I was reminded today that I am not the most succinct of writers. You see, I usually set out to write a few lines, but the result is frequently an essay. The short version of my story often turns into the unabridged version, wandering on, sometimes approaching the main point, but then tottering off again down some little sidetrack, eventually to return to the point again, almost.
I have often considered this issue. I would like to be concise. I wish that I could make a point with clarity and then move on. Many writers are able to do this. They seem to have the ability to say something and then not consider it again. Like the White Rabbit in the Alice stories, they are constantly on a schedule, checking their watches lest they be a second or two late. “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late. For a very important date…” Their lines are said and they exit, stage right, without even waiting to take a bow.
I write a few lines with the goal in mind that I will make my point and move on. Facing toward the final paragraph, I advance steadily, putting my thoughts into words. All goes well until I make the mistake of turning to look back at where I’ve been. I read and re-read. Then I start rearranging. It’s almost the same as when the Lovely Lady takes a notion to create a new look in the living room (a rare event, thankfully). Words get shoved against that margin, illustrations are set out in the middle of the page, then the original thought is nudged here, then there, until I am satisfied that all is arranged as I wish. No wait! That thought would look better over there, maybe leaving out that modifier and adding a pronoun. Yes, that’s it! Now it reads as I had hoped. What? Am I following another rabbit trail? How do I get back to the main theme now?
“Brevity is the soul of wit.” The now-famous phrase has come in our day to describe telling a joke, but in its original usage, Mr. Shakespeare intended it to mean that to be concise is to show acuity, or clarity. The real humor is that, not only have we changed our understanding of the statement, but we don’t realize that it was made by a person we would describe as loquacious, a blowhard, if you will. Polonius, who was spying on Prince Hamlet, was nothing if not long-winded. Full of himself, he intended to impress with the profusion of his words, if not with their brilliance. At no time was he interested in either brevity or clarity, but simply with dazzling his listeners with his rhetoric. Instead of wisdom coming with his advanced age, he had grown more talkative and foolish. There are days when I feel a kinship beyond what I wish to acknowledge in this forum.
Still, although I haven’t yet mastered the brevity idea, I trust that the acuity is coming along. Another famous quote uttered by the chattering old Polonius which is still in common usage today, is our version of his description of Hamlet’s feigned insanity. “Though this be madness, there is a method in’t.” I have long admitted to being not quite all here. (Hence, the title for this blog.) I hope though, that the method to my madness shows through to you, at least in some small part. The wandering about, the twists and turns…all are intended to bring you at last, obviously by the long way around (no short cuts here!), to an understanding of life’s little events, from my perspective of course.
It is further to be hoped that you find the trip worthwhile. True…a shortcut might have gotten us to the conclusion more quickly, but let’s be honest here; we wouldn’t have nearly as much fun that way. I still have lots of stories to tell and “concise” and “to the point” are not well suited to story-telling.
A friend reminded me today of another Paul who was long-winded and wordy. Things worked out well for him, what with jail and trials before Caesar and all. Hmmmm…maybe a change is called for. Nah, probably not.
Queen: “More matter, with less art.”
(Hamlet~Act 2, scene 2~William Shakespeare)
“The last stroke of midnight dies.
All day in the one chair
From dream to dream and rhyme to rhyme I have ranged
In rambling talk with an image of air;
Vague memories, nothing but memories.”
(William Butler Yeats~Irish poet~1865-1939)