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Article 6 on the Small Press

Toronto Computes!, Dec 2002

We have been walking down a street in Toronto, likely Queen Street West, and are about to pass a small bar. Looking down at the ground we see an ad written in chalk for a zine fair going on inside. As we look up at the door a fellow dressed like Tom Baker comes out, his arms full of folded and stapled pieces of paper.

Shrugging, we wander inside. It takes a moment for our eyes to adjust to the dim light, and for our ears to adjust to the onslaught of some underground punk band rocking on the small stage in the back of the place. The front of the pub contains the bar proper, and several stools have beefy men and women sitting at them, regulars drinking already even though its only 10 am. They stare at us with open hostility as we encroach on what they views as their personal territory.

Quickly we slip past them to the back room where billiard tables have been pushed to the side and several rows of collapsible tables have been set up. Behind each sits one or two people with a collection of small press paraphernalia for sale.

Two men with Mohawks and ripped t-shirts have hung a black sheet bearing some sort of anti-establishment logo on the cinderblock wall and framed it with Christmas lights. Appearances aside, they turn out to be the nicest guys in the place. They are associated with the band and are selling CDs, shirts and drug gear.

Beyond them is the transgender table where men in bridal gowns and women in army fatigues sell several zines about being the ‘other’ in the big, bad city of Toronto. At one point, one of the men gets out in the aisle and dances for the rest.

Next comes a table pandering maps of hotels and celebrity homes with instructions on how to break into them. We look for a map of Moses Znaimer’s home, but to no avail.

Then there are the comix. These range from hardcore sex romps to serious political satire. I wonder why no one has combined the two. One of the comix features a devilish dog that speaks to me. I happen to have a couple issues of my own comic, ‘Anarchy Bunny’, and I enter into negations with the dog’s artist. When the haggling is over I have traded several of my comix for several of his. I try this on a guy from Montreal who is selling a comic taking an interesting spin on the phrase “This town ain’t big enough for the both of us” but he’s not biting. He literally needs the cash. If he doesn’t sell enough of his wares, he doesn’t know if he’ll be able to afford to get back home. This could just be a line, but I buy two copies anyway.

At the next table we see the horror zines, covering books, film and music. A man in a tweed overcoat is holding a zine whose byline is ‘the zine of horror and the bizarre.’ “Bizarre,” says the man, “I’m from Somalia, I know bizarre.” He then launches into a long story about women and body piercings.

A frenzied looking young man then shoulders his way between us, bearing several zines made from recycled cereal boxes from the looks of it. His hair sticks up in several directions and he has a lazy eye. He scans the zines and comix we’re carrying then scurries off, bumping into a table where a clean cut man in a shirt and tie is selling his book of short stories. He has a velvet tablecloth and looks woefully out of place.

Beside him is an urn of free coffee, and clustered about it is a gaggle of wired zinesters babbling a million miles a minute about the future of the printed word in Canada. Some of them are crashing from their caffeine buzz and are passed out on orange plastic chairs.

A camera crew swings a spotlight in our face and we’re temporarily blinded. When our vision clears we see them interviewing the zine fair coordinator, who is wearing a shirt with a beer company’s logo prominently displayed. He’s also wearing one of those giant wallet chains, tattered penguin jeans (ala Dick van Dyke from ‘Bed knobs and Broomsticks’) and a necklace made of big wooden beads. Judging from the lines on his face he’s at least in his mid-thirties.

An older guy in a frayed sweater, with a greasy beard, tries to convince me to buy an old printing press with him. I politely tell him I’ll think about it.

About this time the clouds of cigarette smoke have proven to be too much and we wade back through the chaos as guys in alien masks offer us candy and raver-type grrrls suck on ring-lollies. We break out into the (relatively) cleaner air outside, our arms laden with many hours worth of reading pleasure. I am very interested in the zine with the scarlet sparkles used to frame a picture of Judy Garland from ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Judy’s face has been painted white with black lipstick and red eyes.

Yes sir. You ain’t gonna find that at Chapters.

Article 5 on the Small Press

Toronto Computes!, Nov 2002

Having been involved with the small press scene for a number of years, it is not unusual to receive emails from people who are just getting into the field themselves. They have questions about how to start, how to distribute, how to manufacture, and so on. Below are several sample questions that come up a lot, as well as my answers. Since this column is appearing in a Toronto magazine, I have molded the answers specifically to this city when possible.

