Monday, July 12, 2010

The things you know

You're not supposed to say too much. If you say too much everyone will see how little you know and how unoriginal you are, how you've added nothing to the sum of human knowledge. Zed. They'll see that all you've done is chew on the ideas and expressions of others, pretending to have cooked them up yourself. Good cud, Fudd? No, you mustn't say too much if you want to perpetuate the heady illusion that you are capable of more than regurgitating pop culture cleverly.

You must be as taciturn as a old cowhand, stingy with words, laconic in the extreme, an hombre without a name. As close-mouthed as a monk on retreat, as cryptic as an Eastern sage. You must halt between phrases and let your silences resound with hidden meaning. Let the ellipsis and pregnant pause be your friends. Start a clause with a thunderclap (i. e., "Death, heaven, bread, breath, and the sea..."), then let it subside and echo without further elaboration. Keep your readers, your auditors, in suspense. Drop hints of big ideas and employ allusions, even if they refer to works you've never read. No one will know as long as you don't say too much. The key is to withhold evidence of your ignorance for as long as you can. If you're really adept at it, there's a good chance you'll never be found out.

And who gives a shite anyway? -- when there's no high, no low, no middle, how can you be judged for your silly lapses of taste?
Lost, Neil Diamond, What to Wear?, the comedies of Judd Apatow,'s fairly obvious the world exists for our amusement. What about Big Cultural Markers that appear to transcend the merely faddish? The cult of Apple -- Jobs the genie -- or the recent World Cup Soul Train? Lemme ask you, poot -- did it really take you anywhere, or was it just another ESPN marketing ploy to keep poor people off the streets? These are the things you know -- a few episodes of Seinfeld, how to order sushi, interest rates, the Yankees lineup -- geez, it took a lot of work to learn these things. Pretty lame.

Or you could take the opposite tack. Blab everything all the time, uncork a torrent of words, preferably big ones with latin roots, thereby giving the appearance of great erudition. Show your fellows an expansive spirit and airtight mind at play. Practice writing the kind of inhuman prose you find in academic journals, larded with obfuscatory jargon, impenetrable, in the end signifying nothing. Another option is to utter the spiritual gobbledygook patented by Oprah, Wayne Dyer, Deepak Chopra, Dr. Phil, and their ilk. Your words must come at the speed of an auctioner's songspiel, rat-a-tat-tat, even while you look serious, knitting your brows, gazing knowingly at your astonished audience. If they ask you questions, ignore them and soldier on. Raise the volume of your voice and bowl them over with bold assertions. Make grand pronouncements, compose manifestos: your true self -- your swollen mediocrity and all-too-common cowardice -- will be nicely hidden in the hubbub. On Facebook it's all about maintaining a front, a twitchy persona that no one can trace, rootless. The more words you use, the better off you'll be. Pitter patter pitter patter. Let the world see everything, some of it's bound to be interesting.

You can try either strategy but it'll be hard to overcome the niggling anxiety -- it only gets worse as you age -- that you belong to the great mass of humans who try to describe their meager lives in literary terms and fail. At some point, just relax. Some unselfconscious MFA grad with a cache of clich├ęs will come along and do it for you.

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