Saturday, September 24, 2011


Most Sundays, your day begins with a stroll down the driveway to pick up the blue plastic sheath in which your copy of The New York Times is wrapped.  Then, buried within the innards of this fast-becoming anomaly, this papery wrap of popular culture and information, you venture upon the magazine section, wherein you seek with fingers at a near tremble the Sunday crossword puzzle.

Your more immediate goal is to see if you are able to begin at the beginning, building words and letters in a way that will allow you additional clues relating to the words and spaces you do not readily know.

A finished puzzle is a good analog for a story of some length, brought to a completion.  You are fond of puzzles for any number of reasons, prominent among them the sense of sudden discovery.  A crossword puzzle is a series of words interlocking, a momentary accord, a lull of no neighbors within a tenement, arguing or playing their TVs at too high a pitch.

A finished story is a discovery and a momentary accord between characters.  Like the completed puzzle, it represents discoveries you have made about your characters and yourself.  For a few hours of work or perhaps many hundreds of hours of work, you have learned to be a witness to a drama you created in the belief that you had a specific goal in mind, that somehow you were energized to pursue it to completion.

Somewhere along the way, you have learned something else:  The finished product is never what you imagined it to be at the outset.  The discovery you’ll have made at completing the story in some way adds something to you.  At one point in your life, you might have thought the “something” to be a protective coat, Teflon, or some other name with a registered trademark.  Now, you are of a different mind; the “something” is a greater openness, a greater vulnerability to the incessant parade of events of which you are aware, of eventual news about the events of which you are unaware, about future combinations of neural traffic jams and gridlock and triggering devices that produce ideas in the Cineplex of your brain pan.

The crossword puzzle has become one of your equivalents of the ballerina doing her stretching exercises; it often leaves you amused by the mysterious ways words and their sounds seem to hook up for occasional relationships.

A significant factor in your judgment of the relative state of completion of any given work of yours is the awareness of one or more discoveries.  Earlier this week, you were puttering and fidgeting with a review of the new, first collection of short stories by one of your favorite writers, Daniel Woodrell.  It was no real discovery that you enjoyed the stories, certainly no surprise.  In the writing of it, your discovery came when, while writing about Woodrell’s relationship to noir voice and its implications, you’d found yourself equating noir in fiction with the blues in music.  You smiled to yourself at the knowledge that some words and concepts were in temporary relationship, just as they are from time to time in a crossword puzzle.

You could, from all this, say of yourself that on some regular basis, you hold the world up to your ear and listen for the same sound you listened for as a young person—the sound of the swelling ocean.  You listen, all smiles, your mind racing to make puns and jokes and relationships.

1 comment:

Querulous Squirrel said...

I have always been amazed by watching people good at crossword puzzles. I even knew someone who did them in ink. I never was. I love puzzles, but the visual and emotional kinds.