Q. I am starting a small press zine and don’t really know where to start.

A. Getting in touch with other zines is a good start. Most zines are very willing to share information with each other. Also, contact Word, published by Insomniac Press. Word is a literary newspaper that publishers a literary event calendar, reviews, ads and calls for submissions. We received many submissions through our listing in Word. They can be found on the web at http://www.insomniacpress.com/word/index.htm or by mail at Word, Suite 403, 192 Spadina Avenue, Toronto, ON M5T 2C2.

Q. Where do I sell my zine?

A. We found that trying to sell a zine in a book store on consignment (where they only pay you for what they sell) is pretty much hopeless. The zine ends up getting buried behind other merchandise, and no one can even find it. However, many comic shops, small book stores, and even large chain stores will carry it if that’s the way you want to go. In Toronto your best bet are music stores, comic stores (like Silver Snail), head shops and Pages Books and Magazines. Pages is an alternative book store which sells many hard to find titles. They also have a whole display rack dedicated to the small press. This is your best bet in Toronto, if you want to sell through a store. They are located at 256 Queen St W, Toronto, ON M5V 1Z8, and their phone number is (416) 598-1447.

Q. So if you don’t sell through stores, how do you move your product?

A. We sell most of our publications either through distribution agencies or our website. Distributors can work in one of two ways. They'll either advertise your publication, and then place an order with you if someone places an order with them, or they will buy a bunch upfront. For the publisher, the second method is preferred, as those copies are now sold; if the distributor can't sell them, they are stuck with them. The downside to that is if they don't move, the distributor may not order more. You have to find distributors that deal with publications of your genre. Below is the contact information for three distributors we have had many dealings with over the years. If they are not interested in the genre of your zine, they may be able to direct you to someone who is.

Paul Houston
c/o Stuff
5879 Darlington Road
Pittsburgh, PA 15217
USA

David Wynn
c/o Mythos Books
218 Hickory Meadow Lane
Poplar Bluff, MO 63901 USA
(573)785-7710
dwynn@ldd.net

Jon Hodges
c/o Project Pulp
http://blindside.net/smallpress/
projectpulp@blindside.net

All three of these distributors work differently. For Stuff, we send Paul one issue of our publication which is then reviewed within the pages of Stuff (basically, it’s a catalogue). People then read Stuff over, contact Paul and he places an order with us. This way he is only buying issues he knows he can sell.

Mythos Books (which carries horror, sci-fi, fantasy, and mystery items) buys in bulk and then sells the purchased items through their webpage and infrequently printed catalogue. David generally orders in amounts ranging from 2 to 10 at a time, and orders more when they sell out. Mythos Books is one of the best distributors I’ve ever worked with. David is punctual and reliable and pays quickly for ordered items.

Similar to Stuff, Project Pulp will advertise publications on its website, and place orders with the publisher when clients contact them. There’s less overhead for them (since they have no print catalogue) and the website is constantly being updated. Project Pulp is a class act distributor, very professional and punctual with their payments. I definitely advise everyone interested in selling a zine to get in touch with Jon.

Q. So what does it cost me to sell through a store or distributor?

A. Generally, distributors and stores keep 40-60% of the cover price. We always avoided the places that wanted 60%, but would take the 50%. (I just don’t think its fair for the producer of a product to make less than the seller.) Take this into consideration when you price your zine. If you’re selling it for $4, you’ll likely only get between $2 and $2.50 per issue sold.

Q. How do I make my zine more well known?

A. Get in contact with other zines, and arrange ad swaps with them. This is something that I do constantly, and it gives your publication wide exposure. Also, send out as many review copies as you can afford, as this will also give you good exposure. You won't know how, but word will begin to spread. Though I never received any orders from Italy, one of my zines was wonderfully reviewed on an Italian webzine. Ad swaps and reviews will spread awareness of your publication around the world (I now have contacts in the Netherlands, Portugal, the UK, Scotland, the US, Brazil and so on). If you can, go to small press shows in your area. (For Toronto small press fairs, see last month’s column.)

