25 November 2001

"We must grant the artist his subject, his idea,
his donnée: our criticism is applied only to what
he makes of it. [...] If we pretend to respect
the artist at all, we must allow him his freedom
of choice, in the face, in particular cases, of
innumerable presumptions that the choice will not
fructify.  Art derives a considerable part of its
beneficial exercise from flying in the face of
  - Henry James, The Art of Fiction

I have been silent nearly all month. Why, you ask? Because I have too many ideas, most of them courtesy of my few loyal readers and friends, and I found myself unable to finely focus myself enough to write anything. Most disconcerting, I assure you.

My readers gratify me by their generous praise of these little thoughts of mine, and they urge me onward in my quest for bringing the odd, the unusual, the eccentric, and the eclectic into the light. These people tell me I'm a clever person, which I wish I could accept wholly as true, and independent of their affection for me.

It is these same generous, kind souls who offered me the surfeit of ideas that rendered me mute for nearly three whole weeks. Oh. Right. More than three whole weeks. One sent me a copy of an email chain letter with a comment, "Look at this. Can you believe anyone is dumb enough to fall for this load of old baloney?" The chain letter contained a blessing and a curse. Ostensibly, you get the blessing if you send the whole thing forward to the same number of people as you are years old, and the curse if three calendar days pass without sending it anywhere. My friend's indignation was so great, I noted he copied forty-two of his closest friends -- me included -- in the "send to:" field. That's a lot of indignation. Odd, too, how the number of recipients corresponded exactly to his age. I'd have to say that on balance, yes, I do believe that some people are dumb enough to fall for the "load of old baloney," all protest to the contrary.

I considered writing about this exchange, but then asked myself if a chain email letter, first cousin to the more ubiquitous and iniquitous "spam," was worthy of time and brain cells. I decided it wasn't. Truly, I'm nervous about even writing this much about the episode -- I subscribe to the belief that whatever I happen to focus my attention upon, arrives in great quantity, and without delay. I hope I've not already sent a wrong message out to the Universe.

Another friend, rabidly feminist ever since her ex-husband telephoned from a Tahitian resort to tell her he'd run off with his secretary, the beauteous bimbo Tiffany Crystal, and as a result wouldn't be available to escort her to the LaLeche Nipple Ring meeting, wrote to encourage me to tee off on extradition treaties, philandering executives, and girls whose names sound like department store goods. I am extremely, profoundly sympathetic to my friend's plight, and I fully understand her outrage. However, how does adding my voice to her fully-justified ferocity accomplish anything? I doubt it does, as I have no experience whatsoever with any of the things she wants me to write about.

There are others who offered me topics this month. This includes my beloved, who thought it would be a great idea for me to simply pop in the names of our family members into my text, without warning or reason. This premise strikes my spouse as hilariously funny. "Just think, R.B. You could say, 'According to Dr. Medulla,' and everyone would scratch their heads and wonder, 'who the heck is this Medulla character?' They'll go crazy trying to figure it out, and we'd be the only ones to know it's me. That's funny, isn't it?"

Sure. This would really endear me to my readers. Arcane, obscure references to people they never heard of, talking about bits and snippets of news that mean nothing at all to them. A real laugh riot, that idea, bound to be a real crowd pleaser.

To tell the truth, I don't always understand what motivates my writing. Mostly, I just watch the world in motion around me. Now and again, a thought grates, like sand in an oyster. Over time, layers of words wrap themselves around the thought, until what I always hope will be a pearl pops out. When this happens, I put it on the page in the same way young girls used to add single pearls to necklaces. I try to match for color, consistency, and quality, but beyond this, I'm at the mercy of the sand and my own nacreous accretions.

If you ever read something you like here, I assure you, it's dumb luck, more than anything deliberate on my part. But do keep on reading. I need the sand.

Excuse me. Dr. Medulla informs me I must add this pearl to my string.


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