Long is Lame

As soon as my first blogpost, on nothing really, was out, I was swamped with feedback. Most of it was good because it came from friends and acquaintances, who probably wanted to be nice. Notwithstanding the element of familial obligation and courtesy in these texts, I was perked up – seemed like I had arrived on the literary firmament. Having sent the customary thankyous, obsessed as I was with my silly first blog, I got down to some sifting. Didn’t take me too long to discern that each of the missives had one common thread – my sentences were too long. Some said they had to be read twice to get the sense. Others were not so kind. I was acutely aware of this shortcoming (‘long’coming, more aptly) and had made a passing mention of the malady in my ibid blog. However, the feedback suggested that the problem needed to be addressed post haste.

So I did some soul searching and complemented it with another kind of search, more common these days …. Google search. While soul search drew a blank, Google helped. I found a few interesting facts – the longest English sentence, which stood at 1288 words till 1983 was later surpassed by a sentence by novelist Jonathan Coe in “The Rotter’s Club” which had a 33 page-long 13,955 word sentence. Talk of long sentences existing only in the mind! I wonder if these were literary stunts to get into the record books, an expression of life-long angst, a way to get back at the English teacher or a purging of the soul. As far as the last goes, I would believe that this was purging of every purgeable part of the anatomy. It was evisceration.

But soul or body, it gave me heart. I was in august company. Of course, my longest was only 64 words, so I had some catching up to do. Maybe I would eventually get there with practice….if I could add another 13,891 words, I could be a contender for podium finish in the field of sentence length. But given the adverse feedback, I thought going with short could yet save the day for me… give my fledgling blogging career a leg up, maybe.

The shortest sentence in the English language is one word, two letters :”Do.” (or, “No.”, or “Go.”). So there is a wide range, array if you will, from 1 to 13955 words to choose from. Popular opinion favours the short sentence. Creative Writing experts never tire of belabouring the virtues of the short, crisp sentence.Essayists and Englit students vie with each other to say more in less. Brevity seems not only to be the soul of wit, but the ticket to literary greatness. With my appallingly long and wordy sentences, I was just not there.

It would appear, ipso facto, that contemporary English writing has no place for long sentences, which reflect, inter alia, the confused state of mind of the writer and of course inability to connect with the reader. So where does that leave long, ghoulish sentence-makers like me? Out in the cold, I would imagine. And what of friend Coe, he of the 13955 word monstrosity? I guess he could forever be in deep freeze.

I recall mentioning in my one-blog old writing career that I have taken to writing not because I nurture notions of literary greatness, but possibly because it has missed me by a mile. Even as I unabashedly chase that chimera, the long and short of it seems to be the debate between long and short. Clearly short is winning.

So I have decided to take the antidote to stop my word diarrhoea. Can’t say if it will work, given that the ailment is chronic. As is my wont, I put the idea, along with this write-up to the wife, weary under the effects of my new found avocation and its fallout : the put-on demeanour , my accompanying aplomb and swagger. She remarked with her usual disdain, that I could churn up nothing even half good. This evinced me to retort, tongue-in-cheek : “That’s why I have named my blogspot, ‘nothingmuch‘”. While on word play, in the league of catchy, alliterative tag lines like Bold is Beautiful, and in deference to the victory of the short sentence, I conceded – Long is Lame, Short is Sure.

Long live Short.

Blogging Blues of a Services Scribbler

Military Intelligence is an oxymoron – I am not the first to say so, though I wish I was. This notwithstanding, whenever I wanted to utter this witticism while in service, I was afraid: some full-of-himself General or Admiral may take exception and subject me to a harangue on how inept I was,who the hell did I think I was, what did I know about the military, or intelligence for that matter. All of it true. So I shut the hell up and went on for 37 years, smug in the tedium & banality of military life, all the while believing that wisdom is the sole preserve of seniority. All through service I also nurtured that wily hope that someday I will get the chance to get my own back.

Then came retirement. Contrary to the commonly held belief that it shackles you and puts you in the back foot, it liberated me – gave me wings. I am still afraid, but not so much of the military, as much as, say, of detractors in the family : the daughter an English Hons graduate from LSR who avers, all the way from USA, with the unabashed abandon and dismissiveness of the millennial, that I rig up incomprehensibly long winded and disjointed sentences, which make no sense. The son, who as a budding writer for a website, earning his living off 400 worders, and the new-found intellectual hubris that such accomplishments bring, scoffs at my feeble attempts at writing. The wife (who, in any case was right up there in the fear department), makes no pretenses and can barely hide her disdain at what she feels is an attempt at reaching out to a wider audience with my inanities,of which, for 30 years, she was the sole recipient and victim. So these shadowy figures lurk behind the curtains as I make my foray into the world of blogging , now that I am out of the olive greens.

The daughter’s apprehensions vis a vis long winded sentences, sadly, have already been vindicated if you read the last para. Those of my other exalted household hounders, will too, in time, even more sadly. Made of sterner stuff, I however soldier on. Takes more than veiled criticism to stop a determined, retired old military fogey, who seems to have consigned himself to self destruction and is hell bent on having an ego ride. So if you are bold, you are reading this blog, at pain of suffering and tribulation.

As a first-time blogger, despite my show of nonchalance and indifference, I admit to a degree of trepidation. I ask myself what entitles me to express myself on a public platform where so many with impeccable literary credentials and claims to scholarship occupy pride of place. No answers are forthcoming, except perhaps a latent desire to be read, fuelled by a misplaced belief that you too can string up an odd good turnover and titillate more than a few uninitiated literary palates. Long years as a senior in a uniformed service, where most of what you say or write draws canned approbation from fawning subordinates does that to you.

But it can’t be only that: you certainly are not so naive, as a two star General, to believe that the adulation of starry eyed juniors, when you enjoyed all authority, can be a trigger to launch yourself into a writing career. I put this poser to the wife, who with barely concealed disdain and eagerness to get me off her back, remarked that it would be good for all in the family if I were to engage in something creative, rather than barking instructions from a chair all day, as if the household were my command. So bingo! I finally settle for ‘creative outlet’ – yes, a destructive man, in the evening of his life, suddenly discovers the virtues of creation. That looks good.

But how do I overcome the poverty of thought, bankruptcy of ideas, lack of aptitude and of course the deficiency of language skills? Literary pursuits are alien to me and the closest I ever got to writing was when I had to draft three-line replies as a young adjutant for my second in command; of course before the cursed draft could reach that worthy, the head-clerk fed it to the trash can, already overfilled with my masterpieces and re-did the whole thing. In later service life, my literary efforts were further reduced to writing inane remarks on files, letters and drafts, which I suspect no one understood and fewer cared for. So the antecedents were just not there. I therefore fear this blog may meet a similar fate ; however I draw solace from the fact that there are no e-trashcans where this can be dumped… despite its lack of merit and literary appeal it will dwell and float in cyber space, not unlike space debris, which floats up there, but has no use, except a debilitating one of causing harm to useful objects orbiting in spatial harmony .

As someone said, you either start out of fear of failure or hope of success. While in my case FoF screams out loud and tells me to go back to my armchair instruction-barking, with my undying optimism, I go with HoS. So dear reader, the less than handful of you (mercifully you can’t be in decimals), as I make this maiden and wry attempt at humour and penmanship (or should it be keyboard-manship now?), brace yourself for more. Make no mistake however: not all military writers are dumb – its only I who enjoys unchallenged monopoly in that domain.

So, as they say, watch this space: but don’t say you were not forewarned.