Language! Or, Those Darn French!

Detail from the San Diego Model Railroad Museum
Detail from the San Diego Model Railroad Museum

If you’ve read a few of the things I’ve posted here, you may have noticed that I enjoy travel. One of the things I’ve found that helps make travel more enjoyable is learning some of the language of the place I am going to visit. Prior to visiting Cancun a few years ago I studied up on my Spanish. Prior to visiting Rome I learned enough Italian to become terribly confused, as it is too similar to Spanish for me to always tell them apart. (But I did learn to hear words, and was amazed that, in fact, Italians, at least Romans, tend to speak rather slowly.) Prior to visiting Germany last year I studied German. We are planning to visit England this Spring, so maybe I should study English? Since a writer is concerned with language (or else they’re not a very good writer) I find it interesting to see how languages other than English are put together and used. Here are a few observations from my time in other countries.

As I pointed out above, not knowing a language at least a little can lead you to some plainly wrong conclusions. Such as thinking that Italians speak very fast. Actually, every word ends in a vowel in that language, so it can be difficult to tell when one word ends and another begins. Also, most words have a lot more syllables than they need, so if you can’t hear the words, it sounds fast. French is special to me because it is the only language besides English that I started learning by immersion. I got off of a train in Calais at 4:30 in the morning. The train to Paris left at six. I needed coffee. I was hungry. To hell with what they think of my accent. I asked my companion how to say various things, and, eh voila, I got my coffee and pastry. To this day, French is the easiest foreign language for me to use, probably because I started learning it from the ground up.

Spanish, though, was my first. My sister was taking Spanish in college, and she taught simple Spanish words like numbers and other single-syllable things to my seven-year-old self, in order to help herself learn. Well, she still speaks some Spanish, and by cracky, I do too. Unfortunately, we can’t hide anything from her son, my nephew, because he speaks Spanish better than both of us put together. Lo siento, Ed.

As to German, it is common to think that German is the closest thing to English, and in some ways it is. However, more than half of our English vocabulary comes from French, as do our verdamt (get it?) spelling rules. A thousand years ago, English and German were the same language, more or less. Now, not so much. But some words are exactly the same in German. Words like active, relative, and the like, except that they’re spelled “activ” and “relativ.”

All of my three non-English languages do have something in common that English has lost: personal versus formal second person pronouns. That is, if you know somebody well, you use one word for “you” with them. Otherwise, you use a different word for “you.” But, hey, the personal “you” does exist in English, even though virtually nobody uses it any more. Oh really? Really! And thou dost know whereof I write, dost thou not? Sure, and if I hadn’t studied at least one other language, I would never know what that “biblical” or “Shakespearean” language was really all about. It comes, one way or another, from the German: Thou hast looks a whole lot like du hast, doesn’t it? Especially the “hast” part!

So I’d recommend studying another language if you want to write English. It really helps to understand how language is structured and used, which of course just what you’re trying to do when you write, fiction or non-fiction makes no difference. As Twain observed, The difference between the almost-right word and the right word is the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening! Oh, isn’t it, though?

I’d like to close with an observation about the French language. I used to say that the French didn’t know how to spell, because what they write doesn’t match what they say. However, in recently starting some formal studies, using Duolingo*, I have learned that in fact, I had that backwards. The French spell quite well. The verb conjugations and the various inflections are familiar, not at all unlike Spanish and Italian words. But what is pronounced is more of a sloppy creole of only vaguely comprehensible syllables, when they use syllables, that is. I read a theory that English is a creole, and maybe it is. And maybe we got that, along with a lot of our words, from the French. Merci boucoup, mes amis!

 

*Duolingo is a free online language course that I highly recommend to anyone wanting to learn a new way of speaking. Not quite as good as getting off a boat in the middle of the night in Calais, but close, very close.

Paying Attention

A Raven at the Tower of London. (Don't know it's name.)
A Raven at the Tower of London. (Don’t know it’s name.)