Article 4 on the Small Press

Toronto Computes!, Oct 2002

If you are reading this column you are likely either a producer of and/or a consumer of small press publications (often called zines). Many people wonder if there are such things as zine fairs where people can browse through numerous pubs, have a drink, listen to some tunes and talk to other zinesters. The answer is a resounding yes! There are actually three major zine-friendly events in Toronto. They are, in alphabetical order: Canzine, Cut n Paste and the Toronto Small Press Book Fair. There is also the ever popular Word on the Street.

Canzine is organized by the producers of broken pencil, a publication that prides itself on being the pulse of the underground publication scene. Canzine is perhaps the most prominent zine fair in the city, and attracts venders from Montreal and even farther abroad. This year’s offering of homemade pubs promises over one hundred and fifty zines, an underground film and video screening, readings, panel discussions and seminars. In the past they have sometimes featured live bands and it’s not unusual to see CDs mixed in with the zines. Zines include literary journals, comics, special interest, politic rags and much more. If you’re really, really into the alternative press scene you may choke on all the mainstream advertising that has snuck into this venue.

This year Canzine will be held on Sunday, October 6, between 1 and 7 pm, at The Big Bop (651 Queen Street, corner of Queen and Bathurst). Admission is free. Anyone interested in reserving a table to peddle their wares can do so for the low sum of $7. To contact the organizers go to www.brokenpencil.com/canzine/index.php or email them at canzine@brokenpencil.com

Next is Cut n Paste, a more traditional and quiet zine fair. The last CnP I was at was on the top floor of Sneaky Dee’s, with all of the zine producers sitting snugly around small tables while the occasional potential reader wandered through. CnP is more laid back than Canzine, and though Canzine generally has more venders, at CnP you have a better chance to talk with other zinesters and make new contacts in the alternative and underground publishing scene. This year’s Cut n Paste was held (again) at Sneaky Dee’s on February 23. Admission was free. They unfortunately don’t have a webpage, but people interested in vending were asked to call Michael Comeau at 416-977-7236.

Thirdly is the Toronto Small Press Book Fair, which is actually held twice a year (once in the Spring, and once in the Fall). The 2002 Spring Fair was held on April 27, and the Fall Fair will be on November 9 at it’s customary home: Trinity-St Paul’s Centre, 427 Bloor Street West, between 11 am and 5 pm. The Book Fairs generally attract a slightly more professional crowd than Canzine or Cut n Paste, though some of the same faces are still there. Readers who come through tend to look for more literary offerings than most zinesters offer, and I had years where I sold lots of copies of my zine, to years where I didn’t cover my table rental. You may want to check this one out before reserving a table to make sure its right for your zine.

Something very cool that usually happens at these Toronto Small Press Book Fairs is the Instant Anthology. Attendees are encouraged to bring submissions to the fair, which are edited and laid out on the premises, then taken to a copy shop and duplicated all on the same day. Before the fair is over there is a new zine available! To many people this sums up what the small press is all about.

For more information on the Toronto Small Press Fairs check out the Toronto Small Press Group webpage at www.interlog.com/~ksimons/tspg.htm The organizers can be reached at TSPG, PO Box 562, Stn P, Toronto M5S 2T1 or by email at maggie@web.ca

For the completist there is also Word on the Street, a huge literary fair that is held in four cities across Canada including Toronto. Historically it is held on Queen Street West (between University and Spadina Avenues). Though most of the spotlight is on professional publications they do highlight dozens of independent publishers at Fringe Beat and Magazine Mews tents. They promise “Eclectic and dynamic [titles that] span myriad genres from comic books to Canadiana, from faith to cross-cultural and multilingual fiction, plus much, much more!” Their webpage is still showing information for last year, but if you want to check it out go to http://www.canada.com/national/features/wots/toronto.html or contact them at The Word on the Street Toronto, 40 Wellington Street East, Suite 300, Toronto M5E 1C7, Tel: 416-504-7241, Fax: 416-504-7656, email: wotstoronto@canada.com Admission to this event is free, and judging from the information on the exhibitor sign-up form page it may not cost to get a table.

There you have it, four events from which you can get your fill of independent publications. See you at the fair.

Article 3 on the Small Press

Toronto Computes!, Sep 2002 (rejected)

When Microsoft told me that they were sending me Publisher 2002 to review in this column I could hardly wait for it to arrive. As I’ve said before, I think Publisher is THE program for any desktop publishing hobbyist, and I wanted to see the new version, and I wanted to see it now! It took the courier almost three weeks to deliver the program, and by the time I held it in my hands I had begun to despair of ever seeing it.

