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Archive for March, 2007

If friendship went by logic, then I would hate Brother Charles. Where he is Quebecois, I am le maudit anglais. He sounds like a Boston Brahmin, while I come from a long line of dissenting ministers and trade unionists on one side and small tradesmen and farmers on the other. While he writes books on the history of rum and the papacy, my publications are articles that are here today and gone tomorrow. Worst of all he’s not only a political and social conservative while I am decidedly leftist, but he’s an ordained monk and Catholic apologist to my Protestant upbringing and adult agnosticism. By rights, we shouldn’t be able to tolerate each other in the same room without shouting. Yet, despite everything, we remain friends over the distance and the years.

Part of the reason is Charles’ combination of innocence and charm. He seems to assume — apparently with never a doubt — that everybody he meets will be enchanted by his friendliness and slightly old-fashioned glibness — and, as a result, everybody is. Time and time again, I’ve seen him draw out people from whom I’d be lucky to get a non-committal grunt. Another large reason is that he is one of the half dozen best-read people I’ve met, and can talk knowledgably and engagingly on dozens of topics.

But the main reason is that Charles is an eccentric, and in my experience that always trumps politics and beliefs. Since he’s an original, I can almost forgive him for being an imperialist running dog lackey.

I first noticed the mad monk at a Mythopoeic Conference, the annual academic conference devoted to Tolkien and other members of his circle. He had some of the better material at the roundrobin bardic circles run by Paul Zimmer, and knew how to deliver it, too. He later made himself conspicious by constructing a food sculpture and parading it around the tables during a lull in the banquet. We had a mutual friend in Paul, but, even without that connection, he was offbeat enough that we would have hooked up sooner or later.

Over the years, we’ve learned that visits with Charles are always as unlikely as our first encounters. Since he’s a monk, he can’t make women part of his holidays except in the most fraternal way — but wine and song always are, and who knows what else besides.

At another Mythopoeic, we joined forces to give long-suffering children’s writer Sherwood Smith a history as an international truffle smuggler, with a heroic pig as a sidekick, just because we thought her daughter deserved a mother with an adventurous youth. I remember we serenaded Sherwood in the hotel lobby with a tale of her adventures set to the tune of Woody Guthrie’s “Pretty Boy Floyd.” But maybe you had to be there.

Another time, Charles visited Trish and I in Vancouver. I still remember trailing behind him through Vancouver’s more-radical-than-thou east end with him in full morning dress and top hat on way to a folk concert. He affected a lordly disdain for the catcalls of the locals about his costume to encourage them; we shuffled behind and hoped we were unnoticed as we almost doubled over laughing.

He was in morning dress because, with his belief in the mystical power of monarchs, he had cajoled the Monarchist League of Canada into letting him be aide-de-camp to the exiled king of Rwuanda for a few days while his majesty raised money to stop the genocide in his country. Inevitably, this escapade drew us in, and we staggered out to the airport at 3AM so that Charles could greet the king as he came through customs. The king, a tall thin African who apparently lived with his secretary in a small apartment in Paris, was more than a little bemused to get royal treatment for once, and kept looking at Charles as though he couldn’t quite believe him. When we got to the Bayshore Hotel, the entire staff turned out in the lobby to greet the king while we watched our lives get a little surrealer.

That was the same visit where Charles dragged us to a performance of “Ain’t Misbehaving,” a Fats Waller revue before we had time to eat after work. At the time, few restaurants in Vancouver were open after midnight on a Monday, and, in our half-starved state, we must have reached the door of a dozen eateries just in time to see the Closed sign flipped over. We finally found a fabulous northern Chinese hot pot restaurant.

That’s another key to Charles: luck seems to attend him in the little things. Left to ourselves, we probably would given up and bought chocolate bars at a corner store, just in time to witness a holdup.

For a while, we went through a period where our main contact was our annual Christmas cards: Charles’ inevitably religious and usually depicting the Virgin Mary, and ours a joke one with “Season’s Greeting” crossed out and replaced by “Season’s Gratings” and a baggie of cheese parings.

