sayings

The Bleeding Edge

a flash-fiction piece

Around the conference hall, 500 people sat taking in the identical image on each of 500 tablets: a circular red button upon a plain white field.

“This, ladies and gentlemen,” said the white coated speaker from the stage, “is the Bleeding Edge! It is so out there that no one, not even the developers, know what will happen when anyone hits that button!”

Pausing for effect, he allowed the audience’s murmur to build and subside before continuing in softer tones,

“It may be something good, or something… not so good.”

There followed a haunting silence as they considered the meaning, then a figure from about the middle, and slightly to the right, stood up brandishing their tablet and stabbed dramatically at the red button with an outstretched digit. There was a gasp! But then nothing seemed to happen.

“Ha!” exclaimed the individual and, throwing down the tablet, added, “Bleeding waste of time and money.”

At that precise quantum moment, the star of a distant solar system exploded, casting its planets far and wide, and setting one of its smaller satellites on a direct trajectory for Earth. It would take 3,000 millennia to reach its tragic destination, though by then, no one will remember the event in the hall, much less the name of the one responsible for pressing the button.

Even so, questions will be asked.


written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge #86 – “Bleeding Edge”.

The term, The Bleeding Edge, is a new one to me. It means the very forefront of technological development, even ahead of the “cutting edge”. It is thought to be so far ahead that its consequences are uncertain.

The image above is for illustration purposes only. Please, on no account press it.

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Ivory Towers

“I have always tried to live in an ivory tower, but a tide of shit is beating at its walls, threatening to undermine it.”

wrote the French writer, Gustave Flaubert, in a letter to the Russian author, Ivan Sergeyevich Turgenev. Thanks to Lit.hub.com, a blog I follow, for this quote.

It’s a timely quote as it does reflect a sense of the world I see today.

I was interested in the term Ivory Tower. It isn’t literally a tower made from ivory but refers to the colour. A symbolic colour of noble purity, Wikipedia tells us. It is mentioned in The Song of Solomon, part of the Old Testament; “Your neck is like an ivory tower”. Quite a long neck, then, and in no literal sense being an abode.

But it probably didn’t originate in the O.T. and its use is found littered throughout time.

Modern usage has modified its sense to convey the idea of a person isolated from common experiences rather than, as Flaubert probably had it, simply striving to live a more virtuous or meaningful life. Of course, in his case, no doubt he sees the average person’s preferences as being part of the “shit”.

Social media has provided the platform for free speech and democratic expression from all quarters of the free world. People say what they want. Is it fair to regard any of it as “shit”? The trouble is, I suppose, this idea of “the will of the people”; is this today’s “shit” that’s beating at the walls, the utter certainty and determination of the plebiscite?


The picture is an altered image of Broadway Tower which is near here. It is actually built in Cotswold limestone which has turned a beautiful, deep and mellow honey colour with time, something which is peculiar to the Cotswold stone around about the county of Worcestershire, in the north west of the area.

Picaresque

“When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him.”

(Jonathan Swift from “Thoughts on Various Subjects, Moral and Diverting”)

Do you ever go on a Google Safari?

This may look like a conjoining of two popular search engine names but really my meaning is the popular and ubiquitous meaning of the first word and the literal meaning of the second.

So, it may start by recalling a phrase or quotation or, in this instance, a title of a book, and I’m curious as to its origin or context or literal meaning. The book is the only work published by the author, John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.

This was a book I’d judged by the title back in – whoa! the 1990s, I reckon, when Penguin issued a series of modern classic novels at an introductory bargain price. I wasn’t disappointed.

The phrase used for the title came to mind this morning after reading the news, but in particular the readers’ comments which are invited below many of the news items. I will admit that I have commented on items myself though I hope I haven’t been typical of these commenters. It’s a healthy sign of freedom and democracy that we are allowed to express ourselves publicly even if we wrongly equate our opinion with that of the author’s. A moment’s thought would tell any reasonable person how wrong this is likely to be so they might discard their certainty before going in search of the truth. Yet vanity and pride overwhelm, so generally people will choose ignorance over correcting themselves.

So, discovering the title comes from Jonathan Swift rather than The Holy Bible or Shakespeare, and being happy with that, I find a term I wasn’t familiar with but ought to be: Picaresque.

Essentially, Picaresque is a literary genre which deals with the lovable rogue, in particular someone from the lower orders in society, though in a broader sense anyone swimming against the popular tide. I love this genre and find such persons, whether fictitious or real, interesting.

In human nature, I feel there must be a “gene” which compels us to move with the herd. You can see its possible “evolutionary advantage”, can’t you? The downside is, amongst other things, people are informed by a narrow section of news outlets – somewhat bias driven for cynically commercial reasons, we get hemmed in by “party politics” – mostly self-serving and unrepresentative of ordinary citizen’s needs or views, and a largely out-of-date and devalued education.


