[NOTE: two Facebook friends of mine, Karen Waeschle and Yvonne Austin, have requested that I revisit columns I wrote over a decade ago which were lost when StorytellersUnplugged made format changes. This is one of them with the original reader comments included.]
I, Thomas Sullivan, being of unsound mind but sound body have dedicated my worldly hours to the pursuit of frivolous recreation and relationships of low character. Now that’s something you can write about. Really. None of this chained to a keyboard 24/7/365 stuff, I need to interact with the world. If you write, which type are you? Have you figured out your resources yet? Some writers sit down halfway through the game and write memories, some have never even peeped through the blinds at the world but rely on living vicariously and letting their imaginations soar, many write on the fly while living the lie as 9 to 5 stiffs raising families, others never come in off the road but live life on the lam, sending out their scribbles to editors like notes in a bottle and moving as often as Osama bin Laden.
I prefer to do it all. In phases. Modes. Moods. Variety is the spice of life. Plus, I’m an energy thief. Put me near something giving off vitality and I’ll suck the quantums out of it. Viable people drive me. In fact, the only thing that shuts me down is narrowness, stiffness, frightened and inhibited people, insecure types that hunker down dead behind pride or vanity or illusions or apathy, wasting life and opportunity. And I love them too, but preferably from a distance.
None of this would necessarily be apparent to you if you ran into me. If you ran over me, maybe, but not into me. Depending on the venue, I might strike you as rather conservative. And in truth I’ve been damn near immune to peer pressure all my life. Can hang out in an atmosphere of any taint and constituency and still be me. I think it’s a side effect of terminal eccentricity, but it could be that I’m just obtuse. Either way I believe it’s a plus for a writer.
At least it is if life pushes you to be a writer for all seasons, spilling ink in every genre and writing style. Not that I don’t envy colleagues who know who they are, what they should write, and who connect fluidly (non-alcoholic) with their target audience. My targets float around the greater universe like nebulae and on a good day look like 3-D at a drive-in theater when you take the cheap 3-D glasses off. But hey, it’s never boring to hang out in the big sandbox where one day you can get buried by a fastidious cat and the next be reared up like a pyramid.
Anyway, like I said, I’m the type of writer who has to interact with the real world in order to keep my batteries charged and draw inspiration. Essentially that means I become a plagiarist directly of life itself. So, that makes me a life-long learner who wants to understand EVERYTHING. Understanding is power, control. For a writer that’s an aphrodisiac. Writing is a God-power, creation on the cheap Adam & Eve in words alone. It may be abstract, but it’s no less ambitious than the creation of universes within universes. Trying to figure out who you are and what you want to write is half the battle. That’s why I started a series two columns ago on how language fits into it. Language was an obvious handle that helped me sort out the marketplace and myself. But the trouble with writing a series of columns that build one on the other is that you have to assume people read them all. Is there an “emoticon” for serious doubt? The stump speech I based this series on was always delivered to a captive audience in one sitting, so let me review:
The first column [ http://www.storytellersunplugged.com/2016/08/01/thomas-sullivan-spiders-and-spuds/#respond ] introduced the idea that you can divide the purpose of language (and writing) into three areas. I called them the language of emotions, the language of things & events, and the language of ideas. The second column [ http://www.storytellersunplugged.com/2016/09/01/thomas-sullivan-horned-owls-other-horny-beasts/#respond ] was specifically about the language of emotions – wet, naked baby comes into the world screaming and just gets subtler about it ever after. So now this is the third installment and the second language: THE LANGUAGE OF THINGS & EVENTS.