But, last summer, he descended upon us again, and our lives became tipsy again for a couple of days. One night, we watched him charm first the waitress and then the manager of Rasputin’s, both of whom swore that he should be a standup comedian (he already had been). The next night, he used his club’s reciprocal dining privileges to treat us to dinner at the Vancouver Club, where even the formal waiters were no match for his aimiable chatter. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that we would have preferred an ethnic restaurant that was more casual and had better food, although the way I discarded my shoes for sandals and shucked my tie before we went on to a Celtic Night at a local pub probably tipped him off. But the conversation was the point, and, when we dropped him at the hotel room he was sharing with his monastery’s prior, he gave us a copy of his encylopedic history of the papacy. The next day, he was scheduled to go to Victoria to give a copy of his book the lieutenant-governor of the province, so we were in select company.

Who knows when I’ll see Charles again? But, when I do, I can be assured that our conversation and relationship will pick up exactly where it left off, and, for a few days, my life will become stranger and more exausting.

It’s people like Charles who shatter my incipient misanthropy after experiences like trying to get in touch with my high school friends after my reunion. Unlike them, people like Charles know what friendship is about — and, for that, I can forgive even starry-eyed conservatism.

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In the past few weeks, my increasingly creaky knees have forced me to replace much of my running with an exercise bike. Since our townhouse doesn’t have room for a bike, the change means jogging over to the recreation center about half a mile away. More importantly, it means that exercise, which for years been solitary and meditative for me is now a public activity, a fact emphasized by all the mirrors placed on the wall in an effort to disguise how crowded and dingy the exercise room actually is. I’m not comfortable with the change yet, but it has allowed me to observe the two main approaches to exercise.

No matter what time of day I go to the exercise room, most of its inhabitants are one of two kinds of people: bodybuilders and aerobic trainers. The bodybuilders are mostly teenage boys or men in their early twenties, with a scattering of middle-aged men. The aerobic trainers include women of any age and middle-aged and elderly men — more or less everyone else.

The bodybuilders know that the exercise room is meant for them, and the number of weight machines compared to the bicycles and treadmills reinforces the idea. They hang around in the aisle, so you have to be arrogant to push through them, and they don’t put their weights away. Worst, few of them ever wipe the equipment after using it — a habit that makes everyone else grimace in disgust.

The bodybuilders aren’t in the room to exercise, although occasionally some will do a few reps with too many weights for a sensible program. They’re there to talk sports, and to make sure everyone is aware of exactly what weights they are working with by talking as loudly as possible about their progress. When they actually start lifting, they sound like a class of actors warming up with basic emoting, grunting and yelling as if they are in pain. If using loose weights, they are apt to let them clatter to the floor — ignoring the signs requesting that they don’t — with grimaces and exclamations of pain (some of which turn real, as the weights bounce on to their feet).

The reps finished, the bodybuilders turn to their real purposes. For a few, especially the older ones, that purpose is striking a brooding pose on the bench, often with loose weights on the floor, looking like each of them is imagining himself to be Conan the Barbarian in melancholy contemplation of his sword and the mayhem it is about to cause. This mayhem inevitably involves a half dozen reps on another weight machine before they strike their favorite poses again.

However, for most of them, the real purpose is preening in front of the mirror. If you’re a woman and you don’t think that some men enjoy seeing themselves in a mirror, then the bodybuilders will be a revelation to you. Making muscles, strutting up and down with rolledup sleeves while coyly glancing sideways at their reflections, they look more like adolescent girls who have just discovered their sexuality more than the macho strongmen they seem to be imagining. Occasionally, one or two will compare muscles, a process that inevitably turns into a wrestling match in which the goal is for one bodybuilder to get the other in a headlock.

By now, you should have guessed that I am using the word “bodybuilder” facetiously. Once or twice, true bodybuilders have stopped by, and they have all the quiet dedication of any other athlete.

