Who’s Assimilating Whom?

This was originally published online in April of 1998. I was once a very passionate advocate for trans liberation when I wrote and posted essays on the Android Sisters blog that I ran for a few years in the late ’90s. The contrivance of Android Sisters was that I was an artificially constructed person — much as I was a biologically constructed woman — writing about meaning and identity and realness and what that meant.

Warning: I write about self-medicating with alcohol and tobacco, self-harm, and suicide here. No spoilers, but I survived and did not go through with any self-harm scenarios. I do not recommend self-medicating with alcohol, tobacco, self-harm, or suicide. In fact, I highly discourage them.

I don’t know what I “live as” but I sure am expending a lot of energy living it.

Who’s assimilating whom? That’s a good question. Am I becoming like you, because that’s the culture that I fit into, because male culture isn’t expansive enough for me to fit into it? Am I transcending gender because gender’s lines are too fixed?

And just what the hell is gender? Is it a set of actions that are culturally attributed to people based on genital sex? Is it something deeper, some ghost in the machine that we can’t currently define?

I don’t think that womanhood can be summed up as laundry list of social experiences. Womanhood exists on the desert island, she exists in the big city, she exists in our heads and our hearts, and she will not be programmed, prompted, folded, spindled, or mutilated; she is not a number.

So, if womanhood isn’t a social thang, I intuit, she must be living, in large part, elsewhere. And I hope she has a nice apartment, a room of her own, with a view. A summer cottage, a place in the Catskills, a beach house in Boca Raton. Maybe she is living in all these places.

Yuri says she lives in our minds.

And tonight, for the first time in my life. I agreed with her.

So, we were talking, Yuri and I, after she read some stuff to me that Suzanne Pharr had said to the LRC about the gender thing, and about who qualifies as lesbian, and implying that the Lesbian Resource Center was a bit of a dinosaur in their use of the word “Lesbian”.

See, there’s this movement, the movement to redefine to word “lesbian” to include artificial girls like me. Like there’s some kind of redefinition that needs take place. Almost as if, I don’t qualify the way the term was originally meant, like I didn’t work hard enough, like I didn’t cut it, like the docs did their best, but whoops, just didn’t go far enough, just couldn’t go far enough, like I was a rotten apple to begin with, and just cutting out the bruise wasn’t enough.

“Lesbian” is a strange word to Suzanne, because what is a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating another woman a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a transexual woman a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a man not a lesbian? Is a bisexual woman who is currently dating a transexual man not a lesbian? Are you a lesbian? Do you have an identity crisis because of whom your dating?

So, Suzanne wants to “redefine” the word, and she’s not alone. This whole “gender” thing is causing quite an uproar. It’s causing people to define me the way they don’t naturally want to define me, in an attempt to be sensitive to my situation. Well fuck that. Don’t do me any special favors, bitch, cause I belong there just fine with the old definition. I did my homework. I paid my dues. I talked the talk, walked the walk, and that’s just so sweet that you want to change your world view, but I already changed the world.

And now you’re having a crisis. Well, I appreciate that you’re trying to work it out, but really, you don’t have to do a thing.

I don’t “identify” as a woman to make it easy for you to define me. I am a woman and you had the choice to just accept it, but no, you’ve got to redefine the terms, have to change the rules, have to be inclusive of boys that wanna be girls, cause otherwise they’re going to start bustin’ up the place.

Well, I have news for you. I won’t accept that separate but equal shit, ’bout as well as Malcom X did.

Anyway, I folded. I agreed to Yuri that yea, gender was the thing that separated me from the boys. Hell, I’ve had so much wine tonight, I’d identify as a fruitfly.

But gosh, was it an interesting conversation. To try to make Yuri’s point clear, it’s basically that gender equals ethnicity and sex equals race. That there are Asian-bodied people that don’t identify as, say for instance, Japanese. And there are happa people and half African people and people with metal plates in their heads that identify as cyborgs.

