Saturday, June 12, 2010

Power to the Pupil

Power is the force with which a character enters the scene you have written then transforms it through the exertion of a particular, thoughtful energy. The transformation arches across the dialectic of the calmness of accord into a calamity of argumentative encounter, or the tangible palpitations of tension into unthinkable agendas of fantasy-spurred desire.


Power is the dynamic inherent in a piece of bread held forth as the body of a savior, a piece of shriveled cactus held forth by a shaman as a gateway into another dimension of being, the soft swell of bosom in a young woman that transforms a particular young man, all muscle and hormonal impetus, into a helpless mass of inchoate desires.

Power is also the argument between opposing forces that the piece of bread truly is the body of a savior or merely a metaphor for the body; it is the schism that splits entities, the souls and resolve of individuals, the hunger for knowledge, the insatiable resolve within itself to be fruitful and multiply, thus producing even more power. It is of course corruption, but it is also the folded cardboard used to shim a wobbly table, it is what I have that controls you; it is the thing in your smile that disarms me; it is the way you look at me or the way you do not look at me; it is the residue from when you catch me covertly watching you out of love or lust or a combination of those worthies; it is what comes to me when I realize the playing field on which we both compete is suddenly level; it is the unplanned sentence that comes seemingly from nowhere but really originates somewhere in my limbic system, defining perfectly not only my own appetites as writer but underscoring the subtext of the work in question.

In the ordinary world, the world of conversation and prattle and arterial sclerosis of freeways and the frustrations of bureaucratic institutions, power is more democratic; what we lose in one place we regain in another; the Social Contract watches over us, nudging us into politeness in our use of power. But in the world of fiction, where the Social Contract is the first element to be given a pink slip if not an outright rejection letter, power is amped up to the status of being capitalized, given a personality. Now as Power, it is the corrupt maitre d', alert for bribes, the mustached bouncer outside the Sunset Strip night club, sizing up the characters; it is the subtext in play between two lovers, each craving a particular sexual activity from the other that is being dangled like a six-inch stiletto pump before a foot fetishist, used to entice as a means of demonstrating and building power; it is the sense any two partners might have about which of the two is the more important to the product they provide; it is the betrayer's edge over the betrayed; it is the discovery or awareness the betrayed discovers that changes the game plan.

Power is your awareness of what you can get me to do for you and the comparatively small price you will have to pay for such service; it is the sense I have when the words fall into place with few or no cross-out, no revision, no long explanations; it is the sudden metaphor, like a bachelor button growing through a pock in the sidewalk; it is the tears that form in my eyes after reading your work, the surge I experience when I see your tears after having read my work. It is what I give you and get from you; it is what returns me to the desk day after day, setting forth sentences, drawing lines through them, pressing delete keys, waking up in the middle of the night to see if I kept a back-up of what was deleted in an angry haste; it is what I feel every time I seal an envelope or box about my work, then send it forth.

Make no mistake about it, all drama is sooner or later about power; it is all about you; you manipulate it the same way those big-chested men with sinewy arms manipulate your furniture when you move into a new place or out of an old one, when you end one story then begin another. Outside the world of drama, you are able to see power in more realistic terms, where there is some insulation from the effects of it, where you can remove yourself from overbearing, power-made individuals, perhaps not for long but for enough of a recess that you are able to feel more in control of your environment. Trouble is, in this world, it is not nearly so exciting as the inner world, the world of story, where you live and have come to know that you are thus a manipulator, you dispense power the way the neighborhood connection, the drug dealer, dispenses product. Only a fool uses his product instead of selling it on the streets, you are told when you find yourself getting into writing, and you largely believe this at first, but it is heady and attractive and of course it has power over you and of course you realize now that you are addicted, so what else is there for you but to stay at it, working those streets, luring more characters in as you progress along the path of your own powerlessness. Some of your friends step forth in other kinds of meetings, talking about how they are powerless, they have no control over their life because of and they fill in the blank which may be alcohol or drug or gambling or food or sex, but they have power over you because you understand that you are powerless over all of these and anything else that may come up, poetry or essays or novels or even memoir and they, with their vulnerability, are just the sorts about whom you can already see story beginning to happen.

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