The Night I Had Dinner With Harlan Ellison

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Most writers are blessed with wonderful delusions of grandeur and consequently, we think everything we write is better than most of our peers. However, even the most arrogant of writers still have one or two idols. The men and women we admire for their craft. The ones we look up to. The ones we have to admit are better than us and we wish we could one day get a glimpse of the plateau upon which their writing resides. For me, those idols are Ray Bradbury and Harlan Ellison.

For Harlan Ellison, that idolized writer was Cornell Woolrich.

Harlan Ellison once wrote a story about the night he met Cornell Woolrich.

Now, I have a confession to make – I never heard of Cornell Woolrich until I read the story Harlan wrote about meeting him. That made me feel a little ashamed – to know nothing about the idol of my idol. I need to go read some stories by Cornell Woolrich.

Harlan should be a lot more famous too.

People who love to read and who are into fantasy and science fiction and comic books have all heard of Harlan Ellison. Unfortunately, no one else has. After I met the man I began to excitedly tell people, “I met Harlan Ellison! He invited me to dinner with him!”

Only one of my friends congratulated me and said, “You did what!? That’s amazing! How did you meet him? You’re so lucky!”

Everyone else said, “Who?”

When you’re misanthropic to begin with, it doesn’t bode well for your love of humanity when no one has heard of one of the few people you admire.

Look, if you don’t know who Harlan is, do yourself a favor and go watch some of his videos. Then, pick up a copy of “The Essential Ellison” and read it.

So, how did I meet Harlan? The story goes like this…

In the Fall of 2013, I started a blog called “InkShard” as a way to try to promote myself as a writer and sell some books. Among the videos I was creating, I decided to do some book reviews of other authors.

One of the first books I reviewed was a huge 1500 page book of short stories from Harlan Ellison called “The Essential Ellison.”

After posting my review, I decided to promote it on a message forum on Harlan’s official website. I didn’t think much of it. I figured maybe some of his fans might check out my video and that would be the end of it.

Well, as it turns out, Harlan himself read my review and he loved it. The next day, he posted a reply asking me for a printed copy.

What!?

Let me again emphasize how important Harlan is to me. Growing up, I had two authors I admired. Ray Bradbury. Harlan Ellison. These men were gods. I read their books. I watched their interviews. I saw their movies. I was obsessed with their TV shows. Most of my predominant influences in storytelling all revolved around projects these two men created. Bradbury and Ellison had a command of language I could only dream of attaining. Their vocabulary, their poignant verisimilitude, far exceeded anything I ever accomplished. My most brilliant writing was a mere kindergarten story next to their majestic verse.

So, when Harlan responded personally to me, asking for a copy of my review, I nearly fell out of my chair. This was like being an aspiring astronaut and having Neil Armstrong say he wanted a copy of a book report you did on him.

The part that freaked me out the most was that he asked me to call him.

Call him!? On the telephone? Speak to him?

Funny thing was, Harlan didn’t give me his number. He just challenged me to find it. Said I was a smart guy and I’d figure it out.

He was right. I found it. But I didn’t call right away.

Let me reiterate, I’m an arrogant bastard. No one impresses me. No one makes me starstruck. I’ve worked on movies with big celebrities and been friends with TV stars. I don’t give a damn about that stuff. But as a writer, meeting someone who has contributed to inspiring my greatest passion, that was astonishing. You have to understand, even if I had a chance to meet the most famous of authors like Stephen King or J.K. Rowling, I wouldn’t care. As much as I love Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling simply hasn’t influenced me like Harlan has. I felt like I was 14 years old, calling a girl for the first time. Okay. Calm down. Relax. Play it cool. Don’t get all weird and fanboy on him. Just be normal. Casual. Act like you call Harlan all the time. Yeah. No big deal. Your idol wants to hear from you. That happens everyday. Right. Okay. Just chill out and don’t act bizarre. Keep it brief. Professional.

When I finally mustered the courage to cal, he didn’t answer. His wife Susan answered and took a message for me.

