(These ideas are explicated in this sloppy manifesto)

Tuesday, March 30, 2004
The lost Willie stories, Part I: Why the Spokesmen wouldn't speak

I started writing Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie stories in 1985, while I was working on Mantrap. I was teaching myself how to write, and if you read that book, you can watch me graduate from a crude Ayn Rand clone to the resonance--or dissonance--that is uniquely my own. Right about halfway through the book the style becomes unmistakably Swann. I'd like to think I've gotten better since then, but everything that is here now was there by then, in embryo. But because I was trying with all my mind to write Grand Opera, I started writing the Willie stories purely for fun.

In my original conception of the format of a Willie story, they were to be the polar opposite of Grand Opera: Almost all dialogue and virtually no narrative. More script than story, and any narrative burden that could be carried by dialogue was carried by dialogue. A good early example is The man who sells nothing. Another one from that time, Marla the Adorable introduces a number of recurring Willie themes: Honest children among corrupt adults, Willie's subversiveness, and the phrase, "Everybody's gotta take a side," which is Willie's way of rationalizing what he seemed to believe to be a futile effort to sustain good in the world. And, by then, even, the damn fool was already off the reservation. Most of the Willie stories fit the format, even fairly recent once like "Jihad, Las Vegas!" But all along Willie was pulling away, looking for his own kind of Grand Opera. It's all right out there in Anastasia in the light and shadow, far and away the best Willie story ever. And there are strong hints of a secret back-story in How to slay dragons and A canticle for Kathleen Sullivan. All of those secrets are going to come out sometime soon, when I finally get around to writing last year's Christmas story. Willie started out as the perfect foil, but no man can be content to be a foil forever.

I have no idea how many Willie stories there are. Dozens and dozens, anyway. There was a time when I was writing two or three of them a week. I thought I had most of them, but just lately I stumbled across a cache that people have been hoarding since the Cold War. They had a few that I not only did not have but which I did not even remember. Fun for me to see them, almost like reading myself for the first time, which I never get to do. A couple of them are outrageously fabulist, just another example of my warped foil in rebellion. This one, Why the Spokesmen wouldn't speak, is Willie playing with 1984 and The Brothers Karamazov (and maybe also Felix the Cat) in either the Reagan or the first Bush administration. Even so, it is as completely topical as this morning's news.
Why the Spokesmen wouldn't speak

A Ramblin' Gamblin' Willie story by Greg Swann

Here's an interesting story: The Mighty Whazis blurted something he meant to say silently, with a glare, while responding to the Inquiries of the Grand Inquisitor. I wasn't there, and I forget the topic of the Inquisition, but it could have been anything, couldn't it? Exploding rockets or rampant corruption or budget shortfalls or the Moscowimp Syndrome. I remember from video that the Whazis seemed sorely provoked, and, though I don't know for certain what he blurted, it sounded to me awfully like a certain folk-slander generally addressed to a not-present third-party, a colorful expression one can enjoy hearing throughout central Illinois.

At first it was not clear to The Inquisitor what was said, but one of the Whazis' many Spokesmen cleared things up right away: He revealed that what the Whazis had blurted was 'lousy snitches', an intended insult to the Inquisitor. This was in keeping with the Whazis' temper that day, so it seemed to placate the Inquisitor.

But then one of the Spokesman's Spokesmen made known, under cover of anonymity, that the 'lousy snitches' line was a PR ploy. The Whazis' Spokesmen wanted to make the Whazis look tough for the coming budget battle, so they led with trump: What the Whazis had really blurted, this Spokesman revealed, was 'rags to riches', a reference to the success of the Whazis' Grand Economic Plan.

But one of that Spokesman's Spokesmen secretly contradicted this: The Whazis had blurted 'holed-up in ditches', a parting reference to the Embattled Antras, for whom relief was sought from the Raging Zeros.

But no!, said a Spokesman from the Whazis' 'kitchen cabinet'. The blurt was a prayer to the Almighty: 'Loaves and fishes'. Not only was the Whazis not peeved with the Inquisitor, he was wishing upon that worthy the greatest of miracles. The Inquisitor was not convinced. For one thing, he Inquired, what would he do with all those fishes? It was whispered that someone in the camera crews had a suggestion, but a Spokesman quickly hushed that up.

But then one of God's Spokesman's Spokesmen quietly made public that the blurt was a reference to the Lord: The Whazis had praised the Lord for the abundance wrought of Faith and Family: 'Rags to riches'.

The Inquisitor was almost convinced: The fact that the same report had come from two different Spokesmen was compelling. But then he reviewed the videotape and came away certain that the Whazis had blurted that phrase. That he had deliberately repeated the expression one might expect to hear from a tired farmer, when money is dear and grain is cheap, just after the men from Sears have repossessed the dishwasher. Well, how can I say it? The Whazis suggested that the Inquisitor had canine forebears...

A Spokesman for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Everything Except People quickly tromped on this suggestion, however. The Dogs regarded the intimation of bestiality as an insult. Or so their Spokesman said.

The Inquisitor missed a stride on this announcement. Wasn't he Inquiring on behalf of the Dogs, among others...?

So he was taken completely by surprise when a Spokesman for a Senior Bureaucrat announced via the Inquisitor's confessional that the true blurt was 'sags and stitches', an allusion to Mrs. Whazis' legs.

