While I was writing about the Cincinnati road trip and the Radio Convention, at one point I started a paragraph with TANGENT ALERT: before proceeding to go off point to include a link to YouTube.
My thought now is to make that a permanent feature, so it can be as much a warning to the reader as it would be to me to try to stay focused on the subject at hand. Earlier this month, I went to a Website called Blurb.com, because I’m considering downloading this blog’s LiveJournal years and ponying up the money for a professionally bound copy of it. I had to format each page individually once they loaded (all 200+ of them), and I was appalled at how, in one entry, I could stray so far off the landscape from what I had intended when I logged on that day.
A Tangent Alert would probably amuse me as much as it would help me discipline my writing. I can see it becoming an object of fun, both for my readership and myself. Already I’m thinking it’s the blogosphere’s equivalent of a gimmick used in a 1966 thriller, Chamber of Horrors. I saw this masterpiece on Channel 10’s Nite Owl Theater one Friday night as a teen with two friends. We knew we were in for fun when this item appeared on the screen:
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, the motion picture you are about to see contains scenes so terrifying, the public must be given grave warning. Therefore the management has instituted visual and audible warning at the beginning of each of the FOUR SUPREME FRIGHT POINTS… the HORROR HORN and the FEAR FLASHER. The FEAR FLASHER is the visual warning. The HORROR HORN is the audible warning. Turn away when you see the FEAR FLASHER. Close your eyes when you hear the HORROR HORN.
The three of us were laughing until we were crying each time these “warnings” came on the screen, and the show’s host, mellow-voiced baritone Frederick (“Fritz the Nite Owl”) Peerenboom, was laughing right along with us. For weeks, whenever one of us mentioned “the HORROR HORN” or “the FEAR FLASHER” in any context, it never failed to trigger gut-busting laughter.
Much of my writing–including in here–I’ve ended up having to delete because of just how far I have strayed off point. I’ve gone so far afield that I’d look at the paragraph on the laptop screen and ask myself, Now where was I headed with this? I’d even try to work my way backwards, because usually all these associations would make sense to me, at least. If I couldn’t find the connection, and work from there, the passage would be gone.
The tendency has been there since day one. My first “long” project was a 48-page (typed, single-spaced) personal narrative with the imaginative title, “Two Trips to Richmond, Virginia.” I wrote it when I was 11, describing two car trips my mother, father, and I made from Marietta to the former Confederate capital (during Christmas break 1973 and February-March 1974) to be with my aunt and cousin while my uncle was hospitalized with the congestive heart failure that would take his life in March 1974. Besides chronicling every hamburger stand, restroom stop, and gas station along U.S. Route 50, it took very little for me to write a page of two about something totally unrelated to this journey. (I wrote a bit about Watergate, since we crossed the Potomac River at one point in the trip. We passed through a little dot on the map called Belgium, W.Va., so I’d mention I’d heard of a movie called If It’s Tuesday, This Must be Belgium. Less than 20 miles from the Virginia state line is the city of Romney. Since Romney is the home of the West Virginia Schools for the Deaf and Blind, visited by Helen Keller in 1916, she would rate a long paragraph or two. A motorist on U.S. 50 would leave West Virginia and enter Maryland, only to re-enter West Virginia less than 10 miles later. John Wilkes Booth was a Marylander, as were most of his conspirators, so I was off and running about Lincoln’s assassination. You get the picture.)
I am also not sure that I’m conscientious enough to be able to flag a tangent when it arises. When I wrote the previous entry, I typed TANGENT ALERT: at the very start of the paragraph, knowing I was headed away from the main subject. There will be many times, I am sure, when I’ll have to go back and insert it after the fact, or when I won’t notice it at all until the entry has been online for a few days.
During coffee hour at church Sunday, a woman who is a friend of Steph’s and mine asked about Susie’s and my day trip to Cincinnati on Saturday. I gave her the Reader’s Digest account of the convention and the trip to Duttenhofer’s, and she mentioned that she’d probably read it in the blog when she came home. I told her about writing TANGENT ALERT:, and she nodded very knowingly and approvingly, thinking I had at last seen reason.
While writing the entry about Saturday, I did show restraint, he wrote with some little pride. I mentioned buying a $.50 paperback copy of James A. Michener’s Centennial, and began to write about something a friend had told me when we were in high school, when I made my first unsuccessful attempt to read this paper behemoth. The friend told me that Centennial had literally been a lifesaver. A man was sitting in a bar and a thief robbed the cash register at gunpoint, shooting up the place as he left. The man in this story pitched violently off the barstool onto the floor, and was sure that he had been shot. When he arrived at the E.R., the triage crew undressed him to search for bullet wounds. (I’m sure you know the punch line to this story: The bullet had lost all its velocity passing through the book. The man had not been shot at all!) I doubt this story is true–I even Googled all the key words to see if there was a news story archived somewhere about it, and came up empty.
And in the previous entry, I refrained from writing about it. I just noted that I bought the book, and didn’t mention I also purchased Cheever’s Falconer and Elvis: What Happened?. I didn’t include this.
It can be done.