This blog combines two interests of mine that are unrelated—except that they both involve analyses of story-telling. I don’t pretend that they belong together. I am putting them side by side, post by post, on an irregular basis, simply to see what happens.
My interest in language as behavior (rather than as we normally think of it, as something that simply describes the world) began quite abruptly back in early 2005. That was when I discovered a relatively new kind of talk therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or ACT.
Last night in the essays class I teach at NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies, the subject of ellipses came up. In a story, an ellipsis consists of leaving something out. The “something” can be anything from a few words to entire events. Unless we are reading quite technically, we usually only notice an ellipsis when it goes wrong—when the gap seems awkward or omits information we’re looking for. But when an ellipsis goes right, especially at the level of a sentence or a phrase, it can produce prose that is wonderfully economical and far more enjoyable than if the writer had told all.
Reading the excerpt below makes me think of how difficult yet rewarding it must be to peel and eat a durian, that strange fruit found only in southeast Asia, and guarded by not only a foul odor but a thick husk of thorns. The excerpt comes from an essay by the science fiction writer, literary critic, and teacher Samuel R. Delaney; the title is “Of Doubts and Dreams” and it can be found in a thorny volume by Delaney titled About Writing.
I picked a friend up from the bus stop the other day to drive them up to the art colony run by my girlfriend. This friend asked how I was doing, and being in a self-deprecating but decent mood I said something I hoped was witty: “Oh, smelly, grouchy, and broke, but I’m okay.”
My friend’s ears pricked up at the sound of the word “broke.” Being a singer-songwriter, she too is a struggling artist—like so many of us up here in Woodstock—and thus no stranger to the dilemma of how to make money from what you love without necessarily being at the top of your field. Her own solution of late has been to enthusiastically believe in the so-called Law of Attraction. So when she heard “broke,” she instantly concluded that (a) I probably was broke, but more importantly (b) I was thinking the kind of negative thoughts that would keep me broke forever.