When You've Said Too Much

24 Jan 2014 | Phil Geusz

I’ve long been fascinated by the art of communication. While writing is my forte, I’m also fascinated by radio—I was a teen-aged disc jockey for a time at an educational station—and just about all other forms of gasbaggery. One of the things that has struck me most profoundly over the years is how much all the various means of exchanging thoughts and ideas have in common with each other at the basic level.

Over the years I’ve chosen a very few favorite literary passages and other odds and ends of communication and thought long and hard about what makes them work so well. One is an excerpt from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes, more specifically the arrival of the Midnight Circus Train. Another is the last few paragraphs of Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which never leaves me dry-eyed. A third is a lesser-known but still famous scene from book five of the Horatio Hornblower series (Beat to Quarters was the American title) by C.S. Forester in which the protagonist, half-mad from noise and terror and the strain of command in the most brutal sort of combat struggles to maintain his sanity as he (largely by pure force of will) stands for hour after hour in the hot sun with the corpses of his friends and shipmates piling up ever deeper all around him. These are all three of them brilliant gems of the literary art, and each achieved much of their impact using very different techniques. Indeed, they share only a single thing in common.

Not one of them is one syllable longer than they absolutely must be in order to achieve the effect intended. Indeed, each is remarkably short compared to the power they command in the reader’s mind. Not a shred of “non-essential” or “second-rate” material is present to water down the impact of the rest.

It wasn’t literature that first caused me to notice this phenomenon—like many children my age I was required to memorize the Gettysburg Address. The Address was only a few words long, yet if ever a national leader has delivered a more powerful or timeless message I’m unaware of it. According to my history teacher, during that era speeches—and American political speeches in particular—tended to drone on for hours and be filled with highfaluting twenty dollar words, impressive gesticulations, eyerolling, appeals to heaven and seventy-four other sorts of tommyrot nonsense audiences would never tolerate today. By contrast, Lincoln’s speech was over before some of the audience were even aware he’d truly begun. Again we see the same pattern, in this case expressed so powerfully that eventually it redefined the art of speechifying in America if not worldwide—brevity, brevity, brevity. Let not the second-rate water down the Really Good stuff. After all, if it’s not on-point then it’s not what your audience came to hear about/paid to read.

Which leads me to the real point of this piece…

[adjective][species], as I understand it (and correct me if I’m wrong here), wants to be seen as the “literary” or “intellectual” news source of the fandom. There’s nothing wrong with that—this world has plenty of room for both The New Yorker and Mad Magazine, after all. No one enjoys a good “thought piece” more than I do, and I’ve even been honored to write a couple-three of the things myself in this venue and others. But there are dangers here, some of which are less obvious than others. When one sets out to intellectualize about the fandom, for example, it’s first essential to have something valid, on-topic and interesting to say. Such articles are in very short supply for a “furry New Yorker”, I’d imagine, so it’s understandable that the focus may have to widen sometimes merely in order to obtain new material. The demand for quality, on-topic articles is bound to exceed the supply, especially considering what the authors are being paid. The danger is, however, is that if you water things down enough pretty soon you’re really not running an intellectual magazine about furries and the furry fandom anymore. Don’t get me wrong—if I were to attempt to force myself to write at least one “deep” or “introspective” furry article a month for [a][s], well… I have the self-discipline to crank something out, were I foolish enough to make such a commitment. But would it really be up to snuff or invariably of interest to the average fur?

No. Not a chance. I just don’t have that many good ideas. And that’s why I believe that [a][s] should be about the really good stuff and only the really good stuff. It is of this that true greatness is made. If the cost is a shorter magazine or fewer issues per year, then let it be so. After all, there are only so many genuinely profound things one can say about a given fandom. This is the lesson of the masters of communication—not a syllable should wasted, nor should a sentence (or an article) be off-topic. Instead let there be laser-like focus on what is truly of interest to the fandom and creating excellence in how this material is presented. Most of all, let not the editors worry themselves excessively over rejecting (or heavily editing) that which does not belong.

I congratulate [a][s] for attempting something incredibly difficult in terms of what they aspire to be, and I’m also very proud to be associated with them. (Or at least I hope that I’m still associated with them after posting this article!) I’ve always been all about high aspirations and reaching for the very top, and I think that [a][s] is doing exactly that. Let Flayrah—a publication equally high in my regard, for various reasons—deal with the “what” and “when” and “where” of the fandom; that’s their forte. [a][s], in my own opinion, should be where a reader seeks the “how” and (even more importantly) the “why”. These are far tougher questions, requiring a different mindset and format to deal with properly, and…

Oh, my.

I’ve gone on a bit too long. Haven’t I?