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Craftsman's Volley

by J. Leland Kupferberg

The Craftsman first learned about Vishnu Leibowitz from The New York Review Of Books. A youthful 28-year old, Vishnu was being widely hailed as a wunderkind, an up-and-coming force on the literary scene, with the publication of his first anthology of stories, entitled Viva La Bhagavad! - as the review put it, “Eight enchanting tales that explore the charming yet quirky lives of the insular Hare Krishna community in fin-de-millennium America. Under Vishnu Leibowitz’s narrative spell, you will come away convinced: these are not just bald men in togas. With a feisty craftiness, he brings to bear a whole panoply of Krishna experiences – Krishnas in love and Krishnas at war, Krishnas in heat and Krishna décor.”

It was the breezy adulation, the crisp verdict – craftiness? – that didn’t sit too well with the Craftsman. He wondered – was Leibowitz really that good? Or rather, was it the high concept, the exotic name, the hippie-child upbringing, that secured the well-placed literary agent, who won the unprecedented advance from the high-powered publisher, which secured the coveted shelf space, which garnered the positive buzz from the foremost arbiter of literary tastes. Or maybe, just maybe, Leibowitz was that good - Vishnu or no. He had to find out.

And so, the Craftsman surrendered five hours of his life over to Leibowitz - the time he needed to make it through the 186 pages and render a verdict. And indeed, Leibowitz was good – charming and enchanting, as the reviewer had put it. Yet there was something missing.

Perhaps it was in the style, which although spare and accessible, lacked a rhythmic flow, an ornamental grace, that might have imprinted the work – and heralded the debut – of a great writer. Yes, perhaps. Upon deeper reflection, the Craftsman was sure he had decoded the Rosetta Stone of Leibowitz’s talent: a serviceable, canny writer who had the good fortune, and better sense, to recognize a lucrative channel for his limited abilities. “Write what you know,” was the common mantra of the Writers’ Workshops that dotted the American landscape, buoying the hopes of would-be-literati who knew too little and wrote about less – yet Leibowitz rode the crest of that watery wisdom and cashed in with a half-million dollar advance.

The Craftsman suspected that Leibowitz, as a published writer, would have a few more guaranteed at-bats to pad out his career, which, no doubt, would sputter to oblivion after two or three books, assuming by then he had mined the remaining permutations of all tales Krishna. And what then? Would Leibowitz steal away to a log cabin in the Rockies, there to mourn the loss of his creative virility and potent vision? Or would he make the best of his hard-earned lucre, snap on skis, and ply the snow-capped hills of Aspen, there to await the bell toll of mortality or at least osteoporosis?

The Craftsman bitterly envied the artistic freedom bought by Leibowitz’s rookie accomplishment. The freedom to explore new avenues, to stretch one’s craft – if only Leibowitz would lend out his newly won cache, his license to reach millions of readers, the Craftsman could take the reins and show Leibowitz the true possibilities of his art, of a talent unburdened by marketplace barriers, and a creative ego no longer scathed by the paper cuts of anonymous form letters, the last of which read: “Dear Sir/Madam: Thank you for the submission of your screenplay/novel/poetic verse. While your dramatic/comedic/melodramatic work certainly brought a smile/guffaw/tear to my face/guts/cheek, after long and thoughtful consideration, it pains me to say that we are unable to service your material at the present moment. In the meantime, I wish you the best of luck in your beckoning career as a screenwriter/novelist/bard.”

“Maybe you’re not so talented,” the Craftsman’s Father had helpfully averred.

“No,” the Craftsman answered, “it is not a question of talent. It is a question of volume. If you were a literary agent, if 999 out of one thousand submissions turned out to be sheer crap, you, too, would most likely overlook the one golden nugget that popped out onto your desk. I am lost in the dung heap!”

“Maybe,” his father parried, “but somebody gets a contract in the end, huh?” – the huh snorted out with the force of a nasal Q.E.D. - “Somebody always gets that contract.”

