An Open Letter to Standup Comedians

Dear standup comedians,

I like you. I respect what you do. Chrome’s spellcheck may not think “standup” is a real word, but I know better. I think you are, for the most part, good people.

I mean, really: your job is to make me laugh. My amusement is literally your professional ambition. How could I be upset about that? I’m not. I will pay you money. I will go to your shows, I will watch your specials on Netflix. We’ll have a great time, you and I.

I know you have a difficult job. I know it’s tough to break in, I know the pay can be lousy, I know it’s nerve-wracking going in front of all those people. I get it. Good for you, for trying something so hard.

I just have one simple request.

Don’t fucking talk to me.

You can talk, of course. You pretty much have to, for your job. You can deliver your material, you can address the audience as a whole. But do not ever, ever, ever, ever, ever select me out of the audience during a show and talk to me one-on-one. If you do, I will despise you with a depth of hatred normally reserved for third-world dictators and putting up wallpaper.

Why?

For starters, I don’t know you. I may think you’re funny, but I know nothing about you as a person. If I wanted to talk to anyone, I’d be talking with my wife, whom I like infinitely better than you.

Also, I don’t like people. Judging by the jokes you’re telling, you don’t much care for them either. So let’s not pretend we’re buddies. Let’s not pretend I have even the slightest microscopic desire to tell you anything about myself whatsoever. Most of all, let’s not pretend we’ve entered some kind of parallel universe where answering your bullshit questions in front of a giant room full of strangers is somehow a privilege I’m willing to pay for.

Instead, let’s have a very simple arrangement. You do your routine and leave me out of it, and in return, I won’t throw rocks at the stage.

Betsy and I went to a standup comedy show last Saturday. None of the comedians talked to us, but they talked to other people in the audience. One poor guy in particular was forced to endure a seemingly endless stream of questions – not all at once, but spread out over the entire evening.

He seemed to enjoy it. Maybe he did, and if so, that’s great. Lots of people are cool with that kind of thing. In fact, if you want to incorporate audience participation into your routine, that’s great – just ask for volunteers instead of picking someone on your own. Trust me, plenty of hands will go up.

Just not mine.

This discussion, it went to a bitter place. But I don’t hate you, standup comedians. I like you a lot.

As long as we have an understanding.

Sincerely,
Brian D. Buckley (and approximately half the planet)

The World is Full of Worlds (pt. 2)

On Thursday, I wrote about the incredibly huge, complex, surprising worlds that exist under every hobby, pursuit, and subculture, if you just scratch the surface a little. So what kind of stuff am I talking about? Here are just three interesting examples.

Invented Languages – Not “natural” languages like English or Russian, but languages that a person or group sat down and created deliberately. Esperanto is the most famous, but there are literally hundreds of “conlangs,” or constructed languages. Some people learn Klingon. Some people learn Quenya (the language of Tolkien’s Elves) or its expanded form, Neo-Quenya. Geeky programmer types (not that I know anybody like that) might learn Lojban, a logical language – one of many. Hobbyists create their own grammars and vocabularies for fun, and share them with like-minded linguistic tinkerers. For an in-depth tour of this world, see Arika Okrent’s fabulous book, In the Land of Invented Languages.

Fictional Worlds (and their fandoms) – Trekkies, Whovians, etc. As an example, take Avatar: The Last Airbender. A kids’ TV cartoon that aired from 2005 to 2008. Only three seasons, just sixty-one episodes. How obsessed could people get?

Oh, you poor, naive soul. The Avatar fandom has all of the following, and more:

  • Its own lexicon. “Bryke” means Bryan + Mike, and refers to the show’s creators, Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino. “EIP” is “Ember Island Players,” a popular season three episode. “FN” means “Fire Nation” – obviously.
  • Its own violent history. No one can forget the long, bloody war of Kataang (Katara + Aang ship) vs. Zutara (Zuko + Katara ship). We lost a lot of good fans that year. To a lesser extent, ATLA (Avatar: The Last Airbender) vs. LOK (Legend of Korra).
  • Its own memes. Standup comic Amon? Do the thing? Guru Laghima, an airbender? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, that’s because you are a normal human being.
  • Its own pet peeves. “What happened to Zuko’s mother?” She punched you in the face for asking that damn question.
  • Its own articles of faith. “The Great Divide” IS the worst episode. You WILL cry at the end of “The Tale of Iroh.” And of course: There. Was. No. Movie.

