Friday, June 17, 2011

Scrambled Associations

 There are moments when the joy of association comes sneaking up on you with a surprise.  A metaphor or more ordinary comparison appears, a long forgotten memory returns, all of these are as rediscovery of old chums, poems so meaningful to you at some earlier time that you committed them to memory.

This joyful state of connectedness came at you as you rifled through the refrigerator and adjacent shelves, looking for a suitable supper for Sally.  You had your own supper designed, the kind of use-up-the-leftovers combination best eaten and not spoken of at large, certainly not a combination you'd go out of your way to duplicate.  There was a pretty good balance of protein, vegetables, and carbohydrates of relatively low glycemic index.  But all your rooting about produced nothing remotely similar for Sally.  Worst case, she might go for the tin of Vienna cocktail sausages that had arrived in one of those potpourri baskets people give one another at holidays.  But apparently you had already snacked the Vienna cocktail sausages away or in some earlier lapse offered them to Sally.

No way would she consider the olives stuffed with anchovy.  Perhaps a large dollop of the salmon flavored cream cheese used to induce her to take her arthritis medications.  And perhaps she'd be willing to share the small tin of liver pate.  There is in the freezer a one-person quiche Lorraine, at which she'd shown interest on earlier occasions.

Then you remembered.  More often than not, scrambled eggs will do the trick, and yes, there were two lonely eggs, and yes, it worked, and yes, it came by the sort of association you were recalling with such nostalgia.

No fear; tomorrow's horizon is wide.  There is no morning workshop because of the opening ceremonies later in the day for the writers' conference at which you have been a workshop leader lo these many years.

Tomorrow, with clear conscience and refrigerator clear of all but the most outre exotica, you will make your way to Reynaud's Patisserie for coffee, brioche, and fruit, thence to Gelson's Market for a supply of staples for you and staples for Sally.  Perhaps a homemade latte after putting away the swag.  Perhaps a sneak at the novel for a few pages.  Perhaps--and this is the nub of what you are after here--the reading of the new Tin House and New York Review of Books and a reread of one of the Katherine Mansfield short stories you so enjoyed while preparing for your review of her collected stories as your Golden Oldie Review.

The looking in on your novel will be a bittersweet reunion, since you had to set it aside again in order to do some last-minute detail work on the nonfiction project.  It will stir up fiction connections.  The reading will in ways not entirely visible to you,stock up your associations larder so that next time, when you are lost in your work to the point where you believe you have used up all your material, some association such as the memory of Sally having relished scrambled eggs one morning will come bobbing to the surface.

In many ways, writing is all about associations.  When you move into fiction, you are faced with installing an entire set of them for each character.  These are not your associations.  Your sudden realization that Sally will be content with a supper of scrambled eggs is not the appropriate realization for your characters; they have associations of their own.  You are their facilitator.

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