My first Elephant of Style (with apologies to the venerable Strunk and White, and perhaps Mr. Miller should apologize, too) Award belongs to our local newspaper. Is there any writing instructor anywhere that doesn’t both cringe and cackle with delight over the blunders of his area’s newspaper? Well, perhaps those at NYU, but in Paragraph City we read the Olean Times Herald, and we cackle and cringe.
This is one of those Bread & Butter stories from last week: high school graduation, what the speakers said, lots of names, lots of awards, maybe an interview. Mr. Rick Miller, a stalwart at the OTH, was sent to Ellicottville Central where he not only couldn’t copy the Valedictorian’s name off the commencement program properly, but he heard her say this:
“Remember that anything is possible and that the only dreams that can never be taken away from you are the ones that you do not pursue.”
One has to love the possibilities that double and triple negation open up. Wallace Stevens (think of “The Snowman”) loved them. I love them. But they require that one pay atttention to what one is saying. I seriously doubt Ms. Roblee was suggesting those eager young souls refrain from pursuing their dreams so that they never know defeat, though I wonder what she did say.
Or perhaps Mr. Rick Miller is warning us of the next generation, call them Gen Y Bother? Born to fear failure! The untrod path offers no dangers of tripping over roots! Tis better to have never loved at all than to have loved and lost! Job’s lament becomes our lament: better had we never been born!
Or perhaps it’s better that we remain new borns, savoring the potential of being able to do or attain anything, believe anything, become anything — just so long as we don’t actually try to do something that might bring potential and reality into the same sentence.
I see him now: in the OTH newsroom in Paragraph City, Mr. Rick Miller clutches his Elephant of Style award and delights in our misguided cackles. “They think I dwell in error, oh those of the shallow brain-pan. They do not recognize the next revolution, the advocates of pure existence, divorced from everyday hard facts. The dreamers who resist ever waking. The planners who shun execution.”
Or perhaps he just didn’t read his copy. In Paragraph City you can have it both ways.