Confessions: #1 penvy

As a trained, former professional, writer I can, at times, feel a little superior when reading other people’s writing. Stuff like “Oh. That idiot used the wrong there!” is a bit passe. It’s more issues of style and vocab that I start to develop my own personal writing hubris. And then I read stuff written by truly brilliant writers and crawl back into my hole. Or, I sit there stunned and try to deconstruct their work thinking “I could totally do that”… worse still are cases of “penvy” wishing that I had penned that exquisite sentence, or paragraph (it rarely applies to a whole novel – sustained great writing is difficult it’s more a flash of brilliance amongst sustained goodness).

Check out some of these essays from magazines compiled by Wired founding editor, and blogger, Kevin Kelly as the best of what’s around. Including this heartstopper from David Foster Wallace about the metaphysical, almost religious, experience of watching Roger Federer play tennis at his peak…

Look how he sets the scene for a match he’s describing (the Wimbeldon Final in 2006 between Roger Federer and Raphael Nadal).

“Plus it’s in the cathedral of Centre Court. And the men’s final is always on the fortnight’s second Sunday, the symbolism of which Wimbledon emphasizes by always omitting play on the first Sunday. And the spattery gale that has knocked over parking signs and everted umbrellas all morning suddenly quits an hour before match time, the sun emerging just as Centre Court’s tarp is rolled back and the net posts driven home.”

And this peerless description of Federer’s game:

A top athlete’s beauty is next to impossible to describe directly. Or to evoke. Federer’s forehand is a great liquid whip, his backhand a one-hander that he can drive flat, load with topspin, or slice — the slice with such snap that the ball turns shapes in the air and skids on the grass to maybe ankle height. His serve has world-class pace and a degree of placement and variety no one else comes close to; the service motion is lithe and uneccentric, distinctive (on TV) only in a certain eel-like all-body snap at the moment of impact. His anticipation and court sense are otherworldly, and his footwork is the best in the game — as a child, he was also a soccer prodigy. All this is true, and yet none of it really explains anything or evokes the experience of watching this man play. Of witnessing, firsthand, the beauty and genius of his game. You more have to come at the aesthetic stuff obliquely, to talk around it, or — as Aquinas did with his own ineffable subject — to try to define it in terms of what it is not.

That’s pretty high-brow. Rants can also give me a bit of penvy – like this rant about Twitter from McSweeneys. This is a massive sentence.

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by brevity, over-connectedness, emotionally starving for attention, dragging themselves through virtual communities at 3 am, surrounded by stale pizza and neglected dreams, looking for angry meaning, any meaning, same hat wearing hipsters burning for shared and skeptical approval from the holographic projected dynamo in the technology of the era, who weak connections and recession wounded and directionless, sat up, micro-conversing in the supernatural darkness of Wi-Fi-enabled cafes, floating across the tops of cities, contemplating techno, who bared their brains to the black void of new media and the thought leaders and so called experts who passed through community colleges with radiant, prank playing eyes, hallucinating Seattle- and Tarantino-like settings among pop scholars of war and change, who dropped out in favor of following a creative muse, publishing zines and obscene artworks on the windows of the internet, who cowered in unshaven rooms, in ironic superman underwear burning their money in wastebaskets from the 1980s and listening to Nirvana through paper thin walls, who got busted in their grungy beards riding the Metro through Shinjuku station, who ate digital in painted hotels or drank Elmer’s glue in secret alleyways, death or purgatoried their torsos with tattoos taking the place of dreams, that turned into nightmares, because there are no dreams in the New Immediacy, incomparably blind to reality, inventing the new reality, through hollow creations fed through illuminated screens.

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