Saturday, December 11, 2010

What do you mean, you agree with me?

  Agreement is the enemy of story.  When characters agree, you find yourself beginning to look for signs of misunderstanding, hints that they believe they are in accord but are in fact on entirely different vectors, parallel lines that may appear to meet but in this case will meet only in an eruption of argument.

One of your most favored moments of agreement is that particular time when it becomes a contest to see which character agrees with the other more than the other agrees with him.  What a jolly time that is because it can and often does lead to an argument.

What do you mean, you see what I mean?

I mean, I see the logic and sense of your argument.

You?  You see the logic of it?  Man, there must be something wrong with it then.

You mean, anyone who agrees with you is an asshole?

I mean you, specifically, agreeing with me makes me wonder about the structure and integrity of my position.

This riff comes about because she who is now gone from me except in memory was a vocal fan and supporter but in equal measure a person of her own vision and stand.  Ninety percent of our arguments were substantive in the sense that they were not the you always or you never sort, but rather rankings of things in importance.  You recall a real knock-down, drag-out about which was more important in story, character or voice.  There is, of course, no one simple answer to that sort of argument; often arguments are entered to allow the combatants to forge their own stand rather than convincing the other.  You do not, you argue, argue to win, you argue to flesh out your disagreement or, if you will, to emphasize for yourself a particular vision.  In that sense, argument is like trying to make sure all three legs of a tripod are of exact length. the winner being the tripod which, because of the exact leg length, is now a firm center of gravity.

If someone is with you and supportive, her arguments carry more weight; you know she is not being supportive merely to keep some peace (which is not keepable at best), she is being argumentative to keep you from becoming lazy.  If someone always agrees with you, you do not trust that individual after a while.  This has nothing to do with you being morally certain of your correctness; it has everything to do with the need to engage challenge.  The exact nature of challenge, of course, is its beginning point, which is with you.  It is not about you, it is with you; if you do not challenge yourself with conviction and vigor, who then but, of course, friends and lovers, perhaps even the right editor.

You are a passenger on the see-saw of grief, sometimes up, sometimes devastated by a small detail that pulls the rug of comfort from under you.  At such times, it is glorious to be argued with, to be tested to the point where you are having to reach within you for the small change of your confidence, the coins that fall from your pockets on the precarious see-saw of grief.  You are undone by the awareness that a person who so disagreed with you at times and was so supportive at others is now someone with whom you can argue only to the extent where you push beyond your memory.

If you or your characters or your friends or anyone you care about, such as your students and readers, is not pushed to that extra step or two beyond the comfort zone, arguments and praises are meaningless because their intent is to comfort rather than to support.

1 comment:

sri said...

I find I am inclined, perhaps as a result of my upbringing, though I hate to be circumscribed culturally, to speak up only to agree. Disagreements often seem to land on a plane of different values, possibly a result of a constructed cultural chasm -- after all humanity, one could argue, bridges us more powerfully -- so much so it doesn't seem worth it to pick a fight.

As you say, friends and lovers shouldn't be subject to an argument-free personal space because after all, they inhabit our own values dimension or at least are comfortable with it.

But with others, what do you do if you disagree? If you argue, are you helping them, perhaps by questioning their vision/identity, or are you simply defining yourself? Do we both benefit? Even if we maneuver our tripods so all the legs only rest more securely? And exult in our greater self-expression? Or do most of us walk away feeling lesser for an argument not won? The cynic in me wants to pick the latter. If we could only learn to put our egos in our back pockets.