Tuesday, June 19, 2007

What Comes First, the Chicken or the Ego?

Such was the early nature of my vision that I naturally supposed plot came before anything else, giving way to individuals, characters, who would take on traits and abilities even as I was taking on the kinds of traits and abilities my teachers wrote about in less-than-friendly terms on my report cards.

Since all of the things I truly enjoyed, whether it be the rather unruly, Mississippi-like path of Huckleberry Finn, or the sclerotic excesses of Ivanhoe, had plots and I wished to apply for membership in the writers' club, I thought plot was an absolute necessity. I even thought that the men and women who wrote stories had some remarkable gene that allowed them to pluck forth from the cosmos or ether a complete plot before they began writing. Not only young, foolish.

Some years, a great many reams of paper, and a number of typewriters later, I experienced what I thought was an epiphany but which was really only being thrown off the horse one time too many. Following the easier-to-assimilate course of epiphany, I reasoned that I would mosey up to plot via characters about whom I already had some sort of inkling. For the next years--relatively productive years, I might add-- this got me out of the slush pile and into the acceptance pile to the point where I actually had a bank account and assignments that openly admitted my tools were words and ideas. There was a minor setback the one and only night I actually dreamed a full-blown plot that, come the morning, did not seem ridiculous. I think I remember which novel that was, but I can't be sure.

Later still, I moved to the plateau of thinking it was neither plot nor character that provided the opening velocity but voice, which is to say the tone, attitude, and spirit of the contentions that would be played out in such narratives that I produced. Voice has been the big one for me over a long span, but earlier this evening, while pursuing Sally up the modest upthrust of Hale Park, toward a stone fence that reminds me of strolls in Devon, my mind wandered beyond the girding of loins for the fast-approaching writers' conference where I lead the late-night fiction workshop, wandered into the later reaches of this year, November, to be explicit, where for the same writers' conference, I am to lead one of the so-called intensive weekend workshops. My theme is to be point of view: who's telling the story, and why?

Whoops. I may have abandoned voice, which I dearly love, in favor of the more prosaic point of view, the one or ones through whose eyes the story is experienced. This may be genuine--dare I say it? evolution. It may also be that I've just come by a small, wonderful camera, which, given its size, has versatile and effective capabilities. It is a Lumix FX-30 with an ambitious Leica lens, reminding me as I heft it and pour through the instruction book of the focal-plane Leicas I used to be responsible for dusting and cleaning during my tenure after school and on Saturdays at The Brighton Way Camera Shop in Beverly Hills. Point of view is nothing less than who is holding the camera, and what that camera sees because of how and where it is pointed. A midget photographer in a room filled with professional basketball players would likely get lovely shots of knee caps. Similarly a tall photographer in a room of midgets would get some stunning and revelatory shots of male pattern baldness.

I am also mindful of Fathers and Sons, a memoir, and a rather loving one at that, of what it is like to have survived through the Waugh family, arguably one of the more dysfunctional, even more so than, say the Bushes.

Everyone in a family has a point of view, causing family gatherings and holidays to be remarkably cheerful or remarkably acrimonious, and sometimes these two polar opposites exist simultaneously. My late sister was a lifelong joy to me, an observation that could suggest she substituted for the things provided from parents, but no; they, too were great joys to me. My sister and I simply did not see eye to eye on my mother. Although we both adored (not too strong a verb here) my father, we saw Annie differently, my issues with Annie stemming, I think, from routine teen-boy/mother issues and ultimately rounding out quite nicely. My sister often joked that when I was out of the house, my mother was transformed into another person, another mother with another set of agendas. I countered by teasing my sister with having been traumatized by the witches in The Wizard of Oz and Snow White.

I see that this walk with Sally has at the very least given me some notes for November and a way of looking at story that could make it more yet of a crucible in which things are heated to the point of combustion, where they promptly run over the sides and cause merry hell to break loose.

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