Secret Mojo Dumbs It Down for You

August 29, 2006

Clichés are stolen souls

Filed under: navel gazing,Random Thoughts,writing — secretmojo @ 5:58 am

I like two Bad Things: rhetoric and clichés. Rhetoric because it is large, sweeping, and full of vision—until some pundit uses its power as an elixir to make his shortness taller. And clichés because they are such charmingly pithy phrases that everyone wants to go to bed with them.

Clichés get a bad rap. At birth, they are singularly powerful observations of truth: a blooming awareness in the mind. You can save nine stitches when you spend time on one. Hamlet was being cruel to be kind. And it’s true: the road less traveled is far more interesting. How? Let me count the ways…

But over time and over use, the pith of a once shiny phrase dulls, and we’re left only with the abstract idea, its words a train that delivers thought with no imagery. Overworked and exhausted, this memetic poetry becomes vernacular, hackneyed, “to be avoided.”

Ironically, the better the phrase, the more at risk it is for becoming overused. Sad that the most resonant utterings of mankind get filed under “bad writing” nowadays. It’s not their fault for being superlative! They were well-put at inception; what arrogance makes us believe that we can rewrite “water under the bridge” into something more poetic and sad? For such an “accomplished” playwright, I like to joke, Shakespeare sure did write a hell of a lot of clichés.

To let clichés play with my mind once more, I spent some time over at the Cliché Finder. I know there are better sites out there, but Cliché Finder retains the clunkiness of reader-submitted clichés, and sports a random feature that will throw them at you, ten per fistfull.

It’s instructive to read a cliché out of context, and honor its native essence. Most clichés are born smiling, and rekindling the life back into one is as simple as pressing your imagination into it.

For example. “Throw the baby out with the bath water.” This is terrifying.

“It’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye”: is this not as well?

On the other hand (he lifts his left hand for contrast), Cliché Finder hosts some duds (bombs too weak to detonate) as well. Some clichés are entered incorrectly—“Eat your cake and have it, too”?—while some phrases are not clichés at all, but hackneyed jargon, common language, a play on clichés, or famous quotes. “Hunky dory” may be a popular phrase, but it is as much a cliché as “A-OK.” Which is to say, not at all.

So what is a cliché? In its looser sense, cliché could mean anything trite, from horror movie plots to the ubiquitously poached “war.” But I think a proper cliché must a) be a common phrase, and b) still hold wealth inside it. It can delight unsullied, imaginative minds—like those of children—still today: “When the cat’s away, the mice will play.”

The creator of The Cliché Finder, Morgan, offers a small treatise on the subject. I’m not sure I’m happy with his definition: “a metaphor characterized by its overuse.” Is “on the other hand” a cliché, then? What makes this phrase any dirtier than “However”, “in contrast,” or “but”? It is a metaphor. It has been overused. But is it really a cliché? I’d like to say “no,” because it has imagery, yet no insight.
It’s a tricky puzzle, defining what a cliché is. But I shall stick with my earlier definition: A cliché is a phrase so charmingly pithy that everyone has gone to bed with it. It can be a quote, but only if people do not use it as such. There can be no attribution, hidden or overt, that remembers the author. “All’s well that ends well” is a cliché. But “making the beast with two backs” is not. A cliché is poetry that has settled amongst the people, powerful beyond its author. Timeless, universal, and offering bon mots, a cliché, when cleansed of its patina of repetition, is free revelation for the masses.

It’s a diamond in the rough. A precious jewel, and—if eaten properly—food. For thought.

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August 6, 2006

Lady Fingers

Filed under: Music,Random Thoughts — secretmojo @ 12:08 am

Piano-playing chicks knock me sideways. Even Vanessa Carlton has a chance at my ear because of it. It’s absurd: why select music based on genitalia and instrument? Okay, instrument makes sense. And genitalia, too, makes sense—if you’re talking vocal range or (ahem) album cover.

But what I’m talking about here is a dysfunction. Tipping the “piano chick” bottle more often than I should, to the point of leapfrogging over a wicked Dave Matthews drum/flute intro to get my ears on Norah Jones’ “Cold, Cold Heart.”

The lameness doesn’t stop there, oh, no: I’ll carelessly stick my CD player on one-song-repeat and go a few thousand rounds with Vonda Shepherd’s “Maryland.” It’s embarrassing. Actually, since I have headphones on, and no one can logistically hear what I hear, it’s more like shame.

Thing is, there are men out there just as qualified for the job of plinking dinks in my ear. Billy Joel, Randy Newman, Connick, Ellington, and so on could fill that gap easily. But I’ll slam the cover on their fingers to get to Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, Patricia Barber, and hell, even Joni Mitchell, who doesn’t play that well—which of course isn’t one of my requirements anyway.

I originally thought (manual dexterity)*(sex appeal) was the formula for my piano lust. You know, dexterity can come in handy in other, um, scenarios. But that would mean I’d have to dig Allison Krauss and Nancy Wilson a whole lot more than I do, and I’d be watching a hell of a lot of flamenco dancing.

Geeze, I try to deconstruct everything. Why can’t it just be a matter of taste?

Because of this glaring, scary fact: I harbor sympathy for Condoleeza Rice because she plays.

That’s just plain nuts. Nuts! Way beyond standard ethical procedure. As you can see, this fetish is becoming a liability, and may contribute to Middle East war. So it’s important I figure out some root causes, before I ignite world war XXI.

So, in the interests of mankind, this is my theory: command.