I’ve been thinking about paying attention for the past few months. Yes, it is a strange obsession, maybe. I’ve read articles from those extolling the virtues of the practice. I don’t have any idea what is meant by “Mindfulness” in it’s current popular use, but I suspect that originally the term had something to do with simply paying attention to what’s going on.

Paying attention can have some definite value for a writer. By paying attention to conversations you hear, you can get a better sense for the rhythm of language as it’s really used. By carefully re-reading your projects and paying attention to the rules of writing (someday, I’m going to write a book!) you can cut a lot of time and frustration off of the publication end of the process. Most people only consider paying attention to be critical to certain occupations. Airline Pilot comes to mind. Or the carney operating the tilt-a-whirl. If those people don’t pay attention, other people will die. But writing, too, is a profession where paying attention is critical. Because, if you don’t pay attention, your story will die, and all of the people in it.

Paying attention isn’t common. Here are two quick examples from commercials and their use of music. For instance, there is the Beatle’s tune Getting Better, which has been used in more than one commercial series. The next line after the one you hear in one of the commercials is “Can’t get no worse!” Really? Your product is as bad as it gets? Do the people who produce these ads ever listen to themselves? Maybe not. I had a boss back in the 70s who owned a pizzeria in a college town. M.A.S.H. was popular then, so he used the theme song from M.A.S.H. in his commercials. The title? Suicide is Painless! Not sure about that statement in the first place, but it really doesn’t put any kind of restaurant in a very good light does it? In this case, I pointed this fact out, but the boss didn’t care. Maybe because he knew that very few potential customers were paying attention, do you suppose?

Why ever, at least some clients noticed, of that I’m sure. And I’ll bet they ordered from the shop down the street, where the pies wouldn’t kill you.

As a writer, you must pay attention to how you are writing. I’m possibly the greatest violator of this principle that I know, but if that’s true, then consider that I know whereof I write, okay? If you are telling us things all the time, and your reaction to that being pointed out is that, “the reader has to know all that to understand what comes next,” then you need to do some serious study to see how to show us all that before whatever comes next, um, comes next. If you have characters who all talk the same way, you’d better believe that you need to pay attention to manners of speech in order to differentiate them one from another. And so on.

Paying attention, even if it isn’t what people mean by “mindfulness,” is an important component of a productive project or life. I’m running out of space here, but trust me, I could cite examples until my ISP fined me for taking up all of their disk space. So, this week’s advice: Simply Pay Attention!

And don’t get me started about paying attention on the road! Yoiks!

WRITING COMEDY and other stuff

The 'Nostalgia Room' at Grand Canyon Caverns along Route 66 (Historic and a Current Arizona Highway.)
The ‘Nostalgia Room’ at Grand Canyon Caverns along Route 66 (Historic and a Current Arizona Highway.)

I have a series of posts about Route 66 available. Click the tag “historic route 66” below to see them all.

I am guilty of not writing any comedy for the better part of a year. This in spite of the fact that I enjoy writing and performing comedy. The reason why this is so would take up at least an entire post, so I’m going to leave it at the simple fact. But, and this is true, I do know how to write comedy. I’ve been a wise-ass all my life, so it comes naturally. And comedy is mostly writing! So, here we go.

First, that all important step for a stand-up performer, is the rant. Some comedians, like Dennis Miller, make a career out of rants. But, you may be sure that the “rants” you see them perform are not the rants with which they began. Far from it. Even in written comedy, you start with a written form of a rant, called by the descriptive name of Your First Draft! Hmmm. Non-comedy writers, does that sound familiar? It should. A rant, when performed, is a test of a concept. A field-test, as it were, of new material, new jokes, or even just new ideas for jokes. Some of the rules are that it doesn’t have to be funny, although you, the writer, hope that it mostly is. Also it doesn’t have to be final. In fact, if experience is any guide, you will throw out most of the material from your rants, and polish the stuff that did work until it’s really funny. Trust me, that’s what Dennis Miller has always done. It’s what George Carlin always did. It’s what Andrew Dice Clay does. It’s what any good comedian does, because otherwise you’re just not going to be funny. And a comedian wants to kill, not die, right?

