Saturday, April 25, 2015

A Wheelbarrow of Books - My Offering for a Hugo Nomination Process

It was in the Theatre Department at Chaffey Community College in Rancho Cucamonga that I got my first, best lesson in the nature of awards for creative endeavors.  
The lesson came from Gary, the head of the technical theatre department.  In truth he WAS the technical department, at least when it came to set design, set construction, lighting and sound.  His wife, Pat, was the costume department in much the same way.  Gary, a quiet and insightful man, was one of the most creative people I've met in theatre.  Just watching the lights come up on one of his sets could move you.      
One day, while taking a break in the midst of building a set for the next "main stage" show (another misnomer, since Chaffey had only one stage everything was pretty much a "main stage" show) the cast and crew that volunteered to pound nails and lift platforms were talking about whatever the most recent set of award winners that had been announced.  Gary was standing nearby, listening to a bunch of college kids with stars in their eyes give their opinion about which picture was truly the best or which actor deserved to win for which role.  
"You know..."  Gary had this mischievous smile that would peek out of his beard when he was going to make one of his very dry, understated jokes.  It was gleaming at us now when he interjected in a pause in our discussion.  "I've have an idea for a great way to choose someone for the Best Actor award."  
"Yeah?"  We turned our attention toward Gary.  He was the E.F. Hutton of the Theatre Department.  "What would that be?"  
"Well...  I've always thought...  You could..."  He mimicked grabbing something heavy with his two big hands.  "Take this big wheelbarrows and fill them with bricks.  Then have a bunch of actors get in a line, like at track, and push the wheelbarrows as fast as they could.  And whoever got to the finish line first..."  Gary dropped his pretend wheelbarrow and opened his hands to us.  "That person would be the 'Best Actor.'"  
We stared at him.  He looked back at us, with a twinkle in his eye that a young Kris Kringle might have on his first day interning at North Pole, Inc.  Some of the people who were new to the department screwed their faces up and looked at each other.  I knew Gary was kidding, but...  Yeah.  He was kidding, sure, but...  
"Gary?"  I had to ask.  "How does that tell us who the best actor is?"  
Gary frowned.  He seemed to think for a moment.  He tugged at his lip.  
"I dunno."  He lifted his shoulders and let them fall.  His smile was there again.  "How do these awards you were talking about do that now?"
That little prologue was prompted by a friend's question as to my opinion on the still boiling "Hugo Controversy."  What has happened is, a number of the Hugo nominees for this year's ballot, to be decided in August at the 2015 WorldCon in Spokane this year, were apparently put on the ballot through the means of "slate voting," where a slate of nominees was offered by a pair of websites called "Sad Puppies" and "Rabid Puppies," which was subsequently submitted to the Hugo Awards Committee in sufficient numbers where the nominees on this slate came to dominate the list of Hugo finalists.  
The problem: This slate of nominees were (apparently) offered with political motivations.  In reaction to the 2014 Hugo finalists list which I've read online heralded as a "breakthrough" in diversity.  On the Rabid Puppies site, one can read their contention that their list values "actual excellence" in the genre over "intersectional equalitarianism, racial and gender inclusion, literary pyrotechnics, or professional rabbitology."  
Hmm.  Ok.  Fine.  
I have no ability to comment on whether or not this claim about "actual excellence" made by the Rabid Puppies site is accurate or not.  It is an unfortunate aspect of my life that I don't have time to read all of the books I've heard my science fiction friends talking about.  Only since the works of Hugo nominees been made available to members of the World Science Fiction society, who nominate and vote for the Hugos, have I been able to read works before the winner is decided, and then usually only the short forms of Short Story, Novelette and some of the Novellas.  I did not recognize the "breakthrough" that the 2014 nominees represented.  Nor do I see anything inherently reactionary in the list of 2015 nominees, which I will provide a link to HERE for your own perusal.  