Later that afternoon, my phone rang. 5:20pm. January 14, 2014. The name on my caller ID said, “Harlan Ellison”.

Holy. Crap.

When I answered the phone, he didn’t even say hello.

“Muss-Barnes. So what’s the story there? Were you married? What’s the deal?”

Honestly, it was a relief. By not even saying hello, all my nervousness went right out the window. Before I could stop to think, he had already pulled me into a conversation. I explained that my parents were not married and “Muss” was my mother’s name and “Barnes” was my father’s name. All through gradeschool and highschool, I was “Eric Muss” and I never liked the sound of that.

Harlan agreed. “Oh. Yeah. Not so good.”

So, I decided to add my father’s name and turn it into “Muss-Barnes” which Harlan agreed makes me sound like royalty.

Next thing I knew, Harlan was inviting me to his next book signing. I was stunned.

Harlan asked, “Do you know where Blastoff Comics is at?”

“Yeah! I’m literally 2 blocks away. I can walk there! It’s right at the end of my street.”

Needless to say, I was over the moon, as my grandmother used to say. A mere 4 days later, I arrived at Blastoff Comics where Harlan took one look at me and said, “Eric!” And shook my hand as if we had been friends for decades. I met a girl named Harley who worked at the shop and I won a contest they were having to name all graphic novels, books, and awards won by Harlan.

I even have video proof of the day, published by Blastoff Comics.

As the day dragged on, I was getting ready to leave. I actually had to get down to Orange County to go to the Girl’s Combi Contest at Vans Skatepark. For those who don’t know, I’m a lifelong skateboarder and a longtime supporter of women’s skateboarding. I’m proud to say that I know and skate with many of the girls who show up for the contest. Some of the greatest female skaters in the world. Girls like Julz Lynn and Sarah Thompson and Allysha Berdago and Lizzie Armanto. The Combi Contest is the single largest female skateboarding competition in the world and you have to be invited to attend. I couldn’t miss the contest.

Then, Harlan announced they were going out to dinner that evening, and I was welcome to accompany them.

I nearly passed out.

My favorite author just invited me out to dinner?

Guess I was going to miss the Combi Contest that year.

Later I would learn I’m not the only writer Harlan has done this kind of thing for. There are dozens of accounts of Harlan opening his home to people and treating writers with immense hospitality. Harlan has a reputation for his anger and vitriol but there is one simple thing that most people fail to understand: Only people who are filled with immense love and kindness can become so angry. Those who truly love their fellow man are the ones who become so exasperated with the stupidity of humanity. You see it in people like George Carlin and Harlan Ellison and if you look really closely, you see it in me too. People like Harlan are rife with rage because the glorious potential of what mankind could become is too often tainted by what humans choose to be. That is why a man like Harlan is such a warm and kind and giving soul to the good guys. Those in whom he recognizes a kinship. When he sees that you get it, that endears you to him. When you prove to be a mindless jackass, he has no patience for you.

That night was truly living a dream. Have you ever seen an interview with a beloved celebrity and they tell a tale of an entourage of people having dinner and as a fan, you just desperately wished you could be there? Celebrities seem to do that all the time. They go out to dinner and there are 20 people at the table and the night is filled with vibrant conversations and hilarious tales that can never be repeated.

That was me. After living in Hollywood for over a decade, I finally got to experience that kind of evening for the first time. I was finally in an entourage. Being surrounded by that kind of camaraderie and vitality is an experience that makes me insanely jealous of celebrities. I don’t care about mansions and fancy parties or expensive cars. Those things don’t remotely impress me. But an intimate dinner where intriguing people really interact and connect with one another, that is something I wish I could live once a week. Unfortunately, it looks like it will prove to be once-in-a-lifetime.