Does that make the business sound sort of nasty? You’re catching on.

Your first draft, your rant, can be about anything. For me, it is a way to discover what I’m really thinking about. And, this is a surprise to many who try it, it is rarely what you think you’re thinking about. Too tight a curve? Well, your own impressions of yourself are frequently not in agreement with everybody else’s, so why should your thoughts be any different? Better? Good! I use ranting by keyboarding to get down new story ideas. It works better than if I think about the story too much. So, here’s another way to find story ideas, guys: just start writing and see what comes out. Remember, it’s a rant, not War and Peace! It will suck big time, and that’s okay!

I do have an observation, based on watching American politics. That is, those who are too close to their subject don’t do as well at making it funny as those who can step back a bit. For instance, the funniest jokes about Obama have always come from Liberals. Maybe because they like him, or maybe it’s because Conservatives hate him that their Obama jokes have always been too on the nose. “On the nose” means that you are telling, not showing. It’s as simple as that. And what has to be close to Rule No. 1 of any writing, comedy or not, is “show, don’t tell.” If you make a political joke and say “He’s just an idiot because he signed that bill!” You’re on the nose. If you can craft a story that surprises the audience/reader with the sudden knowledge of that fact after leading them astray as widely as possible, then you’ve got a joke. Trump is too new, still, to know who will tell the best jokes about him. But, historically, Conservatives tend to be more on the nose than Liberals, which may explain why most popular comedians are Liberals. I don’t think that this is a requirement of Conservatism or Liberalism. P.J. O’Rourke is very funny, and Conservative. Maybe it’s a lack of training? Whatever, it is what it is, at least so far.

So, that’s the writing post for this week. There are quite a few books available on Amazon on how to create comedy. If you’re interested, I’d suggest checking them out!

So, a Rabbi, a Priest, and a Parrot walk into a bar. The bartender looks at them and says, “What is this, some kind of joke?”

OFFENDED?

The Weinermobile, Times Square, Summer 2015
The Weinermobile, Times Square, Summer 2015

KNOW WHAT REALLY FROSTS MY SHORTS? PEOPLE WHO TRY NEVER TO OFFEND ANYONE! That’s what!

I was watching Bill Maher’s final rant the other day, in this case one where he talked about being offensive. Steve Martin, for example, was forced to take down a tweet in which he praised Carrie Fisher quite nicely. Because, it seems, he had the insensitive temerity to mention that he thought her beautiful before he noted that she was also intelligent. WTF? You know, the first time I saw her was in Star Wars. In the second installment, Episode 5, she wore that slave girl outfit while in thrall to Jabba the Hutt. When I saw that, I wasn’t really noticing her obvious intelligence. That’s just the way it is. Good grief, people, sex is why we’re all here! The fact that a man notices a woman’s sexuality first does not in any way diminish his opinion of her intelligence, drive, tenacity, verve, congeniality, or whatever terms you prefer to “beautiful.” It’s what keeps life going!

That’s one example. I follow Mr. Martin on Twitter, and I missed that snafu, because I follow a lot of people and I miss a lot of stuff. I hope that all he did was take that down, and that he didn’t apologize as have other celebrities when they bruised someone’s tender sensibilities. Twitter is, as a company, overly sensitive to those sorts of complaints. Probably, and this may even be fair, because of the preponderance of ugly, unfair, and even dangerous trolls who use Twitter to pursue their nefarious schemes. But, just because something is offensive to somebody does not mean that there is anything wrong with that something. In fact, I think that if anyone, especially an artist, doesn’t offend somebody along the way, then they are not doing a very good job.