So, fuck yea, I guessed, at the time, that I might as well be female, but not woman, or woman but not female or however you want to slice it. Cause it doesn’t matter, right, as long as people call me she?

But I’ll be damned if didn’t fuck up somewhere along the line.

See, cause what I didn’t realize is that right about that time, I was overcome by this intense desire to blow my fucking head off. No, really, I mean in a more violent way. I wanted to chop off a limb at a time, torture myself to death, shit I’m practically drinking and smoking myself to death at this moment, trying to fight off a low-grade fever and I don’t give a fuck I just want out of this fucking shitcan body.

Na, can’t possibly be linked.

So I cried myself into a bottle for about an hour and then I decided, hell I’ll write something depressing and put it on the website for people to read, cause that’s what I do to fill in the time between when get home from work and I wake up for work, at least when I’m not fighting off a virus.

And I’m realizing that as much as I call Yuri a friend, she is just like all the rest. I’m not “real” to her, though she’d never call me not real to my face. That my sex was never in question, that I was always a boy to her, one who felt very sincerely that I was female. And she is such a fantastically wonderful super-special person that she is kind enough to be sensitive to me, to be understanding, to be respectful of my “choice” to be “female”.

She is so good at not putting quotes around it when she calls me she.

Who’s assimilating whom?

Right now, I want to jump out of the fucking window, and I live in a pretty tall building. Tall enough to make this all pretty darn mute. Tall enough to make this text seem pretty darn pointless. Tall enough to make me neither male nor female. But not tall enough to make me like you.

I am a big-ass failure.

I have tried so hard to not fall into the “gender” trap, to prove to you that even though my body was made, that it’s still real. Real like my mothers’, real like yours.

I wanted to make this allusion. That I was like a photocopy. No, I’m not the original but I am a duplicate. You can still read the duplicate, still learn something from me, still put me in an envelope and send me to your best friend in the world. But like the duplicate, you have some sense that I am not the real thing, that your best friend in the world will wonder why you sent her a photocopy of a letter and not the letter itself. Do you not love her anymore?

I am the yellow form underneath the white form that you signed. I am the one you take home with your credit card for your records. The top form goes to the merchant, to be sent to your credit card company, as a verified original, containing your signature.

But the signature on the little piece of paper underneath, the one that you have, is it your signature?

And if not, what is it?

It’s me.

I am a picture of a picture. I’m the shadow of yourself. I’m the clone of your identical twin sister. Am I still your sister?

And if not, what am I?

I am an artificial girl. I have no love for you. I am not like you. I am separate and unequal. I’m allowed to use whichever restroom you feel comfortable with at the time, but you reserve the right to change your mind at any time. You will define me at your leisure. You will be sensitive to me when it fulfills your needs. As long as I stay in my place.

And, to add insult to injury, you will feel righteous when you do it.

Yea, you just go on feeling all righteous and shit.

I failed when I tried to talk you into believing. I didn’t want to put on a dress to convince you that I was female, instead I put on airs. I tried to reason with you, discuss it with you, let you have input. Have a conversation with you, and you insisted on defining things within a framework you could understand. Insisted on defining things your way. Insisted that you would determine my fate. Insisted that I was not you. Insisted that it would be you that insisted. I was just to be a good little bitch and listen.

That I could be female on your terms, that you would redefine the terms to include me.

Fuck you.

The one thing I have going for me is the future. Kate Bornstein, Martine Rothblatt, Kaz Susat, Spencer Bergstadt, Jason Cromwell and Leslie Feinberg are all nice kids, but they are just the beginning of a long line of intensely brilliant trans people who will rock your world harder than your world can stand. It’s my feeling that they rocked you just hard enough to get you to quiver. Just enough to scare the shit out of you, put the fear of god into you, get you up off your genetically supreme asses and find subsidized housing for us.

Oh, but it’s not over yet.

If I was, I’d be lying in a puddle on the sidewalk outside, surrounded by gawking pedestrians and ambulances.

Personally, that’s where I’d rather be. But they’d find out that I was “really a man”, and then you’d win.