“So?” the Craftsman thrust back. “ Somebody always gets born. Does that make it a miracle? Do I stand here and scream, ‘Hallelujah! My sperm beat out all the rest?’ No, only if you stood there before the fact, with your dick in your hand, pronouncing, ‘This particular sperm and no other!’ – then would it be a miracle. See my point?”

“Disrespectful prick.”

There was a time when the Craftsman knew he was special, when he could obliterate the pangs of everyday boredom simply by lying on his back, composing in his mind great fiery epics of imagination. The gift was his alone, a luxury unknown to schoolyard peers who killed the waning minutes of recess time by tossing balls around or – in moments of heightened tedium – at each other’s heads. At first they thought he was autistic. “After long and thoughtful analysis, I am pleased to report that your son is not cognitively dysfunctional,” the school psychologist informed the Craftsman’s Father. “He is creative.”

Thus certified as special, the Craftsman was promptly signed up for the Advanced Storytellers Program For Talented Six Year-Olds. There, the Instructor drilled into his young charges’ fertile heads the Platonic structure of Story: “All tales have a Beginning …a Middle…and an End!” he proclaimed with the conviction of a Hitler Jugend troop commander. When the aspiring scribes were prompted to share the fruits of their idle imaginings, the Craftsman rose to the creative challenge and recited a tale with the ending in the middle. “You are not paying attention!” the Instructor scolded him. “That is not how Plato would have done it” – causing the Craftsman to wonder what Mickey’s dog had to do with it in any case.

Thereafter, the Craftsman withdrew into himself, refusing to share the self-generated tales that brought him so much joy. While the others were learning to structure their thoughts, to capture and sculpt them on the printed page, the Craftsman kept his thoughts fluid, revealing nothing to the world but the sight of a young boy gaping, slack-jawed, toward the ceiling, one finger diligently drilling away at a nostril. “Perhaps he’s too special,” the Program Director offered by way of assessment.

“You’ll show them all,” the Craftsman’s Father had long ago vowed to him. As a young man, the Craftsman’s Father had demonstrated a talent for painting acrylic horses on velvet board, yet his father encouraged him to pursue a practical vocation. “A man should work like a horse, not paint one,” the Craftsman’s Grandfather had sagely counseled. And so the Craftsman’s Father entered law school, abandoning his passion soon after he was called to the Bar, settling into a life of domestic routine. Coming home from a typical day of repetitive labor, his eyelids puffed by exhaustion, his hands swollen by the weight of an overstuffed briefcase, he would behold the vision of his teenaged son splayed out on the living room sofa, eyes cast trancelike toward the ceiling, and remark, “I colonize my mind with this shit so that one day you can free up yours.”

Yet here now was the Craftsman, nearing thirty, and sensing the creep of decay that seemed to settle like mold on the cusp of his talent. There was a time, he knew, when he could wield his craft like a magic talisman, painting the pages with the novel patterns of his thoughts, never quite knowing the destination, yet trusting in the revelation of an unexpected synthesis, a rhythm of design. He was both Observer and Deity, joyously watching creation unfold even as he summoned it forth. If his work had lacked a certain emotional heft, the weight of personal experience, he had paid it no heed. The consummation of success would surely come with the full bloom of maturity. In the meantime, the architecture of his genius would remain firmly in place.

“I’ve lost it,” the Craftsman moaned plaintively to his Lover. “The words won’t come anymore.”

“It’s an off day for you,” she assured him. “I know it will pass.”

What was he to tell her - that the story he had claimed to have completed the week before, that he had handed to her two days previously and that she had raved about, was in fact created three years ago, roughly two years before he had even met her? That he had, over the course of their year-long courtship, judiciously doled out for her perusal recycled material – and that this latest story was in fact the final installment in the remaining backlog of his creative output? That he had spent the past three years staring empty-brained at walls, ceilings, blank computer screens – all the while leading her to believe that he was hard at toil creating the next masterpiece? He had seduced her in the guise of an artist, yet in truth was pimping the wares of his past glory.

“You’ve had your go at this for thirty years,” the Craftsman’s Father observed. “Cut your losses and move on. What are you waiting for?” He was waiting for his talent to return from its extended furlough, or, at the very least, a death certificate attesting to its missing in action.

