Linear Simplicity in Writing

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I used to think I was too dumb to read the classics. Eh, who am I kidding? I probably am. But besides that point, I think I know why I’ve taken a pass on them after I worked up the courage for punishment. It was their style. It is unnecessary. I know I am walking on thin ice when I make such a claim. Many of you out there love the classics. So please don’t mistake my honesty for arrogance.

Let me tell you about writing even if I don’t know much about it. But I think I’ve recently graduated from one level to a higher one after having the opportunity to read Mark Twain’s “Roughing It.”

This is my conclusion.

Mark Twain gets everything right the first time. What I mean by that is that the reader never has to go back to the beginning of a paragraph or thought. There are no distractions. Twain takes advantage of the freedom his easy style of writing offers. Unlike many of the great American writers, Twain takes a pass on rhetorical-poetic excesses. We should thank him for that.

To Twain, I’ve gathered, writing isn’t so much about grammar. It is about language, which requires a steady rhythm that is almost unnoticeable to the reader. I say unnoticeable because it’s natural to the ear. In other words, there’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Twain’s writing is practically speech: Simple and direct thoughts with short sentences that don’t explain too much by themselves. Instead, they feed the one coming after. This amazing understanding allowed Twain to create some of the most memorable and classic prose in American literature.

So I call this a linear style, without actually knowing the proper term for it. Maybe a Literary Man would know.

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The Real Versus The Unreal

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I love to sit and think about reality. Can it be grasped? Can it only be approached through the abstract? Ask me those two questions over the course of a year and it is likely you will catch me contradicting myself. I love to think there is the same reality for us all. To extent I suppose there is. But what if what we think is reality is not the real-reality. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. It is a really a simple concept, if you give me a moment to explain.

I came across this wonderful essay at Common Review called “The Dream of Reality.” I’ll spare you most of the details, but if you have the time, I suggest you give it read.

Debates about what is real and what is not continue to stir thinkers in every precinct, in part because it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between reality as we think we know it and the ten thousand images of “reality” disseminated in the culture every hour. The difficulty has seemed impressive for almost a century. In the 1920s, for example, the German satirist Karl Kraus wrote, “In the beginning was the Press and then came the world.” He was responding to a growing alarm, a sense that what we call the world is primarily a product of the consciousness (or “information”) industry. Another, later example: in 1962 the German poet-critic Hans Magnus Enzensberger wrote, “The process is irreversible . . . this service is essentially the same all over the world, no matter how the industry is operated: under state, public, or private management, within a capitalist or a socialist economy, on a profit or nonprofit basis. The mind industry’s main business and concern is not to sell its product; it is to ‘sell’ the existing order.”

Suppose our reality is shaped by forces beyond our immediate control. In other words, the reality we know is established for us by the mass amount of information, media, pop-culture and mainstream influence (in a word: culture). I won’t say there is anything sinister behind this – if of course this is even the true case. At any rate, we perceive it to be reality, but it is not the real-reality. Rather it is constructed for us. Our needs, our desires, our beliefs, our aspirations, even our fears are all constructed by the influences around us. We are led to a certain reality but perhaps not the real-reality. We are presented a false-positive.

Here is a good example to that point.

In the essay, that the author mentions Johns Stuart Mill’s opinion on the “subjection of women.” Mill, as smart as he was, wondered why women, or anyone else for that matter, would adopt a silly notion that women could be anything other than what they naturally were. Meaning, women never aspired to be anything other than mothers, wives, and caretakers. After all, most women cared little about politics, knew little about current events, did not own any businesses and tended not to have an opinion outside their realm.

Based on every available indicator at the time, the reality was women really had no other role. Nor did they want one. Therefore, Mill was totally correct and even practical in his criticism toward those idealist dreamers.

Of course, that line of reasoning turned out not to be true. Once women moved out of this traditional role, things changed, and the circumstances for women changed drastically. Was this “wiling slavery” more of an outcome to tradition and social-norms, and not so much to do with reality?

Perhaps that may be the case. But if that is your reaction, then what was the real-reality all along? Were not those traditions and norms actually constructs? — Influences that represented a false-positive? In other words, everyone was influenced by the un-real as opposed to the real-reality.

How much is this case in our own lives, our own reality?

In the last analysis, the question of what are true and false needs must be answered by the individuals themselves, but only in the last analysis; that is, if and when they are free to give their own answer (One Dimensional Man).

