Sunday, November 9, 2008

Where Did I Leave My--My--Myself?

Settling in to work this morning after a satisfying run with The New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, I noticed a highly personalized pigeons-coming-home-to-roost paradigm. The backstory to this awareness is my ability to wear with comfort drug store reading glasses as a supplement to my contact lenses. A regional drug chain is frequently offering a two-for-one sale on the brand and magnification that suits me. Once in a while, I'll toss a pair when their lenses have become scratched through pocket friction or the overall woes of the aging process. Less often, a temple will break off or the screw that holds it to the frame will loosen and vanish somewhere in transit.

My discovery this morning was six pair of Dr. Edel 2.50 magnification wire-framed reading glasses, as chummy on my desk as a Democrats' caucus. That there were six pair tells a story on me: reading glasses have been a major item in the Things I'm Likely to Lose or Temporarily Misplace category, followed in rapid succession by fountain pens, notebooks, manuscripts, checkbook, a particular book, my Peet's (coffee shop) debit card), car keys. I suppose you could call these items tombstones or bench markers of absent-mindedness. My definition is: markers of multitasking. Nevertheless.

Nevertheless, said misplacements have their collateral effects on me, physical and emotional. In awareness of the tendency to set down reading glasses on uncharted surfaces, I have secured enough to leave some in strategic areas of my lifestyle. In similar fashion, I have rationalized the need for any number of fountain pens, several Peet's debit cards, and at least three Moleskines or surrogates. Without some severe personality reeducation or behavior modification, there is little I can do about the misplaced keys or checkbook except to be late to some planned meeting while looking for them in all the logical and illogical places they may reside during my efforts to ferret them forth.

Some of my dearest friends would never dream of being in such situations, much less would they actually experience them. They are A Place for Everything and Everything in Its Place sorts, while I remain true to my code of being an I Wonder Where My Glasses Are Now.

But enough about me; I have served my purpose of having delineated traits, follow-through, behavior, follow-up (if you will) and consequences. It may be easier to imagine a writer or editor or teacher having six pair (at least) of reading glasses and finding them all at once on his desk, but what about a dress designer, a politician, a hired hit person, a psychiatrist or psychologist, a Republican? And what would happen if your character(s) appeared in a new scene not only hopeful of fulfilling some intention but also of finding reading glasses or keys or a misplaced checkbook?

All of which is to say that characters are not to be merely plopped into a new setting with a few anticipatory goals but with a past history that is rooted in the immediate past, an immediate past that carries with it the subtext of emotional parasites. Rowena, whose work habits I so admire, manages to get writing or painting done not in my time frame of free half-hours or the luxury of hours but rather in terms of nap times in which her young ones may or may not be fully immersed. It is one thing to portray a painter, but how about the portraiture of a painter who, just as a particular form on her easel comes to life, hears the call of a youngster awakening from a nap? In the abstraction of a mother trying to slip in some writing or making of visual images, there is the reality of a five-year-old (was there ever a more rambunctious set of energy?) close to hand as Marta finds focus on a project. Some of these unspoken subtexts do not get mentioned in text but when the characters are real, they emerge as living presences because they influence so may physical actions either done or not done.

I'm at my computer, lost in thought. Two pleasant enough men in Sears suits and black ties are knocking at the door. Too young to be FBI or cops, they must be, yes! they must be Mormon missionaries wanting to talk to me about...well, the thing is, do I respond to them the same way I respond to my mailman who happens to have gone fishing with and gotten drunk with Jim Harrison, and who showed Harrison the review I'd done on his last book? Do I conflate the Mormon missionaries with my old partner of so many years in the writing workshops? I am me at the computer (I thought you said enough about you) and another me depending on who's at the door, who interrupts me, and what the circumstances of the interruption are.

So too are your characters, who are subject to these sudden pulls and tugs on the self. There is a concept in certain plays in which a character may double, which is to say play two roles, changing from one to the other, a lovely concept for this argument because our characters set forth with a set of expectations that may be changed for unanticipated reasons.

Suppose, for another instance, Rowena has launched the kidlets into their nap time with assurances from them that they are really and truly tired, on the basis of which she rushes to her studio to pursue a more ambitious project. Or suppose, previously aware of their states of, shall we say animation, she figured on a max of twenty minutes worth of work on one of her Flying Girl renditions and it has already been forty-five minutes and not a stir. Imagine her anticipation now. With every brush stroke, she waits for the Hey, we're awake sounds, but by now it's moving on to an hour. Anticipation.

Not much at stake here, really, except the acute awareness that we are borne from scene to scene, attitudes and perhaps tummy aches or cravings for coffee or awareness of an impending deadline attached as fanny packs to our mutable selves, selves who nevertheless are called upon to act as indeed we have in reality been called upon to act or be somewhere or have something done or not to have done the very thing we did.

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