Running home, I immediately installed it on my computer and was dumbfounded by the changes that had been made. I opened a pre-existing project to compare it to how it used to look, and the first thing that hit me was how clean the image was. The program is crystal clear, very bright, and displays amazingly well. Graphics that had no backgrounds literally now had no backgrounds, whereas before you could still see a rectangular line around them.

Secondly I noticed that the WordArt had changed slightly. Now, when it says best fit, it means it. In MsPub 2000, WordArt generally had a lot of white space around it and you had to enlarge the box to make it the actual size you wanted. Now my WordArt was the exact size of the box. When I clicked on a WordArt box I found that you could now grab it and spin it around, or angle it, without going to a tool bar. That said, there is a new WordArt toolbar that does appear when you click on a WordArt box. This toolbar allows you to easily edit the text, the format, the spacing, the text wrapping and so on. I have found it to be a very handy tool.

I began to poke around within the other tool bars and menus and discovered many new, exciting features. MsPub now comes with Design Objects, which includes things like pull quotes, barbells, logos, title graphics and ready to use advertisements. Now, instead of manually designing a pull quote (or other object), you can plunk in the object and insert your text. (Personally, I still prefer to design every aspect of my publications myself.)

The number of Wizards and Templates seems to have doubled, and they now include things like Resumes and Award Certificates, as well as many others. It also has Web Design tools, so you can create your documents to be directly viewed from the web. This includes being able to imbed links within your publications.

There are many other new options that I haven’t really played with much yet such as the Styles and Formatting, Colour Scheme and Font Scheme. With these options you can set defaults that ensure all your documents have a similar feel and theme to them. This is especially useful if you are designing multiple documents (newsletter, business card and website, say) for one club or organization.

While exploring I also discovered that you can set a default that tells Publisher how you want to handle text wrapping (how text flows around your graphics). This is much easier than manipulating each graphic’s outline, as I used to have to do.

Even better is that MsPub can now import higher end graphics like eps files. You can now use your Adobe Illustrator created graphics in Publisher!

The only drawback I can find so far is that MSPub 2002 is built with the XP operating system in mind. My computer is still running off of Windows 98, and there are a few incompatibility issues. For instance, I can’t paste text without the program crashing, and the clip art organizer did not work. However, on my wife’s computer, which has XP, everything worked fine. (I can see I’m going to have to sneak onto hers more often now.) To get around the text problem you can import a text file into your text box. It’s a little more time consuming, but it is a viable work around if you don’t have XP.

Picture pasting can be problematic as well. In 2000 if you selected a picture frame, then pasted or inserted a picture it would scale the picture to that frame. If not on XP when you do this with 2002 the picture comes out its regular size. The only work around I’ve discovered for this so far is to scale my image down in PaintShopPro or Photoshop first.

Still, even with these incompatibility problems MS Publisher 2002 is a great program, and a vast improvement over earlier incarnations. Also, for only $229.99 it’s still very affordable. A must have for the hobbyist desktop publisher.

As you can likely tell by now, I am a big fan of Microsoft Publisher and think it’s the best low-end layout program around. Think I’m wrong? Does your company produce a desktop publishing program? Have them contact me at imelod@sympatico.ca and send me a copy and maybe I’ll change my tune.

Article 2 on the Small Press

‘Toronto Computes!’, Aug 20002.

Desktop publishing has come a long way in just the past ten years. When I first got seriously into the field, I had a bubble jet printer, an IBM Aptiva and a copy of Microsoft Works. I had to plan out my layout on a piece of blank paper, then print my text and cut it out and tape or glue it down, leaving space for my pictures. Since I didn’t have a scanner or easy access to a photocopier I ended up hand drawing most of the pictures to fit the empty spaces. The finished heavily taped sheets would then get taken to the copy shop for reproduction.

There were desktop publishing products available at the time, but none of them were very affordable.

Now, desktop publishing is easier than ever. Store shelves are jam-packed with software ranging from clip art collections to design applications. If you go looking the big three names you are going to always run across are, unsurprisingly: Microsoft, Quark and Adobe.

