My name is Ishmael. This is the first line in this post. This is not, however, the first line in Moby Dick. That would be “Call me Ishmael”. The meaning is roughly the same, but… it’s just not the line. I can’t stop fucking this up. Does it really matter, other than making you sound like an idiot when you misquote it? Well, for someone who wants to be a writer when I grow up (yup, almost 30 now) I can’t remember one goddamn quote. The exact word usage is supposed to be at least a little important right? The most memorable written lines of all time are not: “This is how the world ends, with a whimper, not a bang” (close), “It was best of times, it was not the best of times” (almost), or “the Horror, the, oh man, it’s pretty bad here” ( you’re not even trying anymore).
I can’t remember anything. I read mainly for content, and when something does stand out to me as a particularly impressively phrased section, I’m still more moved by the impression it leaves than the exact phrasing. Most of the time. When the words do touch me I seem to misplace them with the rest of my repressed memories. Of course, it’s not just books. I don’t know the lyrics to any song. I listen to music every day. I even write about music some days. Most songs are just about girls anyway, whether crying about them or wanting to bang them. No big loss there. Take me down to Paradise City when the grass is green and the girls are pretty. These are the only lyrics I know. Again, probably not a huge deal unless you’re in the car with me or drunk with me on a train or something. Hell, no one knows the words when we’re drunk, and we all sound great!
Movies are even worse. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve fucked up the “Of all the gins joints” line. I don’t have any real attachment to it. Not one part of it relates to my life in any way. Why do I still try? I guess because, it’s a classic and I am terrible. I need to stop. Most of the time, I remember something was funny, and I can’t resist trying to recreate that moment with someone else that appreciated it. And I just fail. Fail Fail Fail. Everyone hates that guy that butchers the great movie quote. Speaking of butchers, that’s who I am, Chris Farley trying to nail that joke in Tommy Boy.
I’m not crazy. I understand there is an art to writing memorable lines. Even it’s not beautifully grandiose descriptions of mountains and shit (poetry bitches), choosing the right words can make any story a classic. Catcher in the Rye, for example, is a simple story about a teenager, well, really doing nothing. Take away the humor, the timing of the narrator’s words, and you’re left with 200 pages of… nothing happening. If you like this site, you’d love it. But it would suck balls. But, the words. Even if he never did another thing worth a damn, that is some fine dialogue. I love it, because I’m a raging psychopath. Okay, not true, I love it because Salinger’s exact words are hilarious. Come on, I said at the beginning of this paragraph that I’m not crazy. And I’m not too hot for Jodie Foster either. Shit, I think Taxi Driver is just okay. (Please don’t stop reading now.) But even in a gritty, what-the-fuck-is-the-point-of-this-story film they have iconic lines for me to embarrassingly mess up.
I’ll never be a great writer. I can’t remember great lines, let alone write them. I also have a terrible vocabulary. You describe things as cool or awesome too many times and your brain’s thesaurus becomes as obsolete as the Discman you used to listen to Gun N Roses with. There are a million ways to says things. I’m usually torn between “It sucks” and “Meh”. If I were a crime scene witness, I’d be as useless as a pay phone; he was sort of tall, with hair, and he wore t-shirts (sometimes). I use the words “guy” and “thing” 95% of the time. The worst part is that if I ever string together a few words or phrases into something memorable…I won’t remember my own damn words. Sometimes I’ll get worked up over something, find a brief window of passionate articulation, and give a speech that rivals the great Bill Pullman (okay well, that’s impossible, but you know what I’m going for). I’m elated because I just know that what I said reached someone. Having them ask you the next day to repeat what you said and offering nothing but paraphrasing is heart breaking for everyone involved. Maybe I’m better off not being a great writer, that way this stuff will continue to be as forgettable for you as it is for me.