What began in the sports world as a deceitfully reliable method of boosting one’s athletic performance, and then sadly extended into the cycling world where previously heroic Lance Armstrong fell from his lofty saddle with an inglorious thud; has now invaded the completely mental world of writing where simple declarative sentences have given way to rambling opening sentences unlikely to conclude until the author grows weary of finding ways to extend it.
Villainy is never pretty. Lance Armstrong should know. He has left his disbelieving fans lamenting to their hero, “Say it ain’t so, Lance.” And now, easily proving that no one is immune from such temptation, a performance enhancing scandal of another kind – a prose-doping scandal – has ruffled the literary world right down to its feathery quills. Several highly regarded writers stand accused of using performance boosting drugs to enhance their stories, prompting disbelieving bookworms to lament to their heroes, “Kindly deny what we know to be true.”
Author’s Note: In order to more fully understanding the wicked effects of prose-doping, and to appreciate the depth and breadth of this scandal, your author has agreed to voluntarily drink a specially prepared cocktail of these performance enhancing drugs. From this altered skate. ..I mean altered state. See? It’s already taking effect. My God! So many adjectives and such sesquipedalian artifice. Holy Mackerel Karin! There are millions of universes out there. Many with fully funded entitlement programs. Oh no! Won’t someone please stop all these leaf blowers in my head? Leaf me alone. My Kingdom for a rake. And suddenly Errol Flynn appears. No not that kind of rake. Man this is some potent sh*t.
Paved with Good Intentions
Suspicions first arose when National Book Foundation president Joyce Carol Barley (goddaughter of Joyce Carol Oates) sensed authors were juicing their submissions for the National Book Awards (NBA). She explained, “So many submissions were found to be, not just incrementally more readable, but 30% to 40% more engaging. These quantum leaps of expression were both dazzling and troubling. While reading one particular page-turner, I set it down for just a second and when I came back it was turning its own pages. Something was up. This had happened only once before when I was reading Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities; and even then there was a strong wind blowing from right to left. And I further discovered that, through the illicit boost of prose-doping, the irredeemably offensive novel, “49 Smutty, Pornographic Stories” was rewritten and then upticked into the smash book, ’50 Shades of Grey’.”
The scandal probably would’ve gone unnoticed had a few of the writers just toned it down a bit. But by infusing every part of speech, every element of their novel, every punctuation mark with conspicuous muscularity, they betrayed themselves and compromised their brethren. Yes they did all this with just the stroke of a pen keyboard. It was really bald faced preening whereby “Hey look what I wrote,” became, “Regard earthling, my awesomeness consumes you.”
There are three main classes of performance enhancing writer’s drugs:
1. Inhibition Uptake Inhibitors: such as Proseact® relieve the Super Ego from constantly judging and allows a greater flow of verbiage through the hypothalamus and on into the fingers. Side effects include Spontaneous Urethral Barking, a desire to run with scissors and a complete understanding of Marriott’s Vacation Club awards system.
2. Matrix Colliders: such as Cleverify® allow the writer to accelerate contradictory ideas around their brain like in a cyclotron, then smash them together at high speed and write about the scattershot results to produce something called “Quantum Humor.” Cleverify® allows the writer to detect humor at the subatomic level and then reconstruct it as either an LOL Boson or a LMFAO Quark. Working with free radicals in the humerus bone, Cleverify® can translate body language in to written language. In a proprietary process patented by Pfizer, it detects and converts the most mundane mental expression into a strong-linked chain of boffo superlatives.
- For example the incomplete forlorn phrase, “We must exercise our Free Will,” is Cleverified into: “We must exercise our Free Will. We have no choice.”
- In this next example, the ponderously turgid sentence “I apprehended an amalgamation of flies within the vicinity of the residue I left from churning butter, and I vigorously bid the flies to disperse 3 separate times, until finally I simply bounded to my girlfriend Lou’s house,” morphs into the hilariously succinct: “Flies in the buttermilk! Shoo fly, shoo. Flies in the buttermilk! Shoo fly, shoo. Flies in the buttermilk! Shoo fly, shoo. Skip to my Lou my darling.”
- Another illustration of just how powerful these drugs are comes from the field of geology where humorless Professor Peabody begins his research paper thusly: “How to Date a Sedimentary Rock” but after dropping some Cleverify® hefinishes with the following conclusion. “To successfully date a sedimentary rock the geologist must first visit the layers where the rock hangs out and get to really know it first before asking it out.”
With Cleverify® you could now remember all your passwords and even conjugate the author Joan Didion (I didioned. They donian. We done didion etc.). As Pfizer states in their ads for Cleverify®: All seriousness aside. Cleverify® can hlep yuo b fynnu – axe your doctor.