QuarkXPress 5.0 is a very powerful program that would be of great value to a professional graphic designer. It allows linking of text boxes, text and image manipulation and colour management. It’s not as user friendly as other desktop publishing programs but it is capable of doing many things the other programs can’t. It is available for both Macs and PCs but runs a fairly hefty $899.00 US. If your desktop publishing endeavors are business related, you may want to consider looking into Quark, since you can write the purchase off as a business expense. For the rest of us though, it is a bit expensive.

Microsoft Publisher 2000 is the program that I use most often. It is a lot more affordable, at $229.99 CDN, and though it may not have all the bells and whistles QuarkXPress has, it has everything that most desktop publishers will need. With MSPub you can easily create business cards, magazines, books, greeting cards, stationary and more. It comes complete with clipart gallery and Wizards to walk you through the creation process. (It also has lots of templates, but as I advised last month, leave them be.) You can set pictures behind your text, manipulate the pictures right in MSPub (change the size, border, tone, and so on) and flip and mirror them. Link commands connect your text boxes even if they are pages apart and you can even rotate your text. Easy to use task bars make construction of your publications easy.

The third big desktop publishing software provider out there is Adobe. Adobe offers a wide range of products encompassing clip art collections, graphic manipulation programs and more. They don’t really have a desktop design program, but they do have a program that Micheala Helliwell of Tiger Horse Design says is an essential tool for any professional graphic artist. The program is Adobe Illustrator 10, which runs around $749.99 CDN. Like XPress it is a powerful design tool, but it is used more to construct illustrations than to do layout. The tool bars are similar to XPress but some of the command buttons are difficult to find. After finding the buttons, my wife and I have found Illustrator very handy in designing the layout of our new house. (“No, I don’t like the couch there. Move it into the living room and rotate it to the left.”)

The Adobe program that you should definitely pick up is Acrobat 5. It’s not too expensive at $379.99 CDN so if you can afford it, get it. Acrobat has a lot of uses, but primarily it can turn your publication into one anyone can access. When you install Acrobat it allows you to turn your MS Publisher files (.pub) into Acrobat files (.pdf). Adobe offers a free Adobe Acrobat Reader, which will allow anyone to view your document (without it being easy for them to alter). Acrobat can convert almost any type of file into a .pdf, and this is becoming the top way to share files. When I first began using Acrobat I didn’t like it, but now I don’t know what I would do without it. It is a very handy program and I suggest you purchase it if at all possible.

If, as a hobbyist desktop publisher, I had to choose between QuarkXPress and MS Publisher I would have to lean towards Publisher simply because of the price difference. It is also significantly easier to use as well. However, if you have grander ideas, and you want the professional touch, than Illustrator and Quark are the way to go.

For more info on these programs go to:

Adobe Systems Inc. http://www.adobe.com/

Microsoft http://www.microsoft.com/ms.htm

Quark Inc. http://www.quark.com/

Ministry of Whimsy Editorial Round Table

Questions posed b Jeff VanderMeer to Todd Fischer of imelod publications, 2000.

What is your particular editorial slant or philosophy? In other words, what makes your press different from other presses?

imelod was founded as a voice for emerging authors of horror, fantasy and/or science-fiction. At the time we knew of no other such zine in Canada and we were warmly received by such authors, and by the small press at large.

At first we had to hunt down submissions (since no one had heard of us yet) but soon we began receiving dozens of submissions a month from across Canada, and then from around the world (the USA, Ireland, Scotland, Brazil, Portugal, England etc.).

Eager to increase our output we began to publish chapbooks alongside our title magazine (imelod, the litzine of horror and the bizarre). We now publish four issues of imelod a year, plus at least four chapbooks.

Our submitters now include such well-known professional authors as DF Lewis, W.H. Pugmire and the novelist C.J. Henderson. (Though we do accept work from established writers, we are still dedicated to accepting work from emerging and little known authors as well.)

Though many of our publications are an homage to the great pulp writer H.P. Lovecraft, we try not to just print pastiche imitations of his work, but rather stories that give his creations a new twist.

We don’t limit ourselves to the Lovecraftian, either. We print quality, intelligent stories, ranging from the absurd to the horrifying, from the humourous to the thoughtful. We won’t turn away erotica, violence, broken taboos, swearing or any other boogey that may scare away the mainstream market. The only constant is the craft inherent in the stories and poems we publish.