Falconry – Using a trained falcon (or other bird of prey) to hunt wild game. I know nothing about this, aside from what I’m finding as I google it right now, but it is definitely a real thing that people really still do. Falconry is legal everywhere in the U.S. except Hawaii and Washington, D. C., according to the Ohio Falconry Association, which evidently is also a real thing that exists. (I’m honestly not mocking any of this, it’s just way outside my usual horizons.) To hunt with a falcon, you need a permit – i.e. this is sufficiently common that there’s a legal framework for it. You need to get frozen mice – or something else – for the falcon to eat. There is special equipment. There are different species and breeds. Falconry has even shaped the English language: the word “rouse” originally meant a hawk shaking its feathers.

All this stuff is crazy in its own way. “Crazy” isn’t derogatory; clearly I have spent plenty of time, myself, in more than a few little worlds. Mainly, I just love that they exist.

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 3 & 4

Standard Disclaimer

This is fan fiction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon. If you like, you can read my thoughts on the ethics and legality of fan fiction.


[Go back to chapters 1 & 2]

Chapter 3

The sun was just burning off the morning dew as Willow walked up the steps to the white two-story house.

It was an odd mix of styles. Round tower-like protrusions beside flat-angled corners. Small balconies. Windows of all shapes and sizes. And she knew for a fact that a spiral slide connected the second floor study to the basement.

Certain people had been less than polite in describing it, but Willow thought it was charming.

The same could be said of its builder.

She rang the doorbell. The woman who answered had long, graying brown hair and a ‘Woodstock 1969 – 2019’ T-shirt.

“Hi, Cathy,” said Willow. She hesitated – hug, or not? What was the protocol here?

Cathy Harris blinked, smiled weakly. “Oh. Hi. Were we, um, expecting you?”

No hug, she decided.

“Surprise visit,” said Willow. “I hope that’s okay?”

“Of course. Come in, sit down. I’ll get Xander.”

Willow surveyed the living room. A decorative white pitcher sat on a shelf next to a statue of Spider-Man. A Van Gogh reproduction hung on the wall beside a battle axe.

An eclectic room for an eclectic life.

“Will!”

He ambled into the room, big as life, wearing leather boots and blue jeans and nothing above the waist. Messy dark hair flecked with sawdust. A grin a parsec wide.

“You might not wanna get too close,” said Xander, “I’m still kinda dirty from working on – ”

Her arms were already tight around him, her head on his shoulder. He wrapped her in a bear hug.

“How long’s it been?” he said.

“Since you came to San Jose to show me the new eye.” She glanced at his left eye, which looked identical to his right. Even the same shade of brown. You’d never guess it was artificial. “Is it crazy that I miss the eyepatch a little?”

“Oh, but that’s the beauty,” said Xander. “I still have it. I can put it on when I’m out cruising for babes.” He winked at Cathy. “And take it off when I want depth perception.”

“I can’t believe it’s been two years,” Willow said softly. “I should never have waited this long.”

They looked at each other in silence.

Cathy cleared her throat. “Please, have a seat. Can I get you something? Iced tea, lemonade?”

Willow sat on the couch as husband and wife disappeared. Xander returned first, wearing a T-shirt now, carrying a wooden chair from the dining room. Cathy came back with three glasses of iced tea.

Willow watched as Xander took a drink. Sober for more than a decade, now.

“So,” he said, “what brings the Wicked Witch of the West to our humble home?”

Willow sipped the tea. A little sweet for her taste. “I was in the neighborhood.”

