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ralph robert moore


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ralph robert moore

Copyright © 2009 by Ralph Robert Moore.

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maybe we won't find it funny anymore
february 1, 2009

God grant we get good days forever, but of course we don't, there are those bad days tossed in the salad, like sand.

Wednesday, January 21, was one of those bad days for me.

And by "bad", of course, I have to qualify. I wasn't strolling down the sidewalk in a black top hat, twirling an ebony cane, when a piano fell on my head; I wasn't sitting with naked legs on the edge of an examination table while a doctor, eyeglasses reflecting the sky outside, worked his way around to telling me I had cancer.

All the bad things I experienced that day were little bad things. But little bad things, cumulatively, affect you.

First of all, we had to go to Mary's eye doctor for her annual vision field test, where they check Mary's peripheral vision, having her place her lovely chin in the metal cup of a large machine, a black patch over one eye so she looks like a beautiful, long-haired pirate, having her press her right thumb down on a handheld device each time she saw a tiny white light inside the machine, as if good health were a video game.

In and of itself, that sounds fairly simple. But we had to wait over an hour past our appointment time before we were called into the land of tiny examination rooms. No one makes patients wait as long as eye doctors do. Why is that? Dentist, general practitioner, cardiologist, dermatologist, our asses are off the seats in five minutes. But eye doctors? You sit with your legs splayed, staring at the illuminated fish tank, where nothing exciting ever happens in those blue and green depths, just everybody going to the left, then everybody going to the right, while the quarter hours slowly disappear in the dust of a wasted morning.

After we were back out in the sunlight of the parking lot, we made the rounds of different food markets, storing up supplies so we could stay inside the next two weeks.

At Kroger's, we had to pick up a number of Mary's prescriptions. The clerk came over and, looking down at the white package in his hand, said there was a problem with the Altace, one of Mary's medications (for blood pressure).

Mary's Medicare D carrier had decided to increase the co-payment for her Altace from $60 to $171 (for a three months' supply). No explanation why they had suddenly tripled the cost.

However, she could get a generic for the same period for $36.

I don't know a lot about drugs, but I do know not all generics are created equal. There are some generics that are chemically quite similar to the brand name drug (known as AB drugs), and other generics that cost less, but are less similar (and therefore, possibly, less effective). Obviously, we would want a generic that was most similar to the brand name. I asked the white-coated pharmacist if the generic he had substituted was an AB generic, and he got defensive, standing behind his rear counter, with its parapets of hard plastic bins of filled drug orders, that I was questioning his choice of substitution. He finally conceded the generic was in the AB group, but gave me a resentful look that I had pushed him on it. Too bad. I'm a husband. I want to make sure my wife's getting proper medication.

So we get home with all our groceries, brake the car in the driveway while I get out to roll up the garage door, and Mary says, What's wrong with our gate?

We have a wooden privacy fence around the rear of our property, like all Texans, and there's a gate on the east side of our land, at the back of the front lawn.

I looked at the gate. It had obviously been kicked in, leaving a deep gouge in the wood opposite the gate's black padlock. The only person who would do that would be the electric meter reader guy, so he could read the meter in back.

How rude. (And I do, truly, hate rudeness.)

So we go inside, and someone has left a message on our answering machine, asking us to contact such and such a number if we are Loretta Moore, or know a Loretta Moore.

We aren't, and don't.

But this same person has called our number every day for the past month.

I assume it's from a collection agency.

I've picked up the phone several times to tell them there's no Loretta Moore here, and to put us on their no call list, but they still call.

So, what can I do? I could call the collection agency and order them not to call us again, but I already told their representatives not to call again, and they still call. I could research a state agency to report them, but my hours are limited. Same with the jerk who kicked in our fence to read the meter. I could call the electric company and stay on hold while my right ear got warm, as it listened to a bunch of old Kenny Rogers songs done as violin instrumentals, but who wants to listen to that much Kenny Rogers?

Anyway, after all that, we realize the pharmacist left one of Mary's prescriptions out of the stapled white bag he handed us.

So we have to get dressed again, go all the way back out to Kroger's' Pharmacy.

We get back home, darkness in the windows, and a fan has sent me an email saying a story of mine is appearing, full text, on a website.

A website that has published my story without my permission.

I'm going to go into some detail about this, because I know from the emails I receive that a lot of the people who regularly visit this site are writers or aspiring writers, or readers interested in the writing life. So I thought a "behind the scenes" look into this aspect of publishing might be interesting.