Let me come back to this. I’m afraid I wasn’t prepared sufficiently enough when I started.

In the meantime, I’ll share with you some personal correspondence on this same subject from the proprietor of Total Perspective, Jeff. Maybe he wraps it all up better.

The J.S. Mill part was interesting. Mill’s position about women was “conservative.” But the author reminds us that Mill’s view was bounded by the rationality and the sentiments of the time. At least in this case, I believe the author seems to be saying we can’t be prisoners of the past or time and place. As for dreams, well, I think dreams are rarely fully achieved at the broad national level. But certainly the American experiment (the dream of our fathers) has been partially realized. But then since the dream is different from person to person I don’t suspect we’ll ever get there.

I think we have to realize the progress is real. It’s slow and many times disappointing, but it’s real and clearly visible in our modern world. People dream or imagine the way things could be. Certain realities serve has anchors. I think the radicalism of the 1960s was unrealistic and only served to fuel a sensual overindulgence in whatever made one happy. But the 1960s radicalism didn’t win the day. It did, however, moderate some conservative positions, and brought about things like civil rights. That was important and was resisted by conservative forces. So maybe the author is articulating a form of yin and yang. He realizes that the radicalism of his youth was a dream that, while not entirely wrong, needed to be tempered by the mature realities of what’s actually possible.

I’ve Been Lazy

I haven’t exerted any sort of physical energy since Thursday of last week. I haven’t wanted to. Of course there is a good reason, I suppose. On the evening of the day mentioned, I took a hard shot during a sparring match. I attended a new boxing gym. My membership at my other one is coming to an end, and so I thought I would explore a few more. I worked out with the guys there. They were all good workouts. Perhaps they were a little too unorganized for my liking, or at least compared to what I am accustomed to. All in all, I would say I liked it but knew already I planned to pass on joining.

At any rate, I found myself in the ring with a slightly younger man, who was slightly bigger than me (which isn’t easy to find — me being 6’2″). He was also more experienced than me. Since we knew nothing about each other, we probably went a little harder than we should have. Not with the intention of hurting the other but with the intention to keep from getting hurt by the other. The coach should have recognized this but he either didn’t notice or didn’t care.

At any rate, the more punches thrown, the harder and faster they got. That’s when I took a hard one between the eyes and the bridge of my nose. I felt its force right before everything went black. And I fell asleep.

That’s what it literally felt like. Aside from getting my face bashed in, there was a weird, peaceful state I remember. Almost like I was floating in darkness. When I came to, which was only a matter of a few seconds later, I was staring down at a large puddle of blood. My nose was the source for the deluge.

The next morning it felt like I was suffering from a bad hangover and in a mental haze.  And the day after that. And the day after that. And the day after that. Today is the first day since then I have felt better. I’m sure I had a mild concussion.

I’ll ease back into my workouts. I’m thinking of working up a sweat after this post. It probably wouldn’t hurt for me to be a little lazy though. All the cardio and boxing has gotten me too skinny. Evidence from below. To tell you the truth, I feel like taking a whole month off and eat what I want, and be as lazy as I want. Put on about 10 pounds and start over.

But I won’t. I’ll go back to my old gym and renew my membership for another year. But I won’t be jumping into the ring with people I don’t know. And I certainly won’t be going to gyms that aren’t better organized.

Don’t worry, I won’t be doing any contact for a while.

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The Great Purge

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Sometimes I feel the need to start from scratch. Relearn. Recalibrate. I don’t know where to begin though. I do not mean I am looking to abandon my beliefs, my fundamental principles. I do not think one should. I would like to know, though, how I discovered them and why I subscribe to them. Why do my intellectual instincts go toward one direction but not the other?

There is quote I like. To whom it belongs, I’m not sure. I don’t want to bother to look it up because I’m busy at the moment. But it goes something like this. “A strong mind is the ability to hold two opposing thoughts at the same time and still think.” That’s the quote, or thereabouts.

Notice he didn’t say “and think correctly.” He just said “and still think.”

I used to think politics was the key. That it was the place for debate and big ideas. How stupid and foolish of me to ever consider that to be true. Politics is a variant of pop-culture — A giant, stinky city dump where ideas and civility go to rot and wither away under the sun. It is a cheap imitation of the real.

I am tempted to say, at least in our times that is. That would be wrong and naïve for me to say. It has always been that way.

