In Defense of Clichés

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

There are few literary critiques more scathing than to call something ‘cliché’. Whether written work, movie, theory or idea, the accusation of ‘cliché’ is an attempt to strip an idea of all originality and reduce it to a rehashed, tired idea worthy of little to no real consideration.

At times, the accusations carry weight. Originality, after all, is the hallmark of the creative mind. To discover new ways of phrasing familiar concepts, or new metaphors to capture the intricacies of our particular perspective is the high-water mark of self-expression, and to rely on cliché in such an endeavour is to devalue our individuality and relegate ourselves to playing stock-characters on the stage of our own lives.

Others are more forgiving with the careful use of cliché. A red rose in a romantic moment, a moving if familiar pledge of commitment until the end of time/ mountains crumble/ last rains fall—there are plenty of clichéd tropes which still serve their purpose with poignancy—even if it’s at the expense of personalization.

Still, there are other sorts of clichés which go moreover ignored or unnoticed by most people. In his book ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces’, Joseph Campbell explores the idea of the ‘archetypal hero’ found in mythologies the world over.

This idea of the ‘monomyth’—the familiar journey told by countless cultures throughout every period of time—asserts that there are certain commonalities to the human experience and imagination—a familiar chord touched on no matter the background, language, or experience of the people in question.

The implications here are quite interesting. If there are indeed common strands of myth and story which echo across time and culture, it would be easy enough to disregard them—casting them aside along with all the other worthless and overly familiar clichés we so adamantly oppose.

Alternatively, we may be able to learn something from these enduring strands of the shared human experience. What motivates these similarities, and what conclusions might we glean from their timeless resilience?

Clichés, myths, legends…all have grown to such recognizable stature as a result of their ability to speak across cultures and great lengths of time…to connect with something deep within us all and speak to our inner-most truths.

So, do not shudder the next time someone reminds you of the colours of roses or violets, or offers some other tired yet comfortably trite piece of wisdom like that. Rather, recognize it for its history and accuracy. Rather than blaming the familiar for our own occasionally drab existence, let us look inside to find the underlying reasons for their ubiquity.

Beneath the worn-out stories and faded metaphors may lie a secret to our shared humanity, and the deeper we go into the genesis of these ancient comforts, the closer we may find ourselves to the echoes of the old and glorious themes of our common past.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Bushido of Bogney, Part II

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

Bushido: (武士道) literally meaning “the way of the warrior”, is a Japanese word for the way of the samurai life, loosely analogous to the concept of chivalry in Europe. (Source)

 Bogney: A tiny dog, wise for his years.

Today, we once again combine the old and the new for a fresh new perspective on life through the eyes of our classy canine friend. This is the daily living of a small dog. This is the extrapolated wisdom of the ages…This is the Bushido of Bogney.

-Click Here for the Original Article-

Lesson #1:

At the start of each morning, Bogney is given his portion of food for the day. When I am out of the house, he will rarely touch it. When I return, he eats it ravenously. This is a clever concept lost on even most people. When earthly pleasures are limited, we must be prudent and careful. When the source of these pleasures is close and there is bounty for all, we must remember to occasionally indulge ourselves.

Lesson #2:

Bogney is a creature of habit, and learns quickly what are the expectations on him, and the proper etiquette for any situation. When at home, he knows his walk times, when to go to the bathroom, and the expected rewards of each. When he is at another residence, this is thrown off. At times such as this, Bogney will divide up his washroom breaks, hoping to be rewarded for each tiny movement. It is a clever trick, but rarely successful.

Nevertheless, he will continue with the ruse whenever the possibility arises. To pursue with creative vigour any potentiality we desire is the mark of an ambitious soul.

Lesson #3:

In the company of his master, Bogney is a model of restraint and composure—entirely content with life, and his place within it. However, on the occasion of company arriving at his home, he becomes cloying—clinging to his master’s leg in a desperate bid for constant attention. We most value the things we have when we can see that they are also valued by others.

At this point in our lessons, I’m afraid Bogney became quite distracted in an effort to catch a piece of dust from the air, and is well beyond any further insights. Perhaps there is some gem of wisdom to draw from this as well, but this writer, for now, will remain content in watching the show.

Fear not though, as soon as the air is cleansed of foreign particles, there is no doubt Bogney will be back with further enlightening anecdotes for us all.

