The Grammar Games
A challenged never issued, yet accepted, becomes a clarion call to launch unholy hell upon all those who dwell within Medium. No one is safe.
(Look for updates as other writers add their chapter to this saga! Each author’s writing is in italics.)
An endless series of self-help articles has covered the Medium system, silencing almost all the voices in every world, from nearby Coffeelicious to the shunned outer world of Those People. But in a distant and strange part of the galaxy, an intrepid band of cynics have begun to push back, with some hilarious results (see, there’s even a picture of space to tie it all in!)
Digesting Medium’s best lifehack advice, so you don’t have tomedium.com
Once upon a time, a nice lady in Africa lapsed into a movie binging coma and dreamed of an adventure a long, long time ago in a dimension far, far away. The Gods of Medium, with their data driven content and billions of green hearts accept a non-existent challenge from the rag tag forces of the Rebellion, a collection of writers armed only with their wits and humor — in other words, completely defenseless. [type gets smaller is it disappears at the top of your monitor, screen darkens, fade dissolve to Africa…]
Could be my overactive imagination or the fact that I had just snooze-watched Gladiator for the second time; read this post and fallen back to sleep.
There in my dreams were Henry Wismayer and Jon Westenberg standing at dawn in a packed Colosseum. Morgan Rock Loehr stood at Henry’s side. Benjamin P. Hardy stood next to John.
Gutbloom was riding with BenHur in the chariot.
On the giant platform stood the Emperor (who bore a remarkable resemblance to Ev Williams) a bronzed staff in his hand, shaped in the form of an M.
“Hail Emperor!” they shouted. “Those of us about to write, salute you!”
“Let the Games begin!” declared the emperor with a wave of his M.
Ellie Guzman sat next to him, supping her wine and reading her no 11 witches guide and looking down in disgust “Men! Soo last millenial..” she sighed.
Watch closely” elizabeth tobey said “we could learn a thing or two here. Or at the very least, get some togas for our latest collection”
In the packed gallery, I jumped to my feet, along with all the other lesser writing mortals; ready to shower the gladiators with green heart confetti.
“Now this is what we came here for”, said the new citizens of Medium.
(with apologies to Morgan Rock Loehr)
[Somewhere in California, 11 hours later]
Shortly before entering the Colosseum, Morgan Rock Loehr just got off the phone with Russell Crowe, who promised to teach him everything he needed to know about Gladiatoring (i.e. how to hide an Australian accent and to marry up).
However, after some quiet self-reflection in the JCPenney’s dressing room mirror (our Colosseum has sponsorship opportunities for every part of the stadium), Morgan decided not to enter Syntax Stadium, feeling he did not possess the mental fortitude necessary for battle against his fellow literary leviathans. That, and his computer was almost out of battery.
Instead, he dreamed of retiring from writing to focus on his music career, teaming up with Russell Crowe to start a didgeridoo jam band called “Let Cry The Dogs of Warble.”
Let the colloquies be grammatically correct and bloody!
Tragically, and without his consent, Morgan was transported to the digital dirt floor of the stadium. Without power for his laptop, and still immersed in his dreams of becoming a music legend, he stood naked and defenseless in the arena and was the first to fall, struck down by a tear rolling down Jon Westenberg’s cheek in response to Morgan’s immortal “10 Amazing Quotes” parody.
As he slumped to the ground, dissolving in a pool of acid tears (if they can make up this sh*it in The Hunger Games, why can’t we?), Morgan lifted his outstretched middle fingers to the crowd and croaked “I got 500,001 stats on Medium in 29 days and don’t you forget it, bitches…”
The stadium shook — literally — due to the close proximity of fracking operations that were draining the life’s blood out of journalism in every corner of the internet. The crowd was split down the usual lines, with the one percenters happy to see one of their tormentors erased from the field of battle, and the Other 98% grieving the loss of one of their heroes. There are still no sightings of the remaining 1%.