As I said earlier, Harlan made it very clear to me that night, there were yarns spun around that breaking of bread which I was not to repeat. Harlan made me look him dead in the eye and vow I would honor that request. Harlan and I are old school Cleveland boys. Midwest values. Downhome sensibility. We both understand that honorable men don’t need written contracts or even handshakes. You look someone square in the eye and make a promise and that’s enough. Word is bond. Therefore, regrettably, I can not tell you some of the more hilarious tales he told. I can say this – Harlan has lived one hell of an amazing life. No matter how big of an adventure your life may be, chances are good that Harlan has you beat.

Midway through our evening, there was a moment when Harlan explained why he invited me out to dinner. Again, I won’t repeat the whole story leading up to that moment, because I swore to not repeat the tales told at that table. But I will say that at one point, Harlan told me I was there, breaking bread with him, because I had earned it.

Great authors are not great because they have an incredible command of language. Great writers are great because they understand how to distill the essence of the human condition into simple terms and articulate universal truths with an eloquence the rest of us can never quite vocalize. One can not attain that kind of insight into the human spirit unless one has an innate gift of reading the human heart. I don’t know if Harlan could read my heart and see my need for acceptance, or if he simply knew all struggling writers yearn for that validation. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. All that matters is that his tiny act of kindness, his brief words of encouragement, meant everything to me. He never complimented my writing. He never said I was any good. What he said was far better. He said I understood his writing and that I had earned my place at his table. Few feelings on earth are better than being valued and acknowledged by those you admire. For the first time in my life, I felt like maybe I’m not crashing the party of life. Maybe someone invited me. Maybe I’m supposed to be here. Maybe somebody actually wanted me to show up.

I have attained so many dreams in my life. I have published numerous novels. I became a hang glider pilot. I moved to California. I worked for years at Walt Disney Studios. I’ve had a tragic lovelife, worthy of a Shakespeare play. That could have turned out better, but it was certainly interesting. I’m even building a small home on a vast amount of land, just like I always dreamed. But the one dream I never accomplished, the oldest dream of all, was to make a living as writer.

You know, I never feel like I’ve accomplished much of anything in my life. I’ve never really yearned for validation from the world. I have long since accepted that I am someone who will never be appreciated for anything I achieve. So when one of the only people I idolize actually praised my efforts, it meant the world to me.

As we left the restaurant that night, and everyone was walking back to their cars, Harlan put his arm around my shoulder and asked if he was what I expected him to be. I told him I never thought he would be any different, because I always had faith that he was truly being himself. That night just proved I was right.

He told me he’d invite me over his house sometime and I was over the moon at such an invitation. I couldn’t believe it. Really? My favorite author was going to have me over his house? I would be a guest at the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars? I couldn’t wait. It was the perfect end to a perfect day.

That wasn’t the only night I met Harlan. I have seen him twice since then – once at a science fiction convention and another at a Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society meeting where he was a guest speaker. In fact, on that night, he signed a copy of my novel, The Page of Wands, which I dedicated to him, and I donated it to the LASFS library. He also flipped my novel open to a random page and read a sentence out loud. I’ll never forget which sentence it was. Page 247.

“Madame Fabulous glared and telekinetically lifted Ellen Daniels and her cameraman off of the ground and stuffed them back into their newsvan amidst much screaming, flailing, and protesting.”

You know how terrifying it is for your favorite author to read part of your novel out loud to a room filled with 200 science fiction fans? I was mortified. But Harlan remarked that it was a “pretty good” sentence and he seemed pleased with it, although he noted the word “back” was redundant. Didn’t need it. Crap. He was right.

Harlan never did invite me over the house. I knew that would never happen after I saw him the second time and he admitted to a fan that he “lies a lot”. The moment he said that, I knew the invitation would never come.

I’m disappointed that I will never see the Lost Aztec Temple of Mars, but I can’t complain. Harlan owes me nothing. He already showed me far more kindness and courtesy than I ever dared to expect. Besides, I’ve dated plenty of girls in my life who said they loved me, then walked away. Harlan lying about having me visit the house is not a big deal. The lies of women are a lot more painful.

Speaking of heartbreaking ladies, I once deeply loved a girl who hated my InkShard blog. Still love her, actually. She called InkShard a waste of time and said I came across as arrogant and negative. Told me I was full of myself and I’d sell a lot more books and get a lot more dates if I was more humble.