No the foundation, I’m speaking the foundation of us all, lies at the heart of philosophy and reason. What philosophy exactly, I’m not sure. Whose reason, I’m afraid I can’t answer. But we must be bigger than petty issues. We have to be or we are all doomed.

Is there no room for original thought? Why do we study the philosophers and great minds? Is it because it has become a dead science? Have we become unable to produce any of our own? I’m afraid so. We group-think, that is what we do.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ll stick to the tried and true opposed to the untried and unverified. There is wisdom in that, I think. That is why I draw the line with intellectuals. Too many of them think that ideas are more important than people. People precede ideas.

Sometimes it is a curse to be interested. To learn is a burden. Knowledge in one subject leads one to uncertainty in a hundred others. And that is exactly why many of us stop just short of thinking. Sure we approach its boundaries. We may even peer over its walls. But its vastness is a little unsettling. The mountains are so high. The thought of not having neighbors is frightening.

Instead we settle. We find the crowded camp we belong, stake our tents and chant and recite.

I could be mayor of such a camp town.

What Would You Say?

We were enjoying a walk together. I soon found the reason why you asked me to join you. You had something on your mind. Something was gnawing at your soul. Keeping you up at night, you told me.

I know we all have our secrets. After hearing yours, I’m afraid you need a priest or a passport.

You swore me to secrecy before you began. As if that has ever actually worked with anyone. When you finished, you didn’t like my response. That’s okay, I said. You weren’t paying me for advice anyhow.

What did you expect to hear? “Oh poor you! There now, it’s not your fault. Any one of us would have done the same had we been in your shoes at the time.”

The deed is done. The dye is cast. The Rubicon has been successfully negotiated. You’re screwed friend. It’s time to realize that. When you do, you’ll find clarity. Then you’ll be faced with the only decision there is for you to make.

Of course, making that decision is entirely up to you. I can’t do it for you. No one can.

It will require courage. The consequences probably won’t be pleasant. But time will pass regardless.  Why not let it pass without carrying a burden of guilt? Do you think you are free because you are keeping the truth hidden?

Instead of living in fear of the truth, letting this terrible secret consume your life, come out blazing with the power of truth. Put your demons to rest. Destroy their home that is your conscience. Admit your guilt. Work toward redemption.

It’s time you clean house buddy.

Free yourself so you can give to others what you have been depriving them: The truth, peace, and rest.

*Inspired by a story about a young man, I’ve never met, near my hometown, who beat his mistress/girlfriend to death in an abandoned lot, in front of his own kids, while high on drugs.  He will not admit that he did it. Despite being prosecuted and sent to prison for the crime. So there he sits in prison … on the truth. 

The Difference Between Well Intentioned and Serious

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There is such a thing as a difference between well intentioned and serious. You know it as well as I. It’s that invisible barrier that separates the vast majority of us from the fine sliver of true geniuses. They were put here to do exactly what they were supposed to do. Amaze us. Wow us with their superhuman ability. We can emulate and study them, but we’ll never duplicate them. By “them” I will leave open for you whatever category or interest comes to mind.

Here though, I will refer specifically to F. Scott Fitzgerald the author of the “Great Gatsby.”

What I meant with the opening was this. Sure, I can write a pretty decent essay. I’ve been known to push out pretty good research paper. I suppose if my only way of communication was through the written word, I would manage. But as Fitzgerald said, in so many words, there is writing and then there is writing. I don’t come within 1,000 miles of being a writer.

The personal letter below may strike you as brutally honest. Well, I suppose it is. But like I said, there is a difference between well intentioned and serious. Fitzgerald was asking the essential: Do you have what it takes? Only you can answer that, and if you can’t or are unwilling to honestly, others will answer the question for you.

This letter can apply to anything you are considering on doing seriously. There’s a price to pay for anything worth doing.

I shamelessly stole this from Jeff over at Total Perspective. Jeff writes below:

Some of the best insights about writing, philosophy, and life come from the private letters of great writers and thinkers. Below is a specimen from a collection of Fitzgerald’s letters that I found very interesting and insightful. In this letter Fitzgerald talks to Frances about the high price that must be paid for “professional work.”

November 9, 1938

Dear Frances:

I’ve read the story carefully and, Frances, I’m afraid the price for doing professional work is a good deal higher than you are prepared to pay at present. You’ve got to sell your heart, your strongest reactions, not the little minor things that only touch you lightly, the little experiences that you might tell at dinner. This is especially true when you begin to write, when you have not yet developed the tricks of interesting people on paper, when you have none of the technique which it takes time to learn. When, in short, you have only your emotions to sell.

