Monday, March 10, 2008

Such Sweet Sorrow

1. Some persons I know have the hard-wired need to finish reading everything they begin.

2. A person of at best moderate patience, I have no such compulsion to finish what may have been started with high expectations and which has devolved to outright antipathy. Such venues as the garage, under the bed, the back seat of the Camry, and one particular closet into which much of low interest is stored become the final resting places of books, magazines, and journals that did not make the final cut.

3. A person of even less patience where television is concerned, my relationship with the control deice is as fervid and intimate as the president of the United States relationship to waterboarding.

4. All of which brings forth the awareness of the genuine sense of loss, grief, and anger at separation of individuals--characters--in whom I invested while reading or watching their exploits, even though my sense of dramatic closure had been satisfied.

5. This brings forth the literary aspect of afterlife regarding characters and the rhetorical question: Which do we recall most about a narrative--the plot or the characters? I can recall individuals from stories I have not read since childhood, but I cannot always remember the plot or the issues. Forget me remembering the plot twists of Ivanhoe, for instance. Sir Wilfred could have had a nice Jewish girl, but instead chose Rowena. Prince Valiant actually had no choice; one look at Althea and he was cooked, but who remembers the plot twists. Nancy Drew solved mysteries I can no longer recount, but I can recall my barely pubescent thought that some day I would like to have a girlfriend like Nancy, the joys and complexities of sexuality an inchoate but intriguing mystery of its own.

6. How dare Martin Sheen no longer be a former President of the United States nor Jimmy Smits the current one! How dare John Spencer aka Leo McGarrity have died on the job, foreclosing his potential as vice president! How dare Richard Belzer as Detective John Munch move from Homicide: Life on the Streets to some more secure series! Add a touch of schadenfreude: Speaking of Homicide, Andre Braugher as Detective Frank Pembelton has not to date approximated anything on film or television to compete with that role. You wonder about one of your favorite characters in The Wire, Felicia Pearson, who for reasons unknown to you, was allowed to have the same name as her character, but was also given the nickname Snoop. She came up from the mean streets of Baltimore, you learn, and has made such an impression that she has been given other roles. Can she ever eclipse Snoop? How long will you remember her? Thus comes forth the complexities of a story, a series, a novel, a play coming to an end, all with characters I have watched grow from concept to hyperreality in the hands of gifted writers and actors.

7. The occasion for this abrupt sense of loss--even though I was intellectually well prepared for it--was closure for The Wire, arguably one of the finer moments of television drama, made even more interesting by the fact that nearly every character had some seriously flawed morality or agenda, that the good guys not only didn't win, they barely came out even. Yes, yes, I know; buy the DVD sets, which you will likely watch once or twice, gaining more detail because the story line and character arcs are complex. But this is like discovering an unfinished, day-old latte from Peets, abandoned on a shelf or, worse, back in my smoking days, being reduced to going through the waste basket for a useful butt.

8. John Donne felt diminished by the death of any man because he was involved in mankind and, you know, Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, and all that three in the morning Hillary stuff. (ENK would have hyphenated the three-in-the-morning because it is a compound adjective modifying stuff)I'm talking The end of any character diminishes me because I am involved in story and have a Jones for characters.

9. Bad enough The Wire is toast, I am nearly finished with Lush Life (which incidentally was written by Richard Price, one of the contributors to The Wire. What lovely writerly irony--you read on because you are pulled by the vector of the characters and their behavior, all the while aware that the number of pages is growing smaller, thinner.

10. Which gets you to the real bottom line, the denominator: You must feel for and write about your characters with the kind of intensity that will produce in you the same kind of grief when they are gone about their lives after their story is ended. It is a matter of principal with you that stories attempt to have some afterlife, some life off the page, not by any means Edenic or Paradisical but rather idedic, a vision of them as still alive. The closest thing you can come to this is your real sense of reward from teaching, the fact that you will never see a good many of them again after they have gone forth into the world. But on occasion you see something of theirs in a book or a magazine and you are aware once again of them and aware that they have moved on along their own arc.


Kaytie said...

I needed to read this today.

z said...

Students, patients. It's all the same except students are more likely to leave traces of themselves in literature. As for the Wire: I disagree that the DVD's are leftover latte. I have a habit of watching entire seasons of HBO shows in marathon weekends and The Wire is no exception. Only, that I already watched it twice, and when this last season comes out, will watch it a third time. I always see something new. And no matter how many times I do or don't see it, I will never ever get over the death of the seemingly immortal Stringer Bell (who I have since since in minor roles in other movies and like Snoop, I don't think will ever outdo his role in The Wire.)

Anonymous said...

I agree about characters, sometimes they outlive their own stories. Captain Nemo outlives the plot twists of "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea", so much so that I know he is associated with that story without ever having read the book or watching the movie. ("The League of Extraordinary Gentleman" did an excellent personification of many literary heroes/villains.)

I have violent reactions at times at the demise of certain characters. When Diarden in the "Fionovar Tapestry" met his heroic end, I threw the book across the back seat of the bus I was riding along in, absolutely disgusted that the author had finished off the best character in the whole trilogy. After my initial reaction however I picked the book back up because I had to know how his lover responded to his stupidity, I mean, heroics.

Heaven help me when I read the final installment of "The Wheel of Time" and get to Rand's prophesied end, being that I still hold out hope that a loophole may present itself, and he'll actually survive the epic battle that's on it's way. And heaven help me if either Perrin or Mat meet a similar fate. Extend that to a good many of the other vast array of characters, and it is the same Egwene, Nynaeve, or Elaine. I shall have some strong words for Mr. Rigney if ever we chance to meet in the after life.