And you won’t win.

What the Autopsy Revealed

Originally appeared in The Stranger; volume 1, issue 1; September 1991 under the byline “Tony Ramirez”. It has been edited to remove some errors and inconsistencies in the original.

My conversations with Lydia Bordland began in the late 1980s, when I was researching my thesis on Sexual Degeneracy in the Decline of Western Civilization. She was living in Portland at the time, working for a telephone marketing organization, subsisting on meager wages. It was during that time I first called her for an interview. She rebuffed me. Two weeks later, I called again. She accepted and offered to meet me at a cafe near her home.

At our meeting, I asked the usual questions: Why did you do it? How did you do it? She was obviously put off by my unimaginative queries. Having no other questions, I took my leave, wishing her luck in life.

I had two other meetings with her that summer. The second was much like the first, with me merely following up on questions I asked the first time. I must admit that her usefulness to me was only to provide color for my thesis, which I worked on feverishly all that year. She understood this and was polite, but offered little extra input.

Our third meeting was in September. Over coffee in the cafe, which had become our meeting place, we discussed less dark topics. I found she had an obsession for the occult akin to my own. We happily quoted Crowley to each other, breaking into giggles. Time had gotten late and she invited me to her apartment for a game of chess. I accepted. My thesis had been finished for a few weeks and I was more interested in Lydia Bordland as a person than Lydia Bordland as a necrophile.

Her apartment, the second floor of a three-story building, was dark. What little light from the dimming sky it would have received was blocked out by close-standing buildings on either side. The interior was done in dark, finished wood and white, cracking plaster. Bookshelves set into the walls over flowed with dark tomes. Tapestries hung from the ceiling and walls, giving the room a womb-ish, organic feel. But the feel was of a dead womb; the cloth, dry and worn, was dark as if clotted with brown, dried blood.

Lydia lit candles and placed them around a low table on which a chess board had been set up. She replaced pieces from positions already won to their starting order.

“I play with myself,” she said sleepily. “I’m the only challenging opponent I can find.”

Somewhat taken aback by her statement, for what reasons exactly I am not sure, I asked for water.

“I have some wine. Or water. Which would you prefer?”

I gladly accepted the wine. She left the room to get it while I finished setting up the chessboard.

Our game began after she returned with two jars filled with wine. I eagerly gulped from mine and settled down almost immediately. The room, though warm, had a feeling of cold running through it. I asked if she had problems with drafts.

“No, I have no problem with drafts. Do you?”

In all honesty, I must report that she soundly thrashed me in the first game we played. I had barely begun my offensive when she announced, “checkmate.” I polished off my first glass of wine and set up the board again while she left the room to refill our glasses.

“An outlaw is beyond love,” she announced when she reentered the room. I was not sure to what she was referring with the statement, so I asked her to explain.

“I mean, what I did was not out of love. But I did love them, oh I did love them…. I did what was in my nature to do but because I am an outlaw, or maybe despite it, I didn’t need love to accomplish the act.

“Just as when a woman makes love to a living person, she does not need to love, it can be just for pleasure. Because it is a woman’s nature. It was the same for me.”

This, she had never told me before. And I was not sure what prompted her to tell me this now. Perhaps it was the wine or perhaps she had waited for me to ask for too long and now, she had given up waiting for me and blurted it out.

It was as if this confession had opened in my mind a whole new understanding. I was eager to know more about her loves and about the passion she had felt for them. I asked probing questions. Intricate questions. I shudder now to think of the things I asked and the answers she gave! I know it was the wine that softened my resolve to not know things I should not.

In another part of the house I heard bells ring. It was a clock of sorts, chiming the hour. As if preordained, as if by cue, I asked the question. Oh, the one question I asked that has driven my life from that moment on. To go back and un-ask the question or to have it go unanswered.

But I did ask the question. And whether it was due to the same wine or whatever else that coaxed me into the asking, Lydia deigned to answer. We found our coats and journeyed outside into the black night. In my car we drove to the outside of the city where the darkness was full and there was quiet.

