Wednesday, 5 October 2016


As said previously, endings are there to give purpose to a story, to see to it that it comes to a gainful conclusion and can be looked back on as a single cohesive narrative.

With that in mind, let’s us spend a spell in secretarial college and ask, what are some good parting phrases to stick at the end of a letter?

Here’s a list over a few of them in English, and what using them does to the story of your letter.
In no particular order:

1.      Sincerely Yours, Alexandra Von HumbleBrag.

It’s clean, it’s neutral, it’s almost sterile. This is polite filler: it shows that there is no deeper relationship or meaning to be found. They’re not a quirky letter-writer, like those kids in Venice. They just want to be done with this business soon, but they also want you to know they’ve put a certain amount of thought and effort into this letter.

2.      Hugs, Benny

Or “love”. Or “kisses”. It means there’s affection coming from the letter-writer. Doesn’t mean they love you, hell, it doesn’t even mean they like you. But it does mean, they’re the sort of person unafraid to show you affection in a letter. And hey, isn’t that a bit brave?

3.      Thanks, Akira

Confusing, yes. Especially if it is the entire content of the letter. Usually means the sender just wants it over with. It’s up to the recipient to decide if what they want to be over with is the conversation itself, always a taxing effort, or interaction with the recipient.

4.      Your Obedient Servant

Those who sign this… They’re old. Real old. They read newspapers with a pair of opera glasses, and carry an illegal sword-stick they call “Puppy” as in “You wouldn’t want to upset Puppy now.” Pretentious? Sure. Syphilis-ridden? Almost definitely. But they are polite, and they mean it. It doesn’t matter if you’re arguing, or slaving and murdering, no, when somebody signs with this, you know that they believe politeness and proper conduct to be above all morals and all actions. It’s monstrous, and inhuman, but at the same time beautiful.

Or they just listened to Hamilton. That’s also possible.

5.      Cheers, Nadia

Short, happy, to the point. Would that all endings could be this effective. The setting isn’t too formal, but it’s almost never too formal to write this. It’s succinct, it’s cheerful, it’s the sign of an easy-going, pleasant writer.

The opposite of this description.

6.      Godspeed, InfamousLog44

The traditional farewell of a speedster. This changes everything: it puts your story in a larger context, it means that whatever its contents and whatever it commands, is urgent. A letter with this on the bottom, it’s suddenly part of a much larger stor and it might not have known about it before even! It’s volume 5, and volume 6 clinches the story, and everything is nearing its end.

7.      Hello!

The time travelers shared valediction. Don’t answer letters that end with this. You’ll end up having responded four months before you got it.

8.      Take care, your friend, Fatima

Intimacy is the prime mover in this valediction. It’s not between lovers or close family members, but there is love there. Love across a distance, but this at the end of a letter is one of those sharp little surprises which remind you

9.      Live long and prosper/May the Force be with you, Spock Skywalker

These are silly letters. These are silly letters from very silly people, no matter the topic.
Or, well. If the topic is silly, if the topic is so silly it’s fictional, then these letters immediately acquire a deadly seriousness.

10.  Yours forever, Moss

A teary farewell. A final farewell. If this is at the end of a letter, it better be the end of a story.
Otherwise you’re just a cheat.

11.  As always,
A Kvetching Turtle

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Turtle Kvetched

On the journey of life, your vessel is your body and the world your ocean. Do not drown in it.

What follows is the hidden beginning of the author: this is the story of how the art of chelonian complaining was mastered. 

First, the turtle was one among many. They all started out on the same beach, overseen by bizarre-looking creatures that they would latter find out were called parents. These did not get along well, competing for food, mates and coupons for shell glistening.

But this being a colony of particularly self-interested parent turtles, these young turtle-babies congregated among themselves. There were a lot of them gathered: one would not believe that this species was in fact endangered.

It was however, critically so, according to low-paid biologists, and it was perhaps this sense of looming existential crisis that spurred the trendier and more charismatic young turtles to get together, and form a collective. They formed a committee, whose members were identical to the top seventeen in any reputable popularity list polled among the wee turtles, and were also close friends.

Sensing that something must be done, and that they couldn’t spend their remaining hundreds of years of life milling aimlessly about, as they had spent the last three days since they were born, they decided that they needed a cause and an occupation and an organization.

Always keen on fashionable terms, they decided that their organization would be a “University.”[1]  Having decided this, they all cheered and went out for tea, which they had under pompous circumstances, congratulating each other constantly. It was a major nuisance when a junior associate, not even really that popular, pointed out that they had in fact, not decided on either a cause or an occupation.