Let’s check in on that newborn who, in the previous column, was pure emotion. As the sensory panel lights up and the baby begins to process sight, sound, taste, touch, smell, we get modifications of the emotional “talking” the kid is doing. Coos, interrogative lilts – whatever – the baby (let’s have a name the baby contest, but for now I’ll call him Marmaduke) is trying to identify things it likes. As Marmaduke gets a handle on his soft palate, uvula, tongue, teeth, he begins to use repetition. Patterns work. Recognition is its own reward for a while. Monkey see, monkey do. (Monkey-do – yuck.) Lots of “yucks” at this stage. But there are triumphs too, and if the emotional reinforcement is there, baby Marmaduke will segue into the LANGUAGE OF THINGS & EVENTS: those nouns and verbs of reality. So the adults go to work whispering to him in the race for The First Word. “Mommy, Mommy, Mommy”…“Daddy, Daddy, Daddy.” And yea verily The First Word comes forth: “Uncle Looey!” Shock and awe. Then cheers. The parents throw Marmaduke up in the air, then Marmaduke throws up on the parents. Language is great. “TV…ice cream…play” – by the time baby M starts school, he’ll have his 35,000 commonly used words, all without benefit of a grammar book.
Along about six months, M learns the world’s most powerful word. Mommy’s coming at him with a spoonful of green slime one day – “open uuuuppp” – and the enfant terrible throws it back at her, right in the eye – WAP! – and says, “NO!” Mommy is shocked: “My flesh, my blood, you deny me, whatdoyoumean no?” “NO! NO! NO!” Aphrodisiac of a word. For a while, it’s a stage. “What’s your name, little boy?” “NO!” If, as I wrote in the last column, some people never get past the negativity of the birth experience and thus becomes literary critics, some people never get past the “no” stage either. They’re called . . . editors. And if the language of emotions is wholly natural, the language of things and events is wholly necessary. Virtually all people get that far – the second language. It’s quite sufficient for getting round the block. If you can say, “telephone, car and sex,” you can make it all the way to age eighteen. As adults, when you go to a foreign country where you can’t speak the language, what do you do? You revert to the rudimentary nouns and verbs of reality. If you can say, “taxi, bathroom and restaurant,” you can get from France to Belgium in two days.
So what happens when you put two languages together? You get a hybrid, of course. Baby M is still going to vent his emotions, but now they can be aimed through things and events. Still, there is a tone, an emphasis, that will tell you whether the purpose of the words is mostly to give literal information (language of things and events) or to address feelings (language of emotions). In the last column I geared my anecdote about the glorious femme blader (one “d” please) in the pink shorts toward feelings. It exploited my passions, frustrations and ego as she and I played pursuit around Elm Creek’s nature trails on in-line skates. Same function as the nascent “Waaa!” of the newborn in that same column. But I could have milked that setting and encounter for a pure statement of things and events just as easily, as in this description of canoeing I just sent someone in an email:
“…The lake was as glideable as glass but fuzzed with millions of tiny seedpods stirred by the thermals of sundown. When I got to the river they floated together like a carpet of snow through which I carved silently in a crimson canoe. Each bend in the river brought a new floral vista. And when I crossed under a wide bridge I was suddenly in another kind of blizzard, this one of swallows in a frenzy to snap up insects I could not see. It was amazing to actually be in that swarm of birds, a part of their agile chaos. But the peril was underscored, too, because at that moment a hawk shot under the bridge as though it were in a tunnel, skimming past my head from behind in pursuit of a “swallow.” I was staring right through the gun-site as the hawk sees it, and, as blisteringly fast as that predator bird is, it was no match for the swallow in the sharp maneuvers of tight quarters. Close, but the smaller bird veered and the blur of talons grabbed only air….”
Things and events. The emotions might be inferred, but the experience of canoeing under the bridge is literal.
So now we have the great divide. The language of emotions and the language of things and events. This is the heart of choice, the basic tools for communication. But there is a third language, and here we can begin to separate out readers and writers. Keep in mind, if you will, that the final column in this series will relate this all back to the marketplace and writing. Next up: THE LANGUAGE OF IDEAS.