What have been your biggest critical and popular successes and what differentiates them from your less successful projects? (Which brings us to another question--How do you define success for your press?)

Our best selling publications have been those in honour of Lovecraft. So much so that we launched a new label in January 1999 called Mythosian, to publish only Lovecraft related material (such as our yearly anthology The Ancient Track and our index of Lovecraftian authors, artists, movie-makers, etc. called Spawn of the Old Ones, Volumes I-III).

We consider a publication a success if we sell out our initial printing (usually 50 copies). Whenever that happens, we happily run off 50 or so more.

In looking at the major professional houses (Harcourt Brace, etc.) what, in recent years, do you perceive as their strengths and weaknesses--what do they do well, and what do they do poorly?

To tell the truth, we don’t care what they do. They ignore us, so we ignore them. The major problem with big publishers is that they don’t respect genre work (especially horror). Neither do most people, for that matter. Everyone seems to forget that many of the greats in the world of literature wrote horror (like Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickins, Jules Verne, etc.)

Major publishing houses don’t give many new writers a chance, instead focusing all of their attention (and resources) on a small stable of big names (like King, Koontz, Rice). If they do give a new writer a chance they don’t push the book, and it doesn’t move. The big wigs then look at each other, shrug, and say, “See, horror doesn’t sell.”

(Not to disparage those that want to make a career out of writing horror. You just need to realize that of all the genres, it is one of the hardest to really break into. And your first step is to get exposure in the small press.)

The proliferation of chains like Barnes & Noble and Borders, at the expense of independent bookstores, has been criticized quite a bit in recent years--although B&N, for example, does deal with small presses. What, exactly, are the advantages and disadvantages of dealing with the chains. And have you had to change the way you do business?

Chains eating up smaller bookstores hasn’t affected us at all. (Not in a publishing sense, anyway.) We only sell through distributors, in certain shops and via the internet. In the beginning we placed ourselves in several music and comic shops, but found that our publications were buried under others, so no one could even find them, let alone buy them.

We’ve been quite successful (see question #2) operating in this fashion.

Elatedly, perhaps, what are some of the biggest problems you face as an independent? Please share some of your more creative solutions.

Perhaps the biggest problem an indy press faces is production costs. Trying to find a company that can print or photocopy your publications at a reasonable price is a hard, grueling task. Luckily for us, our search ended quickly. We found a photocopier that gives us a really good deal, keeping our overheard down (and allowing us to keep our prices down as well).

The second is spreading the word about your press. The best way to do this is to write to as many other zines and small presses as you can, and ask them to participate in an ad swap. Most will agree readily. Once you begin correspondence with some established publishers, you can pump them for info about the market, distributors, and so on. (Our own thanks in particular to Jeff Thomas of Necropolitan Press.)

You should also try to attend book and zine fairs. Send them some free samples to hand out if you can’t attend. (You can find out about such fairs in your area on the internet, in literary journals, local events listings or from your zinester friends.)

Lastly, send out as many review copies as you can afford. This really helps spread the word, and will hopefully result in some type you can quote on the back of your next book.

Based on your own experience and knowledge, what role do you see independent presses playing in the next 10 years, and how does this role relate to trends among the large publishers?

Independent press will continue to do what it has done since the turn of the century—publish great new literature; discovering new talent before the big boys.

What projects are you currently working on, and what can we expect to see from your press in the next year?

Current projects include issue 14 of imelod (featuring C.J. Henderson) in July, our next installment of The Ancient Track in October, our third HPL tribute issue of imelod in October, a chapbook by Octavio Ramas Jr. sometime this summer or fall, and a second collection of poetry by M.E.F. at some point this year.

jeffvan@freenet.tlh.fl.us
http://www.mindspring.com/~toones/roundtable/index2.html
http://wyrmpublishing.com/ministry.html

Dealing with Cataplexy

Todd Fischer, Feb 2010

I’ve always thought I got off a bit lucky with my narcolepsy, as I was not suffering from cataplexy, a condition that often goes hand-in-hand with the sleep disorder (70% of narcoleptics have it).

However, the symptoms as usually described appear to only be the most serious cases and not the norm. Serious cataplectic attacks can essentially put people into waking comas where their muscles go stiff or loose, causing them to fall to the ground unable to move, but awake and aware.

