Category Archives: Writing

Oscar Wilde’s Unhappy Comma

Oscar WildeTwo years after the death of Oscar Wilde one of his friends named Robert H. Sherard released a privately printed volume titled “Oscar Wilde: The Story of an Unhappy Friendship”. In 1905 the book was published publicly, and was soon followed by other biographical works about Wilde written by Sherard.

In ‘Unhappy Friendship’, Sherard recounted the comma story, and the context suggested that he’d heard the tale directly from Wilde.

While this story had appeared as early as 1884 in newspapers, under various titles including “Oscar’s Morning Work”, this retelling by Sherard became the most well known and became the basis for the many versions and adaptations of the quote that have been disseminated.

From Sherard’s telling the quote goes:

“I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning and took out a comma.”

“And in the afternoon?”

“In the afternoon—well, I put it back again.”

For a more extensive explanation of the citations and history of this story and quite, you should check out the QuoteInvestigator’s reporting of the history of this famous quote.

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The Misguided Vindication of Roy Hobbs

The Washington Post recently published a piece in their Speaking of Science section that claimed science has finally and definitively proved the superiority of the double space after a period.

Roy HobbsThe late Roy Hobbs, who we’ve written about before, would have rejoiced at this headline if he wasn’t dead (and fictional), and subscribed to the print edition of the Washington Post, as this would be the only way he’d hear the good news. Let’s face it, he wouldn’t have owned a computer or tablet or smart phone in order to read it online, a fact he would proudly boast about as if his intentional ignorance towards technology and an evolving world in general was a badge of honor or sign of superior character.

“One space between each sentence, they said. Science just proved them wrong,” read the headline that Roy would have cut out of his newspaper and mimeographed so he could mail out copies to his grandchildren.

But the devil is in the details and with all those extra spaces between sentences, and Roy’s glaucoma, he’d probably tire out and stop reading before  the revelation in the article itself that the study barely proved anything at all. At the very most, it proved that those who already double space (and playfully shout at friends over the landline in their kitchen, “will until it’s pried from my cold dead fingers”) are faster readers only by milliseconds when double spaces are used. And that is the only measurable benefit. Reading comprehension is not effected at all.  But when was comprehending anything actually  important?

“Reading speed only improved marginally, the paper found, and only for the 21 “two-spacers,” who naturally typed with two spaces between sentences.  The majority of one-spacers, on the other hand, read at pretty much the same speed either way.  And reading comprehension was unaffected for everyone, regardless of how many spaces followed a period.”

So science proved two spaces are better for people who already double space and refuse to evolve. Groundbreaking.

This kind of regressive scientific study doesn’t come cheap though, so that’s why the estate of Roy Hobbs is asking for your help to keep the march of progress from taking even one step further.  For a limited time you can support a cause dear to Roy’s heart by purchasing your very own “Make America Double Spaced Again.” hat.

Roy Hobbs Endorsed Make American Double Spaced Again Hat

Dearborn Street Sketch

Looking for something else entirely, I went down the rabbit hole of my external hard drive, which had been a labyrinthine dumping ground of folders and files and enough potential writing and design projects to keep me busy for years if I had the time to organize it all into something manageable and accessible.

While fishing around, I came across this Photoshop sketch that I’d worked up off a photo or Google maps shot three or four years ago in a similar onslaught of nostalgia.

I’d wanted to put together maybe a dozen or so sketches like this to breakup a story I was trying to figure out. I had a short story that I was working off of and wanted to make it into something else, something longer.

I had come up with this idea after reading Edouard Levé’s novel, “Suicide”. It was his last book, as shortly after turning in the completed manuscript to his editor, Levé took his own life. The novel is interesting as it’s narrated to the main character, essentially turning the reader into the victim of the title suicide. It’s haunting and puzzling, infectious and entirely successful in calling into question what it means to exist.

I didn’t suddenly want to write every book I had in my head in this style forever now, but there are two ideas that have followed me around for several years that lend themselves to the style. Oddly enough, both deal with death, just as Levé’s work did, although in my case, one is a violent death at another’s hand, and the other is a tragic accidental one.

I wonder what about this writing style, this voice, that lends itself to tragic subject material? The ability to so easily accuse and question within the unfolding of the narrative? The way in which it immediately makes the reader a character, and can borrow their own prejudices and experiences, their fears and doubts, without needing to put those words on the page? Both ideas are a collection of photographs and written scenes, but are barely more then bones and bullet points, and a few odd fragments. I’m not sure how the stories will work out yet, or whether they will at all. For now, at least for this story, this is all I have.

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