Monday, February 15, 2010

Exit pursued by a cliche

The effective translation of emotion into written language often loads more demands than mere description can bear. Writers have memorably conscripted adjectives, adverbs, and metaphor into service with uneven results. In the irony of unintentional pathos, writers have also attempted to Shanghai poetry as a means of conveying in more exquisite detail the heights and depths the human awareness can reach. Same results: some poetry soars, other gets on the Daedalus list for trying to fly, and yet other poetry sinks like a hastily defrosted chicken pot pie in a hungry tummy.

Exit description pursued by a cliche.

Enter story and its adjuncts, the daydream (from which many stories emerge) and the sleeping dream in which symbols, fears, and uncensored ambitions play dress-up adult behavior while the adults are out. Each of us has at least one dream or recurrent fear or fantasy, a genie as it were in a bottle, waiting to escape. The beginning writer has already come to expect more than one story, nurse more than one dream, learn to live with more than one fear. You could begin to argue that the measure of progress and success in an intermediate writer is not only the acceptance of the resource but an ongoing welcoming party on its behalf.

The intermediate and veteran writers are as tolerant of the presence of stories and dreams as a dog is to fleas: they come, bring itches, crawl about for a time, then they move on. Intermediates and veterans even have strategies for dealing with their arrivals, their itches, and their departures, strategies which are multifarious and pestering enough to deserve their own specific interview.

At focus here is the story itself. Simplistic to say, story is a shared human trait. The more advanced and devoted to technique the individual, the greater likelihood of a greater and more nuanced number of them in the toolkit and the greater the dramatic technique available for conveying them to others in ways that will, indeed, interest others.

If you were to chance upon the individual who was Ernest Miller Hemingway, you would probably want to place as much distance between him and you as possible. If you were to encounter even one of his more overtly male-bonding-type short stories, you'd be likely hauled in by your collar due to his use of language, nuance, ability at inference, his way of evoking feelings you may in fact disagree with but who you would nevertheless endorse as accurate, authentic renditions of emotion.

Ernest Miller Hemingway can get most of us to listen to his stories, in some cases even as we simultaneously reject the intent and posture of the story. He found a way to get us to listen by doing things with the language and with story that had not been done before. The way of his technique is yet another potential for a substantive digression of its own, "How Hemingway Got Us to Listen."

On the other side of that coin is a mythical storyteller, let's call him Ishmael. No; let's not. Mr. Melville's Ishmael is not only mythical, he is iconic. Even though he may have told us more in the long run about whales than we wanted to know. Let's instead call this fictional person Fred, imparting to him advanced middle age, perhaps even a noticeable paunch, male pattern hair loss, a retirement income adequate if not extravagant to his survival needs, a few children who have long since flown the coop and now live in other states at enough of a distance that Fred does not have the close connection he might have had if his grandchildren lived nearby. Fred is a widower; he has few friends. Much of his day is spent tidying up his condo apartment, then strolling forth variously to a coffee chop, a park, or a seniors' recreation center where his goal, although he could not convey it in so many words to you, is to get others to listen to his story.

What result does Fred want from telling you this story? Ah, he wants the magic of transforming things back to the magic of his dreams when the events were taking place for him in reality. He wants to dazzle you and work magic with his story.

Fred's story is one note in a bottle, tossed into the swirling ocean tide or perhaps the downstream rush of a massive river. He wants you to find it and read it and think, oh, fuck, what a story, what a remarkable, wonderful, memorable story. He must have been something, that Fred, that fucking remarkable Fred.

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