A new experiment - which may need a different name


Language and Laziness

Over the weekend I read "None of the Above," Malcolm Gladwell's December 17 article about race and I.Q, which includes this interesting anecdote:
"When I was growing up, my family would sometimes play Twenty Questions on long car trips. My father was one of those people who insist that the standard categories of animal, vegetable, and mineral be supplemented with a fourth category: “abstract.” Abstract could mean something like “whatever it was that was going through my mind when we drove past the water tower fifty miles back.” That abstract category sounds absurdly difficult, but it wasn’t: it merely required that we ask a slightly different set of questions and grasp a slightly different set of conventions, and, after two or three rounds of practice, guessing the contents of someone’s mind fifty miles ago becomes as easy as guessing Winston Churchill. (There is one exception. That was the trip on which my old roommate Tom Connell chose, as an abstraction, “the Unknown Soldier”—which allowed him legitimately and gleefully to answer “I have no idea” to almost every question. There were four of us playing. We gave up after an hour.) Flynn would say that my father was teaching his three sons how to put on scientific spectacles, and that extra practice probably bumped up all of our I.Q.s a few notches. But let’s be clear about what this means. There’s a world of difference between an I.Q. advantage that’s genetic and one that depends on extended car time with Graham Gladwell."
And I thought back to that passage as I tried this morning to comprehend the short essay "Language and Laziness" by Laura Riding, published in her 1928 book, Anarchism is Not Enough. The essay in full:
"Language is a form of laziness; the word is a compromise between that it is possible to express and what it is not possible to express. That is, expression itself is a form of laziness. The cause of expression is incomplete powers of understanding and communication: unevenly distributed intelligence. Language does not attempt to affect this distribution; it accepts the inequality and makes possible a mathematical intercourse between the degrees of intelligence occurring in an average range. The degrees of intelligence at each extreme are thus naturally neglected: and yet they are obviously the most important.

"Prose is the mathematics of expression. The word is a numerical convenience in which the known and the unknown are brought together to act as the meeting-place of the one who knows and the one who does not know. The prose word accomplishes no redistribution of intelligence; it merely declares the inequality, and so even as expression it has no reality, it is an empty cipher.

"Poetry is an attempt to make language do more than express; to make it work; to redistribute intelligence by means of the word. If it succeeds in this the problem of communication disappears. It does not treat this problem as a matter of mathematical distribution of intelligence between an abstract known and unknown represented in a concrete knower and not-knower. The distribution must take place, if at all, within the intelligence itself. Prose evades this problem by making slovenly equations which always seem successful because, being inexact, they conceal inexactness. Poetry always faces, and generally meets with, failure. But even if it fails, it is at least at the heart of the difficulty, which it treats not as a difficulty of minds but of mind."
I think because of the Gladwell article I become more compelled to continue reading Anarchism is Not Enough the more baffling it becomes.


Ministry Fiction Irritant #012

Damage Control

Lemmy Mauer’s mother made all of his sandwiches on Texas Toast. Not the real thing – no butter, no garlic – but what they sold in the grocery store, thick cuts of chewy white bread. The sandwiches were carefully placed in a Ziploc bag but the fit was so tight that they were mutilated when he pulled them out.

So he brought the plastic-handle scissors from his homeroom desk to lunch and he sliced the bag open. And he cut the sandwich into two triangles just because he could.

When he was finished eating, Lemmy raised his hand and was excused to the bathroom where he washed his scissors with runny pink soap and dried them with two feet of scratchy paper towel.

Assistant Principal Vargas had no patience for this. Dennis Bruner was stabbed in the shin and Vargas watched the paramedics pull the scissors out. But Lemmy’s mother wanted her son to explain it himself.

Didn’t matter to Vargas. Of course Bruner provoked it. There was a history. But you couldn’t just take Lemmy’s scissors and send him back to lunch. There was procedure: Let the mother make her case all she wants and then take care of it.



Ministry Fiction Irritant #011


Greyhound south from Jacksonville.

Dufflebag over their heads. Briefcase between their bodies.

They pass through Casa Cola and then Araquey. She begins to breathe again.