So.  No rant here of a political nature.  If you're looking for that, you can click away now. 
What I do see, or maybe sense, are two things in this current brouhaha.  One relates to conflicts within groups.  The other to award ceremonies in general.
The group thing is the divisions that seem to be appearing just about everywhere.  It is most obvious in our country's political life, where Congress has only recently started passing bills and confirming nominations again, after year after year of stalled, stubborn political stalemate.  It feels as if every group, nation, people, sect, or in the case of the Hugos, fandoms, are struggling to identify who and what they are, with the most commonly voiced choice being a form of purification.  Shia and Sunni.  Tea Party and Mainstream Republican.  Red States and Blue States.  The science fiction fan community is not immune, it would appear, to someone attempting to manipulate the process by which "actual excellence" in their community is defined and promoted.  
I have no answer for addressing this.  It seems to be something that we will collectively have to grow out of, like being afraid of the dark or throwing ourselves to the floor and crying at the top of our lungs when we can't get something we want.  
And the fact that it is over a toy...  Well, a statue, actually.  A sleek and shiny silver rocket.  That is what makes this kerfufle silly.  
Do I get points for using kerfufle and brouhaha in the same posting?  
Or, it would be silly if not for the comments I've read about how this will "damage" the Hugo selection process beyond repair.  
It is natural for any creative community to award what it deems as the best work being produced by that community.  Every field of creative endeavor has them.  Oscars.  Tonys.  Obies.  Golden Globes.  Hugos.  Nebulas.  People like to argue about which work was best, and an award is one great way of settling that score.  
It is equally natural, though, for that process to get shifted and warped by considerations other than the quality of the work represented.  I've heard it said that Edward Albee's Pulitzer for Seascape (one of my favorite plays to have performed in) was in part to make up for his play Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf having its Pulitzer withdrawn.  John Wayne's Oscar for True Grit had similar overtones for making up not having been awarded before.  
Acknowledging a body of work by awarding a less than deserving piece happens.  It's the political overtones of the current send-up that makes it more unseemly.  And sad, too.  Because there will ALWAYS BE someone who will feel the "right" winner was snubbed NO MATTER who actually wins.  I stopped watching the Oscars in 1994 when Searching for Bobby Fischer, which I believe to be one of the best movies of all time, was only nominated for cinematography that year and didn't even win that.  The film that won Best Picture that year was Schindler's List.  The film that won Best Picture that year was Schindler's List.  A selection that was, I think, motivated both by a desire to make up for previous snubs toward director Steven Spielberg and due its subject matter. 
But that's how it goes with awards.  And it's how it's gone with the Hugos this year.  What will make it worse is if, next year, to "restore balance" or "express the true spirit of the fandom" another slate of nominees is promoted to correct what is seen as this year's political wrong.  If this happens, and happens again and again, we may as well fill a barrel with books and tell all the prospective nominees that the Best Novelist will be the one who can push their wheelbarrow down the track the fastest.  It will have as much to do with actually selecting a worthy piece of work as what will develop from any reactionary response. 
I like this idea.  If we make it a hiking contest to the top of Eaton Canyon, near Pasadena where I live, instead, I could become the Best Writer of Science Fiction without even typing a single word.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Feng Shui and Translation Breakthroughs