The author, John Kennedy Toole’s life story is a sad one. Having written A Confederacy of Dunces – a brilliant and funny debut novel, I thought – he failed to get a publisher interested in it. He suffered depression and took his own life at the age of 31.

It was his mother, an influential figure throughout his life though not always a welcome one, who championed the novel in her son’s memory and eventually had it published. Later, Toole was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It reads like a good story in its own right and although there is a play, I don’t know if anyone’s made or thought of making a film of it.

Though the Safari could’ve gone on, I chose to end it there.

Learning the Language of Literature

I think this is an interesting post on Lit Hub, I blog I follow. It’s an excerpt from a book by copy editor, Benjamin Dreyer, an “utterly correct guide to clarity and style”. How many of the bad habits he cites do you make?

(Hey, I initially typed how many of his bad habits do you make?)

As bloggers, I don’t suppose we have to worry too much about correct style and grammar, though clarity is still important. Blogging is more about social media, less about literature. Yet I always maintain the old saw that if a thing is thought worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

I honestly don’t know how well I’m doing but I do try. Notwithstanding that I went to school – a grammar school, to boot – my confidence in my English is frail. I’m not in possession of an extensive vocabulary, my spelling can be atrocious and lessons in grammar have for the most part been informal.

One thing I tend to do now which I never did when I started writing is edit with intent. This can correct many of the silly mistakes and run a sanity check – or clarity check – on the piece, but also it makes me question what I’ve done with grammar, especially tense. Man, I have a real concern with tenses. It’s like operating a machine without a manual, it seems to work but is it working the way it’s intended to?

Also, I’m learning to tighten things up. My venture into flash fiction prompts with word count limits has made me aware of this. The irrelevances, the tautologies and repetition, the pointless adverbs, the inconsequential detail. A rose smells sweet but if there isn’t a nose to appreciate this, why mention it?

Catching the Light Again

“…it wastes my time like an old friend.”

A beautiful turn of phrase, I think.

Thanks to Edmark at Learn Fun Facts, a blog I follow, for posting a letter from William Dean Howells to his friend, Mark Twain, in 1875, concerning difficulties he had trying out a new type-writer.

Click on the link above for the full transcript and more goodies.


image from Pexels.com

And here’s my earlier post mentioning Catching the Light.

Views on Writing: Catching the Light

Clive James wrote of writing that it was turning a phrase until it catches the light.

When I read – and when I write, though this is a late experience and I’m still on the nursery slopes – too often I’m not noticing the glint of light. This is made more obvious when I consider those times when the light appears brilliantly, and it’s as if something magical is happening. It’s quite often an opening paragraph or an introduction to something, and it’s usually quite simple, precise, colourful and concise.

Following a path towards an understanding of Reena’s Exploration Challenge this week, I googled the name Kosho Uchiyama Rōshi. He was a Zen Buddhist monk in 20th century Japan, a master of origami, and an exponent of zazen, literally “sitting”, a method of meditation devised by the Zen master, Eihei Dōgen.

I follow his name in turn and find this passage on zazen attributed to him,

“I have not visited many Zen monasteries. I simply, with my master Tendo, quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. I cannot be misled by anyone anymore. I have returned home empty-handed.

I quietly verified that the eyes are horizontal and the nose is vertical. This is a phrase that catches the light.

Family Dynamics

They say that Blood is Thicker than Water. I don’t know why that’s important because Treacle is thicker than Blood and it’s a darn sight tastier.

My family lived in a cupboard. Well, that isn’t strictly true. We lived in a full house; if someone opened the front door, we’d all fall out into the street. It was like a cupboard, and we were like the tins of treacle, preserves, beans and all kinds of things you might put in a cupboard that’s useful.

We were a very useful family. Dad would make things, Mum would bake things, Gramps would rake things, and I would break things. I was the most useful because I’d give the others something to do.

(120 words)


Inspired by Joelle’s Tales: Tell Me A Tale In Exactly 120 Words – “Family Dynamics”

Patience

Patience is a virtue

We go back to the 5th Century when Prudentius is composing his epic poem, Psychomachia, the Battle of Spirits. The adversary of Patience in his allegory is Anger. Anger is the aggressor, attacking the presumably passive Patience but to no avail. Patience resists and endures. Frustrated, Anger calls it a day, slopes away and takes his own life. It’s a tale to ponder if ever you’re stuck in traffic or find yourself behind a nuisance ditherer.

Patience is of interest to the hypothetical time traveller: it is closely associated with the human perception of time passing. Impatience stretches time while patience condenses it. Harnessing these virtue-vices could be of use to anyone thinking of developing a basic time machine, the advantage being no mechanical parts are utilised.


I was introduced to the Grinchen Pear some decades ago, its tree a species now sadly extinct. In the ancient civilisation of Molvernea, the Grinchen tree was both its national emblem and a symbol of Patience. Orchards of Grinchen were planted in a matrix of Seven trees by Six, each being no more than Three feet apart. The trees themselves grew slow and straight, and bore no fruit until mature, a progress which reputedly took an indeterminate number of Summers.