When you write, whatever it is that you believe personally will come out in your writing. I don’t mean explicitly, but it will come out. Your protagonist will end up demonstrating something that you believe in, and that could be anything. Slow and steady wins the race, fear is the mind-killer, blue is a better color than yellow, whatever, it will come out. People have found many great authors offensive. Today, there are those who think that Huckleberry Finn should be banned from school because it uses the word “nigger.” It sure does, and it’s the most anti-racist book I’ve ever read. People have been offended by Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are because, well, I guess because they like to be offended. But it’s a wonderful book, as I’m sure you know. (He based the characters on relatives – see what I mean about your beliefs coming out?)

If you are going to write, you are going to have to be true, above all, to thine own self. (Hmmm. I think I read that somewhere?) If you aren’t, your writing will suffer, and probably suck. Not that you need to be explicit: I’ll quote Ben Bova, the famous editor of Sci-Fi magazines in the 40s and 50s: “You got a message, use Western Union!” (Western Union was a telegraph company in those days.) By which I mean, don’t be on the nose about your beliefs, because they will come out regardless, so long as you are true to yourself. And there will be those who are offended by what comes out, and those people will push to have your writing suppressed, in one way or another. Know what? Fuck ‘em! If you can’t be true to yourself, you can’t write well. If you can’t write well, you’ll never sell anything. If you never sell anything, you’ll starve. And if you starve because of some limp-brained, half-assed comments? Then that’s a tragedy of the first order.

Oh, gosh, I hope that this post hasn’t offended you! And if it has, then I truly have to say . . . . . . . TOUGH!

Watch Bill Maher’s Rant Here

Terrible Revision

Inside the Model Train Museum in San Diego (Surprise! Not Europe!)
Inside the Model Train Museum in San Diego (Surprise! Not Europe!)

Last year some time I came across a blog titled Terribleminds, written by a writer named Chuck Wendig. I liked his style, so I’ve since bought a few of his books, and also I follow him on Twitter. Since the election of Donald Trump, Chuck has been almost apoplectic at times, although he’s mellowed down to a menacing growl (comparatively) after his initial reaction. The story I’m going to discuss is that some people write to him and tell him that he should stick to handing out writing advice (which he does do very well.) Naturally, this encouraged a response. It is the evolution of that response that I’m writing about today.

It began as a thread on Twitter. It was a series of disconnected if related impressions, and others were free to chime in as well. (I just looked and it seems to be located here. This guy tweets more than Trump on the campaign trail.) The final product is located over here.  Feel free to refer to the originals, but be warned that they might be upsetting to certain political viewpoints. This is Wednesday, and I don’t do anything but writing on Wednesday, so I will state for the record that I neither endorse nor oppose the views expressed, which remain those of the various authors.

But, as I was saying, The thread on Twitter was sort of like a series of quick notes (heck, at 140 characters, that’s all you get, anyway.) It was a “thread,” in that it sort of hung together and if one read carefully one could extract a coherent theme from it. But, that was all. Nobody’s ever going to win a Nobel prize for a Twitter thread, I’m fairly certain. But, the blog post is a different story. It is coherent, (it has only one author,) it can be followed like a story instead of one of those odd Japanese comic books, and it makes its points clearly and succinctly. What changed?

Revision! That thread, if you will, is a first draft! Like any first draft, it needs some work! But, unlike some first drafts, it got some work. Lots of it. It looks casual, almost flippant, but you can bet Mr. Wendig put some thought and sweat some blood in getting it just right. He’s like that. He saw a story in a Twitter thread (sure, a short one) and he made it real. All by revising that first draft.

No story is done in one draft. My first drafts are so bad that I show them to nobody. Sometimes not even myself. How about yours?