“You were in the neighborhood. Of Redwood Falls, Minnesota?” He smirked. “And pray tell, what brings you to this bustling metropolis of ten thousand? You wanted to shop in our store? Maybe dine in our restaurant?”

“I have a fast broomstick. My neighborhood’s pretty big.”

“Broomstick. So that’s what we’re calling the private jet these days.” He leaned back. “Well, tell me everything. How’s life at Hogwarts? Do they still call you the Crimson Goddess?”

Willow went a little crimson herself. “Not to my face, if they know what’s good for them.” He was laughing at her now. “Hey,” she added, “let’s not forget who has a twenty-foot statue in downtown Rio de Janeiro. What’s the inscription say? Something like ‘Herói do Povo.’ My Portuguese is rusty, but I believe that would be ‘Hero of the People?’”

“Well, that’s, uh. They didn’t tell me they were going to…” Xander cleared his throat. “Listen, my granddaughter turned two last month. Isn’t that crazy? She’s already saying complete sentences. I could barely do that in high school.”

“I watched a video. She’s adorable.” Willow found herself giggling. “Speaking of high school. Remember that time you joined the swim team ‘cause they were all turning into sea monsters, and I told you – ”

“Willow,” Cathy interrupted. Loudly. “Are you here on business or pleasure?”

“Oh.” Willow looked from Cathy to Xander. “A little of both, actually.”

“And what would that business be?”

A strained silence. Xander tried to whisper something to Cathy, but she ignored him and kept watching Willow, with an expression just south of friendly.

“Yes, well,” said Willow. “I suppose I can get right down to it. I’d like to talk to your husband, please.” She set down her glass. “Alone.”

Cathy’s jaw worked side to side. She glanced at Xander, who gave a tiny nod.

“Of course,” she said icily. “I’ll be upstairs in the office.”

Once they were alone, Willow moved to sit closer to Xander. Quietly: “Why do I have the faint suspicion she doesn’t like me very much?”

“Yeah, sorry. It’s not personal. It’s just…” He ran fingers through his hair, spilling more sawdust on the carpet. “Cathy stayed with me through the war, the drinking, the assassination attempts. She’s followed me through hell, Willow. And now we finally have a life here. So when she sees you, she just sees someone from the old days. She’s afraid you’re going to pull me into that world again.”

Willow put her hand out, and he took it. She sighed.

“I’m sorry, I really am. But she’s right. That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

“Will, what’s going on? You’re getting me worried, here.”

“I have to go back, Xander.”

“I don’t understand. Back where?”

She held his hand tight.

“To Sunnydale.”

Chapter 4

“What?” Xander stared at her. “Sunnydale, as in, the giant hole in the desert? Why?”

Good question.

“Thirty years ago, when Spike’s amulet destroyed the Hellmouth, that was a pretty big deal. Catastrophic. Violent. And not just physically. It damaged the fabric of reality itself.”

“Oh. Bummer.” Xander thought it over. “Well, that’s okay, right? We can get a full refund on the fabric of reality, as long as…uh-oh. You didn’t save the receipt?”

She wanted to smile along with him, but her lips wouldn’t cooperate. “Xander, there’s a rip in the Empyrean Veil.”

“The Empyrea-who now?”

“The barrier between life and death. It separates this world from the next.” She rubbed her palms on her skirt. “We predict that in about three weeks, the soul of every human being who died in Sunnydale will temporarily manifest.”

“Every human…who died in Sunnydale,” he echoed.

In the silence that followed, Willow heard the ticking of a clock. A dog barking in a nearby yard. The pulsing of her own heart.

They were both looking down.

“Manifest,” Xander said finally. “As in…you can see them.”

Willow nodded. “See. Hear. Touch. Talk.”

“So I could see…” He swallowed. “I could see Anya again.”

“Maybe.” Oh, it was hard, doing this to him. “Maybe not. We don’t know how long they’ll appear. Could be hours, could be just seconds. And besides, every human who died in Sunnydale – we’re talking many thousands of souls. Who knows if you could find her in all that crowd.”

