Ms. Dagg was my grade ten English teacher. She was just as an English teacher should be: a bit crass, dressed all in black, with a penchant for nice shoes and cat-rimmed glasses. She read Don Delillo and Graham Greene and didn’t roll her eyes (at least, I never noticed) when 15-year-olds made sweeping statements about human nature. I idolized her.
One day, in the most complimentary way, she called my writing purple prose. I had never heard this expression, so when class ended, I ran to the library for an OED, as keen 15-year-olds do. (This whole act strikes me as funny now, trying to recall the last time I physically opened a dictionary.) I pulled the tome from the shelf and flipped quickly to the letter P. Dear reader, I was a frequent dictionary flipper. I was awesome at landing on just the right page.
Purple prose: n. extravagant or flowery writing, especially in a literary work.
It’s funny how the slightest, most innocuous comments shape us. Since that day, purple prose has hung over my head. It’s followed me like a hazy violet shroud. Crept up behind me as I type sentences and craft paragraphs. See, that there? I just did it. “Hazy violet shroud” is a very purple-prosey way of saying purple prose.
And here’s the thing: it makes me cringe a little. Purple prose is a real burden to carry. Whenever I return to my writing, old pieces I’ve crafted, I see the (sometimes unnecessary) embellishment. That I get hung up on the tiniest visual details. That I spend whole paragraphs teasing out a memory just so, replicating it with my fingers across the keyboard. I spent my university years slashing passages out of papers, ridding myself of my purple plague. Concision and clarity – adjectives be damned!
But then I think about writing I love. I think about the paragraphs I collect, because they make my insides tingle (does anyone else do that, collect nice paragraphs like treasures?). Writing and reading is so wonderful because it is vast and disparate. There is not a right way to write or right thing to read. If I choose one reason why I love blogging, it’s the exposure I have to other people stringing words together, trying to make something of their days. Blog posts are unfinished, by necessity – it’s up to the author when to press go, not an editorial team or publisher. These pieces are never really finished, polished, perfect. And the messiness is often so good.
My writing has evolved since I was 15-years-old, wielding a pen and some lined paper, trying to make sense of the world. As I keep writing, I see subtle shifts. I delete words, and sharpen sentences where I never used to, not because I should, but because I’ve changed. My eyes are wider to experiences and how I will document them (though probably with a flowery phrase thrown in for good measure). I’m still making sense of my hazy purple world.