Rendered Fat Content


Matsubara Naoko: Quaker Meeting (1967)

" … never the guiding light."

Barely three weeks into writing this series, I still feel like I'm missing language to describe what I'm trying to say. This seems like familiar territory, though, because every time I've tried to introduce a different idea or perspective, I've discovered the same barrier to entry: the language couldn't support the fresh concept. Language contains the commonly understood. It finds no use for anything not yet needing describing, so of course, new concepts will be missing from the choices.

Budding communicators tend to rely upon one of three old reliables when their language proves wanting. They:
1- create new words,
2- create new meanings,
3- create new metaphors and allegories, fresh stories.

Each technique brings plusses as well as minuses. None prove perfect. Creating new words tends to be the most problematic because language, being of conservative construction like all systems, resists extension. Language's user base, too, has proven remarkably inept at adopting fresh expressions, especially those building on Greek or Latin roots, featuring digraphs, and looking every bit like the name of that new Attention Deficit Disorder medication. We cannot pronounce or remember these, with the occasional exception of a clever misspelling, like I've attempted this morning by switching out one letter in a readily recognizable term: Language into Longuage. (I'm speaking of extending the language. Get it?)

Creating new meanings can occur, though it requires some sleight-of-hand work. It's generally best achieved when one nudges existing meanings just a little bit. One can rarely shift a term into meaning its opposite, except by ironic twist. One can always turn Great! into Lousy! by merely changing inflection or winking an eye, written language requires the writer to try harder and often proves unsuccessful in satisfying the communicator's intentions. Sometimes, a part of the target word does carry a different connotation than the whole word, and simply pointing out that feature can affect a change in temper. Forgetful features a 'get' within it.

The most common means for introducing fresh memes has always been creating new metaphors and allegories, creating new stories. In one workshop exercise I encountered, teams were instructed to build four-foot then eight-foot 'houses of cards,' a term with subtle but pervasive meaning in this culture. In the original exercise, the cards were computer punch cards with a warning: Do not bend, fold, staple, or mutilate." Respecting the usual interpretation for working with cards renders the invitation to build a house of cards essentially impossible to satisfy. If one adopts a less strict interpretation, bending, folding, and mutilating with abandon, there's practically no limit to how high a house of cards they might build.

Writers like me worship metaphor and allegory, for we've often failed to coin new words or shift meanings without employing these. We deal in odd combinations of apples and oranges, seeking insight, if not precise, description. We generally deal in gists since not enough shared background exists to support any more definite meanings. We must sometimes seem as though we exclusively inhabit grey areas and argue over narrow distinctions, if only because that's precisely what we do. And it's usual, too, for us to wonder if we're getting through, even though we might not yet hold clarity about where precisely we're going. We're exploring without first holding a guiding story or even the necessary vocabulary. The story might become the product of the ramble, never the guiding light.
Not For Answers
This writing week found me uncertain of what I was doing, though not dissuaded from trying to accomplish something, anyway. This anyway-ness seems a common feature of this chosen profession. If I'd wanted to share my certainties, I shouldn't have insisted upon becoming one of these writers trying to share his manner of living. Manner of living falls far short of instruction and often delves into the preconscious. If it sometimes seems as though I'm trying to wake myself up, it's only because I probably am but not really succeeding. My finest insights might come from dreaming and not from figuring out much of anything, anyway, so I'm probably lucky that way, though I rarely feel fortunate doing this dance. It's a struggle sometimes, especially during weeks like this, when I’m only clear that I do not yet possess the language I could use to make my points and draw my conclusions. Most of what I share here amounts to primitive delusions, though they might well hold seeds of genuine insight within them. We share stories for insights, anyway, not for answers.

Weekly Writing Summary

I began my writing week by considering how a hit country song came into the world with TulsaTime, and the clear presence of happy accidents, which has always been how those songs come into existence. "The Gods visit, [songwriters] just follow. Their whole career sums to one big fat happy accident with considerable angst imbedded within it." Your Success story's probably no different.
Georg Pencz: The Triumph of Time,
plate four from The Triumphs of Petrarch
(c. 1539)

I next calculated the price of Success and concluded that beyond some discernible point lies only excess in *WhatPrice. "Those who believed they'd achieved immunity from the inexorable were always the most vulnerable and surprised when the bill came due. They will believe that someone screwed them then, but they certainly screwed themselves beforehand. Be careful what you wish for, especially whatever you insist upon receiving, for the universe might deliver it."
Félix Edouard Vallotton:
Money, plate five from
Intimacies (1898)

I commented on the commonest of common sense in Common. "The sure and more confident understanding that one understands almost nothing feels reassuring."
Matsubara Naoko:
Boston Common (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)

I watched myself miss a deadline on my way to Success, then caught myself Striving. "Whatever Success comes out of this experience will very likely carry the residue of it, the Striving schmutz dulling its finish."
Matsubara Naoko:
Page from Hagoromo [Feathered Robe] (circa 1984-1986)

I decided that Success might be better understood as a WayStation rather than a destination, as I commented upon The Muse's recurring side effects of her recent cancer treatments. "My experiences must be real because they would never make believable fiction."
Matsubara Naoko:
Harvard Yard in Spring (Shōwa era, 1926-1989)

I described the time when an utter Improbability utterly transformed The Muse and me, concluding that the non-rational often proves an essential player in Success. "Our story's tenaciously non-rational, utterly Improbable, unbelievable yet true."
Matsubara Naoko: Funaoka [Pine Tree] (1964)

I ended my writing week with a backhanded self appreciation with SupposedTo. "I was fortunate since I never learned to lust after success. My passions never manifested in current fashions. Instead, I consumed inconspicuously, almost exclusively in ways that only I would probably appreciate."
Matsubara Naoko: Weeping Beech Tree (1967)

What was I supposed to make of that? I suspect this amounts to the type of question I should be eliciting, even if I’m not trying to elicit that. I want you, dear reader, to draw your own conclusions and to respectfully reject my occasional attempts at instruction. I might only instruct myself, and then, ineptly. I suspect that you possess precisely this same superpower. Those weeks when we wonder just what in the Hell we're after might eventually come to seem to have contained the most valuable experiences. Did we persist in our primary delusion even when we lost our vision of where we were going, even when the damned language proved too limited and limiting? If we persist, then perhaps we’re up to something after all. WhatPrice? we wonder. Does my or anybody's Common sense matter? Does my Striving make any difference? Am I pursuing a destination or another WayStation? Can I continue to rely upon Improbability and successfully avoid what I'm SupposedTo want? What, if anything, do these questions have to do with Success, anyway? We may be extending our language to contain even more unanswerable questions. Might just as well enjoy the provocations.

Thank you for following along beside me here as I natter into the future!

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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