January 29, 2009

Short note from a possible future…



I haven’t written anything by hand for a long time, so pleased forgive this scrawl.

The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. I used to think I knew what that meant. I used to believe that freedom meant not having to live in fear. I went along with all the Constitutional Modifications because I believed they were a worthwhile idea. For a while, the efforts of the Security Bureau bore fruit – many, many Latent Terrorists and Potential Disrupters were weeded out and dealt with accordingly.

The Latent Terrorists were either executed or deported to their country of origin, if it was still capable of supporting life. As we know, after the War a lot of things changed. It was explained that, for a while, it would be necessary for society to be more closely monitored. That’s what Eternal Vigilance means. Juno, my daughter, was born around that time. Today she will be drafted into the Adolescent Edification College that has been allotted her.

I still keep my online journal, of course. The bots report anyone who does not log on and file a report on their Blog at least once a day, and all text is scanned. But I am finding it harder to do, to keep writing the same things in a different way, to show that I am a good citizen by reporting on the actions of at least six of my neighbours every week; the bots report anyone who uses the same text string more that twice in one week. It is even harder to smile as I go out every day, after filing my Journey Proposal, and to nod at the neighbours, knowing that they also are watching me. But I am now writing this journal on paper, the way we used to, because after Juno told me about the garbage bins, I found it hard not to feel terrified every waking moment.

“Daddy,” she said – she knows she is supposed to call me ‘Father’ or ‘Pa-parent’ – “Daddy, on our street, seven waste receivers are now missing. I just counted them.”

Just that. I grabbed her roughly, for which I am ashamed, and for which I could be reported, and said “Juno, you must never, NEVER been seen counting anything! You know what happens if the cameras see your lips moving in a public place!”

Seven bins. Seven families. I know, I counted them too. I know that I am responsible for one of those missing bins, not placed on the yellow laser scales at eighteen thirty every Tuesday like all the others in the street. I just thought that the Carsons should be a little more circumspect about the music they listened to. It wasn’t on the approved list. They were sent for Re-Edification, which is a good thing, but they should have been back weeks ago. No one returns anymore.

I am worried. I thought it was our place – the people - to be vigilant, in order to guard our freedom. But it seems the guards turned their vigilance inward for too long. I am beginning to wonder if the price of that vigilance is eternal slavery.

This is as much as I can write – it’s far too dangerous to continue. I believe the new street cameras can detect the sound of pen on paper (writing in private is disapproved), as well as monitoring for Undue Motion after twenty-one hours.

I hope that whoever finds this note understands and explains to my daughter, if she still lives, that my subsequent actions were not those of a terrorist, that I was a freedom fighter despite what the history blogs may dictate.


Read by Matt Ward…

January 15, 2009

The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, and some baaaad writin’!

You must remember this...

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents--except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

--Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

Apart from its lasting and affectionate link with Snoopy’s literary efforts, (and the bit after "torrents" where it sounds like a weather forecast), that infamous opening sentence has come to be associated with an annual literary fun-fest known as The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants are expected to submit the worst self-penned examples of an opening sentence that they can come up with.

I entered last year and failed miserably. This should feel like a good thing, but the competition to produce wretched grammar, mangled syntax, crap metaphors and just plain shithouse writing is possibly even fiercer than that found in “quality” arenas. It is claimed that over 10,000 entries were received last year.

The 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is underway – if you enjoy the occasional lapse into truly bad writing, especially when it comes to an opening sentence, here’s your chance to shine. Or just have some fun. Details are at the bottom of the page and “The official deadline is April 15 (a date that Americans associate with painful submissions and making up bad stories). The actual deadline may be as late as May 30 (the 2009 results will be released by mid-June).

Somewhere on the lengthy page is a link to an even larger collection of truly awful writing submitted by followers of the Bulwer-Lyttons, as the contest has become known. It’s here, and contains some extraordinary passages (all of them published and presumably paid for), including this mind-boggling description of sexual congress:

"And then he was fully socketed to her, like a pipe wrench in a crock of warm chili."

Read and enjoy, and start working on your worst opening sentences, because the first prize is US$250.00.

January 11, 2009

The Fine Art of the Insult

Dick Cavett, in his NYT blog, begins “I haven’t ever found any great writing on that wonderful and often unappreciated art form, the insult.”

