Monthly Archives: April 2022

On Being a Bad Writer

For Christmas last year, my kind and considerate daughter-in-law gave me a book about writing, written by a real writer, Anne somebody.  I appreciated the gesture but started to wonder whether my daughter-in-law’s message was, “I’ve read what you write and find it hard to believe you have been getting away with this all these years.”

The thing is, I am a bad writer!  I admit it!  I have a friend who is a good writer but I suck!  One of my worst habits is using too many exclamation points!  But I just can’t stop myself!  Sometimes I use two of them at once!!

No, can’t write.  Sentence structure awful.  And, paragraphs.

Sometimes I start new paragraphs for no good reason.  Other times I will just keep writing the same paragraph with a brand new thought, like all the times I use the same word, such as times, multiple times in the same paragraph.  Any decent writer would spread some of those times around to other paragraphs.  But most times I don’t know better, since I am a bad writer times ten!

So there’s that about paragraphs and how they should be about just one thing, the thing the first sentence is about.  Good writers use vivid metaphors and similes.  I can’t write a metaphor to save my life.  Whenever I try to summon up a metaphor or simile, I just look longingly at the screen like a dumb dog that accidentally drops his treat down a hole and can’t retrieve it — he just stands there barking.  That’s me.  A dog without a metaphor.

I can’t use descriptive language either.  Every time I try to use adverbs, I sound like Yeats (or Keats, whatever his name was, I don’t know any of those poets and I never read their pusillanimous, cat-turd-in-the-lavender-patch elegies anyway) in a dank tavern reciting the most fetid, repellent, putrefactious, smell-o-vision examples of amateur literary spittle one can find outside of Scarsdale, New York.  Because that’s the kind of place Scarsdale is: Adverbs run for City Council in Scarsdale and, amazingly, sometimes win.

Being a bad writer, as you now know having read me up to this point, requires much more (or less) than having limited writing skills.  A crucial part of bad writing is having nothing interesting to say.  Just like at the mall the other day.  There was this guy walking around the mall, dusting benches and things.  I thought he was going to ask me to move, because I was sitting on the wall of some empty kiosk waiting for my spouse to finish her purchase at the Hallmark store.  But the guy just whiffed his duster over the bench next to me and then walked on by.  I didn’t have to move after all, so I just kept waiting.  Eventually my spouse showed up and we left, went home and had lunch.

Bad writing is also full of irrelevant material.  By the way, can you believe that guy in the mall gets a paycheck and he doesn’t have to write anything!  Not a thing!!

Good writers are concise and get to the point, but bad writers such as Yours Truly — and who calls himself that anymore?  Bad writers, that’s who!  Or whom!! — often lapse into run-on sentences, going on and on (and on!!!) about some such banal topic which is only noteworthy because someone noteworthy uttered some utterly forgettable remark about it, the noteworthiness being that the person happened to be an old drinking chum of the late Christopher Hitchens, the erudite, well-befriended and well-saturated author who selected those he fawned over with particular care, treating Salman Rushdie, to cite one example, like Edward Snowden only wished he had been treated, but Snowden had the misfortune to spring his leaks two years after Hitchens died and thus was denied Hitchens’ embrace, assuming that even would have happened or made a difference if it did.  Am I right?

Everyone can tell how much hours good writers spend on there writing, because they’re hardly antsy mistakes in it.  Grammer, spelling, punction, all perfect.  As hard as I try to write without making mistakes, one or two.  Always seem to excape my attention.  I think my main problem is, get a better spell-check software!

They also say that the good writers close with a strong, satisfying ending.

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Thoughts @ Large: 79

•  War crimes in Ukraine?  The war itself is a crime.

•  In 1984, the company named Apple introduced a personal computer named Macintosh which is the only variety of apple that Apple ever used as a product name.  Apple missed a golden (delicious) opportunity to call their AirTag tracking device Northern Spy.

•  I read very few novels, no doubt an adharma I will be asked to atone for in my next life.  With most novels, I tend to suffer from LCI, or Low Character IdentificationFor instance, in the last novel I read (Freedom by Jonathan Franzen), I felt no empathy for any of the characters, major or minor.  Their motives were pathetic: most were carnal, and each was more-or-less an exploitation of the people and opportunities that presented themselves.  This post-modern view of human motivation is apparently the new rule, not just in novels but in serial dramas (Breaking Bad) and films (Once Upon a Time in Hollywood).  Can a skillful writer no longer imagine a realistically decent, thoughtful, semi-heroic character without imbuing him/her with a host of dark qualities?  Has Batman killed Tom Hanks?

•  Nature Nugget No. 1:  Cardinals usually mate for life.  Nature Nugget No. 2:  On average, cardinals only live for three years.  Hmm.