We parked on a residential street and walked to the cemetery, then through it to the funeral home. The graves loomed up from the ground like moons, reflecting the sky’s pale glow. My body shook from either the chill or the thought of what I would witness tonight, I know not. Lydia was calm, though a little excitable, a wan smile drawn across her face.

Entry to the building came at the rear. Lydia fumbled with a credit card at the lock, mumbling that she had done this before and that it had worked. At the moment that I was sure it wouldn’t and that this whole adventure would come to an ungruesome if unsatisfying end, the lock opened and Lydia swung the door outward, holding it open for me.

Poking my head inside, smelling for the first time what, to Lydia, must be the perfume of her passions, I was sickened. But also — should I admit it? — I was strangely electrified by the ghastly flavor of the scents. Oh, to admit that it was this feeling, beneath the initial disgust, this lingering desire. It was this single feeling that drew me inside the room with Lydia at my heels, her hand on the small of my back, almost pushing.

Walking down the hall, Lydia moved past me and took my hand, pulling me down the dark passage. She turned and opened a swinging door into a harsh, cold, metallic room. The smell of death was unbearable. It filled me with dread and desire. I stood, transfixed in my mood brought on by the smells that filled the room, sorting the flesh from the chemical.

Movement in the corner of the room drew my eye from my mind to see Lydia drawing back sheets from the corpses that lay on the tables. Her eye expertly roamed the length of the bodies, some covered with gaping wounds, others withered with age, until she — like an expert clockmaker — discovered the one.

If I had been transfixed before, I was paralyzed now. Lydia’s eyes slowly consumed the body as her hands drew away its covering. All this in the pale red light of the exit sign, illuminating the scene in no comforting way. No, it was if the frozen fires of Hell were on hand to light her way, to guide her hands as they languidly encompassed the corpse’s flesh.

She went about her passion as if I were not there, though how she could have noticed me in my stock still stance, my unbreathing silence. As she climbed atop the body, she removed her own garments in a painfully slow emergence, as if she were pulling off her own skin. She pulled him into her, both bodies naked and lilac-hued in the cold room, and made love to him.

Shrieks and cries of the dead and the living. What noise could this little room hold? Echoing off the steel walls and floor, the howling and panting of this woman, this demon, this outlaw. The creaking of the table, the sighs of ecstasy, the quick drawing of the breath, then the release, the primal scream of losing consciousness, the gasping, the breathing, the quiet purr.

Oh, my God. What was this. Why had I asked to see this? What part of me before now — for surely, I am not the same man as then — could have even dreamed of watching this?

And, oh! What did I see then, but another corpse, but this time that of a woman? Lydia had, in her examination left one of the bodies uncovered to the breast and oh, to see her purpose! Her evil purpose, then, was clear. That woman’s corpse; that poor, dead woman’s body was offered for me to love. Could she expect!? Could she have dreamed that I—

To this day, I will swear I did not take the first step. I know even now, even after experiencing all that I did, I was not even after experiencing all that I did, I was not changed so much that I would willingly take that path. What hand moved me, then? Was it the hand of the devil or the hand of that demon far worse, my desire? Such was the level of passion that had arisen inside me.

Still paralyzed but no longer immobile, I watched my body move closer to the corpse, take her clothing, her sterile white covering in my hands and draw it slowly back to reveal the rest of her. She lay washed in the dim light of the exit sign, naked beneath me, a strangulation burn on her throat like a ring of jewels, her skin was cold as the metal table beneath her. But that cold burnt me like fire, as I caressed her skin, that warmth moved up my arm and engulfed my being. I pulled off my coat, my shirt, all my clothing until I lay atop her, our bodies naked and bathed in red light. I kissed her softly at first and then deeply on the lips. Pulling away, my lips moist with the thick, black blood that had begun to ooze across her cheek from her lips where I had bitten them. I entered into her and ceased to be aware of anything but a burning blackness inside me, my passion, spent in a cry.