No instrument says “overarching control of every note on earth” like piano does. (Full disclosure: I play, if you want to call cursing every 3 measures “playing” piano). Nothing promotes the spirit of “I can yank this note out of key” as well as piano. Plus, if a chick can build a minor 9th with a tritone stuck in there for a little gritty punch, or dig out a melody in parallel fifths, then she receives 150 points of head cred, and goes to the front of the class, past Bonnie Raitt and all the rest of them. Except Annie Lennox and Laurie Anderson. They’re always in front, passing notes about Björk.

Hm. Where was I?

Oh: a smart chick in command is irresistible. A smart chick sitting on a bench, adroitly building songs by the digits, even more so. And any lady who seeks out a 9-foot instrument to play must be massively bigger on the inside than they let on; let’s call it the Beethoven Effect. And who wouldn’t want to put a song on infinite loop to get a piece of that? Not that this Effect is always there (think “Sarah McLachlan”, who may play because a cappella doesn’t sell), but regardless, I’ll hear the Beethoven Effect, even with Alicia Keys, who I think doesn’t pound it like she could.

So that’s it. I’ve confessed. I’m a piana junkie. Sorry, Thelonious, Vienna Teng outranks you on the “ivories” playlist for no legitimate reason. It’s selfish and sad, now I’ve gone and lost the best baby that I ever had. Oh I wish I had a river I could skate away on…

What was I saying?

August 3, 2006

Joni Mitchell is Recyclable

Filed under: Music,News,Random Thoughts,war — secretmojo @ 1:48 am

sittin’ in a park in paris, france
readin’ the news and it sure looks bad:
they won’t give peace a chance
(it was just a dream some of us had)

July 25, 2006

Knit fu: a sock-wearer’s perspective

Filed under: Blogroll,Knitting,Random Thoughts,Uncategorized — secretmojo @ 12:23 pm

I don’t knit. I have knitted, but only enough to discover how much I didn’t like doing it. I won’t knit in the future, and probably won’t wear any knitted clothes by choice.

But that doesn’t stop me from digging knitting culture. It’s punky. Filled with smart, iconoclast chicks (yes, mostly chicks) knitting everything from book covers to penis covers, the knitting culture—at least the part of it I like—sticks it to the man who dares call them “frumpy”, with fingers ablaze and, well, sometimes a potty mouth.

The first thing to understand is that everything can be knitted. Sort of like everything can be turned into a bong. I’ve been told tales of bikinis, iPod cases, steering wheel covers, mouse covers, floor mats, washrags—just about that anything can can be covered, held, worn, displayed, or played with is a knitting candidate. And these chicks can do it without a pattern, at will, while chatting on the phone, drinking at the bar, or I presume driving a motor vehicle. Give them a couple skeins, two pointed objects, and lock them in a room with a boring movie playing, and you can come back in about a half hour to claim your brand new backpack with matching socks.

About the only thing that cannot be knitted is machinery. If this were true, we’d have colonized space by now, and have been cozy warm whilst doing it.

The second thing to understand is you don’t tease a knitter about knitting. I don’t make fun of your children, do I? Nor do I giggle about how silly your God is. You don’t pull the mask off of the ’ol Lone Ranger (which can be knitted, by the way), and you don’t tease a knitter. Especially when they are knitting, which is particularly dangerous because they may take time out to “talk with their needles” if you get my drift. They’re serious. They can crack jokes about knitting, and even knit gag items for the hell of it. But you aren’t in the club, buddy, so don’t be saying shit like “hey, could you knit me a surfboard? Ha ha!” because two weeks later, they’ll have that knitted surfboard, and shove it, painfully, up your butt.

Third, unless you’re extremely interested, avoid talking about knitting. Knitting is a social device to begin with, a way to showcase impressive needle fu while bitching about politics, talking music, or bragging about your pets. So it’s very easy, unlike it is with, say, programmers, to find a knitter who can talk something other than knitting. But if you do dare to go into those waters, be prepared for a lot of enthusiasm in response. And I mean a lot. For instance, only sissies use those needles with the connected wires to knit socks. The real way to do it is with many double-pointed needles, one floating, and make your way around the circle transferring from one needle to the other until it’s done. Otherwise, why knit? Why not just buy the damn sock? Oh and please, don’t brag about your crocheting skills to get on the good side (I’ve tried it). It’s an impressive skill, of course, but so is being a mime, and that ain’t knitting, either.

Fourth, knitting is hip. It may not be “cool,” but it certainly is hip. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you sit down with one of these knitters and watch their blurry needles do an Edward Scissorhands all over the place while a ball of worsted deteriorates before your eyes. All while comfortably relaxed, as if there weren’t an armageddon going on in their hands. Further, the knitted items today aren’t your granma’s scarves: they have style, especially the hats and the shawls, and despite my prediction in my first paragraph, are actually worth wearing.

Finally, it’s not about knitting at all. This one is the hardest one for me to grasp. I mean, if I talk to a comic book junkie, it’s about the comics. If I talk to an exercise freak, it’s about the pecs. But if I talk to an avid knitter, or read the blog of one, it could be about anything. Or maybe it’s about all the stuff you can knit for other people. It’s about spreading the word. Using it to do things you’ve been wanting to do. They’ll have a story behind nearly every knitted piece. They’ll remember everyone they ever knitted for. And, I’ve found, they can describe the first thing they ever knitted, including the type of yarn, size needle used, and who they gave it to.

So it’s about life, I guess, recording it in miles of yarn—if I wanted to get schmalzy about it. Life at the barrel of two pointed rods. They knit to live, rather than live to knit.

Okay, they actually do live to knit. I lied about that part.


[ if you’ve enjoyed this post, and are one of the aforementioned knitting- or chrocheting-obsessed, please consider whipping out a hat or two for chemo patients in New York. The drive ends October 31, 2006. (thanks, Kis*Knit!)]

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