UBC bullshit

puppet academia: the department of being told your problem

It’s quite obvious ME is in hell. Anything to make a literary audience think man, that’s so 9th level. ME must have dug themselves all the way down. They are baffled as to why the door reads Department of Being Told Your Problem until she looks up and sees DEMON. DEMON huffs loudly over a tiny desk, though he comes up no higher than ME’s waist. The Demon still manages to look down on ME as ME approaches.

DEMON: What the hell do you want?

ME: I thought this was the Department of Complaints.

DEMON: Were you given the keys to the actual Department of Complaint?

ME: It said it was an EMPLOYEE DOOR

FLASHBACK if necessary. EMPLOYEE DOOR PUPPET was really quite rude about it. DEMON stares, not sure what, exactly, the student is getting at. He sighs and pulls down an organizational University Chart. It’s done in various methods of puppetry. There’s a clear stone wall between those to who the policies apply and those who have the power to say oh, just fuck off already. Some do, in fact.

ME: But you’re a public institution! Your funding as a research institution should matter it matters!

DEMON snaps gum he clearly doesn’t have.

DEMON: Did any of those regulatory services you tried even care what we did?

ME: The Provost told them my problem was I didn’t like the way class was taught.

DEMON: Wasn’t it? At least the Ombudspeople have just left you in an emotional hell while you wait.

FLASHBACK IF NEEDED. LEVEL SEVEN IS FUCKING HELL. ME BARELY ESCAPES ITS GRASP.

DEMON:The PROVOST said you just didn’t like how the class was taught. That is your complaint because we tell you it is.

ME: But I never said that!

DEMON SIGHS LIKE HE HAD NEVER, EVER, EVER BEEN SO PUT OUT.

Demon: FINE. Let me see your paperwork.

ME GIVES IT OVER. DEMON PEERS AT IT. AS SOON AS DEMON REALIZES THE DOCUMENTATION SHOWS ME IS TELLING THE TRUTH, DEMON BECOMES FURIOUS AT IT.

ME: Respondents cannot dismiss complaints about themselves.

DEMON: THEY ABSOLUTELY CAN!

ME: Says who?

DEMON: The RESPONDENT!

ME: So the provost gets to decide what a student’s complaint is regardless of what their complaint is?

DEMON LEANS BACK.

DEMON: So you DO get it! You just play ignorant.

ME IS SHAKING AT THIS POINT.

ME: That’s not this works.

DEMON HANDS ME A DIAMOND SHOVEL COVERED IN SHIT.

DEMON: You can keep digging, but not a single SHITSTAIN in this institution cares to know the truth. The sooner you learn powerful men can just tell you what your problem is the better.

ME: For whom?

DEMON DOESNT FEEL THE NEED TO SAY IT.

End SCENE

puppet academia — the policy slaughter scene

To honour UBC Lawyers loving to triple down on their inability to ever consider they might possibly be wrong about something as serious as which UBC policies the UBC actually has to care about, I’m bringing back my favourite of the puppet academia series.

PROGOAT waits in their PJs and slippers STAGE LEFT. Behind them, a door is marked “SC Kennel”. The policies are singing as close to the Smurf theme song as we’re legally allowed to from behind its closed doors. There are oversized flowers and rainbows decorating it. If you look, they all have a stamp indicating the date they’ve been approved to be displayed. A giant sign, also stamped, warns to “BE EXTRA NICE IN THE CONDUCT POLICY KENNEL” The clock over their head says it’s late o’clock. Even with the time, the PROGOAT looks very uncomfortable to be standing where they are.

On the other side of the wall separating the two stages, CREW are dancing around STAGE RIGHT with puppet policy hand puppets in bird cages. Each “cage” has three adorable policy hand puppets (one on a fake hand) to make 18 policies. In the center of the room, the Respectful Environment Statement is clearly “conducting” the song.

Lawyer rushes in, looking like they’ve had a three-day bender. Pieces of yellow legal paper and dot matrix tractor feeder are stuck to their rumpled suit. One foot has a shoe but a shredded lower pant leg and no sock. The other foot is bare.

PROGOAT: Did we have to meet here?

LAWYER says nothing. They hand over oversized plastic gloves and ear plugs and puts theirs on. PROGOAT holds theirs awkwardly.

PROGOAT: (raises voice) What are these for?

LAWYER: (loudly) I solved our little policy problem!