3. Euphoria Perpetuators: This class of “Hey Jude” drug allows the writer to take a sad story and make it better. Dostoevsky took a form of it while writing Crime and Punishment, which he initially had just called Crime. His novel really brightened up after that. But with the advent of euphoria perpetuating drugs such as Mypenzasord®, the writer is able to both amplify and maintain heightened levels of sh*t-faced interconnectivity for up to 3 days (see a doctor if this feeling lasts for 4 days). Mypenzasord® activates the same neurotransmitters fired by stamp collecting, hitting a beach ball at a Yanni concert or the satisfaction from having flossed for 3 consecutive days (see a doctor if you floss 4 days in a row). Addicts can diminish the unbearable lows associated with “coming down” from Mypenzasord® through the judicious use of cold turkey and other lunch meats.
In proper dosages Mypenzasord® produces a heightened sense of limitless capability, obliterating Writer’s Block and creating a psychological phenomenon known as Hackers Syndrome whereby writers come to have empathy for and embrace their Writer’s Block prison. By defending their paralytic captor writers are somehow able to slip the surly bonds of mediocrity and touch the face of Aristophanes. At least one would hope it’s the face. In these fictional worlds you don’t really know what you’re touching anymore.
Prose-doping was artistically injurious to unmedicated writers who plugged away, turning simple ideas into serviceable stories or embellishing instructive myths to produce science fiction. Heck, this is how parts of the Bible were written. Could you imagine how much closer to God we’d feel if Mark, Matthew, Luke and John took Proseact prior to putting quill to papyrus? God’s love would be so self-evident we wouldn’t need Oprah. Every day would be a holiday. Every meal a banquet – No wait. That’s the Marines. Anyway, with prose-doping authors took simple ideas and laced them with exquisite verbal embroidery. Complicated ideas were flensed of their bloated pretensions and reduced to their stark elemental forms. There was beauty everywhere; in the interstices of the story and even in their diacritical marks. We were through the looking glass and we’d never be the same again – at least not until the next viral video on YouTube.
Anonymous Testament to Prose-Doping Wonder Drugs
In the following excerpt I’ve disguised the name of a famous author as he bared his pain to me and explained why he resorted to prose-doping:
A teary-eyed Phillipp Rothh confided in me, “I’d been this way before. Simon & Schuster was clamoring for my galleys, but the words just wouldn’t come. I was all bound up with a case of Stage IV metastatic Writer’s Block. It was bad. I hadn’t had a vowel movement in almost 10 days. But after taking just one Text-Lax®, the next thing you know a superb angst-ridden story started emerging quite rapidly, almost uncontrollably, and basically wrote itself all over the page. After I cleaned up the prose a little bit it was celebrated by all, but I still thought it stunk to high heaven.”
One could sense this steroidal approach to literature was in the offing. All you had to do was find an offing and look into it and there it was. In the kind of world where bigger, faster and stronger is not only appreciated in sports, but also admired in literature, how could a writer resist prose-doping? It’s exceptionally transformative and can elicit the following irresistible baubles:
1. “I don’t know how the world would be different if we didn’t have chives, or how you would even test for such a thing,” I explained to my grandson for the umpteenth time after he asked his usual philosophical question. “There are too many variables to control for,” I said. “Let’s just say there was an herb called fressence that no longer exists and that this is the resulting world we now inhabit in its absence. OK, just extrapolate from there.” He bought my explanation and went back to spinning on his lazy Susan. Won’t she ever get up?
2. Participated in the annual Running of the Accountants on Madison Avenue. It rained as usual and we took refuge in one of several rickety tax shelters. They collapsed and we were soaked for millions. During the chaotic run, a few unfortunates were gored by the IRS.
3. Wept lustily as I always do, at “The Sound of Music.” The human heart; must it be so insistent? Where’s my source? Get me to my source or at least upstream near the headwaters. Additionally, some extravagant Christians have built their own hydroelectric dam and have named it after the Almighty. God Dam begins testing in October 2015 and the power of God should be online by December. The power costs nothing, but somehow you always end up praying for it.
Author’s Note: I’m now experiencing the Holy Grail of writer’s everywhere whereby I’m able to effortlessly cast my cerebral net over any topic and precisely disambiguate its irregular but integrated topography. (Drugs are seriously kicking in, I mean propitiously catalyzing). Describing this exquisitely transcendent beauty is neither an easy thing to do and nor an easy concept to illuminate. Then again I have imbibed my literary cocktail and I’m now completely besotted with a graceful confidence in my own writeousness. It’s like I have a USB port straight from my head straight to the paper. It’s all so self-evident. It’s bracing really. Life should be like this all the time. I haven’t time in my world anymore for dressage or these so-called “Little Debbie Pies.” They do me no good. Where I’m heading is where I come from. The bosom of God. I’ve always loved breasts and now I finally know why. BTW, I’ve also got my entire Marriott Vacation Club figured out and I’m going to have to call them before the drug wears off.
