Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Big Ideas, Big Problems; Little Ideas, BigStories

There were numerous times during your earlier years when you had limited tolerance for ideas that were not grand, glorious, stunning in their reach and implication.  Such ideas seemed the only ideas worth entertaining. All others were banished to the upper balconies.  Then you graduated from the university,

Over time, the smaller ideas began to radiate with appeal; they seemed more approachable.  You could actually see yourself leaving a thumbprint or two on an idea of less grandiose scale.  There was no surprise to your discovery that the number of projects you finished increased as the size of the ruling idea shrank.  In due time, you were not merely adding to your toolkit by the act of finishing things, you were finding homes for many of the pieces.

As the number of placements increased, the concept of the ideas you favored in undergraduate years underwent significant change from overt admiration and reverence to skepticism seasoned with cynicism.  For one important discovery, you began to realize the relative difficulty of describing Big Ideas; they in fact began to seem more abstractions to you than practicality.  By increasing degree, abstractions became the enemy.  Many abstractions are nothing more than political slogans.  Yet other abstractions emerge for you as occasions of boredom.  Even more anathema to the writer than his material being turned away at a particular venue is the prospect of his work being boring.

You need to be careful of ideas and strangers who wish to give you ideas for stories.  Some ideas, like some strangers, have the ability to fool you with their manners or their clothing or your mistaken impressions of them.  Some ideas are not well formed from the start.  Others lose their patina after close examination.  Some ideas, like some strangers, are delusional.  In addition to their potential danger to themselves, there is the potential of their danger to you.

You have in the past few days come to recognize the potential danger of an individual of whom, because of past experiences, you’d have done better to approach with greater care.  But he approached you with an idea, which on it face seemed of excellent substance, so excellent that you allowed him to retain you to help him bring it to publishable fruition.  Such is the nature of delusion and such was the strength of his idea that you believed he could execute the work.  It truly was a good idea, with enough of a spine to be able to support it in dramatic form.

Train wreck.

This experience has not made you any the less enthusiastic toward amateurs.  You have yourself been an amateur and not an entirely gifted one.  As a result of this particular experience, you were skeptical and cynical enough to avoid sophisticated attempts to lure you into working with a man who’d earned a doctorate from a respected institution, answering his bewildered Why would you turn this project down? Query with the near reflexive naming of his doctoral degree as the primary culprit.  Some individuals with doctoral degrees are elegant storytellers and/or narrators.  This individual was not.

As for your own ideas:  When they first arrive, their presence is tentative, and you like that behavior.  They approach as though uncomfortable with their outer clothing, as though embarrassed by an unruly cowlick, in their way asking you for assurances that it is all right for it to be seen in public.  Soon, as a measure of familiarity develops, you began to establish a bond, see some potential, perhaps even to the point of jotting a few notes.

When the notes achieve some volume, say a page or two, perhaps even so little as an index card or two, there is some tingle of anticipation.  A sentence occurs.  Then another.  Soon, you’ll have written a paragraph, and now the idea is stretching, sprawling, beckoning with its quirky, kinetic twitches and engaging smiles.  It is projecting personality to you.  All the while, you are becoming besotted with that particular behavior.  It is still young, rambling, coltish, even leaning toward the awkward, but you do see potential for it, and so you follow it, still not sure how it will emerge as an adult, but no longer judging it by any standards of growth and development you have applied to any other idea or story or person or thing you have read.

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