Friday, December 4, 2009

The Past as Motel 6: We'll Keep a Light on for You

Given the built-in ability of the species--you know, Humanity--to live interior, in-the-head life or external, in-the-moment, aware-of-salient-targets awareness, most of us opt for a balance of about fifty-fifty, neither daydreaming when operating motor vehicles or being on the job, nor forgetting to use the reflective, associative nature with which we have become equipped and which rivals coverage areas asserted by those competing rivals, ATT and Verizon.  

You do reserve time for the Inner Life, having come to believe it is an essential part of your writing persona.  Thus you are not always In the Moment.  In fact, you frequent the Interior, in many ways as remote from In the Moment as, say, Alaska is from the Lower Forty-eight.

While hanging our in The Interior, you often visualize and hear voices from the Past, including individuals no longer among the living or, in some cases if still alive, nowhere you could conveniently locate.  In the past few months, you've had two real-time contacts from voices out of the past, individuals with whom your association dates from your early twenties.

One of these was by telephone, the other in the form of a long, rambling, eight-page, single-spaced document you'd hesitate to call a letter, more or less an indictment.

Yet another voice out of the past was more generic in the form of a phone call last night from your alma mater, wanting to know how you were doing.  It would be touching to think your alma mater still cared about your state of being; equally it would be cynical to straightaway conclude the interest in you was entirely monetary.  Nevertheless, cynicism prevailed and was quickly borne out to have been warranted.  

UCLA did not want to offer you a teaching position nor award you a grant to support you while you finished a work in progress nor even offer you a framed certificate as USC did in commemoration of your teaching activities.  

UCLA did not even so much as offer a mouse pad, as USC did, nor a polo shirt or key chain or ball-point pen, all of which UCLA would be happy to sell you were you to visit its web site.

The through line here is the effect hearing voices from the past has on one's writing attitude, that lovely cloud that settles over one as the writing progresses from merely being intrigued by a dramatic circumstance to becoming immersed in it to the point of losing track of the shore line.  

The Past provides scenarios that actually took place or, appropriately enough, didn't take place to the point where the Present Day You wishes to slip in some Cosmic Revision in which you play a more commanding role than the feckless you of yore, for you were often feckless, frozen not so much from fear as from wishing to make the right choice at a particular juncture.  
This is not to minimize fear or cast it aside; fear is pretty much a constant, lingering about like the last, stubborn guest at a party you've hosted.  

Fear, like that guest, is quick to spot the unopened bottle of wine hidden in the shadows. Surely we should try that one, the guest says, and you groan inwardly, thinking you would rather try sleep than opening yet another bottle.  It is only through immersion in the task at hand that fear is finally shown the door, sent off into the early morning with a barely sincere admonition to be careful how you drive, then the resulting guilt that you should have offered a place to sleep.

If you neither listen to the Past, acknowledge the clubby, fraternal gestures of Fear, nor get in deep enough to stop being so fecklessly thoughtful and deliberate, your writing has no option but to come back to haunt you when you set at revising it, reminding you how much you were of your work but not in it.

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