2 + 2 = 4

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George Orwell’s 1984 grabbed a hold of me when I read it in high school back in the 1980s, and it hasn’t let go since. But never did I think I’d actually be living through it, the way it appears all of us are today.

Near the end of the book, after Winston’s secret life with Julia has been discovered and rubbed out, the pace of Orwell’s writing becomes frantic. Everything is gone, nothing matters anymore, and Winston is holding fast to the idea that some things are objectively true.

“2+2 =4. Remember that!” Orwell admonishes us all. The powers that be –IngSoc in the novel itself–will tell you that 2+2 =5, but we must always be ready to assert that the truth is not what someone else decides it is. 2+2 has to equal four, because if we ever give up and allow it to equal five, they win and the rest of us lose.

At the Golden Globes the other night, Meryl Streep gave a speech about Trump mocking a reporter with a disability. Trump (and that’s all he’ll ever be to me–no titles will be appended to his name on January 20th) responded with his typical bluster and buffoonery, first by calling her overrated (which is demonstrably not true) and stating that he did not mock the reporter.

I know what mocking looks like. It’s impossible to find someone who hasn’t actively been mocked, or mocked someone else, or stood by as another was being mocked. Mockery is the fruit of the bad side of human nature, and we’ve all seen it. For Trump to say he didn’t mock the reporter is the same thing as trying to tell us that 2+2 =5. The question is are we willing to cast aside that which we know (2+2=4) and allow others to define it for us, instead?

I’m hereby calling bullshit on that. Orwell tells us to hold fast to what we know, and that’s what I’m going to do.

Trump could very easily offer an apology for what he did, even though it wouldn’t be the tiniest bit sincere. He could use the old “I apologize if anyone was offended” line that gets used all the time in statements like this. But no, that’s not who he is. The four years ahead of us all are scarier than anything I’ve ever contemplated. But 2+2 is always going to equal 4 to me, no matter what Donald Trump says to the contrary.

 

He loved Big Brother

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George Orwell’s 1984 is one of the few books I’ve read multiple times. I first read it back in high school–and it might actually have been in 1984–because a teacher assigned it to me. In fact, I still have the paperback copy that I acquired in the bookstore of a high school that no longer exists. It followed me to college, and has remained in my book collection ever since. It’s not the longest-standing book I have, but it’s certainly one of them.

I read the book again in the mid-1990s, because I was tutoring a high school student who was also reading it at the time. The book had more meaning to me in my 20s than it did in high school. I found that it was still an engaging read.

Yesterday I finished reading the book for a third time, in preparation for a book club discussion at work. I think of this as a perk of working in the publishing industry. The bound version that I have also includes Animal Farm, and I intend to read that shortly, as well. But 1984 was the title at hand, and I re-re-read it, with twenty years of life experience that I didn’t have the last time around.

The funny thing is that I relate to the book’s principal character, Winston Smith, in a way that I never could before. He seemed like a broken-down old man the first times that I read it, and now I’m closer to being him myself. And I found myself frightened of the world Orwell describes, in a way I had never been before.

A world where love and independent thought and departure from social norms aren’t allowed to exist–and the impulses for these things are stomped out through physical torture–is completely abhorrent to me. And yet, as I was reading the book, I found that human apathy and passiveness are the conditions which would allow such a state to take hold. And there’s plenty of those to go around.

Things like science and literature were anathema to the world of Ingsoc, and the ruling Party that Winston upholds before straying from it. The Thought Police was the mechanism that was used to rule society, by any and all means necessary. Winston and his girlfriend Julia hated the Party, and they hated Big Brother, but the Party could not allow them to stray from the societal herd. It’s a vision of society which every single dystopian novel, from The Giver to Divergent, owes an enormous debt.

The book is divided into three parts, and I devoured the final part over the course of a few hours yesterday. I hurtled through the last few chapters, reading of the extreme cruelty inflicted upon Winston in the Ministry of Love. And the final few pages, when the story comes to its heartbreaking conclusion, were read amid the tumult of intermission at a high school talent performance. The bedlam of teenagers greeting the friends and family who had come to watch them perform was exactly the sonic background needed to bring such a compelling read to its conclusion.

At one point in the book, before things go bad for Winston, he states that “Truisms are true, hold onto that!” The book uses the example of “2+2=4” over and over again to impress it’s point on the reader. If the Party says that 2+2=5, loyalty demands that this point be believed. 2+2 could also equal 3, if that’s what the Party decides. And nobody is allowed to think any differently, lest they be tortured as Winston was.

The book broke my heart, particularly when Winston and his former love Julia meet near the end of the book. The Party did a number on both of them, and the result is the type of a numbed existence that no one would ever want to experience for themselves.

Truisms are true, and independent thought–even if it means deviating from what the rest of society believes–is essential. A dying George Orwell posited this many decades ago, and we would do well to keep his words close to our hearts today.

 

A word count milestone

Early in the process of creating and maintaining this blog, I made a decision to keep tabs on how much writing I actually did. I started keeping an Excel file, and every time a new post is added here I record four things: The number of the post, the date it was first published, the title of the post, and the number of words contained in the post. WordPress provides the word count, and I wouldn’t bother with doing this otherwise.

But knowing exactly how much has gone into this space is helpful, on some level. I’m written more than 500 posts in just over a year’s time, which means slightly more than one new post a day. I try to write and post something new here every day, but some days I don’t get my thoughts finished  and have to get some sleep. But 500 posts don’t create themselves, and I’m sure that a large amount of sleep has been sacrificed to create whatever it is I have here. So be it. This is more fun for me than sleeping, anyway.

