2011-04-28 / Sam Bari

For the love of the written word

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand
By Sam Bari

A visit from Mr. Writer Person is long overdue. He has graced us with his presence to answer the piles of mail that I know you faithful readers intend to write, but want to give more thought to your profound and lofty questions.

One letter that arrived weeks ago from an anonymous writer who comes from an obscure town somewhere in the Midwest says: “I understand that many writers use pseudonyms, a nom de plume or pen name. What is the difference between them and why are they used?”

Mr. Writer Person: “All three mean the same thing. The author is using a fake name because he or she does not want readers to know the real name of the person responsible for writing their drivel.”

Anonymous also wants to know if using a pen name is a good idea, and if Mr. Writer Person thinks Cantaloupe Melonhead is an appropriate choice?

Mr. Writer Person: “In your case, I think using a pen name is a very good idea. Cantaloupe Melonhead is an appropriate choice if you’re considering making a living writing grocery lists for the chronically obese.

“However, Cantaloupe Melonhead is an excellent name for a zydeco band that plays in retirement homes for aging rockers who swallowed too much acid during their heyday in the 1960s. You should consider forming one if your writing career doesn’t work out.”

Harriet Fleawhistle of Gravelswitch Flats wants to know if being a columnist was a lifelong ambition of Mr. Writer Person.

Mr. Writer Person: “My lifelong ambition was to retire without ever having an actual job. A career as a columnist fit into my plans quite nicely.”

Morris Dweeble asks, “Exactly what is syntax? I never have understood the meaning of the word.”

Mr. Writer Person: “I used to think syntax was the misspelling of a term that referred to a fine paid for doing really bad things. However, I later learned that syntax is actually a real word that has something to do with sentence structure. I’m just not exactly sure what. If you find out, please let me know.”

Maureen Lipsod wants to know the difference between “train of thought” and “stream of consciousness.”

Mr. Writer Person: “It’s questions like this that make my brains hurt. After extensive research on the subject, I learned that train of thought is the way in which a conclusion is reached through reasoning, a novel concept at best. Stream of consciousness is a psychological term referring to a person’s thoughts and conscious reactions to events, perceived as a continuous flow.

“Stream of consciousness is also a literary style where a character’s thoughts, feelings and reactions are depicted in a continuous flow uninterrupted by objective description or conventional dialogue. Writers of the modernist movement initiated the use of this style.

“The James Joyce book ‘Ulysses’ is a good example. He wrote it without using traditional punctuation. Each section was written as one continuous sentence that went on for pages and finally ended with a period.

“The following is an excerpt from the book: ‘he didnt recognise me either when I half frowned at him outside Westland row chapel where does their great intelligence come in Id like to know grey matter they have it all’

“Many thought he was crazy. Then a few literary critics took the high road and said that those who didn’t understand Joyce’s brilliant creation were not sophisticated enough in their thinking to appreciate his genius.

“The scenario took on the mindset of the old tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes. People were praising Joyce’s work when they hadn’t the foggiest idea what he was talking about.

“Stream of consciousness can be written in a more conventional manner using standard punctuation. Just include all thoughts that lead to a conclusion through the subject’s line of logic or illogic.

“If a columnist were writing a political essay, his stream of consciousness might go something like this: Before I start with the actual writing, I’ll look for that half-eaten bag of Cheese Doodles I opened last night. Then I can do research on the candidates while I snack. I wonder if politicians eat Cheese Doodles. That might be an interesting point. I’ll pick up a six-pack to go with the Cheese Doodles. They probably do that when they write their speeches.”

Write to Mr. Writer Person with your literary questions and he will give you concise answers from a system he can’t understand.

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