Friday, July 23, 2010

Letters to a Young, Middle-Aged, or Geezer Writer, XVII: Your Inner Mississippi River

The accomplished writer is reminiscent of the horse "breakers" or trainers, men or women who educate rather than dominate the animal, making future ventures profitable and enjoyable for rider and horse.

Energy is a metaphor representing the necessary resources to contain and control an idea, render it rideable without breaking its spirit.

Once astride the illuminating idea, the writer wants to show appreciation to and for it, allowing it to frisk about for a time in a parade of enjoyment.  This is the first stage of awareness beyond those shimmering moments of discovery and recognition of potential.  This is literally the workhorse energy of the project. Important as this energy is, it is at best a nod of recognition; it cannot and should not be expected to power you all the way through to completion.  That has to come from somewhere else.

The energy to engage and discover is like Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi, where the scope and sprawl of that vibrant river is captured in its multifarious whim within a paragraph:  "The Mississippi is well worth reading about. It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable. Considering the Missouri its main branch, it is the longest river in the world--four thousand three hundred miles. It seems safe to say that it is also the crookedest river in the world, since in one part of its journey it uses up one thousand three hundred miles to cover the same ground that the crow would fly over in six hundred and seventy-five. It discharges three times as much water as the St. Lawrence, twenty-five times as much as the Rhine, and three hundred and thirty-eight times as much as the Thames. No other river has so vast a drainage-basin: it draws its water supply from twenty-eight States and Territories; from Delaware, on the Atlantic seaboard, and from all the country between that and Idaho on the Pacific slope--a spread of forty-five degrees of longitude. The Mississippi receives and carries to the Gulf water from fifty-four subordinate rivers that are navigable by steamboats, and from some hundreds that are navigable by flats and keels. The area of its drainage-basin is as great as the combined areas of England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Austria, Italy, and Turkey; and almost all this wide region is fertile; the Mississippi valley, proper, is exceptionally so..."

The energy to engage and cause discovery finds its source somewhere within the writer's psyche, or should I say process?  Yes, I think I shall.  Process in a confirmed writer is a Mississippi of willfulness, with the power to carve its way through, around, and over obstacles.

Let us say your process--your inner river--is mirth, wherein you take your pleasures causing characters to collide in response to the absurdities and inconsistencies they meet in highly cultured landscapes.  Your joyful energy comes from contriving the wildest absurdities and inconsistencies your imagination can reach, a suggestion that should already have you sniggling at the implication that there is a direct ratio between the newest appearances of absurdity and inconsistency in real life and their having been forecast in the fictions of a number of writers.  Mr. Mark Twain, I believe, foresaw this aspect when he set time strictures on the publication of certain materials he had written, as though saying, Civilization will catch up to my depictions in another fifty or sixty years.

Go forth in fun; find your own interior Mississippi.  Consider using a raft.

On the other hand, let us say you take secret pleasure at the portrayal of worst-case scenarios, stopping short of having your characters say, If anything else can go wrong, it will, not because it makes a good read so much as because that is the way things are on this planet.

Fun is where you find it, or perhaps it is what sprouts after you sow the seeds of it in whatever manner you chose.  If you are an ironist, you will specialize in characters who, because of some expertise, real or imagined, are paid to predict future outcomes.  Of course the predictions are as wrong as could be, but the number of individuals who nevertheless believe them to have been accurate reflect on your own sense of mischief as a writer, encouraging you to heap more irony yet on the smoldering coals.


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