Spence Green

التكرار يعلم الحمار

I work at Lilt. In addition to computers and languages, my interests include travel, running, and scuba diving. more...

Archive for the ‘Composition’ Category

Free Speech

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Is free speech free? For a moment consider this question independent of politics and economics and law. As a human being, are you free to express yourself absent some social cost? Of course not. And this certainty has inspired some reflection recently:

I can’t mention success because I will look arrogant.
I can’t admit failure because I will look weak.
I can’t really ask stupid questions because people will think I’m stupid.
I can’t show too much enthusiasm without appearing glib.
I can’t despair because that’s a treatable medical condition.
I can’t dress carelessly because I’ll look unprofessional.
I can’t wear fine fabric because I’ll be called a dandy.
I can’t be indecisive because men, even in these liberal times, are expected to act.
I can’t be too sure because I’m probably wrong anyway.
I can’t write these words without knowing that some employer, some admissions committee, some friend, some colleague, some family member, or some stranger will pause and think:

Wow, what a (   ).

And that is what we do. We are classifiers, all of us.

The usual objection to this reasoning is that self-worth should not be influenced by external opinions. But suppose that I am confident in myself. Will that get me a job? Into graduate school? A promotion? A new house? A happy marriage? Moral children? And if I am confident, and I don’t have any of these assets, how many people will believe that my confidence is real, that I am not delusional?

The more I ponder this question, the more I realize that total indifference to the opinions of others is a form of madness, or at least it’s seen that way.

Written by Spence

October 17th, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Posted in Composition,Writing

California, Weird

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More than a few friends have cautioned me about moving to California: you will be offered drugs, you will spend $10 on a sandwich, a man will try to marry you. California’s ostensibly high tolerance for “experimentation” and otherwise callow ethics has become an idee fixe for these wags, and the origin of endless comedy. But California culture merely follows Europe by widening the moat around personal preference: if you desire it, and it does not interfere with others, then do it. Very different are the puritanical politics of the east coast and the endless debates about whether Capote novels should be allowed in the school library or not. To me, these questions are a matter of perspective, and that is why I feel as if I am moving to another country.

No perspective, however, can convince me that preference can alter nature’s organization. What other gender possibilities exist?!

Written by Spence

September 8th, 2008 at 9:00 am

Posted in Composition,Writing

More With Less

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An unattributed byline about Kurt Cobain in a recent GQ issue caught my attention for its terse description of a complex person.

A man of chronic contradictions, Kurt Cobain exuded an energy that was both savage and artistic. When Nirvana readied to play Saturday Night Live on January 11, 1992, Nevermind had reached Billboard’s number one spot, and the music world waited to meet its new 24-year-old star. He wore a Flipper T-shirt under a mold-colored cardigan and hair he’d dyed the night before with strawberry Kool-Aid. He also blew the shit out of the room with a 1965 Fender Jaguar the color of a Doberman and introduced us to a new status quo for cultural icons. Glamorous, dirty, quiet, and loud—Cobain would be dead in two years. And we’re still trying to figure him out.

The selective use of adjectives makes this article work: “savage”, “mold-colored”, “glamorous, dirty, quiet, and loud.” This is Seattle, and the apathetic movement that it spawned. Using an expletive makes the writer vulnerable to the reader’s contempt, but in this case, it seems to resonate against the grinding hum of the brown Fender. Here, the writer has sketched a book-length subject in 114 words.

Here’s the SNL performance.

Written by Spence

December 2nd, 2007 at 10:54 pm

Posted in Composition