Any takers for naming the baby? Email them to me. Have had a couple of people mention how hard it was for them to find my email address, and most readers do not want to create a user ID and password in order to post. For the record, those little blurry patches in the middle of the authors’ bio pages (which are listed to the right on this page) become authors’ home page links if you happen to move the cursor over them. My email is on my author’s page, but here it is again: firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks for reading. Your thoughts are welcome and your attention valued.
Thomas “Sully” Sullivan
posted by Sully at 12:14 AM
David Niall Wilson said…
You know, it’s wonderful to see this all in sequence. I’ve been privvy to bits and chunks through long correspondence, but I have never seen this philosophy in it’s longer, more eloquent form, and I’m thoroughly enjoying it…
Janet Berliner said…
I’m truly in awe of your mastery of language, ideas, and the language of ideas. -Janet
Bless you, guys. Wish I could, in fact, deliver this in print more like it went out over a mic. What surprised me is how long it takes to write what was about 10-20 minutes of a 35-60 minute speech — 3 columns already and counting. Had a few fans who would faithfully attend every talk where I addressed this in Michigan, and they would swear it was always different (of course, what are fans for?). Have noticed, in trying to get this down, however, that it required a lot of choices of what to include and what to drop. Am relieved that it doesn’t read totally obscure, and thanks for the feedback.
John B. Rosenman said…
Oh hell, this essay is so good, now I’m going to have to go back and read your earlier installments. I like the concept of the three languages and the quality of the writing. Some’s very poetic. Here’s just one line
If you can say, “taxi, bathroom and restaurant,” you can get from France to Belgium in two days.
Like the boat scene too. Be forewarned, Sully, there’s
one line in your essay I plan to steal whole for my next essay. Naw, I’ll give you credit.
As for naming the baby, I’m still working on that one.
Steal away, John. I am elevated by association. And do give me a hint for a baby name. I mean, I named my own kids “Eunice” and “Eunuch.” Kidding, kidding — oh, jeez, there goes Father’s Day…
David Niall Wilson said…
What was wrong with Marmaduke?
Hey, Trish (Patricia Macomber — the true power behind David Niall Wilson), do not let this man name any heirs! He may be exquisite on the printed page, but anyone who would sanction my nomenclature has serious issues.
“If, as I wrote in the last column, some people never get past the negativity of the birth experience and thus becomes literary critics, some people never get past the “no” stage either. They’re called . . . editors.”
That is highly amusing.
Name the baby a good ol fashioned Fred, or George. Billy bob? Hmm, Baby M works. Maybe he’ll grow up and work for the british Secret Service.
I’ll have to try and catch your talk live sometime. Read the other too and I’m finding them informative and quite useful.
Billy Bob? Like it. ‘Tis in the running, though I have one through email from someone in Tennessee or West Virginia that I’m partial to at the moment. Let’s see what comes in. To be announced next column, I guess…
And thanks for the feedback. Will look forward to meeting you, though I’ve spoken a lot less since moving to Minnesota.
David Niall Wilson said…
Eustace? Earl? Trish just found out she has very distant relatives named Greene Ebeneezer and Dousenberry….
Well, shut my mouth. Eustace thru Dousenberry resonate, my good man. Thanks, though I’m glad you passed on them for Katie.
Mark Rainey said…
How about Johann Gambolputty de von Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crasscrenbon-fried-digger-
aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm?
OK, so it’s not original. 😉
Excellent stuff, Sully. Love the little tale you weave to reveal types of writing. “Eccentric” indeed, but who would have it any other way?
Lawsy, whether your suggestion is the winner or not, Mark, I want to use that for a character name in some piece where I’m paid by the word (or syllable). Did you by any chance author the names of some Scottish towns? Thanks.
Mark Rainey said…
Nah, that’s actually from Monty Python. 😉
I knew all those episodes of Flying Circus my kid made me watch would find life application. Yeah, I recognize it… The composer or somesuch, eh wot?
Thomas “Sully” Sullivan
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