This is the experience of all writers. It was necessary for Dickens to put into Oliver Twist the child’s passionate resentment at being abused and starved that had haunted his whole childhood. Ernest Hemingway’s first stories ‘In Our Time’ went right down to the bottom of all that he had ever felt and known. In ‘This Side of Paradise’ I wrote about a love affair that was still bleeding as fresh as the skin wound on a haemophile.

The amateur, seeing how the professional having learned all that he’ll ever learn about writing can take a trivial thing such as the most superficial reactions of three uncharacterized girls and make it witty and charming — the amateur thinks he or she can do the same. But the amateur can only realize his ability to transfer his emotions to another person by some such desperate and radical expedient as tearing your first tragic love story out of your heart and putting it on pages for people to see.

That, anyhow, is the price of admission. Whether you are prepared to pay it or, whether it coincides or conflicts with your attitude on what is ‘nice’ is something for you to decide. But literature, even light literature, will accept nothing less from the neophyte. It is one of those professions that wants the ‘works.’ You wouldn’t be interested in a soldier who was only a little brave.

In the light of this, it doesn’t seem worth while to analyze why this story isn’t saleable but I am too fond of you to kid you along about it, as one tends to do at my age. If you ever decide to tell your stories, no one would be more interested than,

Your old friend,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

P.S. I might say that the writing is smooth and agreeable and some of the pages very apt and charming. You have talent — which is the equivalent of a soldier having the right physical qualifications for entering West Point.


To Care or Not to Care?

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That is a line in life we’ve all towed or straddled. Specifically here though I am referring to do we care what others think of us. After we process this question we are faced with a fine line. Always the lines! Most of us like to feel secure enough in ourselves to say no; we don’t care what others think of us. I find that hard to believe, however. To a point, we should care.

The person who says they don’t care what others think is the same person who can’t wait to tell you he doesn’t care what you think of him. I’m not sure if this should be called redundancy or contradiction. I mean if he doesn’t care, why bring it up?

I’m one of the more stubborn people you will meet. I’ve been wrong many times, but I’ve never been unsure about anything. So naturally, I haven’t always endeared myself to everyone I’ve came across. Still, very rarely do I find myself without a care for another’s feelings or view toward me. I’m quick to make a wrong right. I’ve acquired a taste for humble pie. Granted, there are those special people we meet that it’s best not to care what they think of you. Those are the few exceptions, however.

If we truly don’t care what people think of us, why do we have the desire to make a “good impression.” Why shake hands, bother with manners, or even engage in conversation? Why trouble yourself with any sort of legacy? Even if it is no more than raising good kids or having people care enough to say nice things about you at your funeral one day.

I think this is just another myth in life that takes time to topple. Personally, I don’t put a lot of trust in anyone who doesn’t care what others think of them. If someone truly feels that way, then they probably don’t think a lot about themselves. Imagine living in a community made up of people who didn’t care what others thought? I would find the first road leading out of the place.

No, I figure if you have a healthy consideration for what others think of you, then you’re probably an alright person. I bet you have friends among various circles. People confide in you, trust you, and care for you. You’re willing to take on burdens and give favor because you know you will need the same from others someday. Reciprocity is the word. Don’t let anyone try to confuse you in saying this is a selfish motive. That is nonsense. It’s called community. It’s called relationships. Tell them to look up their meanings. They precede any human motive.

The Gospels all teach to be the “salt of the earth” and to “let your light shine.” I always found that to be decent advice.

I’m not intending to be a dime-store sage, but this myth needs to be busted. It goes against the essence of humanity and is a glaring contradiction in what it means to be a person.

James Franco: The Worst Writer In the History of the Written Word

"When Obama entered, the crowd converged," says the poet James Franco. "Finally, I got to shake his hand. He knew me from Spider-Man."

I don’t even know what to call this kind of writing. Is it poetry? Is it creative/expressive writing? Is it gibberish — the thoughts of a man stoned out of his mind? Whatever it’s called, he’s serious and this stuff actually gets published. On that note, I thought I would take a crack at it.

My James Franco: I’ll call it, “When Worlds Collide”

I once drove my car down a river. Strange I know but roads are made for people going places. I imagined how strange it must be to a fish. To see a car driving down a river. Me driving my car through their living room. Their watery world full of bubbles and currents. Then I thought, wait! — probably not any more strange than when I see a fish inside a fishbowl in my living room.

