Theory of Everything 

And how it leads to bad writing

"Usually, I pick on only small pieces of our society, as though I'm pulling slivers of a giant redwood through a keyhole with tweezers. But all too often, I get to thinking I can jerk the whole tree through in one lump, and I end up ruining the keyhole, the tweezers, my self-respect, and the damn redwood doesn't even know anything happened."

--A passage Bill Cope cut from the Theory of Everything because he couldn't figure out how to make it fit with the rest of the column.

I can't let another week go by without apologizing for last week's column ("Depravity's Gravity"). It was horrible. Atrocious. A mashed-up mess of a concept, a piss-poor travesty of execution, and a wreck of a result. It was so confused and disconnected that had it been entered into an essay competition, it would have lost out to one of those tirades Ted Kaczynski (The Unabomber) used to scribble out on rolls of toilet paper. Had it been the first thing I ever submitted for publication instead of the 750th, I would have received an insulting rejection letter, along with a court order to stay 100 feet away from all employees of Boise Weekly. I am embarrassed that I wrote it, I am embarrassed that you read it, and I am embarrassed that neither of us can take it back.

I didn't set out to produce such a monstrosity. Believe it or not, I am trying to do my best here, as I punch out each week's contribution. I never, ever just slop through my allotted word limit, thinking, "Screw 'em! This sucks, but it's plenty good enough for the weenies who read my column!"

No, I never do that. I begin with the assumption that most of the people who read my columns are not weenies. I'm aware there are some weenies who slip through the cracks on occasion and read a column here and there. But on the whole, I consider my readers to be shining examples of what weenies are not--whatever that is.

Secondly, I guarantee you that every one of my columns has been constructed with the finest materials I have at my disposal--my best available brain power, my best available concentration, my best available native talent and my best available understanding of the subject matter. Trouble is, the quality of the aforementioned materials is always subject to a certain, and unmanageable, ebb and flow. In other words, sometimes my available best isn't worth squat. It could conceivably be the result of my advancing years--because of my advancing years, I can't remember whether I've had this trouble all along--but I am definitely not the same Bill some days as I am others. Some days, I feel as sharp as a Ronco potato peeler, while other days, I am as dull as the potato. If I could figure out why, I'd take any and all steps necessary to ensure I was always in top form. But one must be in top form to figure out why he's not in top form. You see my dilemma.

Last week's stinking, botched-up, dog-doo smear of a column is a particular tragedy because the subject I chose was Susan Boyle, on whom I had set out to bestow the highest praise. But it ended up not having much to do with Susan Boyle at all, didn't it? It was really about everything else, wasn't it? Everything that isn't Susan Boyle, that's what it was about ... maybe. Or was it about the distance between Susan Boyle and everything else ... maybe?

Tell you what, I've read it probably 30 times--not counting writing the goddamn thing--and I still can't tell you what it was about. But I can tell you where I went wrong. Against my better judgment, I succumbed to an impulse I have had my entire adult life--to understand and explain everything there is, all at once. I think we all have this tendency to some degree or another. What is a religion if not the urge to understand and explain everything at once? Why else would jolly Al Einstein spend years trying to formulate a Unified Field Theory, which would unite all physical truth under one happy roof? Why else would old people scorn young people for their Twittering, text messaging, tattoo showing-off, profligate Starbucks swigging, scraggly goatee-sporting ways, if not a need to comprehend why things have gotten so shitty lately?

I see it as natural, our desire to relate all things. I even have a name for it: the Theory of Everything. In my mind, a proper Theory of Everything would explain entirely why human beings are like we are. And if you come to understand that all people, whether we like it or not, have an inherent imperative to lump everything in our experience under an easily grasped principle, then you not only understand the Theory of Everything, but you have also formulated your own, personal Theory of Everything. Following me?

I am strongly susceptible to this instinct. In fact, I have often imagined that if I could write the perfect, omni-comprehensive column, in which I was able to demonstrate how nothing ever happens anywhere in either space or time without a mutual cause-and-effect correlation with every other event in space and time, and that if I did it with enough wit and acuity and evidence and poetry and humor and style and eloquence and everything else it takes to get everyone to listen at once, then there would be no need for another column, ever. But of course, that's not as easy as it sounds.

Not that I haven't given it a stab or two. I am always trying to write things smarter than I am smart enough to write. I shudder to think of how many times I set forth to convince you, patient readers, to look at the totality of our shared experience through the peephole of one minuscule part of it. And last week's cruddy, calamitous, cornucopia of crud column is an example of what comes out whenever I do it--whenever I think I can take issue with the whole of human society at once. It's like trying to juggle water.

An apology is due to Susan Boyle for using her in last week's attempt. She deserves better than to be made my latest peephole. And again, to you, reader friends, you deserve better than to have a Theory of Everything thrown at you when you innocently believed you would be reading about Susan Boyle.

Lastly, my apologies to Herbert Kretzmer for having attributed his song lyric to Alain Boublil in the opening quote. It seems in my zeal to get my latest Theory of Everything out to the public, I forgot the difference between a lyricist and a librettist. What a weenie I am.

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