WRITING SHORT: 49/50

Standard
[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

This is the forty-ninth piece in the series: My summer of writing short is nearing its close. What did I learn in the seven weeks since the first one? I discovered that I’d been wrong about everything except that I would stick it out. (If there’s one thing I do know about myself, it’s that I don’t give up easy.)

I thought I’d be freeing up time. I found myself bound to an inexorable daily duty of finding something potentially “short” and then cutting it down to size. This double task consumed more of each day than I could have imagined or care to admit even now.

It was clear that “short” needed a word limit, to keep each piece from metastasizing. I settled on 400 words as the maximum that might qualify, but had to subtract 21 words for the repeated introduction that held all the posts together. What can you say in 379 words that’s moderately interesting to at least a few people? And then how do you pare away what you’ve written, word by word, unessential sentence by unessential sentence, till you’re nearly there – and then rephrase, still more tightly, to come in under the wire? I must have revisited each finished piece three or four times before hitting “publish,” and then went on diddling with some after they’d gone into the world.

I did cheat by including four pieces written before this summer. (The last comes tomorrow.) But the other forty-six taught me that in writing, form doesn’t necessarily follow function. Here it was almost always the reverse. There’s so much you can’t do in 379 words — memoir, detailed narrative, a substantive think piece – that the form begins to dictate what you can say and how you say it. It would be hubris to compare it to sonnet writing (eight lines, six lines, and out – all in iambic pentameter) but except for  experiments with dialogue, a letter and quoting a poem, it was something like that.

These days readers seem to like “short.” Easy on the eye, on the mind, on how you spend your time. This summer I’ve persuaded myself there’s also much to be said for “longer.” It may take longer to read; it stays with you longer.  Isn’t that what we’re writing for?

MY THOUGHTS ON ‘BEAUTY’ IN 500 WORDS OR LESS

Standard

[I suppose I could have captioned this post: “Loser.”  Or: “Don’t Say Yes When You Really Mean No.”  But I guess I’ll stick with the caption that’s right on point.  See above.

Thing is, I never learn.  When someone asks me to do something, I’ve still got this knee-jerk reaction of wanting to please.  Even if I have no time. Or have a hunch it might be a bad idea.  So when a fellow blogger with a following of thousands proposed, via email, that I contribute to a forthcoming series of guest posts and thereby be introduced to what she called her “peeps,” I hesitated instead of shaking my virtual head “no.” Asked for more information.

First mistake.  Judging by her own blog, I already knew we’d be a bad fit.  The promptly forthcoming information was that I write anything I wanted — “Be yourself” was the instruction — on the subject of “Beauty.”  The only restriction was to do it in no more than 500 words.  As they say in the old country, “Oy!”

Because another thing is (besides never learning), I hate abstractions.  Anyone who reads even a couple of my posts will soon realize there’s no use looking here for fine words on “Patriotism” or “Honor.”   I’m just a peasant. I even call spades shovels, to the extent decency permits.  So why didn’t I just take my ball and go home? Why was I cheerily typing (with sinking heart), “I’ll see what I can do.”  I did add the caveat, “Although I don’t think you’ll like it.”  Was I ever right!

Needless to say, you will not be reading my five hundred words on that other blog.  (If you read that other blog.)  There was real distress on receipt of my finished product. Suggestions for restructuring.  A request I try again. Ill advised words flying back and forth over the internet, revealing perhaps a too highly-strung person on one side, and on the other somebody eager to disentangle herself from the entire enterprise without too many hard feelings. In the hard feelings part, she failed.

However, since it was the other blogger’s generous suggestion, in the days before I actually wrote anything, that after my (not-yet-written) piece appeared on her blog, I could re-blog it on mine, I feel it’s sort of okay to use it without a first appearance elsewhere. Waste not, want not being the idea.  So here — for the first and last time anywhere (ta-da!) — are my rejected thoughts on Beauty with a capital “B” in exactly 496 words.  

Maybe somebody will like it.]

******

GET REAL

 An invitation to write about “Beauty?” Oh dear Ms. _____, you’ve got the wrong blogger. Not being a Greek philosopher or a nineteenth-century Romantic poet, I never use the word. It’s an abstraction – the Platonic Ideal of all the notions of what people here on earth have ever found pleasing to see, hear, touch, taste or feel. And being abstract, it doesn’t tell you a thing.

“She walks in beauty like the night/ Of cloudless climes and starry skies….” It sounds good – it should, it was a love poem — but what exactly did Byron mean by “beauty?” That the lady in question walked in a graceful manner pleasing to his eyes? As pleasing as looking up at a starry night sky without clouds? That doesn’t help much with what the lady looked like, does it? Or Keats: “Truth is Beauty, Beauty Truth.” Do you know more about the Greek vase that inspired those lines after reading those five words? (“Truth” with a capital “T” is just as bad as “Beauty,” but as I’ve been given only 500 words, I won’t go there.)

Then there are the clichés about “Beauty,” now worn so thin from overuse we have to stop and think what meaning they were originally intended to convey, if indeed we stop at all and don’t just brush them away with “Yeah, yeah.” “Beauty is only skin deep,” for instance. Or “Beauty is as Beauty does.” Both of these probably warn, “Just because you think she’s great looking doesn’t mean you’d like living with her!” Well, say so! Then perhaps whoever you’re talking to will listen, or at least argue back. Nor am I ever going to tell anyone besotted with another, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” – although it’s certainly more tactful than blurting out, “That’s your opinion, buddy. Personally, I don’t think she’s so hot.” In such an instance, best to say nothing, smile and move on to another subject.

The word “beautiful” is marginally better than “Beauty.” That’s because it almost always refers to something that actually exists. (Unless you’re speaking of someone’s soul, the existence of which being a question for another day.) But “beautiful” isn’t usually helpful either. I don’t want to hear the remote island where you’re vacationing is beautiful. Tell me what so aesthetically pleases you. Describe the pebbled beaches, the tavernas with checkered tablecloths along the waterfront, the small skiffs tied up at the shore but still bobbing gently on the blue water. Are the dark skies starry at night? Cloudless? (Just kidding.)

That said, there are exceptions to everything, including the strictures outlined above. I myself wouldn’t name a real horse or a cat “Beauty.” But if you want to, so be it. As for the word “beautiful,” if a man ever whispers in your ear that you’re beautiful, never mind that it’s not really descriptive. It means he loves you, at least for the moment. Be grateful.

******