Laconic Writing

When revising my thesis and articles (which I promise I'll begin doing promptly), a constant observation made by my supervisor is that I say too little with too many words. At first I thought it was just a conflict of style, and, coming from the side of storytelling, I enjoyed reading my academic writings as they were, so I didn't do much about it.

However, I just presented my fourth, and hopefully last draft of my thesis, and the same observation has come back. Other people have expressed the same opinion about my work as well: "The idea is very interesting, it's just too long-winded."

I'm worried about my storytelling antics in the academic side. My intention is for the reader to understand my work, and, thus, I reiterate, while trying to tell a story, to make the topic more comprehensible. However, I've uncovered something hidden behind this excuse. Bare with me while I digress...

Spartans were revered for their militaristic style of life, which was based on three virtues: equality, military fitness and austerity. They lived in minimalist settings, and their sentiments were expressed in the bare minimum of words. In fact, they were famous for their Laconic wit, and many philosophers, including Socrates, rejected the popular idea of the dumb Spartan: "[...] if you talk to any ordinary Spartan, he seems to be stupid, but eventually, like some expert marksman, he shoots in some brief remark that proves you to be only a child."

A good example of this is when Philip II threaten to invade Sparta. He stated "If I enter Laconia, I will level Sparta to the ground," to which the Spartans replied, "If." Another example is the beautiful comeback of Lycurgus, an important Spartan lawgiver, to a proposal to set up a democracy in Sparta: "Begin with your own family."

The more I've read about them, the more I've understood the beauty of austerity. Done properly, a bare minimum of words in a statement implies security, while being poetic. I envy them now, because I've realised that an important reason for the length of my writings is because of the use of vague statements like "I feel", "the majority of", "it is implied that", etc. that reek of insecurity.

I've talked to my supervisor about this, and it isn't really about the length of the text. In fact, oversimplification is dangerous, and there are topics that need lengthy explanations to be understood. What austerity is really about is making sure that every word in the text needs to be there: when the Samians went to ask the Spartans for their help, they did so with a long speech, to which the Spartans replied that they've forgotten the first half of the speech and "couldn't make nothing of the remainder". In a second hearing, the Samians came with just a bag and said "The bag wants flour." The Spartans answered that they didn't need to say "the bag", but still agreed to help.

I'll try my best from now on to not use "the bag", and texts will be long only when required. Just give me some slack once in a while; I'm a pompous ass and sometimes I want to show off.

It stopped.

I've always wondered about the random possibilities that we are brought to in day-to-day situations. For example, even though I could have been in any kind of position while sleeping, and my eyes kept in a location that could vary in the order of thousands, they were stroke by a single piercing ray of light braking free of my window shades that morning.

That seemed to be the motto of my life: me being at specific places at what could only be regarded as "interesting" times. I'm not complaining; it kind of verified that I was where I was supposed to be at any given moment in time. Still, it was sometimes annoying to know that I was supposed to be doing something without knowing what it was.

I got out of the shower and clothed myself. I stared at the watch that indicated that I was on schedule to catch my bus. I'm probably boring you with my life's predictability, but I assure you, predictable is far from describing that day. For starters, the bus didn't arrive... at all.

I worked at the Beijing Hotel, and my house was a good 30-minute walk from there. I usually took the 25-minute bus ride to the hotel, thinking that I rather get up a little early and arrive rested to my work. I am at that age that a 30-minute walk seems doable but not as an everyday thing, except, of course, for that day.

The day seemed pleasant enough, and the streets weren't as crowded as they usually were, which I found appealing as I don't dwell much with other people. I took good vigilance of the time, and I was ahead of schedule. I kept my pace, just in case. Around a kilometre away of the hotel, I found a couple of bags in the sidewalk. Knowing I had time, I decided to be a good samaritan. One was a purse, and the other a bag of groceries. The purse had an ID inside of a woman that lived nearby. I looked at my watch and saw that I had five minutes to spare. I felt a chill of pride in knowing I was going to make someone's day at the beginning of mine.

