Life got difficult, and I got frustrated trying to sort prose out of the frypan hiss and crackle of my nervous system, so I declared that I wasn't a writer any more. A year later, Patrick pointed out that (1.) the stack of drafts, starts, notes, partials, unmailed letters, and unclassifiable bits I'd generated as a nonwriter was over three inches thick; and (2.) we were long overdue for another Izzard, and could anything in that stack be used as the basis for an editorial?
After some trials, I figured out that writing anything more extensive than fragments was painfully slow and difficult, but my editorial abilities were in relatively good shape. I had a hefty stack of raw material to work with, and while I couldn't remember writing most of it, I assumed that the writer and I had a lot in common. Thus was born "Over Rough Terrain": mosaic, montage, bricolage, brachiopod, a cut&paste ransom note from me to me. Patrick helped.
The first version, in Izzard #9 (February '87), ran twenty-odd pages. Selections from it appeared in Fanthology 1987 (1991), and several noncontiguous paragraphs were reshuffled and spliced to produce "Life in Change Wartime" for The Mississippi Review 47/48, (1988). What follows is yet another reselection. I think I like this one. I guarantee nothing.
Oh, yeah: most of it is true.
I. Unfinished letter (New York, 1985-1986):
"And all the seas were ink--"
I write to you from 1985--a late October night, an apartment in upper Manhattan--invoking fanac against the twenty-three years between us, addressing a letter to 1962.
(The first time I put out a genzine, collating and stapling a small mountain of pages in our living room in Seattle, it seemed to me that our house had come free of its moorings in time and space; that outside, the light from our windows shone into the dark of a discontinuous no-place. We had entered into the great slow paper tides where fans speak back and forth to each other, up and down the timestream simultaneously; and Patrick tells me I talked to them all night in my sleep...All that happened a long time ago, house and night genuinely vanished into a gulf. But I've learned since then that a letter or a fanzine speaks to unknown futures as well, and that Tom Weber--great friend, sometimes co-editor--was oblivious and still unfound in that Seattle we'd temporarily left behind us.)
Patrick and I have a game we play sometimes. Imagine you're a time-traveler addressing the 1956 Worldcon banquet ("Hi, I'm from the future, and--"). What do you tell them, what do you show them? And what do they think it all means? You're allowed one cardboard box, the size a case of paper comes in, and you can have whatever fits into it for show-and-tell. What's in the box? Another way we play the game is sitting in our living room. "A person from n year walks in the front door and takes a look around. What's comprehensible, what's remarkable?" Interesting to find out that any time after the turn of the century only the tape-cassettes and the black boxes festooned with knobs and dials are inscrutable. The single most striking visual novelty is all those hundreds of inexpensive paperback books with their gaudy four-color covers; but then, we live in an old building and don't own a computer.
APEX, you live where the cutting edge of the future is slicing through 1962. In your universe I'm in first grade, already a reader and showing signs of peer-group maladjustment. Out in the Midwest Patrick is three years old, born the day Castro entered Havana. He's a reader too, the brat, and has a cherished pair of toy plastic glasses he puts on while doing so. We're pretty typical, and if you looked at us from the right angle and bent frame of mind (technology turns up the darndest things), you might guess that someday we'd wind up sitting around together in some hotel room, talking late-model fanpolitics and fuggheads.
But probably not, and in the meantime you have with some consternation found a letter from a stranger tucked inside the latest APEX mailing. It's supposed to be a secret--or, when the inevitable happened, a private--correspondence group, after all. But that's your fault; you invoked me, right here where you say, "Fanhistorians fifty years in the future, reading this, should realize that we don't all hate Bruce Pelz." I knew that, but thank you anyway, good timebinders that you are.
(Time was and once upon a time, there was such a thing as an Omniapan. You can find the word in the Fancyclopedia, beached and gasping like the lost archaic words in the OED. An Omniapan is a member of all the fannish apas at once: a purely theoretical concept these days, though still barely possible when the word was used to describe Bruce Pelz. Completism is a form of lunacy not without honor.) It's been at least five years, my time, since the last issue of South of the Moon, a descriptive directory of the fannish apas--small type, twenty-odd pages, last edited I think by Denys Howard. Only a lunatic--Charles Korbas springs to mind--would've tried to join even a fraction of the apas it listed; Pelz was and is far saner than that.)
