The Bones

Someone suggested to me recently that the best way to handle particularly challenging events is, “to let the world tell you its story.” By which he meant, don’t impose a story upon it. Great advice, I thought, for writers or anyone else.

Reminds me of what Hemingway said about adjectives. He didn’t trust them. I understand this. Words like beauty, good, strange, greedy—these are judgments in the end. So a man just offered a generous raise asks for more money. We might call him greedy. Yet all we really know for sure are the nouns and the verbs of the situation: man, raise, asks for more money. Greed is a judgment we impose upon it. Has he not gotten a raise in years? Does he want to get fired? Or maybe nothing is ever enough for him.

This is why all writing books, when discussing style, focus on the nouns and verbs, because life at its core is nouns and verbs. Someone did something, that we know for sure, the rest is opinion. Of course, the Op Ed page is the most read section in most newspapers, so we like opinions—but the opinion we usually like the most is our own. As it should be.

And as any good opinion writer knows, the bones of the case of your opinion must be built from what we call facts, nouns and verbs. Here is what happened, and here is the conclusion I draw from these events. The bad opinion writer simply piles on praise or insults: so-and-so is a liar, a cheat, and a bum. We must take his word for it. No bones.

The beauty of the world—that is, everything happening outside of you—is it’s pristine neutrality. Were it not so, we would not all be able to draw our own unique conclusions. This conclusion-drawing leads to a lot of war and broken marriages, but I actually think this is a small price to pay. The alternative is a form of slavery, chaining ourselves to a perspective outside our own heart. Freedom requires great responsibility, and the first freedom, perhaps the only freedom, is not just the right but in fact the requirement that we decide something for ourselves. Only a neutral world would allow this. So rejoice in the blank canvas of life. Nothing is ever anything until you say it is so.

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