There are no prizes for being chivalrous, other than the prize of being a decent god damn human. This is because the people who chivalry was invented for were so fucking rich that prizes were totally meaningless to them. In addition to horses, knights also owned fancy armor, sick weapons, and huge tracts of land. They were powerful, exciting people relatively free of disease. They weren’t exactly hard up for sex opportunities, is what I’m trying to say. They didn’t need to invent a complex code of ethics to justify getting shit for free, because they already had all the shit. What do you get for the man who has everything? How about some fucking morals.

Anyway, if you’re desperate for booty, tales of chivalry aren’t the best place to go for inspiration. King Arthur’s court is basically one endless sex disaster, what with Arthur’s accidental incest and Lancelot’s righteous wangfoolery. Tristram and Isolde is a bonerific nightmare that borders on farce. Sir Galahad, the Greatest Knight Ever, is also the biggest virgin in the universe, and he is thrilled about it. It turns out you’re not even allowed to see the grail if you thought about a boob once. The chivalric canon is not overly sex positive, you guys. In fact the only problem-free sex I can recall from my chivalric reading is the story of Sir Gawaine and Lady Ragnell, in which everything turns out for the best because – spoiler alert – Gawaine leaves the decision up to his wife. Funny how that works out, huh?

3. CHIVALRY IS NOT PERFECT, AND NEITHER ARE WE

Like most things invented in the past, chivalry has some problems. One of the problems with chivalry is that horses are no longer the height of technology. The main problem with chivalry, though, is that it can very easily cross over into paternalism, and nobody likes to be treated like a child. It is important to remember that just because you have a horse and somebody else does not have a horse, that does not make you their dad.

Even if you have the best intentions, chivalry isn’t a code you can blindly follow for A+ results. Even if chivalry was perfect, which no moral code is, it’s impossible to be a non-shitty person absolutely all the time. Like, the Knights of the Round Table were probably the most righteous group of horse-havers ever to have horses, but Gawaine chopped a lady’s head off, Lancelot fucked his boss’s wife, and Percival was the biggest idiot ever to hold a sword. Galahad was perfect I guess, but Galahad also had a magic chair with his name written on it in fire and ascended to heaven because he found a neat cup. Galahad was a fake person. All of those dudes were fake fucking people. We made them up. The people we made up to be the ideals of chivalry were still remarkably shitty. Back here on earth, nobody is chivalrous all the time, and that’s not sufficient reason to write anybody off. We are all shitty sometimes. Also Galahad is a dickhead.

OKAY SO WHAT IS CHIVALRY THEN?

Chivalry boils down to three things: mercy, charity, and humility. Mercy means being conscious of your advantages, and treating other humans gently. Charity means giving without expecting anything in return. Humility means accepting your mistakes, and recognizing that those who don’t have your advantages aren’t your inferiors. Anybody can embody these traits – woman, man, or even horse. At this point, you may be thinking “hey, this is bullshit, these are just basic guidelines for not being an asshole!” and congratulations, you’re right. That’s all chivalry is: basic guidelines for how not to be a sack of shit. And as long as a sack of shit is not a good thing to be, chivalry will never die.

So I Wrote a New Book

george washington bigYup, pretty straightforward.
I have been biting my tongue so hard for the past few weeks
every time someone is like “HEY YOU SHOULD WRITE ANOTHER BOOK”
because I wrote it in like October
It’s called
GEORGE WASHINGTON IS CASH MONEY
and it’s coming out next month
and you can preorder it RIGHT NOW
and in fact, if you do preorder it
and email a receipt to bettermyths[at]gmail.com
I will give you some FREE BONUS WORDS
including my version of the Notorious Jumping Frog
(Originally by Mark Twain)
and THE BILL OF FUCKING RIGHTS.
WHY ARE YOU STILL READING THIS WHEN YOU COULD BE READING ABOUT MY BOOK
OR JUST READING MY BOOK????