“Leave me the fuck alone,” the Craftsman responded.

He would wait it out as long as he had to, inspired by the example of his Lover, who served more as cautionary tale than as muse. She had grown up in Belgium, the only child of a pair of refugee Hungarian tennis instructors who had taken great care to breed in her a professional aptitude for the game. Where most people marked off their childhood memories with birthday parties, school, and summer camp, she marked hers off with sets won, matches lost, blisters lanced. Her mind was honed less as a platform for learning than as a Control and Command Center For Efficient Muscle Response. Her strength on the professional circuit lay in her baseline game, which was strong enough to carry her to the quarter-finals of the French Open by the time she was sixteen, at which time she then lost faith in the wager that had taken hold of her life, no longer willing to leverage what remained of her youth on the slim gamble that she might achieve a top ten ranking – by her reasoning, better to quit young enough and avoid the existential crutch of living out the remainder of her life as a failed thoroughbred, a “former” athlete. But there would always be regrets. She had nipped at the borders of greatness, positioned herself for the very apex – yet she would never know for sure, having left at the height of her game.

The Craftsman had first seen her at a Matisse exhibit. He had come less to examine the works of Matisse than to ponder the dull-eyed expressions of the art pilgrims who had come to pay homage, among whom was his soon-to-be-Lover, who was pondering Matisse’s Blue Nude when he sidled up to her and whispered, “Is it the picture you’re admiring or yourself admiring the picture?” For the next twenty minutes, they wandered together through the halls of the exhibit, waging a pitched discourse over the merits of each painting – he laying siege at the battlements of her affected tastes as she attempted a flanking action around his perceived philistinism. They broke off for replenishment at the gallery cafeteria.

“You are an ignorant pig,” she blandly declared to him while unwrapping her tuna sandwich. “What do you know about art?”

He stiffened in his seat, wiping a fleck of cream cheese from his mouth. “Art must be channeled through craft, not ego. The craftsman – the true craftsman - must submerge the self. He must channel through his hands and his mind that which is common to all. He succeeds by granting you the experience of interpreting you to yourself.”

“I disagree. Great art is achieved when the artist communicates his thoughts and his feelings – when we can catch glimpses of his soul on canvas.”

“Fetish!” the Craftsman spat out with an exaggerated shrug. “Tell me, what do you know about Shakespeare - wife-beater? Tax-cheater? Who cares? As a person, he’s practically irrelevant. But his art is great because he succeeds at observing us so well.”

“What about Matisse?”

“Matisse is an asshole!” he bellowed, waving his arms grandly, practically goading his fellow diners to smite him with their snack trays. “And so is Gauguin and Picasso!”

“Not a particularly thoughtful observation.”

“But true nonetheless. They couldn’t hack it at the Academy. At best, mediocre craftsmen. They needed a gimmick – something to make them stand out. Maybe Matisse couldn’t paint folds of drapery as well as Jean-Claude What’s-His-Name. It’s 1903 and paintings are going for what – forty dollars a shot? But he’s a canny guy, a proto-marketing genius. He covers his obvious craft flaws by holding himself out as the guy who paints squiggly women – on purpose. But he knows which way the wind is blowing. You have a burgeoning art critic industry, and they need to earn their bread by presuming to see things in a painting that none of us can see. It helps, of course, to know Gertrude Stein, a mediocre writer who bypasses her craft flaws by posturing as a bohemian hipster. Toss that in with Gertrude shilling on two little old spinster sisters looking to run down their inheritance on con-temp-orary art, and you have the makings of a ma-teeeessse.”

“You’re quite the art historian.”

“Let me finish. Now, once we start anointing these artists – these Cubists and Fauvists, with their flying fish and squiggly women – where do we go from there? Drip painting? Which has me thinking – if you’re Jackson Pollock and you’re dripping paint hither and thither all over your canvas and floor, then why is the canvas art and the floor not? But I digress. My point is this: we took a wrong turn at Gauguin, Matisse, and Picasso. There can be only so many flying fish, squiggles, drips, and dots before we hit the proverbial dead-end, before we realize that we can’t go back anymore because too much work of dubious merit, too many artists with questionable talents, were hoisted on a pedestal of way too many flapping tongues.”