Here's the situation:

I submitted a short story to a magazine on November 7, 2007. The story was accepted for publication on December 11, 2007. However, the editor informed me with his acceptance letter that the magazine is no longer a print magazine, only an online magazine.

This happens sometimes. I submit to a print magazine, and it turns out the magazine is now only online. Each time it has happened, until now, there's never been a problem. I withdraw the story, because the terms of publication have changed (online versus print), and the editor is gracious and professional. Writers and editors go through this all the time.

(There are some writers who are okay with publishing online, but like a lot of writers, I'm not (unless the online edition is also available as a print edition - I don't have any problem with that). If I take the time to write a story, I want to see it in print. I want to be able to hold the magazine in my hands.)

So on December 11 I wrote the editor back, letting him know I was withdrawing the story. He replied confirming my story had been withdrawn, and he no longer had any right to publish it.

But now it turned out the editor had ignored my instructions, and had in fact posted the full text of my story online, violating my copyright.

I contacted the editor, telling him to remove the story from his site.

Here's the email I received back from him, quoted in full:

Hello, The story went up on the site for one day and then was removed as the person that was running the site did not know of you pulling it after you send it to us to be published. That was also an issue back is that issue is no longer up now for 4 months now. I don't understand why you telling us this now 4 months after the fact. This in no way hurts you from using or reusing the story for any other magazine on or off line and I am shocked at the fact that after sending it to us in the first place that you are now belly aching about something that no one even saw. The web master was shocked that you even saw it since it was pulled off the site in hours of it be posted.

I would say next time know who you are sending your work to and be happy that an editor wants to publish your work. We turned down hopeful writers stories to say yes to yours. Like I said that was 4 months ago, last issue and no one even knows about it. Now move on.

You have to really appreciate the horrible grammar of his response, and his inappropriate attitude. This is an editor? (And believe me, I get a lot of letters from editors, but I had never received one like this before.)

I answered him back, of course:

You say, "The story went up on the site for one day and then was removed as the person that was running the site did not know of you pulling it after you send it to us to be published. That was also an issue back is that issue is no longer up now for 4 months now. I don't understand why you telling us this now 4 months after the factů Like I said that was 4 months ago, last issue and no one even knows about it. Now move on."

My story was not on your site for "one day". It is still on your site right now, as of this writing, four months later. It's at [specific URL address] as I told you in my previous email. I want it removed immediately.

"The story went up on the site for one day and then was removed as the person that was running the site did not know of you pulling it."

And why did that anonymous person not know of me pulling it? Because you failed to tell them. It's not the anonymous person's fault-it's your fault.

"I would say next time know who you are sending your work to."

I thought I was sending my story to a print magazine. Here's what you say in the introduction to your submissions page: "[Magazine] is a quarterly magazine, coming out with six issues a year. Once we publish a piece of fiction or artwork, a complimentary copy of the issue in which your work appeared will be sent to you."

You're obviously representing [your magazine] to be a print magazine (how else could you send a "complimentary copy"?) Even though you no longer are a print magazine, that statement about a complimentary copy is still on your site as of today. It is extremely misleading. You're wasting the time of every writer who submits a story to you thinking it's going to be in print, not online.

"This in no way hurts you from using or reusing the story for any other magazine on or off line."

Once a story is published, even if it's only for one day, it can no longer be marketed as an unpublished story. It has to be marketed as a reprint.

Why on earth do you not simply own up to your mistake (instead of blaming it on someone else), remove my story, and apologize?

Ralph Robert Moore

The magazine did eventually remove my story, so I thought the issue was settled.

But then I received an email from the owner. He wrote me a long email which again simply repeated the misstatements in the editor's email. Here's two sample paragraphs from his email:

As [the editor] tried to tell you before you attacked him as a person and an editor that the story did slip sadly through the cracks and did go on our site before it could be pulled off. This was however two issues ago and that issue was off line for months now and not being seen by anyone at this time. Like I said before fiction is send to the web master to be added into an issue before even the author is told of it s publication. When you pulled it from us the web master was told but dealing with so many stories yours again slipped into our pages. Things happen...we are all human.

Now since you so up set about it hurting you from printing it in a print magazine what you don't understand is that it dose not matter anyway because even though the story did go online giving us electronic rights this is not going to hurt you submitting it to a print publication because its print rights that they are dealing with. Two sides on the card deck altogether. You are free to do with it as you please as [the editor] told you again before you attacked him.

I wrote him back:

Thanks for your email.

However, in it you make the same misstatements [the editor] did.

Let's talk about facts.

The issue my story appeared in has not been "off line now for several months". It was online as late as last week, on [specific URL address].

