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Rant #351
(published October 11, 2007)
Why Not Swashbucklers?
by Ethan Bernard
My writing teacher tells me I should work on a fishing boat. He tells me to beware of being a writer writing about writing. It's a real occupational hazard. Fuck, I don't know how to fish. My only fishing experience comes from a place called Troutdale. My Dad took me there for my eleventh birthday. We used bamboo poles with lines looped at the end, musty cheese for bait. The manmade pond was stocked so full there was more trout than water. People were getting bored from hooking so many fish. I caught nothing. Fuck, being a writer is hard.

I guess I could go to Alaska. Alaska is a synonym for Adventure. Alaska is where all the good conflicts reside: Man vs. Nature. That's what I'm talking about. Scale McKinley, pan for gold, live with wolves, bears, whatever. And fish. Yeah, you fish in Alaska, shit's going down. One summer on the Bering Sea is like Outward Bound on crack, injected with steroids.

So, it's decided, I'm going to Alaska. I'll be the dreamer who ventured into the great blue beyond, maybe lost a grizzled mentor along the way, but I'll be hardened, world weary, perhaps a bit reticent to relate my time among the wild fish of the north. After a snifter of an oaky single malt, though, with a chill wind tapping at the window, well. . . if you must know, I'll spin a yarn to make old Conrad proud. Did he fish?

But then I watch a reality show about fishing in Alaska. (That's what it's come to, they make reality shows about fishing in Alaska.) I learn that the computer graphics generated to make "The Perfect Storm" are, in fact, based on nature. This is not Troutdale. I lose confidence in the single malt Conradian vision.

Rather, I see myself as the dreamer who trips over his shoelaces and falls off the boat. Alternately, I see myself as the dreamer who is sacrificed by the crew in order to propitiate obscure sea gods, or the chatterbox tossed overboard because of incessant talk about Jack London. I am not a fisherman.

That leaves me with a quandary: Whither non-seafaring man? Ok, I write a story about ninjas. Now, this may seem crazy, I mean ninjas aren't even weekend sailors, but hear me out. You write crazy, and people think you are crazy, in a good way. They take the craziness and impute it to you. That's how it works. It's pretty much the law.

You write about ninjas and what do they think? They think stealth. They think throwing stars and blow darts. They think black magic and dark power. I have yet to meet a person who doesn't think ninjas are among the elite of the badass motherfuckers. And if somebody doesn't, he's not worth talking to. It's a kind of litmus test.

So I write this story about ninjas and all the other writers I know are like, "Holy shit! That crazy motherfucker's writing about ninjas. I didn't know he was that crazy." I just stand back and shrug my shoulders: "Yeah, I wrote a story about ninjas. No big thing."

But this one girl, she just, she just goes, "You know, I understand this story is about ninjas and all, and, I understand. However, what I'm trying to say is, basically, why ninjas? Why not swashbucklers?"


Well goddamn! That's why not. Sure, there are some swashbucklers who could hold their own with your run of the mill ninja. But when you get to the top, I'm talking your primo sword-spinning, blow-darting ninja, I think he could take Blackbeard. Blackbeard? Wonder how he got that name?

That's how it goes, though, in the "writing game." Some blowhard makes a comment, and then it hugs you tight as a grizzly, won't let go. Are ninjas really all that crazy? Can I even name one famous ninja? Oh yeah, the stealth. Maybe that's not such a good thing. Exposure, that's what it's all about. Why not swashbucklers? Wait a second. . . do pirates fish?

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