They had continued in this fashion – verbal thrash and counter-thrash – until long after the gallery closed, and then parted with a curt exchange of numbers, hoping to schedule a future date for resumption of combat. Three nights later, he had her over for dinner where, after making sure the windows were properly sealed and all telephone cords were duly pulled from the wall, he thrust into her hands an uncompleted story from two years previously. “You must judge this with the proper frame of mind,” he instructed her, standing over her shoulder as she read, monitoring her closely for the slightest expression – a facial tic, a flaring nostril, any visual feedback he could correlate with a passage in his work – and standing guard against distractions that could possibly skew her initial assessment of his talent.

“I will convert you to an appreciation of craftsmanship,” the Craftsman repeatedly declared to her throughout the year of their courtship, steering her toward the artists he considered to be genuine talents – Rockwell, Spielberg, early Beatles – and away from those he disdained as mere poseurs – Klimt, Fellini, late Beatles.

“The art you like is too complete,” she would complain. “It leaves me empty inside. I need room to fill in with emotion.”

“Parasite!” he would scream at her, coaxing tears from her eyes. “It’s not about the effect it has on you, it’s about the level of craft that you could never reach!”

He believed he had reached that level by the time he turned twenty-four, confirmed in his opinion by an acceptance letter from the Dramatic Writing Program at New York University. There, he would be among an elite circle of fellow literary craftsmen – a virtual round table of merry wordsmiths engaged in friendly combat, spurring one another on to ever greater heights of creative accomplishment. Or so he hoped. They were sixteen in number, most of them armed with degrees in English literature and an all-consuming passion to emulate their literary idols. “This is like Beckett!” they would joyfully bleat in response to a new student work that embezzled from Beckett, while the less crafty – or cunning – among them would simply make do with a nonsensical quote or two from Joyce, and earn their praise accordingly. The absolutely hopeless ones – the one-third who fluked their way into the program – merely compensated for their creative sterility by puffing out their chests when pronouncing Greek names like ESSSSchylus or ArisTOFFanes. And as the Craftsman’s creative colleagues wandered the hallways, bestowing on one another praises of “Kafkaesque wit” and “Chekhovian munificence”, the Craftsman was confident that they, too, would recognize him as the giant in their midst, the one whose name would one day earn its own suffix to roll off the reverential tongues of future generations of English Lit grads.

He hadn’t counted on Saul Goldenthal. With his wavy blond hair, a finely trimmed goatee, and a brooding expression that set off nicely against his exclusive wardrobe of cotton black turtlenecks, Goldenthal was one of those rare individuals whose very presence in a room commanded attention, his every breath punctuated by the jangling wind chimes of jewellery that dangled down from his right nostril. With his perpetually bloodshot blue eyes and a speech inflected with the slurred cadences of a drunkard, Goldenthal was a poster boy for charismatic nihilists in the mold of Jack Kerouac, his every nuanced gesture pointing the way toward what everyone assumed would be an early and sudden death.

The Craftsman suspected it was all a pose, a cover identity to endow Goldenthal’s creative material with an enigmatic aura, to distract from the fact that he was, after all, the son of a proctologist from Paramus, New Jersey. Yet Goldenthal, by sheer force of personality, established himself as the Alpha Writer of the group, the one to whom his peers – and professors – would look upon for artistic approval. Goldenthal’s talent, as the Craftsman measured it, lay in his ability to project himself as the lead character in his dramas – or, rather, to project himself as the lead character from his dramas. The typical Goldenthal character brooded while tossing off literary quotes, and accompanying footnotes, as did Goldenthal. A Goldenthal character seemed, in a superficial sense, to be profound and yet also seemed slightly deranged, as did Goldenthal. And while no one could be sure as to whether Goldenthal actually dated suicidal skanks, they assumed it to be the case, as all his lead characters invariably did.

The typical Goldenthal drama was populated by modern-day characters named Cornelius or Augustina and would unfold as follows:

(Cornelius and Augustina in bed together. Cornelius, propped up against the creaky headboard, takes a swig of ale, as Augustina rests her head against his tattooed belly.)

