Skip to comments.The Misanthrope's Corner (Florence King Golden Hit Fix)
Posted on 01/30/2004 5:16:00 PM PST by Tulsa Brian
'Killing two birds with one stone" has been the guiding principle of the well-organized person from time immemorial, but, as with so much else dating from time immemorial, it is now more or less unconstitutional.
Merely using the expression can get you in big trouble with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but I'll have to take the chance. I'm pruning my Idea Files, but meanwhile I have a column due, so I decided to kill two birds with one stone and write about what I find so I can throw it out.
When ordinary people make notes on ragged scraps of paper or clip newspaper articles and decorate them with necklaces of frantically scrawled marginalia, it's called "paranoia." When writers do it, it's called "research" and it's tax-deductible. These advantages lend an air of sanity but it's bogus. Idea Files are crazymaking by definition because a writer must constantly ask himself where something "goes." Paranoid amateurs don't have to make bricks out of their straw collection, but we do, so we keep re-filing some tattered clip in the hope that it will "go" with other tattered clips and be enough for a column.
Take, for example, the Dec. 26, 1997, clip from the Washington Times headlined "Geneticist Says Lesbianism is Cultural, 'Not Inherited,'" about the further findings of geneticist Dean Hamer, proponent of the theory that male homosexuality is inborn. Reluctant to get tangled up in a column that would expose my scientific ignorance, I moved this one from Gay to Women to Feminists to Men and back to Gay again without ever figuring out a way to write about it, adding new marginalia each time I re-filed it. The resulting necklace of notes reads:
"Flash from NR: Men are cradle gays, lesbians are converts. Scientific chivalry lets lesbians off the homophobic hook. At last the Breeding-Heart Right will have to blame something on the environment. Why there is no lesbian equivalent of the female impersonator: Because there's nothing to do. If you want to impersonate a man, all you have to do is sit still, stick to the subject, and say things once instead of three times. This lacks entertainment value."
Sometimes a new clip will segue flawlessly with a quotation from a book that I copied out years earlier. It's still not enough for a column, but the satisfaction is so great that I can almost hear a click as the two snap together in my mind.
This happened with a colloquy by Bonnie Erbe and Josette Shiner in the Oct. 31, 1999, Washington Times. Erbe, the liberal half of the team, deplored the behavior of Bob Dole during his wife's campaign for the GOP presidential nomination, claiming it was "purposefully designed" to sink her. Erbe cites his Viagra pitches on national TV while Liddy was trying to be sweet 'n' nice on the hustings, his public statement that Bush's lead was "insurmountable," and, most damaging of all, his announcement that he was thinking of contributing to one of her rivals (John McCain).
Shiner's response was a study in nervous evasion and denial, but novelist Katherine Anne Porter, who was just as conservative, nailed her flag to the mast: "I know that when a woman loves a man, she builds him up and supports him. I never knew a man who loved a woman enough for this. He cannot help it, it is his deepest instinct to destroy, quite often subtly, insidiously, but constantly and endlessly, her very center of being, her confidence in herself as a woman." I copied out this quotation on the back of a rent receipt for $125, so you know how long I've had it. Now I've finally used it!
Sometimes writers clip articles we know we won't use because we have developed an itchy scissors finger and can't help ourselves. I long ago stopped writing about political correctness; the topic had been done to death and there was nothing more to say, but I went on clipping P.C., like the gem from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that said Wisconsin was renaming Squaw Bay because "some" Native Americans find the word offensive; it doesn't just mean woman or wife, but is "a French corruption of an Indian epithet for vagina." What? The gentle, peaceful, ecological, communal, sharing, cooperating, egalitarian Indians used hate speech? How can this be? The article doesn't say.
An Ideas File is a useful weapon for discouraging the kind of people who drop in unannounced. Just leave a note to yourself lying around and you'll never see them again. Crime novelists who deal in unequivocal plots usually get rid of them fast -- Set fire to house on Christmas Eve -- but cultural commentators who interpret the American scene have the added fun of inflicting slow mental torture with notes couched in the cryptic language of free association.
When an idea for a column pops into my head I have to get the gist of it down fast or it's gone forever, so I grab a pen and scratch paper and scrawl Herc foot, dogcatcher, undertaker. How'd you like to be sitting here and find that on the coffee table, hmm?
It's my take on American foreign policy. The classical principle Ex Pede Herculem -- "From the foot alone we may infer Hercules" -- gives common sense a much-needed boost by permitting us to infer that if an individual is this, chances are he's that. Since Arabs and Europeans are eager to infer things about us, we should discard our dread of stereotyping and employ inference to find the kind of people who can handle troublesome foreigners.
A dogcatcher is unlikely to obsess over "Why do they hate us?" He knows why. He's used to it. He's the man everybody hates, the man who enrages "the street" every day merely by driving down it in his truck, unfazed by the tears, ululating shrieks, and muttered threats he leaves in his wake. Send him to the Middle East at once.
An undertaker is used to ridicule and bad jokes at his expense. He expects people to give him the cold shoulder, peer at him with suspicion, shrink from him in disgust, and, at the very least, to put up with him with as bad a grace as possible. Make him ambassador to France.
COPYRIGHT 2002 National Review, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.