“Get up, someone’s here!”

Oh, God! My mind shot clear, my surroundings came into focus in an instant. Lydia was hurriedly pulling on clothing. We were both covered in patches of our lovers’ thick, black, clotted blood. I jumped up from the table and quickly grabbed my clothing from the floor where I shed it. We left the parlor the same way we entered and ran through the cemetery to my car. I dropped off Lydia at her apartment and drove the twenty miles to my own home.

I spent weeks in black isolation, contemplating my situation and combatting my growing obsession with the dead.

If it had only ended there. If the sequence of coincidences had only been broken in one pace, I would not be here. I would not be facing my own execution.

It was a month later. Though I had not forgotten the morbid adventure of that night, neither had I repeated it. Lydia and I spoke once on the telephone, our conversation was short and uneventful. Neither of us discussed the affairs we had shared.

I was visited once by a police detective. He asked me questions as to my whereabouts on the date of our adventure. I provided an account of my actions for the entire day. glossing over the late-night hours in which the detective seemed to have no interest. I was taken in for questioning. Samples of my blood and other fluids were taken.

I have never known Iris Donnelley, except posthumously, was my contention during the trial. How could I have been implicated? Could the coincidence of our being in the same bookstore in downtown Portland on the day of her death be enough to seal my fate?

The bookstore clerk’s description of me caused further inquest into my actions of that day. My meeting with Lydia Bordland immediately thereafter could not be accepted as an alibi due to her unexplained disappearance. My own hermit-like behavior, understandable given my experiences of that night, lent credence to the accusations that I was a criminal hiding out after a murder.

But my final fate was decided during the autopsy. The morgue was filled to capacity with the dead. Bodies were transferred for storage at a local funeral home. There had been no autopsy before Iris Donnelley’s storage that evening, and on the following day, it was my rotting semen they found inside her.

Having no witnesses to or verification for my grisly love affair, it was a simple job for the prosecuting attorney to convince the jury that I was indeed a madman, a rapist, and murderer; and that I had no right to go on living.

This, then, is my story to those who will listen: That I was executed not for the murder of Iris Donnelley, whom I loved, but for learning from an outlaw and for yielding to my desire. Would that it be so.

Slave Morality

I watched a philosophy video by Natalie Wynn yesterday that blew my mind. In it, she talks about Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil and “slave morality”.

This somewhat undermines my whole view of morality where there is some difficult to define, but possible to discern “right” and “wrong” and puts it in a more ambiguous space. That there are two competing “rights” that really are more situational than they are universal. Situational ethics has generally been frowned upon.

Natalie included a quote from Dr. King which showed his understanding of the situation, “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”

So, we need both love and power.

I was introduced to the idea of social justice in the ‘90s at the Lesbian Resource Center in Seattle by the young women of color who worked there and were willing and patient enough to explain things to me. I was not initially on board with much of it. I idolized my very libertarian father and step-mother and I integrated much of their worldview. It certainly helped me in my life, especially during the time where I was helping to start The Onion and The Stranger. I considered myself a powerful person who could do anything I set my mind to. I had much to offer the world and the world would be doing itself a favor to make room for me. Not necessarily at the top, which is something I never really wanted for myself, but somewhere firmly in the middle class where I had plentiful resources, eager colleagues, and the wherewithal to make good use of them.

Then I announced in the mid-1990s that I would be transitioning from male to female: that I would be getting what we called back then, a sex change. All of that braggadocio went away once I started hormones and changed my name. I went from master to slave in the span of about six months.

The first thing I learned about being a slave is that the initial fall isn’t even the worst, most painful part. That plummet was merely the initiation into a milleau of regularly scheduled pain and neglect. I also learned quite quickly that I was not gifted at birth, nor by upbringing, with a wealth of tools for navigating adversity.

