Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sleepless in Seattle, But Bored in Omaha

Your first line of defense when you encounter a dramatic situation you find boring is to set the book down, then keep as much distance between you and it as possible.  Some years of suspicion-based play and movie going have taught you the lesson of aisle seats toward the rear; even though you were "busted" doing that very thing some weeks ago, you nevertheless intend to rely on your strategy.

Circumstances alter when you have taken on an editorial job for which you had reasonable hopes, but where, alas, your written comments and suggestions begin to less resemble copyreader marks and more approach slashes of impatience and exasperation.

Circumstances alter in yet other ways when, wearing your third hat, your teacher's hat, you find yourself reminding yourself of the need for one of the things you hold in limited supply--patience.  You have progressed to some extent by reminding yourself to be the teacher you wish you would have had back in the day when courses in creative writing often meant yet another immersion in a learning process that had little to go on except from-the-book exhortations such as "Shoot the sheriff in the first paragraph," "Build toward the denouement," and the infamous, "A shotgun mounted on the wall in act one must be fired by act three."  Plays were three-act confabulations back then, which was easy enough to accept, but you'd had little experience with places where there were guns of any sort, much less shotguns, on the wall, and now, seeing a gun on a wall would give you a sense of despair to go along with your growing fear of boredom.

When you find yourself growing bored with your own characters, you know you have reached a point where there is entirely too much deliberation, perhaps not on the wall in the manner of a shotgun, but on the table as in occupying too much thought and needless examination of possible scenarios which might chose to spring from the matters close to hand.  Your impatience--is it impatience with boredom, or perhaps your own momentary sense of ineptness?--can bear it no longer; your editorial self comes in with a mischief that begins with a low chuckle in the belly, moving upward until your upper torso is quaking with it.  You hone in on a spot--usually hiding between exchanges of dialogue--then begin insertion of your mischief.

Mischief has become your metaphor for the rear aisle seat; it is your way out of and away from boredom.  It often begins for you in the midst of dialogue, in particular when two or more characters are engaged in exchange, one of them either being well ahead or well behind the other.  Example of the former:  A man has brought his girlfriend to a well-known restaurant, thinking to propose marriage.  They have never been to this restaurant.  She--the girlfriend--seemed always to speak of it in hushed awe.  Before he can get to his main intent, she has assumed and now speaks to what she believes is his intention of dumping her.  Example of the latter came to you earlier this afternoon, in a scene between your principal character, having his breakfast at a downtown bakery, being interrupted by a detective who observes that your principal could be getting The Financial Times on his iPad, but the principal has already divined the true nature of his presence, which was to warn him not to leave town.

More than likely, mischief of this sort is expected in Los Angeles, which is often used to epitomize the fraught nature of reality, but in your vision, Santa Barbara, a scant ninety miles from Los Angeles, is exponentially more lunatic because some of the great lunatics of Los Angeles have come here to get away from the lunacy.  There is a frightening desire here to behave like old money, even when the money there is happens to be illusory.

With much due respect, places such as Omaha, Fargo, and Bakersfield are more welcoming venues for boredom; it is served in such places as though it were the luncheon special or the topic for the Sunday sermon.  Persons in such places expect to be bored and thus such pass times as bingo and watching television are seen as anodynes to boredom while in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, individuals expect to be eccentric, behave as though they were oblivious to the conventions of Omaha, Fargo, and Bakersfield, and often consider themselves as bored when doing things that would give an Omahan, Fargo resident, or Bakersfield person a heart attack.

It is difficult to think of writing for publication in the sense of traditional rather than self-publication without some homage to the deities of mischief, not merely the occasional paragraph or chapter, but more the persistent application of confrontation and eccentricity of drama as life, represented by places where life is not only fraught, it is risky with convention and the intensity of competition.

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