Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 8 of 10)

Think of the times you’ve read an article or a book and afterward thought, Yes, it was all right. Nothing special. Or you might think, It reinforced what I believed, but didn’t shed light or give me a deeper understanding.

Or I can look at this from the position of a public speaker. At a writers conference years ago, each speaker was told to introduce their classes in one minute. Three of them gave almost their entire message—in at least five minutes. As I listened to the third one drone on, here’s an aphorism that popped into my head:
Those who have the least to say
take the longest to say it.
In another conference, as a joke as much as anything else, I defined two types of bad writers:
Fat writers like and enjoy writing lengthy sentences, with parenthetical phrases, set off by commas, (or sometimes in parenthesis), and occasionally inserting the em dash—an attention getter—and always writing many words that go on endlessly and redundantly.

Skinny: Writes nouns, verbs, one adjective.
§

I decided to write about aphorisms on this blog because they do one special thing for me: they force me to think clearly and to make sentences meaningful. They remind me of a dictum from a long-time pastor who offered me advice on how to be effective: “Stand up, speak up, shut up.”

I grapple with words, constantly trying to say them better. I’ve sometimes said to beginning writers, “I enjoy rewriting more than I do the writing.”

My first draft flows out of passion, believing I have something to justify killing another tree. I toil over the second draft to refine my thinking. If I expend high-level energy in my writing, readers will find it easy to stay with me.

I labor with my prose 
so readers won’t have to.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 7 of 10)

Memorable sayings need to have a twist—a surprise. Knowing or informing doesn’t grab us because we read nothing unexpected—that is, it holds no surprise. A good aphorism moves in one direction and abruptly challenges the first statement.

These sayings often contain a smidgen of humor.

Here’s an example I wrote recently:
I refuse to judge other Christians—
even when I see them doing something wrong.
How does this one by Ashleigh Brilliant grab you? “I wish somebody would expose me for what I really am, so that I would know.”

One of my all-time favorites comes from the witty Oscar Wilde, who said, “I can resist anything, except temptation.”

Here’s another of mine, borne out of my own experience:
God, today help me to be kind and compassionate to everyone—
especially to myself.
Maxims charm us;
they also surprise us.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 6 of 10)

I once read that the adages we quote lead us one of two ways. The first is directive. That is, they subtly nudge us to change our behavior by pointing out a better way to live.

Those dictums come as reflections on our own issues and struggles—as they did with me. I wrote this one after being ashamed and immobilized by something I had done long ago. Here’s the result:
Nothing I can do alters the past;
everything I do reshapes the future.
The second way aphorisms lead is by challenging our thinking. Aphorisms are outlaws—they don’t tell us what to do, but by focusing on life as it is, they take us to a deeper level.

Here are two of mine:
God heals the sins of our past, but the scars remain.
If I say, "You made me angry,"
I'm holding onto my expectations of your behavior.
These are the kind that, once we read them, we say, “Yes, I hadn’t thought of that way.”

Why not write your own?

I share my experiences in pithy statements
to nudge and encourage others.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 5 of 10)

Insight is a major quality of good maxims. They’re not phrased in a conventional way and don’t try to say, “Do this.” Instead the purpose is to penetrate our thinking and make us say, “Yes! That’s how I want to live.”

“A lifetime is one long now.” Olivia Dresher wrote that and when I read it, it took me a few seconds before I could grasp her meaning. Then I smiled and nodded.

Thomas Farber penned this one: “Not comfortable sharing, low need for affiliation. An only child, he became an only adult.”

Here’s one I wrote after spending an afternoon with a group with whom I realized I had little in common:
Standing by myself,
if I’m contented, I call that solitude;
if I’m uncomfortable, I call it loneliness.
Try your hand at writing one. If you’d like, you may send it to me personally at cec.murp@comcast.net.

In this series, I’ll give you axioms that seem original to me. On a few occasions, I’ve written one, only later to learn that it’s remarkably similar to what someone else said 500 years ago.

Aphorisms make me smile before I say,
“I never thought of it that way.”

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 4 of 10)

Succinct statements flow from those who have experienced life and pass on their wisdom. The best examples are simple, practical, and often playful. They preserve traditional values and offer glimpses about often ignored behavior or as a guide to change.

These dictums have a way of expressing my feelings in such a way that I can learn to think differently. I enjoy reading pithy statements and saying, “I wish I’d written that.”

If we write aphorisms, we not only write short, crisp sentences, we also make those statements meaningful to readers. I’m frequently asked (and delighted to comply) when people ask to copy one of my maxims.

Another form is the epigram, which is usually a short poem, often with a witty ending.
Fleas: Adam had ‘em.
Here’s one I call a poem that I worked on and refined over a period of four weeks. Although it doesn’t rhyme, it’s among my favorites because of the rhythm—the poetic flow. Each word in the second maintains the cadence of those in the first.
I am passionately involved in the process;
I am emotionally detached from the result.

The best maxims flow from life experiences, 
and are stated in such a way that they connect with others.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 3 of 10)

Aphorisms flow from ancient writings. For example, we read them in the book of Proverbs and hear them quoted by public speakers. The ancients focused on graffiti-length tidbits. Their readers were poorly educated, so to help them remember, they wrote succinctly.

Thus, they tried to pack wisdom into terse statements and make a sharp point—something we need to keep in mind for contemporary readers.

Brevity also works today but for different reasons. We’re better educated, and somewhere I read that we have an 85 percent world literary rate. Despite that, our need for insights is as urgent as ever. We’re too busy, too pre-occupied, and too tired to read five paragraphs to extract a single sentence.

More than 100 years ago, T.S. Eliot said that we’re “distracted from distraction by distraction.”

We have so much information available that the meaning seems flattened into mere information. Internet experts have shrunken cultural achievement as deep thought, original insight, or facility with language into the single word: content.

Consequently, we skim rather than absorb. Pushed for time, we settle for shallow. Or as the high school kids say, “Read the CliffsNotes.”

As difficult as it seems, we can learn to write with flair, rhythm, and create simple, memorable sentences. The one factor to remember is that aphorisms must have a twist—an element of surprise. Strong aphorisms seduce and surprise us.

Whether we’re aware, we quote aphorisms regularly and (sadly) many become cliched, tired sentences: “A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.” Boring today, but in the beginning, those few words held significant meaning.

Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Work as if you were to live 100 years, pray as if you were to die tomorrow.”

Write your own, and cut extra words. Keep your sentences simple.

We remember short sentences;
we skim long ones.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Aphorisms (Part 2 of 10)

I heard a man say, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it.” That now-overworked dictum fits my definition of the term. It’s simple and obvious in meaning—his statement of truth (even if not original) spoken in a witty way. To qualify as an aphorism, a statement contains a truth in a terse manner.

Aphoristic statements are quoted in writings as well as in daily speech. The fact that they contain truth gives them universal acceptance. Scores of philosophers, politicians, writers, artists, athletes, and other individuals are remembered for their famous aphoristic words.

You can teach yourself to write philosophical or moral truths. You focus on human experiences and help readers relate your brief words to their own lives.

Just recently someone said this in a political speech—and I don’t know if it was original, but it grabbed me: “Not strong morals, but weak stomachs, keep us from being vultures.”

I Peter 3:15 exhorts us to always give a reason for our hope. How about writing a simple statement that’s memorable, brief, and states your theological position? “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) is a memorable biblical example.

Just as I finished writing the above paragraph, I thought of my own answer.

What I couldn’t do for myself
Jesus’ love accomplished for me.