Without reading another word written contemporary with the founding of APEX, I'd have known that someone somewhere called you elitists, and known you weren't, even without reading the footnote you left. Looking at your zines I can see the situation was bound to be awkward, one way or another. There you all are, in the brief period wherein a reasonably intelligent fan could say "grok" with a straight face, talking about daring ideas at four or ten or thirty pages' length, inventing the future together. Might it be possible, you ask, for a person to be emotionally committed to not-one-but- two other people at the same time? With cool circumspection: expansive love? And what do we mean when we say "intentional community"?
(Easy enough to say Ye Wot Not, as the whispery-voiced and spectral postcard dated February 2003 informs me before dematerializing again. Still, the winds of time come and shake the twiltone in my hands as I read Ted White's description of a new drug, LSD, that by report induces raving and psychotic states of mind--this of course by hearsay; likewise, his knowledge of marijuana.)
All our cardboard boxes are full of fanzines, otherwise I'd empty and refill one for you. As it is I'll have to invite you into my living room, where the stacked-up cases of paper, can of ditto fluid, tubes of ink and quires of stencils will seem no more than normal. I won't tell you that a new Canon tabletop copier goes for $769.00 (color-change modules are an extra $60-$70 a pop) down in the Village--far less than a new mimeo or ditto machine, or a month's rent on your old apartments there.
This is a news clipping from the Times that I've been saving for you. It's a current fave of mine, and its weirdness would be wasted on the '56 Worldcon. "The guys in fatigues, see, are Cuban soldiers stationed in Angola--" (very young, cheerfully standing in line with their arms around each others' shoulders to have their picture taken: smile!) "--who're protecting U.S. oil company installations from attack by rebel guerrilla troops. The oil companies are there because they've been doing business in Angola for years. The Cubans are there because the Marxist government of Angola asked Castro to send them. And the rebels are being backed by the U.S. government because their leader, Jonas Savimbi, says he's an anti-Communist, even though he used to be a Maoist and you can tell he's up to no good because he always wears mirrorshades."
On second thought, maybe you'd better sit down. Here, I'll make coffee, a very old ritual indeed. "These are freeze-dried instant coffee crystals. Freeze-drying technology was a spin-off. . . um, a serendipitous development, generated by the space program. Tang, astronauts, pacemakers, Pyrex baking dishes, golf: funny and not funny at all, and I can't explain it briefly. Nixon was President at the time. For the golfing on the moon, I mean. No wisecracks, or I won't tell you who's President now. You don't want to know anyway. Senators in space, God Almighty. Send Heinlein up and let him die honorably of a heart attack." "Huh?"
(I cannot tell it all. No one knows it all. The world changed. The next day, it changed again. More than eight and a half thousand days from then till now, filmed live before a studio audience, and the fifteen or sixteen thousand more I'll probably see raise their eyebrows at me when I try to speak. Take a deep breath and say "Yes, all that you imagined, and more, sooner than you expected; notions WAHF'd long ago. And less, too. Mark box labeled 'Other'." Incomprehension: can you hear me? And on third thought I neither raise my voice nor try again.)
Did you ever play games, you who thought to footnote yourself for fanhistorians? Sat back with your APEX mailing and a cigarette that hath not a cough in a carload, and wondered what, of all the things written there, a future reader would find most remarkable? You there, for instance, Ted White--to whom in truth this letter is being written, as I now realize. It seems natural enough; the 1962 version is remarkably like the Ted I know now--same typewriter, too--and if the writing is less practiced it's still very recognizably that same emphatic, almost journalistically straightforward style. You've just moved to Brooklyn, shutting down Towner Hall. You're making pro sales and writing jazz reviews, you're married to Sylvia White, and you're as full of plans and ideas and as open about discussing them in print as ever. And . . . and my nerve fails me at this point, as well it should.
(This evening after dinner I opened two fortune cookies, and one of them was blank and the other said "To be content with little is true happiness." That's not quite what I had in mind, but what reason would a fortune cookie have to lie to me? In the meantime, I'm young, working an editorial job in New York that I like, and have everything all planned out. I know who I am, Harry, sure enough; and the owl was once a baker's daughter.)
Epilogue: Here this ceases to be a letter. For a moment there I thought I saw the future; it pointed a trembling finger at me and told me to shut my yap. There are certain technical advantages to wimping out on the paper universe, though:
"Hello, Ted, you busy? Got time for a very belated phonecall of comment?" I explain what I've been up to.