The story was not removed until January 24, 2009, at which point a message was posted on that webpage stating, "This story has been removed by request of the author". I didn't make that request until just last week (when I first became aware the story was online). Not off line for several months. Off-line less than a week. That's a fact. What does it say about your position that [the editor] (and now you) are misrepresenting the amount of time the story was on your site?

You make the statement that my story being posted online does not hurt me so far as selling the story to a print magazine goes, because print magazines are interested in print rights. You're completely missing the point. If I sell my story to a print magazine now (or an online magazine), I have to sell it as a reprint, because you published the story. Most magazines specify they don't accept reprints (understandably). And most of the few who do accept reprints pay a reduced rate for them, because they are reprints. I'm not trying to be factitious here, but do you not understand that important point? The difference between a story that's never appeared anywhere (online or in print), versus a reprint?

I don't think that what [the editor] did (publishing my story when he expressly agreed not to) was intentional or malicious, given his subsequent explanation and yours. But I do think [your magazine] has a rather sloppy system in place (as witness the fact you've only now corrected your submissions page, after several months, to let writers know they aren't submitting to a print magazine.) I'm not saying this to insult you. But again, these are facts. You did publish my story without my permission, and you did represent for months, on your submissions page, that you were still a print magazine. This is not something I did. It's something your employees did.

Now I would like you to "put yourself in my shoes" for a moment. I submitted a story to [your magazine], believing it was a print magazine. I find out it isn't, and politely ask that the story be withdrawn. [The editor] agrees to withdraw the story. Then, a year later, I find out from a fan that the full text of my story is, in fact, on the [magazine's] website.

I wrote [the editor], asking that the story be removed immediately.

Is the story removed? No. It takes three emails from me before the story is finally removed. Plus, I get an email from [the editor] that is completely unprofessional. The grammar is horrible. Wouldn't you agree? It's filled with misstatements (see above). What would you think, receiving something like that? And your story still hasn't been removed?

In your email you direct a number of personal insults towards me, even though we've never had any contact with each other, until this point. I'm not going to insult you back. What's the point? I did insult [the editor], because he should be insulted. Anyone who sends the email he did is NOT an editor. I believe you know, in your heart of hearts, that email of his was absolutely unprofessional. It was barely coherent.

You say that "[the editor] tried to tell you that we were sorry that this happened", but that's not what he said at all. He told me to "move on", and stop "belly aching".

I have to say again, I simply do not understand why I received the initial response I did to my email ordering [the magazine] to remove my story. I expected an apology, maybe a brief explanation of what happened, and the removal of my story. That's all. But that's not what happened (I suspect it's what would have happened if you had responded to my first email).

[The editor] may be a wonderful person. I mean that sincerely. But, Jesus, did he ever give the worse possible response to a reasonable request!


Ralph Robert Moore

I debated whether or not I should include the name of the magazine and the editor in this piece. I decided not to, because the editor did finally remove the story from the site (after three email requests from me, and a threat to report him and the magazine to a number of writer forums), and because the nature of the Internet is such that if you say something negative about someone, that negative comment stays out there forever, even if the person subsequently gets their act together (which I hope this particular editor does). Also, in further email correspondence with the owner, he appeared to me to be a decent man who was willing to work at finding a satisfactory solution to the problem.

Finally, just to clarify: A number of sites, discussion boards, etc. publish excerpts from my work. I have absolutely no problem with that whatsoever, and to be honest, it's flattering. You don't need my permission to post excerpts from my work. That falls under the copyright doctrine of "fair use". What I'm talking about here though is something completely different: posting the entire text of an unpublished work of mine online.

In more pleasant news, I received an email from artist Jason Mcaloon, who on his own created two posters based on my essay, Fear. The posters use the text of the essay to produce typographical designs meant as an interpretation of that text. It's amazing work. I'm reproducing one of the posters on this site, with Jason's permission, here. The PDF file is approximately 2 megabytes.

Here's Jason talking about the circumstances regarding the poster:

I came across Ralph Robert Moore's essay on Fear a few years back.

I was living and studying in Switzerland. It was a pure white out blizzard just outside the window of the room I was staying in. I had every light off in the room and had been staring for what was probably a good half hour out into the white outside. Like when you stare at your face in the mirror for an extended period of time. I had faded away.

Sitting huddled, bundled and hunched. Trying to work on a project to which I had a class critique fast approaching.

But I was feeling tapped out. Useless. Unable to think of where to navigate within the realm of the project ahead of me. I felt a huge swell of frustration and impotence hit me. I questioned my artistic self. Was I an artist/designer at all?

