Perfect words [CCafe 9/4]


“drops dripping” - the search (?) for perfection, or letting “the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Seems to me to be a common roadblock to getting things done and moving forward, i.e. progress.

@madrush & I met via his FB reading group of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. I have never read a book/poem/article/essay with as many perfect sentences as Wallace amassed in IJ; but the work, as a whole, is far from perfect. And then, in the end (his) search/quest to express himself perfectly, probably had as much to do with his Self destruction as depression. My point is (one I stressed as a teacher) is write dammit! Get the damn thing done (that feels great, and is its own reward); and then go back and begin the arduous process of re-writing (re-thinking) what you wrote/thought. If your desire is to be a best-seller, fame, and/or make a living writing, well, good luck with that. You’ve a better chance of being struck by lighting. Don’t know if ya all want to talk more about this, but I’m willing. Here’s one (of thousands) example of a perfect phrase: “smiling in a way that simply snapped Gately’s spine.” (pg. 895)

Infinite Jest (Wallace)
Why Sex Matters (Low)
Why I write (Orwell)
Maps of Meaning (Peterson)

Seed Questions

Your top five books?
Why do you write?
Why are you here?

“Teaching” writing was frustrating (and sometimes fun) for me. You know the 5W’s, they became for me - wannabe writers who won’t write. Part of that was the format, incentive, etc. Part me (no doubt). Part administrative. Part participant’s personality. … “permutations of complications” (DFW) What’s the point?

Agenda items

  • If any…

I don’t know about top five books…that’s too much power to attribute to a mortal man’s quill. But, I do love words only because they lead to ideas.

For now, I will reveal one book or epic poem, “Paradise Lost”.

I remember studying Borges’s distinction between “homo rhetoricus” and “homo seriosus” in the way men and women use words. The speech delivered to the fallen angels in Milton’s poem is an example of how the homo rhetoricus uses words. Christ words would be an example of homo seriosus. ONe form of word usage leads to unwarranted power and the latter usage of words leads to unwarranted death.

Which usage of words do you prefer? How do you use words?


I share with you , Katina, an enthusiasm for Milton. I identify so much with Satan, humiliated, writhing around in dark regions, the agony of defeat, in this strange nowhere, that Milton creates vividly from out of our collective imagination. It is so scary. And Satan becomes such a towering figure, impressive and doomed. I would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. Wow! Recently, I did some study of Milton’s career and his involvement in the English Civil War. The poem was Milton’s ingenious way of bypassing the political censorship of his time. It is a miracle it was written at all.

And Is there anything else, Katina, about the way men and women use words?I am fascinated by this topic.

As a gay man, I am very attuned to the subtle differences between gay and straight, and the differences between "gay speech’ and “black gay speech”. There are many hybrids, slang words, gestures that are different but cross over in odd ways between different characters and between minorities and majorities and between high culture and pop.

Over the decades I have seen the fine line between sensibilities and culture blur and become a part of our wider culture and more differences that make a difference are created. These differences in feelings is carried across more by movies, now, than in fiction. I am thinking of the HMO series Empire for example, a sophisticated soap opera with lots of echos between the street and the ruling elites. It’s great pop fun. But like too much sugar, you can easily overdo it. But the movie Moonlight, about the relationship between two black youths who become men together is one of the great love stories of all time! That movie pulled out all the stops. A great film.

I dont find much fiction anymore that moves me as when I was a teenager. I am open to new experiences as in the Octavia Butler study group. Butler has a strong voice and action oriented. She deals with great violence in a simple and direct way. I wouldn’t call her feminine-whatever that is.

James Baldwin is one of my heroes. His oratorical skills came out of the Bible and the Blues. He had a powerful oracular style and at his best, his sex scenes, between men and women, men and men, black and white,interracial , gay, straight and bi are astonishing. He took sex and love seriously.

Another Country is a great novel. Giovanni’s Room, with an all white cast of characters, is wonderful. I was young when I first read him and he saved my life. He is a writer, in whom, I put my absolute trust. He was never fooling around. He went for the jugular. A great love warrior.