The thing is—doing more reading on the subject—I found that cataplexy attacks are not always so catastrophic. They can be more subtle, such as leg spasms, dropping things for reason, small head shakes or nodding, a loosening of the jaw or slurred or troubled speech.

Except for the loosening of the jaw I have been exhibiting all those symptoms for a long time now, but just thought the head nodding was micro-naps, the slurred speech caused by tiredness, the dropping due to carpel tunnel.

It’s been getting worse though. My energy level has dropped exponentially, and doing one chore can leave me sweating and wheezing for breath (say, taking a full laundry basket down two flights of stairs). I’ve been trying to get on the exercise bike to combat this, but since it’s not actually being caused by poor cardio I am uncertain it will have any effect.

I try to be mindful of my hands, but the moment I don’t think about it is when I spill pills all over the floor, or send my cup flying off my desk. This is why I dropped a bottle of beer in a friend’s campsite, soaking their tent (the bottle erupted like a geyser), why I am afraid to hold babies, and why I would not act as a pall-bearer at my father’s funeral (even back then I knew something was wrong).

The societal fear of making a spectacle of myself is making me even more leery of leaving the house. I can control my own environment much more when I am by myself (or with just Mel), and I don’t have to worry about embarrassing myself by nodding off at a concert or dinner, spilling a drink, having trouble speaking to a waitress or having to dash to the bathroom for a half an hour.

It also makes me more reserved. Cataplectic attacks are usually brought on by emotion, and my aloofness and coldness have been remarked on by others. I don’t tend to feel highs, and rarely get excited. I remember one Christmas when my brothers gave me a chest they had built themselves and they were hurt by my apparent lack of appreciation. In actuality I loved it, but I found myself unable to give them the reaction the gift deserved. Thinking about incidents like this now, I can’t help but wonder if I have unconsciously developed a survival technique of dampening my emotions to fend off cataplexy.

For those who are interested, here is some information on cataplexy:

It is important to know that almost 70 percent of those affected with narcolepsy also experience cataplexy. This complication causes a sudden muscle weakness while the person is awake. This may lead to sudden head nodding, difficulty forming words or speaking, dropping things out of one’s hands, and even buckling of the knees, potentially leading to a fall. These attacks may last for several seconds or up to a few minutes, all while the person is fully aware of their occurrence.

Cataplexy manifests itself as muscular weakness which may range from a barely perceptible slackening of the facial muscles to the dropping of the jaw or head, weakness at the knees, or a total collapse. Usually the speech is slurred, vision is impaired (double vision, inability to focus), but hearing and awareness remain normal. These attacks are triggered by strong emotions such as exhilaration, anger, fear, surprise, orgasm, awe, embarrassment, and laughter. Cataplexy may be partial or complete, affecting a range of muscle groups, from those controlling facial features to (less commonly) those controlling the entire body.

Arm weakness
Sagging jaw
Drooping head
Slumping of the shoulders
Slurred speech
Generalized weakness
Knee buckling

When cataplexy happens often, or cataplexy attacks make patients fall or drop things, it can have serious effects on normal activities. It can cause accidents and be embarrassing when it happens at work or with friends. For example, narcoleptics may not pick up babies because they are afraid they may drop them.

A person's efforts to stave off cataplectic attacks by avoiding these emotions may greatly diminish their lives, and they may become severely restricted emotionally if diagnosis and treatment is not begun as soon as possible

Cataplexy in severe cases can cause vital signs to be hard to detect without a continuous auditory pulse oximeter. As an anecdotal example, one Allison Burchell, a sufferer of severe Cataplexy, has been pronounced dead three times.

Minotaurs and Centaurs

Todd Fischer, Aug. 21st, 2009

I was thinking about centaurs and minotaurs the other day, and the etymology behind those names intrigued me. Both use the root –taur, but each are a human-hybrid with a different animal (a horse and a bull respectively).

So, doing some light research I found the obvious first. The Minotaur was a son of King Minos with a cow, so the taxonomy is rather apparent. Mino (for Minos) + taur (short for Taurus, or bull) = Minotaur.

The Minotaur was a singular creature, names after its parents.

Now the origin of the word centaur is more speculative. The most obvious option is that they are named after Centaurus, who is oft credited with their creation. (So then, like the Minotaur, centaurs would be named after their parent.) In this case, the root –taur is not a root at all.

