I am so tense

What the hell does Past Simple / Past Perfect / Past Continuous even mean?

Oh, I’ve done the research, and *know* what their usage is. But what sucky names.

• Renny held the chicken to the block, waited for it to calm and swung the cleaver neatly removing its head.

To me I’d call this Past Present. As far as Renny is concerned, she’s in her own present tense. But to us, it’s in the past: Past Present.

• A pile of bodies lay next to Renny, but the last chicken ran frantic about the yard. She’d held it like the others; allowed it to calm and then whacked it hard with the butcher’s knife. The crow had distracted her though, and the knife, instead of slicing cleanly, had crushed its skull.

Here we start in the Past Present (again: Renny’s point of view) and then we slip into a time just before we observed Renny and her pile of bodies, a time I’d call Past Prior. That is, prior to the past we’re witnessing, the following happened: “She’d held it like the others;…” At this point we’ve double jumped back in time, the past’s past. Or Past Prior.

Past Present and Past Prior make way more sense to me than the Simple and Perfect nonsense the archaic English aficionados dreamed up.

The Past Continuous stuff? Eh, I rarely use it as it seems to need a bucket load of passive verb usage. “Renny was trying to cut off the chicken’s head.” “The bodies were piling up in the yard.” No thanks. They should call it Past Passive.

(‘Renny was trying’ and ‘bodies were piling’ are not “technically” passive. But the ‘was’ and ‘were’ trigger instant aversion in me. It seems I can’t easily tell true passive from this past continuous bollocks. So, I try to avoid them whenever I can. I’d rewrite those above with something like “The chicken moved as Renny chopped.” and “Renny tossed another body onto the growing pile.”)



18 thoughts on “I am so tense

  1. Rules and the names of things that are largely insignificant to the construction of art are for people who have extra room in their heads. The beauty is in the content, not how we quantify it. And reading about that shit WILL rot your mind.

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    1. I am a stickler for the right names of things. If you write code and create a method called “DoThis” Gaaaaaaa! When I went looking to understand past tense, I found these crappy names of things that I wanted to use a handles for understanding. But the handles sucked. When handles suck, I rename them and then use my own handles.

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      1. To me that is an incredible waste of time. I suppose that makes me a user because I could care less what it’s called, how do I use it? Kind of like knowing everything and then asking Jeff Beck if he cares how many wild dogs and naked natives peed on the rosewood tree his fingerboard is made out of and the recycled nickel content of his frets. Give the man a Silvertone and a Pignose and he’ll still sound like Jeff Beck. Therein lies one of the great secrets of the universe.

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        1. Surrounded by thousands of “named things” that are complex and require extremely deep contextual switches to understand, a name becomes the key to helping switch brain-spaces. A fucked up name makes it that much harder to shift one’s deep concentration from really-hard-task-A to super-hard-(and completely different)-task-B.

          For instance: EmployeeMgmtWebServiceHostClass is the name of a thing I have to deal with today. I know EXACTLY what that thing is and the massive amount of supporting info that it requires to discuss it.

          A name like EmployeeThing would totally suck and make me go back and ask multiple questions in order to pindown the subject matter.

          Names of things are critical in software programming. I just tend to carry that over into other realms of my existence.

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          1. There’s a writing exercise/discussion book by Bret Anthony Johnston titled “Naming the World.” Like you, he believes not in muse or lack thereof but in what he describes as “taming the chaos” and then you spend your $15 or whatever and you get writerly insight and tasks designed to control the chaos. I much prefer Constance Hale’s “Sin and Syntax” and John Dufresne’s “The Lie That Tells A Truth.” Dufresne is a bit of an agnostic and professorial as well but he forces you to dig into yourself with all the basic plotlines, how to find depth where there was none. His bit about two people in a kitchen that he keeps throwing psychological trigger objects into to set a scene is one of the best things I’ve ever read. But if you feel like naming the world is your solution, that work and not the cosmic radio are at the heart of fiction, buy his book. Of course no sooner does he disclaim the muse than he calls writing “..an act of faith.” Personally, I don’t care what it’s called, how does it sound?

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            1. I’d never apply the same philosophy to actual writing. The naming topic was as a container to a writing concept.
              “Science Fiction” is a handle that comes with a context that is immediately understandable. It doesn’t have anything to do with the quality or impact of The Martian. But The Martian, labeled Science Fiction is helpful to center a conversation.
              That’s all I was referring to.
              “Past Simple and Past Perfect” are just nonsense. Perfect? Really?

              Liked by 1 person

              1. I get it. A bucket is just a bucket. But still. Kurt Vonnegut started out writing “syfy” and was pissed about being pigeonholed there until he died. That’s the danger of labels and pigeonholes as they are at the root of prejudice. I mean, you could say “I write science fiction” in the wrong room and get shot. Whereas “I write” will only get you rolled eyeballs and strange looks. Walk into a Catholic HS parents meeting with too much hair and no socks and answer “I’m a corporate electronic musician. You?” Most of the white bread mayo and baloney crowd have no bucket for that. Just sayin’.

                Liked by 1 person

  2. Chickens generally don’t calm down before they’re beheaded unless Rennie has or had or might in the future looking back at the past think of using a omnipresent voice at which point, rewrite from the point of view of the fowl. My prediction, that will give you the answer you crave.

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