Archive for December, 2013

sharing holiday laughter

December 26, 2013

One of my secret sorrows is that my heroes would find me slight and insignificant.  I’m not sure if it helps that two of them are dead and that two others are either approaching or have already passed over the 80 year mark.

Unlike my super-ego’s expectations, my id has been disciplined not to yearn for much of anything during the Christmas buy-a-thon.  For going on 13 years, “I prefer not to” has been my modus operandi for this Saturnalian spending spree.  That’s not to say I don’t occasionally break down and buy socks for my best friend who owns no two that match or that I don’t partake in the the over-consumption of chocolate and alcohol.  But the buck stops here, so to speak, on buying useless things for acquaintances simply because everyone else is doing so.

This year’s run up to Christmas seemed especially grim, an emotional state I countered by reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln.  At one point, pulling myself out of the narrative’s powerful current, I sat back to appreciate the gift Vidal had shared so generously — the gift of entertainment.  Being entertained is what we demand these days, but to what level do our current entertainments aspire?  Pretty damn low if you ask me.

Regardless of the paltry pickings of love and entertainment at this, the darkest, time of the year, my own version of sowing love and harmony sometimes yields a delightful harvest.  So it was that a book was given on Christmas day:  the only thing I wanted and, apparently, needed.  Here for my readers is a small Boxing Day gift, an excerpt from Alexander Cockburn’s final book, A Colossal Wreck.

January 5 [1995]

The world has become a sadder and more boring place.  On 1 January Gary Larson hung up his sketch pad, which means the end of the universe as Larson has successfully managed to reconstruct it in the past decade and a half.  Larson is not the first satirist to tell parables through beasts.  But, before him, cows never had the sensitivities of Proust, nor dogs the wisdom of Solomon.  There have been great painters of nature, but none with that exquisite precision which catches the taut excitement of an anteater as it sits in its burrow watching television and shouting, “Vera, come quick.  Some nature show has a hidden camera in the Ericksons’ burrow.  We’re going to see their entire courtship behavior.”

Often the before-and-after narrative is obscure, as in the great cartoon showing a duck and one of Larson’s patented mad scientists on a desert island, sinking ship in background, with the duck quacking triumphantly, “So, Professor Jenkins! … My old nemesis … We meet again, but this time the advantage is mine!  Ha! Ha! Ha!”  The joke comes out of the linking of the line from old kitsch thrillerdom to the abashed Jenkins-triumphant duck confrontation.  But what were those past circumstances?  And what will the duck do?

In [The PreHistory of the Far Side], Larson offers some cartoons he never even bothered to send out for syndication.  “Jesus rises from the grave,” says the caption under a picture of a rather haggard Redeemer frying up some breakfast next to an open coffin and thinking:  “I wonder what time it is … I feel like I’ve been dead for three days.”

Arguably, one of this century’s best entertainers glossed by another.  Who can ask for anything more?

damned ellipsis

December 5, 2013

“I should’ve known dot dot dot

the minute that we hit the wall”

Aimee Mann

I’m the kind of person who gets emotional about punctuation and grammar.

But I should be more specific: it’s not really these that get me burning.  It’s people misusing them.

I don’t think of myself as a particularly conservative person, so the fact that I get irritated when people fail to add “-ly” to an adjective modifying a verb or think it’s okay to split an infinitive does strike me as out of character.  But I have a long-standing love affair with the English language.   To my mind, it’s a tool whose usefulness has been honed by centuries of writers.  Language has given us the ability to communicate the most abstract and the most intimate of thoughts across time and space, but there are some who would operate better with emoticons and texting monstrosities about which I prefer not to know.  I am  definitely not LOL.

The ellipsis, in particular, has become a distressing catch-all.  Beyond the folks who are merely poorly educated, believing it is interchangeable with periods, commas, and – perish the thought! – semicolons, I have a sense that many who overuse these freakin’ 3 dots think they are being deep and meaningful, the punctuative equivalent, let’s say, of a lasting stare delivered by Richard Burton or his resonant voice echoing across the universal void.  Presumably, they are alluding to thoughts, as Wordsworth once said, “that do often lie too deep for tears.”  For Wordsworth to contemplate his intimations of immortality took him 11 stanzas full of periods, commas, semicolons, question marks, exclamation points, even dashes.  But no ellipsis.

Of course, in a culture that hustles us along like so many codes of binary pulses flowing ceaselessly through optical fibers, we are encouraged to use these 3 dots to suggest anything that might have to do with depth and its many manifestations (silence, the past, the future, honesty, joy, sorrow)… and then get moving.  I shouldn’t blame people for not resisting this flow… for not stopping a moment or two to consider deeply what they wish to convey and to take up with sincerity and love a language richly imbued with a myriad of nuances in order to articulate those thoughts… It’s what they’re least expected… and requested… to do.

See…  Aren’t these dots annoying… Really?