But what I enjoy about the usual run of so-called bodybuilders, with their self-assurance and all their lordly ignoring of everyone else, is the fact that they never notice that it’s the aerobic exercisers who, stepping around the bodybuilders — in women’s case with a hint of nervousness — who are doing the serious exercise. They do long, hard slogs on the treadmills and stair climbers or low weight, high rep routines on the weight machines. Many of them cool off with calisthenics afterwards. They’re in the room long after the bodybuilders have clustered around the TV mounted near the ceiling that always seemed tuned to a hockey game, or gone home. And, unlike the bodybuilders, by the time they’re finished, they need their towels to wipe themselves down afterwards. Yet I doubt that the bodybuilders have ever noticed that the people whom they dismiss have a better claim to being hardbodies then they do.

I still miss the quiet contemplation of solo exercise. But I’m thinking the amusement value of comparing the toughness of a tiny Asian woman going about her exercise routine to the slackness of the steroid-addled bodybuilders who get in her way might almost compensate.

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“Days when we lost it laughing,
One thing was kind of clear,
Whatever it was you’re looking for,
You wouldn’t start from here.”
– OysterBand

I couldn’t wait to leave high school. It wasn’t unpleasant; it just lasted about two years too long. Come graduation, I bolted. I avoided the university that most of my classmates attended, and, within two years, I left my home city, coming back only to visit family. But last year, I started wondering whether I’d missed anything. When my class reunion arrived in October 2006, I decided on whim to go.

That’s one mistake I won’t be making again.

Like high school itself, the reunion wasn’t unpleasant. Contrary to my brother’s predictions, the event wasn’t full of people boasting of accomplishments and children — just people out for a good time. I was greeted warmly by several women who had been in my class all through school, many of them miraculously unaltered since their teen years — at least to my eye — and by men whose younger selves had been close enough to me that they still make guest appearances in the occasional dream.

I revelled in the petty vanity of observing that I was in better shape than most, and the satisfaction of realizing that people who had once secretly intimidated me were now simply tiresome. The adult version of a girl I’d often chattered at in elementary school turned out to have had a similar career path to me, and we spent about half the evening talking, and later split a cab fare. All in all, it turned out to be the most pleasant evening out I’d had in months. For a while, I even managed to believe that I had effortlessly brought my past and present together.

My mistake was thinking that the warmth expressed throughout the evening was anything other than nostalgia mixed with alcohol.

After the reunion, I tried to keep in touch with a dozen people with whom I’d spent time at the reunion. I emailed some of them directly, and others through websites like Classmates and LinkedIn.

Not one of those efforts resulted in a lasting correspondence, let alone a renewal of friendship.

One or two never responded to me. My best friend when we were growing up was uncomfortable with email and gave up the correspondence after a single exchange. A former friend I’d protected against bullies lasted two emails. Several lasted a little longer. One bestirred herself enough to suggest who might have reunion photos, but ignored a LinkedIn invitation. One said she would accept an invitation from her home address, but never did. Still others accepted invitations to LinkedIn, but without comment. Once everybody was sober and back in their daily routines, keeping in touch with somebody who was no longer part of their lives was unimportant to them. Some of them may have planned more of a response, but chose to be too busy.

(I say “chose,” because, when people say they’re too busy, what they mean is that they don’t want to shift from their habits. People who say they are too busy to read, for example, inevitably spend free time they could use to read parked in front of the TV.)

For several months, I did scrape together a correspondence with the woman who’d befriended me at the reunion, but the exchange was ruined by differences in expectations. She thought an email a week made me high maintenance, while I, after a decade among geeks, who consider email slow compared to IRC, thought that rate exceedingly casual. For my part, I was wary about what her exaggerated praise of my writing concealed. She seemed to nurse an idealized image of me that I was too full of human faults ever to match.

For her part — well, I’ll never know, now. Did she worry whether my scattergun friendliness masked deeper feelings? I’m an old-married, so I overlooked such possibilities at the time. All I know is that, faced with problems at work, she chose to be busy. Her emails became full of icy thank-yous, and the correspondence faltered. Finally, in a flash of temper — possibly caught in a lie — she formally closed the connection.

Compared to the trauma I’ve experienced and witnessed, these failures hardly register. I have no shortage of other correspondents, after all. Still, after the last failure, I deleted the emails I’d received and purged my address books. I cancelled my Classmates registration and severed some LinkedIn connections. I started working out daily at the gym. I noticed that the cherry blossoms were adding the first dash of springtime color to the city. In short, I moved on. But the experiences leave my world a colder place, and I regret the wasted time.