Cavett points out the value of the witty insult over the prosaic with this example:

There are two kinds of insult. “I was bored by your book” is one kind. “Your book? Once I put it down, I couldn’t pick it up,” is the other.

He goes on to cite several choice examples from writers he has known (and remember, this man wrote for Groucho Marx).

This prompted me to dig out an old Reader’s Digest I’d kept since 1979, which contains excerpts from Nancy McPhee’s “The Book of Insults” (the sole reason for keeping it…) There are few things more enjoyable and satisfying than a clever insult. Wit and savagery combined produce some of the most quotable chunks of language available. There are now several such books available, as well as a massive online resource.

A good insult can be direct and pointed…

I don't think you are a fool, but what's my opinion compared to that of thousands of others.

He does the work of three men: Larry, Curly & Moe.

He always finds himself lost in thought - it's an unfamiliar territory.

It can be direct, pointed and lengthy…

A hack writer who would not have been considered a fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out a few of the old proven 'sure-fire' literary skeletons with sufficient local colour to intrigue the superficial and the lazy. ~ William Faulkner on Mark Twain

Coleridge was a muddle-headed metaphysician who by some strange streak of fortune turned out a few poems amongst the dreary flood of inanity that was his wont. ~ William Morris on Samuel Taylor Coleridge

He was ignored till he began to smash the parlour furniture, throw bombs and hitch together ten pianolas, all playing different tunes, whereupon everyone began to talk about him. ~ Henry T. Fink, American music critic, on Arnold Schoenberg

…or it can be convoluted, even obscure:

... a gap-toothed and hoary ape, who now in his dotage spits and chatters from a dirtier perch of his own finding, and fouling; coryphaeus or choragus of his Bulgarian tribe of autocoprophagaus baboons. ~ Algernon Charles Swinburne on Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Theatre has a fine tradition of insults:

We used to have actresses trying to become stars; now we have stars trying to become actresses. ~ Sir Laurence Olivier

I always said that I'd like (John) Barrymore's acting till the cows came home. Well, ladies and gentleman, last night the cows came home. ~ George Nathan

As does Art:

I've heard that he dreams his paintings -- little wonder that he complains he can't sleep.

It resembles a tortoiseshell cat having a fit in a plate of tomatoes. ~ Mark Twain on J. M. W. Turner's ‘The Slave Ship’

This is not amusing, it is dismaying and disheartening. The other day, someone attributed to me the statement that 'the human race was nearing insanity'. I never said that but if anyone is trying to convince me that this is 'modern art', and that it is representative of our time, I would be obliged to think that statement is true. ~ Kenyon Cox, American critic, in Harper's Weekly (1913) on Henri Matisse's painting The Red Studio'

The famous poster artist, James Pryde, was invited to attend the unveiling of the statue of the Great War heroine, nurse Edith Cavell. When the covering was pulled off, the crowd stood in stunned silence. “My God,” said Pryde. “They've shot the wrong person.”

And, of course, Literature, which one would expect to contain the most finely-crafted examples:

Groucho Marx: (Groucho? Oh well…) From the moment I picked your book up until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Someday I intend reading it.

Samuel Johnson did not say: "Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." But he would probably have liked to.

This novel is not to be tossed lightly aside, but to be hurled with great force. ~ Dorothy Parker

This poem will not reach its destination ~ Voltaire, on Jean Baptiste Rousseau's ode 'To Posterity'

Ah! Meredith! Who can define him? His style is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning. As a writer he has mastered everything except language: as a novelist he can do anything, except tell a story: as an artist he is everything, except articulate. ~ Oscar Wilde

Wilde alone generated enough of these less than bon-mots to fill several books.

Of course, this is far from a lost art. To finish up, here’s a couple at the expense of soon-to-be Ex President G.W. Bush:

This is a guy who could not find oil in Texas. ~ Al Franken

What is his accomplishment? That he's no longer an obnoxious drunk? ~ Ron Reagan Jr.

Keep this form of expression alive – go out and insult someone today! Leave one here if you like… just make it clever and funny, please.

January 02, 2009

A Feline Limerick

Existentially, cats are a riddle –
Opinions divide down the middle;
Can a creature with class
stick its tongue in it arse
yet be fussy about where it might piddle?

(Oh, and Happy New Year! All the best for 09 and beyond...)