This week I was chastised, justifiably, for things I’ve said in this blog that seemed to equate the word “rhetoric” with lying or misleading. I’m educated on this, and I know better. I know that rhetoric is the use of language to try to persuade, and there have been times when I’ve even argued that every word we use is rhetorical. That’s probably not true, but I still claim that most of what we say and write is an attempt to persuade, even if it’s just to persuade someone that we’re actually paying attention, or that we’re educated, or reasonable, or cool and fun.
But I don’t want to pursue that right now. Maybe later. It’s true that often we use language for nefarious purposes, and a great deal of language is spilled in buckets of lies, in tricky attempts to take advantage, or in convoluted wordscreens to hide the truth. But we also use language for many good purposes, to pursuade people to quit smoking, to support the opposition in Syria, or to come to an art festival. And that’s rhetoric too.
On the subject of goodness, let me say something good about Washington, DC. Down on the mall where the Smithsonian museums are, the art museum has created a garden of large outdoor sculptures, including an enormous tree, quite real looking, except that it is shiny silver. On Friday afternoons in the summer, people gather in the sculpture garden, some with blankets, some with food, some buying food, and many people, I noticed, buying popular plastic pitchers of sangria. People also sit around a large circular pool, most with their feet in the water.
They come there to listen to free live jazz. This afternoon I walked about 30 miles down the Mall (I might be mis-estimating the distance some) past the Washington Monument to get to the garden. I sat on a cloth bag I was carrying, and I joined that crowd to listen to Susan Jones play jazz violin, in the tradition of Django Reinhardt or Stephane Grappelli. It was beautiful to sit there under the trees near the circular pool and look at happy relaxed people and listen to the music, and to be one of those happy relaxed people.
The walking I did to get there was from near the Lincoln Memorial, as I am temporarily working up there. I work in an excessively huge building belonging to the American Pharmacists Association. Across the street from us is the State Department, across another street is the National Academy of Sciences. It’s a high power neighborhood, with uniformed guards to make the point.
My job is helping to edit a pharmacy journal. Two weeks to the day after I got to Washington, I got this job, and it’s supposed to last two months, but it will really last until they run out of work for me, which I fear could be sooner. At any rate, I am very happy to have the job, as it pays fairly well, it is more experience, and it will give me both a reference and local job experience. So far this week I’ve just been proofreading articles, though I think I may do other things as well. And I have to admit that I have a lot more respect for what pharmacists do from what I’ve read.
It’s a long-ass commute to get there from where I live: bus, train, train, walk eight blocks, about an hour and 20 minutes. But by God I’m working, and I don’t care. On Thursday after work, I didn’t come all the way home, but got off the train early to meet people at a cafe called Bread and Chocolate. On the website meetup.com, after I was told about it, I have found that there are many groups that meet with a wide variety of interests, and you can just go. Built-in, automatic connections, at least theoretically. Last Saturday I went to meet a group of people who are interested in biotechnology, but that’s in the past, and I’m not writing about that.
The group I went to on Thursday is a creative writing group. On this particular day eight people showed up, which is rather substantial. Two people had brought chapters from novels they’re writing, so they read them to us aloud, not the best way to do it, really, but much cheaper and easier, and you can just do it on the spot, without distributing copies ahead of time. After the readings, those of us who were there had a chance to critique.
The ideal response of a writer to a critique is merely to listen, take in the information, and decide whether it is a useful response, or whether that critic just badly misunderstood, or is a crank, and can be ignored. And if the critique is useful, use it, and make changes. Most writers, however, cannot attain this ideal. Instead they want to respond, or even worse, argue that the person critiquing them is wrong. Most responses by the writer are fairly stupid, though. Not every person who reads the work is going to have the writer sitting there to explain what the writer meant. If the work gets published, it has to work on its own. And for that matter, no piece of writing can work for all readers, and some readers have to just be ignored, because they’re not the intended audience.
Next week I will take something to read, a chapter from Benedict and Miramar. I will read it—and I will read well, not too fast, and loud enough to be heard—and then I will just nod and say thank you for all comments, even the weird ones.
Sometimes, even the weird comments are useful.