I detoured into the residential streets and wondered a bit to find the address. I thought that during this time in the morning, I could go walk around the vicinity of where I thought the house would be, and just ask passer-byers for specifics, but nobody was out. Was today a holiday that I forgot about? Not a soul to be seen. I knocked on a random house, but no answer. It was troubling, as two cars were parked outside; someone was definitely inside. Shy neighbourhood, I supposed. I looked at my watch, and my little adventure had already taken the time that I had to spare. Being a good samaritan was good and all, but my job took precedent. However, in my way out of the neighbourhood, I stumbled upon the address.

I could've returned the bags later, when coming back from work. I could've left the bags under their door. Hell, I could've just kept the money, groceries, and sold the purse for petty cash. But I was there, in the moment I apparently needed to be, so I knocked. On the third knock, the door swayed open. The discovered scene was not for the faint of heart, and I suffer from heart-faintness. To save you from the description, I'll leave you with the thought of a rug that should have been light beige, now soaked of blood of three bodies laying beside each other. I wanted to scream, to cry, to fall to my knees of the horror that presented itself in front of me, but the only thing I could do was run.

I arrived back to the street where I have found the purses. I looked at my watch, and felt guilty of still caring of getting to work on time. I felt relief when I realised that the sprint from the blood-filled house actually shorten my tardiness by only just one minute. I felt even more guilty right after.

I still had the bags with me. Maybe it was guilt combined with the fact that no one was around, but a compelling sensation came upon me to see what more was inside the bags. I sat down. And started with the purse. Her name was Chi Jie, a mother of two, married to a Post-Doctoral Academic in Peking University, Wen Jie. His name sounded familiar. The groceries weren't even a day old: eggs, cereal, milk... cookies. They were going to have breakfast.

I started to cry.

The street started rumbling. Rusty metal screeching sounded off in the distance. Tanks, I thought. Wen Jie; the name sounded too familiar. I suddenly realised what was happening. The news reported some students protesting the last few days; they must've escalated. More people were going to get killed... like Wen Jie, his wife, Chi, and their two children.

The screeching sounded closer; they were coming this way. Of course they were, the street that I was on leads off directly to Tiananmen Square. I was there, like always, on a specific place at what could only be regarded as an "interesting" time. But, what could I do? I was only a person, and I've heard of people getting killed by just seeing those enormous, hideous things. But I was there, with those two bags.

I could see them. Slowly making their way. My mind went blank as my right foot stepped out of the curve, and my left foot proceeded accordingly.

I was there, and I was supposed to be there.

Without knowing, I was standing in the middle of the street, with the metal screeching in front of me. You killed them, I thought, and you're going to kill more, it might as well be me. I stood there, waiting for the end.

The tank was ten metres away from me. I shouted: "You killed them! Why? Go away!" I knew it was pointless, but what had a point in that moment? I was there, and that was the only thing that I could do. "Go ahead, then, crush me! Like you did to Wen Jie and his family! Continue your route of destruction and see where it leads. There will be more that will follow, more that'll put themselves in your way. You think you can crush all of them? You think you have the endurance to kill the whole world? You keep on going, and see how far you get. Come, keep on going, and see how far the fuck you get!"

The tank was a metre away from me and I was ready. I was there, and was doing what I was suppose to do. The predictability and situationalism of my life finally shined through to clarity. My whole life was made for this moment, and it was happening. I was happy as I stood there to receive my end.

Then, the tank stopped. A ton of scrap metal built for destruction of buildings, of armies, that could reduce me to a pile of guts and blood without as much as switching gears, stopped. An unswayable force of habitual murder, a heavy killing machine that uses blood for fuel, stopped. The drums of death rumbling the streets, the determined march of the self-proclaimed horseman of the apocalypse whose sole purpose is to crumble every peasant of insubordination, stopped.

I was there and the tank stopped.