I have consumed a fair amount of online time (which sounds better than “addicted to,” doesn’t it?) taking online tests that claim to identify me as a fictional character or inanimate object.
Because I am a Myers-Briggs ESTJ, I am, most famously, Darth Vader. The Star Trek captains test says I’m James T. Kirk, but another test says I’m Commander Riker. A test of conservative presidents identifies me as Ronald Reagan. (I know, I know — there you go again.) I am also, according to other tests, Poseidon, a phoenix, the owner of a 1968 Chevy Camaro, and Led Zeppelin.
Thee latest online test I’ve found actually has a bit of personal relevance. The web site I Write Like claims to take a writing sample and from word choice, sentence structure and other things identify which famous writer the writer most emulates.
(The term “famous writer” appears to famous writers of fiction, which may be personally ironic since I have yet to successfully write fiction. More on that later.)
Well, clearly I have to try that. I took one of my more well read works from this blog, about an event the 32nd anniversary of which is today, and pasted that in. The site claimed I write like David Foster Wallace, a contemporary of mine (or at least he was until he killed himself in 2008 after dealing with depression for 20 years) and writer of such observations as:
- This is what the real, no-bull- value of your liberal-arts education is supposed to be about: How to keep from going through your comfortable, prosperous, respectable adult life dead, unconscious, a slave to your head and to your natural default-setting of being uniquely, completely, imperially alone, day in and day out.
- The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day.
- To be, in a word, unborable….It is the key to modern life. If you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.
- I’d like to be the sort of person who can enjoy things at the time, instead of having to go back in my head and enjoy them.
- You will become way less concerned with what other people think of you when you realize how seldom they do.
- (I’m not putting any of this well. I am not and never have been an intellectual. I am not articulate, and the subjects that I am trying to describe and discuss are beyond my abilities. I am trying, however, the best I can, and will go back over this as carefully as possible when I am finished, and will make changes and corrections whenever I can see a way to make what I’m discussing clearer or more interesting without fabricating anything.)
- The fact that the most powerful and significant connections in our lives are (at the time) invisible to us seems to me a compelling argument for religious reverence rather than skeptical empiricism as a response to life’s meaning.
- I want to convince you that irony, poker-faced silence, and fear of ridicule are distinctive of those features of contemporary U.S. culture (of which cutting-edge fiction is a part) that enjoy any significant relation to the television whose weird pretty hand has my generation by the throat. I’m going to argue that irony and ridicule are entertaining and effective, and that at the same time they are agents of a great despair and stasis in U.S. culture, and that for aspiring fictionists they pose terrifically vexing problems.
I next selected a newspaper column. Now I Write Like Mario Puzo, author of the Godfather novels.
Wallace covered Senator John McCain‘s 2000 presidential campaign and the September 11 attacks for Rolling Stone; cruise ships (in what became the title essay of his first nonfiction book), state fairs, and tornadoes for Harper’s Magazine; the US Open tournament for TENNIS Magazine; the director David Lynch and the pornography industry for Premiere magazine; the tennis player Michael Joyce for Esquire; the special-effects film industry for Waterstone’s magazine; conservative talk radio host John Ziegler for The Atlantic Monthly; and a Maine lobster festival for Gourmet magazine. He also reviewed books in several genres for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Philadelphia Inquirer. In the November 2007 issue of The Atlantic, which commemorated the magazine’s 150th anniversary, Wallace was among the authors, artists, politicians and others who wrote short pieces on “the future of the American idea”.
Next, I tried a piece of unpublished (because it’s unfinished) fiction, and now I’m the next coming of P.G. Wodehouse.
I find all of this amusing because I’ve never been able to define my writing style. (A few years ago someone brought up my “personal brand,” and I had no answer for that either.) Some years back a version of Microsoft Word analyzed my business magazine writing as 12th-grade level, which is four grades ahead of the level newspaper writers are, or were, supposed to write. I try to not write sentences as complicated as (the translated version of) Paul’s New Testament letters, though sometimes my sentences run longer than, say, Ernest Hemingway’s.
If I’m known for anything writing-wise in this blog, it’s probably my affection for parenthetical remarks. (Now he tells me, the reader thinks.) Anyone from the ’80s is automatically tagged with “ironic,” although I’m convinced many people don’t know the difference between irony and sarcasm. (How about this: Barack Obama was recently named the second best president of all time. All the other presidents tied for best.)
Here’s another example of irony: I Write Like suggests I “Improve your writing skills by keeping a journal!” You’d think I get enough writing practice as it is.