Posted by: Mark Nielsen | October 11, 2010

Mark Being Mark

Reading a Paste magazine article/interview today about Gary Shteyngart, author of the recent novel Super Sad True Love Story  , who I also saw on The Colbert Report a couple months ago: a youngish Joseph Heller type who paints satiric novels with a broad brush, slashes and burns in prose with a sharp machete– all those superlatives that I would love to have applied to me and my own writing someday. Boldness being the point.

Like that first sentence of mine above. And the second, and in this paragraph, the third. (Whoops… fourth, too.) Microsoft Word –in its infinite wisdom and the helpfulness Microsoft is known for (urp!)– is telling me that all those sentences are grammatically incorrect. Which is true. Boldly incorrect, in fact. Green zig-zag underlining all over the place here. First sentence has an implied “I”. Second is using a mismatched verb tense, or maybe it’s seen by the program as an introductory clause that doesn’t actually introduce anything. Third is a fragment, as is the fourth. (And the fifth, but I had to move on, y’know.)

But you knew what I was saying, didn’t you? Bad grammar aside?

Boldness, becoming a writer with those kind of chops, lately for me means not giving a s&%t about such things. Or, more accurately, caring greatly about both language itself and what one does with it, caring enough to want to invent a whole new language, one’s very own, and teach it to everyone you know, so they can see what you see, or how you see.

See? There. “Whoops, I did it again,” (to quote my least favorite pop star ever.) Broke another writing rule. I was saying “one” does this, and “one” cares about that, and then ended with a “you”. But Microsoft’s digital grammar Nazi didn’t catch that one. So long as my construction was “correct”, the program and programmers don’t care what about the style problems with I’m actually saying, nor whether that philosophical point is correct or not, nor even whether I’m following Strunk and White or Chicago Manual of Style. (Never read it. Don’t care to. Terrified somebody someday will make me.)

I’ve gotten to the point where my writing is an extension of my True Self. Or at least I hope so. On a good day, I’m writing meditatively, self-referentially and God-referentially, not forcing it but being guided by some internal compass, as if by instinct. I am typing, but at the same time I’m above it all watching what I’ve said and how I put things (did I follow up the point above well enough?, am I getting too far down a blind alley now?).

And I’m simultaneously underneath it all, half-wondering why I’ve chosen to go down this strange road in my writing today, and whether it is artistically or emotionally useful, or just more verbal masturbation. Yeah, you heard me. Masturbation. We humans do self-indulgent crap like this all the time, whether or not it involves genitalia or sexuality — which I guess makes readers of this essay kind of like voyeurs. Sorry.

As I write, I’m also in the “real world”. As if it’s another “window” open on my mental desktop. I’m noting the gentle breeze blowing the pine needles on the white pine outside the window. I’m wondering why I know—and when I learned—that it’s a long-needled white pine and not some other species. And I’m hearing the voice of my son in the next room, as he breaks from playing with a toy and asks for food. [True Self: “Open ‘child’ window/module, and T.C.B.”]

Then, as we encounter a box of Strawberry Kellogg’s Pop Tarts™, and alongside it a Jewel store-brand box of “Toaster Pastries”, I take a small “teachable moment” that’s actually relevant to what I was just writing about. I explain to him the concept of trademarks, and inventing names, and how words can be “owned” according to the laws of the land, how Jewel can’t use the name Pop Tart™ for their product. To my great amusement, he actually listens and cares, and it’s a fun two-way conversation: college-level linguistics and proably ninth grade level social science. He’s eight. God love him.

Then I grabbed the box of facial tissues next to the fridge to further illustrate the point, and he called them “tissues”. I had half-expected “Kleenex”. Poor kid’s got two English teachers for parents, whadya expect? Plus the genes and instincts of a PhD polymer chemist coming downstream by way of his maternal grandfather –so “precision” means a lot to my son, in language and in life. (To put it more honestly, he habitually corrects his elders and his peers, who as you might guess, don’t always appreciate the kind of precision he seems to need.)

So… I originally sat down forty five minutes ago to write about Mark being Mark, and about “let Manny be Manny” (in reference to Hall of Fame hitter and perennial flake Manny Ramirez), and about Bob Dylan’s claim that the second playful Traveling Wilburys album came about solely as a result of “George being George” (Harrison, that is… one of my idols, along with John, whose 70th birthday was this past weekend).

So to quote John:

“My mother is of the sky. My father is of the earth. And I am of the Universe, and I know what it’s worth.”

                     (Yer Blues, White Album)

Now you go be you.


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