Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Stranger

Whenever you introduce a stranger into the room, the conversation stops for a brief moment.  The surface tension has been broken.  The stranger is an intrusion into the familiar, the comfortable, the predictable.  If you listen closely when the conversation resumes, you can hear a sight discord enter the tone of conversation.  The stranger is having an effect; the stranger is bringing newness into the familiar.  Even is the stranger was originally from here, she has been away to school, away to work in a larger city.  She may have had the temerity to want another place, any place that was not here.  She may have the highest quality recommendation, the relative of a friend, a visitor to one of us.  She may also have come here to work for one of us.

This is the second of the two basic story types, but second only because you mentioned the other one first.  What does the stranger want?  What is the stranger doing here?  We are going to have to make sure the stranger knows how we do things around here.  There are, after all, rules to be observed, traditions to be followed.  It will be up to some of us to show her her place.

This story may be stood on its head by the simple device of switching the point of view to the interior sensitivities and agendas of the stranger.  By that simple twist, the story of invasion becomes the potential story of paranoia:  They’re against me.  All of them.

This story merits additional turning when you internalize it.  You have some vague idea of the differing personalities crashing in your psyche.  Some of them are old friends, others, such as the Eternal Cynic, are trying to lead you down that path.  The Inner NY Times Critic is there, too, wondering how you dare to call any particular sentence you write a real sentence.

By working around with these individual aspects of you over the years, you’ve managed to produce some basic accord, some sense that we are somehow linked even though we have differing visions of Shelly.  When some new facet of you emerges, all the others become as GOP extremists, suspicious, wanting to shut things down, complaining about the spending versus income, forgetting entirely that the spending problems were likely to have been exacerbated when they were running the show.  These conservative aspects of you wish to erect barriers so that illegal immigrants cannot sneak into your psyche, raising intellectual, artistic, and psychological hell, probably willing to work faster, cheaper, perhaps even the worst fear of all—better.

You do have to be civil to these entities and aspects because they are, in a real sense, family; they too are you.  Often they are embarrassments to you, causing you to avoid company when they have achieved a majority.  You’ve heard many of their arguments before to the point where you wonder what effect they are having n others if they are boring to you.

On any given day, when you set forth to work, there are moments of suspense and lingering adventure emitting from your writing self as it wonders who is, in effect, in charge?  You feel fortunate that your writing self will brook no nonsense, will pull seniority, anything to get rid of these albatrosses, hanging about its neck.

Getting a keepable page of text is no small thing; it is hard work.  You’ve become fond of the writing self, trust it, do not tend to think of it unrealistically or tell it fanciful things about itself.  When it makes mistakes, does not get things as sharp and insightful as possible, you find that reading someone else you admire has a leavening effect, and, of course, trying to redo the misbegotten work often will produce a better result.

This is not easy knowledge to live with, but if there is to be any chance of capturing the textures and insights you seek, you must respect the stranger in our midst for the freshness of vision he or she may bring.

Fresh visions, then, are provocative because they are threats, hiding behind a new perspective, a new recipe, a new awareness.  In that sense, any fresh vision that arrives within your psyche, whether invited or not, brings the threat of an awareness you may have to give up something you hold dear in order to understand.

Such are the ironies and perils of the work you have chosen.

Such are the joys.


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