A lonely image was projected in the night sky, bidding farewell to the beloved MRL…
(with apologies to Gutbloom)
[Somewhere in America, 2 hours later]
While the combatants saluted Emperor E, and shouted “Those of us about to write, salute you!” Gutbloom was too busy preparing his own speech, using the original Latin:
Ave Ev, morituri te salutant
Dulce et decorum est pro bloggia mori.
He shouted and then started to go over his notes.
Let me see here, I got a couple other things to say. [looks at his clipboard in the chariot] Oh, yes, once more into the breach, my friends, once more, or we’ll close the wall up with our English… terriers? Mολώη Lαβέ! Let’s fight in the shade, actually. This is no good. Ben, would you mind letting me off up here at the next turn? [dismounts from the chariot]
I know what is going on here. The equinox is upon us, and by your calculations Spring is here. You think that things should be getting started at the Mill and that we should start planning the August Solstice Party, but I tell you, it is too early.
The robins are not yet back. Pee Wee is still in Korea. There is ice on the Mill Pond. Nobody has seen Timothy J. O’Neill for a while. Don’t be anxious. We could go ask the suburban shamans to redo their calculations, but it’s not worth the effort. I can tell it is too early to start.
The state of the Bloggosphere is strong. Medium is starting to take off. It is going to be the best summer ever. The Summer Trolls (Trogloditus Auxo) are set to return, but they are not here yet…
Suddenly, the steely grey clouds hovering just above the stadium parted, and a giant blue pencil descended toward the field of battle. A thunderous voice rumbled down from the heavens while the crowd fell silent and the gladiators stopped in their tracks.
“Thou shalt write 200 words… no more, no less…”
solemnly intoned the voice, sounding too close to James Earl Jones to be a coincidence. And the sacred blue pencil erased Gutbloom right there in his tracks. Only his boots remained, so we will never know if he resembled Obama or George Clooney. As the pencil retraced its path toward heaven, the skies cleared and a soft breeze picked up Gutbloom’s note, which ended with the eerily prophetic desire to search for ghosts:
We should gather the ghosts. I’ve already mentioned Timothy J. O’Neill, but where are Niya Marie, Deral F. Fenderson, Ruben Alexander, and bibles?
Yes, I can see that the days are getting longer. Maybe I should take the tarp off the piñata court to let it dry.
Thanks for reminding me.
Again, the skies darkened. And again a lonely image was projected in the night sky, bidding farewell to the beloved Gutbloom…
The crowd wailed with grief. Men saluted the vanquished hero. Women sobbed. Children hid their faces in their mothers’ togas. Outside the stadium a great cry arose as Elizabeth Hughes reacted to the loss of Gutbloom…
I wheezed badly whilst scrabbling about for some word — shaped battle axes.
Unfortunately, vengeance would not come this day for she had no ticket.
(with no apologies to the interloper clearly not on the list)
[Somewhere on the East Coast, 1 hour later]
As the gladiators and crowd began to recover from the shock of a reverse deux ex machina, there was a slight commotion in the corner of the arena reserved for the animal show. An extremely well fed and privileged lion and his lawyer had somehow entered the field of battle. The lawyer pulled out his smart phone and called his assistant:
Helen, get me Vikram at Medium.com. Better call him “Rama” just to be safe. “Rama, buddy, I need a hand. Ray Dalio’s pet lion, Mister Lion, and I are smack dab in the middle of the Colloseum. Yeah, the big one in Rome. All hell is breaking loose. Writers are trying to learn to use the trident and talking all manner of trash. Some of them are yelling at me that I am “not on the List.” Is that a good thing or a bad thing ? I gotta get outa here really fast because Mister Lion had relatives who were slaughtered here and he is out for easy and swift revenge. Also how many words are in a long paragraph ? No, Rama, I am not kidding. Stop sucking down that Canadian Belgian beer and give me some effective advice. I am so desperate I will accept a listicle. Rama, you still there ? Vikram !? “ — — — “Mister Lion, put down that leg of Westenberg !