Most of all, I regret my quixotic efforts to look back. I should have known that I lost touch with my acquaintances for a reason. The accident of going to the same schools was simply not enough for friendship. Nobody’s to blame for that fact, but it didn’t go away because I ignored it, either.

In the end, for all my good will, my former classmates and I were like planets in eclipse. From a narrow perspective, our shadows might fall on each other, but, fixed in our orbits, we could never actually touch.

That’s why I won’t be going to another reunion. I may change my mind ten years from now, but why should I? I’ve been there, done that, and long ago worn out the T-shirt.

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Writing letters has always been part of my life. It started with a pen pal cousin in the second grade, and continued in high school with long letters about literature to like-minded girls and what at the time I thought was a steamy exchange with a girl I met on holidays in Montana. Later, emails became another form of letters for me, although I still miss the anticipatory thrill of recognizing a friend’s handwriting on an envelope — recognizing someone’s email address just isn’t the same. Yet of all my correspondences, the one I value most was my correspondence with the American fantasist Avram Davidson in the last few years of his life.

Avram was one of the best unknown writers of the twentieth century. In books like Adventures in Unhistory and The Enquiries of Dr. Esterhazy, Avram perfected a style of story-telling with a sharp ear for speech patterns, a digressive style, and a dry sense of good-natured humor. Only Avram could get away with starting a story with a page and a half of irrelevancy, or write a page long sentence with six colons and six semi-colons that was perfectly coherent, or carry off a punch line like, “I tell you what the problem is. They let anybody into Eton these days.” The rules other writers learn about what to avoid were challenges to him, and he inevitably overcame each one he faced.

What made Avram’s letters special was that they were had all the characteristics of his stories, but were private. Written, as often as not, on postcards or the backs of old posters, they were almost illegible when handwritten, and not much better when typed because Avram had a cavalier attitude about typos. But because Avram was so observant and so full of a sense of the absurd, his letters were always worth deciphering, down to his inevitable sign off of “Yoursly.” They were the sort of letters that you carried to show to other people, and that made me stretch to produce replies that would entertain him in return.

Was I outclassed? Completely. Avram was not only a genius in the truest sense of that often abused word, but had thirty-five years of experience on me. But he tolerated me, and allowed me to learn.

The letters ranged over all sorts of topics. Avram had lived briefly in Canada in the 1960s, and retained a fondness for it, listening to CBC radio from whatever small town in Washington State he was currently living in. He usually started with some insulting reference to me as a Canuck (I retaliated by calling him a DamnYankee, knowing full well he was a Jew from Yonkers), and would talk about whatever he was currently reading. For a while, we discussed the merits of him moving to New Westminister, where the difference in the Canadian and American dollars at the time would make his small income go further.

Another time, he sent me scurrying to the library (this was pre-Internet) to find whether the First Nations chief Poundmaker had ever been pursued – all so he could mention an imaginary book called In Pursuit of Poundmaker in one story. I was able to tell him that, if you squinted, Poundmaker had, in fact, been pursued at one point. I still get a small sense of ownership when I come across that reference.

But the truth is, Avram’s letters sounded so much like Avram in person that I am not sure whether many topics were raised in conversation or in a letter. Was it in a letter that Avram told me about his one attempt to learn to drive when he lived in Belize – an effort that ended quickly when he looked up from behind the wheel and saw a tapir glaring at him, about to charge, and decided that being a driver wasn’t part of his karma? That he told me why he wouldn’t accept the Grand Master Award from the World Fantasy Convention? That we discussed the history of the Hudson’s Bay Company? That I learned that, even in the 1990s, he wouldn’t ride in a Volkswagon because of the Holocaust? Of his habit of buying writers a drink at science fiction conventions when their first novel was published? Of his pride in his son Ethan, who was proving a playwright? I could probably find out if I were to rummage through his letters. But the point is that it doesn’t matter. Whether in person or in letters, Avram was an entertainer.

