Written for the annual Christmas form-letter mailing of the Surya-Johnson family.
Dear cherished mailing-list member,
As the annual frenzy of decorations, gifts, and photos with Santa reaches its climax, it has dawned upon our beleaguered family that now might be the appropriate time to write to you about how our year has gone (out the window).
Paul, aging as fast as ever, still has his job as a chemist. On behalf of his employer, Perrigo, he would like to thank all of you who have caught a cold this year, as his company profits handsomely from your healthy intake of cough medicine and off-brand Tylenol.
He began work on this essay controlled by the formula: the structure he’d concocted to guide his writing, bound, he was sure, to guarantee success. First, he thought, he’d pen a brisk and clever opening (to exhibit his dry humor); then dialogue, sensory embellishment, and intense recreation of a moment (to draw in his reader); then a retrospective exploration of the situation, his role in it, and the meaning of his actions (to demonstrate the depth of his perception); and finally, a powerful, all-encompassing close. Clean, self-contained, and utterly devoid of anything that could possibly blemish his idealization of himself. If obeyed completely, his formula would leave his admission officer awed and ready to stamp his application on the spot: admitted!
It would seem a contradictory pairing: intent and inaction, plans that grow strong in the mind but weak in the hands. Yet just this fate befalls Prince Hamlet, protagonist in William Shakespeare’s play The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. The son of murdered King Hamlet, Prince Hamlet determines to kill Claudius, the man who took Hamlet’s father’s life, wife and throne. After misguidedly slaying a man he does not seek; declining an opportunity to kill Claudius, the man he does seek; and meeting Fortinbras, action-bent foil to indecisive Hamlet, Hamlet bemoans his inaction in a soliloquy (4.4.32-66). Through passionate, self-berating, and ultimately determined tones, Shakespeare presages the play’s bloody close, and on a higher level, asserts an ironic connection between goal and accomplishment.
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