Monthly Archives: January 2008
A few weeks ago I had to write a very delicate business e-mail. I was going along fine–it had taken me a couple hours, but I felt good about what I’d written–when all of a sudden I stopped short in the middle of the last sentence.
I tentatively typed seven words to finish the sentence. It didn’t work. It was grammatically correct, but it meant something very slightly different that what I needed to convey.
I moved one of the words to another position in the sentence. It still didn’t express my meaning exactly. And the sentence really was a vital part of the communication.
So I took a deep breath, moved the word I’d moved before to yet another position, read the paragraph over to confirm that the sentence now conveyed exactly what I needed to say, closed my eyes, and clicked send.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the story of the first time I split an infinitive.
I haven’t quite recovered yet.
I mean, from today’s perspective it all seems so straightforward, doesn’t it? Show the nation images of children in Birmingham being attacked by policemen with clubs and fire hoses and bull dogs, and from the resulting outrage would perforce come change. I’m not saying that it was easy: I can barely imagine the courage it must have required to take that first step from Kelly Ingram Park onto the street.
But the thing is, back then, the evildoers didn’t understand the power of the media or of dissembling. In the last fifty years they have learned subtlety. They have learned to cozen and to distract and to manipulate; and they have learned, when those don’t work, to corrupt and cow the media so that even the worst of their hubris is presented as one side of a balanced argument. I think there’s very little more insidious in the world than the idea of a balanced argument. How do you balance the truth? Well, you can’t. So in order to maintain balance you have to toss truth out on its ass. Some people think the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina was inappropriate and insufficient. Other people disagree. How is that any different from saying that some people think segregation is necessary to maintain the order of society because black people are inferior to white people in intelligence and in character, but other people disagree? And then you put it on TV and call it an objective report, because if you tried to upset the status quo you might find yourself replaced tomorrow by somebody more tractable.
And in the fifties and sixties, the civil rights movement drew an almost inconceivable strength from the belief in a righteous God. Today the evildoers have managed to twist religion so thoroughly to their own ends that it’s difficult to allow God onto your side, because if our leaders–regardless of political affiliation–have reduced Him to a tool to help them maintain power, how can you believe He’ll be of any help in the fight for justice?
I guess my point is: to me, in 2008, the weapons of righteousness in the movement led by Dr. King and his allies seem to have been powerful weapons and easily discernible ones. And today those weapons have been rendered useless, and no matter how hard I try I can’t think of what on earth might replace them.
I’ve spent the last hour and a half trying to write a post in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and no matter how I went at it I always ended up in such a rage that the post veered into the ranting of a crazy person.
I have yet to decide who I’m voting for in the primaries on February 5. I mean, yes, Clinton this and Obama that and Edwards the other thing blah blah blah. But I think they’re all liars. I think the Democrats are more or less nicer liars than the Republicans. But even within the party, how can I make a choice when I don’t believe a goddamn word coming out of anybody’s mouth (with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich)?
Here’s what I think: I think we should revolt. I think that every state and federal government official currently serving, whether elected or appointed, and irrespective of party, should be put to death for high treason (with the possible exception of Dennis Kucinich). I mean, we’d have to start over, but then at least it might take another two hundred years for the government to disintegrate into the calcified pudding it is today. And who knows? Maybe something would go differently and after two centuries we’d have devout Christians running for office who actually bothered to think about what religion means, who had read, say, Luke 14:12-14 and actually paid attention so that when they gave a luncheon or a dinner, they didn’t invite their friends or their brothers or their relatives or rich neighbors, lest these also invite them in return, and repayment come to them, but when they gave a reception, invited the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, so they would be blessed, since these had no means to repay them.
Okay, I’m working myself into a rage again, so obviously it’s time to stop writing and go buy guns.
Yesterday I got a message from the people working on my computer saying that it was going to take them an extra day to finish, because there was extensive damage on the hard drive. Naturally I freaked out. Then I called them back and had the following conversation.
Y.: Hello, DriveSavers, this is Y. How may I help you?
FAUSTUS: Hi, this is Faustus, you just left me a message saying that you were going to have my computer longer than you expected because there was extensive damage on the hard drive.
Y.: Oh, yes, I remember.
FAUSTUS: Well, okay, now I’m sort of freaking out–
Y.: Oh, no!
FAUSTUS: –and I wonder whether I could just ask you to say something hopeful to me so that I can get to sleep tonight–
FAUSTUS:–like, I don’t know, you’re brilliant and you’re really good at what you do and–
Y.: Faustus, you’re brilliant and you’re really good at what you do!