“But it’s possible.”

“Yeah.”

“And maybe you could see…”

“Yeah.”

“Wow.” He looked up, ran a hand over his mouth. “Oh, I don’t know, Will. I don’t know. God, it’s been thirty years. It took so long to put all that behind me. And I’m finally happy here. I mean, part of me wants to see her more than anything, but I’m just afraid…you get what I’m saying?”

“Completely,” said Willow. “But, um. This event. It’s a little more than just a reunion.”

He waited.

“Human souls,” she went on, “are a really valuable commodity. Some demons eat them, or drain their energy. Some just sell them to the highest bidder. But souls like these – pristine, full of heavenly energy, free of their bodies for so long – they’re worth a thousand times more. This event, it’ll be like it’s raining diamonds.”

Xander got up, paced a few steps around. “There’s going to be a battle.”

“Count on it. And if we lose, these people will be dead. Not just their bodies – I mean really dead. Gone for all time.”

He was absently opening and closing his hands. Did he seem a little older than last time she saw him? A few more lines around the eyes?

“I’ll be there,” Willow continued, “with as many witches as I can bring. And Illyria’s coming. But I don’t know if that’ll be enough.”

Xander nodded, sat down again. “I still have some contacts on the Watchers Council. I can’t promise anything, but maybe they’ll send you some Slayers.”

She touched his arm. “Thank you.”

He leaned in close and whispered, as if sharing some terrible secret. “What about Buffy?”

“I’m going to talk to her,” Willow said firmly, with more confidence than she felt.

“You sure that’s a good idea? The way she is now…”

“We need her help. And…” More quietly. “In spite of everything, she’s still my friend. She deserves to know.”

“You’re right. You’re right.”

He reached for his glass of iced tea, took a long drink.

“I want to come,” he said. “But you have to understand, I made a promise to Cathy. That the old days were over. No more demons. No more battles or magic. No more nights of her wondering if I would come home.”

Willow nodded, taking his hand gently. “It’s okay. You don’t have to explain. It’s your choice to make. No matter what happens, we’ll always be – ”

“I love her. I made her a promise.” Xander’s voice was unsteady now, his eyes searching, his fingers rough and tight. “Do you think she’ll forgive me, Will?”

[Chapters 5 & 6 coming soon…]

Friday Link

What happens when you let a baby lead a group of dancers? (“Questions I didn’t ask for $300, Alex.”) Because this is the Internet, we have the answer, and it’s a video.

Have a meritorious weekend!

The World is Full of Worlds

Music is its own world. You can learn the history of music, the great composers, the different kinds of instruments, musical theory, endless techniques and forms. Music has its own vocabulary, its own pantheon, its own culture. You could spend your whole life exploring the world of music and never run out of things to learn

The same could be said of biology, or physics, or any of the other sciences. Or gardening, cooking, mathematics, wine tasting, computer programming, creative writing. I’ve even heard rumors of people obsessed with something called “sports.”

This is no surprise. We all know these worlds exist.

But the examples above are all fairly mainstream and obvious. What really fascinates me (Betsy and I have talked about this a lot) is that everything has its own world. Not just well-known, “normal” stuff. Every. Thing. Pick any topic, no matter how obscure, no matter how specific, and you’ll find an entire community, an astoundingly sophisticated network, with its own language, its own beliefs, its own history and arguments and sub-groups and pecking order.

Tug any loose thread, and you’ll find something bizarre, beautiful, and bigger than you ever dreamed. (And probably a subreddit.) The world is full of worlds.

On Monday Tuesday I’ll explore some of those worlds in more detail.

Why Can’t I Have Just One Hijink?

“Hijinks” is a weird word. I mean, most words are weird, but this one goes above and beyond.

Hijinks are fun, possibly mischievous activities. We use it as a plural noun, except we don’t really know what a “hijink” is, or why we never seem to have just one of them. So what is the freakin’ deal?

ETYMOLOGY ADVENTURE COMMENCE!