I have writers that I admire, but that I do not love. I love Baldwin. And there are works by writers that I admire but cannot truly love. Like Moby DIck. But my admiration is solid for Melville. He troubles me. I guess troubling authors arouse admiration rather than devotion. I am devoted to Henry James. I’ve read way too many of his novels. Very high brow, Masterpiece theater stuff. I love that high falutin’ tone even if it sort of offends me.

I am devoted to Elisabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf for their effort to deal with moral issues between men and women. The worlds that they inhabited are gone with the wind. They captured a certain feeling for that time and place.

That’s way too writers many to think about at one time. Fiction is an unweeded garden. Unorganized. Our identities merge with other identities. It is hard to quantify or rank.Thanks for the suggestion to think about it, Mark.


Baldwin was a beautiful man. I think that gay people are redefining heterosexuality. When I came across my first “stud” in jail, I was surprised that these women were more masculine than heterosexual men. And I’ve also seen the case with gay men that are very much in touch with their femininity. And yes, black men express their homo sexuality very differently than white men.

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I love Baldwin, too. I am afraid that we would be competing for him if he were still accessible. He was great at using words to express love making. That’s why it is a sure delight to read him in bed (Ahem…). Baldwin wa also an expatriate and permanently moved to Europe and them settled in Paris. “Giovanni’s Room” was almost autobiographical. But it was sure that he was fed up with America. He had to fight several rounds in the “Battle Royale” to combat both racism and homo-no-no! As rampant as both were during the Civil Rights movement. Of course, I didn’t harmonize with his anti-Christian views.

Did you see the documentary about Baldwin by PBS called, “I Am Not Your Negro”?


Wow, indeed! I honesty identify more with the doomed demi-god, as well. The “Inferno” was smashing. “Abandon all hope ye who enter here”. I wear that sign across my mind at times. What words could be more devastating to a man’s ears.

Dante wrote this whilst in exile from the RC church. He, too was making a political statement.

And what about “Pilgrim’s Progress”? Bunyan wrote that word masterpiece in an exiled prison.

Perhaps, human suffering is a powerful muse.


I envy Satan’s rhetorical skills.

“What though the field be lost / All is not lost; the inconquerable will”. Later, Satan ties the concept of free will to the intellect, by arguing that “the mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven”. BooYahh!

This speech has an electrifying effect on the fallen angels, whom Milton describes with PERFECT WORDS, “clashed on their sounding shields the din of war”. He literally turns self-destructive rebelion into the ultimate act of heroism. Had Milton not shut him up by Book X, Satan could have convinced his fallen subjects that their act of self-destruction was more sacred than that of the crucifixion. That’s where I would have gone with the remainder of the speech. If I were there, I would ask Satan to serve him as his speech writer.


Black gay men. For black women it is the ultimate travesty of the sexes. And this phenomenon has left a disproportionate population of available hetero-black men. Hence, you have this current cultural desperation among black women, whom are starting to “share” straight, available black men with claws sharpened and ready to attack. What I don’t understand is the black women who insist on dragging gay, black men, kicking and screaming into nuptials in a state of denial about the man’s ultimate sexual preference. Remember that cultural “in yo’ face” revelation of the alarmingly high population of “down-low” - DL brothers, offset by the book written by gay sociologist, E. Lynn Harris?

His book lauched a study later published in the [Journal of Bisexuality] about the “Down Low” as a lifestyle predominately practiced by young, urban Black men who have sex with other men and women, yet do not identify as gay or bisexual".

In this context, “being on the Down Low” is more than just men having sex with men in secret, or a variant of homosexuality or bisexuality—it is a sexual identity that is, at least partly, defined by its “cult of masculinity” and its rejection of what is perceived as [white].

