...unless you hope to impress them with your awesome skills at propelling things from your body.

The scene: a writer's workshop. I and two other hopefuls had sent in the first few chapters of our novels ahead of time, and today our manuscripts would be critiqued by a moderator and three working professionals. Our section was lucky enough to be meeting with a very well known science fiction writer, a recently published science fiction writer, and an editor at one of the big publishing houses.

My manuscript was the last to be critiqued. As we wound up our discussions of the other two participants'work, I became aware of two things: I desperately needed to take a whiz, and a painfully large gas bubble was ballooning in my midsection. Time slowed to a crawl as my discomfort steadily grew. Finally the moderator called for a break and I stiff-legged my way to the men's room as fast as I could go.

To my alarm, the recently-published writer caught up with me and began talking to me about my submission. What was I going to do? I didn't want to be in the restroom with him when I finally let loose, but there was nowhere else down that hallway to go. I couldn't pretend I had some other destination and then sneak back to use the facilities after he'd gone.

So I was forced to enter the men's room with him. We both stepped up to our urinals, unzipped, and began to do our business. The pressure on my bladder immediately abated. But, horribly, the gas bubble now felt like it was growing to fill the void, until it pressed against my insides like an inflating basketball. I struggled to contain myself. Maybe, I thought, I could pretend I wasn't finished urinating yet. Yes: I would simply linger casually at the urinal until he left. It might seem a little odd, but my dignity would remain intact.

"You know," he said, "you're really quite good."


Babies awoke. Neighborhood dogs erupted in frenzied barking. Somewhere in Canada a flock of geese took startled flight.

We stared blankly at each other for a second. "Thank you," I said. "That means a lot to me."

He gave me a lot of good advice on my manuscript when we returned to the workshop, and offered a great deal of encouragement. But I was never quite able to meet his eyes after that.

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