"No kidding." He seems genuinely surprised. "Where did Moshe get hold of a run of APEX? It was supposed to be a secret, you know. Not that that ever makes any difference."
"He's not sure--probably in a box of fanzines he bought as a package deal. Most of them are addressed to Robert Lichtman, but Moshe says that's not who he got them from."
So we discuss their mysterious provenance (it remains mysterious), private apas in general, and the impossibility of keeping anything out of general circulation once it's in print. Eventually Ted gets around to the question. "Well, what did you think? I haven't looked at an APEXzine in something like ten years. How does all that old stuff come across?" He sounds almost casual.
"Not bad. Not as bad as I bet you think it does. Steve Stiles comes across as awfully young--"
"Well, he was."
"--and Deindorfer sounds just like he does now--"
"Yeah, his writing's always been like that."
"--and you still sound like you."
"Christ, do I? I thought I'd changed more than that. I used to be incredibly uptight, you know--I wasn't even smoking jazz-and-sports-cars back then. All that came later."
"Still your voice, though," I say. And we talk some more, coming to no great conclusions but both agreeing that, yes, this certainly is time-binding, no doubt about it, and we've managed to croggle each other. My real LoC to Ted gets delivered over the phone, a few comments on what 1962 and the rest of the sixties looked like to me, offered in exchange for the view I'd gotten in APEX.
I don't know. I've been told that if you hang around fandom long enough and hear enough anecdotes, you'll eventually believe that you too were at the 1968 Baycon; but I still wasn't there and doubt now that I'll ever arrive. I was twelve years old in 1968 and stuck in the Change Wars DMZ, out in the despiséd reactionary provinces through whose towns the caravans passed while dogs barked and howled. That outside my tight little Mormon community there were upheavals and transformations taking place seemed clear enough, but beyond that nothing made sense. The news arrived shattered in transit. Family, church, schools, and assorted publications from Reader's Digest to Ramparts were each pushing different versions and interpretations of events. All of them seemed to have undetermined hidden agendas, all of them admonished me not to believe what those other guys were saying. I had no idea what the Vietnam War was about and wasn't sure what the protesters were protesting, and not if I'd been threatened with torture could I have explained how they were connected to drugs, the Beatles, California, black unrest, long hair, sex, the Communist menace, outré fashions, rock and roll, and Satan's plan for world domination.
Bad years and bad times, drug warning films, vice-principals prowling about with rulers to check skirt lengths and so stave off riots in the streets. We were always being watched for incipient signs of ... I still don't know what. Back home, nobody seems to know any more. In some ways I'm still confused, to this day never feeling quite sure I understand what's going on, and frequently prone to say, "Look, I don't know if this is going to make any sense to you, but--"
But if this does: What I was reading about in APEX, those people and their discussions and their lives, was part of the changes from which I was so mercilessly protected. It felt good to finally meet some of the nameless monsters of my youth and find they're people I already know, committing their malfeasances on twiltone in dear familiar slapdash apahacking style. Sex and drugs and rock and roll and politics are connected because that's what's nattered about in their mailing comments, just like in any other apa I've ever seen. It pulls that whole complex mess out of the dream world and into the one I live in. Nothing like a primary-source historical document for carrying its whole context along.
One of these days I'll have to ask Ted how he feels about being used as a primary-source historical document, albeit a recent one. I figure that if he objects I can point out that while I was reading that stack of old APEX mailings, Tom Weber was in our living room reading a complete run of Oasis mailings he'd latched onto when Patrick was re-sorting some boxes of old fanzines. We hadn't looked at the things for years, in spite of Oasis having been in many ways the defining apa of our fugitive late-1970's fannish generation. (With cool circumspection: primary and secondary relationships? And what do we mean when we say "biology is not destiny"?) Before we know it we're answering question after question from Tom about the goings-on alluded to there, the whole endless epic cycle, tales of our misspent youth, transcontinental folly and worlds conquered or so it seemed at the time. It becomes clear that we are turning into the same sort of story-telling old farts as our fancestors, which is not a bad thing but is certainly amusing. And yes, Tom, quite a few people you know were in Oasis, though of course we were all very different back then. And no, it wasn't secret, just private and invitational, and future generations should realize that it wasn't simple stupidity that led the membership to turn down a proposed new member named Dave Langford. Indeed, it was a very complicated sort of stupidity, and I don't think I can explain. So ask Avedon about it instead. I'm sure she'll be thrilled.