The Dream Café

Steven Brust: “A masterful storyteller of contagious glee and self-deprecating badassery” —Skyler White

I’ve Been Meaning To Say


You know how by the time you think of what you should have said in that conversation, it’s too late? Well, I mean, why should that stop me?  Here, with no context, are some things I ought to have said at the time. Most of these are at least 20 years old and I very much doubt anyone but me remembers any of them.  So what.  And none of them refer to anything on this blog.

Greg: I’d thought it was a pretty obvious rhetorical device, but I’ll explain the subtext if you’d like.  When I observe that we disagree on nearly everything, and then say that I agree with that remark, it makes my agreement more emphatic. I am inviting the reader who is inclined to dismiss your position to take another look.  If your question was in turn rhetorical, and intended as a criticism of my rhetorical device, then I’m sorry, but I missed it.

Pamela:  Oh! I ought to have clarified. My use of “exploited” was in the extremely narrow, scientific sense.  That is, a worker is exploited insofar as the wages he’s paid are less than the value he produces.  I did not mean to imply unfairly exploited, or treated badly.

Greg (again):  And where in Joyce is the snappy dialog during a sword fight?  For that matter, where are the sword fights?

Pamela (again):  I apologize.  Your question deserved a more thoughtful answer.  I do consider myself philosophically a child of the Enlightenment.  And while I think “perfectibility” is nonsense, I do believe in the improve-ibility of Man, and believe rational thought an important tool in that regard.

Greg (yet again):  Oh, for Heaven’s sake.  Let me try to explain this using, if not short words, at least short sentences.  Yes, I am in a critique group with that writer.  However, I don’t know where you get the idea that this means, “Therefore the author is a friend whose work I will defend even if I agree with the criticism.”  What it means is, we’re in the same critique group.  That means (pay attention now) that I had the chance to critically read the work before publication.  If I’d had a problem with that passage, I would have said so to the author.  If the author then chose to ignore my suggestion, and you had brought up the criticism I had mentioned, I’d either maintain a discreet silence, or find a way to say to the author, “Neener neener neener.”  If I did neither of those, it means I didn’t have a problem when I read the passage.  Now, perhaps I am wrong, and the passage really does have the problem you suggest.  But when you imply–uh, excuse me, when you state–that I’m only saying that because we’re in the same critique group you are being, at best, muddle-headed.  Have you considered the possibility that I liked that passage for exactly the reason I gave?

Patrick:  Of course, you’re right.  Too often discussions–especially on that subject–come too close to saying, “Believing that makes you a bad person.”  And the kindest thing one can say about that is that it isn’t useful.  But it seems to me that every passionate disagreement, even the most esoteric disagreement about theoretical mathematics, has underneath it the suggestion that the world will be a little better if you see and/or do things this way instead of that way.  If not, why the passion?  And whether something makes the world better seems to me to be the very definition of a moral question.  Again, this is not to disagree with the point you were making, I just want to point out that the opposite side can also be carried too far.

DDB:  You were right about the tires and I should have said so then.  But it is interesting to consider that that subject provides a lovely example of some of the accidental social mechanisms that make the rich richer and keep the poor poor.   Also, sorry about the soup thing.  I get that way sometimes.

There.  That should do it.  I feel worlds better.  If any of you have any of those arguments lying around, please feel free to post them here (but nothing from this blog; that would be cheating).


Author: skzb

I play the drum.


  1. Now we all know what you think about while driving long-distance. I, for one, am delighted.

  2. skzb

    Hee hee. I thought of doing that post just past Des Moines. By the time I’d finished composing it in my head, I was at the Iowa border. *grin*

  3. I actually remember both of those discussions. And while I hadn’t thought of the first for years, the second WAS STILL RANKLING every few months, so seriously, thank you.


  4. skzb

    Pamela: Really? Wow. Cool!

  5. skzb

    Valuable term, Amanda. Although I think of that as more coming up with the perfect one-liner, as opposed to the thoughtful argument that comes only after thinking (and so, in my case, usually not at all).

  6. It’s difficult to read this and not start mentally composing a philosophical dialogue in which characters named Pamela, Greg, Patrick and DDB express the positions next to their names.

