Thursday, September 29, 2011

Cause and Effect

You are the product of argument and the host of ongoing argument.  You were born into a culture that thrives on argument as much as it thrives on egg bread, dipped at this time of year into honey, prized at the onset of the Sabbath as a harmony every bit as symbolic and mystical as the Eucharist. Argument thrives within you as your various selves try to forge available truth you can each accept with as few reservations as possible.

This is the stuff you are made of; it is argument, not rancor. 

Back in the earlier days of your human species, before there was written language, there was still a measure of a code of behavior.  If, at a barbecue back then, you were to casually pluck a musk ox haunch from your neighbor’s plate, you could expect to be on the receiving end of one or more blows to the nearest part of your body to the individual you’d “borrowed” from, the concept of borrowing no doubt still in beta format.  

Such behavior today is still pretty much a no-no unless you were given a specific invite.  And you could very well have a well-developed sense of interest in that foxy Cro-Magnon lady to the point where, were she to reach for some of your tri-tip, you’d be flattered.

By the time writing had been invented, your culture was well along its way into making distinctions about degrees of human behavior, distinguishing right from wrong, even good versus bad to such an acute degree that the translation of pilpul, the word for the distinction-making process is “hair splitting.”  With due diligence and practicality, your culture needed the equivalents of lawyers to interpret (and argue) these distinctions, hence the introduction of the rabbi. 

You have spent a lifetime immersed in more arguments than you can number.  Get up now or sleep another half hour?  Oatmeal or Cream of Wheat?  Poached eggs or scrambled?  Major in literature or anthropology?  What about journalism?  Was college necessary?  Was puberty necessary?  Apparently, yes to both.  Family gatherings were a nest of argument.  Schmuck, why English literature?  Look what they did to us, cast us out.  

At least American literature looks the other way.  Arguments.  The arguments of growing up as a rough block of wood, set spinning on a Christian lathe, with expectations you will emerge with your Ten Commandments sounding as though they’d come from The King James Bible.  Recalling times when, in order to begin the matriculation process at Yale or Harvard, you needed to be proficient in Hebrew.  You had just enough proficiency in Hebrew to know you were not interested in Yale pr Harvard.  If you’d wanted one of those schools, you’d have preferred Brown, on whose athletic fields you sometimes played for a time.  But Eastern schools lost the argument to Western schools.

You argue with yourself over which project to work on as, indeed, you often argued with friends who thought you were being notional and obstinent when you insisted you were dead serious about what you were writing, after they’d asked you when you were going to get serious.

You were serious, but nothing you did seemed to come out serious.  After years or arguing within your own personal House of Parliament, you have arrived at the notion that argument is the leavening agent of the life you wish to live and the messenger you must try not to shoot.

Sometimes the argument is over which verb to us, whether to modify a noun.  Because of your experiences with the larger culture in which you were raised, the expression “You people” causes your hackles to raise, your antennae for nuance to spring forth.  You people can mean so many things.  It can mean you.  “You people,” an individual you were not entirely certain about, “you invented dialogue, you know?”  He paused to let that sink in.  “Before your people inhabited the earth, there was only conversation.  The closest we came to dialogue was Socratic discussion.  I only wish—“ he said.  “---that I had been born into your culture instead of having to discover it.”

You wanted to tell him the rest of the equation, that not all of your culture, not all of any culture, is pretty.  There are, you wanted to tell him, those in your culture who would write you off the voting roles, as it were, call you a Sleeper, as in one who does not observe all the rituals.  But you believe this individual will—perhaps already have—found his way.

You have long ago argued your way out of the center of the room, out into the hallways and outer walks.  There is comfort within the culture of the outsider, but of course not all of it is by any means pretty.  You sometimes find yourself standing next to individuals who are having conversations.  You look first to see if they are wearing Bluetooth earpieces before moving on to the next, summary judgment.

As you approach certain intersections while driving, you take a close look at the pedestrian who is making waving gestures, lest he or she is waving someone or something other than you on or, indeed, making threatening gestures to that image.

By your evaluation, you are in the sixth or seventh percentile of craziness, just about the right plateau to enable you to do your job as a writer with a modicum of ease.  It took a good deal of argument to get you here.  It was not that the rejection letters had to spell it out for you:  Sorry, your work is not crazy enough.  Please keep us in mind for your next, larger madness. You are trying to argue your way up to the eighth percentile where, you are told; some of your suspicions about things will get forged into mild paranoia.  Distrust is of itself not a bad thing.  How much of Reality is, after all, illusion? 

A person you once loved to the point of distraction told you that she could not think to stay with a man who was so argumentive.  Another person who distracted you said your apparent belief that you could argue your way out of anything gave you a quality that resembled arrogance.  You tried to argue her out of that belief which, on reflection, may have proved her point.  To her.

Arrogance has no place in your tool kit.  Arrogance does not need to listen.  Arrogance believes it hears the source.  End of argument.

Each book is an argument, each story, each review.

To the end of your time, individuals approaching you will be thinking you are talking to them, waving them on.


Storm Dweller said...

"Another person who distracted you said your apparent belief that you could argue your way out of anything gave you a quality that resembled arrogance. You tried to argue her out of that belief which, on reflection, may have proved her point. To her."

Tee hee!

I think my entire blog is nothing but one long on going argument. It's nice to know that I am on the right rack for my "serious" writing.

Leonard Carpenter said...

Shelly, since I met you last week, in the frenzied wake of the writers conference, I've put my future medical thriller Fatal Strain online thru It's now available for ebook readers, computer and i-phone apps, etc. for $2.99 (that's what my first Conan paperbacks sold for!) I'll be putting more of my new stuff up for sale soon, or for free. This one provides a pain-free solution to the population problem, so you might like it.

I've been going through your Fiction Lover's Companion book, appropriately enough at my bedside, and finding it illuminating and funny. Thanks for this distllation of your wisdom.