BAILIFF : Please rise. The Court of the Bucks County Writing Group Circuit, hosted on Meetup, is now in session, the honorable Mediator Matt presiding.
MEDIATOR : Everyone but the vocally active members may be seated. Bailiff Jerry, please swear in the group.
BAILIFF : Please raise your right hand. Do you solemnly swear or affirm that you read today’s piece and that you will contribute fair, meaningful feedback?
GROUP : I do.
BAILIFF : You may be seated.
MEDIATOR : Members of the writing group, your duty today will be to determine whether the piece up for critique is guilty or not guilty of shoddy writing, poor character development, and/or lack of plot. The prosecution has the burden of making everyone else feel uncomfortable by spitting accusations toward the writer’s character, as well as half-baked, cringe-worthy commentary on the piece itself. Although other group members can wedge themselves into the discussion at times, this burden of incessant, trivial analysis remains on the prosecution through the trial. The prosecution must prove her critiques have some merit beyond a reasonable doubt. However, if you feel not satisfied of the writer’s guilt to that extent, or you are too afraid to offer any criticism with a hint of negativity, then reasonable doubt exists and the writer must be given empty praise. Bailiff Jerry, what is today’s case?
BAILIFF : Your honor, today’s case is Stephanie versus Al’s Piece “Midnight Stroke.”
MEDIATOR : Is the prosecution ready?
PROSECUTION : Yes, your honor.
MEDIATOR : Is the writer ready?
WRITER : Yes —
BAILIFF : Quiet, you! The writer cannot speak during the critique of his or her piece.
MEDIATOR : Let us begin with the opening statements.
PROSECUTION : Your honor, members of the Bucks County writer’s group, my name is Stephanie Valentino and I am representing the thoughts of the entire group in today’s case. I intend to prove that Al’s writing is a hodgepodge of unrelated actions, which — cobbled together — form a misogynistic homage to the male gaze. In summary, Al’s work sucked. Thank you.
MEDIATOR : Sounds fair enough to me. Please present your first in-text example to the stand.
PROSECUTION : Thank you, your honor. I call to the stand page one, paragraph one.
MEDIATOR : Will the prosecution please stand to be sworn in by Bailiff Jerry.
BAILIFF : Please raise your right hand and rest the other on this book of Harold Bloom essays. Do you swear to speak your mind, your whole mind, and nothing but your mind?
PROSECUTION : I do.
MEDIATOR : Please proceed, Ms. Stephanie.
PROSECUTION : Members of the writer’s group, from line one of the scene Al shared with us tonight, I, as both a fellow writer and a pregnant mother, felt nauseated. The character is writhing on the floor like an arthritic B-boy and, judging by the title “Midnight Stroke” — a euphemism for male masturbation — we can deduce that he is in a euphoric, post-orgasm bliss. To be frank, Al’s detailed descriptions of the raw physicality in this scene made me uncomfortable. What is this? Erotica?
[Some members of the group nod in agreement. The rest twiddle thumbs, look at phones, or glance around the room. Just like their writing, they avoid conflict.]
PROSECUTION : Your honor, I now call page four, paragraphs three through six to the stand.
MEDIATOR : Proceed.
PROSECUTION : After we read through a concise yet emotional flash through the protagonist’s life — past lovers, birth of children, death of parents, etc. — two new characters enter the scene: lovers interrupted from the throes of coitus. I think there was some connection between the protagonist and the woman, but I forget. Anyway, up to this point, I interpreted the passage as the protagonist’s post-masturbation guilt, which sparked a self-review of his life. What have I become? How low in depravity have I sunk to have pleasured myself in another person’s home? Yet, the couple is not horrified by his perversion. In fact, they come to his aid, get him in the car, and drive him away to the hospital. What hospital, by the way? An insane asylum? The text is not clear. Regardless, the scene just isn’t realistic.
[MS. STEPHANIE goes on for twenty-five minutes about how the scene is not realistic.]
MEDIATOR : Woah! Our half-hour dedicated to this piece is almost up. Prosecution, please present your final argument.
PROSECUTION : Thank you, your honor. Members of the writing group, today you have heard testimony about “Midnight Stroke.” Any fellow writer with an ounce of value can see the amateurish blunders riddled throughout the scene. Al is making porn, people, and I, for one, do not appreciate his filthy scratchings. Please find the writer guilty of the charge of shit writing. Thank you.
MEDIATOR : Okay, member’s of the writing group, you have heard all the testimony concerning this case. It is now up to you to determine final subjective opinions. You and you alone are the judges of this piece. Once you decide on a final impression, please select a foreperson to deliver the verdict. Whatever verdict you render must be highly controversial. That is, each and every person must disagree and debate on the verdict to the point of exhaustion.
[The group members dive into an open, heated discussion about “Midnight Stroke.” The volume steadily increases as the members attempt to talk over each other. After a few minutes, Mediator MATT bangs his gavel.]
MEDIATOR : Order in the court! Group members, have you reached a verdict?
FOREPERSON : We have, your honor.
MEDIATOR : What say you?
FOREPERSON : We the writing group, in the case of Stephanie versus Al’s piece “Midnight Stroke,” find the writer not guilty. We loved the premise!
[Various group members nod in affirmation and mutter “loved the premise” or “awesome premise, Al.”]
MEDIATOR : Thank you, group, for your service today. Court is adjourned. Now, Al, anything you want to express about the piece?
WRITER : I didn’t mean for my writing to be dirty or unrealistic. The scene is an autobiographical account of my stroke last year when I found my wife of twenty-three years in bed with a good friend. Afterwards, they drove me to the hospital and I felt as if life itself was crumbling around me.
MEDIATOR : Wow, Al, you don’t need to be such a Debbie downer. Next time, write better. You know, so we’ll understand? Now, Bailiff Jerry, what’s next on the docket for today.
BAILIFF : Your honor, the next case is Stephanie versus Khalid’s piece “Stroking it To America.”