LAWYER pushes the door open. The music grows louder, but this isn’t the reason for the ear plugs. PROGOAT is struck for a second by how adorable all the policies are while they’re singing and dancing.

Enough light is reflected as the actors dance in circles to semi-reveal a large cage with velvet ropes keeping it roped off from the dancing. It’s draped in black and is meant to almost disappear into the darkness. The PROGOAT hasn’t seen it yet. The LAWYER isn’t looking at it. There is very little chance anyone has filled out the variance required to store whatever it is in the SC Kennel, forget filing it and then waiting for the non-emergency approval to come through and get signed off on.

Or at least, it is not stamped as all the other cages are.

Lawyer throws open the trap door. The stage glows red as lightning flashes from what is reflected from below. Blacklight messages over the sterile background flash warnings to abandon hope and all policies float down here.

As the lid rises, distant screams mix with the policies’ song for a moment. A curl of deep laughter comes from the pit, but much closer than the other sinister sounds that come from the bottom of it. If we can swing it, the smell of struck matches is pumped in.

LAWYER: Scholarly Integrity Policy.

PROGOAT: What?

LAWYER: (sighing at having to spell it out) Open SC 4-6, Grab the Scholarly Integrity Policy, strip its hand away, and throw it into the “these policies can’t matter if we want to just decide we’re right” pit.

The PROGOAT is horrified. They didn’t sign up for any of this. The LAWYER grabs the back of their pyjama shirt and drags them over the pit, facing it.

LAWYER: DO YOU WANT TO ADMIT THE STUDENT WAS JUST EXERCISING THEIR ACADEMIC FREEDOM?

Even the sounds from hell silence at the crack of thunder that follows the LAWYER’s words. The policies stop singing. The PROGOAT stares down at the pit as the ABYSS PUPPET pulls itself up from the pit and stares back. Two marionettes dressed as knights duel it out in the background. They are marked Morals vs. Ambition. Ambition is winning.

The silence grows.

Eventually, the ABYSS nods and retreats below, taking with it the red glow and the sounds. It is just a trap door.

PROGOAT: …I’ll do it.

The Lawyer lets them go and takes the time to straighten the PJs.

LAWYER: (voice firm) Scholarly Integrity Policy.

PROGOAT: But we need that to do the science stuff!

LAWYER: (unaffected) And the Director should have been honest when they explained what the student’s concern was. “I couldn’t explain our pedagogical approach” is a different conversation than “the student just didn’t agree with my harmful lack of pedagogy I’m calling a pedagogy.” LAWYER (or at least someone) pauses for dramatic effect. Scholarly Integrity Policy.

The PROGOAT’s shoulders slump as they open the first cage, reach in and pull out the first violated policy. Naturally, it tries to fight back. But just being a concept, it has no actual teeth or claws and depends on the person protecting it for its right to exist.

As it is slowly, screamingly, stripped from the hand, it reveals the red jello it had been stuffed full of. The naked, “bloody” hand flays around in the cage, puppetless as the PROGOAT drags the puppet itself to the edge of the pit and throws it in. The horrified silence of the policies around them break as the last of its poor screams echoes through the audience.

The PROGOAT looks at their hands. Some of the jelly has stained their skin.

Lights dim.

Narrator: Two hours later —

Lights up as the sound of a “final scream” in its last echo shakes the theatre. Its silence settles. PROGOAT stands there, covered in policy gore. Six bloody hands hang limply as the policies that survive cling to the other survivors and whimper.

PROGOAT: Is that it?

LAWYER: In the SC kennel.

PROGOAT: but this is all conduct bullshit. What else has to die so I can get my way?

LAWYER: Well…

SPOTLIGHT ON: the last cage. CREW whips off the covering and it’s PUPPET ACADEMIC FREEDOM. Blue ribbons cover its cage. PROGOAT rushes to it to “pet” it. It’s now their hand puppet.

PROGOAT: NOT GEORGY! Anything but Georgy!

GEORGY cooes and giggles in their protector’s hands. The rest of the surviving SC policies can only whimper and console each other in their cages with the bloody hands still hanging loosely. They’d once been the following policies:

  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Scholarly Integrity Policy
  • Discrimination Policy
  • Investigations Policy
  • Retaliation Policy 
  • and the Respectful Environment Statement 

The LAWYER clears their throat, threateningly.

Fade to black.