However, there are those who think that centaur is a combination of –cento and –taurus (or in modern English “bull piercers” or “goad bull”). Proponents of this taxonomic approach say that the centaurs were so named as they were cattle herders. In this case the –taur would refer to animals under their care, and not themselves.

You see, this intrigues me, as the suffix –taur is often used today in fantasy, Furrydom, role-playing and other venues to mean a body form/body plan for any human-animal hybrid (though usually of a centauroid composition—that is, a human torso on a four-limbed animal body).

Considering the nature of the origins of the Minotaur’s and the centaurs’ names, this would seem to be a flawed practice (as for both the –taur either refers to bulls and/or their parents), making this a case of metanalysis.

So taurs (also called tauric) such as cervitaurs (deer-like centaurs) and felitaurs (cat-like centaurs) are misnamed, since neither are being named after their parentage, nor are they associated with bulls in any way.

(Unless we look at the history of so-called centauroid creatures of legend, back to the lamassu and alad of Sumerian mythology. They had a human head on a bull’s body, so were not what we normally consider centauroid. However, they were also known as urmahlullu, which was a name shared by the shedu of Mesopotamian mythology, who had a human torso atop of lion’s body. Is I possible that the Greeks used –taur to denote such hybrid creatures because of the sheddu and lamassu?)

Centauroid still seems to me to be a useful word, as it describes exactly how a hybrid animal’s body is constructed (just like a centaur’s). Likewise, centaurine.

However, simply slapping –taur onto the end of other animal species still seems fundamentally flawed to me (unless the –taur is to mean ‘bull-like’, in that the lower body has four legs, like a bull). The problem with that of course is our old friend the Minotaur, who is the exact opposite—an animal head on a human body (though modern depictions tend to make a Minotaur look more like a bipedal bull).

A better word might be ‘–quad’ (meaning “four footed”, though it admittedly sounds redundant. (‘Leoquad’ for instance. We know lions have four legs. This doesn’t seem descriptive enough.)

Liminal is a possibility, as most centauroid creatures are considered liminial beings (that is, a creature whose nature a conflict between their human and animal components). Leoliminal? Ursaliminal? Sounds good taxonomically but doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue.

Perhaps a new suffix could be created using one of the earliest cases of centauroid creatures on file? ‘-alad’ would seem the easiest. Leo-alad. Ursa-alad. No. How about ‘-ssu’ from lamassu? Leossu. Ursassu. Dracossu. That one’s not bad.

This intellectual exercise aside, it may just be simplest to go with the flow and the metanalyzed term of ‘taur’ to mean any human-animal hybred, no matter how it body is constructed, or whether it is a quadruped, biped or other type of tetrapod.

What is the music telling you?

Todd Fischer, Apr. 22nd, 2009

Written for 'The Vopice of the Toy Soldiers', recorded by Enyo.

Throughout history the minstrel has been an instrument of change. He may have gone by other names, but he has always been the same. It is the minstrel who shapes history, who—with mere words—can change the course of a nation…or of the entire world.

From the Anglo-Saxon scopes, to the Norse skalds, from the North American shaman to the French joeungleurs, these smiths of words and music have guided us through history.

Listen to the music. What is it telling you?

Sadly, today most minstrels have lost their way. They have forgotten their noble heritage and the niche they fill within society across the globe. Instead of cautioning kings against folly they peddle merchandise, push pastimes that distract the citizenry from what is happening around them, and aid and assist in the mental enslavement of our generation.

However, there is one beckon in the night, one shining light, one man so insane with glee that he willingly wanders the wastelands of stardom rather than sell his soul to the devil.

This man is Dr. Steel. With lyrics that urge the listener to question authority, to think for themselves, to be creative rather than destructive, Dr. Steel’s music can change you. It can drop the scales from your eyes, it can connect you with a community of like minded individuals who want to make having fun the world’s top priority, and it can inspire you.

Listen to the music. What is it telling you?

Like the bards of old Dr. Steel tells it like it is, through metaphor and allegory (or even a puppet show). Armed with humour, wit and cupcakes he braves the indifference of a savage industry. For he is not just a bard; he is also a white knight, wearing a lab coat as his tunic, his goggles as his shield, and his music as his sword. Thus armed he has set out on an epic journey.

Will you follow?

Listen to the music.

What is it telling you?

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