Ravens are Shitty Houseguests

Ugh so this one time I was in my dorm
it was like midnight
I was cramming for this shitty test
but I wasn’t even really paying much attention tbh
because I was hella sleepy
plus my girl Lenore had just dumped me or died or something
I don’t know exactly, college was kind of a blur…

Anyway all of a sudden I hear someone tapping on my door
and I’m like “who the fuck is it?
just knock like a normal person!”
but it just stops
so I go back to pretending to read
and then it starts again
but like, louder
so I go to the door and I throw it open and I’m like “Is that you Steve?
fuck you Steve
I have a test tomorrow
and I don’t wanna have to take a break from studying to kick your nuts
my time is precious, Steve.”
But nobody is there
not even Steve.
It’s a fucking mystery.

So I close the door and go back to my desk
but then there’s a noise at my WINDOW
and I’m like “There’s no way Steve climbed all the way up here
just to fuck with my window
it’s prolly just the wind”
but I’m pretty freaked out, you know
because I opted for the single occupancy dorm like an idiot
and now everything sounds like murderers
so I’m like “Okay, okay
just gonna open the window and see what’s up
and then laugh when it turns out to be nothing
WHICH IT DEFINITELY WILL.”

So I open the window
and a fucking RAVEN flies in
and lands right on this marble bust of Athena i got to impress chicks with
and I’m like “whoa
a bird
what’s your name, bird?
Did Steve send you?
That fucking guy.”
and the bird is just like “NEVERMORE.”
And I’m like “Wait, what?
Does that mean Nevermore is your name
or that Steve did not in fact send you
because I’m pretty sure both of those are lies.”
and the raven is like “NEVERMORE”
and I’m like “oh, okay, I get it
that’s just the only word you can say.
Man, whoever owns you must be emo as fuck.”
But then I start thinking
holy shit, a talking emo bird
I am going to be like
the coolest dude on campus
all the chicks are going to be so enticed.
But then I remember my ex Lenore
and how she died or broke up with me or whatever
and I start getting all moody
and I’m like “Hey bird
how’s Lenore doing?
Is she having a good time?”
and the raven is like “NEVERMORE”
and I’m like “Dang, that’s harsh.
Tell me, bird, am I ever gonna get laid again?”
and the bird is like “NEVERMORE”
and I’m like “FUCK YOU YOU FLAPPY DIPSHIT
I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHY I ASKED YOU
GET OUT OF MY ROOM”
But that raven just looks me right in my hominid face
with his beady soulless eyes
and he’s like “Nevermore.”

So now I have this bird in my room forever.
He’s gloomy as fuck
and not nearly as useful for getting laid as I hoped
so I guess the moral of the story
is don’t let birds into you fucking room.
Come on, this is basic stuff.

The end.

Jason and the Argonauts, but BETTER

So today I’m gonna do something a little different
like, instead of telling you a book
I am going to tell you ABOUT a book
which I will then expect you to READ.
This book is called Jason and the Argonauts
and it was written by Apollonius of Rhodes
(although when he wrote it it was called the Argonautica)
and it is a story about a boat full of jerks
sailing around and stealing things.
I did a run-down of it a while back if you’re interested.

But Apollonius wrote his book wrong
as in, not in English
so for many years now
dudes have been trying to fix his mistake
with varying degrees of success.

ENTER AARON POOCHIGIAN
this dude JUST CAME OUT with a new verse translation of this amazing book
like seriously, a week ago.COVER SO SWEET
But before he did that
he sent an advance copy to ME
to READ.
And at first I was like “Reading? What?”
but then I was like “HOLY SHIT
WHY DID NOBODY TELL ME
READING IS AMAZING.”
You see,
part of the reason I do what I do
is because most translations of ancient texts
are MAD BORING
like, they use archaic words
they demonstrate a great love of ancient Greek, but no love for English
and they’re generally just really hard and painful to try to understand
so I’ve tasked myself with making translations of the translations.

But get this:

AARON POOCHIGIAN’S TRANSLATION NEEDS NO TRANSLATION.
His English is modern and playful
he does it all in solid iambic pentameter, basically to show off
he BOLDS ALL THE NAMES OF THE HEROES in the opening catalogue
just to make it easier to read, and because he’s a nice guy
and most importantly
he genuinely seems to LIKE this poem!