Spotlight on: STAGE LEFT. Puppet Progoat wakes in bed, screaming and drenched in sweat from the nightmare. When they pull out their human-looking hand from under the covers, it is covered in ultra-realistic gore. This time, they don’t stop screaming even as the darkness fades in and the audience goes on an intermission break.

how the ubc discussion should have happened: Puppet Theatre returns

ACT ONE:

(CW: PUPPET gore, obvs)

UBC: Hey, Any Competent Trainer, can we violate policies?
ACT: What? Like for real?
UBC: Yeah for real. Can we?
ACT: No.
UBC: Why not?
ACT: Because it’s against policy to violate policies.
UBC: Yeah, but if we did it anyway?
ACT: There is no anyway. There is no violating policies. Violating polices is improper conduct, and UBC Persons cannot commit improper conduct.
UBC: But —
ACT: Do you understand you cannot commit improper conduct, sir?
UBC: I sure do!
(UBC exits stage left. A lightning bolt flashes, foreshadowing the only window on set. ACT watches him go, but they are not convinced. They reach for the PUPPET POLICY ON POLICY Binder. It’s very fluffy.)

ACT TWO

UBC: Hey! You were totally wrong, ACT! I asked this lawyer guy–
ACT: –You can’t ask an institutional lawyer how do you violate institutional policies!
UBC: — Well I did! And the lawyer said —
ACT: — An institutional lawyer can’t advise a UBC Person how to violate institutional policies!
UBC: He said we could totally violate policies if we want. They’re not *legally protected!*
(ACT grabs a notebook called: So you did an institutional error and hits the Puppet Union Rep Button that CREW brings out for them. The large red button does not want to take this call.)
UBC: (Still thinking they can get ahead of this.) Wait! We just don’t want to hear this student’s criticism of their program —

(A non-copyrightable Academic Freedom flying mammal signal starts flashing across the theatre.)

ACT: You’re attacking a student’s academic freedom?!?!
UBC: Yes?
(ACT bite their tongue to not ask any more questions until a union rep is found, but they can’t pretend they didn’t hear that. UBC walks backwards until they exit stage left.)

ACT THREE:

Error reports overflow ACT’s desk. As the lights dim, a silent CREW brings another box of error reports and dumps them over their head. ACT has their arms over their head, silently sobbing until the stage is dark.

A PUPPET RAVEN flies across the stage and taps on the unlit window, stage left. Another flash of lighting shows the RAVEN and the skinned corpse of Puppet UBC dangling from its beak. It coughs once and crows in victory.

breaking up with a literary “horror” author (or why a great premise is never enough)

There’s a Canadian writer that I have just given up on. I first discovered this author while travelling for my work and his novel was okay, I guess, for when you wanted to read but not be too invested in the plot. It was great for being in places where I still have to keep my wits about me, like in airports or hotel lobbies. It was so forgettable, though, I had to rebuy the book twice. But I purchased both of them from used book stores after the original. The story was so forgettable that I both couldn’t reward the author with more sales that benefited them and I forgot about the physical copy of it almost anywhere I put it down.

But man, it had potential. And I truly wanted to see if that potential ever rewarded the reader for sticking around. But it never happened. The end of the story was just the resolution of the premise with dithering and dickering between those two events. It could have been an excellent novel but for the protagonist giving so little fucks about anything. Through long stretches, I could barely muster enough interest to keep going.

But it was really an excellent premise.

Then his second book came along and I read that, too. It was about a really cool premise that the protagonists didn’t really care about, and the ending of the book was the resolution of that premise. As had his first book. And his third. I was starting to recognize a horrible pattern emerging.

When I gave the last book of his over to my wife to tell her to dispose of it, it was because the character — in a novel with a really cool premise — had just gone on for chapters about how much he doesn’t really care if he lives or dies.

And at that point, neither could I.

This is why the Forgotten Last Scale of mine is so important. A book that has a memorable premise, by my scale, is a “good” book. But stack too many good books on top of each other and the reader (eventually) won’t be fooled again. They’ll remember the disappointment of the premise never really converting to anything meaningful more than they will remember the cool premise after a certain point.

Had the author’s works had a truly memorable moment in those good premises, I would be remembering that, instead. I’d probably have given the author at least two more books to see if they had learned how to convert a memorable moment into a memorable story.

empty soup cans and markets that don’t exist

There was a writer I had a few run-ins with who was the personification of everything I thought was doing active harm to my community. He was a smart guy, a great writer, and is the only person I know who never once said anything of value to a group of underpublished writers. He sold the idea that marketing trumped the skills involved in writing.

