The Ruffled Crow

Animation, Art, and Other Shiny Things

The Art of Wielding Words

A couple weeks ago I started a post draft on rhetoric intending to link the use of loaded words with the current political dialogue.

Well, I’m still working on it, but there’s been a spot of difficulty.

This weekend I made a push to complete a part of it for final posting. Last week I’d found the post running to a good three pages and the basic idea of the first two bore some more expansion. A couple pages of expansion later it turned out I had several different aspects of rhetoric and the human behavior it involved.

It is now 7 separate posts averaging a half page apiece with the primary draft down to a svelte pair of pages ripe for re-expansion…

Drifting off to sleep last night I considered why a simple exploration of spin shattered into so many pieces of thought. Granted, rhetoric is a discipline studied for thousands of years by the best minds human civilization could offer, but no one would count me among that number, nor do I have any formal training or education in logic or rhetoric. (not like that isn’t obvious…)

Perhaps it’s just how I write.

That seems the easiest and simplest reason and is well founded. A small dose of adhd-like personality, thoughts far outstripping my typing speed, and the occasional hyperfocus on construction of a part without regard to the whole.

In the weeks since I began writing on this blog in earnest it’s apparent that my writing is rather awful in many ways. Not that this is something I haven’t known for decades, but through sheer volume, and a difference in genre, I am once again being shown the shortcomings; weak endings, rambling reasoning, poor structure, incomplete thinking, insistance on a track and poor transitions to the next thought.

For all these reasons I should have given up writing years ago. But then where would I put all this overflow? Well, at least it wouldn’t be here, eh?

The realization of the connection between these posts exploring rhetoric and my need to write snapped into place so abruptly it jerked me awake. (again… Jazmine chose last night to walk around the house meowing after we’d gone to bed. Shushing her up lasts about 10-15 minutes, just enough time to get back into that ‘almost asleep’ place, but I digress…)

I have a fascination with words.

While it appears as obvious as woodland activities performed by the Ursine crowd, I’d never really looked at it from outside my own little perspective. Loving reading and needing to write are symptoms, the disease is much more insidious and consuming.

I grew up in a house full of books. Besides bookcases everywhere, one room had bookshelves on every wall with spaces for door and window only. Name  the subject and something on it was probably there, the collection was huge. I began reading at age three and I have no ability to even guess at how many books I’ve read since.

As a middle schooler I started to pick up and read the Psychology Today magazines that my Mom subscribed to, picked up Scientific Americans and Discovery mags on my own – everyone in the house read ’em – and eventually took various psych classes in high school and college, over 4 years worth. Much of the time it seemed I was better grounded in the subject than my instructors as I was keeping up with some of the current stuff. I shouldn’t have been surprised when they looked on that dimly. I still keep up as best I can but, any more, continued learning is mostly anecdotal.

Somehow in the middle of all those hormones and teen angst I began writing. Not surprisingly it began with poetry; much of that trying to soliloquize said angst, the rest to poke fun at it. As it progressed, humor became a larger and larger part of my writing.

In the late 80’s, sporting a Commodore 64 and a 300 baud modem, I began to play on the BBSs. After co-sysop-ing writing areas on a couple Bulletin Board Systems I set up my own and devoted it to writing. I knew I wasn’t very good even back then, and was told so directly by some folks that migrated over after Park Place went offline, but it’s not like I felt I had alot of choice nor did I really care. By this time I had graduated into satire and science fiction with the occasional science fact thrown in.

I also spent some time fighting in the flame wars on fidonet and citnet. That was excellent training on focusing on the argument and not the arguer and ability to recognize rhetoric as discrete from reason.

From the 90s and into the ‘naughts I transitioned from the localized BBS scene and onto the intertubes and ran a series of forums. Besides the satire I began to write humorous fantasy, most of it set in the EverQuest world and using folks I knew in the game. Being the leader of a guild there, the writing took on extra use; besides being a creative outlet, people like to read about themselves, especially their idealized self, and these pieces fostered a kind of overarching camaraderie that’s not found in real time in-game.

And we come to today and my continued thrashing attempts to write and the fragmenting of the rhetoric post. Somehow the statement that I’m fascinated by words is terribly unsatisfying by itself, even with the addition of my incomplete and tedious literary resume, so let me see if I can define it a bit better.

I am fascinated with the power words have.

Cognitive distortions and sophistry are cudgels I prefer not to wield, but watching it in action is inevitable, always enlightening, and often entertaining if for no other reason but for its train-wreckiness.

Reason strives to use it’s power to become more than it began as. It exploits the synergy of words and ideas. In it’s pure form it is amazing. A bit boring in some cases, but seriously cool and sometimes scary.

Literature, however, is art for art’s sake. Soft power.

The power of the last two is what I want to harness. To make the reader ask questions they hadn’t thought of before, see beauty in art they’d never bother to look at, learn something they hadn’t known, take an interest in a subject thought dry and humdrum.

I want to be able to use the power of words to make people think in new ways.

To my ear Edward R Murrow was much more than a mere newsman. Certainly his integrity was above reproach, but his words were not the throw-aways as marked in today’s news broadcasts. The simple act of making his point was couched in complex sentence structure which, rather than obscure, further defined the issue and the response.

Aside and apart from the pure beauty of his verbal constructions was what protected that integrity:

Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn’t mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar. – Edward R Murrow

So many wordsmiths forget this and assume the range of their words define their power and influence.

Ray Bradbury is probably the person most responsible for my continued attempts at word mechanics.

The salesman walked about three feet, stopped and hunched his shoulders. Suddenly he seemed aware of house windows or the cold sky staring at his neck. He turned slowly, sniffing the air. Wind rattled the empty trees. Sunlight, breaking through a small rift in the clouds, minted a last few oak leaves all gold. But the sun vanished, the coins were spent, the air blew gray; the salesman shook himself from the spell. – from “Something Wicked This Way Comes”

It doesn’t matter the place, Bradbury takes you there; the damp smell right before rain, the shuffle of the leaves being blown along the gutter, the harsh quality of the streetlight pooling down the block.

We’ve all smelled or heard or seen these things, and that is what Mr Bradbury draws on to create his worlds. Unlike some other writers, the words themselves reach in to our psyche rather than lazily lay out an implication for the reader to find.

Now, at the risk of dropping you short after such an arduous journey through 1400 words into a lake fully stocked with confusion, let me attempt and sum it up and finally send you on your way; Words affect people, for good or ill, to free or to chain, in the name of art or in the name of coercion. As a reader and consumer that link interests me greatly, as a writer I hope to learn the art of good wordsmithing. To make your path, dear reader, less torturous and grueling, to make it entertaining and perhaps informative.

To my pen it’s not as easy as it is for many others, and it’s quite possible that this quest for understanding is hurting rather than helping – my way to overthink what is actually an obvious concept to everyone else – but it is my way. It may eventually work, after all. In the mean time, although I have to write, you do not have to read it and may have already had the good sense to abandon the post after the first paragraph.

Perhaps the next post will be better and worth reading the whole thing.

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