I didn’t create InkShard to sell books. And I sure as hell didn’t create it to get dates. I made InkShard to share my opinions on writing. To explore the beauty of language. To offer angry rants on unfair aspects of creativity that all artists can feel a kinship with. I fully expect some people will think I’m a lame jackass and others will think I’m a right swell fella. I don’t have time, nor the inclination, to worry about which percentage of my audience will be the greater of the two. Whether I inspire endearment or estrangement, I can’t control how people will react.

The truth of the matter is, I don’t care if my blog and my videos never win me a single reader or it scares away all potential girlfriends. Because all thanks to InkShard, I already got to meet my idol. Harlan Ellison. The only living writer I truly admire. That girl who said InkShard was a waste of time was so wrong. InkShard allowed me to achieve a dream I never imagined would come true and therefore, of all the projects I have created in my life, InkShard is one of the greatest successes I have ever known.

Thank you so much, Harlan. From a fellow Cleveland kid to another, I thank you with all my heart. Even if we never meet again, I will forever be grateful for the kindness you have shown me when we did. Bless you, good sir. I know you’re an atheist, so I can’t say God bless, but I do wish you blessings by the grace of whatever decency and love exists in the world.

Why should writers use verisimilitude?

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“If you’ll accept my messianic fervor as regards the reason for writing, then it follows that creating (not real, but) verisimilitudinous people – go look up the word verisimilitude now – is mandatory. It also requires very nearly more art than any other aspect of writing. It entails keen observation of people, attention to detail, the eschewing of cynicism, the total flensing from your mind of any kind of bigotry, wide knowledge of habit patterns and sociological underpinnings for otherwise irrational or overfamiliar habits, cultural trends, familiarity with dress and speech and physical attributes, fads, psychology and the ways in which people say things other than what they mean.”
– Harlan Ellison

There is no shame for me in admitting, I had to pull out the dictionary for “verisimilitude” just like Harlan instructed. Remember, there is never any shame in a lack of knowledge, there is only shame in willful ignorance. There’s nothing wrong with not knowing something. What you should find embarrassing and humiliating is lacking the desire to learn. Not bothering to pull out the dictionary – that should make you feel like an idiot.

Once I knew what the heck he was talking about, I saw Harlan was right about verisimilitude being totally essential to great writing. Ask any experienced writers for advice and one of the pearls they will often bequeath is “truth” is essential. Beyond that, they often fail to elaborate.

This is truthful writing:
The sky is blue. Blue made him nostalgic.

Then you have:
The sky shone azure in a hue reminiscent of eyes like the first girl he ever kissed, when he was 10 years old, on summer beaches of Cape Cod.

That’s verisimilitude, kids. Visceral writing. Make the untrue feel alive.

But here’s the trick – knowing when to use those sentences. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar and sometimes the sky is just blue. For example, if your characters have spent the entire story locked down in a dungeon of solitary confinement in a grey and miserable prison, simply stating the sky was blue can be a powerful punch to the gut. Context is everything. If every single detailed description you write starts to get filled with anecdotes of Cape Cod, the reader will get bogged down. You know the old saying, “Too much of anything is a bad thing.” Sure, poetic descriptions can be lovely and will paint a glorious picture. However, you don’t want to overdo it either. You want your writing to paint a picture the readers can see. You don’t want to splash so much paint on your canvas it becomes a blob of tasteless modern art.

When I wrote How You Can Get a Job at Walt Disney Studios Without a College Degree one of the things I promise readers at the beginning of the story is truth and honesty. The book would disclose all of my working experiences, leading me up to Disney. Unbeknownst to me as I was writing it (because I didn’t have the word in my vocabulary), I also sought to imbue the story with a great deal of verisimilitude. My love of writing and storytelling is for fiction, not journalism. So, I couldn’t write a book like How You Can Get a Job at Walt Disney Studios Without a College Degree as if it were a newspaper article, just filled with facts and statistics. The book had to be written like a novel; with short stories and anecdotes and vibrant descriptions of my experiences. This was a memoir, a vocational autobiography, if you will; not a news report.

