I Fixed ‘Em All!

An important objective for writers, so I’m told by those who are good at it, is to avoid clichés in one’s writing.  Clichés are used by a lot of us in normal discourse because they provide a verbal shorthand when we are engaging in conversation.  If our goal is to avoid confrontation when we want to express a strong opinion, for example, using a cliché can be just the ticket.

In writing, though, especially if we aspire to be original, clichés are to be avoided.

Clichés may be defined as: phrases or opinions that are overused and betray a lack of original thought; trite or stereotyped phrases or expressions; or expressions that have become overused to the point of losing their original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time they were considered meaningful.

As a means to improve my own writing, I have been attempting to purge it of clichés.  The best judge of my success will be my readers, of course, but here are some of the efforts I’ve made:

  • I’ve cleaned all the writing off the wall;
  • I’ve wiped up the spilt milk;
  • I’ve placed my eggs in two different containers in the fridge;
  • I’ve removed all the covers from my books;
  • I now make sure I’m reading on the lines;
  • I make sure my knickers are neatly folded; and
  • I don’t own a grindstone.

Thanks to my efforts, the characters I write about in my books no longer sleep on the wrong side of the bed, they’ve stopped circling back or leaning in, and I’ve made sure there is no thorn in their sides, no mote in their eyes.  They know that at the end of the day, it gets dark, but it’s not necessarily darkest just before the dawn.

Although many of my characters do drink, I make sure they never end up three sheets to the wind, nor do I allow them to put new wine into old bottles.  They know nothing smells like a rose, regardless of its name, although that conclusion was not something they would have jumped to without me.

In fact, because of me, they never jump at all—not down your throat, not in with both feet, not onto the bandwagon, and not with a hop and a skip.  Nor do they ever jump the gun, because that might give away the ending of the story.  Being my heroes, I never let them throw in a towel, grind an axe, bend over backwards, or get down and dirty.

I’ve worked hard to ensure my characters are neither brave enough nor stupid enough to grab a bull by its horns, burn a candle at both ends, bite a bullet, burn a bridge, or endure trial by fire.  Those things can bring a load of hurt! 

Instead, thanks to me, they are far more likely to avoid dealing with loose cannons, rocking anyone’s boat, barking up someone’s tree, sneezing at nothing, or opening a can of worms.  They are not lazy by any means, but they certainly would never work like a dog, attempt to leave no stone unturned, or go an extra mile (or even the whole nine yards).

In my books, I make sure the heroic characters are unafraid of their own shadows.  They are smart enough not to wait for cows to come home, they do not turn over random stones, they avoid yanking anyone else’s chain, they never get down and dirty, and they avoid anything resembling a plague.

So as you can see, dear reader—and it doesn’t go without saying—I have worked my fingers…well, not to the bone, I guess, to rid my writing of clichés.  For what it’s worth, push no longer comes to shove for me, nor do I ever consider going back to some mythical drawing-board.  Whenever I’m seized by an annoying urge to employ a cliché, I try to nip the urge…umm, somewhere other than in the bud, so to speak.  And in my proofreading, rather than attempting to weed them out, I simply expunge them.

In fairness to myself, I must point out that the struggle to eliminate clichés is a never-ending one.  I’ve discovered that being original in my writing is much more fun than being banal or hackneyed, but it’s ever so much harder. 

So in closing, let me just quote this piece of doggerel from an online commentator, a sentiment to which I heartily subscribe—

For what it’s worth,
At the end of the day,
It is what it is:
A cliché’s a cliché.

Just a Cliché?

Many people think of clichés as timeworn, too-oft-repeated banalities, devoid of meaning because of their ubiquitous presence.  Too self-evident to be of any use; to wit—

It is what it is.  Well, yeah…almost assuredly…duh!

What will be, will be.  You think?

As I approach the three-quarter century mark, however (in fluctuating moods of disbelief and resignation), I find I have begun to pay closer attention to many of them, discerning nuggets of truth that, heretofore, I paid scant attention to.  Whether this is on account of acquired wisdom or wishful thinking, I cannot tell.

