Sunday, January 11, 2009

It Takes a Long Time to Write Short, If You Insist on Writing Well

If I had the time I would look up the Mark Twain and the John Kenneth Galbraith quotes on how much time it takes to write a brief bit of prose that is artful and casual and irresistible and seems to have dropped from one's fingers with the inevitability and the haste of an autumn leaf in a high wind.

It takes time to write something good that seems not to have taken time.

And it's not just pimping the style -- or making the style lose the porkpie hat, the bling and fur coat; some of us run our style the way a pimp runs his whores with as much taste and contribution to the public good -- that takes the time, it's figuring out if something one says is worth saying and pruning or discarding if it isn't.

Succinctly said is often not succinctly done. And that's why I haven't posted since Wednesday. On Thursday walking around Lake Merritt and talking to E. on the cell, I saw three helicopters hovering over the downtown side of Lake Merritt, all of them quite high up.

I didn't know why they were there. After getting off the phone with E., I turned on my walking radio and discovered they were there in response to the killing of a young black man at the Fruitvale BART station by a BART cop earlier in the week, a shooting death in the style of an execution even if that wasn't the intent. A protest had turned violent the night before, and that's why the helicopters were there, and (I gather) the police were massed nearby.

Well, I've got to write about that, I thought. But it seemed that anything worth saying would take a long time to consider, draft, tweak and finally post. I didn't have the time to *invest*, I thought.

Now, days after the event, I am writing as much out of penance as of need, though I still lack the time to even begin to do justice to my confusion. So I will think one thought, modestly cast as a question, and leave it.

I don't think this kind of violence -- all against property -- moves things in a useful direction. I don't *think* so. I concede it could be three-cushion shot, and the chain of cause-and-effect could be long, and if you are an anarchist with Phoenix dreams about violence that begets more violence and is a first step toward burning it all down so we can do better, then it's all good, as the kids say.

Maybe. Time passes, definitions blur, accounts diverge, the powerful control the narrative, and talking about how blood and anger bring peace becomes an academic exercise, right?

But it does make me wonder -- again -- about the demonstrations, violent and otherwise, in the Sixties and early Seventies. What did they, at last, accomplish? Did they shorten the war and show us the way? Did they give us Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes? And you know what those folk gave us.

I'm of the opinion Obama thinks the antiwar demonstrations gave us Nixon, Reagan and the Bushes, which is not a good thing no matter how you spin it.

Doesn't matter what he thinks. Matters what I think. And at this point in my wondering, I conclude it would be more useful to read 37 good books on the topic and have 72 conversations with my acquaintances who were in the thick of it and didn't twist into conservatives as a result.

And, then two or three years from now, I have a footnote to this post.
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