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This Aphorism Affliction

Friday, 18th May, 2001

Ask me when I started to suffer from this affliction and I wouldn't be able to give you a date. I just know that afflicted I am, and it's a strange curse to be suffering from.

I've found myself writing in aphorisms.

In this modern scientific word of categorisation, there seems to be a label for everything. If there is a technical term for being attracted to someone because of a difference in height, which there is (anasteemaphilia), then there is a word to pigeonhole everything.

Did you even know there was such a thing as being attracted to someone because of a difference in height? Do you even care? Well, let anasteemaphilia be the word of the day until you can find a better one.

I don't know the technical term for writing in aphorisms, so I'm going to invent one. Two words are better than one anyway - it enriches the language and gives more flexibility to the poets. I'm going to call it 'wildeorshawitis'.

Anyone with a personal history that includes trivia quizzes will have come across two names who crop up time and time again. Experience shows that the person who originally said this quote, that quote or any random quote at all, was either George Bernard Shaw or Oscar Wilde. On the odd occasions when it isn't either, then it's both.

That's of course if you're not American, in which case Shaw and Wilde, being Irish (and hence not American), are not worthy of note and can't have said anything worth remembering. America is a proud nation, stretching from sea to shining sea, surrounded by nothing more than air and water. The world ends at Boston Harbor.

The passage of time has often found me wondering about these things; less in what they are and say but in how they come to be. All these quotations that are plucked out of the ether in the course of conversation, are they deliberately fashioned or were they originally just plucked out of the same ether in the first place?

How much room is there in that there ether anyway? I'll swap you a million aphorisms for one Roseanne; then I can be remembered as the man who saved the world. My prize could be a globally funded search for a cure for wildeorshawitis. Logic dictates that he who seeks, finds. Experience suggests that he who seeks, finds something else, but let's not nitpick.

Ridding the world of Roseanne and finding a cure for a global ailment would be a Good Day. It would certainly look good on my resume. Hal Astell, IT Engineer, Bibliographer, Anasteemaphiliac, World Saver, Medicine Man. Time to collect some letters to throw after my name in a random jumble to impress, methinks.

But I digress, as I frequently do, and to further digress from the realisation that I digress, maybe that's another affliction of mine, one that can be laid firmly at the feet of this particular writing project. I'll call this one 'kingish', after the well known novelist for whom one word will never do when a million could so easily suffice. Stephen King is of course the only man in history to produce an entire book during a period of writer's block; his brain refused to cooperate but his fingers did the work anyway.

But enough of kingish, back to wildeorshawitis and how I came to suffer from it.

It's possible that my mind is searching for things to say, given that I've set myself an hour a day in which to write but that I've not set myself any subject to write about. The subjects come at five o'clock in the morning when I put virtual pen to virtual paper. Aphorism could well be the last refuge of a writer with no subject.

It could be that now I have effortlessly slipped out of my twenties and into my thirties, I suddenly understand the secret of life. Thirty is that age when you suddenly realise that your favorite song is now elevator music. It's not a case of being out of touch, it's a case of not having a clue that the world moved on and you didn't; or maybe it's about not caring in the slightest that the world moved on and you didn't because everything was much better in your day anyway. Thirty is the birth of nostalgia.

More likely is that I've started to communicate in a new and fresh way. Fresh to me at least, as others have been doing this for years and could probably explain wildeorshawitis from experience. Following on from my newfound fascination with Open Diary (see 9 May 2001), I've wandered around the place a little more and maybe it's starting to change me in ways so subtle that they become invisible to everything except hindsight. It's well known of course that hindsight is 20-20.

I'm used to interacting with people in realtime. This may sound rather obvious, but this goes beyond what is popularly termed 'real life'. Naturally talking to someone in the street is realtime, as is talking on the phone, unless your answerphone gets more conversation time than you do.

'Hi, you've reached Mary's answerphone. Please leave your name and number after the tone and I'll get back to you.'

'Hi, Mary's answerphone, this is Hal's answerphone. Pleased to meet you. Nice tone.'

Online, realtime has different connotations. E-mail can be realtime, but usually works with the convenient delay of an answerphone; and chatrooms are realtime with editing. You speak and your words appear on the screen for all to see, just with the convenient addition of the delete key just in case you change your mind. After all, computers were not invented to play games, word process or store data; computers were invented to have an undo button. Oh, to have that in real life too!

'Yeah, I think the boss is a *censored* *censored* *censored*. He just walked in right behind me? Delete, delete, delete. Shrug.'

Open Diary works in a different way. You read someone's diary, you post a note. Simple? Well, this is more than a note: it's the seedling of communication. The paradigm shift comes with the realisation that the notes you leave can be the product of more than split second thought. Rather than the blitzkreig of realtime communication, you can spend a little time drafting your words and thus leaving a succinct, witty and relevant note.

That's the theory anyway. In practice you leave aphorisms. Or at least I do. Am I alone? Am I truly alone?

'Hi, my name's Hal and I leave aphorisms.'

'Hello, Hal!'

It was at Open Diary that I found myself doing this first, but it's spread to other places too. I didn't notice at the time, but hindsight caught me out when I least expected it. The subconscious is something else invisible to everything but hindsight.

I'm just wondering if all this is totally worthless, or whether some kid a hundred years down the line will sift through a book of quotations and find a couple of pages under my name. Now there's a scary thought. Even scarier: he finds me on an exam paper.

'Hal Astell said that the more you understand of popular culture, the more you'll understand what people say, but the less you'll actually want to have understood. Discuss.'

Maybe fame is misunderstood. Fame isn't about running countries, winning Oscars, scoring crucial goals. Fame is appearing on exam papers.

Dear God, please keep me from becoming famous. Amen.

PS: I ate my sprouts when I was six. You owe me.


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