Suddenly, the skies darkened and lightning bolts crashed down around the feet of the lawyer. The spectators held their collective breath and the Lion dropped his tasty leg. A strange glow filled the lion’s face as he turn toward the lawyer. Starting in a low growl, the lion roared in a manner that could only have been James Earl Jones and his words filled the colosseum,
“Thou shalt write 200 words… no more, no less…”
The Lion swallowed the lawyer whole, and between burps (they’re tough to digest, you know) proceeded to tell a number of hilarious lawyer jokes, including the old classic, “how many lawyers does it take to change an oil lamp? One to climb a ladder, one to shake it, and one to sue the ladder company.”
The crowd laughed, the gladiators resumed their battle and the Emperor summoned over his own lawyer: “Artie, are we open to any product liability actions if the lion gets indigestion?”
(As the dreamer twists and turns, so does her dream)
[Somewhere in South Africa, Day 2]
A brief intermission is called, whilst Emperor E has a quick conflab with his trusted cohort Legionare Biz Stone.
As everyone goes off to their day-jobs; I sit in the gallery — devastated that my writing gladiators, those whom I have pinned my colours on, are gone. Not even a body to wail over. I use my green hearts to blow my nose.
Ben-Hur looks pretty lonely. He is looking at the sky whilst twirling his laurel wreath.
Henry Wismayer is trying not to stand on the acid droplet that is Morgan Rock Loehr
As I cast my eyes around the stadium, I see Kel Campbell walk through the arches. She is framed by rays of sunlight. She is lovingly polishing her shield which is shaped in a magnificent V.
She pauses to open a gate. Inside Heather Nann , Jennifer Smith and Mirah Curzer pace amongst the lionesses. They smile with a feline ferocity — “Lions? Meh….”
“Carpe diem Bitches” calls Kel. “FU; FU” they start chanting as they run out, into the arena.
“Holy algorithms!” says the writer next to me. “This shit just got real.”
My heartbreak is healed. “Now the Grammer Games have truly begun…”
As he captures a glance of the advancing fury, Jon Westenberg turns and quietly says “Ben, about that whole numbers game thing…”
Benjamin P. Hardy looks shaken “Et tu brutus”
With nary a sign from the Gods of Medium, or the leaders of the rebellion (where are you Henry Wismayer, won’t you come out and play?), the warriors of V! enter the fray…
As Kel and her girls take over, I am distracted by a flickering light in the distance. I give her a silent I’m gonna go check that out and she replies with a silent, all-knowing nod just before she slays another troll.
I grab Savanna by the hand, Atoms for Peace plays in the background and we run to the light. Bacchus of all the perfect fucking Gods to randomly appear in a dream, is guarding the door from whence the light came, Savanna sweet talks him, I snag a couple jugs of wine and he grants us entry.
We creep through a dark corridor — just as we reach the light I stop, turn to Savanna and place a half a hit of acid first on her tongue, then on mine and say trust me child. She swallows, I swallow and we enter a room that holds the light at the end of the tunnel.
Elliot Nichols, Mike Essig, DCI Wooderson, Graham Anderson & Dave Grigger seem to have found a way to bribe Bacchus, too. Togas drop, a good old fashioned Roman orgy ensues…but the music stops when Greg Gueldner peeks his head in. Slackjaw, he starts “hey…”
The lights go off, and a single spotlight illuminates Jennifer as she is caught in a most compromising position. Everyone freezes and begins to cover up modestly. Slowly descending from the ceiling, the massive missing penis from the Colossus of Rhodes hovers above Jennifer, but she takes smart phone photos and sends them to her girlfriends while texting snarky comments about trolls. The urinary meatus (not kidding!) is not amused, and begins to speak with the low rumbling voice of James Earl Jones, shaking the entire VIP lounge, as well as the stadium:
“Thou shalt write 200 words… no more, no less…”
And like a cobra, the penis strikes, swallowing poor Jennifer whole. As the penis dematerializes, her phone drops to the floor bearing the unsent text message: “Dude, that was some nasty acid. I demand a refund.”