Trouble in Wordland
The National Book Award jury knew something was amiss; and it wasn’t the transvestites at The Birdcage. It was discovered that entire novels had been photoshopped to give them the appearance of worthy prose. Suspicions arose when the stories’ flash points contained no red i’s and the story arcs appeared to be neatly cropped. This is not an easy cross-medium exercise to do. I mean the novels looked great, but had the aftertaste of formaldehyde. Another judge noticed one of the books didn’t even require a reader because it was self-reading. Shreds of writer’s ethics were floating everywhere – it was a Snow Globe of verbal confetti.
For example, in JK Rowling’s first post-Hogwarts novel The Casual Vacancy, she begins hopefully enough with gritty and darkly humorous subject matter, but after what can only have been a hallucinogenic descent into a verb-bending prose-doping haze, she digresses into such chapters as Dance of the Sugarplum Leaf Blowers and spends the rest of the novel discussing decibel levels and the Doppler effect. Obviously Her mione was Mal foynctioning.
Prose-doping knew no bounds. In John Grisham’s riveting courtroom drama, The Telltale Gavel, even subordinate characters were living fully realized lives. In this case a judge – in an adjacent court room no less – visits the belfries in the Catalan region of Spain in an attempt to distract himself from the embarrassing effects of scurvy – This is literature? In Michael Chabon’s Tangential Specificity, he writes a taboo scene describing a consensual sex act between Mr. Peebles (the frustrated night watchman) and his rescue dog Sadie (a curvy black Lab). Afterward the bitch admits she likes ruff sex and expresses gratitude to “My P Man” for literally throwing her a post-coital bone. While the book is popular with PETA, most regard it as the worst of bestiality. Others say it’s the best of worstiality. Kirstie Alley did not comment. In any event, it’s carrying this “man’s best friend” thing a bit too far. Man’s best friend with benefits? Perish the thought. If only these craven authors would just say “No” to prose-doping, escapism would still be a short safe walk from our heads.
Some things you can’t improve on. It is believed that if Tom Wolfe had written “The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test” while under the influence of Proseact® it would’ve been exactly the same book. Conversely, it was soon learned that Lawrence Kasdan’s script for one of the most popular movies of all time was a dull and routine story originally entitled “A Teacher from Indiana and Some Looters Try to Possess an Old Missing Trunk.” But through the catalyzing power of Mypenzasord®, it blossomed into “Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.” All in all, not a bad use of recreational drugs.
Sometimes even the most specialized of writers were led astray by these hallucinowordics. For example NYT crossword puzzle editor Will Shorts devised an M. C. Escher-like crossword puzzle while under the influence of both downers and acrossers. He produced a puzzle where the answer to all 112 clues was “llama.” He also devised what might be the most recondite clue and its apposite answer of all time. Clue: It might turn into a different story. Answer: spiral staircase. You don’t get to that level of abstraction by just friending someone on Facebook.
In Kitty Kelly’s “Thick Milky Discharges” all 11 characters are named either Jennifer or Heathcliff and the phrase “streaming ribbons of molten love” appears 38 times. It was a difficult read – half the pages were stuck together. Clearly the writers were getting too far afield, much to the chagrin of the NBA and definitely to the detriment of the art.
Things got so strange at the Copley Square Book Fair that you’d walk by a cheap dime novel and it would vocalize in a sultry voice “C’mon baby, read me. Y’know you want to.”
Scientific journals were not immune to this shameful scourge. A physician at the New England Journal of Medicine dipped into the promotional samples of Proseact® to publish a completely doctored article entitled Penile Dementia: Coping with Early Onset Alzheimer’s Cock. What a putz.
The Irrepressible Conflict
All this steroidal bloviation and hyperbolic pointillism was just too much for the incorruptible NBA reading jury to take, so these literary whistleblowers turned their findings over to the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Literature (ATL). The ATL deconstructed the books and sent some parsed sentences to the lab for study. Many of the dependent clauses tested positive for Mypenzasord®, a long banned prose enhancing drug used behind the Iron Curtain in the 1950s. This primitive drug was a godsend to Eastern European writers accustomed to self-expression and used an antidote to the censorship the Soviets imposed. Communist writers were only allowed to write for the State and yet they managed to extrude some classic Communist exhortations that will easily outlive them such as:
1. Do Unto Others as if They Were a Unit of Labor
2. Bulgaria is for Lovers
3. Socialist Turnips are Planted with Glee and Eaten with Gusto
Mypenzasord® was eventually banned because repeated use led to delusional thinking whereby the writer believes they’re too precious for this world. JD Salinger allegedly mainlined it.
