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Posted November 9, 2011
CORPSY FLAVORED WRITING
Dopecorp put out an article titled "What's Really in Spam?" There, Cecil Adams discusses trying to get those at Dopecorp to actually eat some Spam so the reporting would be more authentic. He quotes travel writer Paul Theroux from Happy Isles (1992): "It was a theory of mine that former cannibals of Oceania now feasted on Spam because Spam came the nearest to approximating the porky taste of human flesh. 'Long pig' as they called a cooked human being in much of Melanesia. It was a fact that the people-eaters of the Pacific had all evolved, or perhaps degenerated, into Spam-eaters. And in the absence of Spam they settled for corned beef, which also had a corpsy flavor."
Of course, Paul Theroux later confessed that this was a joke. And Cecil Adams reminds us that among Pacific islanders, other types of meat are lacking or unreliable due to lack of refrigeration.
Whew and double whew because I've eaten Spam. Once.
My mother used to serve it on occasion because my Dad enjoyed eating things like brains and eggs, sardines, and other disgusting salty things. It could have to do with almost starving on one occasion while parachuting behind enemy lines in Sicily during WWII and being lost in action for days with one egg shared between three soldiers. After that, he'd eat anything. As long as it stayed still. After tasting a fried slab of Spam, I declined the mystery meat forever and Mother eventually stopped buying it after I banned it.
I tried to erase the word that tasted of death from my vocabulary. Then along came the internet and Spam with spammers. Now we know why internet Spam was coined from Spam -- a product that has lots of fat in it and something a lot of consumers don't want. One single serving--two thin slices--contains 30 percent of the daily saturated-fat quota. Popping open a can of Spam is like listening to a heartache on hold. Opening up a Spam message from the internet--well, wonder how many folks have had to go in for EKG's after reading someone's Spam and experiencing angina?
So, I've discussed Spam in the flesh --heh heh-- and cyberspace Spam. We want to carve it out of our lives. And no, I wouldn't really shoot a dog over a can of Spam or internet Spam either.
But what about the Spam in our writing? How much of that fat can we carve out?
Here's what I want you to try. After a manuscript has ripened in the drawer--go back and see if you can delete these two words: *that* and *just*.
After you've deleted as many of those Spam words as you can, now take a look at passive verbs. Substitute those with more meaty verbs and get rid of what's left of the pig after the ham has been removed. While you're at it, go whole hog and take out most adverbs and replace with words that show and don't tell.
For instance: Tonto and the pony that he rode just quickly made their way to the scene of the crime.
Try: Leaping onto his paint pony, Scout, Tonto raced to the holdup.
Raced is an action verb. They arrived there more than "just quickly". The reader visualizes mane in the wind and a trail of dust kicked up by a pony of more than one color. (Of course we know that white and black aren't really colors but hang with me here and don't go all geeky tech.) The word holdup says it all without having to explain a crime scene. Giving the pony a name makes the sentence and life in general more interesting. It takes the corpsy flavor out of the writing.
I doubt if there's a writers' cloud in heaven but who knows. There could be. Don't miss out on you're getting through that pearly gate leading to the fluffy place where Moby Dick and knot tying could be discussed for all eternity. Who wants to be up there hanging out after the meat-n-greet. Sorry. Meet-n-greet. With all of the computer geeks. And there could be a silver lining: I doubt there will be an internet and we'll no longer have to Tweet and no doubt Spam won't be served on a silver platter. Nothing but pure lit. Ahhhhhhh. We may let the computer geeks listen in on our literary conversations since they'll no longer have anything familiar like hard drives and software to keep them busy.
But then again, who really knows? And I've searched the Book of Revelation for anything resembling Spam. Nothing's there. Spam's man-made. And God didn't even send Spam to the rebellious Israelites trudging in circles for forty years in the desert complaining. Okay. He took them out with quail. But that was only because they were gluttons and grumblers. But in 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 I found this: "But this I say, brethren, the time is short:...and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away."
I take that to mean (every now and then you need a *that*) there will be no Spam in heaven and down here the time is short. So for now on earth, whether it be refraining from eating foods that are bad for you so you can live long enough to see your grandkids or send out junk emails or fat writing habits--live longer. Stop SPAMMING with corpsy flavored writing!
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Powerful, Vicki. This article makes me want to rewrite. Thanks. - Irmgard Williams
Ah yes, Irmgard. Revise, revise, revise. Glad to help.