The Lady Doth Protest Too Much
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much,” my mother misquoted Shakespeare when I went on and on about why she should let me do something forbidden. This childhood memory resurfaced last week during revision of a highly repetitious draft. Why had I made the main character restate her motives in different words every few pages? And why was I finding it so hard to be concise?
The lady did protest too much. Stepping away from the page, I saw the problem: Her motivation was weak. I didn’t trust readers to grasp it because I hadn’t grasped it either. Not until her motive came into better focus could I write it in one compelling paragraph and move forward.
Does the same hold in daily life? Counterintuitive but possible. I’m starting to suspect the harder I argue a point, the more uncertain I am about its logic. Clarity should make it possible to state the case once and be done with it.
A Crack in Everything
Things keep breaking. Body parts, house parts, car parts, appliances, zippers. Entire days disappear into repairs.
Kintsugi, “golden joinery,” is the Japanese art of piecing together broken pottery with gold-dusted lacquer to enhance the breaks. Bloggers often pair it with Leonard Cohen’s line, “There is a crack in everything; that’s how the light gets in.” If the crack holds potential for beauty, kintsugi fulfills the potential and blocks the light. The beauty lies not in the flaw but what’s done with it.
It’s another way fiction isn’t like life. I’ll deem the day a success if the repairs make things work as well as before. In fiction, with no crack there’s no story, and how the characters respond transforms them. Otherwise it’s a big yawn—which, in real life, is what I’d prefer today’s repairs to be.
The Poppy Ladies
“In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row . . .
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.”
- John McCrae, 1915
After World War I, poppies were strewn on graves and planted in parks in memory of the war dead. Three “poppy ladies” created a lasting tradition.
Moina Michael (U.S.): The Georgia teacher helped rescue stranded Americans from Europe after war broke out, trained overseas YWCA workers, taught disabled servicemen, and wore a red memorial poppy. The American Legion Auxiliary adopted her proposal to sell silk poppies for funds to help disabled veterans.
Anna A. Guérin (France): After a speaking tour of the U.S. to raise money for French war orphans, Guérin organized French widows to make artificial poppies to support widows and children. The Veterans of Foreign Wars helped distribute them in the U.S. and later arranged to include American disabled veterans in the labor and benefits.
Lillian Bilsky Freiman (Canada): Called the most influential Jewish-Canadian woman of her generation, Freiman organized sewing circles to clothe soldiers, found Canadian homes for Jewish orphans from Ukraine, opened a hostel for veterans, and helped set up job sites for veterans to make furniture and toys. She introduced Canadian poppy campaigns like those in the U.S. and France.
“. . . Fear not that ye have died for naught;
We’ve learned the lesson that ye taught
In Flanders’ fields.”
Moina Michael, 1918
Are you YELLING at me? Are YOU yelling at ME?
Like boldface or italics, all caps in small doses lend emphasis. They're great for book covers and road signs but considered rude in email. Selectively equating all caps with shouting long predates the Internet. (“This time he shouted it out in capital letters.” Evening Star, Feb. 28, 1856.) There’s method in the madness.
ALL CAPS go back to the ancient Romans, who used capital letters only. Early medieval scribes invented cursive and lower-case scripts for faster copying. The printing press standardized a mix of caps and lower case, with two advantages over boxy all caps. First, mixed case took less space and used less paper. Second, in long texts with high resolution, it’s easier to read. The variety of letter shapes, some dropping below the line and others rising high above it, helps the eyes distinguish whole words at a time.
Later technologies offered less choice of fonts and cases. Teletype equipment was engineered with a single all-caps keyboard; traces remain in military, naval, and weather communications. Typewriters produced upper and lower case but not bold or italics, making capitalization the way to accentuate key words in legal documents. Ever wonder what's behind the tradition of all caps for comics? Hand lettering, ink that bleeds on cheap paper, short phrases—and smaller speech bubbles because no letters drop below the line.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.