Friday, December 25, 2009

Share, share the fame

 On those days where you have early classes or meetings with clients, or some household transaction of necessity, you may easily find yourself arriving at ten-thirty or eleven o'clock as though on automatic pilot.  True enough, you are likely to be coping with your own moods and the moods of others, making eye contact, ingesting information (and coffee), processing relevant information; you are in your behavior anything but an automaton.  And yet, there is a part of you missing.

The missing element makes itself known in a manner similar to a cat wanting to come in, then go out, or a cat wanting to go out, then come in.  The missing element is the more gradual awakening to such gradual steps as Sally requiring a shot at the back yard, putting on water and milk for coffee, discovering where it was you last had contact with your trousers, considering your list of priorities for the day ahead, even toying with vagrant ideas that may be related to work you have undertaken or are in fact contemplating.

You read somewhere--Natural History, perhaps,or The New York Times, or Scientific America, or even The London Times Literary Supplement--that the individual is coping with hundreds of millions of sensations and bits of information per hour, minute observations related to the senses and to memory and anticipation, the aggregate of which has a strong influence on the mood and behavior of the individual at any given moment, even such seemingly automatic moments where the individual is preparing emotionally and physically for a morning class, meeting with a client, or need to greet the technician from the cable TV/Internet service provider.

It is your own sense of things that the individual is quite literally sorting out the universe, coping with it, explaining it to himself, much as the quantum physicist is, on a grander scale, trying to explain and articulate for him- or herself the structure and origin of the universe.  It is also your sense that you have ventured upon writing as your own personal means for understanding and explaining the behavior of the universe to yourself, setting up trial balances and problems that will help you.  One such enigma that presented itself this morning was wondering if post traumatic stress disorder translated with equal, superior, or inferior intensity to those individuals the United States once considered enemy combatants.  We will not investigate here the trail of thought that led you to wondering thusly; it is amusing in its own way and may perhaps provide a platform for another essay.  You did extend the wonderment to the point of empathy, bringing to your imagination a sous chef in the Viet Nam restaurant on State and Victoria Streets here in Santa Barbara, formerly a Viet Cong, now living and working in apparent comfort in his adopted country but haunted by the wartime memories of things he did to American soldiers in combat and to innocent Viet Nam citizens.

Although you appeared to be turning over elements of a story in the lathe of your mind, you were primarily trying to explain aspects of human behavior to yourself.  A number of prompts throughout the years have reminded you of this intent, but the intent seems at times to suffer the same fate as the loose change and pen knives you carry in your pockets, slipping into the cushions of the chair or sofa where you often perch to read or sift through a meal, investigating it as though it had some other hidden information it could reveal to you.  There is nothing, absolutely nothing wrong with reading for pleasure or eating for pleasure or listening to music for companionship rather than the potential spectrum of emotion and understanding it may offer.  You do, on occasion, read, eat, listen for pleasure, nevertheless gaining more than mere physical nourishment.  But you have also trained yourself, for good or ill, to read, eat, listen for understanding.

Writing, particularly in fiction, is a way of dramatizing the conditions for understanding in the kind of dialectic that brings sense to you, a quality of having considered varied, often opposing, forces to the table.  The times you most regret are the times when you struck off into the unknown with only one map or guide, meaning in effect that you had no other awareness available to you.  When you made choices, even blundering choices, you were more likely to have stored comfortable memories in your toolkit, memories that were not mere clutter but, indeed, tools to help you in future transactions.

For some time, you shied away from processing materials such as this in the defensive position of not wanting to appear to yourself as being selfish in your desire to publish your discoveries.  You were haunted in some ways by individuals you admired, whose strengths you aspired to, but in whose lives you saw flaws or missteps you were hesitant to duplicate.  As matters now stand with you, publication is neither issue nor problem; you particularly wish to publish the nonfiction work that is now ready to go out into the world, this as a gesture of sharing.  There is enormous ego in it, just as there is enormous ego in you, but the enormity is leavened by the awareness that the information, the candied fruits and nuts in that confection, may well be ignored or yawned at.  You have the satisfaction before hand of having written and revised in ways that allowed you to enjoy each morsel.

Here you are, then, explaining the universe to yourself, doing so by writing it in one form--nonfiction--or another--fiction--then moving on to the next explanation.  In many ways, through a great series of accidents, you have become the teacher you wished to have had for yourself.  In this role, you incorporate the positive characteristics of your dreams but you also embody the things in other teachers that enraged, outraged, and bored you.  You are all of these as well as all the positive.  You do try to edit out the negative, but you are by the very nature of things embarked on a course that leads to disappointment.

From which you arise, dust yourself literally and figuratively, then set forth with a new work, paraphrasing Sam Beckett's "Fail again, only next time fail better," with "Explain again, only this time, explain better."

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