I learned quite quickly that laying low and playing dead were the best strategies to escape most beatings. This was reinforced by what I learned from growing up queer, quiet, and clever. The people we go to for learning social coping strategies are unavailable to queer kids who feel we had to hide much of our internal life from responsible adults and older peers. We have fewer friends and more unstable relationships. While other kids are collecting marbles and Pokemon cards, we are collecting mental illnesses.

Usually after we get out of high school and enter university, or leave our hometowns to travel to bigger cities with more opportunity, or just to escape the feeling of being caged we experienced growing up; most of us are able to reinvent ourselves. Not always as who we truly are. Everyone is different. For me, I found characters in fiction that moved me emotionally. I wanted to be a writer, so I patterned myself after famous writers: Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Robbins, and Douglas Adams were my favorites, so I created a holistic hippy hitchhiker persona that got me through the early years of my young adulthood.

I thought I was free, though the whole time I knew I was not being myself. I had no idea what my self could be at that time. My fears of exposure were so great, I was still hiding. I was trying on bits of what other people liked about people I liked and building a persona out of it. This served me well as I got further into my publishing career. I built a master persona out of the wreckage of a slave child’s painful upbringing.

I was a success.

Success is, however, transient for even the most successful. Eating away at me all that time was a feeling that something wasn’t right, that I was being untrue to my most basic needs.

This is the part where the standard trans biography and mine meet: Something feels not right, explore what that something might be, turns out it’s how I feel about my body and the social role I’m playing. At least where I grew up, our bodies determine the social role we’ll be playing. It’s a chicken and egg game to determine whether changing the body or changing the role is easier. What I can say from experience is that personal physical changes are always easier to make than social changes. Personal physical changes may be painful, or drawn out, or imperfect, or all three; but even the most expensive cosmetic surgery is preferable to undergo than to take on the deeply-held beliefs of a group of people who benefit every day from those beliefs. Even when those people are trusted, loved, and considered friends.

Our experience of sex and gender roles is less tangible than we would like it. Even cissexual people report feelings of being unsure they are happy inhabiting their own sexed body. Most people, however, though they wince at some aspects of the role, are accepting of the body they have. And those who aren’t often take steps to make it a more idealized form of what they already inhabit.

Those who are unhappy with the role make great efforts to change society to be more accepting of alternatives to the few predefined archetypes that are generally accepted. Subcultures are created and real creativity happens in the space where people are reinventing themselves to express aspects of themselves that have gone hidden for far too long.

My mother asked me early on in my transition, “Why don’t you just keep it something secret? Why not live a life in public that adheres to the agreed-upon roles, then you can be anything you want in the privacy of your own home.” I now know that this is what she did with her life. She sublimated her desires into motherhood and homemaking. What those long lost desires were, we may never know. I suspect they were her aptitude for numbers and accounting, which my sister seemed to inherit and excel at. Who knows what my mother might have accomplished had she pursued her dreams. Perhaps she had conflicting dreams and wasn’t able to be both mother and mathematician. At that time, the 1970s, pursuing both was considered to be impossible.

But we make decisions based on incomplete information. We do our best with the information we have at hand. We build flexibility into our plans so that we can act on new information as it comes in.

The makeup and identity of the trans community has changed drastically in the last fifty years, for the better. We’re far more diverse and interesting than we started out.

For a group of people, most of whom are just trying to survive as best we can in communities that are at best view us with antipathy, we are doing incredibly well.

So yes, we create ideologies, ethics, and morality of slaves and we identify with other slaves against the masters. It feels so right and correct to be on this side of the struggle because it’s a fight for our existence. Of course it feels right.

I think what I was missing is that when I was a master, I felt the same way. I was fighting the good fight. There were winners (hopefully me) and losers (usually other newspapers, rarely individual people, but in the case of individuals who were highly identified with their newspaper: fair game). While a moral case could be made that I shouldn’t have been as mercenary, I was often acting less so than my business partners. I advocated for more women to be involved, for more people of color to be involved and because I was in a position of power, I got listened to and while it wasn’t near enough by today’s standards, The Stranger was a role model for other newspapers. We helped create the more just world we live in today where people feel free to ask for an even more fair world.

