Friday, May 21, 2010

Ordinary Pleasures

It is every writer's nature to chose out-of-the-ordinary persons, places, and things with which to frame their narratives, each resisting the ordinary, even when attempting to portray the ordinary. As a consequence, we--for you include yourself in the fraternal and sororal numbers of those who wish to tell story as each of us properly believes it ought to be rendered--look for some distinguishing feature or trait or talent that anomalously singles out the remarkable from the ordinary while at the same time intending that exemplar to represent ordinary. Most of us will agree that the more time we spend developing, opening a character for own inspection, therefore to render him or her as ordinary, we are fulfilling the comet tail of the anomaly by causing the character to jump off the page in such a way as to suggest remarkable one-ness. F. Scott Fitzgerald, writing in "The Rich Boy" famously said, "If you start with a character, I can give you a type; if you start with a type, I can give you nothing."

Your own observation is that your notes, scribbled in a series of Moleskines or napkins or index cards or legal pads, reflect a certain meanness of spirit in that you seem to be drawn to notice the absurd, the exaggerated, those whose behavior and appearance cause you to see them not merely as not ordinary but ridiculous in some extreme. One such example is, as you noted down while at a coffee shop, trying to puzzle out the assignments for a class syllabus, an individual who struck you thus: "It's the hat, a fucking Panama, that transforms him from medium-well done overweight, middle-aged WASP with MPB (which you now realize is male pattern baldness) into a caricature from The Canterbury Tales, made even more egregious by the fact of his Blackberry ear piece." Since you know and have known the individual for some years, you have to admit this is the beginning of an essence he portrays, but it also says something about you and your willingness to beat up on characters who seem to you to have walked over that boundary of egregiousness. To show how deeply this perspective extends, you suspect your attitude toward this individual might be much more benign were he not to spend so much time in the company of a person with whom you enjoy flirting.

It is too early in the game to classify yourself as an absurdist although you do find the notion of absurdity one that reaches out to you, actually flirts with you. S oamn of the young employees at Peet's Coffee & Tea have tattoos; is there some uber-intelligence at work, screenig perspective employees. Peet's also appears to attract men who cut or otherwise style their hair in out-of-the-ordinary ways, and you have noticed that male waiters in Chinese restaurants more often than not wear white socks. The question comes down to what makes the cut when individuals, incidents, and things are auditioned by you for their absurdity? Some years ago, before you moved to Santa Barbara, you spent considerable time in the area of the now defunct Pan-Pacific Auditorium, roughly between Third Street and Beverly Boulevard as east- and west-running borders, Gardener and Fairfax as north and south-running borders. Every weekend, individuals with dogsleds, mounted on bright red wheels, drawn by a pack of six Huskies, would gather to race. Absurd? Yes, to you.

That of course is where the investigation takes you. Looking for the absurd, the anomalous, for the purpose of distinguishing these from the ordinary.


Heather said...

It's the absurd that give me the best ideas, I think...the strange conversations I sometimes overhear having my Friday sandwich have sparked some good stories.

Oren Bochman said...

It appears that a central point of this post rest on wishing to portray or frame the ordinary using the obscure even absurd.
I argue with the premise since I believe writers are very rarely interested in depicting the ordinary world. Most stories  depict a journey to special worlds hidden within the confines of the ordinary world.

This little paradox points out another subject of dissatisfaction is the ordinary in itself. Nowere is existence a homogeneous entity, rather this is just one of life's cruel illusions. The ordinary man seems an absurd notion, an oversimplification of the real world.