Trust Yourself (A True Parable)

Vegas Vic Takes a Vacation in Cologne
Vegas Vic Takes a Vacation in Cologne

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve put a rant or two about Bob Dylan on this site in the past. I have said that I considered Dylan to be one of the major poets of the twentieth century, and so I do. But, he is not the only one. Yes, there are the old reliable ones they taught me about in college, Yeats, Keats, Eliot, Pound, Williams, and (Dylan) Thomas. But also, there are a couple of more. One is Bruce Springsteen, no surprise there, as he was as close to a protégé as Bob Dylan ever got. (They reference each others works a few times.) And there was Leonard Cohen. Bob Dylan liked Leonard Cohen, and vice-versa. Fine poets, both.

But I never thought of them as poets back when I would sit and play my Martin D35 as I sang their lyrics, over and over. I still love those songs. Blowin’ in the Wind is a classic by Dylan. And at about that same time I first heard Suzanne by Leonard Cohen. To this day, I couldn’t say exactly what it’s about, but the imagery, oh, the imagery, is wonderful. But, it didn’t occur to me that this was fine poetry, and not just the words to a song.

[You know, I’ve heard Shakespeare’s work put to music, too. A sonnet or two, that is. I should have known better, I guess.]

There is an official Leonard Cohen website, available here if you’d like to learn more. There are lyrics to his songs available at various places on the web, too. The link takes you to a Google search result.

The reason I failed to realize the majesty and depth of these two poet’s work was because I was in college, and taking English classes, and I knew a mess of poets. Those poets never wrote anything like what Dylan and Cohen were releasing, but they were poets, they said so, the teachers said so, and that meant that they were writing poetry, ipso facto. Except that, well, maybe it was poetry, but it was mostly lousy poetry. I’m sure that several encyclopedias worth of discussion is out there concerning what makes someone a great writer as opposed to a hack like most of us, but whatever it is, it is/was present in Dylan/Cohen, and it was decidedly lacking in the poets I knew back in the day. Fortunately, none of that bad poetry survives today, so far as I know. (And, to be honest, not all of it was bad, but most of it was bad. The not bad, even pretty good, stuff is still around, I’m sure.)

But Bob Dylan’s and Leonard Cohen’s works endure, and will continue to endure. Here’s a sample of Cohen:

Like a bird on the wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir,
I have tried, in my way, to be free.

I could learn to like that sort of poetry. Oh, wait, I’ve liked it ever since I first heard it, and that is the actual truth. I liked the work of Cohen, and Dylan, the first time I heard their lyrics. I know, there are those who cried over a singer getting a Nobel Prize, rants about how awful the Nobel Committee is, but, in truth, those ranters and complainers were and are, to put it simply, wrong.

Suzanne takes you down to the place near the river.
You can hear the boats go by, you can spend the night beside her.
And you know that she’s half crazy, but that’s why you want to be there.

And she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China,
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her,
Then she gets you on her wavelength, and she lets the river answer that you’ve always been her lover. (Leonard Cohen)

Or, from South of the Border, up in the North Country:

Then take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind,
Down the foggy ruins of time,
Far past the frozen leaves,
The haunted, frightened trees,
Out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow.
(Bob Dylan)

Sorry, doubters and serious academics, those are some of the finest lines of poetry I’ve ever read, and I’ll bet that Wordsworth, Shelley, Poe, WC Williams, Dylan Thomas, and probably even Will Shakespeare would agree with me. So to the point of this post: If I had simply believed in my own judgement, I would have realized that these songs I liked to perform were great literature, and seen the earnest but missed the mark works of my peers for, well, earnest but missed the mark works. I knew what good writing was, but didn’t realize that I knew it.

You know what good writing is, too, or you wouldn’t care enough to try to be a writer! You know it! You may need some help to recognize how to produce your own, that’s true, but YOU KNOW WHAT GOOD WRITING IS!!! TRUST YOURSELF!!!

There, write that down in your daily journal, Bucky!

Writers of Southern Nevada

Writers of Southern Nevada Find them at nevadawriters.org.
Writers of Southern Nevada Find them at nevadawriters.org.

