Many “What’s the World Coming To?” grouches lament the materialistic rush of our world: no time to write, think, contemplate nature, enjoy life. They have a point. We often expect our news in short sound bites, our books (if we read at all) as quick, easy reads, our food fast. Of course there are many exceptions, but at least in large cities, the hustle and bustle seem to be increasing, while newspaper sales and reading—and attentions spans—are decreasing.
I am reminded of a passage from Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451:
As Captain Beatty explains the origins of the futuristic book-burning society, he says, “Classics cut to fit fifteen-minute radio shows, then cut again to fill a two-minute book column, winding up at last as a ten- or twelve-line dictionary resume. . . . Speed up the film, Montag, quick. . . . Digest-digests, digest-digest-digests. Politics? One column, two sentences, a headline! Then, in midair, all vanishes. Whirl man’s mind around about so fast under the pumping hands of publishers, exploiters, broadcasters that the centrifuge flings off all unnecessary time-wasting thought!”
I prefer to look at the brighter side: I’m talking about the trend toward various brief writing and video forms. At best, they can inspire fledgling writers to go on to longer, better things.
Blogs (web logs or on-line journals) provide the ultimate democratic opportunity for self-expression, usually at no cost, to anyone with computer access. The subject matter can be informative, humorous, controversial, or mundane: anything from useful basic information to political diatribes to accounts of daily activities. Blogs can provide family communication or a way to reach the whole world with one’s thoughts and opinions. Good or bad, blog posts are usually quite short.
The rictameter is a relatively new nine-line poetry form using syllable counts to maintain its meter. The lines do not rhyme. The syllable count is 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 8, 6, 4, 2, and the first and last lines are identical. There are a few variations of the form, too. An on-line search will reveal various examples and explanations. The Gather web site has a Rictameter group. I’ve published what may be the first poetry book to feature rictameters exclusively: Elder Expectations: My Life in Rictameters (Lulu 2008). You can also find many rictameters on my blog, “Write Your Life!” (http://www.seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/). Great art? No, but it’s fun.
The haiku, a Japanese form, has been called the shortest poetic form with the most rules. I have never fully understood it or had much success in writing it. There are many variations. Here again, do an on-line search for more information.
This idea appeared in a joint Smith Magazine/Twitter book called Not Quite What I was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure. It was mentioned on many web sites, and many people have tried writing their own. Mine reads, “Seventy-five, wrinkled, writing, still enjoying life!” See my blog post on the subject at http://seniormemoirs.blogspot.com/2008/02/one-of-those-ideas-i-wish-id-thought-of.html.
ABC Good Morning America Weekend’s “Your Week in Three Words”:
GMA Weekend solicits short videos from watchers of all ages, each featuring a sign or some other representation of three words that describe the week: “Wrote a Book,” “Better than Good,” and “Everything Has Beauty” are three recent, unexceptional ones. Some are more poignant: “Back from Iraq,” showing a wounded soldier surrounded by family. I’m sometimes amazed by the skill of the amateur videographers and the cleverness of the chosen words. This is often brevity at its best.
You Tube has something by and for everyone. Anyone with a video camera can post nearly anything he or she wants, and some videos are amazing and/or amusing. I have never tried to make a video; I prefer words, but the web site is certainly giving everyone a chance at self-expression, usually in brief form.
Finally, I and many others write relatively short books, and according to my reviewers, that’s not a bad thing. One reviewer of my book Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write wrote in the “Books on Aging” section of the September University website, “Seniorwriting is a non-technical guide to help you decide if you want to begin writing. It is a short, quick read, but full of sage advice predicated on a theme To Discover, To Heal, To Reinvent, and To Share. Ironically short books are much harder to write than long ones and Seniorwriting contains all the elements you need to begin writing.” Another reviewer for Story Circle Network wrote, "Seniorwriting: A Brief Guide for Seniors Who Want to Write lives up to the promise of its title. It is brief: 81 pages. I consider this a good thing. Too many books that purport to help others to write are unnecessarily wordy. This in itself can be discouraging. "
Incidentally, my book Reinventing Myself contains just 135 pages, and Elder Expectations just 56. Perhaps old age shortens the attention span, but I’ve always been a woman of few words.
It’s not my intention to defend the superficial, but it seems to me that there’s something to be said for brevity, especially if such forms encourage everyone to think and write. I am frequently amazed at how much can be said in very few words. As one reviewer says, short is not necessarily easier, but it may seem less daunting for a beginning writer to attempt a blog post or short poem than a full-length novel or autobiography. Brevity is generally not a bad thing in our complex, fast-moving world.
Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne