We wish to believe that we are special. Different. That the word-angels who speak through us have something unique to say.

Sometimes that’s true.

Other times, it’s just wretched self-deception.

Those long, long days of spinning mental air into gold…those hours of exalting the oh-so-clever us… sometimes, we’re just blowing smoke up our own anatomies. Sometimes, a cliché—however turned on its head, or polished into shiny newness—is nothing more than that.

What sort of self-delusion won’t let us see it?

The character who stands up in front of his companions and gives a stirring call-to-arms, the time-worn expression that we feel we have invested with magic, the long look full of emotional import, the plot response that is no surprise at all: The beartraps-in-disguise are legion. And our shifting view of the literary peril is not so clearly marked. One day, we pat ourselves on the back for speaking the familiar language of the well-worn phrase, turned into music by our cleverness. The next day, we appall ourselves that such a phrase found its way into our work at all.

What the hell were we thinking?

I’ve been watching films, lately, for clues to flow and content in popular media. I have been shocked, in this hard-eyed view, to discover how truly cliché-saturated these works really are. Perhaps, as friend Belinda noted over pints at an English pub the other day, people have forgotten how to expect truly original thinking, because safety-minded publishers and film makers no longer have the balls or the skill to deliver it.

And as for those of us who create…how much forgiveness should we expect of ourselves; how much slack should we cut? Is it laziness that lets us go to that easy place—the too-easy motion of going through the motions and calling it a good day’s work? Is any cliché (even a well-turned one) acceptable? Ever?

Or is a turd always going to be a turd, no matter how nicely you polish it?

 

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