Blogs by Kalikiano Kalei
Da Arda Gud Riting
2/5/2008 2:18:43 PM
Reflections on a long-since demised and totally unique mentor who used words as a Star-Wars type defensive shield to fend off the emotional heartaches of an unhappy world, full of unpleasantness (as he perceived it) and potentially hurtful experiences. He was an exceptionally brilliant and sensitive soul, needless to say, and as is all too often the case, his was the bad luck to have ended up carrying an AR-15 automatic rifle into a rice paddy teeming with Vietcong, back in 1960, as a draftee. His traumatic struggle to cope with raw reality fortuously came to an end when an AK-47 round found its way into the arid chambers of his frontal lobe, one hot and sultry Southeast Asian evening, thus ending his anguished mortal soliloquies. This is a recollection of Sten, da 'riginal wizzuda woids. [See my whimiscal paean to Sten among my poems--viz. 'Da Wizzuda Woids']
DA ARTA GUD RITIN’ (Da Wizzuda Woids)
Many years ago, while in my Freshman year of college, I somehow acquired a friend named Sten Punckering (not his real name). Sten was really quite an anomaly among my peers, as someone inherently possessed of an absolutely incredible writing ability. This was back in a time, you must remember, when even though the literacy of the average student was far better then than it is now, it was still rare for a freshman college student to have this level of skill at putting words down on paper at that early stage of one’s education!
What distinguished Sten from the rest of us who enjoyed writing and literature was his phenomenally complex writing style. Now any teacher of English writing will tell you that the essence of good writing is to achieve as much clarity of meaning and conveyance of intent with as few words as possible. By the terms of that generally agreed upon axiom of creative writing, I myself violate every basic law in the ‘Dummy’s Guide to Good Composition’ handbook. With deliberated intent, I commonly employ as many arcane and complicated words as possible to say what could be best said cleanly, simply, and briefly…every time, in every effort. The result of this personal style of mine is a superfluity of verbiage masquerading as written communication that threatens to emasculate and overwhelm any point that I am striving to make. Almost as if the stylised flourishes of elegant, long-hand written script being used to express a body of thought threaten to drown the very words they were forming, in a frenzied sea of chaotic, schizophrenic linear tangents. Yes, my writing style sucks big time, bites the big weenie of literary convention, no doubt about it. The only saving grace to be found in my invariably voluminous jottings is that a few people occasionally find rare bits of them slightly beguiling and mildly amusing…but please, no encouragement, mes amis! Encouraging my writing fetish is somewhat like spoiling a Siberian Husky dog. If you aren’t quite sure what that is like, take it from me that once spoiled, a Siberian will from that point onwards attempt to exert overall ‘alpha dog’ command control over the ‘treat’ process that has so rottenly enslaved him to those little morsally bribes (thereby rendering the behavioral influencing process utterly futile).
However, and to return to my mention of Sten, here was a person (Sten) who used words the way the German Wehrmacht deloyed its Panzer divisons in battle. That is to say, his fusillade of words rained down upon the unwitting reader with all the force of a Blitzkrieg. It was therefore quite a shell-shocking experience (post traumatic reading experience?) to attempt to plough through and make sense of anything written by Sten. Even reading one of Sten’s numerous 3M sticky-note draft annotations was like receiving the full force of a three Megaton nuclear warhead directly in one’s cerebral center of understanding. Why exactly was this, you ask? It had everything to do with the fact that Sten was one of those semi-brilliant souls who could snow you with absolutely meaningless blather on paper with such credibility and stentorian style that you’d swear you were reading some terribly lofty and seriously erudite doctoral thesis by Albert Einstein, only recently rediscovered after being lost for decades!
Sten was, to put it in other words, an amazingly talented bullshit artist of the highest and finest caliber conceivable. If you think my own writing is portentous, unnecessarily long-winded, avoidably complicated, and breezily overconstructed by several orders of magnitude, you would have been absolutely blown out of the water by Sten’s skillful application of the gentle art of complexly structured, circumlocutive web-spinning. He was peerless in this capacity, being able to effortlessly hold forth on virtually any topic you could think of or name with the ostensible forcefulness and utter credibility of a Shaw or Proust on steroids.
How well I recall reading over a few of the more lengthy of Sten’s stunning output of papers, articles, position statements, and/or viewpoints. The effect it had on your mind was, I like to think, more than merely being mesmerized by the most rhetorically gifted, silver-throated lecturer imaginable, orating on some highly contentious topic of public interest. Despite the complexity of the words, analogies, aphoristic modes of allusive reference, metaphorical contrasts, and structural mechanics employed by Sten in his broadsides (or perhaps, contrariwise, because of them), you would swear you were reading something that was not just truly important, but that had the ringing verisimilitude of complete and absolute truth inextricably woven into and throughout the fabric of its entire matrix.
