At the beginning of the semester, my classmates and I were tasked with creating a writer’s manifesto. It was a project that left me with the following interpretation.
Looking back, I see that I still hold all these sentiments. Writing is a part of my life that has helped to shape my identity. The minor in writing is just a venue from which this can be fostered. It is still about capturing the “amber of the moment.” Yet, I have also learned that writing can be a major source of annoyance in my life. The more time that I spend writing, the more I expect from myself with each new piece. Sylvia Plath managed to capture this phenomenon in a way that relates to my situation.
“Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it, or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to.”
If you have the time, and even if you don’t: allow yourself to take advantage of your time in the minor. It won’t be easy; it will suck up more time than you initially expected.
Writing is hard, but it’s worth it.
Anybody that says the contrary is a dirty rotten liar.
This is Part 1 of a 2 Part Post on Punctuation/Grammar (Part 2 is still in the drafting process).
I was exposed to Vonnegut at the ripe age of 12. It was an enlightening experience that has left me with a casual distaste for just about everything. Now whenever life gets a little too complicated I am forced to ask myself WWMHBKVJD (what would my home-boy Kurt Vonnegut Junior do). When considering the case of one specific piece of punctuation, Kurt made his feelings clear.
“Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
Although Vonnegut’s word choice is less than ideal, he brings up a good point. The semicolon is the most pretentious piece of punctuation that has ever been created — the em-dash is a close second. The semicolon is basically a comma with a hat; it is basically the bastard child of two other pieces of punctuation that thinks it has a place in the royal blood line. Even the Wikipedia page for the punctuation mark seems confused as to the slurry of situations in which a semicolon may or may not be used.
In extending this line of reasoning, it becomes clear that Vonnegut would hate the following pieces of punctuation and symbols:
The bullet & the ditto mark
The pound/number sign
The pilcrow…and the apostrophe
All these symbols are pretentious, and it is inexcusable to use them in writing.
The only piece of punctuation that is acceptable is the period. Its use is clear, and it stays true to itself. It is absolute, and more importantly it can’t be found wearing a monocle.
I often consider myself to be a pro level Googler. If the information is out there on the interweb I can and will find it. For my repurposing assignment, I have chosen to turn an open letter from my English 225 class into a piece of satire. So, I took to my favorite search engine to explore the genre. I started out with something basic.
site:nytimes.com ~satire 2000..2014 gave me 70,000 results. None of them were useful.
site:newyorker.com ~satire 2000..2014 gave me 1,640 results. None of them were particularly useful.
I even tried to find academic articles about satire in the Michigan Library databases. Nothing was particularly useful.
Rather, I continued to see the phrase “satire is dead” scattered throughout my search results. No combination of searches would give me any insight as to the anatomy of writing a satirical piece. Desperate for the slightest bit of direction in constructing a satirical argument, I took a stab at emailing the editorial staff of The Onion (I was told that a quippy subject line might get me a response, I can only hope mine was quippy enough). While waiting for a response, I decided that watching Jon Stewart, South Park, and reading any pieces of satire would have to help me channel my sarcastic libido into something usable for my assignment.
All that I have been able to learn about satire thus far is this: satirists are basically like Lindsay Lohan in that one good movie she was in, Mean Girls. They’re extremely popular, but nobody knows exactly why. The satirist elite have no problem sharing their work, but none of them want to devalue their form by telling people how they can achieve the same level of lovable hilarity.
Satire is not dead, but I do see why people may think that it is. Satirists are those pesky little arrogant-mean-spirited-self-centered-condescending-self-promoting-argumentative wankers that have mastered an art, but don’t want to show how they go about doing it.
On that note, I basically have two weeks to figure out how to write satire. My optimism is waning.
In 2010 I became an honorary member of the Arkansas River Swim Team. When I woke up that morning I had no idea that I would be attending a surprise tryout, but when you get jettisoned from your raft in a Class V rapid you’re gonna have to swim to get out of there.
There is a calming feeling that flows over you when the river is rocking you back and forth–dare I say it seemed maternalistic– even when rocks are scraping every exposed piece of flesh as you float downriver.
The raw power of the river demands your submission, it promises you that eventually you will get to where you need to go.
In 2010 I was forced into a new perspective, even if it was only for a little while. I allowed myself to relish in that individual moment, to look at the sky as the river cradled me back and forth. Prior to this, I would go camping, backpacking, and white water rafting, but far too often my eyes were fixated on a map trying to track my progress to meet my itinerary. My days on the trail and the river were dominated by a perpetual feeling of exhaustion.
Now I submit, I look to the mountains rather than the map. I look to the river to guide me, knowing that it will get me there.
Keynes made Laissez-faire economic policy seem easy. Somehow he managed to write about it with a certain kind of grace. I, on the other hand, struggled to get a six page draft out on the subject. Yet, even though it wasn’t perfect I looked at that finished draft in the way a dog looks at a scrap from the dinner table.
Then I reread the prompt, only to realize that I had used up the entire page limit to answer one part of a three part question. When I realized that my draft was written on a bed of lies and misinformation I realized that my paper was nothing more than a sad bologna sandwich on wonder bread.
So, I coped in the only way I could: chocolate milk and procrastination.
When incessantly twiddling my thumbs became too much to handle, I took to combing through essays with writers talking about writing in order to figure out what to do next. Luckily, Annie Dillard answered my call (HALLELUJAH). By no means does her book The Writing Life serve as the answer to all my problems–I still don’t know why the sky is blue, or if there was a shooter on the grassy knoll–but I did learn that sometimes you have to ditch the draft.
I chose to read the Dillard piece because it was the first file I opened. I chose to write about it because it managed to relate to the struggle I am currently facing with another writing assignment. I find it two parts poetic, and one part eery that I chose a piece that discussed the process of throwing out a draft, while trying to figure out how to throw out a draft.
She describes it as knocking out a load bearing wall in a house. Taking the part of the paper that currently makes it work, and shoving it down into the deep dark depths of your garbage disposal. It’s a hard process to come to terms with. You build it up, word by word, until you have something complete; something that can stand on its own.
It’s tough. You look for those sentences that you can save, only to realize that Dillard was right when she says you are going to have to start over.
I open a new document, and stare at the blinking cursor. Trying to find a way to thread your needle so that the string of words I am about to lay down will eventually turn into a final draft. In these final moments before I start writing again, I struggle with deleting my work. Dillard describes this as some kind of bizarre form of courage, but I claim ownership to these words. They are mine, and the way I put them down on paper is unique.
PATRICK BAUMHART is the author of more than 20 critically acclaimed essays and short stories. Among his most recent are Sassafrass and Sarcasm: The Semi-Autobiographical Story of Patrick Baumhart, and I Swear I Don’t Wet the Bed Anymore: The Probably-Autobiographical Story of Patrick Baumhart. He is the recipient of the 2013 Baumhart Grant, and enjoys long walks on the beach. He lives on the Baumhart family ranch in a remote mountain town in the Swiss Alps with his pet armadillo named Jose Cuervo.