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Tender is the Obsolete Once-Tended Tinderbox
I watch new buildings being erected throughout ancient Southside Birmingham in which I reside. In some cases, century-old historic structures are bulldozed in the tradition of all developers everywhere. Here and there, high-speed carpentry replaces a vacant lot with a multi-storied block of pressed particle board hidden by brick.
“Those condos would go up in flames like a tinderbox,” one bystander remarks, at which point I begin recording in print these observations and events, hoping that future generations will appreciate what it was like to watch history defaced and replaced in a matter of hours.
But, as a scribe of history, I mull over these ideas:
Will anybody be reading anything a hundred years hence, and will all my efforts and the efforts of thousands of writers be in vain?
Even if there remains a small population of readers, even if some of them actually study history anymore, even if my written words are preserved so that real readers can find them, will they understand what I have written?
If my words are found and appreciated, will I, the writer, have been respectful enough to my future readers to use language that they can readily understand? For instance, the comment, “Those condos would go up in flames like a tinderbox,” is not self-explanatory. Who knows what a tinderbox is nowadays, much less in a few decades? If I carefully state that a tinderbox is a box containing tinder, flint, steel or other items for kindling fires, will I lose the reader? Who will know what flint is, or kindling? Should I say, “Those condos are so frail and wood-based that they would go up in flames like burning newspapers.” Wait—nobody will know what a newspaper is, let alone what a condo is.
“Those condos are so fragile they would go up in flames like a meth lab.” Uh, what’s a meth lab?
“Those condos are so flammable they would burn like a BIC lighter.” By then, self-lighting cigarettes will have made lighters disappear as quickly as bottle openers.
All these remarks might have been meaningful at the time of writing but by the time a next-generation reader reads them, they may be puzzling or boring.
So, how can a writer attempt to communicate with the Future?
To make yourself clear, you just have to view each sentence as if you are a Martian.
Are there universal words that can replace faddish words or slang words or brand-name words or doomed words?
The writer who wants to be understood beyond the present and the temporary just has to write smarter than most scribes.
“To be or not to be, that is the question,” is such a remarkably simple statement that its many meanings are never lost on each generation.
If Hamlet had said, “Uh, I don’t know whether I should pull a Kevorkian or just go on feeling disenfranchised and depressed,” his forgettable thought would not have lasted a season at the theatre. Who would know the meaning of Kevorkian or disenfranchised or even depression in a thousand years?
Next time you see particle board replacing genealogy and remembrance and lineage, think how you would describe the horror to Martians or futuristic societies.
The exercise could be fun
© Jim Reed 2014 A.D.