Sunday, May 30, 2010


In one of his elegant-but-little-known song lyrics, "So Near and Yet So Far," Cole Porter not only objectifies Fate, he observes as it "steps in and mops up the floor with me." In the song, the singer's romantic ambitions are dealt a reversal; in real life, Fate does not necessarily tread on iambic feet and indeed may enter on roller skates. Reversal is a dramatic turn away from an anticipated shower of good fortune, of success in a venture, the acceptance of a story or book, an A-ticket to all the rides in the park.

Our nature as humans and of course yours as a member of the rejection letter congregation is to look with suspicion upon anything that appears to arrive with ease. Suspicion is wired in, at least to the point where we have a Plan B however vaguely formulated, where we believe the need to work up a sweat before achieving the desired results. In one of the apocryphal accounts of the Old Testament, David's Plan B was to run like hell if the rock he'd launched at Goliath missed its mark. We bestow our deepest regard and harbor our greatest hopes for results on those projects that vex us the most, seem most likely to slip from our grasp. A last-minute reversal that we engage and cope with seems almost a herald of impending success, even though we have scarcely caught our breath from the fright.

To some of us, reversal is an omen of lost power, the power being that sense of invincibility that in so many ways reverts us to our teen years when all was inevitable success, and reversal was like unto a misguided mosquito, strayed from its true course. As a species we are great symbol makers. You have come to believe, for example, that those remarkable drawings of animals on the walls of the caves in France represent boasts of animals safely hunted down into the evening meal and possibly even as expressions of meals yet to come. Thus a rejection slip becomes only a platform, a plateau scaling the heights of ambition. When you receive rejection letters, look how far you have climbed. That sort of thing.

Some in our midst see reversal as calamity; you have had your share of calamities to the point where you can no longer call to mind which among them was the most calamitous, preferring instead to think that the potential for future reversals is a sign you are still in the game. You suppose the game you are talking about in that sense is the game of life, but it could also be the game of writing, the game of editing, the game of teaching, and ah, the game of romance, except that some critic may impute your lack of serious intent in all these ventures to your consideration of them as games rather than endeavor.

Reversal is the force that knocks you on your ass with enough impact to cause you to marshal the intent to rise and go forth again--simple up endings do not count because those may only arrive as distractions. The measure of the reversal is in direct proportion to the effort necessary to recover from it.

Every story needs reversal. Every story needs that whoosh of impact that lays one or more characters low enough that the primal breath and intent is knocked from them for a time. The things you get up from, make sense of, translate into the poetry of newer energy and a sharper, clearer music are the things that make you who you are, that influence the vocabulary you chose from the available wonders of feeling and harmony about you. Grim determination is no small thing, not at all to be dismissed, but beware the you who gets of from the floor humming the music of the spheres, delighted with the sound of it while simultaneously wondering how it ever got in where you could hear it.

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