“Hijinks” is a variation of “high jinks,” which – around the 1700s – was a drinking game. You’d roll dice, and if you got a bad roll, you either had to do something embarrassing, or drink. (Thanks, Readers Digest!)

That name, in turn, was based on the word “jinks,” meaning playful activities – pretty much the same thing as “hijinks.” (Still plural-only, apparently.) And “jinks” is apparently related to the Old English “cincung,” which – I am told – means “a loud or cackling laughter.”

Another meaning of “jink” – singular this time – is swift or evasive movement. But it’s not clear (to me, at least) whether that has any connection to the meanings above.

Then of course there’s “jinx,” a hex or a curse. Sounds like it might be related, but actually it’s from the Latin “jynx,” or wryneck, a type of woodpecker evidently used in magic.

Which is funny to me, because “Jynx” is the name of a Pokemon, a deliberate misspelling of “jinx,” but more correct than they thought, since “jinx” was spelled with a “y” in the first place. (I do not expect this to be funny to anyone else.)

All that is a long way of saying that “jinx” is probably unrelated to “hijinks,” and I still don’t know why you can’t have just one “hijink,” and thus I’ve completely wasted your time. Have a good day!

The Witch and the Dragon – Chapters 1 & 2

“The Witch and the Dragon” is Buffy fan fic, 28,000 words, over a quarter the length of a typical novel. I finished it in sixteen days. The story grabbed me, demanded to exist, and practically wrote itself. For those two weeks, I was obsessed, working on it every free moment, thinking about it every non-free moment. (Ask Betsy if you don’t believe me.) It was about the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything.

Finally, on February 12, came the moment of truth. Betsy sat down to read it.

When your wife says your story is good, you might wonder if she’s just being polite. But when she reads 28,000 words in a single sitting, without even getting up, you dare to hope that you’ve got a winner. (I later made some more revisions based on her feedback.)

So here it is. I’ll probably post it in two-chapter chunks, one every Monday.

The story’s set in the year 2035, thirty-two years after the end of the Buffy TV show. Why so far in the future?

I was inspired, in part, by the Babylon 5 series finale “Sleeping in Light,” which similarly takes place twenty years after the main arc has ended, gathering the divergent threads of the characters’ lives and weaving them back together one last time. I love the idea of looking ahead, seeing how time and circumstance have changed everyone. How have they matured, and how are they the same? What’s been broken, and what’s been fixed? What’s the fallout of the story you fell in love with? Who are these people, really?

Also I wanted to write a big-ass battle scene, because those are fun.

The story draws on Buffy as well as Angel, so ideally you’ve seen them both in their entirety before reading this. If you’ve only seen Buffy, you can probably get by okay. If you haven’t seen either, you’re welcome to read, but I can’t promise it will make sense. In any case, there are major-league spoilers for both shows, so consider yourself warned.

In terms of continuity, I have (mostly) ignored the comics. I did this for several reasons, not least because I (mostly) haven’t read them yet. Just pretend that only the TV shows are canon.

In terms of content, I’d call this PG-13 for language, violence, and some sexual references. Overall, a little tamer than the shows.

Enjoy!

Table of Contents

[Chapters 1 & 2] [Chapters 3 & 4]

I will add links here as more chapters are posted.

Standard Disclaimer

This is fan fiction of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, which were created by Joss Whedon. If you like, you can read my thoughts on the ethics and legality of fan fiction.


The Witch and the Dragon

Chapter 1

Willow strode into the high-walled grassy courtyard with a sigh of relief.

A two-hour personnel review, another hour of budget revisions with the Board, a telecon interview with the San Francisco Journal of Metaphysics, half an hour to scarf down lunch – and somehow it wasn’t even noon yet.

Running the San Jose College of Witchcraft left precious little time for witchcraft. But that was about to change.

She kicked off her shoes, savored the cool grass on her bare feet. A breeze played with her short hair, and the California sun warmed her face.

Hello, world. I’ve missed you.

“Dr. Rosenberg?”

