Sunday, November 6, 2011

In the Soup

In the kitchen and the writer’s work area, surprise explodes upon the scene with the power to cause a spectacular gamut of possibility.  One ingredient—surprise—introduced by accident or deliberation, transforms an entire cosmos from the bland predictability of recipe or formula into a memorable and radiant chemistry.

As a particular stock becomes a promising basis for a soup, conflict becomes a spawning ground for the rich texture of story.  The analogy continues:  Some soups, a gumbo, say, or a cioppino, are rich enough to stand alone as a one-dish meal.  Well, perhaps a ficelle or loaf from a fermented dough, to serve as a complement to the soup. Other soups are by design or from kitchen disaster rather thin, amuse bouches at best, not intended for a long haul much less a serious haul.

Some conflicts are complex and provocative enough without added ingredients to provide momentum for a long story.  In story, much as in soup, after a certain point, you want to be careful about adding ingredients, lest you cause a chemistry of the cancellation of effects rather then the symbiosis of ongoing adventure.

Surprise works best if you do not see it loitering about as some throwaway hint, buried within a laundry list of ingredients, brought out as if by accident or last resort.

Under the most ideal circumstances, something you have set forth in the soup or the story, almost without conscious deliberation, calls itself to your attention.  Perhaps the trigger was your tongue, perhaps one or more of your characters.  Whatever the device, it is a useful tool, a transformative, magical trigger your secret selves were keeping hidden from you.

As you taste the soup or read the story draft, you want to say of the surprise, “I knew that all the time.” as you connect it to its place in the scheme of things.  Truth to tell, you did not know it all the time.  Had you in fact known, your surprise would have to be enclosed in quotation marks, it would have been an irony; as well, it would have been a formula, a device, a conveyance.

Whether in the kitchen, the work area, or out in Reality, surprises of all nature come over you like the marine layer sneaking in along the coast.  Your behavior is your first clue that you are a participant in a surprise.  You have abdicated your role as the trained observer/writer, watching the universe play our its ongoing Bayeaux Tapestry of events.  You are now the embodiment of the surprise itself, playing out your role in the transformative drama that has you acting in response,  You are now an audience, watching yourself and the behavior of your response to this surprise.  As with your discoveries from your writing, this surprise is something to know about yourself, something you will undoubtedly wish to learn from later, when the surprise has had its way with you.

What are the chances for you and this surprise?  It is no surprise to you that it has changed your perspective.  You suppose you could try to effect some sort of pact with sensible behavior, but your greater experiences have left you with the awareness that you have already given up on that some time ago, favoring instead your chances with yourself outside the auditorium filled with sensibility, where platitudes and formulae are broadcast to roaring cheers.

This behavior is one of the many things you enjoy and accept about yourself.  Although surprises have the ability variously to disappoint you, knock you down, delight you, bowl you every which way, send you scurrying to capture the notion or insight before it escapes you, there is within you an eagerness to go serve as lightening rod for surprise, to attract it, draw it into you, and absorb its charge.

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