Why writers should never work with committees | Street Jazz

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Why writers should never work with committees

Posted By on Sat, Sep 18, 2010 at 11:42 AM

Why do things that happen to stupid people keep happening to me? - Homer Simpson

Committees are the bane of my existence. Even though I know that much of the work of the world would never get done were it not for the stalwarts who volunteer to sit on committees and boards, I feel particularly justified in making this particular statement, since I have volunteered to sit on way too many committees in my life, especially in the years before my current marriage.

You needed a seat filled, I was there, baby, no questions asked.

And many boards and committees do a lot of valuable work. But some? Well, I am reminded of the Babylon 5 episode in which two warring nations of a planet erupt into battle every few years over a trivial issue. There have ben steps made to alleviate the problem, so that blood is not spilled needlessly, but, as one warrior says to B5's Commander Ivanova:

Rule changes” - deep sigh - “lost in committee.”

Oh, yeah, I’ve been there.

I was always one to volunteer for various subcommittees, as well - especially the ones that needed a letter or document written. This is a trap, by the way, that the unwary should avoid as much as they can.

“Oh, you’re the writer,” someone will say sweetly when passing the task off to the poor sap who agrees to write whatever needs to be written. “The rest of us don’t have your way with words.”

Now that you ego has been sufficiently poisoned, off you go to write the needed missive. After all, you are The Writer.

The trouble will begin once you have presented your finished product to the committee.

Suddenly everyone who wasn’t a writer the month before has somehow become William Faulkner, and your prose is submitted, line by line, word by word, to the fiercest literary criticism one is ever likely to encounter.

“Oh, I think this section would have more impact if you used these words . . .”

“Are you sure you want to be so direct? Maybe you could be more subtle?”

Or the ever-popular

“How come you forgot to mention this?” This being something so trivial that most board members don’t even know about it.

By the time the “editing” is done, not only is your letter or document something that you don’t recognize but it isn’t something that you would even claim to have written when you were drunk.

Finally, mistaking your glares for looks of intensify, your fellow “writers” will all congratulate themselves - and you, of course (you did have a hand in it, after all) on the finely crafted piece of drivel.

Next time, of course, one of them will volunteer to write whatever document the committee/board needs. After all, we all got over this emotional hump. How hard can writing really be?

******

Quote of the Day

It’s a mistake to remake a great picture, because you can never make it better. Better you should find a picture that was done badly and see what can be done to improve it. - Samuel Goldwyn

*****
Cat’s Cradle

Humans are an odd breed. We are the only species capable of creating the exquisite beauty of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, the Great Mosque in Mecca and still be able to wreak horrific death and destruction on one another. I think that it's healthy to examine this dichotomy in our nature.

In seeking insight, perhaps we can find better ways to come to grips with our differences.

For almost 50 years, Kurt Vonnegut was perceptive and profound, and funny in exposing humans to who we are and how we operate.

As a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany, during World War II, Vonnegut witnessed the bombing devastation of the city. He knew what he talking about.

Cat's Cradle was originally published in 1963; it is as apropos today as it was in the midst of the cold war. The first sentence of Cat's Cradle conjures up another literary opening. "Call me Jonah. My parents did, or nearly did. They called me John."

From that moment on, Vonnegut plunges into a dark satirical journey. Once the reader dives in with him, there is no turning back.

Vonnegut's first-person narrator, John, sets out to write The Day the World Ended. This is meant to be non-fiction collection of "what important Americans had done on the day when the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan."

His first encounter, by way of correspondence, is with the youngest son of Dr. Felix Hoenikker. The elder Hoenikker had been the leading scientist in the creation of the A-Bomb.

Next, John meets Dr. Breed, who had also worked on developing the atomic bomb. Breed shares some history of Ilium, New York where much of the research was done. Breed tells of a man hanged in 1782 for murdering 26 people. Breed says that the man sang on the scaffold. The following conversation has got to be the epitome of denial. John begins:

"‘What was the song about?' ‘You can find the words over at the historical Society, if you're really interested.' ‘I just wondered about the general tone.' ‘He wasn't sorry about anything.' ‘Some people are like that.' ‘Think of it!' said Dr. Breed. ‘Twenty-six people he had on his conscience!' ‘The mind reels,' I said."

Vonnegut was a master of that caliber of irony throughout Cat's Cradle. There are no sacred cows here. Vonnegut nails just about every establishment in our culture; he treats clerics, scientists, educators, politicians and just run-of-the mill blowhards with an even handed satiric walloping.

Breed plants the notion in John that Hoenikker had been working on a formula, ice-nine, that could instantly freeze all liquid matter. Its purpose would have been to make it easier for armies to get through mud. As often happens in research, no thought was given to possible consequences. Just because we are scientifically or technologically able to do something doesn't necessarily mean that it's a good idea to do it. John's quest now turns to discovering if any of the formula is still in existence. More diabolical than germ warfare is ice-nine warfare. You freeze the seas, you eradicate human existence.

Cat's Cradle is about lies, the lies of institutions, the lies we pass off on one another, and the lies we tell ourselves.

In his readers, Vonnegut has the talent to produce tears while he induces laughter. Oscar Wilde said that, "Life is too important to be taken seriously." Kurt Vonnegut has always understood exactly what Wilde meant by that statement.

I really miss this guy.

rsdrake@cox.net

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