Sighing universally, the committee quickly drafted a cause, being “The improvement and advancement of the chelonian race and its obvious decency” which they all agreed was great and laudatory and they all hurrahed in unison. And then, considering the lack of any tools or other means of advancement, and the fact that even their tea was just dirty water and some mites, they decided that the occupation of all at the University, would be story-telling.

Though they called it lying. It is the same, in most respects.

So the turtle-babes, now three days and a half old, invented fiction. They made up stories, and it didn’t matter if they were interesting or fun or sad or if they were well-crafted or just a boring list of facts that had happened to the speaker: they told them all equally.

And they gathered in smaller groups and in the university as a whole, and told these stories to their fellow turtles, and these stories were all applauded and the teller was said to have done a “Ruddy good job”, and if the teller were popular or handsome, they would be told that they had done a “Terrifically ruddy good job” and the cheers would be even louder.

These were the only comments made on stories by the turtles-babes on the southern beaches.
The author, being counted amongst these turtles, was no exception. The author was neither popular nor despised, nor much of anything really. They joined in with the fun new game, and continues on applauding even when the game had stopped being fun.

The author was not a go-getter, nor a great forward thinker. At heart, the author who would one day become the kvetching turtle, was of a very conservative mindset. Careful not to offend or stand out, the author was a born people-pleaser. Never would they go against the group.

Sure, they applauded stories where lone adventurers dared to oppose their authority figures, but those were just stories. Those were just pleasant words strung together to get the days to go by faster.
And then one day, the author met a turtle who didn’t like the stories being offered.

This was another one of the turtle babes, but this one was everything the author was not. They were brave and polemic, and stood out with a flare. At the end of one story, told by one of the popular turtles in the form more or less reminiscent of a series of listed items not bound together by a plot or common thread, the mischievous turtle did not clap.

“Why ever didn’t she clap?” The other turtles asked her, and she lit up and said proudly.
“Because I didn’t like that story. It was bad, and it was boring, and it didn’t do anything worth listening to.”

And the other turtles of the university, which then was all of these turtles, murmured amongst themselves and asked if something ought to be done. And the popular and merited turtles seemed perplexed to, and for a while it was a sport to go ask the turtle if she’d liked your story. Sometimes she would say yes, and the asker would get smug and proud, but more often she said no, and the asker would feel vindicated.

The author didn’t ask: the author felt that the Disliking Turtle was only doing it for the attention. And sure enough, when the other turtles tired of that game, the turtle who disliked stories sometimes took a look at the university, and declared that she was seceding.

“How?” Asked the other turtles.

“Quite simple.” Said the Disliking Turtle. “I shall start my own University out by the cliff, where we will sometimes like a story and sometimes dislike it.”

And so the Disliking Turtle began her own institute of learning, by the Promontory. She made herself chancellor and elector and professor and adjunct and custodian, all in one, and various places on the cliffs were designated as Faculties of This and That.

Some turtles went to look at her new University, and even started calling the original University the University of South Beach, where most of them kept to. But the Promontory College wasn’t for all, and most returned. It had been very difficult to understand, most of them explained it, and that had rather been the point of it. Fine for some, but not for them.

The author was not one to be curious: in fact, the whole incident made the author decide that the Disliking Turtle, now also the Opposing Chancellor Turtle and the Custodian Turtle, was to be their nemesis.

It was a reasonable decision to make: she was everything the author was not. She had a flare for attention, whereas the author shied away from it, she was critical of anything she wanted, whereas the author applauded everything, even if it didn’t make them feel a thing, and above all, she loved to be one against the world, whereas the author loved to be one in the crowd.

So the author decided, for their first major conflict, to make an enemy out of the Critical Wonder of the Generation. The author travelled across the University of South Beach, and spoke of how they’d arrived at this conclusion, and how the other university was “all bad, all bad, all bad.”

The turtle-babes were big fans of repetition.

Soon, the committee of popular turtle-children[2], decided that they too liked the idea of a nemesis, but not wanting to trample on the future author’s webbed feet, they simply promoted the future author to an honored lecturer at the University. This meant that a great deal more turtles came to listen to the story, and that they author receive even wider applaud. This pleased the author greatly, for they felt that they had gotten all they wanted.

The Critical Turtle was also listening, as the Cliff was not really so far away that one couldn’t listen in on loud stories, and the Critical Turtle was interested. So she, being a creature with a flair for the dramatic, approached the future author at the end of the story, and in public challenged them.

