The Cure for Literary Laryngitis in 300 Words

Unleashing Me suggested a writing exercise on April 19th:

“Pick an object sitting on your table and write a description of it in 300 words, in your voice. Make it beautiful. Make that description sing. I don’t care if the object is a dry, cracked pen that needs an ink refill and has lint all stuck on the front of it, make those 300 words sound fantastic and showcase your voice to the world!”

This is the result of that exercise.

My phone, settled beside me on the bed, rests silently as I type away rather noisily. Dreaming of electric sheep and satellites in the sky, it lies in peaceful dormancy. I let it alone for now. The sleek, black device has been through many a trial and none too few a tribulation. He’s seen the world fall toward him one too many a time. Chips and nicks are the telltale signs of misuse, neglect, and mindlessness. The way the light hits it at the moment reveals a slick canvas of long strokes and short smudges. And yet, the phone does not whine. It does not moan and groan and rail against me. He remains quiet until summoned.

Ah, a jolt. With a vibration, ring, and a flash of the screen, the phone suffers a night terror and shows me what he saw. “What are you doing right now?” it reads. I slide the message away and let the phone sleep again. Seeing the evidence of my greasy fingers on the screen makes me uneasy. Irrationally, I slide my thumb flatly against the screen, top to bottom in very human lines. It’s no less greasy now, but at least the grease strokes are uniform.

Microsoft tried to make a phone to compete with the iPhone and the Galaxy. My phone is the product of their noble attempt, noble in the consumerist court. “Sleek” was a misleading word. Samsung clearly did not spend as much time on this Windows phone as they did on the Galaxy. The corners are far too sharp and boring. This cannot even hold a AAA-powered light to the even newer Windows phones, mobile devices that actually had a design department. But here my phone lies, in resumed sleep, a beta test of a supposed smartphone. Oh, another text.

I think that may have been a word or two over 300, but the more the merrier, eh? Thanks again, Unleashing Me, for the prompt. If you’re looking for some inspiration, try it out for yourself!

The Tragedy of Old Age: Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all. 

– Oscar Wilde

On this day in 1854, the crown prince of the Aesthetes, master of wit, artist of wordplay, Mr. Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde was born. That was 159 years ago. And in much less time than that, Wilde would experience the tragic rise and fall of an infamous career.

What shall we do, Mr. Wilde, to celebrate this day for you? Here, would you reply with something witty and cynical? Something that would make the room titter and chuckle? Tuckle and chitter? Of course. I will make no attempt at an Wildean aphorism. Rest in peace, my flamboyant idol-of-sorts. No need to roll in the grave.

Oscar Wilde! What shall we do then? No need to write a biography about you. Many have already done so. People already know you were a playwright, with “The Importance of Being Earnest” being perhaps your most popular. And no need to mention your only novel, censored for over 150 years, The Picture of Dorian Gray. Only in the past couple of years has the full original edition – the draft publishers rejected as gross and dangerously “immoral” – become available to the public.

But perhaps that really is what needs mentioning…

The Uncensored Picture of Dorian Gray - Oscar Wilde

The Picture of Dorian Gray has been my favorite book since I first read it at the easily chewable age of 13. While the themes were classic and resonant, they were not the hook that drew me under. It was the words. The language in this book moved me in both shallow and deep ways. It is true that I was very easily won over by the purpley prose, those empty words that did nothing but- no, they did everything. Wilde’s words opened up for me a world of richness and flavor such that I had never read before. Even now, when I read through my favorite passages, I remain amazed at the almost purely aesthetic nature of the language. “Art for art’s sake.” Plot? TPoDG has only a semblance of a plot. It is more a vehicle for Wilde’s witticisms and poetic waxing than a captivating story.

The premise is fascinating and has endured this long, as it will continue to endure. In despair over the thought of losing his youth, Dorian Gray makes a Faustian wish: eternal youth in exchange for his soul. But it is not as if his soul has disappeared – it has manifested in his portrait, painted by a true artist in love with Gray. Basil Hallward outdid himself with his painting. He Pygmalion and Dorian his Galatea– a wondrously beautiful statue come to life. The painting shows every line and liver spot of Dorian’s age and sin. He is able to watch it year after year as it ages and he remains young and beautiful. Without the moral culpability, his soul, he is able to get away with almost anything. He ruins men and women alike, marring their reputability and making them unfit to step out into respectable society. He drives people to suicide. He murders. He takes all he can get from others and lavishes himself in the finest material wealth. All without remorse.

Throughout the years, the themes have become more poignant, becoming more important to me than the language. Wilde, King of the Aesthetes, still acknowledged moral depth. Beauty is not enough on its own. Dorian drove himself to a sort of madness in his final moments, tormented by the ugly sight of his own soul. In the end, he is dead, and for what? He was not a happier man for living the Epicurean lifestyle, indulging in all the carnal and material desires in his path.

What does this mean for us? What does it mean for me? To be honest, I do not yet know. After all these years, I am still mulling Wilde’s sole novel over in my head. He has taught me that it is all right – and perhaps he encourages this – to love art for the sheer beauty of it, regardless of the semantics or any other beyond-surface level meaning.

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty. There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.

– The Picture of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde

He taught me about the subjectivity of morality, but at the same time pointed out that morality must exist, even if it’s something that we pull out of our derrieres. In what form remains to be illuminated. He showed me the facade of high society with its trivial worries and preoccupations. He gave me the appreciation for lovely language. He gave me the appreciation for intelligent language. He allowed me to feel without having to think too hard about it.

Thank you, Oscar Wilde, and happy birthday, old chap.

Read on about Mr. Wilde:

Oscar Wilde Quotes for the Soul[less]

As shown in previous posts, I love me some Oscar Wilde. The Picture of Dorian Gray is one of my favorite novels for its verbal aestheticism and its abundance of Wildian wit. It was my introduction to the all too human legend that was Mr. Wilde. He seduced me with his language much like Lord Henry seduced the young, naive Dorian into a life of hedonism and aestheticism. Except I’m not a heartless hedonist. And I didn’t sell my soul and age to the devil.

Oscar Wilde was the King of the Aesthetes. He championed “art for art’s sake” and the soulful importance of beauty. In his preface to TPoDG, he writes,

Those who find ugly meanings in beautiful things are corrupt without being charming. This is a fault. Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. For these there is hope. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only Beauty.

In the 1890s, Oscar Wilde was put on trial for his crimes of libel and homosexuality, which at the time was considered as lowly and sinful as bestiality. Even under the threat of imprisonment, Wilde remained as witty and eloquent as ever.

Watch the brilliant Stephen Fry (a sort of modern Wilde) defend himself and “the love that dare not speak it’s name” from Wilde:

Learn more about THE MAN here.