Even a story about real life has to be instilled with the power to breathe.

Therein lies the problem many authors face. They think just because a story really happened, it automatically has verisimilitude.

No, no, no. Living an experience is really happening. Reading about an experience is never real. Reading is always happening inside mind of the reader. As an author, your challenge is to make the story in their head feel like an experience they can taste and touch and love. Storytelling is always the same, regardless if it’s fiction or non-fiction – it must capture the emotions of the audience. They have to give a damn. Otherwise, you’re not a storyteller, you’re a file clerk, just stamping out the cold, hard facts with no emotional connection to them whatsoever. Don’t relegate your stories to the emotional-equivalent of a manila folder.

Giving that tangible element to writing is like the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, when Indy is rubbing his thumb across his fingertips, searching a tactile intuition to discover the exact counterweight of sand required to replace the Chachapoyan Fertility Idol. I can’t tell you how many times in life that scene has played in my head, searching for the perfect balance to prevent the temple from collapsing and squashing me into goo.

For me, it is the poetry of verisimilitude that distinguishes good writing from great writing. The poetry of verisimilitude is where the “telling” in “storytelling” is honed. Therein lies the art of creating a tale with resonance. Telling a “true story” isn’t even enough. It’s not about writing things that are true, it’s about writing things that feel true. Things that feel genuine.

True story:
I walked to the store.

Not a true story:
I walked to the car dealership where all the salesmen still wore polyester pants from 1957 and the showroom smelled of cigars and scotch, like my granduncle’s patio.

You can tell a story that’s true, and boring, or you can tell a story that’s not true, yet completely alive. The emotional connection is what must feel truthful.

Verisimilitude, kids; it doesn’t need to be true, it needs to feel real.

What are some of your favorite examples of gorgeous writing that really pulls you into the story in a visceral way? Which lines have stuck with you long after the story was finished? What quotes from stories made you stunned or jealous of how eloquently something was phrased?

“The difference between the right word and the almost-right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”
– Mark Twain

How A Firefly Browncoat Changed My Life

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“Thank your readers and the critics who praise you, and then ignore them. Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself.”
– Harlan Ellison
 

This is a story about fandom and how I’ve never been one. A fan that is. I’ve been dumb(dom) plenty of times, just ask my ex-girlfriends.

When I had the opportunity, I met Ray Bradbury, one of my lifelong writing heroes, in the Fall of 2007, at the Walt Disney Studios. Although I’ve spent most of my professional career at the Disney Studios, at the time, I had only been working for Walt Disney for a little over a year. Around early October, word had gone out via a flier resembling Mr. Dark’s Pandemonium Carnival tickets, there would be a free special Halloween screening of Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes at the theatre on the Studio Lot with special guest… Ray Bradbury himself. An event that was not open to the public. Only to Disney Cast Members.

I nearly fell out of my chair.

What?

Was this really happening?

Did I just read that right!?

Working at Walt Disney Studios was my dream since childhood. Something Wicked This Way Comes is one of my favorite films of all time. Ray Bradbury is one of my biggest idols as a writer. I’d get to see his movie, and meet the man, at the theatre on the Walt Disney lot, while I’m working for Disney!? At Halloween, no less! Talk about a dream come true! That night happened over 6 years ago and I still get shivers right now as I’m thinking about it.

During the movie, I kept stealing glances over at Ray Bradbury and my mind was blown. Because all those thoughts just kept repeating in my head. “I work for Walt Disney. I’m at the Studio. I’m watching Something Wicked This Way Comes with Ray Bradbury! He’s sitting 10 feet away from me! Holy crap! This is the coolest thing ever!”

