Monday, August 17, 2009

Picnic as Metaphor

There are for you two working modes, the exploratory and the revisionary, the former arrived at in a deliberate attempt to find the focal point of enthusiasm and, yes, a hint of mischief; the latter a systematic approach to check off the growing number of items on a list. 

 The former, in a metaphorical sense, begins with the decision to have a picnic--never mind where just yet, the important trigger is the excitement and anticipation of a picnic. The latter is the laundry list that will insure all the necessary ingredients having been packed.

Picnics are great occasions of joy and anticipation, evocative of my mother wrapping sandwiches in wax paper (dates me, right?)and preparing tubs of potato salad and Cole slaw, not to forget hard boiled eggs, you can't have too many of these on a picnic, nor can you have too many pieces of fried chicken, each suitably wrapped to withstand possible invasion from ants, sand, and all the unnamed terrors against which mothers steel themselves during any preparation for anything.

The laundry list is a handy guide to defining the direction the picnic will ultimately take. Will it, for instance, be a wine picnic or an ale picnic, a milk picnic or a lemonade picnic? Thus does intent reach forth to claim ingredients from the depths of the shelves and the unexplored recesses of the fridge. 

Was that packet of liverwurst, picked up at seeming whim from the deli counter a harbinger of this picnic? Did this liverwurst suggest pickles, mustard, dare I add relish? And was this to have been an appetizer or more of a main course, the answer having direct consequences on whether the cold chicken should be included or left for a meal at home? Would this wurst profit from a chilled white or perhaps a tangy zinfandel? Maybe not; maybe instead cold, seriously cold Sierra Nevada pale ale.

Enough with the metaphor of picnic, the point has been made and is in danger of becoming a metaphor of its own, the tail of the picnic wagging the dog of description. The urge to launch into story has a multifarious origin that is best not investigated until well into the launch, with items selected at a seeming random hand, with little regard for how or where they will fit. Thought process, in the deliberative and questioning sense, has no place in the process at this point. We're going instead for the explosive kaboom of association, the merging of things that seemed discreet before, emerging with the hybrid vigor of being linked. 

This is energizing on a primal level, suggesting--here we go with metaphor again--an awareness of a pole star or landmark. This is feeling-level assurance that we are not completely at flounder in an impenetrable forest. The more connections we make, the more likely there is some way out.

It is not fun to feel lost and yet losing one's self in the morass of detail and memory and speculative vision is the writer's daily lot. There is a familiar terror while inside, enhanced by the fear that today might be the day of the beginning, the onset of the time when there is no explosive association, lighting the way out. As if that weren't enough, there is also the unuttered fear that you hadn't gone deeply enough into the morass, making for a mere tempest in a teapot.

Revision is the time to think, which is done by asking questions such as, Whose story is it? What is the goal? What is the prize? Why should we care?

The accidents that come in the first place, where ideas are set in motion in the linear accelerator called Process, then begin to collide, are the accidents that get us off the trail and into unanticipated terrain within the morass.

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