Sunday, June 29, 2008

No! in Thunder


Those three points describe a story arc but they also describe the arc of those of us who wish to present story arcs of our very own.

The beginning writer, made aware of the pulsing magic of story and some of its basic ingredients, rushes into the stream, eager to please and delight, eager for readers, eager to demonstrate mastery of the techniques. Good plot? Hey, watch this! Splendid dialog? Nothing to it. Lapidary narrative? Check this out.

The middle writer, mindful of the 98/02 reality, which is to say the two percent of what is ultimately published as compared to the totality being written, begins to grow testy. (Not testy enough.) Begins to resent writing on spec. If they want me, let them assign me something. Surely they can see from the things I've published that, Hey, I'm here.

Edward Said, the historian/critic, has some nice thoughts on Late Style, artists (mostly musical composers) who have arrived at maturity, who have even accepted the inevitability that they are past the mid-point of their life. To hitch a caboose onto his perhaps overly embellished prose and thoughts, the end game writer walks the cusp between being pissed and not caring about them but rather about it.

 The Ender has a life-long habit of writing and will do it, published or not, just as some creatures will shed skins or shells, molt, hibernate, or whatever it is built into their entelechy to do. Thus does the ender have a voice, a No, in Thunder quality of which Herman Melville wrote about Nathaniel Hawthorne. "There was a grand truth about him. [Hawthorne]. He says 'No ! in thunder;' but the Devil himself cannot make him say yes."

The Ender wishes to please him/herself; the Ender has allowed passion to trump form, has exposed those passions for all who would care to see them and make of them. The Ender writes pretty much as Joan Didion has written since her early middle period, to define herself to herself. The Ender writes to define his individual belief system, to clarify it, to light a path through the darkness of the forest, to unmix the metaphors, to see the rules so that they may be successfully avoided.

Thus evolved, the Ender sees with stoic good humor the things that have been believed all along, the things cast aside, the new things purchased in some foreign port of call. The Ender sees the connection within between seriousness of purpose and the good sense to take noting too seriously. 

 Water boils at 212 Fahrenheit degrees at sea level, does it? Yes, I suppose I do believe that, even rely on it, but not to the extent of making a god of it. For that I will chose something--a mere concept--I know does not exist except in the abstract. Kali, the Creator and Destroyer, the great and powerful shakti, as the first illusory presence of Brahmin, the formless one. Kali, created only to give some attributes, splendid and horrific, to the One whom, the moment you give an attribute of any sort, becomes no longer what the Hindus refer to as The One without a Second. I can get behind those abstract presences as well as the Shekinah, She being the Jewish Kali. They help make sense of the Universe. But so does the constant sense of writing to define these and other concepts for myself.

I once got a vivid sense of the Bhagavad Gita by writing a story that occurred to me in large measure while taking a taxi from JFK to midtown Manhattan. The cab driver was Krishna and the passenger was Arjuna, flow in from corporate headquarters to attend a stockholders' meeting and to fire some relatives from the corporation. Of course they had different names the passenger having no notion of his being Arjuna. The cabbie? Well, it is nice to think he knew he was Lord Krishna, but there we go, spiraling into Hindu theology and away from story.

What it all amounts to is this, I am beyond mid-game, cheerful in my own late style, a cranky, curmudgeonly, sceptic, laughing at the joke of being me, at the joke life sometimes becomes, at the wonder of it and the value of it, thankful to have any share at all in the ability my species has of thinking and feeling in the abstract, thankful for marshmallows and Maurice Ravel and Antonin Dvorak and Kiri Te Kanawa who belts Gershwin like you would not believe, thankful for Yeats and Hopkins and that crazy Dylan Thomas. Thankful I can hear the vibrations of the abstract in the compositions of Dame Hildegarde of Bingen, mindful in my gut of how laid back Miles Davis was as a kid. Fortunate to have two mentors, Rachel for text, Virginia for acting and stage, fortunate to have two mantras, one for mind, the other for heart.

In a real sense, my first off-road vehicle was a short story called Molly, which I wrote without any sense of rules or form or beginning or middle or ending, only a sense of someone who had been with me for some time and who wanted to get out again into the blaze of light and circumstance called life.


z said...

This is why I love Kafka: he knew the joke of life and he wrote exclusively for himself (and a friend or two.) I want to be an Ender now. I muddled through beginner and middle with some very bad experienced, I've published very little, but my memoir that I'm starting is just for me (and one or two children).

Anonymous said...

A beautiful reflexion, Shelly on both the 'beginning, middle, ender' arc of writing and the 'beginning, middle ender' arc of life. I am hoping that my own late-middle (soon-approaching-ender's) life experience will cast
Arc-light illumination on(late)beginning writing efforts.

Anonymous said...

Nicely put, Shelly. Reading it, I feel I seem to be some combination of the three, someone with all the verve of a beginner but all the passion-to-trump-form of an Ender (and definitely well aware of the 98/02 rule, which is why I published my collection myself), but then again, I wonder how objective one can be with one's self? I relied on fellas like you to catch me when I had my fictional pants down--so to speak--so why should I rely on myself to say where I am?

Ah, conundra, I know them well.