I said I’ve never been a fan of anything and that is true – in the most literal sense of the words; “fan” being short for “fanatic”, I can honestly say that although I’ve enjoyed many authors and movies and the work of many celebrities, I’ve never been “fanatical” about any of those things. I’ve never been a diehard obsessive superfan nutjob. Despite a childhood that contained comic books and all-night-sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, and an active membership in the Society for Creative Anachronism, I was never a fanboy. I had a legit geek card. I did all the things geeks were supposed to do. I enjoyed these things. They were fun. But they never felt like essential facets of my being. To be honest, people who were fanatic Trekkies or gamers or cosplayers, all seemed pretty strange to me. Despite the fact I was one of the charter members of my high school science fiction club (heck, I even coined the name for the damn thing, “Mindrealms”) and I blended in with geek culture and I held the same interests, I never felt connected the way true fans did. Yes, I admit I’m the kind of person who would wear a Jedi robe and bring a lightsaber to a Star Wars movie premiere, but when I look over at the people who spend 200 hours building a Stormtrooper costume I think, “Wow, what a nerd.”

Even when I met Ray Bradbury, I didn’t act like a fan. I didn’t know how.

When the film was over, Ray gave a speech in front of the screen (if you’re a Bradbury fan, I can tell you it was the Mr. Electrico story, and you’ll know what I’m talking about) and a huge line of people began to form up the aisle. They wanted to get posters and books signed. Typical fans. Looking to collect an autograph.

As an aside – oh, this pissed me off – we all had to wait about 10 minutes extra, because some asshole executive from Disney was hoarding Mr. Bradbury’s time and wouldn’t stop talking to him. Fucking business suit prick earning his 6-figures thinks he’s special to monopolize Mr. Bradbury’s time with a room of 120 people waiting? Fuck you. How dare you be so inconsiderate to Ray Bradbury and a full theatre of people, you lousy piece of shit. No idea who the fuck that balding self-important cocksmoker was, I just hope he sees this commentary and I pray he’s no longer at Disney and is managing 3 people at toxic waste company where demonfucks like him belong.

Anyway, I was right up in the front row, so I was the first person to greet Mr. Bradbury. (The executive I just mentioned doesn’t qualify as a “person”, he was slime.) I walked up to Ray Bradbury and shook his hand and said, “Hello, Ray. My name is Eric.”

“Hello, Eric. Good to meet you,” he said.

“You too. I just wanted to shake your hand and say thank you. Thank you for everything.”

He looked at me strangely, a bit confused, then he slowly seemed to understand and said, “Oh, well, uh, you’re welcome. You’re welcome.”

“Take care. See you around.” I smiled and walked away.

“You too.”

And that was it. I left. The whole crowd just stared at me. Dozens of people watched me walk up the aisle, as though I were wearing a naked-Hollywood-starlet corpse as a hat.

That was all? Fifteen seconds? I didn’t try talking to him as long as possible? I didn’t ask him any questions? I didn’t have him sign anything? I just shook Ray Bradbury’s hand and said, “Thank you?” People were astonished. What the hell was that all about? Who does that? No one had any idea what just happened.

Look, he was Ray freaking Bradbury. He owed me nothing. I had no right to request an autograph. I had no right to monopolize his time. I had no right to ask him for anything. Here was a gentleman who has given my life so much, that the only person who had a debt to pay in that encounter was me. He was due my thanks. He was due my gratitude for all he had done. For a lifetime of stories. Ray Bradbury didn’t owe me autographs or conversations. He didn’t owe me a thing, so I wouldn’t dare to ask. Ray Bradbury may not have inspired me to become a writer, but he inspired me to strive to be a great one.

The point of this story is to convey the simple fact that even a meeting with my literary hero was a mellow moment. There was no hyperventilating. No tears. No trembling. There isn’t a soul on earth would ever make me that excited to meet them (…with the possible exception of Aly Michalka – whose preternatural radiance would likely reduce my reputable suave charm into the stuttering blather of a lovesick puppy). I digress, as usual.

This is why I never related to hardcore fans. Even as a fan, I don’t behave the way everyone else does. My passions are different.