This led me to question more. What was I doing with my life. Was I just drawing pictures?

At the time I don't think I was fearing anything, as much as being overall unsatisfied with my endeavors or lack thereof. (Or at least I didn't realize or want to admit I was in fear of just plain not knowing where I was going in life.)

Considering a new direction of life. Maybe culinary arts? Or lawyer. Or the Peace Corps.

I snapped from the window and my staring session and began searching for "fear" on the internet.

At some point I came upon the Ralph Robert Moore site where I found an essay that seemed fitting at the time. The title was "Fear". Like it was written and placed under my pillow by some destined gnome for me to find on this night.

I read over the essay.

At times feeling preached to, I stopped reading once. But I immediately went back to the essay and found an understanding. I realized that I had been at battle much too long with myself and needed to accept what I was and was not. That I was not in such despair.

That I failed to witness the "cooperative" aspect of myself.

From the reading, two posters were inspired. I translated the posters typographically.

These posters eventually became the solution to my project at the time. Thus helping me formally through a creative dry period, but emotionally boosting me as well.

Now, years later, new circumstances led me into some of the same questions and discombobulations that faced me that snowy night in Switzerland.

Now though being older, different fears seep into thoughts.

Fears of health, future, success. What will happen next month? The next shoe is scheduled to drop when? How is my family is doing? Where are they?

Are "we" going to pull out of this? What is this?

And so I came back to Moore's essay on Fear, and have dug from a digital grave the pixely dust that I created some time back. To revisit a writing, that in my eyes, is full to the brim with hope during times of fear and uncertainty or self-hate.

This poster was completely type set with each letter individually placed, rather than typed in sentences or paragraphs. This was in an effort to "externalize what is long internalized" using the repetitive nature of the process to dictate the form.

Jason's design site is located here.

Jason is currently at work, with my permission, on a typographical interpretation of my novel Father Figure.

Random thoughts:

I rarely handle change anymore. Mary and I pay for everything with checks, or if it's over the Internet, with credit cards. I've had the same twenties, tens, fives and singles in my wallet for about a year, all those green presidents smelling brown leather. But every once in a rare while, we do pay for something with cash.

Most recently, it was some fast food from a drive-up window. I honestly don't remember what restaurant it was. We were on the road, running errands, in a hurry, and we swooped behind a line of cars.

When we got home that night, me pulling my wallet and checkbook out of the inside pockets of my sports jacket, lifting the car keys out of my lower right side jacket pocket, the drug paraphernalia of Bic lighter and pack of cigarettes out of my lower left side jacket pocket, I realized I had some change in that pocket, from the drive-through purchase.

Quarters, pennies, dimes. And a nickel.

I haven't held a nickel in my hand for a year.

It was different from the nickels of yore.

I knew they changed bills, making them more European, to discourage counterfeiting, and they changed quarters, to honor each state, but I had no idea they had fooled around with our nickels, too.

The thing is, the nickel is such a humble thing. Barely better than a penny. I like that it has a smooth circumference, unlike the notched circumferences of dimes and quarters. I like that it has either Thomas Jefferson or, for the older ones, Sitting Bull on the front (haven't seen those in my change since childhood). But what I really liked about it was that it was heavy in the hand.

But this new nickel, it was light, like aluminum. It reminded me of the fake coins you'd get as a child in a gold-meshed pirate's booty bag. Our money is getting more and more like play money. Pretty soon, our coins will have milk chocolate inside.

When we took Joe, Mary's dad, back to the airport after his two-week holiday stay with us, we had to get him a wheelchair for the long journey across the terminal floor (he's in his mid-eighties, with an artificial hip).

I left Mary and Joe at a bench just inside the terminal, went stalking down the backs of lines at the different check-in counters, to AirWest. Walked up to the counter, explained the situation.

Five minutes later, a guy showed up with a wheelchair. Standing beside the chair, he bent over and retied both his shoelaces, which had become loose.

Finished, he looked up, gave me a professional smile.

"Sit down in the wheelchair, sir, and I'll take you wherever you want."

I had to explain to him the wheelchair wasn't for me.


It occurred to me one recent morning that, tragically, this past New Year's Eve was the last time, for the next thousand years, anyone will be able to wear novelty sunglasses showing the new year. You know, 2009, with the 00 being the lenses for your eyes.

You can't do it in 2010, because the glasses would be crooked on your face. Same thing, ironically, with 2020, etc.

The next time human beings will be able to wear novelty New Years glasses won't be until the year 3000, and who knows? Maybe we won't be around by then. Or maybe we'll still be around, but we won't find it funny anymore.