My copy has a bookmark on pretty much every page
because of some awesome line or hilarious image
but let me pick a page that I think perfectly illustrates Poochigian’s chops:
The beginning of Book 2

Okay, first let’s take a look at how R.C. Seaton translates this
in the Loeb Classics edition:

“Here were the oxstalls and farm of Amycus, the haughty king of the Bebrycians, whom once a nymph, Bithynian Melie, united to Poseidon Genethlius, bare the most arrogant of men; for even for strangers he laid down an insulting ordinance, that none should depart till they had made trial of him in boxing; and he had slain many of the neighbours.”

Okay, that’s fine, that’s fine.
Good effort, R.C.
But let’s see how my man A.P. does it:

“Haughty Amycus, the Bebrycian king,
Kept farms and cattle paddocks near the shore.
Begotten by Poseidon Patriarch
on a Bithynian Nymph named Melia,
he was the most obnoxious man alive.
It was his savage custom to permit
no visitors to exit his dominions
until they met him in a boxing match,
and he had beaten many of his neighbors
to death.”

Right?
RIGHT?
See, Poochigian’s gift
is that he knows when to deviate from a word-for-word translation
in order to give you the SENSE of the original poem.
The result is something that sounds like Apollonius’s actual voice
time-warped into the present day.
Obviously I am a fan of this.

So if you skipped reading this book in college
or you’re a college professor trying to keep your students from skipping this book
I highly recommend this translation
and not just because A-dogg sent me a free copy.
Let me put it in his words, from the translator’s introduction:

“For as long as I have known the Ancient Greek language, I have been certain that Apollonius is a great poet, and that Jason and the Argonauts is a great epic. This translation, a labor of love, is an attempt to convince Greekless readers that this is true.”

He sure as hell convinced me.
I think you should give him a chance to convince you.

In case you missed it, here’s the link to the amazon page for the book again.
You don’t have to buy it on Amazon, but it’s better than not buying it at all.

Medivh is Posessed But That’s No Excuse

So there’s this chick Aegwyn
you can tell she’s an elf because of all the unnecessary vowels
especially the Y
the W is also a helpful clue
basically every letter in her name is an elf letter
except actually she’s not an elf
what the fuck.

What she IS though
is an immortal guardian of the land of Azeroth
super magical and like a thousand years old
who wanders all over the place
just telling evil to go fuck itself
the only rule is that SHE CAN’T INTERFERE WITH HUMANS AT ALL
so obviously that’s exactly what she does

Why?
BECAUSE SHE’S PRETTY HORNY, YOU GUYS
you try foregoing any and all sexy times for ten centuries
these are problems you are never going to understand.
So Aegwyn is like OH UH OH WHOOPS
I GUESS IT’S TIME FOR ME TO PASS ON MY INSANE MAGICAL POWERS TO MY SON
WHERE AM I GOING TO GET A SON THOUGH
OH SHIT THAT’S RIGHT
FROM INTERCOURSE

so she finds this sorcerer named Neilas Aran
who is extremely well endowed
with magical ability
and she is like hey okay I need you to help me make a baby
he will be magical as fuck
and be in charge of literally everything for as long as he wants to be
and Aran is like ok ok sure but
like
can we continue to talk about this AFTER you are naked

so Aegwyn gets pregnant
and wanders around for a while
fighting demons and imprisoning them and stuff
until she has a baby
at which point she brings it back to Nielas like hey here’s your baby
and Aran is like wtf I’m not ready to be a father
and Aegwyn is like tough tits I’m a wizard I do what I want
BOOM VANISH’D

Soooooooooo all Aegwyn’s powers are in her baby now
but babies are stupid assholes
so Aegwyn wisely puts a time-delay lock on all that magic
until the baby reaches the ripe old age
of FOURTEEN?!
Guys
if there is any age where a person is more of a stupid asshole than when they are a baby
it is fourteen
fourteen is an age where a person will literally do anything they have the ability to do.
for most kids this involves fireworks and a bottle of everclear and maybe trying to walk to Mexico
for Medivh this apparently involves ABSOLUTELY ANY THING HE CAN IMAGINE
which is why when he hits the appointed age
his mind just implodes with all that possibility
and he goes into a coma
FOR THE NEXT SEVEN YEARS

the real reason for this
is remember how Aegwyn was fighting demons and shit earlier?
Well one of them
(named Sargeras)
got inside her in the least sexy way
and burrowed all up inside her baby
and when the time release on all that magic activated
he was like OH SHIT
TIME TO PARTY

so Aegwyn is obviously a little concerned
but not concerned enough to like
actually do anything about it
so she dicks around in the forest for a few years
until Medivh wakes up
and starts inventing new types of problems
and then causing them using his magic.