I met him in the Twilight and the Fifty Shades of Grey years. That was all the evidence he needed to be absolutely sure that no book ever had to be enjoyable to the reader again. That Twilight sold a million-billion copies was proof that books didn’t have to be good.

His audience wanted to be told that their success had nothing to do with the quality of their writing and everything to do with how hard they worked selling the book after it was bound. They didn’t want to hear that as difficult as it is to take the reader on a meaningful journey, it is far easier to do so than marketing a book that was still mainly description, dialogue, and exposition.

The premise of the argument is flawed. Twilight didn’t sell a trillion copies and a movie franchise because it was marketable. People who read those books loved the way they felt when they read those books.

That was all it took.

Their readers loved the books enough to buy them as hardcovers at hardcover-pricing and go to first-run theatres to watch the movies over and over again. How those books made their readers feel had absolutely nothing to do with how the books were marketed.

But Dude-Guy couldn’t imagine so many women buying a book because they enjoyed reading it. To him, the only thing that made sense was that an evil marketing genius had hypnotized them to want to buy a shlocky teenage vampire romance novel in droves.

This is despite the fact that no mass-hypnosis has ever worked over a book series since. If Twilight’s success was “just marketing” it should have been easily repeatable. And yet, that appeal that crossed genre boundaries and age groups hasn’t really happened since 50 Shades milked the same storyline for hypothetically-kinky grownups.

His analogy was comparing a writer’s work to empty soup cans. If he could find a million people who would buy an empty soup can for a dollar, he would have a million dollars.

I asked him how much it would cost to find a million people who would be willing to trade a dollar from their pocket for a thing that has no value to them. He dismissed it as a non-issue but it is the only issue that matters. The cost of finding a million people out of the 1.5 billion English-speaking people on this planet who will buy something of no intrinsic or extrinsic value to them would make what profit could be made on the million dollars negligible.

Stories that do not attempt to engage the reader through their story-building mechanics are empty soup cans. It asks the reader to admire the prose as the work’s only ask. Readers will always value their spending money, but they will value their spare time even more. The only people who buy empty soup cans are those who know the empty soup can merchant personally.

writing engaging fiction is inherently (attention) capitalistic

If the writer thinks of the reader’s time as their more valuable resource, getting the reader to purchase the book is less than half the battle. A reader regrets investing their time more than they will complain about the cost of yet another unfinished book added to their book horde.

But true competition for the work doesn’t exist until the book makes it to the reader’s home. A friend of mine points out that great work only creates a bigger market for all work in the same subgenre. Once inside the home, however, it doesn’t matter if the book is purchased or borrowed. Library books have the benefit of needing to be read immediately but a returned, unfinished story is out of sight, mind and house.

It’s important to always remember that the reader has finite hours in their life in general. Remove the working, sleeping, family and social obligations and meat suit needs, and the average reader has very few hours they can do as they please as an adult. The author’s work doesn’t just compete with every book the reader is reading, intends to read, or would like to read again; they’re competing against anything else the reader could be doing with all their other hobbies and entertainment.

Most readers do not begrudge the author the money they spent on books they started but didn’t finish. But they will go across multiple review platforms to let any other future reader know the story wasn’t worth their time. So while it’s important to remember that publishing is an industry, which means publishing is financially capitalistic, it feeds a market that is hungry for engaging work that grips its reader.

The author should only concern themselves with learning how to do that better. Publishing is the aftereffect of creating work that respects the reader’s investment.

Puppet Lawyer: the Puppet Lawyer edition

Puppet Lawyer looks like they’ve had a long night. Other Puppet Lawyer is sitting on the stand, holding their puppet law degree on their lap. It obviously needs to urinate. They’ve been at this quite a while and Puppet Lawyer still doesn’t know how to phrase the question.

Puppet Judge: Puppet Lawyer, you must ask your first question.

Puppet Lawyer: (Makes the clear decision to just go for it.) Did you…put your name on a letter stating that it is your professional opinion that the respondent is telling the truth because he said he was?

Puppet Law Degree finally gets free and makes a break for it, over the stage and through the audience.

Other Puppet Lawyer: Well, he also said there was interpersonal conflicts between the student and all of their instructors!

Puppet Lawyer: And you believed it — because, again — the lawyer told you there was?

Other Puppet Lawyer: Exactly!