You can see what I mean here. But here’s a taste if you must see now.

I love driving down an empty dark freeway, lit up intermittently by the lights at the side of the road, and when I see the lights, I think of all the little worlds out there, all the little animals living in their habitats out there, and how we could pull over and have an adventure at any one of these forgotten pockets of the world, just nothing zones, backwash refuse property in the wake of the great freeways… (Via Esquire)

Gripping…

America Takes Claim to a Prestigious Honor

It’s not quite like the moon landing, but America has made its way onto another map of importance.

Some hard working and industrious folks in Waco, Texas have produced the best single-malt whiskey outdoing the prestigious Scotch brands.

“…A single-malt whiskey from the Balcones Distillery in Waco bested nine others, including storied Scottish names like the Balvenie and the Macallan, in a blind panel of British spirits experts. It was the first time an American whiskey won the Best in Glass, a five-year-old competition to find the best whiskey released in a given year.

Balcones, said Neil Ridley, one of the organizers, is everything you’d expect from a young American: brash, robust and full of flavor. “It was like putting a New World wine against an Old World chateau,” he said.”

The bourbon varieties produced in places like Kentucky and Tennessee have always been fond of corn and rye as their main ingredients. The Scotch variety has dealt in malted barley, which has given it’s single-malt deliciousness.

In a way, the surprising thing about American malt whiskey is not that it exists, but that it took so long to come around.

Here is a review from another source. You can pick yourself up a bottle for about $65.

It’s only at the end of the finish that we are reminded that Balcones Single Malt Texas Whiskey is high proof. The precision here of flavor delivery and alcohol is simply perfect. Amazing, fantastic, revolutionary – yes, this whiskey is all that. But it’s also slightly maddening as it takes the conventional whiskey experience and turns it on its head. This is truly a whiskey connoisseur’s whiskey and a spirit for those of us who enjoy a wild journey that only a select few spirits can really take you on.

Profound Wisdom Found in a Parking Lot

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I don’t normally do news items but I’ll have to make an exception for this one. A Walmart worker in California was doing his usual sweep through the parking lot while on the clock, when he stumbled across a notebook. I’m assuming he finds usual items such as this every day, but curiosity got the better of him – and what good favors curiosity gives! –, and so opened it to see what it contained. Quickly he noticed the handwriting was that of a child’s but the personal reminders and maxims were of profound wisdom and decency that only one with a deep understanding of character could produce.

When we think of children, we usually imagine a complete disregard for the rules and endless discipline that we wonder if it will ever sink in. One child, however, has embraced the rules of life and has been writing them down as he learns them.

Inside this little notebook was a list of rules this child used in his life. And God love this little fellow because even though his spelling was incorrect in places — hey so is mine, and sometimes I pretend I’m smart — his guiding principles were spot-on.

  • Don’t get into other people’s business.
  • Don’t call each other names.
  • Clean up your messes.
  • No eating other people’s food.
  • One hundred eighteen is don’t keep saying please if someone says no

It was about this time that the worker, whose name is Raymond Flores, realized he found the writing and thoughts of a young scholar, whose decency surpassed all the people he probably comes in contact with on a daily basis.

He said of the notebook’s words of wisdom: “I like that. They put a lot of hard work into it. These rules mean a lot to them and probably to the parents, as well.”

Some of other notable rules:

“Ware [sic] your seatbelt,”
“Resicle [sic],”
“Put your shoes by the front door when you take them off.”
“Rule number 154 was to protect this book.”

Mr. Flores was so moved after reading that he has made it a personal mission to make sure this notebook gets back to its rightful owner. But that’s not all. He was also influenced by the decency of this creature, and the simplicity of its goodness, that he has made it a point to emulate the example.

In my previous life, I may have been inclined to draft this kid into Congress or the White House. Now I know that it would be a waste of time for the child and unfair to the politicians. This child would have as much in common with politicians as a mud turtle would have with a soaring hawk. Moreover, it’s unlikely that our politicians would want to associate with such human refuse. His very presence would be a grievous insult to those Hallowed Halls. All in all, a good thing; the kid would probably grow bored and depressed being constantly surrounded by the soulless and mentally unqualified.

No, I hope the child gets his notebook back and I hope he continues to live his life according to his principles. That he continues to influence those around him and lives long enough to have a hundred kids and grand-kids. That, more anything else, is what we need. We have entirely too much of the former.