Cornelius: Slowly I swam up from the bottom of a black sleep.

Augustina: Sylvia Plath?

Cornelius: Yes. From The Bell Jar.

Augustina: I remember now. Page 52, I believe.

Cornelius: Of the 1977 paperback edition, yes.

(Cornelius farts. A long pause.)

Augustina: If I were to die, I would die like her.

Cornelius: Who?

Augustina: Sylvia Plath.

Cornelius: She put her head in an oven.

Augustina: A gas oven, I believe.

(They kiss.)

Cornelius: If I were to do it, to die today, I would place my shaggy head in a microwave.

Augustina: Could that work? – I mean, even with the door open?

Each week, all sixteen would gather together in the presence of their professors, and read, each in their turn, an excerpt from their material. It was at one such gathering that the Craftsman unveiled what he described as a barbarian comedy of manners set in the Dark Ages of Europe, entitled A Dash Of Barbarism! – and all set in rhyming verse. “Ah,” one of the professors nodded approvingly, “Moliere!” Here, the Craftsman felt, was an enterprise that very few writers could successfully pull off, a brawny exercise of sheer virtuosity that clearly went beyond the creative mastery of his peers. With this demonstration of his craft, he would show them what was lacking in theirs, that merit was born in sweat and skill, not attitude:

I remember the day, filled with clouds and a breeze,When I fought like a lion, piercing Visigoth jowls,But ‘twas not a man who could buckle these knees,Instead it was my blasted bowels,Which got so bad I had to cease,Excuse myself and run for the trees.There in the woods, I came up to a bush,Threw up my tunic, exposing my tush,When wouldn’t thou knoweth, behind a tree stump,Were fifteen Visigoths engaged in a dump.They fell upon me, a quivering mass,And lodged a spear right up my…

“Doggerel,” Goldenthal coolly interjected. Dog…what? The Craftsman, for all his facility with words, had let this one slip from his personal lexicon. “Doggerel,” Goldenthal repeated, his jangling nostril chimes providing an eerie accompaniment, and settling, for the group, what seemed to be the official assessment of the Craftsman’s efforts. Dog…what? Brought low by this three-syllable critique, one for whose meaning he was too embarrassed to seek clarification, the Craftsman smiled meekly and took his seat, pondering the “feel” of the word in his mind, guessing at how negative, how utterly dismissive, it was of his craft. Dog…dog shit?

The Craftsman consulted a dictionary for a more exact meaning: [dog’ger’el] n. trivial, awkward verse, usually having a monotonous rhythm.

By the second year of the program, Goldenthal had won his very own suffix – at least within the claustrophobic confines of the Dramatic Writing Program. The work of the Craftsman, and that of his peers, was judged by the degree to which the material did or did not conform to Goldenthalian themes. The professors themselves had taken to referencing Goldenthal while critiquing Goldenthal’s own work: “Why, Goldenthal, you once again prove yourself adept at casting your characters in the throes of a Goldenthalian dilemma.”

It was by then that the Craftsman entered what he considered to be the beginning of his gradual creative decline, no longer secure in the strength of his unique vision. While he was a student at the program, he would have to conform to the prevailing tastes or suffer the continued destruction of his self-esteem. His last creative effort at the program, a one-act play presented to his thesis adviser, was a work solely calculated to garner him a pass for the year and earn him a degree that, by then, had practically no value to him. The plot: An architect addicted to Percodan weighs the merits of firebombing his buildings while quoting Chekhov. “Ah,” the adviser nodded approvingly, “Ayn Rand with a dash of Goldenthal!”

It was just past four in the morning when the Craftsman peeked in on his Lover, fast asleep on the single cot they had shared for the past seven months. His head buzzing from a five-hour stint spent at contemplating the cracks in his drywall, he knelt down before her, resting his head on her heaving bosom as she began to stir. “It’s all gone,” he wailed, jabbing himself violently at the temple, and then proceeded to confess – the thousands of fruitless hours spent in a catatonic trance, waiting, struggling to access the magic that once so easily set him apart, but that now taunted him by its absence.