A 2003 New York Times Magazine cover story on the Down Low phenomenon explains that the black community sees “homosexuality as a white man’s perversion.” It then goes on to describe the Down Low culture as follows:

“Rejecting a gay culture they perceive as white and effeminate, many black men have settled on a new identity, with its own vocabulary and customs and its own name: Down Low. There have always been men – black and white – who have had secret sexual lives with men. But the creation of an organized, underground subculture largely made up of black men who otherwise live straight lives is a phenomenon of the last decade. … Most date or marry women and engage sexually with men they meet only in anonymous settings like bathhouses and parks or through the Internet. Many of these men are young and from the inner city, where they live in a hypermasculine thug culture. Other DL men form romantic relationships with men and may even be peripheral participants in mainstream gay culture, all unknown to their colleagues and families. Most DL men identify themselves not as gay or bisexual but first and foremost as black. To them, as to many blacks, that equates to being inherently masculine.”

That’s very dangerous. This deluded approach to defining one’s sexual orientation was blamed for the significant increase in the spread of HIV among the black, female, heterosexual population. Only later, one finds that the women remain complicit upon finding out that their spouse / significant other is on the “Down Low”. That’s not the way that I would respond to this as a woman. I’ve had first hand experience.

Without using the same trite cliche that white folks use to justify their racial neutrality: {My best friend} since first grade came out as a gay black man in college. He tried to do it high school, but received such vicious rebuttal (which I often nursed him through) that he had to change high schools before graduating. We were inseparable since the age of five.

During those times when I nursed his ego back to health after the bullying, being stuffed in his locker, I even had to rescue him from a near gang rape in the boy’s locker room after a football game. He was secretly seeing one of the football players and I was the decoy to protect him. Another player caught them fooling around in the locker room and all hell broke loose. I felt so guilty, as I was supposed to be the lookout, but I got distracted from watching them in the shower together. Terribly distracted. Then a group of guys rushed in with baseball bats. I dragged his bloody, pulped form to the ER. His ribs were cracked, he had only a bloodied towel wrapped around him because he couldn’t get to his clothes or have the time to put them on.
It almost seemed like a setup. I grabbed his clothes from one of the benches between the rows of lockers. His secret boyfriend only received a few scars from joining in on my BFF’s beat down. He told everyone at school that my BFF made a pass at him. Lies. After this, my friend had to switch schools to recover from the humiliation. From then on, he vowed strict heterosexuality and even tried to “profess” his lifelong, lovelorn desire for me to be his girl. I knew that he was confused.

He often had me accompany him on his homosexual male explorations, as a the “pretend” girlfriend. I did so out of loyalty and guilt over what I allowed to happen to him in 10th grade. He said it wasn’t my fault and that he always loved me. Via my BFF, I witnessed a lot of gay male sex as a young woman. I thought it was beautiful (though I say this reluctantly) and my gay BFF asked me to join him at times (we were just kids), but I declined the offer as I was always a late bloomer. I just watch them making love and it wasn’t that much different from what I had minimally experienced with heterosexual lovers.

I did notice that my BFF would code switch in the way he spoke and used words when he was in his element with other gay men. And he overcompensated his masculinity when immersed back into the general population of his peers. Either way, I never stopped perceiving him as 100% man. He was a beautiful man, too. I’m surprised that I never fell in love with him.

I’m glad that I’m not gay, as it is probably among one of the most painful walks a human can endure in this life. Esp. if one is simultaneously a Christian. If I were gay, not much would change for me, as I would still be bound to practice celibacy if I’m not in a covenant relationship. I don’t think God has any extra reservation of wrath for homosexuality. I think that God’s attitude towards human sexuality is sacred and He created is as an extremely powerful force. So powerful that God created a covenant relationship to protect it.

Do you know what thoroughly messed up our stellar, out-of-this-world friendship? During our senior year in high school, we both fell in love with the same guy. This guy was bi-sexual and didn’t care who knew. I think that confidence is what my BFF fell in love with. THe 3 of us were messing about getting high one evening and of course, we all ended up in the same bed. After that, I was crazy about this guy. So was my BFF. It all ended tragically. I don’t care how hedonistic one’s carnal nature is, you can really only love one person wholly at a time.