[Somewhere, who knows where, I can’t even keep track of the time now, DCI Wooderson has a flashback that can’t be worked into the story. Is this even a flashback or a Kurisawa secondary perspective like Rashômon?]
Each of the rag-tag group drops their togas to begin a Roman Orgy. Struck by severe performance anxiety, I drop mine revealing another toga underneath — one covered in the text of my latest Medium post, thus acting as a de facto Cloak of Invisibility.
I slip out the back of the Roman Orgy (as opposed to a Greek Orgy which would involve slipping in the… never mind) just in time, as cameras from newly-formed Matter Studios begin filming. Have they learned nothing from Gawker??
I slink back to my cheap seats in the Colosseum with some wine in one of those lamb skin thingies as the remnants of the dead are swept together by a mysterious group dubbed the “Curators.” Creepily they whisper, “Ahhh, Gutbloom, Morgan Rock Loehr, Ellie Guzman… what fine Collections you all shall make. Yaaaaaahsssss.” The crowd boos.
Someone named Fellatious Knobb steps to the center of the arena with a giant jewel-encrusted blade. “Who among you will lay claim to the famed ‘Life-Hacker’? Who among you can list 26 people you killed before 6 a.m.?
“Who among you knows you can’t realize the journey to fulfill your dreams of taking dead to
Suddenly, the jewels on the blade glowed an ominous ambiguous color. People in the stand shouted “behold the blade glows green!” Others turned to the neighbors and cry out, “nay, verily it is pure ocean turquoise!”
Unfortunately, they were too preoccupied arguing color theory to notice the poor soul choking on the wine from his lamb skin thingy. He fell backward over the top of the stadium as he tried to self-administer the heimlich maneuver against his seat back.
Then the blade cried out, “it is pearlescent teal you idiots, now shut the fuck up and tremble in my presence.” As the crowd fell silent, the blade cleared its throat, recovered it stage presence and boomed out in its best James Earl Jones voice,
“Thou shalt write 200 words… no more, no less…”
With that, the blade jumped out of the offender’s hand, decapitated the odious official and continued to slice up Fellatious’ Knobb until all that was left was a stump.
But the head kept on talking…
very dead until you accept success as your goal to make a habit…?”
The crowd murmured in confusion.
“… and 3 ways to do it?”
With that, the head of Knobb, oxygen depleted, quietly expired.
The crowd exploded in cheer and the sky rained with a confetti of tiny green hearts.
(with apologies to Greg Gueldner)
[Somewhere in San Francisco, 2 hours later]
Another clarion call, as the horny horn players in the orchestral box blew a wild jazz riff, quieting the crowd and the contestants. From the imperial box, a red carpeted ramp descended onto the dirt floor of the arena. Riding it like a new wave skater boy was Greg Gueldner. In the massive silence enveloping the Colosseum, his voice rang out clear and sweetly, but with a touch of melancholy:
Well, I’m not going to lie. I’m pretty sad to read this.
On July 12, 1979, a crate of disco records was exploded at Comiskey Park. Because disco sucked.
I like disco, even though I align as a “rocker.” New Wave, even.
I like the disco of that era and I like Daft Punk and LCD Soundsystem and all kinds of music that take on elements of disco.
But “disco sucked.” So they destroyed it.
These writers are just doing their thing. Sure, they have readers who recommend a lot. And they get in the top 20 a lot. And they wind up in your feed, because the people you follow recommend them into your feed a lot.
If you don’t like it, can I direct you to our excellent help-center article on blocking? I’ll put the link here as well, so no one misses it:
If a story is in your feed, it’s because someone you follow recommended it.