FAUSTUS: Um . . . thank you, but that’s not actually what I meant. I meant say something hopeful about the possibility of recovering my data.
Y.: Oh! Well, these guys are brilliant and they’re really good at what they do and let me explain to you exactly what’s going on . . . [keeps talking, calms Faustus down].
FAUSTUS: Thank you so much. I feel better now.
Y.: I’m always happy to help.
Oh, and I realized yesterday that somehow the spam filter on my comments had a nervous breakdown (perhaps pre-traumatic stress syndrome in preparation for the computer meltdown?) and for the last three weeks (at least) has been randomly marking as spam real comments from real people, including people who have commented here before.
So if you posted a comment and it didn’t appear, it’s not because I hate you.
Now, somebody else’s comment I might have junked because I hate him or her. But not you. I love you.
One would think that, having been less than three years ago the victim of this disaster, I would be smart enough to take all precautions that, should the event occur again, I had an easier and less costly solution.
One would be wrong. Off to San Francisco it is again.
The only thing different this time around is that they’ve raised their fees.
Okay, here is my dilemma. It’s actually a dilemma I’ve had for some time, but changing circumstances over the last few years have made it more and more problematic.
In the United States, the proper valediction for a written social communication is “Sincerely yours” or “Yours sincerely.” Since sometimes it’s necessary to live dangerously, you can add “very” before “sincerely.”
All right so far.
The proper valediction for a written business communication to a person whose name you know is “Truly yours” or “Yours truly.” Since sometimes it’s necessary to live dangerously, you can add “very” before “truly.”
But here’s where the problem comes in.
The proper valediction for a business communication to a person whose name you don’t know (e.g. “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Sir or Madam,” etc.) is “Faithfully yours.” I’ve never even tried to figure out whether you can put a “very” in that one too, because, given the political climate these days, I can’t close an e-mail “Faithfully yours” or the recipient will assume I am a crazy fundamentalist Christian just waiting for God to rapture me away from all this, and will not bother responding.
At the same time, I feel really weird closing e-mails with anything else when there is a very clear correct choice.
I suppose I could just never write to anybody whose name I don’t know, but I suspect that in the end the drawbacks of such a course of action might prove prohibitive.
Maybe I should just switch to “I beg to remain your most humble and obedient servant.”
I started an entry about how old I will be as of 9:01 a.m. tomorrow containing lines like “When Mozart was my age he was dead” and “I am twice the age I was at which I first had sex [solve for some value of sex]” but it just got more and more depressing and I was about to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch, but then I realized the one good thing that matters so much more than all the other depressing things:
Tomorrow I will be eligible to the office of President of the United States.
So I’m totally going to run. Obama and Clinton and Edwards can eat my dust. Kucinich will be my vice president. No, scratch that; Susan Sarandon will be my vice president. Madonna will be my Secretary of State. Christopher Hitchens will be my Secretary of Education. Or maybe Rosie O’Donnell? George Eliot will be my Secretary of Education; I’ll have the Supreme Court find a way around the she’s-dead thing. Jane Austen can be Secretary of the Treasury. I’ll eliminate the Department of Homeland Security and in its place I’ll establish a Department of Petty Revenge–oh, wait. Okay, my dog A. will be my press secretary. And everyone who has ever displeased me had better watch the fuck out.
Through a complicated set of circumstances I may or may not choose to reveal, a few weeks ago I stole this book:
And let me tell you, it is fucked up.
Tomorrow I am required to turn in the corrected proofs for my upcoming book. This means that on my dining room table is essentially a low-tech, low-rent reproduction of what the text will look like when the physical book is released. The copy editor has already made her suggestions, and I’ve already accepted or rejected them, so this isn’t about correcting factual or orthographic errors in the manuscript (not that there were any, of course). This is about having another pair of eyes checking for formatting slips and any changes that were somehow overlooked. It’s also about my last chance to change anything, really. I mean, like, if in between now and printing I realized that the world would end if I didn’t change “angry” to “wroth” on page 135, I could do it, but if instead of the end of the world it would just cause Asia to sink into the sea, then it would have to stay “angry.”
So of course I am questioning every single choice I made.
I have spent the last five minutes, I’m not kidding, trying to decide whether in one instance I should change “the” to “his.”
Note that the instance I’m talking about is on page xiii–the penultimate page of the introduction–of a book that ends on page 255.
So I think I’m going to go take a nap.