Monday, September 26, 2011

The Hero's Sandwich

The big question you confront each time you set forth on a new written venture is which of the two basics it will be. 

The first venture has been co-opted by Joseph Campbell, with his designation of “Hero’s Journey.”  You have set out on many journeys in your life, but you did not think any of them heroic at the time nor do you in retrospect consider any of them so.  The term bildungsroman is more to your taste because of its relationship to coming-of-age.  Many of your journeys have kinship with becoming your present-moment self. If you were urged to give a nametag to your vision of journey, it without hesitation would have to be The Discovery Journey.

The second archetype venture is the chronicle of a stranger in town—any town—and the downstream consequences occasioned.  A stranger in a room is an adventure of consequences.  You sometimes find yourself a stranger in town or a room—particularly a classroom.  You may also consider yourself a stranger when you have conflated the two archetypes, starting out in an area or manner for which you have no remembered skills or prototypes at hand.

There is in fact nothing heroic about starting forth on a new story or essay even though it is often with the subtext sense that you might be courting a result ranging from disapproval to danger.  Not that disapproval or danger have no consequences; in fact there have been numerous dust-ups as a consequence of things you have written.  True enough, the political ones had the likes of the FBI asking questions among your university instructors, bringing you contact with one kind of trouble.  But consider this; consider the consequences of one particular note you sent where the major text was “I love you.”

Beginning a new piece is a journey for which there is no GPS to steer you beyond your own curiosity, which of itself is interest on steroids.  You may think you have a destination, set the destination as your goal, but as Robert Burns reminded us then and reminds us today, “The best laid schemes of mice and men/ Gang aft agley and leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy.”  Nor is it lost on you; you have had too many experiences of setting forth with goal in hand, only to meet a series of bends in the road ahead.  Or behind.  Or off to one side.

If you are being honest with your writer self, you will not consider the new work complete until you have, through the writing of it, come to discover something—some relationship or consequence you had not realized before—which in turn you may embrace or be made to feel discomfort or distaste.

The statistics working against you on any specific piece are stunning, sometimes powerful enough to delay or abrogate the conclusion.  On some such ventures, you identify with Dorothy Gale as she is transported against her wishes into a new dimension, that place made archetype of its own as Oz.  In recognition of you not being where you began and found a modicum of comfort, you make it a priority to get home.

And what will you do once you have found your way to The Wizard, discovered him for the humbug he is, then made your way on your own?  You will keep your bags packed, ready for the next venture, no more cynical at discovering the Wizard for a fraud than you were cynical before, instead vulnerable to and eager for the next bit of curiosity that will lead you down some path or other.

Have these journeys of yours had any effect on the way you see the world about you or those worlds within your sphere of imagination? Not that you can tell, but there is mischief afoot here. You have not taken an inventory, have not seen dogs or cats scurrying out of your way in avoidance nor reckoned yourself the cause of infants bursting into tears at the sight of you.

Somewhere, in some city or venue within that geography known as The California Central Coast, you were engaged in conversation—you’d finished the prepared remarks relative to describing your new book.  Someone had asked you one of those where-do-you-get-your-ideas types of questions.  Why do you do it?  And as is also the case with questions of that sort, the questioner began to answer her own question:  “Is it because you so love your work that you’ve become addicted to it?”

Some truth to that question-as-answer, but what came to you was a question of your own:  “Why is the thirty-six-year-old ballerina so scrupulous about doing her daily exercises?”  You knew the answer before you’d asked the question, but you paused for a moment to summon the shadowy presence of dramatic effect, which came forth with a rustle of her skirts and a flicker of her fan.  “Catch-22,”you said.  “If she doesn’t exercise, she won’t be able to dance again.  Hell, she’ll scarcely be able to walk.”



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