Friday, May 7, 2010

Altered States of Reality: Your Own Vision of It

Even at its best, reality is a massive, hulking from, perhaps even a troglodyte, plodding along in lumbering pace, it's very shape often defying description. All living things deal with it in one way or another, the writer, artist, actor, and musician content to focus on a small area of it at a time, all too aware how easy it is to lumber beyond the reach of definition.


The moment you attempt to deal with reality, even as a mere report or recording of events or details from a slab of it, you are in a real sense distorting it, perhaps even personalizing it, certainly betraying a bias from the very things about it you fail to note. You also stand the risk of rendering it boring or mechanistic or impersonal, depending on the agendas and tools you bring to play in your decision to convey a sense of it.

The writer, artist, musician, actor, et al bring to the task at hand of recreating a simulacrum of reality a force however unintended related to altering reality. That force is the individual vision--the way reality seems. The moment we describe is the moment we limit. Accordingly, some of us learn to exercise great care in what we describe and how we describe it, fumbling through out tool kit not so much for the adjective or the adverb or the poetic trope as for the tool of ambiguity by which we can render a thing so that a number of persons will experience it as his or her own. We are careful about modifiers in the same way we are careful with matches when near liquid or gaseous fuels; we demonstrate stories and responses in ways that allow our characters to betray or exhibit some response which, upon checking and rechecking, we believe will allow most readers to draw similar seeming results.

In order to portray reality, we have to change it, shave away some of its distractions, maintain a plausible focus on the task at hand.

For all the times you have pondered the essentials of reality, you have come to view it much as the renditions of the wooly mammoth, huge, tusked, overgrown with dread locks. In order to make this simulacrum work in a story, you believe it is necessary to present reality not as a wooly mammoth, which is among other things extinct, rather as a sleek panther or cheetah, perhaps even as a mountain goat. One of your favorite phrases to use as an editor or critic is "mountain-goat leap of logic," thus do you wish your renditions of reality to be agile on the steep escarpments of event and purpose. You have only to see a mountain goat in operation to imbed the imagery. Story and other events of emotion have great need of mountain goat ability to climb or leap because of the rarity of logic in emotion, especially emotion driving characters over the edge, to the point where they are trapped by their feelings.

Story is the wooly mammoth, dramatically honed to the body of a cheetah or leopard or the scraggly, survival-oriented frame of the coyote, particularly Wile E. Coyote, who knows a thing or two about survival in the face of the failure of his best- and worst-laid schemes.

You spent some considerable time this afternoon discussing craft with the person you suspect will become your representative. You particularly felt drawn to her because of your connections with the same publishers, with the fact that she has been and understands what the editor does and how she does it. One of her stories that got to you had to do with how she chose which manuscripts she chose to take home to read. The first line was always the decider, and you both said in unison "It was love at first sight," because that was Catch-22, even more chemistry than "Call me Ishmael." Going back even farther, your favorite of all. Hamlet. "Who's there?" That points the finger directly at reality. Who, indeed?

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