“Nothing to worry about,” he says. Grabs her clammy hand.

They look at the briefcase.

Bunnell. Favoretta.

Two days ago they were poor and no one knew their names.

Tumbull. Mims. Titusville.

“It was a great plan,” he says. “Foolproof.”

Tequesta. Jupiter.

He falls asleep. She watches the blue sky turn to water.

Lantana. Hypoluxo

Gutierrez will to send someone for the briefcase. But her plan was brilliant and they will get away.

Hollywood. Aventura.

She thinks of her mother and sister in Tallahassee. His family is gone.


She wakes him. The wind whips the palm trees and the tall grass.



Ministry Fiction Irritant #010

De Pasada Blues

Everyone knows Al’s Sausage on Avenue de Pasada is a cop hangout. Been that way thirty years.

Even the dumbest criminals avoid de Pasada. But that doesn’t make it quiet.

“Yo!” shouts a skinny teenager from behind Sergeant Jimmy Corbett. “Can you help me out?”

Corbett lowers the combo sandwich from his mouth. “What?”

“Need a jumpstart. Battery keeps dyin’. ”

“Call a tow truck, kid.”

“Man, I’m broke. Not a dime.”

Corbett nods and turns back to the counter. “Officer Grabowski!”

Benny Grabowski, the rookie, at the back of the line.

“Again?” says Benny

“Car needs a jump.”

“Jimmy, I walked that lost kid home, I helped grandma with her groceries and then you had me send that drunk up to Southtown. My break’s almost over and I haven’t even ordered.”

Corbett smiles. “That’s awful. You should talk to your supervisor. Where’s he at?”



Ministry Fiction Irritant #009

Them Teeth

Fast busy.

Met her two weeks ago at Frankie’s. Classy joint. Jukebox still has all the standards. Sinatra. Dino. Como.

She’s wearing a red cocktail dress. Flashes me a troubled smile.

I buy her a drink. Then another.

She has a creep of a boyfriend and doesn’t want to go home. Can’t get a hotel room because all the credit cards are his.

“No friends?” I ask.

Gives me that same smile.

“I got a place,” I say. “Plenty of room. I won’t try nothing. Ask anyone.”

Few more drinks before she agrees.

We have a good night. Then another.

This morning I give her the money she owes the creep. So she can be done with him. I insist.

“Give me the number there. In case there’s trouble.”

Fast busy.

Shoulda seen it coming. But that smile. Those lips.



Ministry Fiction Irritant #008

Orbs of Concern

Ernie and Mel at the Automat. Cigarettes and pie. A handful of coins.

“The what?” said Mel.

“Orbs,” said Ernie. “Three spheres. Dull white. They’re containers.”

“What’s in ’em?”

“You don’t wanna know.”

“Yeah, I do.”



“It’s best you don’t know,” said Ernie. “You worry about the orbs. They got GPS tracking. Big headache. That’s why they use them.”

“I’ll just open the orbs and leave them behind.”

“You don’t know how.”

“You just tell me,” said Mel.

“We don’t know how.”

“I’m supposed to kill the signal without—”

“That why I came to you, kid.”


Ministry Fiction Irritant #007

Kugler suggested exchanging 100-word noirs. I'm cherry-picking the titles and then writing the story to work against them. This first one runs long.

Grace Falling, Grace Caught

There were two girls named Grace in the Senior Class at Liverdown High School. Grace Falling came from a poor family and she knew to keep quiet lest anyone think she was vulgar. Grace Caught was the hell-raising daughter of the Deputy Sheriff. Their parallel lives had never intersected.

Grace Caught's BMW slammed to a stop on the road leaving Liverdown. There was a plume of orange beyond the tree line. She grabbed her cell phone and got out of the car. She climbed down the embankment and walked away from the road. The orange turned black and filled the sky.

She pressed her cell phone and eventually said, "Daddy. The Masthof Farm."

Beyond the farm, through the haze of the smoke, Grace Caught saw a woman walking towards the forest. This woman wore a cheap navy dress and carried a red canister. Grace Caught's eyes burned and when she looked again the woman was gone.