Where once he was a conductor of decisions - a medium who, really, had no idea how his ideas had spliced themselves into rhythmic phrases that collided and conjoined with one another, setting up a final harmony that he always trusted would come – now he had no idea how to make the basic decision of placing an adverb correctly or choosing just the right adjective, one that would not alienate the gatekeeping critics who continually rejected him for reasons that continually eluded him. “What do they want!” he cried. A single crass line of dialogue, a misplaced comma, would paralyze him for months. A word, a phrase, a phoneme - any one of them posssibly consigning him to the slush pile, yet he’d never know for sure. From a Deity of Craft, he was now an Examiner of Ceiling Tiles, his mind badgered by a Greek chorus of invisible critics shouting Cheesy! Stilted! Supercilious! at his every thought.

Yet the Craftsman’s Lover understood. “Know your opponent,” she instructed him. “Master his game before you master yours.” Together, they decided to read those stories that did make it into the major literary journals. And together they began to discern a pattern, one that the Craftsman hoped would chart him back on a course of productivity. After lengthy analysis – and much argument – they had decided that the bulk of published short literary fiction could be neatly placed into four basic categories: Farm Tales; Childhood Reminiscences; Reminiscences of Quirky/Dead Relatives; and Reminiscences of Quirky/Dead Friends. They noticed that if the main character were female, her name would most likely be Margaret (for those tales involving spinsters or convents); if male, then Tom. Offhanded descriptions of sunrises, leaf texture, or groceries would round out the narrative. And endings were to be irresolutely non-endings, petering out as if the last page were missing.

But after two weeks of mulling over his introductory paragraph on sod plowing, the Craftsman gave up in despair, complaining to his Lover, “I am not Steinbeck! I will never write great porches!” Still, there was hope for a successful style that he could emulate and perhaps exceed. “I will be the next Vishnu Leibowitz!” he declared to his Lover, poring over every word of Leibowitz’s best-selling text, noting that Leibowitz, too, was no great lover of porch-writing. He merely needed a unique voice he could bring to market – a tag, a hook that could finally secure him an entrée into the literary world.

Yet still nothing would come to him. And as each week passed, he grew more testy in the presence of his Lover, ashamed that he now stood exposed in her eyes, naked in his artistic impotence. “I believe in you,” she would repeatedly assure him.

“I need to believe in myself!” he would retort. He began to suspect that it really was a lottery, that somebody always did get that contract – as his Father had pointed out – but that the decision was ultimately arbitrary. “I need to see that it’s just luck, and it’s not me!” And so the Craftsman began to submit Leibowitz’s stories under the Craftsman’s name, spending long hours re-typing the material, composing submission letters, and licking envelopes, betting that lightning would not strike twice for Leibowitz. And as the form rejection letters came rolling in, the Craftsman grew bolder, going so far as to send Leibowitz’s material to Leibowitz’s own agent – and, sure enough, getting rejected.

“See?” the Craftsman gloated to his Father. “It’s one giant lottery! He stinks as much as I do!”

“So?” the Craftsman’s Father responded. “Maybe he really does stink. The odd fluke comes along sometimes. But the truly great always get noticed.”

And so the Craftsman set his sights on bigger game. Faulkner, Chekhov, Hemingway – all were drafted in the Craftsman’s efforts to prove them as worthy – or unworthy – as himself . He set hard at work, re-typing their material, strategically dropping the character names and inserting his own. “I will fail with the greatest!” he enthused to his Lover, persuading her to assist him in re-typing the prodigious number of pages. To his utter delight, Faulkner and Hemingway were shut out, receiving, respectively, 59 and 62 rejections. Chekhov managed one affirmative reply, which the Craftsman discounted in any case, as the literary agency in question was a one-man firm out in Nebraska.

“When will you give up already?” the Craftsman’s Father asked. “When I’m dead?”

The Craftsman had no answer.

“When will you start writing again?” the Craftsman’s Lover asked.

The Craftsman had no answer.