Then, one day, a hardcore fan finally helped me to understand what I had been missing all this time…

Chuck Evans is a southern gentleman who was interviewed on the Done the Impossible documentary about the television show Firefly.

During his interview, talking about how upset he was when Firefly was canceled, he gets choked up and comes close to tears. His wife chimes in and says it’s been hard on him.

That was a powerful experience for me. A grown man crying over a television show? Are you kidding me? And why wasn’t his wife immediately filing for divorce from this sissy?

That was when the realization hit me. For the first time in my entire life, I got it. I was ashamed of myself. I had been so blind. I was so oblivious. At long last, I recognized what I truly was – I saw myself as a devil. I was a fallen angel. In the words of Captain Reynolds, “Oh, I’m going to the special hell.”

The vital lesson I was taught – the reason I’ve never become so consumed by fandom is because I am one of the creators of these fantastical worlds. That’s my purpose. I could never find myself consumed by the creations of others, because I’m more interested in devoting that kind of passion into manifesting my own work.

But not everyone is like me. I am part of an elite an infinitesimally tiny faction of society.

Most people are like Chuck Evans.

Most people need to uplift themselves in our creations. They need to live in our worlds.

That’s why we’re here. That’s why we make those worlds. We’re here to enrich the lives of all the Chuck Evans’ on this earth. Thus, I am the angel sent to save people. A music maker. A dreamer of dreams. But instead, I ridiculed them. I was to play the minstrel, but mocked them for dancing to the music. I had become one of The Fallen. I had forgotten my true purpose.

In that moment, I inescapably understood why people become fans. In that moment, I figured out what this stuff means to them. Despite being around these people all my life, I never knew. Now I saw why I could dress in medieval garb at a renaissance faire and feel like I was exactly where I belonged… and yet, feel I was an impostor. Why I was an outcast among the outcasts. All this while, I would play in the worlds other people create, but for some people, those worlds are home. They don’t play in them. They live in them. The realms we create mean more to them than I ever realized and I never saw that until I viewed it through the prism of Chuck Evans tears. The responsibility I have really hit me in a way it never had before. Once and for all, I understood why I always felt a kindred with these people, yet at the same time, felt like a pariah who couldn’t relate to them.

I felt like such a dick. Have you ever experienced that? Discovering you were a total asshole and not even being aware of it? Being an asshole deliberately is one thing. That’s fine. Heartbreaking and embarrassing to discover you were being an asshole unintentionally.

I’m like The Operative in Serenity – I’m not meant to live in the perfect world, I’m just meant to create it for others to live in. I am a monster.

There are those who would say equating myself with angelic purpose is a massively delusional pretentiousness, skirting dangerously close to a God Complex. To which I can gently reply, “Fuck off.” Knowing who I am doesn’t require your stamp of approval. Nor does your opinion invalidate my convictions. Screw you. You can’t take the sky from me.

All my life, I have said I love my fans. That wasn’t a lie. I meant it. Sure, I would mock superfans who geek out over television shows and movies and comics, but I never did that toward my own fans. Heck, truth be told, I never encountered a fan who expressed that kind of passion for my work. Now, I’m starting to think, touching people that deeply may be the level of emotional connection I should have always be striving to achieve.

I finally know who I am. I finally know what I am. I finally know what this stuff means to the fans and, more importantly, why. Harlan Ellison once called writing a “holy chore” and I finally understand what that means.

You know how life lessons tend to beat you over the head over and over, until you finally learn them? Then, after you learn the lesson, you suddenly start spotting it everywhere you look and you’re thinking, “How the fuck was I so oblivious for so long!? It’s all over the place!” Yeah. That’s me. Now I see the wailing, screaming, convulsive sobbing of superfans everywhere I look and I think, “I get it now. I finally get it!”

I know what I am meant to do now and no power in the ‘verse can stop me.

All thanks to one interview, with Mr. Chuck Evans, choking back his tears for Firefly.
 

“We are the music makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers
And sitting by desolate streams;—
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems.”

– Arthur O’Shaughnessy
Ode