I’ve been trying to get out of my “writing funk” and I think I might have just found the cure for it, which ironically enough is also the currently despised symptom to my perpetual self-agony: contemplation. Since my last post I’ve been thinking about clichés. I was fortunate enough to have an amazingly phenomenal writing professor during my undergraduate years (who I’m sure would be quite horrified by my ‘slacking off’ writing habits and mundane topics) taught me something about clichés. I remember stepping into his classroom for the very first time at the start of my sophomore year. I was debating between two classes, his creative writing poetry class and Calculus III. I was at the cusp of finalizing my decision as to whether or not I’d continue as a math major or to switch over to humanities and the social sciences. At the start of the semester I choose Calculus III over his class in hopes of salvaging my love for math. I finished the semester by officially changing my major and reenrolled in his creative writing poetry class the following semester.
In his class, I learned something about clichés that has not only transformed the ways in which I write and think about writing, but it has also impacted the way in which my brain perceives and conceptualizes the world – philosophically, theoretically, practically and any other relevant “—cally’s” one can think of. It would be impossible for me to elaborate each and every detail of all the techniques, values and lessons he has taught me since they are truly immeasurable, but I can only try to highlight on what I believe, is the most profound lesson that I have learned as it has stemmed well beyond the contours of the art of writing.
What is a cliché? Formally speaking, a cliché is “a trite, stereotyped expression; a sentence or phrase, usually expressing a popular or common thought or idea, that has lost originality; ingenuity, and impact by long overuse, as sadder but wise, or strong as an ox” (as defined by http://www.dictionary.com). In simple terms, a cliché is an overused sentence or phrase that has essentially lost its original meaning or effect. If one were to sit down, one could come up with a plethora of clichés such as the grass is always greener on the other side, time will tell, opposites attract, a diamond in the rough, and so forth. In writing, the writer rewrites a cliché in a ‘novel or unexpected way’. For instance, rather than saying, “her eyes are as blue as the sky,” one could rewrite it as, “her eyes shimmered between azure and sapphire hues like the churning of the tidal waves and foam against the rocky shores”. The very process of rewriting a cliché however, does not mean that the cliché “does not exist” but rather, it has been “repackaged” in such a manner that it has the illusion of being novel. I say it has the illusion of being novel because underneath the novelty, the message is still the same – “her eyes are as blue as the sky”, the only difference is that I chose to use different descriptors by replacing some or all of the parts of speech (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) to exemplify the same meaning but in a manner that I deem to be more fitting.
Essentially, writing is an active and continual process of word manipulation or word play in which the writer determines how to characterize an experience based on their understanding and/or knowledge so that it best exudes an emotion, scenery, experience, conflict, and so forth. But I wonder, is there a limit to the ways in which clichés are rewritten? How many times can a cliché be “repackaged” before the “repackaging” becomes reabsorbed and thus, turns into a cliché itself? On the other hand, most “repackaged clichés” don’t become a cliché in it of itself, but just how long can one sustain, “her eyes shimmered between azure and sapphire hues like the churning of the tidal waves against the rocky shores”? It’s wordy and it wouldn’t necessarily work in all circumstances where there’s a person and “her eyes are as blue as the sky”; inevitably one must at some point or another return to the original cliché itself. There’s also the dilemma, what if one has limited or no knowledge of the original and is therefore unable to identify it, then what does that suggest? Maybe they continuously use the same cliché over and over again without the awareness – MAYBE, this is how a statement or phrase becomes known as a cliché?!
So why my obsession with clichés? Well… when I contemplate these peculiar “twists and turns” of the “what,” “how,” and “why’s,” I realize that this thing called “life” is really no different. If life is merely a series of strung-together clichés in which we as human beings, reinvent the ways we express and comprehend the same sets of emotions, life experiences (e.g. via the social, economic, political, and etc.), conflicts and so forth, then life is similar to that of a writer who reinvents writing by finding new ways of describing and stringing together the mundane. As a writer contemplates how to rewrite and reinvent so that it’s appropriate and fitting for the “scene”, a human being responds and reactions accordingly based on their own past experiences, information, and knowledge – or in other words, the response and reactions of human beings are contingent on their subject positions. Furthermore, as a writer would need many drafts, often beginning with lots of “really, really shitty first drafts” before they are able to as suggested by writer Anne Lamott (1995; http://buddha-rat.squarespace.com/shitty-first-drafts/), the same with human beings as we trek through life in a series of trial and error.
If any of this is making any sense to you as the reader, then I ask you to follow me for just a couple more steps. If the life of each individual is a series of “strung-together clichés” so to speak, then it would seem that an individual is essentially living a life that has already been lived throughout the course of history. The only seeming novelty is the ways in which one responds or reacts and the sequential order in which those reactionary actions are strung together; thus creating the illusion that each human life is somehow unique when in fact we are all really a series of “stringed clichés”. I suppose one could argue that there is also an external newness that ought to be taken into consideration such as the ways in which the society and environment at large changes (e.g. technological advancements, new viruses and diseases, endangered and extinct organisms and animals, etc.). Although I agree to some extent that these external occurrences may bring about unknown consequences, I do believe that human behavior is quite predictable if one were to simply examine and study history from multiple perspectives.
So what exactly am I trying to say after all this rambling? Well, all this rambling has left me at yet, another impasse with again, more questions than answers. On a macro level, I wonder if human beings are capable of conceptualizing something different, something that is not what we already know or think we know. If we’re able to, how might it affect us, the other organisms that cohabit, and the planet? And on an individual level, speaking more in terms of my own self-reflection, would one be able to step away from her/his own experiences and biases? Or more simply put, after any experience in this time span that we call life, can we ever return a moment when our heart and mind is capable of setting aside our predispositions so that we may trust again – both in ourselves and in others? And if one were capable of doing so, would it make a difference? In what ways would we still be repeating and reinventing the various clichés? Or are we simply stuck in this predicament of variously “stringed clichés”?