Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Short Story Long

      A long time ago I developed the annoying habit of constantly saying in conversation: “to make a long story short”, when trying to describe something or relate an incident.  Sometimes I spout the full formula; others I just say “long story short”, then launch into an over-elaborate recitation.  

          (By  way of background, I've had occasion lately to tell the story about a former boss of mine who tried to correct this approach by telling me: “Curtis, I asked you what time it was; I didn't ask you how to make a watch.”

        This summer, when Jane and I began exchanging letters for the first time I noticed that she had also adopted this usage, although more charmingly than I, when trying to record day-to-day summer camp history.  I assume this is an example of what child development experts call “nurture.”  (For this I say, "sorry, Jane.")


        I was considering the matter a couple of weeks ago (before reading Jane’s first “long story short”, as it happened), while gorgeous Sunday morning driving in cool winds after hard Hudson Valley rains, and it occurred to me that life was actually mostly “short story long.”

        That is to say, events really do unfold in foreshortened, curious, semi-coincidental short story-like sequences.  We predictably and unconsciously then assign various levels and degrees of precedence and irony to the elements (as we categorize things to keep them in some sort of meaningful order), and after that they persist our entire waking and sleeping lives, revisiting us as separate, discrete, unintegrated strands of memory.  Ergo, cognitive consonance, dissonance or utter chaos, depending on the individual.

    I greatly admire novelists, epic-length poets and composers, and visual artists who create large-scale paintings and sculpture programs filled with figures and incident.  They demonstrate much that is great about human potential. (However, someone once wrote about James Michener’s latest best-seller: “Don’t read it and don’t drop it on your foot”, which I think is fair.)

       But poets writing shorter poems, short story masters, pop song composers, small-scale easel painters and recipe writers generally appeal to me more.


        There is power in compression and compression is an illusion.

        It all stretches out.  I don’t know why.


1.  Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace, 1869.
2.  Girard-Perregaux rose-gold wristwatch, 1945
3.  Ivan Turgenev, A Sportsman's Sketches, 1852.
4.  Theodore Gericault, The Raft of the Medusa, 1818-19. 
5.  Richard Wagner, The Ring of the Nibelung, 1848-74.
6.  John Cage, 4' 33", 1952.
7.  Tom Clark, Stones, 1968.
8.  The Kinks, The Kink Kontroversy, 1965.
9.  Piet Mondrian, Composition With Red, Yellow and Blue, 1921. 

10.  Music Link: Buffalo Springfield, On The Way Home (1968)


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