I'm considering the similarity between understanding something in a foreign language and moving some bookshelves in my apartment.  
I'll start with the bookshelves.
I held a meeting in my office last week with the other manager and supervisors of my unit.  It was the second of the two meetings we have each week.  The topic was, as it has been quite a bit recently, "What do we do to make the goal?"  
Before the meeting started, the Associate Manager of Production, a woman from Thailand, turned around in her chair.  She looked at the stack of computer boxes and toner cartridges I had stacked there in front of the slender window that was next to the door itself.  
"You should move those."  She looked back at me as she pointed at the boxes.  "If you move them we make goal."  
"Huh?"  I looked at the boxes, which had been there for weeks, and then back at her.  "You're joking."  
"No.  It no joke.  It Feng Shui."  She was now wagging her finger at the boxes.  "You not block doors or windows.  You move the boxes, we make the goal."  
The Invoicing supervisor, a young woman from Laos, immediately agreed.  So emphatically did she agree that I had the feeling she had been wanting to say something about it for the entire time but had kept quiet.  
I looked at the two other supervisors, both men, one from Iran, the other Filipino, I think.  They were smiling at me as if they were in on the joke and had been told to keep quiet.  
"You know Feng Shui?  It..."  
"Yeah, yeah.  I know what it is.  It's that Chinese thing about how you're supposed to lay out your house to let..."  I searched my recollection for the proper terms, failed, and fell back on liberal, spiritual, babble-terms.  "Positive energy into your home."  
"And putting things before windows, they block it.  Move it.  Move it now."  She began waving at me to get up and obey.  The guys started laughing.  The supervisor from Laos nodded along with her.  The Associate Manager was the youngest of eight kids.  Her older brothers had taught her how to box, and then made money matching her in the ring with other neighborhood kids, betting on her.  
Not wanting to go toe to toe with her over something like that, and figuring I couldn't get the meeting started until I gave in, I got up and pulled the boxes from the window and made a place for them along the wall where I stored the toner cartridges for the office.  I then started the meeting, going over the numbers which seemed to be telling us that we had little chance of making the goal that day.  
But we did.  The next day, too.  
"See?  I tell you."  The Associate Manager was wagging her finger at me again as she was about to leave on Friday for a long weekend, having planned to take Monday and Friday off for her birthday.  "Feng Shui.  You unblock door or window, we make goal." 
"I don't think that Chinese mysticism had anything to do with us making the goal."  She laughed at me.  I left, thinking.  
I had another thing open up for me.  A line from an audio blog that's in Japanese.  When I take my 30 minute walk at lunch, I listen to the blog and try to translate it.  I've spent an entire week on one blog because of one line that just didn't make sense to me.  The sentence was this: 
実を言うと私にとって眠れない夜はベレー帽の似合うおスモウ取りくらいに珍しい のです。
The frustrating thing about this sentence is that I understand, or at least recognize all the different parts.  A literal, phrase by phrase translation would be: 
To say the truth, concerning me, about nights I can't sleep, a beret's looking good sumo wrestler taking about is rare. 
Uh...  Yeah.  
Thinking I had to have some word or phrase wrong, I broke down and went to the blog's website and downloaded a copy of the transcript.  I discovered that the line was from a novel, The Wind-up Bird Chronicles by Haruki Murakami, and that I had the words in Japanese more or less correct.  OK.  No help, since I hadn't known about the novel prior to getting the blog transcript.  
I finally decided to try something that almost never helps me figuring out Japanese, except for the most simple and straightforward instances.  I entered the line in Google Translate.  While good for telling me what individual kanji or short phrases might me, the program usually fails when more complicated sentences are entered.  I copied and pasted the sentence there, and this is what it told me it meant: 
Sleepless night for me to tell you the truth I unusual in much your sumo wrestler to become a beret.
Oh, Crap!  I get it!
We made the goal on Monday, while the Associate Manager was out.  We didn't on Tuesday, though.  But, that might have been because I bought some cases of bottled water.  
Monday, the water in our lunch room was out.  All day.  They had to call a plumber, who came on Tuesday.  
Tuesday I bought three cases of bottled water for the people in my department.  I'm one of those people who gets thirsty just by knowing there's no water to be had.  From the reaction of the employees I manage, there were several others like me.  
I stacked the water by the door, so they could reach in and get a bottle when they wanted one.  I pushed it so it was next to the filing cabinet near the window.  It almost fit between the cabinet and the window.  Almost.  A sliver of one edge was in front of the door.  
We didn't make the goal Tuesday. 
When the Associate Manager came back to work and saw the bottles there, she turned on me.  
"What you do?  Do you not remember what I tell you?"  
"It's not blocking the window."  Then, more honestly, "Only one edge..."  
"Even that much..."  She held her thumb and forefinger close together, peering at me between her fingers like it was a gunsight.  "Block door.  Move water.  Put under your desk or something.  We not make goal because you block window again."  
"Okay.  OK."  Since the water was working in the lunch room, I moved the bottled water under my desk.  Our incoming was bad that morning.  I didn't see it making a difference.  
We made the goal that day.  And the next.  And the one after that.  
The scary thing is that I've been thinking about my personal life in terms of this blocking doors and windows thing.  And I'm thinking of doing something based on it.  
In my apartment, there is a door leading to the back walkway.  I rarely used it.  I kept it locked all the time.  For the past couple of years, I've not used it at all.  That's because, while moving things around in my bedroom, I decided to move a set of bookshelves in front of the door.  Doing so gave me more space, and since I wasn't using the door that much anyway...
"Feng Shui!"  
Hmm...  I'm hearing the Associate Manager's voice now.  I'm blocking a door.  A door I hardly ever use.  But I don't use that window in my office to look out much either.  
Yada-yada-yada!  This is silly.  There's no scientific basis to think that a blocked door will make THAT much of a difference.  Especially if it is a door I wasn't using anyway.  
Like Google translate.  I don't use it much, for the reasons I stated.  But...  This one time...  It worked.  For some reason, when I read its gobbledygook translation, something about it pointed to what I think, I'm pretty sure, is the correct translation: 
To tell the truth, when it comes to sleepless nights, they are as rare for me as seeing a sumo wrestler looking good in a beret.  
Yeah.  That's it.  I'm pretty sure.  
And, for some reason I can't explain, I have this feeling that if I move those shelves to that wall over there, by the bed, and unblock that door, something, somehow, somewhere, will open up for me.  
Call it Feng Shui.  Call it superstition.  Call it my gut.  I can't get it out of my head.  
So...  Because, uh...  Of safety!  Yes.  Because, in case the front of my apartment catches fire I'll need an escape route (good one), I'm going to unblock that door.
Once that's done, I'll open it and step through it.  And see if another one opens up after that.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

