Monday, February 14, 2011

Itching to Write

Story come from the itch of curiosity located midway between the shoulder blades, the far-flung spot an inch or two beyond reach.  As you do with all such itches, you reach to scratch, a natural enough response, although there are times when you think to test your ability to use the mind's focal powers to take you away from the itch.

After all is said, done, and thought, what is an itch but a demanding tingle, a sensation of nerve endings, skin surface and sub-surface, possibly even a response to some form of life moving over a particular point, the point itself more often in an inconvenient locale?

Looking at itch for a time, you reflect on the responses to itch, then compare the responses to story.  An effective itch and an effective story have much in common, perhaps not the sort of congruency you were taught in geometry, but yet an awareness of the effect an itch has on you and of the effect the elements of story have on you.  Cautious against the possibility of following a potential comparison down an illogical pathway, you try to think your way into an itch this time as opposed to thinking yourself away from an actual itch.  Soon your lower back and mid spinal area are alive with itching, wanting your attention.

Shouldn't the opening to a story provoke some similar response in a reader?  Only if it has produced a similar response in you, the equivalent of a real itch you have tried to employ the use your mind and array of emotional responses to create a distraction.  When, at last, you give it, reach for the source of the itch, perhaps having to contort a limb or two, perhaps even a twist of the torso, then scratch.  You are reminded of times when the itch became so cranky and demanding, much like the demanding child in a grocery or department store, its caterwauling securing the impatient response of parent.  Your body recalls the contortions, sends ratification to some remote, unreachable part of your torso, causing you in your wish to scratch the pesky itch to appear as an enormous puppet, maneuvered by a hidden manipulator.  You imagine being seen in your attempts to get at the source of the itch, self-consciousness now sending you even more emphatic messages.  Read me.  Read me.  Scratch me.  Immediate response requested.

Such responses should be, you decide, the symptoms and provocations of story, those you write as well as those you wish to read.  Stories that do not provoke itches in you are not memorable for you.  How can you bear now to read any story that does not produce such a response?  Now you have a sense of direction you did not have before.

The conflation of itching and the relief of scratching lead you to the understanding of the dramatic process and intent of telling a story; the itch must be significant enough that a mere pass at a scratch will not suffice.  It mixes the metaphor to suggest that a story, in order to provide significant, notable itches, must provide a kind of combustion where the frustration of trying to deal with the itch drives the reader beyond mere frustration, into those entire areas of emotion and physiology where the grid systems of electricity, empathy, and frustrated attempts at scratching run amok.

One such story by an author other than yourself is Louise Erdrich's "The Red Convertible," which set you in a tingling state while and after you read it.

For a time after making the connection between itch and story, you were quite pleased, visited as you were by a succession of itches here and there, feeling the smugness of a miser counting his cache of wealth.  But then the itches persisted and you realized you had no cache of story at all, merely the receptors to attract reminders of the drama about you.  To get them down in any form, you must first experience them, feel the urge to scratch them, then grapple with the distortions necessary to get at them.

The simple solution employed by individuals who itch is the insect spray or the tube of hydrocortisone or some other balm-like compound, say aloe vera, but you have chosen the path of the writer; your insurance does not cover such remedies.

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