John Grindrod: Trying to embrace brevity

First Posted: 9/30/2014

As a lifelong member of SPL (the Society for the Propagation of Loquaciousness), I know quite a bit about long-windedness. It’s an ingrained trait from which I have never run when it is brought to my attention that, yes, I like to talk, and if I can’t do it verbally, well, I can certainly find a pen somewhere! Even my old columnist colleague Bart Mills, whose Thursday’s rants used to follow mine before he graduated from the institution on Elida Road several months ago and went off to seek his fortune, pointed it out in a column once upon a time.

Well, I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but in the last couple of months, at the urgings of a couple of those wonderful folks that all writers embrace called editors who nose around in their copy, I’ve diligently tried to practice brevity, what The Bard himself saw as a virtue. Yes, it was that Shakespeare fellow who had Polonius say in Hamlet: “Brevity is the soul of wit and tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes.”

While my columns that used to run on the back of the front page often approached 1,000 words, I’ve been trying to get my weekly business done in, as instructed, 750 or less and actually have been succeeding at it. Simply put, my longwinded ways, at least in my columns, are gone, like so many of those shed Marie Osmond pounds.

Like most loudmouths, my penchant for not knowing when to shut up traces its roots to childhood. Often, it manifested itself when I was trying to develop some credible discourse with my parents as to why I was being treated far more unfairly than my goody-two-shoes sister, Joan, who misdeeds were so infrequent compared to mine that there is still some discussion as to whether they even existed!

That early compulsion to keep talking when I was told to, as Archie Bunker used to say, “stifle,” was a trait inherited by my lovely first-born Shannon, who, during her teenage years when, like most teens who often have found themselves occasionally taken to task, I don’t really think she liked me all that much, could never resist firing a final salvo over her shoulder on the way up to her room after a grounding. The retort always came on the heels of my attempt at a proactive but always ineffectual admonition, “Don’t say it!”

How well I remember during my teaching years some of the expressions on my students’ faces, notably those who had trouble expanding their compositional work on different theses. On directions day, I would tell them I wanted no less than 1,000 words on, say, Crane’s use of color as symbolism in the short story “The Open Boat” or some other topic. Many sat before me in a state of slack-jawed incredulity, as if I just asked them to write a composition that approximated the length of the Gutenberg Bible.

However, for folks of my ilk, we can give you 1,000 words on the merits of tying your shoes! We can talk or write to the point where you may very well look down and discover that both your legs have fallen prey to that old saw about those people who can talk your leg off.

However, that was the old me. I’m getting my business done quicker these days. My hope is, even with fewer words, I can still give you enough vivid imagery, perhaps a well-chosen figure of speech, a laugh, a pleasant recollection about what the world used to look like when John and Jackie still ruled Camelot or a thought about some topic (but not so much, since I think it’s been proven too much thinking gives you a headache) to make your time with me worthwhile.

But, when you see me, don’t expect too much when it comes to this whole brevity business. There’s a Latin expression that I recall from my high school Latin days, Sumus quod sumus, which translated, means, “We are what we are.” Paraphrasing a more folksy expression, I guess you might say it’s just hard for us loud-mouthed leopards to change our spots!