I'll Know There when I Get There

I've gotten into the habit of hiking early on Saturday morning with a group of people from work.  I couldn't make it this Saturday.  I stayed up late watching a documentary about washoku, Japanese cuisine, and didn't get to bed until 2 AM.  By the time I got out of bed, around 7 AM, they would be halfway done with the hike.  
Habits are strong things, especially when tied to something you want to do, like getting and staying in better shape.  So, I told myself I would take a "little walk" before breakfast to do something along those lines.  
It ended up taking me about four hours.  
I went to Eaton Canyon.  This is a nature center just north of Pasadena.  About a 10 minute drive from my apartment.  I had picked it because I wanted...  Something of a destination, I guess you could say.  
I thought I'd had one from something that came to my attention online.  It was a posting about Dead Drops.  Some German artist had travelled around the world leaving USB drives in various places.  He would cement the drives into walls or fuse them to massive, tamper proof locks, to ensure they stayed where he put them.  The only thing he uploaded to the drives were "Read Me" text files.  I checked a map and discovered two of these "dead drops" are in Pasadena.  I thought about using the map, going to where they were supposed to be, and seeing if they were still there.  
I passed on that idea.  I'm still intrigued by it and I want to check it out, but...  It wasn't...  Enough.  I didn't want to replace a hike with a sleuthing sort of ambulation.  That's when Eaton Canyon came to mind.  I knew they had a number of trails that went in and out of the canyon, some leading into the neighboring Angeles National Forest.  I'd go to the Canyon, pick a trail, and head there. 
That's pretty much how I was thinking about it as I grabbed my back pack and put my thermos of water, along with an apple and a banana, inside.  I'll drive to the Canyon, pick a trail, and head there.  
Do you notice it?  Huh?  
The parking at the nature center was packed.  To get a parking space, one probably has to get there at sunrise, when the gates first open.  I parked on the street about three blocks from the gate and walked back inside.  I spotted a woman cutting across the long, winding service road, to what looked like a walking path on the other side.  
I initiated the Zen Directions technique.  This is something I got from the book, Dick Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, by the late Douglas Adams.  If you're lost and don't know how to get where you're going, pick the first person you see who looks like They know Where they're going and follow them.  
So, I did.  I cut across the service road and followed her on to the trail.  
The one problem with the Zen Directions technique, which also happened in the book, is that it can sometimes bother the person you choose to follow.  I noticed the woman glancing over her shoulder back at me after a while.  At the next fork, when she went right, I went left.  
But she had gotten me started.  I kept walking, looking forward to getting there. 
I did it again.  Did you see it this time?  "There."  I was looking forward to getting "there" but in actuality, I had no clear idea of where "there" was.  
"Up here, it splits."  I heard a guy saying this to who I presume was his girlfriend.  "Everyone goes left.  Almost no one goes right."  
When we got to the split, I went right.  I know that...  There wasn't where "everyone" would be.  It was here, after this decision, that I confronted myself with my ignorance.  
"Where are you going?"
"Where's 'there'?"  I can be very impertinent with myself.  
"I'll know it when I see it."  
I trudged on.  Through cool, shadowed stands of trees.  Up steep inclines that switched back and forth up the mountain as the sun started me sweating under my windbreaker.  At every corner that I rounded, I'd look to see if I was "there."  
Nope.  Not here.  And I'd keep walking. 
I don't think much when I hike.  Not coherent, philosophical stuff.  I notice my body.  The legs and calves getting tired and sore.  My heart, thump-thump-thumping as I push myself up a steep incline.  I hear my groan and fell it hum in my chest as I reach the top of the section I was on only to see another, steeper section beyond it.  
I'll see things and make stuff up.  Like..
A fallen tree, with branches arching over, is the ruins of a woodland gnomes homestead.  

A stand of trees is a place where druids dance at night.  

