Monday, January 24, 2011

The Unsame Old Story

Is it changing before your eyes or are you the one undergoing the change?  Perhaps you are both complicit in co-dependency, each relying on the other for clues leading toward definition.

Although you have cause to believe it has scarce awareness of you, even greater reason to suspect the relationship should continue on that note of imbalance, you nevertheless believe your awareness of It, for It should be bumped upward to the status It deserves, has been an influence of marked effect on your life.

Even now, as you deal with change, of emotional and physical impact, you are as concerned about It in a way similar to your attempts to lure Negrita, the feral cat you have been feeding these past years, into making the move from the semi-rural ambiance of Montecito into the whimsical sprawl of "The Barb," which is to say the downtown park-like areas adjacent the central city.

You are pleased with your new lodgings, but the simple fact persists of it being a step down in square footage from a semi-rural cottage to a wood-featured-but smaller studio.  The bathroom is perhaps twice the size of the telephone booth that once rivaled mushrooms for the places it appeared.  The main room, wood floor and beamed ceiling, looking less like a square because of the elegant lines of the beams.  Say four hundred square feet.  Then as commodious a kitchen as you have encountered on Danielson Road or, indeed, on Hot Springs Road.  There are accommodations for some books but not as many as you have come to rely upon, making your collections expand as a koi in a pond will expand its size to relate to the size of its pond.  In transporting your treasured short story collection, you have already begun to prune.  You would like them all, but space is a factor if you are to have any room to move about.  You promised to do your best to induce Negrita to come with you, despite the probable likelihood that were you to succeed, she'd be on her way back to Hot Springs the moment she slithered out the front door.  Neighbors have agreed to watch for her, leave her dishes of dried food and bowls of water.  They have shown no such willingness to take on the culls of your short story collections.

This referendum is, after all, about the short story, a prose narrative that has evolved much the way such insects as ants, crickets, and beetles have evolved, bent on survival in spite of and perhaps because of the notion that the short story is an appetizer to the novel's dinner.  The short story has developed considerably in this country, ranging from the tales and sketches of Washington Irving, taking more of a single-effect narrative with an ironic payoff as delineated in criticism and in actual examples by Edgar Allen Poe.  The Poe model persisted for nearly a hundred years, surviving some serious structural changes by the likes of Jack London, undergoing some tweaking at the hands of Henry James, splashing off with great panache by James Joyce in the early years of the twentieth century, marching on toward ambiguity cloaked in irony as a cadre of serious writers came tromping through, a serious artistic invasion by writers who began to see in short fiction the same kinds of elaborate nuance they discovered in the longer form, the novel.

The twenty-first century, short story-wise, is in its way like twenty-first century politics; filled with innovators, those who resent, and perfervid traditionalists, the latter two categories least likely to have read much--at least not with any great pleasure--of the writers who are coming forth from the assembly lines of the MFA Programs and the small magazines with circulations in the high three figures.

Your particular stake or interest in the short story came from the belief that you did not know how to do the plotting that was required in many of the stories being published while you were growing up, leading you to rambling interactions that arose by seeming accident while the characters were engaged in something else.  As time passed, you began to understand that plot for you meant a clash of character goals or personalities, which was not, you have come to realize, a bad place to be.  Now, you think about plot on rare occasion, rather you think about clash of intent.

Many of the older stories still compel you to return to them, so you are not tossing them away as you are your books.  In simplistic terms, you believe a novel is a result of something happening that triggers at least one front-rank character to change.  The short story does not allow such luxury as change although it does allow the writer to push their characters to the edge of a dramatic chasm, leaving the reader to imagine how it will achieve the kind of closure they feel the characters are most probable to obtain.

You are in fact, leaving some of your books of stories to fend for themselves, but it is a comfort to realize how many of them have fended so well all these years for you.

1 comment:

Storm Dweller said...

In corporate terms, down-sizing. It seems so impossible to do when you have so many treasures, and I am one of those people who has little taste for clutter, and so I often find myself in the painstaking process of weighing whic books, which childhood knick-knacks, which of anything have value or purpose to my life. It isn't always easy. I would happily inherit some of your collection were it possible. I hope however that wherever your pruned short stories do go to live, that they continue to be as well loved as they were by you.