One of the links in the sidebar of this page is to nevadawriters.org. Besides creating literature so brilliant that Shakespeare would be jealous <grin>, I am on the board of this non-profit group dedicated to supporting writers, and writers groups, throughout Southern Nevada. In March, WSN will be presenting a workshop to the Las Vegas Writers’ Group, of which I am coordinator. I have advocated finding support on this blog before, and now I’m doing it again. I will state for the record that I get nothing financial out of support for these groups (although if there’s enough cash left over at the end of the year, Las Vegas Writers’ will have a holiday party.) What I do get is the moral and spiritual support that I need to keep plugging away at a craft that is, in all truth, a lot harder than anyone who has never tried it believes.

WSN has a lot of events planned for this year. Sometime, today or maybe tomorrow, maybe even Friday, but this week, there will appear, as if by magic, but actually by our President, Eric Miller, a calendar of these events. Some are workshops, some are Painted Stories, in which an artist or two interprets stories read by two or more writers. Some are mixers in places such as a local bar or restaurant. And we are holding a Writers’ Retreat at the Boulder Dam Hotel in Boulder City, Colorado, in September. All at affordable prices. (The March workshop, as it is also the meeting of the Las Vegas Writers’ Group, is just five bucks!) We also have a speakers’ bureau, right on the same site.

So, check out WSN at nevadawriters.org (the link is above.) Small investment, good return!

Happy New Year

Some Residents of the Eifel, October, 2016
Some Residents of the Eifel, October, 2016

Did you make any resolutions? Break them yet? Not me, I can tell you. For the same reason that I’ll never stop smoking, I’ll never break a New Year’s resolution. I don’t do either in the first place! Smoking is bad for you, and if you don’t believe it, you’re a smoker. Resolutions are bad for you, too. And here’s why.

When you resolve not to do something, you focus on what you’re not going to do. If that’s eat the wrong foods, then you think of the wrong foods all the time. Instead of that, just grab the right foods, and when you can’t stand it any more, indulge yourself. I cut way back on sugar and it has worked fine, except that once a week, or whenever during the holiday season, I just go ahead and eat whatever sweets I want to. I was surprised that I actually don’t want sweets the way I used to, although those peanut butter cookies with the Hershey’s Kisses on them would be the downfall of my diet, if I were trying to follow a diet.

So, you’re a writer. Maybe you’ve resolved to quit procrastinating and finish that first novel. Excellent! But now, you’re sitting there at your computer reading this, aren’t you? Reading this is not getting your novel written, is it? I guess you’re just a horrible person, then, and everybody who says you’ll never make it as a writer is correct-o-mundo! Or, you can just write what you can, when you can, not sweat the exact timing, maybe cut back on Facebook just a little, but not obsessively, and I’ll bet you that if you do those things your novel will almost magically get written!

Hell, if it’s your first novel ever, it sucks anyway (trust me,) and you’re just beginning to learn the awful truth about publishing. But that’s okay! Relax, take it easy on yourself, and plunk out the words one at a time, and in no time, you’ll be working on your second, considerably better, novel. See how easy that is?

There is another way to put it:

Screw the resolutions, just do your job!

That’s simple enough, innit?

Objective Reality

A View of the Rursee in Eifel National Park, Germany
A View of the Rursee in Eifel National Park, Germany

Objective reality is what each of us sees but nobody else seems to grasp, right? Well, that’s a good assumption, anyway. I’ve always liked science, which is descended from rational empiricism, and which actually tries to get a handle on objective reality. Here’s a sample of what science indicates is objectively real:

Life arises in response to a localized buildup of negentropy.

Put longer, life is a response to the laws of thermodynamics. If a planet is closer than us to a star, the energy coming off of the star will scour everything away from the planet, so entropy (generalized molecular movement) keeps on increasing. If a planet is too far away, then there’s not enough energy hitting it to build up. But if you’re like Earth, you’re in the zone! Stuff gets steadily more complex until the complexity starts using energy by its very nature, to replicate itself endlessly. That’s life.