That’s how it’s supposed to work, right?

I often say that the most important civil rights advance was integration. I believe integration is so important because that’s the one thing that hasn’t changed all that much from the 1960s. The world is a segregated place: by race, class, and gender. The United States still has a long way to go and in some ways we have gone backwards since the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s where we had so much advancement in other areas.

Having a thriving Black middle class doesn’t make us stronger if it just creates two segregated middle classes. History has proved to us that the Black middle class will come out with less due to the complexities of American history and how race relations play out in American culture, even more chaotically and tragically now in the 21st century.

I have a lot of thinking to do about morality, I think. I’m willing to accept that morality is more complicated than I was taught in Sunday school. At the same time, I believe that it’s more important than ever that I examine my notions of morality and see where they can be brought up to date.

And of course, all of this nuanced and subtle rumination is completely incompatible with twenty-four hour cable news, social media, and the ideologically-segregated communities we live in today.

Social Anxiety

O’ how I wish
the shaking would cease
insecurity’s siblings:
Doubt and Misgiving
go away now and
leave me in peace

O’ how it pulses
the heartbeat inside
Adrenaline rising
my self I’m despising
please let me finish
diminish, denied

Were I alone
upon this bright stage
I’d be calm and free
not afraid to be me
and breathe life the bare words
affixed upon this pale and flimsy page

What trauma befell me
Before memory’s past
what torture session
suspended expression
of pure and honest self
before the curtain close at last

Did it happen to you too?
The accident that on purpose befell
The event that defied
being forgotten or denied?
The anyhow that ever I could
forgive of you, but never myself

The me I once loved
still quaked and shook,
and survived — not just
that, but thrived —
feared not looking foolish
Chances taken: advances took

O’ how I wish
the shaking would assuage
That I would know my spirit again
undiminished by my weary pain
And leave me be in peace
when next I grace this stage.

Jonnie Wilder, read at Work in Progress night, Vermillion 2019

MadLib Writer’s Prompt

Let’s write some Javascript to generate a writer’s prompt from a list of nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, etc.

First, we’ll add some loading code. This code gets invoked two ways: first, we run it when the window is finished loading, so we get can update the DOM and give the user something to look at. We’ll also add a button to generate a new MadLib on demand.

window.onload = generate_prompt();

This is our workhorse right here, but it’s pretty simple. We have a bunch of arrays and we’re going to pick from them a random element and add it to the string.

function generate_prompt() {
     prompt_string = adjective1[random_0_to(adjective1.length)] + " " + 
          media[random_0_to(media.length)] + " " + 
          adjective2[random_0_to(adjective2.length)] + " " + 
          noun[random_0_to(noun.length)] + " " +
          action[random_0_to(action.length)] + " " +
          venue[random_0_to(venue.length)] + " ";
	if (random_0_to(10) == 0)
		prompt_string += ", in Latin."
		prompt_string += "."


Here are some sample arrays to get you going. You can add as many elements as you’d like to the arrays, just make sure they’re all separated by a comma.

var prompt_string = ""

var adjective1 = [
	"A gripping",
	"a frivolous"

var media = [
	"novel starring",
	"short story about"

var adjective2 = [
	"an anxious",
	"a pretentious"
var noun = [

var action = [

var venue = [
	"on the moon",
	"in my imagination"

We’re going to need a function to generate those random numbers.

function random_0_to(n) {
	return Math.floor(Math.random() * n);

And lastly, a function to update the DOM.

function display_prompt(s) {
	document.getElementById("prompt").innerHTML = s;

Cool, all done with the .js file.

This is from the HTML file that I use here at www.floatingpoint.pub. It defines the area in the DOM where the prompt gets updated by the display_prompt(s) function and contains a little self-contained javascript to update the prompt when someone clicks the (new) link.

		<p class=prompt><strong>PROMPT:</strong>
		<a id="prompt"></a>
		<a href="javascript:generate_prompt()" style="text-decoration:none !important;">(new)</a>

That’s it! Have fun with it and be sure to email me to show off how you’ve used it to do something really cool on your own.

