Tuesday, April 13, 2010

If u can rd ths u can gt a gud job

As I was saying, I like long sentences, long words and a full expression of thought. For example, a lesser writer might possibly have come up with the idea to take a real-life story and write it in the style of a work of fiction, which is what Truman Capote did when he helped found the New Journalism with the publication of In Cold Blood in 1965. But a lesser writer would have written something like:

"Dry and flat, western Kansas has a lot of wheat farms and wheat farmers."

Whereas Capote captivates the reader with his opening paragraphs:

"THE village of Holcomb stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call "out there." Some seventy miles east of the Colorado border, the countryside, with its hard blue skies and desert-clear air, has an atmosphere that is rather more Far West than Middle West. The local accent is barbed with a prairie twang, a ranch-hand nasalness, and the men, many of them, wear narrow frontier trousers, Stetsons, and high-heeled boots with pointed toes. The land is flat, and the views are awesomely extensive; horses, herds of cattle, a white cluster of grain elevators rising as gracefully as Greek temples are visible long before a traveler reaches them.

Holcomb, too, can be seen from great distances. Not that there is much to see--simply an aimless congregation of buildings divided in the center by the main-line tracks of the Santa Fe Railroad, a haphazard hamlet bounded on the south by a brown stretch of the Arkansas (pronounced "Ar-kan-sas") River, on the north by a highway, Route 50, and on the east and west by prairie lands and wheat fields. After rain, or when snowfalls thaw, the streets, unnamed, unshaded, unpaved, turn from the thickest dust into the direst mud. At one end of the town stands a stark old stucco structure, the roof of which supports an electric sign--DANCE--but the dancing has ceased and the advertisement has been dark for several years. Nearby is another building with an irrelevant sign, this one in flaking gold on a dirty window--HOLCOMB BANK. The bank closed in 1933, and its former counting rooms have been converted into apartments. It is one of the town's two "apartment houses," the second being a ramshackle mansion known, because a good part of the local school's faculty lives there, as the Teacherage. But the majority of Holcomb's homes are one-story frame affairs, with front porches.

Down by the depot, the postmistress, a gaunt woman who wears a rawhide jacket and denims and cowboy boots, presides over a falling-apart post office. The depot itself, with its peeling sulphur-colored paint, is equally melancholy; the Chief, the Super-Chief, the El Capitan go by every day, but these celebrated expresses never pause there. No passenger trains do--only an occasional freight. Up on the highway, there are two filling stations, one of which doubles as a meagerly supplied grocery store, while the other does extra duty as a café--Hartman's Café, where Mrs. Hartman, the proprietress, dispenses sandwiches, coffee, soft drinks, and 3.2 beer. (Holcomb, like all the rest of Kansas, is "dry.") "

Unbound by any constraint, Capote carved a career of florid and descriptive writing that will be enjoyed as long as there is paper or even a computer screen from which to read it.

Bound by constraint, no one can compose anything better than a bloated haiku in the consarned form of text messages. 160 characters! Tom Wolfe used that many characters just as an onomatopoetic background for many of his essays:

"Not bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, but bama bampa barama bam bammity bam bam bammity barampa FIRE! was the first thing she thought of because nobody ever banged on your apartment door in a building like this nobody would be so impolite as to even rap on your door with his knuckles unannounced in a building like this much less bang on it with both fists for this was not one fist pounding on the door but both fists bama barampa bam bam bammity barampa bam bam—"

That's from Wolfe's 2007 essay "The Pirate Pose," concerning the hedge fund manager culture. Vivid and descriptive, am I wrong?

I got off on this tangent because, sitting in the hospital yesterday waiting for nerve conductivity tests, I idly passed time erasing old text messages from my cell...and someone said life is not fulfilling and enriching? And then my thoughts turned to Lincoln. And what about if he were alive today? For one thing, he'd be very very old, and for another, he would not be traveling from DC to Gettysburg by train. He'd jet up there in Air Force One, so there would be no time to find an old envelope and scrawl:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

And we would be a poorer nation for that, because Abe of Today would text:

"4 skor & 7 yrs ago our fathers brot 4th on this continent a new nation conceived in liberty & dedicated to the prop that all men r cre8ed =.Now we r engaged"

and that's 160 characters, and Abe would be out of space, and someone would think he was getting married again!

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