Words of occasional wisdom from Bruce Oakley

On not writing well

Posted by boakley59 on January 31, 2009

I have become an expert on not writing, at least at not writing for publication.

There, I just did it again — no sooner did I start a sentence than I had to add a clarifying clause! I have been doing this for months now, since the launch of brulog in January 2008. I have a file full of half-finished posts, clever headlines that should become full, entertaining posts, and assorted calculations and citations intended to bolster opinions in moralistic posts. But I haven’t let anyone see them. I have broached a few of the topics with Suzy, and fretted that life as a lump is becoming the only life I know.

I wrote in a very early post about a recurring childhood nightmare in which I was a defenseless Tweety Bird character whose only defense against the Big Bad Wolf was loud, prolonged tweeting. Now, as I struggle to write, my grown-up nightmare is that I am losing my voice, which I fear may be all I have left.

The fear is self-inflicted; I am the one holding my tongue. My half-finished works, you see, are the product of an inner struggle, mostly with that old notion that if you can’t say something nice, you should shut up. A lot of what I want to say is scolding, complaining, criticizing or simply unpopular. And I don’t want to get caught up in a lot of the inflammatory back-and-forth that often follows upon airing such thoughts.

I’ve been starting posts and then trying to head off any objections in advance — trying to construct perfect arguments or perfect analogies without hurting anyone’s feelings. I succeed only in getting all twisted up in language that goes nowhere.

Well, this stopping has to stop, if you catch my drift. That’s the only way anyone will ever catch my drift: I have to start tossing it out there.

I started this blog saying there were some things I didn’t intend to write about, but they have become the elephant in the room and they’re somehow crowding into my thinking on nearly every topic.

So, here are some hard, square-peg-round-hole, elephant-in-the-room things I cannot silence if my voice is to have any strength at all:

I live among devout Christians, always have, and I have been deeply educated in the intricacies of that tradition, but I am not one. I am not interested in undermining the belief of others, for I understand that faith gives many people comfort and strength, but it is very difficult for me to shrug off the self-contradictions of religion.

I am twice-married, once-divorced, and I consider this a grand failure for which there is no consolation. There is no getting around the facts that my son did much of his growing up without me and that his mother and I could not fulfill our commitment to each other.

I am college-educated and an atheist, which puts me in a tiny intellectual minority in our society, made more pronounced by a natural affinity for math and logic. I can recognize a lot of stupidity very fast, and I’ve learned you can hurt a lot of feelings pointing out what people misunderstand: It seems I’m very bright if people agree with me, but a nag, a bore or a spawn of Satan if they don’t.

All of these things tend to keep me quiet: I suppress the years of my first marriage as much as I can with the aim of strengthening my second, I tend not to correct grammar or miscalculation of the less literate or less numerate, and I rarely discuss religion.

This intended gentility is self-destructive. I find myself desperately trying to fade out of all of your lives. My education is wasted. My abilities are wasted. My feelings are wasted. I give only my silence.

To be voiceless is to be the unburied dead.

I want to live. I want to shout. I want to write.

If you don’t like what I have to say, please use the comment box. Don’t follow my late example of “not writing” well. If the dispute becomes passionate, well, we’ll know we’re alive, won’t we?


4 Responses to “On not writing well”

  1. Suzy said

    Uh-oh. Look out.

  2. D the J said

    “To be voiceless is to be the unburied dead.”

    Sending shivers up my spine, Bruce—-are we talking the night of the living dead kind of thing here. If so we need to help reanimate you from your current view as a Word Zombie, so you discontinue your eschew of the keyboard so you can do that voodoo you do so well.

    The shivers came more from too closely relating to what you had stepped in. Before I elaborate I have to bring up a point you can be proud of at least: “twice-married, once-divorced.” Good on you for not being a polygamous at least. Not that an atheist can’t pull it off, but I’m not sure if Mormons would understand why you would try it without the whole virgins in heaven justification at the end of what could be a trying life with two wives.

    On to the gist. To use a cool famous movie line off-hand: what we have here is a failure to communicate for catharsis. Or an embryo of wisdom hatched from St. Luke 6 .26: “Woe unto you, when all men shall speak well of you!”

    Nutshell. You don’t seem to have the propensity to write just to belittle people—you do appear to enjoy discourse, the Socratic logic of give and take if you will. So as long as your desire is to explore ideas, philosophies and your own point of view that comes from having lived long enough to share your notes … well, you best not deny yourself that Cousteau-like wonder of the deeper mysterious (or the all-too-obvious we gloss over way too much to our detriment)

    You just came through (sort of, not like the journey is over) a extended period of self-reflection into who you are, or at least what you may think society deems your worth. If there was ever a time for you to purge, vent, release and all those other take-a-big-sigh after accomplishing what they were put into our minds for words; I’d say you have the right to.

    As your shoot from the hip-doctor, I’m prescribing that you write on a tablet twice a day and don’t call it in in the morning. I am self-medicating on this prescription myself (and wholly agree with the fuzzy adage; a physician who diagnoses himself, has a fool for a patient) from suffering with similar symptoms you have outlined here.

    So, have at it brother-man; light the world with your words. If they happen to darken the faces of some always remember, they may help some come in from the dark.

    Bruce sez: Onward and outward, that’s the plan. As I say, I’ve been writing regularly, just never finishing or putting it out there for anyone else to see. Thanks for the encouragement, and as Suzy says: Look out!

    And please keep at it yourself, my friend.

  3. Ben said

    Wah-hoo, Bruce!

    “Let the wild rumpus start,” as Max says in Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.

    That is: Run with freer postings frequently. (The quote is not intended to encourage comments further.)


  4. […] On not writing well […]

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