He first needed to be assured that his past material – the work of his former brilliance – could hold its own in direct combat with those who went before him. Friends, acquaintances, even strangers on the street were accosted with requests to judge for themselves – a blind taste test of literary greats. “Anonymity,” he instructed his Lover and all who cared to listen, “is the great equalizer.”

He started to compile statistics, gauging where he was weak and where, in his estimation, he outshone the others. “If I had hung out in Paris with Gertrude Stein like F. Scott and Hemingway did, then you’d be studying me, too!” he ranted to a friend who majored in art history – an imagined swipe against opponents who were, by now, far too dead to care. Even Shakespeare could not escape his brazen challenge – “Brilliant in parts,” the Craftsman explained, “but way too many verbose passages.” In any case, he felt that Shakespeare’s flaws were unfairly concealed by four hundred years’ worth of critical praise – “Imagine what all that chatter could add to my work!”

“You’re a madman!” the Craftsman’s Lover exploded on the day she moved out of their shared one-bedroom apartment, refusing to service his ego anymore by serving as his Chief Plagiarist.

“When will you give up already?” the Craftsman’s Father implored.

The Craftsman had no answer.

He was holding out for his revelation, an inspirational moment that would bequeath him with his own unique voice. And when it came, almost a year later, it was in the most unexpected of places. He was sitting in a chair, a bib fastened around his neck and a probe in his mouth when he looked into the bifocals of his dentist, a man in his mid-thirties surrounded by photos of his wife and children. Here was this youthful man, stooping over him, staring hard into his bicuspids, and the revelation that, thirty years hence, this very same man would most assuredly be stooping over someone else – a closed book, a fully charted future. Tears started to flow down the Craftsman’s cheeks.

“Do you need more nitrous oxide?” the dentist inquired.

“No, no,” the Craftsman responded, “how terrible. How terrible.”

A theme, a plotline, a dramatic arc swept over him. I will dramatize how I feel, the Craftsman mused to himself, and the dentist will see what I see. The Craftsman had found his voice. Through art, he would encapsulate the dentist’s life, present it to him and…utterly devastate him. It took him four fevered weeks to complete his theatrical script – a tragedy in three acts. When he was done, he handed a copy to the dentist with the promise that “this will change your life.”

For the next four days, the Craftsman nervously awaited his review. On the morning of the fourth day, the dentist called. “I read your script.”


“I liked it.”

For the Craftsman, there were other lives to explore, to deconstruct and dramatize. He thought of his Lover, the promise of her youth and a dream forgone. He would devastate her with his art – show her that he did understand, and by gripping her with his craft, by courting her with his newly regained gift, he would thereby secure the faith in his own promise.

The Craftsman had read about Franz Kafka – how while suffering a terminal bout of syphilis, he had instructed his friend Max Brod to burn his manuscripts, most of them unfinished. Brod never did. Instead, he salvaged his friend’s work, edited it, and submitted it for publication. Kafka died, never realizing he would become Kafka.

“When will you give up already?” the Craftsman’s Father asked. “When I’m dead?”

“When I’m dead,” the Craftsman replied. And set to work on his new tale.

Match Bout Record

Match records for this tale are organized in order from greatest margin of victory to greatest margin of defeat.

Craftsman's Volley  vs  Wreck of the Marie Jenny2 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Up and Over1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Skin for Skin1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Tales of The Hang Buddy1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  The Last Angel1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  City of Elite1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Reveal1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  PB Chapter One - Mitsuki Makoto1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  The Legend of Birdman1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Get Off The Couch, Ann Landers!1 - 0Leading
Craftsman's Volley  vs  The Stormgatherer1 - 1Tied
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Over The Edge1 - 1Tied
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Summertime1 - 1Tied
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Gram1 - 1Tied
Comments (1):
This is a close call. I think Craftsman's Volley was a little more clearly written.
@ Sep 26, 2010, 11:46 PM
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Benjie Boy0 - 1Trailing
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Kill All Your Darlings0 - 1Trailing
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Valiant0 - 1Trailing
Craftsman's Volley  vs  Yellow Roses0 - 3Trailing

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"Craftsman's Volley"
by J. Leland Kupferberg

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