Monday, May 02, 2011

On Subtlety, or A Secret is Revealed

There's an art to subtlety.  See, when saying things, you've got options.  You can throw open the door and scream at the top of your lungs, "My toes are turning purple," but that's not subtle.  Plus, that would get a lot of awkward stares and generate interesting responses.  "Really, my good man?  Pray tell why." 

There's also the general announcement:
Dear Sirs,

I am loathe to inform you of my ailment, but the doctors heavily suggest that I do so, if only for your own good.  It appears that some time ago I concocted a pox that, oddly, has turned my toes the color of ripened Concord grapes.  Not all of them--God forbid!--but enough so that it's given me cause for concern.  Please consider this memorandum your fair warning.

At first, this may seem the most obvious way to let the world know something.  The Memorandum Announcement Act of 1996 practically made this way the standard operating procedure for the last fifteen years, but SOP is anything but subtle.  (And subtlety is what we're after, after all.)  This type of information conveyance comes in many forms, from blog posts to hand-written notes penned in invisible ink and delivered by the Pony Express.  Oh, and email and text messages, too, though they're generally less verbose.

Similar to a memo is the Facebook status update.  This time-honored tradition (if you're an infant and have no idea what the words time-honored or tradition mean) is akin to a thought going off in your head.  A friend makes a status update,
XXXXX:  Uh, my toes are all purpley.
2 minutes ago - Like[] - Comment[]
     AAAA:  GROSS!
     BBBB:  lol
and 'ere long the world knows that his toes have gone all purpley.   The same is apparently true with Twitter, yet another social media webservice, though it somehow uses birds to deliver messages across the globe.

And yet none of these are subtle.  Subtleness is an art.  It's concealing hidden messages on old records that can only be heard while tripping on quaaludes and playing the record backwards for some reason.  It's Sauron giving out nineteen rings as Christmas presents while crafting a secret ring to control those nineteen ring-wearers.  It's subliminal messages that are only made apparent after the fact.  This, friends, is subtlety.  And subtlety is where it's at.

When I'm reading a book and the author subtly drops hints that you pick up on during the conclusion, I smile at the author's cleverness, especially when I can look back and see the obvious buried nuggets.  Being subtle is a thought-shaping art that, when done correctly, can create a legion of followers that all get the wool pulled over their eyes.  We're not a people that enjoys being fooled, but we are a people that enjoys being played with, relishing intelligent television shows or movies. 

Of course, one can be too subtle, and this is worse than being forthright and blunt.  Being too subtle obfuscates meaning and leaves an audience aggravated and confused.  This, I feel, is a problem I wrestle with in my writing.  When one is being clever, the balance between revelation and subtlety is manageable; when one is being cleverer, the balance is a tilted see-saw and ain't nobody gettin' what you trying to say.

If I were clever, I would have hidden the name of my daughter in this post somewhere, but I'm not, and I didn't.  Instead, I made a Facebook announcement Saturday night, officially making her name public knowledge.  And that, as it were, is the point of this post.  So, with a slight build up of dramatic tension, I would like to announce that when our daughter is born come June-30th-ish, we will be calling her

Avonlea Brynn Stewart.

(There's no period after her name, but, you know, for the sake of grammatical correctness.)  Avonlea comes from L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, which my wife loves, and I thought the name beautiful.  Brynn is a mixture of Keisha's middle name (Lynn) and something that sounds Celtic.  Stewart comes from a long line of nobles that live somewhere across the pond.

Thank you.  That is all.


David Wagner said...

Just so long as she ain't got purple toes, it's all good!

I bet you can't wait to meet her...

Congrats, Logan. You'll be a great dad, I just know it.

Abbie Josephsen said...

what a beautiful name :) good book series too!
the announcement might not have been subtle, but you did a good job intro-ing it without revealing what you ultimately were going to reveal! lol :)

Anonymous said...

that is truly a lovely name, Logan.


Carl V. said...

Love the name. Anne of Avonlea is one of my favorite literary and film (as long as you disregard the last travesty made where Anne was a spy) characters, my wife's as well. I've long been fond of the red-haired lass. You both did well and I look forward to hearing of her arrival.

And on to being subtle, I do enjoy that in books and film when done well. I don't always have to have it. Some stories are projected out so clearly and yet we still enjoy them because characters or setting or some special something just reaches out and grabs hold of us. Been when subtle storytelling is done well, boy does it make for some memorable experiences.

logankstewart said...

@Dave: Well, as long as they aren't permanent... ;)

@Abbie: Thank you very much! I think it's beautiful.

@L: Thanks! I think it's lovely, as well.

@Carl: Ha, thanks! And aye, effective subtle storytelling definitely makes for memorable reading experiences.

Paula Titus said...

Very fun post! :) I also love subtlety when done well. The name is beautiful, I also named my daughter (her middle name) after a character in a novel. Although it hasn't inspired her to read it, geesh. What's wrong with teenagers?

logankstewart said...

@Paula: Thank you! I had fun writing it. Myself, I was apparently named after some guy on a soap opera or something...