Thursday, June 26, 2008

Lightning in a Bottle

Santa Barbara County is the fulcrum of the so-called Tri-Counties Area, beginning with its southernmost Ventura County and ending with the northernmost, San Luis Obispo County. As a convenient consequence, there are two NPR stations that converge on Santa Barbara, KCBX, originating in San Luis Obispo, and KCLU, broadcasting out of Thousand Oaks in Ventura County. Driving between Point A and Point B today, you have your car radio turned to the "other" NPR station in the county, the KCBX version which at this time in the afternoon features classical music.

Listening to Tchaikowski's Piano Concerto Number 1 in B flat minor, not entirely a stranger to you even though it has now been some years between your hearing it last and hearing it today. It is filled with bombast, much like an argument between orchestra and piano, particularly pitting the piano against an emphatic and argumentative orchestral ensemble in the final movement. The piano's major argument is a rapid octave movement which, as though coming up with a final, irresistible summary, seems at the very least to hold its own with the orchestra.

The culture into which I was born and somehow raised has that Talmudic sense of argument to the point where intellectual and emotional cards become trump at a moment's notice, where winning does become important, where even the most innocent of observations is as likely as not to be countered by some unfair implication of one's argument partner being wished a heart attack or plague or some shower of misfortune. Thus I am not overly concerned about flailing hands or emphatic gestures.

One afternoon I saw my own barber engaged in a rapid flutter of hands being wrung, pony tail sent flying, her native French being flung about like a hot dog in a ball park, being passed down the rows to its ultimate recipient. When I questioned her about the exchange, she shook her head. Oh, that. We were just deciding where to go for lunch.

I am used to vivid exchanges of opinion and/or interpretations of the law. What law? Any law. The Mosaic Law, the Talmudic Law, Newton's Law, the California Traffic Code.

The Tchaikowski is so familiar ad accessible that I quickly identify with the piano's part, thus I am arguing with what I perceive to be the mainstream, trying to knock it even farther down than I see it. And thus I am being blindsided by the analogy that story is very much a piece of music in that it is an argument. The argument may proceed, as karaoke or John Charles Thomas, or an essay or story, presenting its points in counterpart or deference to other themes, the outcome not at all readily apparent.

When we are in story, we are in an orchestrated dialog with all the elements, with character, landscape, and attitude. Story is not so much plot as it is argument, discussion, forging of statements, attitudes, and voices.

Once we begin to locate our terrain and the kinds of arguments we engage, the format is there for us to run roughshod over, improvising new ways to break free of restraint.

So go ahead, give it to me straight; give me your best argument, whether from logic or emotion or a splendid combination of both. Anything goes understatement, sarcasm (but be careful, this is difficult to control) irony, disbelief, phony statistics invented on the spot to enhance an advantage in the argument of story. As life clicks along unfairly, so too does story.

How many ways is it possible to see story? As many ways as it takes. You are driving along engaged for a few moments in Tchaikowski's Piano concerto, a part of it, arguing its themes out with the orchestra and for those few moments, a musical composition becomes existential, thrusting you into the midst of process to do what it is you would do, and from there you see the magical entry way into the medium by which you do what you would do.

To capture story is to capture lightning in a bottle, a shattering energy force compressed into a bottle, then corked to remain for such time as such tings remain bottled. But no loss if the lightning remains imprisoned; soon you will be able to look about you and see the stories lurking everywhere, waiting to come forth.

For you it almost always involves parallel lines, which advertise their willingness to converge against all logic and certainly against all definition. In geometry, parallel lines meet only in infinity; in fiction, they meet in the last chapter. In argument, the lines of logic may never meet or they may unexpectedly cross, the intensity of passions and goals informing their source of energy.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hmm... so in the end, would you say, Shelly, it isn't character or plot but STORY that persists? Yes, I think if I were in desperate straits I'd let the first two go and only retain Story. Thanks, again....