Rules of Writing #17:  Maintaining a Tight Focus

As a daily columnist, I have difficulty keeping track of what I’ve written about in this space, written about in other writing or just thought about while walking with Sam (is a dog).  I understand, I’m not a daily columnist—this isn’t a column for starters.  (I know an aside here, like a detour before you’ve left the mountain’s parking lot, is ill-advised.  Still, I started off in newspapers years ago, and still see a newspaper column as the sine qua non of writing.  In the Army, I had a weekly column—called a humor column, although I think the modifier was more theoretical than laugh-producing.  I was nominated for Military Journalist of the Year while writing that column, but I think the nomination was focused more on features than my attempt to crack wise.  Either way, more than a Nobel for Literature, I’d rather have a Pulitzer as a columnist—although if the house Nobel would like to offer its honorarium, I’m not too proud to accept.  When I receive the prize money, I’ll to buy a newspaper for which I’ll write a daily column.  Until then, like Snoopy astride his house while simultaneously flying a Sopwith Camel, I’ll pretend long enough for my pretensions to feel real.)  Backtracking through the mountainous last few sentences, my memory tells me I’ve written columns on topics I’ve only thought about.  (Interesting (to me) grammatical note:  English offers no reason not to end a sentence with a preposition, except that it’s a rule.  I may be an anarchist in other parts of my life, but I tend to follow grammar precepts.  Except when I flout them for emphasis.  Anyway, the end of the sentence preceding this aside reads “I’ve only thought about,” which violates this rule.  When I mentally discarded “only thought of” I did so to stay within the lines.  Why does the word “about” (or, for our Canadian readers, “about”) strike me as less prepositional than “of”?  Could it be because it has twice as many syllables and 250% more letters?  Doctoral dissertations have been flown from smaller launch pads than this.)  (And back when I was writing that humor column, the hilarious and sophisticated bit about Canadian “about” would have been ruined by phonetically spelling out our northern neighbors’ mispronunciation of the word.)  Today, I’d like to talk about focus.  (I’d really meant to get to this earlier, but it takes me a few hundred words just to clear my throat.  Huh-hmmmmmm.)

(I’ll return to today’s column momentarily, but the mention of Snoopy made me realize what a huge impact that comic strip had on my development.  I came of age during the great Peanuts boom of the mid-60s, although coming of age here means learned to read not to become sexually active, which would just be weird in this context.  Certainly, Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy Van Pelt, Snoopy, Schroeder and even Peppermint Patty were more real to me in fourth grade than most of my classmates, who seemed vaguer and less fleshly than even Violet, Shermy or Patty, the last two of whom seemed to have drifted out of the neighborhood fairly early on.  (NB:  see above aside on prepositions.)  (NB:  please follow the previous NB only once, or you’ll be trapped in a narrative Mobius strip.)  (NB:  I realize I’m now speaking to an audience of zero, having placed the escape clause from the permanent loop outside the loop itself.  May God have mercy on those lost souls, doomed to repetition, doomed to repetition.)


One response to “Rules of Writing #17:  Maintaining a Tight Focus”

  1. I’m thinking you have an incredible memory. All my life I would have relished a memory half as good as you display. Such a memory has to be a huge plus when engaging in jurnalism.


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