Remember the princess in Rumpelstiltskin, condemned to spin straw into gold? If Avram had been the princess, and the goal a story, Avram wouldn’t have needed the title character’s help. Avram could spin a story out of anything.

One of my strongest memories of him is visiting him at the veteran’s home in Bremerton one Memorial Day, and watching him hold court surrounded by a dozen guests around a table on the lawn long after everyone else had left or gone inside. All of us were spellbound, and we listened to him for hours.

Our correspondence ended in 1993, when Avram was found dead in his basement apartment in Bremerton (by mutual agreement, he’d moved out of the veteran’s home, being too eccentric for the bureaucrats to handle). A memorial service was held in Gasworks Park in Seattle. Preserving some of the industrial equipment that was originally on the site, the location was one that I’m sure Avram would have appreciated for its offbeat whimsy.

What I learned from Avram was the same as you learn from any original writer – just how good a story can be, and how often we settle for something less because it tells us comforting lies, or just because it is adequate.

But every writer who delivers that lesson does so differently. Avram’s way was to suggest that everybody, without exception, is at least slightly eccentric. Most of us, Avram proposes (and he wouldn’t exclude himself) are downright dotty, and the only thing to do is sit back and enjoy the entertainment. I’m too idealistic to share that worldview for long, but, with Avram as a guide, I still enjoy exploring it.

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“We can put you up, but you’ll have to stay in the dojo with six witches from Denver.”

That is not the start of a dirty joke, but the words with which we were invited to stay at Greyhaven, a communal house of writers in the Claremont district of Berkeley. There actually was a martial arts gym in the basement, and we did share it with six neopagans from Denver (and their harps), but that was the least of our experiences at Greyhaven.

Crowded with fantasy and poetry books, full of people coming and going, Greyhaven in its heyday was at the crossroads of half a dozen subcultures, including the Society for Creative Anachronism, Bay Area poets, Regency dancing, fantasy writing, roleplaying games, and paganism. You might risk your health in the squalor of the bathrooms, but you would never be bored at Greyhaven. On some visits, there were entire days when we never got out of the house. You didn’t have to leave the house to see the sights – they came to you at Greyhaven, in the form of people of every conceivable description.

On our first visit, we took a while to sort out who was whom, and what their relations to each other were. Take for example, Tracey Blackstone, the literary agent, who was in the process of moving out so she could get a divorce from Paul Edwin Zimmer, Marion Zimmer Bradley’s brother and sometime collaborator – not because they weren’t still close, but because she wanted to marry someone else, and a judge would have a hard time understanding why she was sharing an address with a supposedly estranged husband. Another resident was Nancy Geise, a Seattle witch, who was soon going to have a daughter with Paul. Don Studebaker, better known as Jon de Cles and Mason Powell and for his portrayal on-stage of Mark Twain and Edgar Allan Poe, didn’t actually live there at the moment, but would descend periodically from the hills where he was living with six unruly Lab puppies and Kelson, his lover who was dying of AIDS. Up in the attic suite, confined there by ill health, lived Evelyn Zimmer, Paul and Marion’s mother, over ninety and a passionate reader; when we received permission to visit her, I felt more honored than I would have done to receive an invitation from the Queen. And somehow keeping everything running while still finding time to teach and write was Diana Paxson, best known for her Westria series and a major figure in the Covenant of the Goddess. At Greyhaven’s twentieth anniversary party in 1992, a list of other residents on the wall included over forty names, and, even then, no one was sure it was complete.

No wonder we had trouble with names and relationships. They were so confusing that when the children of the house had been asked to do family trees in school, everyone in the house pulled together to create a fictious family tree that wouldn’t shock the teachers.

“That was our nuclear family imitation,” Paul said, retelling the story. And, for once in my life, I had the right reply ready: “I thought Berkeley was a nuclear free zone.” But, clearly, we weren’t the only ones to be overwhelmed by the complexity of the lives that went on in the house.