I spotted a pile of rocks off to one side of the trail, near the trees over the edge, that look like they were piled there on purpose. 
"That's the Cairn of the Squirrel King."  A story-teller's voice whispered to me.  "Put there by his mournful subjects.  Once the time of mourning is done, it will be time to choose a new king."  And a perilous time that would be, I knew. 
I told myself I'd take a picture of the Squirrel King's cairn on the way back down.  But I didn't see it again.  
But all these places weren't there.  I was getting hot.  I had other things to do today.  My stomach growled at me for not giving it a proper feeding before setting out on this quest.  Where were we going anyway?  
"There," I replied.  
"You don't even know where 'there' is."  My stomach curled up like an angry dog and gnawed on some body fat.  
I kept going.  Why?  Because I hadn't gotten "there."  My "little walk" had turned into an odyssey.  Just because I'd thought that I would head "there" without knowing clearly where "there" was, or what I was heading for.  
But that didn't seem important.  Not then.  How well do I know "where I'm going" now?  I look around where I'm at in my life.  I don't see anything like where I thought I was headed.  Does that mean I stop?  
I lowered my head.  I put one foot in front of the other.  I listened to the sound of gravel crunching beneath my feet.  "Not.  Here.  Not.  Here."  That what it sounded like with each step.  
So, I kept walking.  
At some point, I found myself negotiating with myself.  If "there" is close, I'll keep going.  Five, ten minutes.  Even twenty.  I'll keep going.  Ask someone how long to the top.  Someone coming down.  Ask them how long to get to the top of this section of trail.  Twenty minutes, I'll keep going.  Longer than that...
Then I remembered the last time I asked someone exactly that.    
すみません。上までどのぐらい掛かりますか。Sumimasen.  Ue made dono gurai kakarimasu ka?
It was at the Inari Shrine.  It has a series of red torii gates, one after the other, climbing to the top of the hill overlooking the shrine itself.  After trudging up the steps for over an hour, I asked a man with his son that I passed along the way.  
三十分ぐらいね。Sanjyuppun gurai ne.
Thirty more minutes!  I had to get back to the tour bus.  I could make it if I pushed.  But...
I turned back.  I told myself I would come back to Japan and visit Kyoto and the shrine again.  I'd take a day and get to the top of the hill then.  
That was eight years ago.  I still want to go back.  I don't know when, or if, I'll be able to again.  It bothers me that I never made it to the top of the shrine.  
So...  I kept hiking.  I kept climbing each switch-back.  I kept my feet moving.  I was like a father from the era I was raised in on a cross-country family vacation.  
"We'll get there when we get there!"  
It didn't keep me from hoping for a sign.  Some indication of where "There" was.  
Then...  I saw this. 

The trail dropped sharply after this sign.  It curved past a shaded, woody area with picnic benches scattered about.  I could see the trail slanting off to one side, starting another climb.  But for me.  For this day.  I had made it.  
I was There.  
I reached into my backpack and took out my thermos.  I drank half of it all at once.  I took my phone and took another shot, this one of the view from There, overlooking Pasadena and downtown Los Angeles.  
I nodded to myself.  Yeah...  I'd made it.  
Then, I started back down.  

