What You Will

Another Burma Shave billboard on the information superhighway. Random thoughts about arts, faith, culture, music, language, literature, and the shortcomings of the Hegelian dialectic. (OK, just kidding about that last bit.)

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Location: Edmonds, Washington, United States

I wonder what goes in this space?


My favorite grave

Posted by Hello

On my recent trip to D.C. I flew into Baltimore, so I just had to stop and pay my respects. I wish I could ask my buddy Edgar to rest in peace, but I'm sure he's been spinning beneath one gravestone or another* ever since Rufus Griswold's 1850 biography of him, which set the tone for every piece of nonsense published or propagated about Poe in the past 156 years. If you want to believe Poe was an insane pedo/necrophiliac dope fiend, or worse, you can probably find some essay by some Internet nutjob supporting such a view. Indeed, can you think of a slander to which Poe has not been subjected?

Well, there's one: No one, to my knowledge, has successfully made a big-budget Hollywood biopic about him (although his stories have been subjected to all sorts of hideous celluloid distortions, most famously by Roger Corman). A few years ago Michael Jackson got hold of a screenplay about Poe and started work on a film, with himself in the lead. Can a man, even a very dead one, imagine a crueler fate than to have his reputation in the hands of Michael Jackson? (Must ... resist ... temptation ... to ... make ... cheap ... joke.) Fortunately, that project, like the rest of Jackson's career, went nowhere.

But now comes the news that another Hollywood star has written his own screenplay about Poe and intends to start production, with himself as director and Robert Downey Jr. in the lead. Can you guess who?

That's right, Sylvester Stallone. Please, God, no. Someone stop him! The guy hasn't directed anything in 20 years, and the films he did direct (the Rocky sequels, Staying Alive, Paradise Alley) don't sound like much of a foundation for a work like this one. This, after all, is the guy who's the all-time leading nominee and winner of Razzie Awards (30 nominations and 10 wins, including two for Worst Screenplay and one for Worst Director).

Even more disturbing is the Variety article (linked above) announcing the project:

Considered the granddaddy of the Gothic horror tale, Poe's life is rich with its own eerie details. He suffered from madness, depression and drugs, and was mysteriously found dead in a gutter in 1849.

If that paragraph came from Stallone's publicist, or if it has anything to do with the actual screenplay, then Poe's reputation is about to suffer another knockout punch. Aside from starting with an atrocious dangling modifier, the announcement can't even get the basic facts of Poe's life straight. Poe was not found dead in a gutter in 1849. He was found seriously ill in a gutter and taken to a hospital, where he died a couple of days later.

Poe did not "suffer from madness, depression and drugs." Depression, yes, and extreme mental stress, which he often described in exaggerated terms — but I don't know of any evidence of any other mental illness. And, contrary to popular belief, he was not a drug user. There is one reference to drinking laudanum in one of his letters — and that was an unsuccessful suicide attempt. There is no other evidence that he took opiates.

Poe had a problem with alcohol, although he wasn't what we think of today as an addict. He was a binge drinker who couldn't stop once he started — but he had long periods of sobriety in between binges.

If Stallone can't be persuaded to abandon this project, he should at least fire the moron who's writing his press releases.

* Poe was originally interred in a different plot in the same cemetery. His coffin, along with those of his wife and mother-in-law, was exhumed and buried under this monument in 1875.


From one keyboard to another

Perhaps you'll enjoy my profile of local Ghanaian-born pianist William Chapman Nyaho in the new edition of Response.


Sarcastic White Male ISO Answers

So I was looking for some freelance editing work to do in my spare time, and I ran across a listing for a Christian dating site that needed Web editors.

I will admit that a red flag immediately went up in my brain. Who needs a "Christian dating site"? eHarmony.com already does a good job of marketing itself to Christians and of making faith issues part of its questionnaires and profiles. And it does this without slapping the word "Christian" on itself like an "Inspected by No. 286" label.

But I was overcome by a combination of greed, morbid curiosity, and the desire to give other believers the benefit of the doubt. So I sent in my résumé.

In response I got an editing test—a page of text from the site that I was expected to improve and send back. It was, frankly, some of the most miserable copy I've seen on a Web site—rife with grammatical errors, a misspelling or two, sentence fragments, and clichés. The language was choppy and redundant; paragraph transitions were missing. Overall the page created the unreassuring impression of a bunch of people who had absolutely no idea what they were doing.

And this was the site's mission statement.

So I did what one of my former bosses would call a "five-dog edit": I tore the thing to absolute shreds, moved sentences around, reconstructed some paragraphs, completely rewrote others, and added stuff I thought was missing. I kept half an eye on the clock, and all this took about 90 minutes.

I also went to the site and reviewed some of the other text. Same problems. I did a WHOIS search and found that the domain was registered to an investment group. Well, investors have money, and I like working for people with money. And at least someone working on this site recognized the need for an editor. I figured I could do the work as long as I was well compensated—meaning that I could charge my standard $35 hourly freelance rate, or something close to it.

So I sent in the completed editing test. A few days later I received a congratulatory e-mail. I received two of them, actually—one for me and one for another editor they'd decided to hire, sent to me by mistake. More red flags went up. Multiple editors means you need a style guide so each editor can work to the same standard. But I decided to hold my reservations in check until I saw the contract, which came a couple of days later.

Wanna guess how much they were offering? $80 for the site and $5 a page for any additional pages they might send me later. I'd spent 90 minutes on one page, which is $52.50 at my standard rate. Now I was being asked to accept about a tenth of that—less than minimum wage. So I e-mailed back, politely observing that editing is a highly skilled trade, stating my terms, and suggesting that I would be glad to look at a more reasonable contract.

No dice, replied the nice gentleman I'd been corresponding with. What he had written, he had written. Those were the terms he was authorized to offer. Oh, and the site was "partially sponsored by a church."

I suppose I might bleed for a cause I believe in, but "Christian dating site" doesn't qualify. Even if it's partially sponsored by a church. I'll bet the church in question doesn't expect someone to come in and vacuum the carpet for $3.33 an hour. Or I suppose I could have allocated a couple of hours for the whole site and just given it the quickest, most cursory once-over edit imaginable. But that's not how I work.

Thus ended my online courtship with the Christian dating site. I'm left with my self-respect intact for a change, and with a question. You see, no non-Christian has ever offered me such pitiful wages to improve such dreadful copy. I just want to know why having the name "Christian" on an enterprise is offered as an excuse for trying to rip people off.