Our invitation to stay was through Paul and Nancy. We never knew Nancy as well as we would have liked, but, when we first Paul at a Seattle science fiction convention, we’d stayed up until 3AM talking in the hallways. The next night was equally late, as Paul hosted a bardic circle, a round robin of songs, poetry, and readings. That’s how I remember Paul best: dressed in full Scottish regalia, booming out poems and choruses with expressiveness and passion, and frequently throwing back his head to laugh.

A heavy smoker with an auburn beard and wild long hair, irresistible to women, Paul was the largest of the countless larger than life figures around Greyhaven. People at conventions thought of him as a party animal, but what they didn’t know was how disciplined the rest of his life was. He lived a life defined by writing – not just composing it, but talking about it and reciting it as well. Self-educated, he would learn languages like Iroquois and Old Welsh, then compose poetry in them for recreation.

About 4PM every afternoon, Paul would stumble out of the pile of books and papers he called a bedroom (presumably there was a bed in it somewhere) and have the first cigarette of the day. Wearing a tattered green caftan, he would write through the night, periodically rising to pace or do sword mediation in the living room. The one firm rule of the house was: If you encountered Paul at night, you didn’t talk to him first, in case he was working. But, sometimes, if you were lucky, he would read you what he was working on, or describe the plotting problems he was having.

In the morning, he would eat and collapse in his room again, unless distracted by another conversation. Most of the time, I suspect, he went short of sleep rather than miss a good talk.

Did I say that Paul was hopeless about money or dealing with bureaucracy? But I’ve never met anyone who knew more about writing, friendship, and integrity. “Paul raised himself to be a knight,” his mother told me once, and that observation says all you need to know about him.

And these were just the people you could meet everyday. When Greyhaven threw its annual party — “Charlie,” as it was called – or celebrated the Winter Solstice,you never knew whom you might meet. Catholic monks, Unitarian ministers, transvestite nuns, street poets like Vampyre Mike, fantasy writers like Fritz Leiber or Poul Anderson, academics, musicians – like the Roman forum, if you stayed at Greyhaven long enough, you would eventually see the whole world pass by. You might even meet a few conventional people, although you couldn’t count on it.

For about six years, we infested Greyhaven at any excuse. Then my partner became chronically ill, and, a few years later, Paul Zimmer died of a heart attack at a science fiction convention in New York where he was guest of honor – and with him, our main excuse to visit.

I understand that Paul’s son, Ian Grey, has been raising his family in Greyhaven over the last decade, but we’ve never been back. No offense to Ian, but it wouldn’t be the same. Some memories are too important to expose them to present day reality, and my memories of Greyhaven are pure magic.

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If you know me at all, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing here. In the past, I’ve never had much use for blogging. Bloggers, I’ve said loudly, are either trendy narcissists or amateur journalists. I’ve never had patience with trendies of any kind, and, being a professional journalist for sites like Linux.com and Linux Journal, why would I want to be an amateur one? I don’t quite agree with Samuel Johnson’s comment that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” but part of me thinks that publishing without running a gauntlet of editors is a bit like using the cheat codes in a video game. You can do it, but where’s the satisfaction?

Yet here I am — and that needs a bit of explanation.

I could say that my resistance has been lowered by writing what is loosely called a blog for the Linux Journal site twice a month. Yet despite what the software calls my efforts, they are really articles. I admit, though, that I take a perverse delight in telling hardcore bloggers that I get paid for blogging.

A truer reason is, having met a few more bloggers at places like Barcamp Vancouver, I have to admit that I’ve over-generalized about them. As I should have known, had I bothered reacting to anything except the mainstream media’s presentation (and we all know how reliable that can be on any topic), people blog for all sorts of reasons: as a hobby, as a way to keep friends informed, and, as a way to start discussions. As an ex-instructor of university English, who practically used to plead for students to find ways to make writing part of their lives, how can I continue to disapprove of something that makes them do just that?

But the reason I’ve started a blog myself is even simpler: Because I’m a writer now.

When I attended my first high school reunion in October 2006, the people I had known decades ago were unsurprised to hear that I was earning my living as a journalist. To them, journalism seemed an obvious choice of careers for me. Yet for years, it wasn’t obvious.

