Archive for the ‘Carol Burnett’ Category

“Words, once they are printed, have a life of their own.”  That quotation is attributed to Carol Burnett, the rubber-faced, ear-tugging, mouth-the-size-of-the Ted Williams tunnel entrance with a voice to match, although I did get the quote from the Internet. This means that it could have also been cited as having come from Harvey Korman, one of her co-stars. It doesn’t really matter. If Ms. Burnett did say it, I wouldn’t be surprised; she’s an exceptionally bright lady. And, if she didn’t say it, what the hell, it’s a good quote; might as well accept the error.

Because of Ms. Burnett’s battle with the National Enquirer, there is a good chance that she made the above remark. Without going into details, let me just say that with some of her ‘winnings’ from the suit, Ms. Burnett made a contribution to U.Cal-Berkeley, indicating that she “hoped the suit would teach aspiring journalists the dangers of defaming individuals in articles.” [Quotation marks are my own; I have no resource for ensuring her exact language].

All of the above aside, words, once they are mouthed or printed, do develop a life of their own. In print, they may be taken out of context, twisted, reformed to a positive or negative. In that regard, they may be considered similar to the forward pass in football: Three things can happen when you throw a forward pass; two of them are bad. When words are set to print, rarely do two people read them in the same way. This is simple enough to demonstrate. Go to the meeting of any book club and ask the members to interpret what they have just read. They will, eventually, come to some form of consensus, but you may be old and gray by the time you understand that on which they actually agree.

Several years ago I penned an editorial opinion piece regarding an altercation that had taken place between a teacher and a student. The student claimed that the teacher had struck him, as with a fist. The teacher claimed this was untrue. Accusations were flying fast and furious, with everyone from the superintendent of schools to the “victim’s” brother who was away at school at the time. There were those, I personally believe, who would have tarred and feathered the teacher and ridden him out of town on a rail. The teacher was saying nothing. Au contraire on the part of the student and his family. The so-called witnesses to the situation also were strangely quiet; these were ‘friends’ and classmates of the “victim.”

In my piece it was my contention that everyone should shut the hell up; that airing dirty laundry in public before all of the facts were known was inappropriate. I believed then, now, and forever that there were only two people who knew the real facts of the case…the two people involved in the ‘altercation.’ My words were misinterpreted by everyone from the family – the father confronted me at the gym and wanted to go one-on-one – to the superintendent of schools who called me and asked that I print a retraction of some kind. We eventually agreed to disagree on what the editorial opinion piece actually was saying.  As I pointed out to more than one person, it was just that, an opinion piece. The brother who had been away at college actually dropped by the house and left a three-page, hand-written letter, lambasting me for my opinion, demanding a retraction of what I had written – guess I’m not entitled to have opinions – and vaguely threatened bodily harm…sorry, I can’t be bothered if you’re just going to drop the envelope and run to your car.

My experience was a minor skirmish compared to that of Ms. Burnett. We do, however, share one thing in common: She continues to do as she damn well pleases, and I continue to write what I damn well please.  Beyond that, we’re alike in our desire to say what we honestly believe – she’s older and does it better.

I have always adhered to one quotation when writing:  “The moving finger writes and having writ moves on; nor all the piety nor wit shall lure it back, nor all the tears wash out a word of it.” I really don’t know when or under what circumstances, noted mathematician Omar Khayyam penned those words, but they stand out as solid advice for any writer. Once it is written; once it is out there for all to see, there is nothing you can do to lessen any pain it might cause. Therefore, before you write something nasty about another, give it Socrates triple filter test. First, do you know for certain that what you are about to write is true? The second filter is that of ‘goodness.’ Is what you are about to write something that will show or enhance the reputation of the person about whom you are writing? And, third, will what you are writing be useful for all to know? If you’re unsure that it’s true; if it’s insulting and has few if any redeeming qualities, and; if it’s not going to be useful to a wide audience, why bother to write it? All too often I’ve seen writers try to make a name for themselves just to enhance their own reputation by being nasty toward others. We really don’t need more hacks trying to act like political ad writers.

Writing, for me, is cathartic. I do what I do because I love doing it. As my late friend, Robert B. Parker, once told me, “The only way to learn to write is to write. Most of it will be garbage but somewhere in there, there might just be a nugget.” I’ve yet to find that nugget, but that doesn’t mean I won’t keep trying.

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