This doesn’t do much for the essential existential crisis of finding meaning in one’s existence. Which is why most people, even scientists, don’t think about life in those terms very often. Religion is a search for meaning in life, first and foremost, which is why sometimes religion seems not to want to pay attention to science. All of which makes a great discussion, but that is not the theme of this post.

The theme of this post is that story writers deal, by their very nature, with fantasy and what could, objectively, be called lies. Because, after all, who wants to mess with objective reality when it offers no comfort? Nobody, that’s who! I’ve read of a person who has run computer simulations of evolution, in which too much adherence to objective reality is harmful to evolution. Yoiks! Short story on that, we’re all better off not being too closely connected with objective reality. So, that, my writerly friends, is where we come in.

Real life is full of situations where objective reality intrudes. Fact is, you gotta eat, so you gotta work, so you can’t do all the fun stuff you want to do, unless you’re so damned rich that you don’t have to work. But in those cases, very few people just goof off. Gates to Trump (there’s a spectrum for you,) rich people still work, even though they don’t, objectively, need to. If they clung strictly to objective reality then every rich person would be a leech on society, and worse than worthless. Instead, many of them prove quite useful, no matter what your politics. So, objective reality is something to be, not avoided, but not adhered to overly strictly.

And for the non-rich, that means some form of escape from that day to day, humdrum, work-a-day life that everybody seems to get stuck with. And, guess what? Some of us try to provide that escape by creating worlds where objective reality doesn’t matter, but what matters is the faux reality that we construct. Have you ever read a book that sucked you in so well that you virtually lived in that world until the book ended? There you go! Some movies do that, and even a few television shows. (Breaking Bad was like that for me.) And as for books, there have been hundreds that worked that way for me, from Huckleberry Finn to Gravity’s Rainbow and many in between.

So, we are in a proud profession, helping not only our readers, but the march of evolution itself, by providing alternative, more comprehensible, and definitely less bleak, places to keep comfortably away from objective reality.

Makes you kind of quiver with immodest pride, doesn’t it?

Bob Dylan on Literature

See, pot is bad for you -- it'll rot your teeth!
See, pot is bad for you — it’ll rot your teeth! Taken in Holland, naturally.

It just keeps getting better, this Nobel Prize thing that reinforces my preconceived notions. Here, you’ll know better what I’m talking about if you read Dylan’s speech to the Nobel Committee. He uses Shakespeare, just as I do. And he mentions all of the things he thinks about when he does his job, none of which have anything to do with creating great poetry or any sort of literature. Dylan wanted to write and perform songs, and to be able to continue to do so for as long as he still wanted it. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Bob Dylan, a successful man! Shakespeare wanted to pack the house and have juicy parts for himself and his friends. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Will Shakespeare, another successful man. Neither of them had any intention of writing fine literature, or any sort of what some call “literature” at all.

My point being that “literature” happens as a happy accident, or bonus, on top of a good story. What? You don’t think Dylan tells stories? Hells bells, just take a look at the lyrics to Desolation Row and see if there’s a story or not.

Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood, with his memories in a trunk,
Passed this way an hour ago with his friend, a jealous monk.
He looked so immaculately frightful as he bummed a cigarette,
Then he went off sniffing drainpipes and reciting the alphabet.
Now you would not think to look at  him, but he was famous long ago
For playing the electric violin on desolation row.

I knew a guy like that. We called him Spaceman. He wandered the Student Union at BGSU talking to tables and chairs. Made his own hallucinogens, it seems, and didn’t quite get the formula right. Sad, but later on he actually began interacting with actual humans again, so maybe he was alright in the end.

So, thank you, Mr. Dylan, for reinforcing what I already believed. If that sounds sarcastic, it’s not. I mean it, because I do believe that about stories and “literature.” Never mind the “literature,” writers. Just make damn good stories. Worked for Will and Bob!