Ten Thousand Words

Ain’t it like most people? I’m no different
We love to talk on things we don’t know about

“Ten Thousand Words” –The Avett Brothers

In a perfect world, each of us would have both a personal trainer and a personal editor; the former for our obesity, the latter for our verbosity.

I’ve seen America fatten right before my very eyes. As a grunt on the front lines of primary health care over the past 25 years, I know first hand the effects of increased sedentary lifestyles and the “cornucopia” of processed and fast foods available at nearly every turn with just the swipe of a credit card. Diabetes was relatively uncommon when I started seeing patients in the mid ’80s; now it affects a large majority of patients I examine.

People used to be able to fit comfortably in my exam chair and lean forward into the slit lamp without cutting off their breathing and circulation. Now I must have several a day sit on the edge, leaning so far forward they almost fall out of the chair, to allow gravity to shift their massive bellies toward the floor and out of the way. The nation’s breadbasket, once tight and well-circumscribed, is ever-expanding and dropping like an apple toward the ground. Somewhere, Sir Isaac Newton is smiling.

Packing on a few pounds can happen before you know it, and I’m not immune. Recently, I got on the scales and noticed that I was 10 pounds heavier than I was 6 months ago, a combination of nagging injuries which decreased my running mileage and a few too many late-night raids on the peanut butter jar. You can have all the peanut butter you want when you’re running 25 miles a week, but when you drop to 10-15, some of that extra fuel starts to show up in the darnedest places.

I’m relatively lucky. I have a lifetime habit of fitness to fall back on in those times, and my wife doesn’t feed me junk (Fried chicken? Try once a year on Super Bowl Sunday). I typically just increase my proteins, cut back a little on my carbs, pick up my training, and in a month or so–voilà!–the 10 pounds disappear faster than the latest “not Romney” Republican presidential frontrunner.

Ten thousand words aren’t as easy.

I’ve seen America grow not only more obese, but also more verbose. Like much post-Enlightenment progress, the development of the internet and the explosion of social media is a two-edged sword.

More than ever, the “common man or woman” can get out his or her personalized “word(s)” with a few simple keystrokes. We eagerly take up the remote and turn on for our daily dose of words from “those who know best,” the legions of pundits and spinmeisters whose job it is to “inform.” The nation’s circle of verbal influence, once tight and well-circumscribed, is ever-expanding. The resultant cacophony is a wasteland of superfluous words; ten thousand of them here, another few thousand there, when, really, just a few would do.

Packing on a few words can happen before you know it, and I’m not immune. Recently, I wrote a story which I hope to publish and the first draft was–you guessed it–10,000 words.

I’m a fairly good self-editor, and I managed on the second pass through to trim the unwieldy manuscript to about 6,700 words. But that still wasn’t enough. I was told that in order for it to have even a chance of making it into print it would have to be 4,000 words or less. To me, that’s a little like fitting into size-32 Levi’s again.

So, for the first time in my life, I hired a professional editor. This guy had a reputation for being a steely-eyed, unsentimental verbal assassin, completely cool, calm, and ruthless when it comes to vacuuming out greasy slabs of purple prose. I will admit that I was a little intimidated. You would be too if you were voluntarily paying good money for verbal liposuction without anesthesia.

I’m pleased to say the process is going well. My manuscript is lean and mean, well under the size limit and still dropping. I have been through this process before, but I always stand amazed at the end. We truly do use too many words. I’m like most people–“I love to talk on things I don’t know about.”

I would propose that in addition to universal healthcare that covers preventive services, that we also assign a personal editor to everyone in America with a keyboard. Two, if you’re a sportswriter, politician or preacher.

In some ways, putting your beloved “baby” through the verbal wringer is like Judgement Day. The dross is burned off in a refining fire, and your 10,000 words are reduced to one–Mercy!

  1. Greg

    I think I’ll put “steely-eyed, unsentimental verbal assassin” on one set of business cards and “cool, calm, and ruthless when it comes to vacuuming out greasy slabs of purple prose” on another.

  2. Michael Brown

    Aw, just go ahead and super-size your business card instead. You’re an American!

  3. Greg

    maybe I could just have it double-sided!

  4. Michael Brown

    Double-sided, with extra thick and heavy card stock, of course.

  5. Michael Brown

    I could have coined a new phrase: “adverbsarial assassin.” But then you would have had to kill another adjective.

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