The Inquisitor had a good laugh over that one, so a Spokesman said to be quite close to the Whazis let it out privately that the Whazis wasn't sure what he had blurted, but that it might have been 'Whazis glitches'. Get it? Get it? The Inquisitor was not amused.

It would be more accurate to say that he was angry. He had grown accustomed to straight answers to his Inquiries, and make it snappy, mister. In all the Speakings of the Spokesmen, had he gotten one straight answer in explanation to his Inquiries? Had he been offered any argument to contradict his own conclusion that the Whazis had blurted that the Inquisitor's mother was furry, four-legged, and great fun on camping trips? The Whazis is permitted quite a lot of latitude, actually. And even the lowliest Spokesman has some freedom to Speak. But no one--no one!--gets away with that!

The Grand Inquisitor scheduled a Grand Inquisition for that Sunday, to which all Spokesmen, from the Whazis on down, were commanded to attend. When they were gathered, the Inquisitor looked upon them sternly: Was it true?

In the room full of Spokesmen, no one spoke...

A fire raged in the Inquisitor's eyes, so blinding it seemed to blot out the glare of the battery of television lights behind him. He watched in contempt as sweat broke out on the foreheads of the cowed Spokesmen. He took a secret pleasure in seeing the Whazis squirm in his seat at the head of the assembly of silent Spokesmen.

Finally, when the tension was almost too much to bear, a young Spokesman rose from the back of the crowd. This alone was uncharacteristic of Spokesmen, a breed most often found in herds. And stranger still, he spoke above the rose, out loud, publicly, so everyone could hear--and see. He spoke to the Inquisitor as no Spokesman ever had before: With his identity known.

"Why should we speak?," he inquired of the Inquisitor. "Why should we ever speak at all? You'll just twist it around so that at least one of us gets slaughtered!"

"Mister Whazis!," the Grand Inquisitor demanded. "Is it the position of your administration that the Grand Inquisitor is a liar?!"

"I didn't say that!," the Melting Whazis pleaded. "He did! He did!" He pointed to the young man. "He said it, I didn't!!"

"Yes," the Inquisitor replied. "And he presumes to question the Inquisitor." He jerked a nod toward two beefy thugs. He pointed at the Lone Spokesman. "The White Room."

Whazis said, "Allow me." He got up and grabbed the youth by the arm. He dragged him over to the Inquisitor's henchmen. "Listen..., I hope you won't make too much of this. It's such a small thing..."

But the Inquisitor was already gone, and the newsboys were already out in the streets, hawking their headlines into Portacams. "Whazis' Spokesman calls Inquisitor a liar!", "Impertinent youth enrages His Holiness!", "Whazis' Spokesman denies link to renegade!"...

The 'Mighty' Whazis, quisling to the tyrant of his own publicity, waddled back to his chair. He settled into it, sighing with satisfaction: The 'sons of bitches' issue seemed to be forgotten... Now on to more important matters, like this upstart Spokesman, who had dared to speak. Well, the Inquisitor knew what to do about that kind.

The Mighty Whazis smiled. He loved the Grand Inquisitor...

Monday, March 29, 2004
Abel's world: Honoring Cameron's mind...

So my goofy braniac kid, Cameron, who may in fact be the better teacher tormentor in our home, is being inducted into the National Junior Honor Society. This after everything--and there is a lot of everything--and in his first year of eligibility. Go figure.

I am of two minds on this honor. On the one hand, we are avidly collecting every bit of resume material we can get our hands on, because the boy's academic ambitions will require a long list of achievements and accolades with which to wow admissions officers. But on the other hand, I am not hugely in love with the philosophical underpinnings of the NJHS.

Cameron always plays violin for these induction ceremonies, so we are obliged to go every year. To get into the NJHS, you have to be a perfect little egoist, gravely and joyously pursuing self-improvement at every turn. This much I like. But at the induction ceremony itself, you are admonished to loathe yourself and to devote your every waking moment to service and sacrifice.

I'm sure the children know better, and I'm sure the anegoistic hectorers know the children know better, so it's all a cynical charade, like the cynical anegoistic hectorings we hear all day, every day, every which-where we go. But it would be nice, once in a while, to honor honorable conduct by saying, "This is good! This is admirable! This is the behavior everyone should emulate! You are to be praised and encouraged for your manifest virtues, and you have every reason to be proud of yourselves for daring to respond to reality as it really is! In short: Well done!"

This cannot happen, of course. Cain's world is never truly his own, and Cain must always make faked obeisances to Abel's world, where service and sacrifice are the penance to be paid for failing to express perfectly and consistently the self-loathing that is Abel's only reality. We live by the grace of the minds of the best among us, people who have devoted their lives gravely and joyously to pursuing self-improvement at every turn. We die as we spit at and tax and destroy these people and their virtues. We have lived for ten millennia since Cain, but, alike unto him, we have learned nothing of reality as it really is.

As an added bit of purely accidental irony, the induction ceremony is being held on April 19th. This is Patriot's Day, Lexington-Concord Day, but it also Massacre at Waco Day and Oklahoma City Bombing Day, among very many other checkered days in American history. Except for my goofy brainiac kid, probably none of the children being inducted into the NJHS know that particular date on the calendar and why it matters. So much the worse for them...