Though this is not what set the Grinchen apart. Its peculiarity was that at its maturity, it produced only a single fruit. Whether it went on to produce a fruit the following year, or may even have increased its yield, no living person knows as, for millennia, the royal decree was that the tree, following fruiting, must be cut down.

The wood of the first flowering Grinchen tree made the finest Oved, a lute-like instrument with an incredibly sweet harmonic. But it was the Pear which was most desirable, the exquisite first born of the tree and never sweeter than the very moment it fell naturally from the bough. It was said that the person who tasted the flesh of it soonest after its fall would never see a minutiae of misfortune and live a life of supreme grace.

And so it was, when a boy of Molvernea came of age, he was sent to the an orchard with a carved Grinchen dish to sit and wait, a test of his moral character and virtue. No distraction must cause him to fail else he remain as a child for a further year, a year which may have seemed to him much longer than most.


Written for Reena’s Exploration Challenge – Week 57 – Patience.

In pursuit of happiness

I see there’s a trend for saying happiness isn’t something that can be pursued or sought. You have to let go of that idea and somehow happiness will happen, all by itself.

That sounds too much like waiting at any arbitrary bus stop and expecting a bus to arrive eventually bearing the destination, Never-Neverland.

I think maybe the problem is Happiness is not really understood and no one actually knows how to achieve it and there are always those who, for esteem or money, or possibly both, will persuade you into buying their magic roadmap. Like the old Irish joke about tourists asking a local man for directions, he always tells them, “Well now, I wouldn’t advise you to be setting off from here”.

So what is Happiness, assuming it actually exists, assuming it’s one thing, and common to all sensibilities?

I wonder, hypothetically of coirse, whether God is happy. Not He of the Abrahamic faiths for sure, at least not most of the time judging by the holy books. Curmudgeonly, disappointed and dissatisfied, it paints a likely portrait of the archetypal Perfectionist creator (see earlier post). Not a happy being, perhaps.

But if He is Happy, could it be down to His omniscience? How can we ever know that? But at the opposite end of the spectrum, we believe in the happiness of childhood, the age of innocence and naivety. Ignorance is bliss, we hear.

Consider Thomas Gray’s poem, Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College. Apparently, Gray was never happier than when he was at school, though ironically a place he was sent to to learn stuff. Here’s the end lines where he gives us the famous phrase,

To each his sufferings: all are men,
Condemn’d alike to groan—
The tender for another’s pain,
Th’ unfeeling for his own.
Yet, ah! why should they know their fate,
Since sorrow never comes too late,
And happiness too swiftly flies?
Thought would destroy their Paradise.
No more;—where ignorance is bliss,
‘Tis folly to be wise.

Who knows? Philosophy is folly or a consolation, or salvation, in an inescapable process of loss of innocence; it’s not easy unknowing the things we know by the process of simply living in a complicated societal world. So should you give up? Not on your nelly, I think.


Ode on a Distant Prospect of Eton College

Grinding gears

I’m having difficulty finding good films on Youtube now so I’ve ended up watching episodes of Lewis, the Inspector Morse spin-off – though more of a sequel really. Anyway, I’ve just watched the episode, Wild Justice, where Inspector Lewis’s sidekick, Sergeant Hathaway, is shown to have a gear-grinding issue over misplaced apostrophes. You know the thing; “Freshly Picked Pea’s & Bean’s” etc. As Lewis remarks in a subsequent scene, once it’s pointed out, you start to notice them everywhere.

One of my gear-grinding, “misplaced apostrophe” issues is, I’m sorry to say, inclined sea horizons.

Now I realise sometimes a camera held at a jaunty angle is intended to produce an interesting effect, and I have used this technique myself, but you can tell when intention is the case and when it’s not, and when it’s not the case, and the image is posted by someone identifying himself, or herself, as a photographer, then you should be able to hear my gears grinding from the opposite side of the world. I apologise for the noise.

I then wondered what else I am afflicted with and it didn’t take long to find it is banal quotations or sayings. Now I’m on thin ice here as I may be guilty of doing this myself and being hypocritical. But you know the kind of thing, “The pen is mightier than the sword” (this seems frequently popular with writers for obvious reasons). Yes, unless you find yourself in hand-to-hand combat, then my tenner is on the swordsman every time. I get this automatic image, a scene not unlike the one in Crocodile Dundee, where a man whips out a biro and someone else shouts, “Look! He’s got a pen!” to which our Crocodile Dundee responds, “Nah, that’s not a pen….”.

(I’m sure you can imagine the rest of this imaginary movie scene.)


For “Grinding Gears”, I am indebted to the late Chris Hughes, a blogger I used to enjoy reading before his departure from the world. Sadly, the blog went with him though not, I’m guessing, by his will. We would all hope our words will survive, in perpetuity, though the web sometimes has other ideas.

It was through one of his posts that I was introduced to the expression, “Grinding Gears”, borrowed from the TV cartoon series, Family Guy. Thanks, Chris.