Basically what he does is he logs into the Twisting Nether
(which is the Warcraft universe’s equivalent of the internet)
and he just starts cruising through shady chatrooms
looking for impressionable young warlocks to catfish.
And pretty soon he finds one
this Orc named Gul’Dan
who lives way over in another world called Draenor
which is a really shitty world
primarily because the orcs have already killed anything that might make it not shitty
and now they’re bored.

So Medivh is like DUDE, Gul’Dan
do you want to party?
I have a world here with tons of murderable people in it
and my mom totally lets me do whatever I want here
you should totally come over
and Gul’Dan is like I dunno
why travel all the way over to your place
when we can always murder our own guys right here?
and Medivh is like DUDE
My mom has this WICKED demon locked up here
he’s called Sargeras and he will totally grant you wishes and shit
my mom won’t let me in but I’m pretty sure we can pick the lock.
and Gul’Dan is like HELL YEAH
LITERALLY HELL YEAH
HOW DO I GET THERE?
and Medivh is like Oh we have this great public transit system
it’s called ripping a hole in reality itself
all you gotta do for me
is promise to murder all the guys in this kingdom I want to be king of
so I can … be king of their corpses
(this gives Gul’Dan a great idea for later)

so Medivh rips open a hole for Gul’Dan in the middle of Azeroth’s shittiest swamp
which is kind of a dick move but I guess he figures the orcs won’t mind
and the orcs all come charging through
stabbing EVERYTHING
and all the humans are like What the fuck Medivh
MAJOR party foul.
And then they stab him for being a dick
and Gul’Dan is like NOOOOOOOOOO
YOU GOTTA TELL ME WHERE THAT TOMB IS
and Medivh is like I would love to buddy
but I’m dead
I don’t even know how I’m saying this
you probably shouldn’t be listening to my thoughts right now
that’s really gonna mess you up

And it does!
Gul’Dan goes into a coma for like a week
and when he wakes up
he discovers that the rest of the orcs are just like Fuck Warlocks
and he’s like fine
I’ll just raise an army of the dead for the new warchief
and go find this sweet demon tomb MYSELF
and when I find it I’m not gonna share it with ANYBODY.
And that goes super well for him
and like the entire sentient population of the multiverse.

So the moral of the story
is don’t give limitless magical power to babies
this is basic stuff you guys.

The end.

One of the Stupidest Things I’ve Ever Done

They say there is a part of your brain that develops with age that is essentially a safety cover over the “DO STUPID SHIT” button. This story is probably the best scientific evidence I have for the existence of such a brain-part. It involves a post office.

There was a post office about a mile from my house. My goal (for reasons I’d rather not go into) was to figure out a way into the bowels of that post office and somehow mail a letter from inside it. Naturally, step one was reconnaissance. SPOILERS: I never made it past step one.

I emailed the director of the post office, posing as a college student doing a project on the policies of government institutions post-September-11th. They told me it was against policy to give individual tours, but I guess I am a pretty persuasive emailist because they eventually caved in and scheduled a day. In the meantime, I decided to do my own snooping.

You see, I was doing parkour at the time. For those of you without the internet, parkour essentially boils down to skateboarding without a skateboard. You roam around the city, looking for things to jump over and climb up and infiltrate because it’s the closest you can get to being a ninja without being required to actually end lives. The night before my scheduled tour of the post office, I parked my car in front of a grocery store across the street from the building and put my skills to the test.

The building was almost twenty feet tall, which was way higher than I could jump, even as a fucking ninja. But there was a ten-foot wall that branched off from the side of the building where the outdoor generator was housed, and if I could get on top of that wall, I could make it onto the roof.

It turned out that ten feet was also higher than I could jump. I threw myself at the wall over and over, kicking up it at the last second and reaching for the top. And over and over, I missed the lip and fell back to the ground. I lost count of how many times I tried, all the time being watched by a lone man at the bus stop across the street. I wasn’t worried about the guy at the bus stop. I mean, who the hell takes the bus in Los Angeles? He was clearly insane, and his testimony would not be trusted.

