Monday, February 11, 2008

Mad Dog (That Froth! Those Lips!)

I have to admit that I rather enjoy lecturing when I am enfeebled by a cold but simultaneously rekindled by much coffee, many aspirin, those funny little Chinese pills my wife swears by and the body's natural pushback when your head is melting down through your nasal passages.

One is somehow elevated in mood, almost giddy, filled with little jokes, some sotto voce, many incomprehensible. It is at those moments that one wishes one actually were a campus icon and a living treasure, and thus the little weirdnesses would be -- distilled by time and blended with nostalgia -- something for the youth to savor later on, when they look back on college days as an escape from the gray world of the life as a salaryperson.

"The old boy was fun -- in his way," they might say. Or write. Today one of the things I talked about was the various ways in their writing to pause for emphasis.

"I disliked him," she said. "That's why I shot him."

The placement of the attribution is proper because it quickly identifies the speaker. It also is a kind of dramatic pause setting up the kicker at the end as an actor would punch a line. A dash can do the same I told them. And, indeed, sometimes one might even write:

"I disliked him." She paused. "That's why I shot him."

But did she really pause, I mean, more than a period's worth? Everything about feature writing is temptation. That's why I loved it so because I was vain about my honesty and strong in my love of La Fact Juste.

Of course, that's why I was merely a very good feature writer rather than a great one.

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