Somewhat Unique

(Not Mr. Wilson)

I’ve spent so much time today reading and commenting on other people’s blogs (and a few on my own) that now I’m feeling a bit weary of writing. Still, we’ll see how this one goes. It’s a combination bone to pick (albeit a small and arguable one) and remembrance of things past.  Distant, dim past. High school past. Nearly forty years past.

I’ve been remembering the past for a variety of reasons. A high school friend, one of the very few I’m still in touch with, is also facing looming job elimination. And just yesterday, someone else from high school sent a message to my Facebore page (which I maintain for the purpose of old friends finding me, and only for that purpose).

[Can I just say that, every time I log into Facebore, I’m forcibly reminded just how incredibly inane and banal people are. I suppose the venue doesn’t lend itself well to anything but the most trite and shallow shit, but still, people, rise above it!]

In one of those weird bits of synchronicity that makes my life so rich and interesting, on the very same day, someone from my college years also contacted me on Facebore. How weird is that?  No one new has contacted me in years, and then two in one day. They are from unrelated segments of my life, so—as far as I can tell—it’s a genuine coincidence. And then something amazing happened today—just an hour ago—that’s really got me chuckling! But I’ll save that for my closing.

What I wanted to talk about is Mr. Wilson. Which may or may not be his real name; I’m not saying. Mr. Wilson (as we’ll call him) was my high school English teacher. Twice. I went to a four-year high school; he was my English teacher for sophomore and senior year.

(Also not Mr. Wilson, but just as classy.)

Mr. Wilson was… awesome! That’s the only word for it. He was one of those upstanding old school dudes, strict and proper and educated and smart. He’s the one who introduced me to the concept of transparency in writing (and storytelling). It’s a concept that applies in a physical sense as well as in a virtual sense.

Transparency addresses the idea that the author, and what the author does—the mechanism of writing—should be as invisible as possible to the reader (or audience). The willing suspension of disbelief, which is necessary to fiction, becomes broken if the author’s writing or storytelling distracts from the story.

In the physical sense, this can refer to type font or style, text layout or—as in my case—hand writing with such large gaps between words that, as Mr. Wilson put it, “trucks could drive though them.” A very fair point, and I’m afraid he’d still be ashamed of my handwriting. But the main point is that anything that attracts attention to itself, and away from the content, is a distraction to be avoided.

Unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for. Sometimes style is part of the presentation. Sometimes it can be the point of the presentation; sometimes style is all that matters. There are no hard rules in art, and to the extent rules do exist, great art often breaks them.

At times style elements can aid the story, adding something more to it. Comics artists may use special fonts or word balloon styles to communicate more than ordinary styles would.

(A great example is how Dream speaks in Neil Gaiman‘s Sandman series. The word balloons are black with white words and edges. The shape of the balloon provides additional emotional notes.)

In the virtual sense, transparency refers to telling your story clearly and in a way that doesn’t distract the reader. Good grammar falls under this rubric as do more complicated issues, such as a plot and characters that make sense. Anything that distracts the audience and takes them out of the moment should be avoided.

(Unless, of course, that’s what you’re going for.)

[I believe that 3D in movies is just such a distraction. It is touted as being more immersive, but I think it calls attention to itself. “Hey, look at the cool 3D effects!” is not what you want your audience thinking if you’re trying to tell a good story. It’s possible this will improve as the technology gets better and—more importantly—directors learn to use it in less distracting ways. The generation raised on it will accept it as the norm and may even find 2D distracting. I know today there are some who have a hard time watching black & white movies.]

[[The paragraph above is probably the most even-handed thing I’ve ever said about 3D, so let me be completely clear here: I. Hate. That. Shit!  I consider it a gimmick, a distraction and a way for theaters to gouge you some more. I will go to a 3D move maybe once a year just to see how the technology is evolving.]]

Now I want you to picture this stern and correct taskmaster we sophomore high school students had come to respect and—just slightly—fear. The time is the day before Christmas break in December. We’ve come to know this man over past three months. Imagine how surprised we are when he brings out his six-string acoustic guitar and starts singing Old English madrigals for us!

And then he invites anyone else who can play to step up and entertain the class as well (yes, I could; yes, I did).

I suppose one clue (or mayhap a better wyrd is clew) might have been his obvious enjoyment of reading Chaucer to us. In the original Old English. And, oh, my, does it ever sound cool that way:

Whan that Aprill, with his shoures soote
The droghte of March hath perced to the roote
And bathed every veyne in swich licour,
Of which vertu engendred is the flour;

That was Mr. Wilson. One of my favorite teachers. I owe a great deal to him.

But I have a bone to pick, sir! It concerns the word, ‘unique,’ and you were quite clear that a thing can be unique or not; no middle ground. A thing is not somewhat unique. It either is or aint. This logic also makes “totally unique” wordy and redundant.

I disagree (okay, maybe not on the totally; to be totally unique is to be, in fact, unique). But I think a thing can be so rare that is “somewhat unique.” I take the poet’s license on this. When there is more than one, but not that many more, I think somewhat unique is evocative. Perhaps that grates on strict ears, but that’s the way I roll. I’ll accept some imprecision to communicate a feeling.

My protest done, I’ll add this note: Mr. Wilson, sir, you were unique!


In closing: a funny thing happened to me on the way through my day today. I’d talked to a head hunter about two years ago. At the time, he said he could place me in a job equal to or better (pay-wise) than my current one. At the time, my (possibly misplaced) loyalty to The Company caused me to turn down his offer. I’ve kept his name and thought I’d give him a call if the clock does run out on my 33-year career (just over three weeks left on the clock).

So guess who called me today with a potential job offer! Guess who, in a long and interesting conversation, said he’d likely have little trouble placing me in consulting positions should I choose to go that way.

Über-Geek’s revenge (and synchronicity) strikes again!

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

4 responses to “Somewhat Unique

  • It's only P!

    What would a handwriting expert say about those truckwidth gaps in your writing, I wonder? I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. So I googled it. Nice. ‘A person who has some words widely spaced are often open, honest but deep in thought …’ Of course you had all of them spaced!

  • Lady from Manila

    It seems your favorite teacher adhered to William Strunk’s imperative teachings of the English language on “The Elements of Style.” To mention a few: Cutting the deadwood and the vast tangle of English rhetoric down to size, the word “unique” as having no degrees, and saying a word aloud if you don’t know how to pronounce it. I have been guilty of attaching a certain level to the word “unique”, too (e.g., sort of unique, very unique, and yes – somewhat unique). I guess it’s more allowable these days.

    I also dislike watching movies on 3D as I hate wearing those “glasses,” yet many recent films have boasted of their 3D effects – sounding as if all movies were inevitably headed in that direction.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      I consider myself an artist, and artists not only don’t follow the rules, we’re expected not to! Think of it as the difference between the way the song was written and how you might jam on it to jazz it up.

      3D is (to my mind) mainly a way to extract more money from you. It’s an optical illusion, a trick (one that is apparently not healthy for infants and very small children). I suppose at some point, the technology will be fully integrated, and it will become as common as color and sound did.

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