-Brad OH Inc.

‘33’

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

It’s not that I’m getting old. I’m not feeling especially tired either. Besides, those are hardly the sorts of things I’m inclined to worry about. At least I’d like to think that’s the case. It’s just that there’s so very much to do. So many aspirations, and so dreadfully little time. Occasionally, I suppose, I get the sense I’m running a little behind.

A man can dream of innumerable potential lives, but has only one to live. With each commitment, another potential sets sail. There are always the basics to cover: a stable job, a place to live, a good group of friends. It’s not so very much, but each aspect shaves off a bit more time that could theoretically be spent elsewhere.

Each day spent on one thing is wasted to all else. We make our decisions, parse out our time and effort as we see fit, and carry on the best we can.

But the dreams, aspirations, and desires do not fade. Neither do the questions.

How does one balance the daily grind, and also seek to better himself?

Do the basics of daily living get in the way of aspirations to change the world? Or is the way we live daily the very thing which defines our world?

Can a man ever be his best self without a better half? Do we live to serve, and if so, who?

Is our duty to ourselves, our loved ones, or the world as a whole?

We all dream of answers. Of contentment, adventure, satisfaction.

Some of us actually find them. Others manage to convince themselves they have. The rest, I suppose, search forever.

Each day can feel like an effort. Sometimes they may require an exhausting exertion just to get through. Yet as each day closes, how many unanswered questions and unaddressed desires remain? The love you’ve yet to find. The voice you’ve yet to share. The world you’ve yet to live in. What about them?

…33.

It’s not so old by any stretch of the imagination.

Still, there are times—day, evening, or night—when I get that weird feeling in my gut. Like maybe, I’m just running a little behind.

-Brad OH Inc.

Gethsemane

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

The green of the trees,

Had passed to grey,

In the deepening dark of night.

I stood waiting,

For you to show,

And knew I would not fight.

I’d seen it all,

What was to come,

We had our roles to play.

To bring it here,

To share those words,

Then sweep it all away.

For no act’s worth,

Is known until,

The final die is cast.

We’d built this house,

And raised it high,

But now to make it last.

The night was still,

The rest were calm,

When you came through the gate.

With fear and fire,

You kissed my lips,

And forever sealed our fate.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Evocation Series- ‘Straight Time’

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

The following post is part of ‘The Evocation Series’. Click Here for more information about the project, and to learn how to get involved yourself!

Bruce Springsteen- ‘Straight Time’

Song Link

There is a precarious balance we all must face. It’s a struggle, whether conscious or not, to maintain the equilibrium between our compulsion for virtue and our desire for self-betterment. Certainly, these are not antithetical concepts, but the world can surely make them feel so at times.

In the darkness before dinner comes,
Sometimes I can feel the itch.

We all make sacrifices. With each effort to stay on whatever path seems best, we watch other opportunities slip away. Old friends, cherished memories, lost loves—all fade into the distant past, like fog giving way to morning light, we are left to what we have chosen, and must leave the rest behind.

But you get used to anything,
Sooner or later it becomes your life.

It works, for the most part. We go along our path, and we seldom pause to question it. We stick with what works, and slowly we close the door on all those other potentials—dreams on the wind; childish, silly things.

Seems you can’t get any more than half free,
I step out onto the front porch, and suck the cold air deep inside of me.

Then, there are those other times. Suddenly, all those forgotten potentials seem like just yesterday. The knot of conviction loosens, and those old fantasies feel so close to your grasp, it would take but the smallest slip to reach out and take hold. And at what cost, exactly?

If we’re lucky, we will never know.

Got a cold mind to go tripping cross that thin line,
I’m sick of doin’ straight time.

Push it down baby, bury it deep. A mind in turmoil is quick to question its course, to debate and dissect all the small decisions which have set us upon our present heading. But a placid mind, reassured by peace and comforted by contentment, may move past this unease, and with sufficient will and wisdom, will let those fleeting moments pass.

-Brad OH Inc.

Chekhov’s Gun is Bullshit

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

‘Chekhov’s Gun’ is a dramatic principle for writers, meant to teach us that ‘every element of a story must be necessary, and irrelevant elements should be removed’ (Source).