I hear you. Relationships are complicated and when we are young there is an intensity that is overwhelming. I had several relationships in my teens and mid twenties, lots of experiments that ended badly. Some of us can make good song or story out of these mess ups. Art is the antidote to suffering.

Thanks for sharing your history with your gay friend. He is lucky to have had you. I am amazed by how fast the culture is moving now that we have social media and Youtube opening up all kinds of areas that were once taboo. Unfortunately, I have seen the gay scene in New York turn from radical and multicultural to boring cliche and overpriced. There may be something happening elsewhere but it is not what we dreamed of when we were writing all those manifestos and marching in all those demonstrations. I try to rise above bitterness and when I see the Christ child in the eyes of those many desperate faces I come across, I pick myself up and get back in the race.


That’s why I love you so much, JohnnyD54! A True Believer, you are. I wish that I knew more people like you.

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I hope that you will take a few minutes to watch the “Battle Royale” scene I posted in the Butler thread. If you are already familiar with it, watch it again and again. This is where Baldwin and Butler are coming from as black artists. Let me know what you think upon viewing it.

Richard Wright’s Battle Royale

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Another Perfect Word (or term) = “a fortiori”

Latin for “so much the more?!?” Used in Jewish reasoning to express “increasing magnitude”. I love that term.

I never stop to consider or look for the “perfect words” when I write. It is usually an afterthought in the editing process.

For example, the extensive amount of words I used hitherto in relating the experience of my friendship with a gay black man, were being “perfected in progress” in the process of transcribing my thoughts into real wor(l)d. I don’t think that perfection is intentional in the process of creative writing.

In fact, words have completely alternate impact when read solely with the scanning eye and ear of the mind, than they do when uttered aloud from the lips. I personally do not like reading aloud to myself because my voice distracts me. And the act of pushing the words out from around and underneath the tongue and between the lips, sometimes banishes the ideas further away from my mind’s grasp. Reading aloud to myself is akin to spitting the words out instead of breathing them in solely with the mind’s eye. Reading the words silently directly transports them into my mind but with an accompanying silence that preserves the idea with undivided attention. This has a completely different and more intimate effect.

Hence, some words reveal their perfection only when read aloud, whilst others convey a more intimate and meaningful perfection when decoded silently with the mind only.


I’m looking forward to talking about this. Thanks, Katina!

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Is the 09.04.18 Zoom-cast scheduled at 2:00 p. m. still on? I’m trying to coordinate my work schedule.

Don’t know if y’all are planning on dropping in tomorrow, but I’ll be there. I’ve put together a plan for a discussion concerning “perfect words”. I’ll cover why I listed the 3 books I did, plus this essay by George Orwell,

I’ll also link an article by Bobbi Low, giving you a sense of her writing (scientific), as I’m sure you haven’t read the book, “why sex matters”.
Then I’ll speak to why I write, and then tell you my 5 best books, read examples of “perfect words” - maybe no such thing? Then I thought we could go around the cafe table and each person could speak to the same - see if there’s any overlap, and then open it up for discussion.

It just occurred to me how the age/era we are in now - with social media and AI - being such a force in how we write (think), what with AI choosing, or suggesting, the words that come next, how that is shopping our minds and how that might lead to unintended (negative) consequences, or not, depending upon one’s view of what is, and is not, good, better, best, more perfect.

See ya later,
I’ll post Low’s piece next.


The article by Low. It’s about Climate Change, written in 1993, but holds true (perfect words?)

Don’t know - but I’m planning on checking in.

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I’ll be there. Thanks, Mark, for putting this together.

I think there may be some relation between this topic and a previous one — Cosmos Café: Creating Transparent Language [3/6] — just making a note here for later reference and intertextuality.


I think they’re all related, the topics, in a sense. Integrated, right? If we can just figure it all out … “Hey bartender … another dose of mind bending, please?”
"Was that the red pill or the blue pill you all were having?

“Bring 'em both.”


Actually, since you guys have a holiday tomorrow, I was planning on dropping in the day-after-tomorrow. :roll_eyes:

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