Years ago my husband observed that he didn’t “view speed limits as rules, so much as suggestions.” This is not to say Vic is an unsafe driver. He simply believes in making the best use of his time on the road. This generally involves a great deal of heavy pressure to the long pedal on the right coupled with extensive use of the passing lane. It should also be said that he is something of an expert, having been both a race car driver and a mechanic with some fifty odd years of experience.

In his recent article for the New York Times, Colson Whitehead transfers my husband’s POV to literature with his rule #11. Granted, Mr. Whitehead’s article is predominantly tongue in cheek (just like Vic’s observation), but he makes a good point. Hemingway, Shakespeare and any number of other literary luminaries broke the rules. They made up words, played with sentence structure (e.e. cummings omitted proper capitalization entirely) all to make a point or create a better word picture than could be obtained by coloring inside the lines.

In order to properly break the rules, you need to know what and why they are. To ignore rules of etiquette, law or grammar solely for the sake of breaking them is incredibly arrogant and foolish, not to mention dangerous.  But, in literature and in life, there are moments when, all advice and commonly accepted rules to the contrary, you have to step aside from the norm and do something a little crazy, a little outrageous, like putting the period outside the quotation marks or marching on Washington for a cause you believe in. This is the zone of civil disobedience where the powers that be are forced to pay attention to the powers that aren’t.

Rules are usually good things, put in place for the sake of safety and/or equality, but like everything else, they need to be viewed with intelligence and a critical consideration of the current situation. Let me be clear, I am not condoning any form of lawlessness. But, it should be noted that I had no problem with Kirk’s actions in the Kobayashi Maru scenario either. Sometimes, the rules are meant to be broken.

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