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Either way, I am becoming increasingly aware of the boundaries of life—that there is, not just a beginning that was, but an ending to come—a fact I tried to ignore in those halcyon days of my youth.  And many of the so-called clichés are resonating clearly now for me, rather than ringing hollow.

The times, they are a-changin’, right in front of my eyes, falling by the wayside as we continue to poison our planet, wage war on our fellow humans, and trample on the rights of others in a mad scramble to make our selfish way.  I’m beginning to understand more fully now that time and tide wait for no one, and it will soon be too late to reverse the flow.

Actions speak louder than words, undoubtedly; yet increasingly, we scoff at the science of climate change, and the inevitable—and irreversible—consequences of global warming.  The planet is home to all of us, the only home we have, and I fear we will not defend it, so focused are we on wealth-acquisition and a penchant to wield power.  We need to remember that a house divided against itself cannot stand.

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We shall reap what we sow.  Or, if not us, those who come after us—those for whom we have tainted the future they will inherit.

It has been said it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.  Nevertheless, if we do not speak out while yet we have the chance, our children and grandchildren may experience a fate worse than death—living on a planet that will be hell.

Too many of those to whom we look for leadership and vision, alas, fail us with their short-term thinking.  And as I enter this last quarter of my life, it occurs to me that neither they nor I will be around to reap the whirlwind that is being seeded by our collective short-sightedness.  Too many of them are yesterday’s men, when what we need are tomorrow’s dreamers—men and women who think beyond the constraints of the present.

Hindsight is better than foresight, by a damn sight, it is true.  But foresight is what will save us from ourselves.  If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything, and we’ll fall very hard.

snakeoil

So, these clichés—are they just empty aphorisms, bereft of significance?  Or do they, perhaps, constitute a wake-up call, wisdom from those who have gone before us, that might help preserve our bounty for those who will follow?

And, if they are true, will we pay heed?  Will we listen to the ones that caution us, each a voice of one crying in the wilderness?

Or will we ignore their message as nothing more than a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

When I hear false promises from so many of our leaders, I am reminded that every man has stupid thoughts, but wise men keep them quiet.  I am reminded that when you talk sense to a fool…he calls you foolish.  I wonder whether the world is being run by smart people who are putting us on, or by imbeciles who really mean it.

twain

Worst of all, I am in fear of those who believe everything they think. 

If we are to change the current course of human folly, we must refute the notion that everyone is entitled to an opinion, and substitute instead: everyone is entitled to [an] informed opinion.  No one is entitled to be ignorant.

Napoleon famously said (in French, I imagine), In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.  Woe that he was right!  So many of our leaders persist in pissing on our legs, while telling us it’s raining, and have the gall to pretend not to notice that we notice!

And that is our fault.  Far too many of us demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which [we] seldom use.

My mortal coil is unwinding, more quickly now, it seems, than ever before; and too soon for my liking, I will shuffle off to who knows where.  In the meantime, I try to heed the old advice—Don’t look back; something may be gaining.

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But looking forward is difficult, too, given the problems we seem not to be facing up to.  I yearn for a generation of leaders who will step to the tiller, place firm hands on the wheel, and chart a steady course, one we all might confidently follow.  We need captains who are principled, intelligent, unwavering, and above reproach—like the north star, [so we can] set our compass by them.

Will we find them?  Will they find us?  Or is such conjecture nothing more than a fanciful wish on my part?  The world ends when you die, or so some believe.  But for those left behind, it goes on, whether for better or worse.  Will that world flourish—a renewal, a blossoming?  Or will entropy prevail—a gradual decline into chaos and disorder?

Will the future confirm what Robert Browning once wrote—the best is yet to be…?  Or will it be what Porky Pig proclaimed—Th-th-that’s all, folks!?

porky

Just a cliché?  Maybe.  But it matters to me.