A Nod To Greatness #3: Excellent Writing & Shirley Jackson

There are few houses I'd like to visit more

There are few houses I’d like to visit more

“No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.” -Shirley Jackson

Recently I’ve been inspired to express myself in a manner more befitting my superb intellect, and stuff. There is a grand difference between expressing your thoughts to someone traditionally and grabbing their imagination and running with it. I feel the quote above is one of the greatest for illustrating this point. For starters, I’m a little bit taken with any woman who commands such use of the semi-colon. That’s just the icing on the cake, though. Shirley Jackson takes one paragraph to perfectly explain everything you need to know about Hill House and to set a tone that will carry for the rest of the story. The real beauty of writing is when it’s expressed in a clever and slightly unusual way. I understand that in saying this I’m basically trashing anything I’ve written thus far. I’d like to think I’ve been approaching clever a few times, though. We certainly brushed elbows at one point.

One of the biggest problems with the education system in my country (and quite possibly yours as well, but I’m not here to judge. Yet) is the way language is broken into pieces and sloppily reassembled in a generic way that most English teachers can agree on. Any type of variance is frowned on a lot of the time and a stellar mind is left to rot in a depleted soil of rules and regulations. Ironically they teach the language in its many stages, dating back to Shakespeare, but they do not contend that language can change and outgrow older rules. The people who put a new twist on the way they say something are a real delight. They are also a vast rarity. A lot of people who can express themselves this way have simply given up on it because it’s terribly disenheartening to say something clever and then have to explain it to people. It’s akin to getting a visit from Brigadier General Buzz Kill. When are they going to court-martial that guy?

“Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative,” is what Oscar Wilde said, and he nailed it right on the head. The reason a lot of people have no flare for expression is the strict and mostly useless rules infringed upon people when they’re supposed to be learning the joy of words and the way they can evoke so many different feelings in a person. Language is a living thing, and like all living things it changes over time. It doesn’t matter how many wrinkle creams you pour on it or how many carbs it eats. We need to allow language to breathe again and stop being word conservatives. It’s far better to risk saying something that sounds good to you and have it flop than it is to say something the same way everyone else does. When you talk that way it’s very easy for people to tune you out. Easier than when they’re texting. It is possible. Even the greatest commedians are crackerjack at expressing a situation everyone knows in a way people are not accustomed to hearing it. It’s magic.

If you haven’t read The Haunting of Hill House I would suggest that you do. If you’ve somehow missed The Lottery (same wonderful author) then you shouldn’t even be reading this blog, to be frank. It’s a short story that you should easily be able to locate and read in ten minutes, and you’ll think I’m that much sexier when you’re done (I’m not sure if that’s possible). A good quote should really be enough of a hook to reel you in to an excellent story. There are really only so many stories a person can tell. I think someone actually figured out how many (127 seems stuck in my mind, but that could just be from falling on my head too often) there are but it doesn’t really matter as long as you understand the concept. The basic plot is usually the same, it’s the way the person eases or forces you into the story that makes or breaks it. I hated recess when I was in school, but when I started reading I didn’t mind it at all. Even in the harsh Canadian climate that conveniently coincides with school. The right combination of words can send the mind reeling, if you’ll let it. Mz Jackson, this one is certainly for you.

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