“If I am to be your Nemesis, then come to my College and challenge me!” She declared.

The author sputtered, the author blushed, and the author did not answer. They couldn’t: this was no thing they were accustomed to, nothing they had imagined. As far as the future author could conceive of, one chooses one’s nemesis, told the story of why one had done such a thing, and that was the beginning and end of the matter. One did not engage further!

As the minutes passed, and the author continued to fail to deliver a response, the Critical Turtle turned their back, and had they had a cape it would have flapped, and walked back to her Cliff College.

The audience too, was perplexed. What did this mean? Could such a thing be done?

What story were they in?

This the Committee, or The Governing Board, or the Informal Royalty, wondered too, as they hastily convened around the future author, possibly trying to hide away her insecurity.

It would seem that the Critical Turtle and the Turtle who was her Nemesis had just engaged in the first battle of wits, as the turtles imagined such a thing would go, and to the committee it seemed to have been a draw at best. Some more daring members even considered if their Fellow hadn’t lost!
But that was heresy, not because it was wrong think, but because it was outside of the system of thought at the University of South Beach. They had never lost before, so it seemed such a thing wasn’t worth being considered.

But they had not won today, and in response, one excitable member of the Board decided that the Turtle Who Couldn’t Answer a Challenge was to be promoted to the rank of Visiting Lecturer, and would go on a scholarship to the Rival University at the Cliff.

As this was a story, and as it fit into the earlier narrative, and even promised a sequel, the turtle-babes, now several weeks or months old, cheered, and it was decided.

So the very next hour, after some deserved recuperation, the future author left the University at South Beach and made the short yet arduous journey to the Cliff College.

The Critical Turtle was glad to receive the author, and boasted proudly by the makeshift seaweed-entrance that her stories would chock the author. The author, still queasy from all the previous hour’s excitement, merely nodded in their assent.

Next, she got to meet all the other Criticals, those hallowed fellows who also thought stories deserved to be bashed sometimes. Some did it seldom, some did it almost always, but the main creed of their order was that stories could be bad, and should be called bad.

These were a mixed bunch, all of course other turtle babes, but from that point on they all differed. Some were mellow and apathetic, others were bold and manic. The future author did not like any of them, for the simple fact that none of them were her type: these were not people-pleasers, but people-agitators. They thrived off of conflict and resentment, and for that the future author resented them and wished to slap them.

But the Critical Turtle was cordial, and after presenting the author to all her fellows, she took the author out to the furthest point of the cliff and asked if they’d had any further thoughts.

“No, I haven’t.” Said the author. “I do not like this style of talking. It is much to negative. I cannot understand why you all do this. Why not listen to stories just, and not say they are bad?”

“Because we must be allowed to say our say about them, good or bad.”

“If one insists on such things, why not leave simply? Why say it was bad? It seems rude.”

“We are being Critical.” She said. “That means we say a thing, even if it is bad.”

“But why? That is no better than just cheering: in fact, it is worse, because it is just hating. No one here says any whys or hows, they just say that they hate our best and greatest stories.”

“But how will we know which are our best and greatest stories, if we are not allowed to say which ones we liked less?”

And this the future author had not thought about, and they were quiet for a short while.

“Tell me, though, why you do this?”

“It is our part of the story.” Said she simply. “We like to find out what is better, and so we say what is bad. If this story of our two universities is one big story, then we are what moves it forward. We make a story happen.”

And the future author thought about this, and was silent. They did not feel like they wanted a nemesis any more, but they were still confused. 

The future author swam out to the furthest part of the island, and sat there alone, thinking.

The South Beach University wanted everyone to like things. The Cliff College wanted turtles to start disliking some things, so other things would shine.

“But then, you still won’t know how to get better!” Said the future author suddenly, as night turned to morning.

This was something, the author thought. To pretend or not care about if all stories were equally good, would mean that one didn’t know how to make better stories. To just say that one liked one and disliked another, would mean that one didn’t explore what made them good.

A new University must be founded, the future author thought to themselves. A University where turtles tell stories, and talk about what was good and what was bad, and why, and how that can be fixed. A University which sought to tell stories better and better!

Had the author been able to, they would have jumped for joy. As it was now, the author simply swam back to the other side of the island, where they’d all been born and educated.

But when she returned, they found it deserted. No parents, no universities, no turtles. The author scoured the Southern Beaches and searched through the Cliff, but there were none of their kin left.
And when they looked out into the ocean, they realized what had happened, because the author felt their own longing for it come alive at that moment. As they stepped out, the future author could feel the world beneath them, the world of stories and adventures waiting. It must have happened to them all, overnight, and they had left behind their universities and feuds and boards and gone adventuring.
 As is a turtle’s prerogative.