But finally, after eleventy-million tries, I caught the lip and pulled myself to the top. I wandered around on the roof for a while, I guess looking for a Mission Impossible-style skylight to lower myself through, before giving up and heading for the parking lot. The builders of the post office had made the best of LA’s rolling hills by digging into the side of one, which meant that the parking lot was a whole story lower than the sidewalk I’d stood on to make my run at the building. To get down to it, I had to drop back off onto the wall I’d come up, climb down into the enclosure with the generator, grab a chainlink fence, scale it across and over another chainlink fence (with barbed-wire all over it), then jump down into the parking lot itself. I did this successfully, because I am a champion.

There was not much to do in the parking lot, as is typical of parking lots. I made for the loading dock, to see if someone had fortuitously left a door unlocked. No such luck. Through the plexiglass windows of the double doors, I noticed an official announcement on salmon-pink paper:

ATTENTION:

BE YOUR PERSONAL BEST

I viewed it as an encouragement.

I turned around, and noticed a suspicious-looking fixture on the ceiling of the loading dock. It appeared to be a security camera. I belatedly pulled my shirt up over my face, and inched closer in an attempt to allay my fears. It turned out to be nothing more than a broken light socket. I uncovered my face, embarassed at being so paranoid. I heard a helicopter in the distance.

“I bet it’s coming for me,” I laughed. And you know what?

IT WAS.

The sound of rotors was suddenly RIGHT UP ON ME, and a spotlight swept the lot like the vengeful eye of Sauron himself. I cowered in a corner of the loading dock, being totally screwed. There was no place to run. The back corner of the loading dock was the only place I could hide. It was only a matter of time before the SWAT team arrived. I should also mention that I had just come from bussing tables at a fancy restaurant, which meant that I had been sneaking onto the property of a government building wearing all black. As I sat there, waiting to be arrested, I felt my life unraveling the way I had when I was six and my mom discovered the pair of underwear I had stuffed behind her toilet instead of taking it the extra ten feet to the laundry hamper. I was caught. I was helpless. I was already being digested by the labyrinthine cloaca of justice.

Then the helicopter went away. Then it came back. Then it went away again, and I waited twenty bladder-taxing minutes to see if it would come back again. As soon as the twenty minutes were up, I ran. But one does not simply run out of the post office. I sprinted across the lot, jumped eight feet up a concrete wall and grabbed the chainlink fence, scaled it up and over the barbed wire, into the generator enclosure, kicked up the ten-foot dividing wall on the first fucking try, and absconded. As I passed the front of the post office, I saw a police car idling out front. Either the police car didn’t see me, or they didn’t find anything suspicious about a dude dressed all in black strolling leisurely down a sidewalk that could only have come from an auto junkyard, a freeway offramp, or the motherfucking post office. I made it to my car, and drove home with my eyes glued to the rear-view mirror.

The next afternoon, I had my scheduled tour of the post office. In case of any security footage of the previous night’s events, I got a haircut for the first time in months. In an hour, I went from this:

main_before59664

To this:

main_vidzandshit18159665

My tour was quite informative. For example, I learned that the US Postal Service has its own police force, called – appropriately enough – the Postal Police. I also learned that the Los Angeles Postal Police headquarters were DIRECTLY ACROSS THE STREET FROM THAT POST OFFICE. It’s not like it’s hidden either. I took a look after my tour, and there is a bigass sign out front that says “THE MOTHERFUCKING POSTAL POLICE ARE RIGHT FUCKING HERE ASSHOLE WHAT ARE YOU DOING” (the expletives are mine. Also some of the other words.) Some dude could literally have just looked out his office window and seen me doing my thing. Given that little tidbit of information, it’s a god-damned miracle I’m not in Guantanamo to this day.

This story is why I am terrified of teenagers. There is a time in every human’s life where we will basically just do anything we are physically capable of doing, up to and including breaking into the post office. Or maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just The Biggest Idiot In The World, and my magnum opus occurred somewhere back around my 17th birthday. Whatever the truth of the matter, what’s important to remember is that you should NOT ATTEMPT TO SNEAK INTO THE POST OFFICE. They DO have helicopters, and they have NO QUALMS about using them. Which really just makes me wonder why the mail doesn’t come quicker.