In Praise of Concision


Some guy on TV is describing how he fitted his automobile with a new skin: gluing them one by one, he has blanketed every inch of its exterior with beer-bottle caps. Or he’s recounting how he fashioned, from zillions of ordinary toothpicks, a toothpick ten feet long and a foot thick—something Paul Bunyan couldn’t lift to his mouth. Or he’s displaying the dozens of photo albums that catalogue, exhaustively, the individual stacks of pancakes on which he has breakfasted daily for the past six years. And as I sit watching, one of my daughters ambles by, glances at the screen, and mutters, “Whoa, free time.”

Whoa, free time. In a minimum of space, it speaks volumes. It says, Boy, leisure time must hang heavy over your head. And, Have you stopped to consider the uselessness of what you’re doing? And, often, Adults do get up to absolutely asinine things, don’t they?


I’m partial to haiku, particularly when they intimate a far larger story than they tell. Here’s an especially terse example by Buson (translated by Robert Hass):

I go,
you stay;
two autumns.

The separation referred to may be a literal two years. But I prefer to think it’s metaphorical. Departing, remaining—in either case, it’s a loss, the season of loss. A single entity—a couple—devolves into a pared, shared falling away.


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