To tell stories, with words or with deeds.

The author swam out far, and dived.

But one day, they author would meet with other turtles again, and then the author would share their new secret thinking, and the author would tell stories with these other turtles, and endeavor to raise their voice in applaud when it was needed, and when that was needed, the author would rant as well.
The author had learned the secret to whining: one mustn’t complain unless one wishes to improve a thing. If one cannot learn to better the stories of the universe and the turtles and the ocean, what was the point? None.

As the author tasted the enormous ocean for the first time, the author decided it was lonesome. They complained, for a while. Then they sought out companionship.

And that is how the turtle learnt the art of kvetching.

As always,
A Kvetching Turtle.

[1] Latter historians would choose to call it the” Chelonian University of the South East Seas” but that was a intentionally stuffy title and never really used, except in internal memos and birthday cards.
[2] Which was now, in response to the Cliff College foundation, reformed as a Governing Board, where all Seventeen held the title Head Chancellor and Head Treasurer. The membership was also identical to the new-founded College of Fellows, who were highly distinguished and honored story-tellers and who were therefore awarded privileges and accolades. To give these something to do, Faculties were also instituted at the University, these being the famous Faculties of Good Stories, Faculty of Excellent Stories, Faculty of Excellent Long Stories, Faculty of Excellent Shorter Stories, Faculty of Excellent Half-Long Stories, and so on. If one wishes to peruse the complete list

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Better to have Gone, then Never Left

Every story needs an ending; otherwise, what are we even doing?

It's not that a story is defined by its ending, not as such: instead, it is antagonized by its conclusion. The Story is a clever inventor, fleeing down corridors, building bridges and blowing up walls you’d think were load-bearing, but constantly haunted by the grim-dressed specter of the Ending. Eventually the story has to either face the ending while it still has its dignity intact, or else run out the corridor-complex until it hits a dead-end and the Ending finishes of whatever might remain.

The Ending makes demands: if the Story is to die with dignity, it needs to have accomplished certain things. That fade to black needs to follow a hell of a show, and if it doesn’t, well, the Ending won’t leave the Story looking so pretty.

So what's a story then? Some might say, a thing with a beginning, middle and end that tells you something. Others might have more high flung academic concerns, about structure and the human mind. And those things are important, sure, and tangible in many ways. But me, I say that Story is something slightly bigger.

I think the universe is made of stories.

At least the way we see it, the way we feel about it and think about it. I think humans are above all storytellers, people who observe and experience all sorts of things, and then create stories about it. Long, short, boring, exciting, whichever, it’s not the quality that matters, it's the telling itself.

Over the years I’ve internalized this belief, that we on a deep and incorrigible level think about the universe in the same terms as we think about any old book or film or story about our sister going to the dentist, and I’ve come to believe that this makes telling stories the most important thing we can do.

Any action, political or social or personal, is really all about furthering a story we are telling about ourselves or our society, or somebody else and their society, and in being ideologues, we are merely dedicated to seeing a particular vision of a story through.

This religion of narrative has led me to do some strange things, certainly: I have my shirt to create a story about a person dressed in a consequentially boring way. I also move in a stiff, rigid way, to further that story. There’s a person in control of themselves, I imagine them saying, though my imagination never goes so far as tell me who “them” are.

Lastly, I like hard endings. Often, when we leave friends or a group of friends, it’s a soft farewell: we stop seeing them as often as before, we don’t think of them as often, they simply become less of a concern, as when the bond was in the prime of its strength. And that’s fine, really: lives change, and they do so in ways that are hard to predict or anticipate.

But I’ve never liked that. I think of a friendship as a story, and even when it’s at its best, I am curious about how it will end. When I know that it will start to die soon, then I try to take as much advantage of it as possible, so that when we do part, it will be with a heck of an Ending.  The Ending will be a point from where one can look back, evaluate, and conclude that it was a story well worth living.

Besides, stories need to end, for other stories to begin. It is better to have gone early, to make new stories, then lingered to long or never left, and ruined the old story.

This isn’t an Ending, thought. It’s a start to a story, and I don’t know how this story will go. I’ll kvetch and think out loud, and say quite a lot of silly and stupid things and maybe one or two interesting things, but that’s all to be told in the future.

For now, I don’t know anything of the Ending yet, but for every step this story takes, the closer it will get, and we will get to see, what it makes of it.

As you were,

A Kvetching Turtle