Upon examining the lab results, the ATL’s Surgeon Laureate remarked, “After running several samples through a KitchenAid Word Processor, it was obvious many writers were narcotizing the plot lines and turbo-charging the climax. The latter of which all the agents agreed was a good idea. The Bureauhadn’t seen this kind of synergy since Run DMC mainstreamed hip-hop and rap music in 1986 by stylizing Aerosmith’s ‘Walk This Way’.”
Author’s Note: As an exercise in applied redundancy I began rewriting The Book of Lists and when I’d finished, I had created a new literary genre – Bullet Point Fiction.
- Handy when unable to write a complete sentence
- People think you’re tough because you use bullets when you write
- Pretends to be easily digestible, but actually just empty calories
- Doesn’t matter what you write after the bullet point. No really. See. You’re still reading.
In my altered literary state I’m able drive a truck through the distinction between counterfeit erudition and ersatz intelligence. I just plain get it. Formerly arcane concepts like my cell phone’s data plan revealed itself to me like a single mom working in a Gentleman’s Club. These drugs didn’t just work; they were revelatory allowing me to penetrate the abstruse arcana of the Higgs Boson with hardly more than a glance at Wikipedia. But I was cheating. Was I cheating? Yes. I just said I was cheating. Don’t contradict me in a contrapuntal passive voice (this drug just won’t wear off). One side effect is I’m experiencing something called Fading Kitten Syndrome (Don’t even ask).
At a hastily called news conference (Is there any other kind?) Writer’s Without Morals (WWM) vigorously protested the prose-doping assertions – at least as vigorously as disorganized writers in search of a theme, can. A committee of writers was selected to formulate a protest petition, and, after a few treatments and further discussion, more writers were brought in to punch it up a little. Finally after some table readings and a few rewrites, they produced their petition:
“We eschew these aspersive calumnies thrust so inelegantly upon us by our supposed benefactors.©”
They then copyrighted the sentence and sat back to let the residuals pour in.
WWM spokeswriter Glenda Clendenon said the writers would fight this fire the usual way – with words. Well, with words and disingenuous references to the First Amendment. Oh they used the First Amendment the same way the NRA uses the Second Amendment like a battering ram. So what else is new? Ms. Clendenon went on to say that her mother Rhiannon had a lazy eye, but fortunately she and her daughter Chloe (Wellesley sophomore) had escaped the malady. After excusing her digression she noted the entire literary community is “outraged by these mendacious allegations – all 15 of us.” She went on to say that mendacious means “lying, false.”
Writers of all stripes were represented at the news conference where they closed ranks to denounce the charges and to align their stripes. A flummoxed Michael Chabon, more accustomed to writing his feelings than voicing them, stammered at the podium until fellow writer Joan Didion comforted him with, “It’s OK Michael, use your words.” After that Mr. Chabon smiled wanly and left the podium, but not before conjugating Joan Didion. JK Rowling took the time to twat tweet her support from a London day spa. Edgar Allan Poe lent his voice from beyond the grave stating, “Nevermore.” Even the lowest of writers were in high dudgeon over these middling charges. Their laptops were ablaze with taut prose and crisp rejoinders that would never see the light of day – a condition most writers have grown accustomed to. After about 20 minutes of false starts, general milling about and scads of incoherent blather, it became apparent why writing is their preferred medium of expression. The entire press conference went about as smoothly as my 85 year old mother navigating an escalator.
Ms. Clendenon eventually took the podium and provided some semblance of a response. “Although these charges of prose-doping are entirely true…I mean false; so what if they are true? Who is really hurt by more compelling and interesting stories? Let us remember, it is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interests.” When asked by assembled reporters what in the hell she meant by that last sentence, she responded, “I’m sorry. I’m also a spokeswoman for the Adam Smith Economic Club and I mixed up my talking points. Que sera, sera. I mean laissez-faire y’all.”
Author’s Note: Whether by earnest application or by recreational prose-doping, there’s a lot to be said for pursuing altered literary states. In fact, when you consider it, every state is an altered state – with the possible exception of New Jersey. And as I recognize the inadequacy of any medium in describing both the profundity of the universe and the simplicity of its movements, I have only one comment: The book “Ventriloquism for Dummies” was my idea. But maybe that’s just the Cleverify® talking.