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Face-to-Face With an Idol

I heard something once that made perfect sense: "One should never confuse an artist with their art. The artist usually ends up being so much less than the art."

In other words, watch out for those heels of clay.

It makes perfect sense. I understand it completely. My conscious mind turns it over, strokes the concept gently and says, "Gee, that's really a nifty idea!"

Then reality sets in: I have a three heroes. One is fictional: Cyrano D'Bergerac. One is deceased: Oscar Wilde. One is alive and kicking and kicking HARD damnit: Harlan Ellison.

Flash back with me eleven or so years. I had just finished my law enforcement career by coming to the realization that anything that had me drunk, in tears and convinced me that sticking a loaded .45 down my throat with my finger on the trigger was a good thing probably shouldn't be continued.

I spent my entire youth preparing to be a cop. I studied the martial arts. I took college courses in criminal justice. I was an M.P.

Then, all of a sudden, I had no direction in life. My goals and dreams were shattered like so many broken Christmas ornaments and I had no idea what could possibly be next.

Depressed is as good a word as any.

And then one day in my boredom, I picked up a book of short-stories by this little obnoxious dude by the name of Harlan Ellison.

And found out I wasn't alone. There were others like me out there. No purpose, no direction and no real will to go on. There were others out there, like me, who had been disabused by the world's ugliness and remained tattered shells of humanity. There were others who, having experienced this, went on and found the things in life that meant something: Friendship, love, loyalty.

Harlan's stories moved me beyond words and gave me a purpose in life. If one story I could write can have the effect on someone in the world like Harlan's had on me, I'll die happy.

I've gone on to meet the woman of my dreams, to sell my fiction, to have wonderful friends. And it just keeps getting better. That day I tasted the steel from my own service weapon seems like a bad dream now.

I've moved beyond, and even the limit of the sky seems a small obstacle.

I've never met the man. I have friends who are his friends. I've spoken with him on-line, and spoken with others who've had their lives touched by this man in one way or another.

(Example: I was having a conversation with Katherine Dunn, the National Book Award recipient for her novel, Geek Love, at Clarion West in 1995. She asked who my influences were. I told her, "Well, I know it's not popular to admit, but Harlan Ellison."

Katherine sat up, grabbed me by the shirt and said, "Don't you ever say anything derogatory about Harlan Ellison in my presence again. When "Geek Love," came out, the critics lambasted me. They tore my book up and called me 'sick,' and 'odd.' I was despondent. Then my phone rings. I answer it and this squeaky, high-pitched male voice on the other end says, "Katherine Dunn? Harlan Ellison. Geek Love is a helluva book." Harlan then sent me a couple of his books and we've been friends since. So shut up with the, "It's not popular," bullshit. It is here.")

But I've never met the man.

Tonight, all that changes. He is appearing for a signing along with a number of other authors as part of the Nebula awards weekend here in Seattle.

Tonight, I meet one of my heroes.

I'm terrified and elated and nervous and I just hope I don't throw up on him.

You know, I shouldn't be like this. I'm an adult and a published writer in my own right, and I've worked security for far more famous people than Harlan Ellison.

(Note to self: Pee before you go tonight.)

Joseph Haines, signing off from The Edge of the Abyss.

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