We understand people aren’t happy with their feeds and are working very hard to improve it, and move beyond just recommends as an indicator. We are working to figure out
Suddenly the orchestra fell silent and the sky filled with a familiar bass riff…
Like rain, record albums began to fall from the sky. Greg fell silent while the crowd and the gladiators broke into dance. At the end of the song (hope you enjoyed — one of my favorite tracks from Saturday Night Fever), and before Greg could retrace his train of thought, the orchestral pit rumbled and the voice of James Earl Jones bellowed
“Thou shalt write 200 words… no more, no less…”
A giant record album jacket swooped down from the clouds like a giant oceanic manta ray. It opened its flaps, scooped up Greg and flew away to some distant literary land. His muffled words echoed in the night, trailing off as the album passed over abandoned record stores at the horizon:
“who and what you really want to read. Bear with us on that one.
We are working on the top stories as well. Have you seen the Collections in the app? They are showcasing all the diverse stories we have on Medium...
The Emperor sighed, turned to one of his remaining minions and said “damn it, get me HR on the phone.”
(with apologies to Ellie Guzman)
[Elsewhere in California, 5 hours later]
Horrified at the sight of Gutbloom’s unpolished boots, Ellie Guzman rose from the Emperor’s private booth…
[Glass crashing, wine spilling all over the Emperor’s organic 100% recyclable sandals] Gutbloom!!!! NOOOOOOO!!!! I WILL AVENGE YOU!
You killed him! Now who’s going to inflate my Medium ego? You little sandalwood-smelling bitches will pay for this! I’m coming down there! Excuse me, I need to get through. Okay, hold on. Wait, I just, [stepping in front of other seated people like when you’re at the movies and have to pee] okay, I’m coming, just, wait a little bit, move your leg, wait, okay if I just [accidentally straddles the good people of Medium.com], hey-o, hold up…
TWENTY MINUTES LATER
[Hurriedly waddling onto arena] Phew, okay, I’m here. Yo Hardy! B. Hard! Your life hacks are about to get life SMACKED. No, I’m not your goddamned waitress, stop looking for a name tag!
J. Wes, I’m coming for you too, don’t think hiding behind Hardy will protect you! I’m going to take all your productivity and shove it up- [Jon bursts into loud sobs] Oh yikes, okay. I’m sorry. That’s enough now. I, I didn’t mean it kid. What’s that smell? Oh. Jon’s soiled himself, oh no- Ben stop trying to tip me, I DON’T ACCEPT LOOSE CHANGE-
And then, there was silence. A pause. A fateful, hopeful, yearning pause…
But it was not to be. The arena began to rumble. Again. Building superintendents were getting concerned for the foundations and the upper stands. After all, the Colosseum was not built to L.A.’s 2015 building and safety codes for earthquake safety.
They had nothing to worry about. It was simply another gargantuan statue, come to life and approaching the arena. Everyone expected the Colossus of Rhodes in search of his lost member, but it was in fact the Bob’s Big Boy, holding a tray with a delicious piping hot burger, with fries and an ice cold vanilla shake!
The statue tried to rumble like James Earl Jones, but only managed to sound like Adam Goldberg. His voice cracked as he proclaimed:
“Thou shalt write 200 words… no more, no less… but dammit girl you came so close! Enjoy this complimentary burger, fries and shake. It should be enough to feed you and all your besties on Medium.”
Ellie, though shaken, recovered her composure and looked up at the enormous statue, saying “what? no donuts?”
A two-story high burger and tray crashed to the arena floor, crushing Ellie as flat as a crepe. Bob stomped away, mumbling “balls, why can’t I impress girls?” As the dust settled, and the reverberations of Bob’s footsteps faded into the night, a lonely image was projected in the night sky, bidding farewell to the beloved Ellie Guzman…
(to be continued. Who will take up the clarion call next? Jon, accept the challenge while you still have a chance to fight back!)
The Grammar Games, including rules and eligibility, all chapters, man on the street interviews, yelp reviews, side tales, praise from the book jacket, newspaper reports and, of course, our Kickstarter funding program.
As always, “Will write for donuts.”