Sunday, October 02, 2005

And how has it changed your life?

Cyberphilosopher Bill Vallicella asks me:

"Now that you have been blogging for a while, how has it affected your life?"

Well, for one thing, it's left me open to questions like this one.

But seriously . . .

I've become more earnest about writing. Before starting this blog, I kept putting off any real attempt to write for an audience larger than myself, the man upstairs, and whoever happens to find my journals lying in an attic someday.

Speaking of journals . . . I've been keeping a journal for nearly twenty years now, having started in the fall of 1986, during my first journey to Europe. A journey deserved a journal, I thought, so I started one.

Actually, it was a bit more complicated than that . . . even a little bit criminal. I was living in Fribourg with my college friend from Argentina, Tim Anderson, who was working illegally at archeological digs in Switzerland. The excavations themselves were legitimate, but his labor wasn't . . .

Some dodgy people had lived in the dodgy place that we shared, the fifth floor of a five-story structure located so close to the train station that freight trains passing at night shook the building like an earthquake. The city had bolted a metal band around the entire structure just below the level of our windows to keep the place from cracking in two. One dodgy person whom I never met had also worked in the digs and had left an unearthed skull in one of the bedrooms on an upper shelf, from where it peered down eyelessly.

I didn't inquire too closely about that.

Another somewhat dodgy person living there was a woman named Prazak. She was street-smart and attractive but unstable and took a liking to me . . . briefly. She also briefly held a job with the postal service in Bern, about 20 kilometers from Fribourg, and she would sometimes bring 'lost' mail home.

One time, she brought me a blank journal that she had 'found' at her job and offered it to me. That put me in an awkward position. I hate to decline a gift, but I knew that she had come by it dishonestly. I felt inner conflict, wavered, then made the wrong choice. I accepted the 'giftige' gift and began keeping a journal.

So, at the origin of my journal-keeping lies an original sin.

To atone for that, I've worked diligently at my journal writing -- though it has only marginal literary value. Too much of the writing is perfunctory. I set only two rules for my journal entries:

1) The entries must be written daily.

2) They must not use any sentence with "be" (or a conjugated form thereof) as the main verb.

Why these two rules? I wanted to impose on my writing at least a bare minimun standard that had to be met. The first rule is obvious. And the second? I wanted to avoid lazy writing. We revert to some form of the verb "be" far too often, at times when we should use a more powerful verb. Which sounds better:

"His fingernails were clean."


"He had scrubbed his fingernails clean."

I prefer the latter. Even if it's not especially better, it requires the writer to work just a little bit harder. I also decided to avoid using the passive voice in my journal since it usually produces wordy sentences and hides the active agent behind a preposition or even allows the agent to disappear:

"It has been decided not to pursue your application further."

Really? By whom? The "it" certainly didn't make this decision.

"It has been decided by the committee not to pursue your application further."

That's a bit better. Marginally.

"The committe has decided not to pursue your application further."

Best of all, except for the bad news.

Some of you may be thinking . . . "Doesn't this make a third rule?" No, not really. The passive uses some conjugated form of "be" a bit like a main verb, with the past participle acting somewhat like an adjective, so the passive is covered by my second rule.

Some might debate this. That's okay.

Most of you will have noticed that I don't impose the second rule on my blog writing. I do, however, try to write clear, active sentences with a light style. I strive to entertain, when that's appropriate. I attempt to write on a broad range of things, from brewing illegal whiskey to brooding about the Lord -- from low to high spirits, one might say.

But how has it changed my life?

Well, it does force me to get up at three every morning and try to think of something interesting to write about.

Sometimes, I succeed.


At 9:08 AM, Blogger Dymphna said...

But how do we know *who* cleaned his fingernails. His wife? His mother? His keeper?

I like your rule, though. I used to know someone who considered it a primary rule for their writing.
For myself, laziness conquers in the end and there I be, be, be all over the place.

An interesting writing exercise is to limit yourself for five minutes to words of one syllable. I have not been able to come up with a word for "syllable" which has only one syllable so the rule gets violated in the explanation.

Your journals will be valuable for your children as they attempt to flesh out the old man. This won't occur until you no longer have flesh, but no matter. Value accrues with each generation.

At 10:46 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It's a rule that I regularly follow only in my journals, not in my blog entries, because the rule can give expression to rather awkward sentences better constructed for production than consumption.

I have not thought of the rule that you state on syllables.

Oops, there is that word "syllables."

My children will read my journals? Uh-oh, I'd better bowdlerize everything up until I met my wife.

Uh . . . maybe also some of those entries after meeting my wife...


Post a Comment

<< Home