For most of my life, I was a wannabe. Ever since I was fourteen, I had published the occasional poem or short story, but I didn’t know how to make a living as a writer. I could only edge around the idea, gradually circling closer as I grew older. I became a university instructor, then a technical writer, and detoured into business as a product manager and marketing and communications director during the dot-com boom. I like to think that I was good at most of these types of employment, and even excelled at one or two of them, but eventually after a year or two, I would feel myself wanting to move on, never knowing why.

That changed in the fall of 2004. Towards the end of October, I was walking along the Coal Harbor seawall in Vancouver, when I had a revelation. I’d had two massively non-challenging consulting contracts in a row. Even more importantly, having been part of the core team at two startups had spoiled my patience for the vagaries of upper management; I felt I could do their jobs better than they could. And besides, was meeting an artificial deadline really worth long hours of overtime that kept you from the last dregs of summer?

As I strolled in the sun, suddenly I knew that I would not be renewing my contract when it came due for renewal in a couple of weeks. In fact, if possible, I would never be working in an office again.

Over the previous year, I’d been doing occasional articles for NewsForge and Linux.com to compensate for the dullness of my contracts. Now, desperate but determined, I asked the senior editor Robin Miller, one of the inventors of online journalism, if I could write full-time for the two sites. He took pity on me, but, even so, it took a year before I had the confidence and discipline to manage a full-time writing schedule, and another eight months before I had developed other markets and started bringing my income up to the level it had been when I had been a marketing and communications consultant. But whatever else I could say of the experience, I’ve never been bored and never wanted to do something else.

Busy with learning to be a journalist, I never noticed the change that was occurring until I started a brief email correspondence with a high school friend after our reunion. Like me, she had been a wannabe in high school. Now, although a successful business woman and the writer of several books, she characterized herself as “not a communicator” and wistfully expressed admiration for “creative people.”

I felt sorry she had a poor self-image, but her comments made me realize that I was no longer a wannabe. Somehow, without noticing, I had actually become a writer. Maybe I wasn’t the fiction writer I always wanted to be, but I was still doing pieces to which I was proud to sign my name.

And the thing about writers is that they write. The fact that they can do it for money is gratifying, and frees them from other distractions, but they also do it — if they’re being honest — because they get a kick out of the performance, out of knowing that people are reading what they have to say and praising or damning it. Yes, they’re expressing themselves, but, as satisfying as self-expression can be, the real kick is expressing yourself and having people listen.

That joy in performance explains this blog. My professional writing is mostly about GNU/Linux and free software, two important topics of which I don’t ever expect to tire. They’re varied, they represent a good cause, and they are championed by smart, talented people whom I am proud to know — and still awed, at times, to be accepted by.

Yet, at the end of the day, like the musician who can’t resist picking out a tune or two on the piano while the roadies break down the set, I find that I still want to perform, and often riffing topics that I don’t cover in my professional life. So, with that selfish (but, I hope, very human motivation), I’m starting this blog.

I don’t know how often I’ll perform here, or how big my audience will be. But for me the point of a blog is that it contains the possibility of an audience in a way that a private journal doesn’t. And for me, it’s one thing to write hopefully as a wannabe and quite another to do so as a writer. With so many wannabes everywhere I turn, I never wanted to be counted among them. I was nervous about being denounced as pretentious, and worried that if I spent time talking about writing, I’d never actually do it. Now, those concerns no longer apply, and I can write freely and put aside my misgivings.

But remember: what I’m doing is performing. I may mention personal details, but they will be ordered details, selected to reinforce whatever point I may have at the time, and given a significance that they may not have had by themselves or at the time I experienced them.

Nor am I proselytizing or reporting with strict accuracy. And I’m definitely not telling great truths as I see them. From time to time, I may claim, implicitly or explicitly, to be doing all of these things, but the truth is

(I’m a liar; trust me)

that what I’m really doing is enjoying myself. Any readers who come along won’t get to know me any more than I know them (although they may have an illusion of knowing me). But they will, I hope, find their own brief amusement in the performance and in their response to it.

Really, that’s what writing is all about, and blogging is no exception. Only my own insecurities kept me from seeing that before.

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