The word counts for these posts can vary from less than 100 words if I’m posting a picture or a link to something online, to over 1,000 when I’m rambling on about something that interests me. But 500 words seems to be the steady average of the things that I write. And as the posts keep piling up, so does the aggregate word count.

If somebody had ever told me that I’d write a quarter of a million words, and then put them on the internet, where people in all but a handful of the nations around the world would happen upon them some day, I would have thought that person needed some serious help. But that’s just what has happened. The internet is indeed an amazing thing.

As I reached the 100,000 word mark in this space, I began looking at word counts for well-known books and novels. I had passed George Orwell’s 1984 by that point, which I still consider as the most engaging and thought-provoking novel I’ve ever read.

As time went by, and I kept adding more verbiage to this space, I passed other works like Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (109,000 words), Thoreau’s Walden (114,000 words),  and James Fenimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans (145,000 words).  But the standard, as far as contemporary books go, is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

By the time I had reached 200,000 words, earlier this year, I had surpassed the word counts of all of the books in the Potter series except for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which was the fifth of the seven Potter books. At just over 257,000 words, it stands as the longest in a series of hefty books.

This is important to me, since I wanted to get to the point where I could take any of the Harry Potter books off my shelf (and I have them all because I’ve read them all) and say to myself “I’ve written more words than that.” And now, with this post, I can say exactly that.

Quantity does not equal quality, and I’m not suggesting otherwise. Jo Rowling could write 100 words, and I could write 100,000 words, and I’m that sure that hers would be far more compelling than mine. She has a storytelling gift that is beyond dispute, while  I can give you 500 words about going to see Star Wars when I was a kid. There’s really no comparison, other than to say that she writes in English, and I write in English, too.

The sum total of all Harry Potter books is well beyond the million words that I’m aspiring to write, before I die or lose interest in the process. And I won’t even be thinking about approaching this number for at least two more years. But my love and respect for what Rowling has created is hereby acknowledged in this space.

I’m trying to develop my writing skills, and this blog has become my vehicle for doing so. Hopefully, my writing now is more engaging than something I would have written a year ago.  Doing anything over and over again, for more than a year, should have that effect. And so for sheer persistence, if nothing else, this is a milestone that I’m happy to put behind me.

F/U/S/G

Of all the many seasons I’ve been a Cubs fan, 1984 ranks as my favorite one. The year 1984, all by itself, was an important year in my life. It was the year that I learned how to drive a car and, when my birthday came around, I got my license to drive. And whoever you are, life changes in a big way once that happens.

1984 was also when I got my first “real” job, as a grocery bagger in a local supermarket. I kept the job throughout high school, mostly because I was only scheduled to work on the weekends, so as not to interfere with my studies. I settled into a “study during the week, work and go carousing on the weekend, and then start all over again on Monday” cycle that I wouldn’t break out of for many years afterward.

And 1984 also had some great music. Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA and Prince’s Purple Rain were probably the best 1-2 album punch of my lifetime. The phrase “I want my MTV” had relevance because it hadn’t yet come to the local cable provider, but music videos like “What’s Love Got to Do with it” and “Missing You” were showing that the genre had lots of possibilities. Give me any song from 1984 on the radio over any of the junk that gets played on “hit radio” today.

And against this backdrop of change and possibility, the Cubs decided to start winning. There was the “Daily Double” of Bob Dernier and Ryne Sandberg at the top of the batting order, along with Harry Caray, who gave them their name and gushed about baseball in a way that I han’t seen before. There was Gary ‘Sarge” Matthews in left field, Ron “Penguin” Cey at third Base, and Leon “Bull” Durham at first base. There were no lights anywhere to be seen at Wrigley Field, Rick Sutcliffe was unbeatable on the mound, and the Cubs had a leggy “ballgirl” named Marla Collins. The 1984 Cubs were a rocking good time, all summer long. It was as good a summer as I’ve ever had in my life.

The Cubs wrapped up their first division title in Pittsburgh, with Rick Sutcliffe going the distance. So one itch had been scratched, but a bigger prize lay over the horizon. And it seemed inevitable after the Cubs won the first two playoff games at Wrigley Field. Sutcliffe–the pitcher!–even went deep in the Cubs’ first playoff win. He was nearly superhuman by that point.

And then the team went out west. And Steve Garvey, who is the easily most reviled player I can think of for Cubs fans my age, hit a home run off of Lee Smith. He circled the bases with his fist raised in the air, and burned his way into my baseball memories. I wish I could evict him from the place that he occupies, but I can’t do it. Nothing better has come along in the deades since then.

But Garvey’s home run only sent the series to Game five. And that’s where Rick Sutcliffe ran out of gas. That’s where Leon Durham turned into Bill Buckner, two years before Bill Buckner did. and that’s where the good times came to a crashing halt. I said it was too good to be true, and it turned out that it was.

Steve Garvey, having been unsuccessful in his bid to buy the Dodgers franchise, now wants to buy the Padres instead. I’m hopeful he doesn’t succeed in this, but I think that he might just do it. Either way, the image of him running the bases, with a fist raised in triumph, will linger until further notice. I want to believe that this can be exorcised by making it to the World Series some day, but until then it looks like I’m stuck with it. I can certainly tell you that it’s no way to live.

NOTE:   The styling of the title for this post is an hommage to Prince’s D/M/S/R from his 1999 album.