I would often sit there, trying vainly to penetrate the impossibly complex layer after layer of allusions, metaphors, insinuations, references, assertions, accusations, opinions, contrasts, and allegorical aspersions that Sten so expertly employed, so as to be able to single out a solitary sliver of some obviously asynchronous incongruency that would help me point a legitimate finger convincingly at the sham nature of his output; alas, all to no avail!
Sten was so artful in his tactical deployment of words and his Napoleonic marshalling of writing structures, conventions, and style as shields of utter obfuscation, that you could typically plough through 10 single-spaced pages of typewritten effusiveness (whipped out of his typewriter faster than the average person can think, let alone type) and be unable to articulate any single thread of meaning, arrive at any sensible conclusion, or conclude any usefully productive analysis of the entire perusal. The typical response a reader of Sten’s written effluent would at best consist of a perplexed look, a furtive lateral darting of the eyes signaling complete befuddlement, and a reddened face betraying the frustrating futility of the entire foregoing effort.
As a freshman writer with great enthusiasms and imagination, but with little inherently outstanding literary skill (despite my Celtic bloodlines), Sten’s literary legerdemain REALLY impressed me, for although I knew for a solid fact that Sten was in reality merely a sort of adolescent ‘Great Wizard of Oz’, hiding behind the voluminous green curtains of his totally impenetrable prose, his ability to go on and on and on and on at great and intricate length without really saying a single thing that had any substance or fact underlying it simply blew my youthful mind to smithereens! I felt as if I were in the presence of someone truly gifted and figuratively graced with heavenly laurels whenever I was around Sten, for not only did he have the ability to bullshit his way past the most formidably resistant arguments of any attempt to penetrate his verbose fusillades (no matter how strong or cogent), he had as well the air and mannerisms of someone truly great and knowledgeable to perfectly compliment this literary circus act of his, with its believably perfect veneer of credibility and abject sincerity.
Sten was renown for preparing 20 page reports on books he was supposed to have read, which in fact he had not even opened; reports that invariably scored an ‘A’, dotted with enthusiastic annotations by the instructor at the bottom, commending him on what a superb analysis he had made of (substitute own subject of preference). Sten would typically take a writing assignment home, ostensibly to research and write a paper on some arcane topic of the teacher’s choosing, then promptly disappear into his basement ‘vault’ and emerge the next morning looking acceptably fresh if seriously hungry, go to class, and hand in 50 pages of absolutely specious documentation that had been drawn forth mostly from his fevered brain. Each effort of his along these lines was a magnificent tour de force demonstration of his ability to write endless amounts of the most obscure, most frightfully convincing and seemingly authoritative BS that the human mind could possibly conceive.
Punkering, as is frequently the case when a prospective Rasputin-like guru of some discipline or another arises amidst the hoi poloi, soon attracted an almost equally divided following of detractors and followers. Given his ability to appear the most guileless, sincere, and abjectly uncharismatic of divine entities, the Jesus-like mien worked perfectly to further establish his brilliance as a word-slinger of near-epic proportions on our campus. It further helped his stature as an object of adoration and raw hatred that his political leanings were decidedly left of center, and soon he was to be found at the intellectual core of half a dozen semi-socialist campus organizations. Punkering, the heroic Victor Hugo paragon of virtuous battle for all that cried out to be rectified on the student scene was soon up to his eyeballs in more broadly based sociopolitical activities and when our paths finally parted (in my sophomore year) Sten was already quite likely on half a dozen anti-communistic ‘most wanted provocateur’ lists, not to mention that of the FBI, NSA, USAI, and NI surveillance rosters of 'highly suspicious individuals'. He was, in Arlo Guthrie's whimsical musical metaphor (Alice's Restaurant), the most likely candidate I can think of to be sitting on that hypothetical county sheriff's office bench with all the mother stabbers and father rapers.
Given the otherwise Podunk nature of our bland little southern California Central Valley community college, Punkering’s romantic aura and mysterious allure, as someone who seems to KNOW something apparently denied to us more pedestrian mortals, appeared inexhaustible. At the time all this was going on, I was a dabbler in prose, perhaps one of the worst adolescent wannabe poets on the face of the planet, and writing social fantasy material for amateur science fiction fanzines. I had thought my stuff was at least moderately readable, based as it was on a mixed modicum of factual documentation, genuine experience, and enthusiastic creative fervor. For I had, after all, been well schooled in the theoretical literary dogma promoting veracity in journalism since my earliest days.
Sten acquired the answers to all his unanswerable questions about the Universe and all its mysteries the hard way, since his student dererment was ultimately yanked in the last, heaving throes of the Vietnam War. Drafted into the Marines (like that brilliant and famous English poet who lost his life in the trenches of WWI) , Sten was given a weapon and sent out to die a lonely death in a watery rice field like so many other totally unprepared and deceived young men in the early 70s. Despite Sten's traumatic end, he remains today in my recollections as one of the most impressive youthful intellectuals I knew in my own foundering search for adolescent truth. And just between you and I, I resort to his obfuscative tactics every now and then myself when the world tends to press a bit too close to the quick of life's most tender personal sensitivities.
Malama pono, Kalikiano
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