Friday, August 14, 2009

Paradigms Lost

The setting is a street corner in which Peter Sellers-as-Inspector Clouseau appears, seems interested in some item in a store window. A hybrid dog appears, standing next to him. And now, into the picture, a passerby stops, notices the dog, then looks to Sellers-as-Clouseau. "Does you dog bite?" the man asks.

Sellers shakes his head, no.

The man stoops to pet the dog, who thereupon bites him.

The man withdraws his hand quickly, turns to Sellers. "I thought you said you dog doesn't bite," he says with recrimination edging his voice.

"That's not my dog."

This narrative, although not mine, and probably improvised by Sellers, represents to me the archetype of the story I seem at this point in my life to tell. There are others, of course, but it always comes down to something like a variation on this theme. I did not know it at the time, but it seemed to have started with a story I wrote some years back, late 80s or early 90s, called "Molly." I'd met John Milton, editor of the South Dakota Review, at a sit down dinner at Dennis and Gail Lynds home. John asked me what I wrote and I told him with such force and clarity about stories as yet unwritten that I appear to have convinced us both. There was nothing for it but to go home and write "Molly" until I got it to the point where I had never been with a story before. Most of my published work and a bit of the unpublished related somehow to my sense of rules and of learned things rather than observed things and felt things.

Each of us has a kind of paradigm story to tell; the paradigm may change with the changes in the writers' life, but the urge to tell a story remains and so it is that we sense the paradigm in yet another way, then hasten to filter it through different characters, learning beyond rules and learned things, which if we are fortunate carries us on to the next paradigm, waiting for us to recognize it.

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