    (“…A landmark of the school is the anonymously authored ‘Albanensis,’ in which four characters in a country house outside of Edinburgh debate authorial intention, remuneration, and the larger issues of human thought to which these lead. Historians of ideas have long debated the symbolism of the Dweller During Breakfast, a character who arrives the morning after the debate, adds his own views, and proceeds to wear Patrick’s smoked kipper as a hat.”)

  7. Maybe this is going off in a tangent… While I value the idea of having the same criticism for people and ideas from people I agree with than with people I disagree with – I find myself more upset when *my* side has bad arguments. After all people on my side obviously should be smarter and more rational, right?!?

    But often when I do that, I get attacked for being a traitor or a hater. And I’m not a conservative, where I imagine that problem is much worse. (How can Ron Paul get nominated by the Republicans without changing his position on military spending???)

  8. skzb

    Well, if you’re trying to form a bloc to gain some objective, one might suggest that criticism should be kept within the bloc to prevent an appearance of weakness. I’m inclined to disagree with that suggestion, and prefer all disagreements be as open and fully discussed as possible; but the suggestion isn’t inherently stupid.

  9. See, this is why you’re a writer. So that you have the time to come up with all the witty and snappy remarks, and put them in the right places.

  10. skzb

    SRSLY, don’t any of you have any of those lying around? Go ahead, hit it. This is your chance to get in the last word.

  11. That’s been sort of like a mini-“If on a winter’s night a traveler” experience. Beautiful. (Yep, I get in this case is not fiction.)

  12. “Don’t any of you have any of those lying around”

    If we’re abiding by your rules for not cheating, nope, not I. I tend to wrap up arguments at the time. Although in a non-argument situation it would have been nice to tell a coworker:

    OK, Frank, we’ll drop the gerbil thing, but that suicide was wierd.

  13. I really don’t have these. Very poor memory for conversations.

  14. Aren’t the some situations where it is reasonable to say “if you believe that, you’re a bad person” ?

    Like holocaust deniers? That one judge who keeps trying to say that Lincoln should have bought all the slaves instead of tricking South Carolina into firing the first shots?

  15. “Aren’t the some situations where it is reasonable to say “if you believe that, you’re a bad person” ?”

    Yes, but it’s a question of how tight a net you want to draw. Particularly if you’re someone with many developed, passionately held ideas. If you routinely find yourself cutting people out of your life because of the positions they hold, I think it would be a good time for some self-examination to see if this is really doing you any good.

    (Although naturally, those in that habit tend to be the least inclined toward self-examination)

  16. @Dave*

    Yeah ok, and Steve probably didn’t mean it as a “all things are always this way”.

    There aren’t many things where I feel comfortable drawing a line in the sand, and most of the people I know of who do cross those lines are e.g. Jenny McCarthy anyway so I won’t worry about it.

  17. skzb

    Yeah. And usually if I run into someone with an attitude that makes me go, “if you believe this, you’re a bad person,” I’m not inclined to waste time arguing with him.

  18. Anything I come up with later gets incorporated into my “conversation repository” – which contains literally millions of pre-practiced conversational fragments, and is used to prevent me from staring blankly and drooling when confronted with a conversation – but I don’t consciously retain its location in time nor its situational reference. So I can’t necessarily recite a list, but they’re all there if an appropriate conversational situation arises.

  19. “May I ask whether these pleasing attentions proceed from the impulse of the moment, or are the result of previous study?”

    “They arise chiefly from what is passing at the time, and though I sometimes amuse myself with suggesting and arranging such little elegant compliments as may be adapted to ordinary occasions, I always wish to give them as unstudied an air as possible.”

    You’re a fan of Jane Austen? *smile*

  20. Oh I dunno, I have one, but it’s not resolving the conversation. I married a woman once. She left me one Friday in November. The next Friday she told me that she didn’t want to try and work on it. In February we argued about divorce terms, but only for about 5 minutes before going for a simpler form. A year and a half or so later she told me she was moving out west and wanted to meet.

    I had many things to say to her. Some bitter. Some thoughtful. Some helpful even.

    But we had no kids, we owned no property in common, and all she took from me in the end was my last name, since she never liked her own. So I told her no, I wouldn’t meet.

    I think about that conversation that didn’t happen sometimes. I think she wanted me to absolve her.

    Eventually, I wrote a damn good song about it.

  21. I’ll just be over here cracking up about “Historians of ideas have long debated the symbolism of the Dweller During Breakfast,” which name sounds to me like it belongs to a character in a Lovecraftian cozy of some sort.

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