Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Embrace the Big Shaggy"

I love reading David Brooks' op-ed pieces in the New York Times. He reminds me of a pragmatic older gentleman who speaks his mind with great wisdom and balance. I don't always agree with what he has to say, but his views are always expressed with a depth and sincerity that is missing in our flash! bang! twitter-fied world.

He wrote a great piece earlier this week about the importance of the humanities and a liberal arts education. It seems that when the economy tanks, people run away from history, literature and the arts, and into the arms of an accounting degree. Hmmm. . . this sounds exactly like what happened to me when the recession of the early nineties sent an art major to law school, yes?

He wants us to embrace "The Big Shaggy". Here's what he means:

The observant person goes through life asking: Where did that come from? Why did he or she act that way? The answers are hard to come by because the behavior emanates from somewhere deep inside The Big Shaggy.

Technical knowledge stops at the outer edge. If you spend your life riding the links of the Internet, you probably won’t get too far into The Big Shaggy either, because the fast, effortless prose of blogging (and journalism) lacks the heft to get you deep below.

But over the centuries, there have been rare and strange people who possessed the skill of taking the upheavals of thought that emanate from The Big Shaggy and representing them in the form of story, music, myth, painting, liturgy, architecture, sculpture, landscape and speech. These men and women developed languages that help us understand these yearnings and also educate and mold them. They left rich veins of emotional knowledge that are the subjects of the humanities.

In writing, I think "The Big Shaggy" is what it's all about. Without mystery and messiness, characters end up being predictable and two diminsional. Without romance and emotionally charged decisions and behavior, fiction can't exist. Our characters can't always act like textbook caricatures. They've got to do some weird things . . . and we as writers need to understand why they act this way on an emotional level.

I've got a novel wip in the works, and I'm kicking around some new picture book ideas. So, I'm off to do some shagging (and NOT the Austin Powers kind!).



Katie said...

Ha! Love that last line :)

And ADORE your insightful and deeply shaggy post. I think I might have a t-shirt made that says, "I love to shag."

Love, moi

storyqueen said...

I love the term "The Big Shaggy."

That just really fits with the mysterious/messiness of it all.

Great post!


Jen said...

You nailed it!!! The big shaggy is what makes our stories eventually sparkle!!! Got to love the shag! LOL

Elana Johnson said...

Excellent points, and I so agree!

Tere Kirkland said...

So true! People are a mess, and literature should reflect that in some way.

That's just what makes us human.

Good post!

Tere Kirkland said...

So true! People are a mess, and literature should reflect that in some way.

That's just what makes us human.

Good post!

Corey Schwartz said...

Oh, now i feel like doing some shagging too!

Brewski Newman said...

What a brilliant column! It brings to mind Robert Frost's The Road Not Taken. The Big Shaggy is usually more elusive, and it's so much easier to avoid it(at one's own peril, of course).

I am reminded of an interview with game designer Raph Koster where he talked about how he hired entry level talent for new projects. If I remember correctly, he said he preferred candidates with humanities backgrounds as opposed to straight cs or programming majors because they gave the teams diversity and made the projects, in effect, "shaggier." (Now I've got to make an effort to track down the URL to that interview so I can see if I remembered it correctly!)

Christina Lee said...

AWESOME! Embrace the shag ;-)

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

shag-adelic post!

Shannon said...

I love the phrase 'Big Shaggy' but it does have its issues. I'm not sure how I'm going to advise my friends they should 'shag more' in their stories!

prashant said...

Got to love the shag! LOL
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