Monday, April 06, 2015

Eavesdropped Quotes, Hidden Thoughts and the Decision To Do Something about It

I went to WonderCon this weekend.  It's a comic book convention that's put on by the same people that put on Comic-Con in San Diego every year.  Except it's smaller and still focused mainly on comic books, science fiction, the artwork, writers and artists.  
I was tweeting some of the things I heard people say to each other as I was walking through the convention.  One, for instance...
"The only thing I can give you, Henry, is piles of corpses."
I thought they might be talking about one of those massive, online video role-playing games.  At least, I hope that's what they were talking about.  
"It just wasn't a good parking lot experience."
I could understand this one.  It's the implication that the woman saying this rated her efforts to find parking that I found interesting.  
And this one...
"Do you sometimes think you're too old to be doing..."  Followed by vague hand gestures in the air to indicate the totality of what was going on.  
This was from a friend of mine that I'd met in college who'd come down to go to the convention.  He's been a comic book and sci-fi nerd like me for as long as we've known each other.  He's written his first comic book that's he's working on completing and getting published.  He came to the convention to geek-out, like me.  But he was also hoping to learn more about what he needs to do to get work in the industry, also like me.  
My answer to him was a succinct as I could make it.  No.  I didn't think I was too old.  I'm doing what I'm doing because I enjoy doing it.  If you enjoy doing it, then let that be the reason for doing it and...
It was at this moment someone got their head twisted off on The Walking Dead, which was on the TV in the hotel room.  We didn't come back to question after the gross-out.  
To give a longer and less succinct answer, sure...  I wonder if I've taken too long to get to where I want to be.  Or, perhaps more precisely, I wonder if I've taken so long that the gate-keepers out there will look past me to pick younger, presumably hungrier and more "hip to the world" (if that dates me send me the currently used phrase and I'll insert it) than I am.  
"They keep picking the younger ones..."  
This I heard on a panel called The Art of the Pitch.  A panel about how to pitch a story in the TV industry.  One of the themes behind the panel's message was that you don't pitch your story, you pitch yourself.  Take what makes you unique, something that will make the producers, directors, story editors and/or show-runners you're pitching to empathize with you.  It's the part of you that's in the story you wrote.  
Toward the end, they started taking volunteers to give them a one minute pitch about themselves.  I was sitting in the front row and heard that being said.  I started turning around to get a look at the people being chosen.  It seemed to be true, though not entirely true.  There was a freshman in college who had been bullied into believing that she didn't deserve what she wanted.  A young Morman woman who pitched about how she was staying true to her faith while still pursuing a career in TV and motion pictures.  The oldest one was a woman who was a planetary scientist, who wondered how she could bring that up even if her story had not a single drop of planetary science in it.  
I didn't try to volunteer, so I can't say I was rejected.  I have been thinking about the advice from this panel.  About pitching myself.  
It's really what anyone who dreams of doing something does every time they do it.  It's really what everyone does every single day to everyone else around them.  A desire to be notice.  To be accepted.  To have people feel for you enough that the close the gap between you and them.  
"Someone falls into a hole.  To sympathize is to look into the hole and say, 'that's too bad.  To empathize is to get get down into the hole with them and say, 'I've been here before, too.'"
That was from one of the panelists at the Art of the Pitch panel.  
I've been struggling to figure out how to pitch myself since then.  What makes me unique?  What drives me?  What brings me to life?  
I think it should be easier for me than it is.  I've lived long enough to figure these things out.  But my brain couldn't seem to put anything together.  And I really felt that I should be able to put something together.  
"Consider the air cleared."  
I heard this from another friend of mine.  An artist that now works for an animation studio as a storyboard artist.  His dream job.  He'd come to WonderCon as well.  We went to dinner after we talked about an opportunity to my attention to get some work.  I was grateful.  It is something I want to do.  But...  There is this history, you see?  The relationship between us has been strained because of how our working relationship came to an end.  
While talking about inconsequential things over our meal, I found myself facing my hesitation over accepting his help.  Something in my thinking became clearer.  
More than my age, which I couldn't change even if I wanted to, the thing that I needed to address was my "Be-ing" nature versus my "Do-ing" nature.  It is my contention that there are two types of people/characters in the world.  There are "Doers," these are people whose impulse when they encounter a problem or obstacle is to take action to change or remove it.  In contrast to them, there are "Be-ers."  These are people who adapt to the circumstances, find ways to deal with it, who endure.  
Being one over the other is not better or worse.  There are times and situations when the best course is to take action, and when you just need to be patient, adapt and wait it out.  This is about someone's base inclination and, more importantly, when it it's time to change to tactics you are not automatically inclined to thing of using.  
I am basically a Be-er.  Ask anyone who knows me.  I've been told I have the patience of a saint.  I think, though, that now it would be better for me to pick up the fire brand of a crusader.  
I took that realization and used it to do something.  I told my friend my feelings had been over what had happened before, and how I was feeling about it now.  I told him that it was important that he understand where I was coming from before he continued extending his offer to me.  
He did.  He was aware that I was not feeling positive toward him.  He didn't know the exact reasons.  He offered his opinion that I should get paid for what I do.  I said to him, "I appreciate that.  I just didn't want to accept any help until I'd cleared the air between us."  
That's when he replied with the quote I wrote down above.  
This was the breaking point.  The climax of the story.  We talked some more about various things.  I kept noticing that I was feeling lighter.  My nervousness, which I couldn't understand before, was gone.  All the things I'd heard throughout the convention, all the advice the panelists gave, all the points of view I had encountered talking to other writers and artists, all seemed to make sense.  
Except for the thing about the corpses.  I still don't get that.  
So...  Here it is.  My pitch.  
Hi.  I'm Erick.  I'm a 54 year old nerd that beings practicing at it for about 40 of those years.  I'm into spaceships, aliens, the idea that something lives in the shadows of my room and the belief we don't escape from reality into this realm as we do revel in an alternate dimension to find the power to change or endure what reality inflicts on us.  I am the wizened old shaman of the tribe, who has seen and imagined more things than those that are just starting out on their path.  I will do my best to bring that wisdom to whatever project I put my magic to.  
That's my pitch.  Hope you like it.