•  It was the summer of 1969.  My years-long best friend Bill — of whom I’ve always meant to write an essay — and I were attending summer school at our Pennsylvania high school.  This was our school district’s one-and-only means of advanced placement: if you wanted to take, say, pre-calculus in 12th grade, you had to take trigonometry in the summer after 11th grade.

In any event, it was summer (as I said) and one day Bill decided to wear a preppy-looking v-neck knit shirt to school.  His teacher objected and Bill was sent back home to change, because of the v-neck collar.  It was summer, dammit.  And 1969, not 1869, though in our hometown it was often hard to tell.

•  On a recent stop in West Virginia, I heard for the first time someone use the possessive form of y’all (it was your’all).  Now I’m going to be on the lookout (hearout?) for our’all and their’all.

•  On this day in 46 B.C., Roman Emperor Julius Caesar looked into his mirror and thought, “Have they invented these yet?”

•  Speaking of ancient days, it’s hard to believe that it was once common for restaurants to prepare Caesar salads tableside.  My spouse and I recall them — especially the one that we watched our server (also our back-door neighbor) prepare with his bandaged finger.

•  Here’s one from the “been thought of already” chronicles.  I came up with the phrase “Armed and Beautiful” and thought it might be a good title for a NRA-type country song.  Well, it turns out that this was in fact the title of a 2006 hip-hop EP by Roger Robinson.  Before that, it was the title of a 2005 photograph by Sandie Yi.  Before that, well, nothing.  Here, I figured the phrase “armed and dangerous” would have inspired all sorts of “armed and…” variations in popular culture.  For example, if I had a gun fetish, I could have titled this column Armed and Thoughtful.  Which, unsurprisingly, hasn’t been used.

•  Onions spoil every dish they are in, except onion rings.

•  I’m torn on what to title a future essay.  Would it be better to say, The New York Times Should Not or Does Not Define American Liberalism?


The rings inside this weathered tree
mark every cloud passed over me

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You may have heard of Madison Cawthorn, 26, the man who currently “represents” those who live in North Carolina’s 11th Congressional District, which includes me.  Our district is not very diverse (86% white) and not overly educated (about 25% have a college degree vs. 35% nationally).  Consequently, people like Mark Meadows (you may have heard of him too) and Madison Cawthorn typically have a smooth ride to Congress from these parts.

But this election year, our district’s borders have been redrawn, which — combined with Cawthorn’s well-publicized travails — has attracted a number of challengers for his seat.  That means a Republican primary looms, with Cawthorn trying to fend off his main rival, State Senator and NRA member Chuck Edwards.  Edwards, owner of several McDonalds in the area, is the self-proclaimed champion of “mountain values” which in our mountains implies opposition to “open borders” (read Hispanic immigration), “liberal energy and climate change experiments” and, of course, Critical Race Theory.

Though Cawthorn leads in the polls, Edwards’ challenge has led Cawthorn to try to induce amnesia in mountain voters.  He wants us to forget: his support for the January 6 rioters; his disdain for Ukraine’s “thug” president; his attempt to board a plane with a loaded gun in his carry-on; his driving with a revoked license, twice; his alleged invitation to orgies in the capital; his twisting the stories of the car crash that crippled him and his rejection by the Naval Academy.  You can look it all up — the internet remembers even if voters forget.

Cawthorn’s amnesia strategy involves something I don’t recall him doing explicitly in his 2020 campaign, that is, using his handicapped status to pander to voters.  While Cawthorn did use his car crash as a false excuse for not attending Naval Academy, that seemed more like lying than sympathy-seeking.  But one look at this Cawthorn campaign sign installed on the median of US 25/70 near Weaverville shows that he has now gone full-tilt pander:

Madison Cawthorn campaign sign depicting man in wheelchair -- chcollins.com 4/19/2022

Cawthorn’s new primary campaign symbol is not a flag — or a cracked Capitol dome — but a white man in a wheelchair.  Who could vote against “Ironside” Cawthorn, the white man in the wheelchair?

Surely, a white man in a wheelchair had to surmount many more life-challenges than, say, an ordinary Joe (or Chuck in this case) who went from flipping burgers to owning his own chain of McDonalds.  At least that’s the message I think Cawthorn wants to sell us here.

I hope Cawthorn does win the Republican primary, as I believe that a Democrat would fare better against him than against other Republicans in November.  My premise is, Cawthorn will lose more votes due to the wing-nut factor than he stands to gain as a Trump suck-up or as a pitiful — but not pitied — young man.

On the other hand, one should never underestimate the power of mountain values in the little state I live in.

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