In its most basic form, it famously states that if there is a gun on the wall in one chapter, it must go off in a later chapter. Otherwise, it should not be there.

What a load of bullshit!

While certainly well-intentioned—for it is good to avoid the extraneous, and reductive editing is almost always the surest route to perfection—the principle at its simplest entirely ignores the myriad reasons to include such an item in a story.

To say that a gun must go off or not exist at all is to limit the writer’s freedom and usher all creative narration into cookie cutter niches of content. Guns must equate to shootouts. Attraction must result in sex. Loss must evoke retribution or vindication. It’s all very formulaic, and in the end we end up with a far less promising array of potentials.

The notion itself only attempts to force stories and thought into a more linear pattern, allowing less growth in exchange for more action. It’s predictable, trite, and self-limiting.

Let us look briefly to an example. The Bruce Springsteen song ‘Galveston Bay’ (Link) tells the story of two Americans with very different experiences of the Vietnam war and its resulting influx of immigrants. Le, a native of Vietnam, flees his war-torn country for the alluring promise of America. Billy sees the immigrants coming and changing the life he’d always known. When, at the end of the song, Billy waits for Le in an alley with a Ka-bar knife, Checkhov’s principle would clearly state that the knife must come into play.

But it doesn’t. Billy slips the knife back into his pocket and lets Le pass—finally understanding the joint nature of their struggles, and realizing that his destructive impulse was not a true solution.

This is a far more interesting and dramatic narrative than another simple back-alley knifing. Had the knife not been included, we would struggle to understand the tension and conflict of Billy’s mindset. Had it been used, we would not see his development.

So, dear writers, while catch-all principles can serve as useful reminders, let us not fall into the habit of taking them as sacrosanct. Tiny details can serve to develop character, and show choices far beyond their most obvious functions. Guns aren’t always fired, hurt doesn’t always result in glory, and kisses, sadly, aren’t always forever. Sometimes, they are simply experiences we must pass through, learning what we can.

After all, owning a gun can tell you a lot about a character, but the decision not to use one when provoked can show you far more. We should always be mindful of this.

-Brad OH Inc.

The Evocation Series- ‘Nightfall’

Under the Green Desk Lamp…

The following post is part of ‘The Evocation Series’. Click Here for more information about the project, and to learn how to get involved yourself!

Blind Guardian- ‘Nightfall’

 Song Link

Arda, the world in which J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth is set, was once a more beautiful and perfect place. The elves were invited West to the undying lands by the rulers of the land, the Valar, to join in the eternal bliss of the two trees. But jealousy and strife were sown by the Dark Lord Melkor, who destroyed the two trees of Valinor and set off a series of events which would leave the world forever changed.

All hope’s lost it can’t be undone

They’re wasted and gone.

Mourning, the elves sought desperately to return to the way things were, but found it impossible. Greed and pride prevented any solution, and the elves soon learned that there are some wounds too deep to heal, and that even the greatest of graces in their world were not beyond the taint of darkness.

The light she once brought in

Is gone forevermore.

But Fёanor, the king of the Noldor elves, could not accept this loss. For Melkor had also stolen the Silmarils, those three jewels created by Fёanor, which held within them the very light of the two trees. Fёanor was enraged by this transgression, and against the advice of the Valar swore a holy oath to retrieve them from Melkor at all cost.

The words of a banished king

“I swear revenge”.

This oath was unforgivable, and all the Noldor who followed Fёanor were banished forever from the undying lands of the Valar—doomed to toil eternally on their hopeless quest in the dark lands of Middle-Earth to the east. Some turned back, but others refused to see their kin march into doom unaided, and set out across the seas and ice to what fate might await them.

Never trust the northern winds

Never turn your back on friends.

What became of them? Well, they died. Over the centuries, almost to the last, they were slaughtered and watched their kingdoms burn and friends fall as the devastation of Melkor came to fruition. But their oath held them, and never could they return to the undying lands.

Nightfall

Quietly crept in and changed us all

Nightfall

Immortal land lies down in agony.

Loss can be a cruel thing indeed, and many of us in this world will see the things we hold dearest taken from us, devalued, or destroyed. But it is in these times when our faith in decency must be the most powerful. For to allow the sting of death and time to turn us away from what is good and enduring is the most painful loss of all.

-Brad OH Inc.