The voice belonged to a lanky, blond-haired boy who barely looked old enough to drive – not that anyone drove much anymore. He got up from his wrought iron chair and crossed the grass to meet her, a gray backpack slung over one shoulder, textbook in hand.

“You must be Marcus,” she said with a smile. He shook her hand vigorously.

“It’s such an incredible honor to meet you, Doctor. Um – should I call you Doctor or President?”

The way he talked to her, like she’d stepped out of a myth, made her feel every bit of her fifty…great Gaia, was she really fifty-four?

She didn’t feel any different. Was it possible the students were getting younger?

“Willow is fine,” she said lightly, sitting down on the grass.

“Oh, uh. Yes, ma’am.” He hesitated, then sat down facing her, depositing his stuff to one side. “Should I take off my shoes, too?”

“Only if you want to.” Willow reached into a blouse pocket and fished out two acorns. “Marcus, I try my best to meet every freshman one-on-one. I want all my students to be excited about magic. But I want them to be careful, too.”

She handed him one acorn and held the other in her open palm. He mimicked her.

“To levitate this,” she continued, “I don’t have to lift it. I just have to weave a gap in the earth’s downward pull. Then, with the slightest push, the acorn will rise on its own.”

She demonstrated, letting it rise a few inches. He did the same, grinning at her.

“It’s a subtle difference, but important. I’m not imposing my will on the universe. I’m finding a way to align its will with my own.”

The acorns fell.

“So many students think magic is about controlling things. That’s absolutely wrong.” She locked eyes with him, gentle but firm. “Magic is about self-control. Do your part, and the universe will do its part. Fail to control yourself, and the results can be devastating. Understand?”

“Yes, yes.” He was nodding. “That makes sense. Um…do you think you could show me with something bigger?” He picked up the textbook. “Like this?”

More. Bigger. Faster. That’s what they all wanted from their magic.

But then, she’d been the same way, at their age.

“I’m afraid acorns are about as big as I can go, these days.” She smiled again, trying to put him at ease. “I hope you’re not disappointed.”

“Oh, no ma’am, not at all. Everyone knows you’re still the greatest witch in the world, even after your…” Suddenly his ears turned red, and he fell silent.

“After my burnout?” said Willow.

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I didn’t mean to…”

“It’s all right,” she said honestly. “That was over fifteen years ago. I’ve moved on. Besides, you can do a lot, even with very little power. For instance – ”

Willow cut off as she noticed her secretary approaching. She frowned. “Margaret, can this wait till after the lesson?”

Margaret knelt beside her and whispered in her ear.

Her skin went cold.

“Please reschedule this young man for another day,” she mumbled, and sprinted back to her office, still in her bare feet.

Chapter 2

Willow reclined in the chair, drumming her fingers on the armrest as she tried to think. “And you’re certain of all this?”

On the rectangle of light floating over her desk, a blue-eyed, blue-haired woman tilted her head. “I am not. It is possible my calculations are in error, or that I am misinterpreting the results.”

“But you’re pretty sure?”

“I estimate the likelihood at over ninety-nine point nine nine nine nine nine– ”

Willow chuckled. “Forgot who I was talking to.”

“I am Illyria Burkle. For a thousand aeons, my armies laid waste to gods and mortals. Now, I conduct physics research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.”

“Thanks.”

Illyria claimed all remnants of the Fred persona had vanished decades ago. That she had taken up her surname and profession to honor a woman who no longer existed.

But Willow couldn’t believe that. She’d only met Fred twice, but she had seen too much humanity in Illyria to accept that Fred hadn’t made a mark.

“Was I correct,” said Illyria, “in assuming that this information would interest you?”

“Yes. Absolutely. Thank you.”

“Then may I ask if you have formulated a course of action?”

She glanced up at the framed diploma on her wall, which assured her that one Willow Danielle Rosenberg still had a PhD in computer science.

“I’m a doctor,” she said. “It’s time to make some house calls.”

[Go on to chapters 3 & 4]