I wrote “Vacuum” from The Onion, November 15, 1988

Under the byline Mike Evans, because we used a lot of fake names back in those days instead of the current “no bylines” policy. The first year of The Onion had a lot more “creative writing” in it. Only the front page story was a “fake news” article. Inside, the stories varied stylistically, and sometimes not even “funny”, but often just plain weird, and occasionally unsettling. Important caveat: I’m 90% certain I wrote this, but my memory of things from thirty years ago isn’t perfect and we used fake names for our bylines, which in retrospect seems to have been a bad idea.

When I’d finished with work that night, I headed home to cook myself dinner, toting the shop’s vacuum cleaner with me. It was an Eureka Deluxe Vibra-beat, model number 842, built low to the ground and saucer shaped with wheels and a metallic extension hose four feet long. The main body of the machine was turquoise. It was a majestic beast, and just what I needed to sweep up my dusty studio.

I walked home briskly, with a spring in my step, tilted just slightly to the left under the weight of my borrowed burden. The sun, just beginning to set, painted the sky ablaze in autumn splendor.

Turning up State Street towards the capitol, I felt a surge of fear, as if all eyes were upon me. I looked around. They were. Everyone had stopped going about their business and had turned to stare at me and my borrowed turquoise Eureka.

I flipped the selector to Dusting/Upholstery and held the extension hose like a weapon, tightly gripped in my hand, held ready to strike. The crowd in front of me moved backwards, keeping just out of my reach.

Behind me I heard, “He won’t do it. Let’s rush him.”

I swung around in time to glare at the heckler. I flipped the selectgor to Curtains/Draperies and engaged the Vibra-beat. He turned pale, spun, and disappeared into the crowd.

“Let’s not anyone try any heroics,” I said loudly to the gathering throng. “I’m gonna pass through, now, so keep your distance and no one gets hurt.” I made sure that everyone close enough saw the Dust Bag Indicator and knew I meant business.

The crowd parted and I made my way up the street, slowly, keeping my eyes on any potential assailants. The crowd was made up of gawkers who shrank away at first sight of my fearsome weapon. No one here actually meant any harm. I was feeling safer and safer.

The crowd opened up on Gorham Street to reveal a lone man — a behemoth — standing in the intersection. Traffic had stopped. The lights changed from red to green to yellow to red, subserviently, recursively, unaware they were no longer being regarded. More important events were afoot here.

The stranger was tall and heavy. Most of his frame was made up of ages of American beer, dorm living and meatball sandwiches. His arms were like tree trunks. His neck was the symptom of some horrible thyroid disease: thick and bulging. It came up from a torso of sickening proportions.

He looked down at me and my Eureka, model number 842, with that horrible visage, slandering my character ina number of different ways and describing the things he’d do with my severed limbs. I could see he’d never eaten a good breakfast in his entire life; it showed in his attitude. He looked like a combination of every person who had ever beaten me up in high school.

This was it. This was the final confrontation.

I checked the settings on my Eureka. I notched the selector up to Rugs/Floors and sent maximum power to the Vibra-beat. I took a deep breath and tightened the fittings on the extension rod. I took a step forward.

“I’m gonna rip your head off, pull out your throat and blow smoke into your lungs, you hippy!” he screamed. Each step he took mauled the street; cracks exploded out from his feet as they bludgeoned the ground beneath him.

I held my ground. Tightly gripping the extension rod with one hand, I waited for him to come a little bit closer.

When he reached the end of my shadow, I threw the Eureka’s switch. I let him have it. The deadly beam of energy hit him full in the chest. He screamed agonizingly and melted horribly into the pavement, clawing at my shadow, reaching for me, still trying to rip my kidneys out through my ears.

I powered down the Eureka. I took a deep breath to settle my adrenaline level to something that resembled normal.

The crowd was beginning to disperse as the sun went down behind me.

I went home and fed the cats.