Saturday, November 26, 2011


In a tangible sense, the only tools you have for constructing any sort of narrative is your vision—the way you see humanity and the cosmos—and your voice—the tone with which you infuse the narrative.  Voice also influences your choice of subjects and/or the characters you use to dramatize the vision.

You could tack on a few subsets of tools or resources, such as your life experiences, which in some ways or others influence your voice.  And what about the things you have not experienced in actuality but fantasized them, perhaps even to the extent where you now believe they are products of reality rather than products of your imaginative longings?  Don’t these count as tools?

Sure they do, but unless you have articulated to yourself your visions and your method for setting them forth, these other elements still have their patina of freshness about them, rendering them as potentials, as thought-about things rather than used things.

For as long as there was written language with which to make commentary, and well before those times, when narratives were expounded in courtyards and public squares, the world has been moving away from us.

There has always been the sense of the old order, the old traditional order, and its undercutting by the peasantry, the working classes, making a mockery of things by not appreciating much less understanding the rituals, neither appreciating the poet’s art nor the ceramicist’s, much less the dramatist’s.

When one of “us” stepped forth to deliver, as, say, Robert Burns did, such wisdom as “The best laid schemes o’ mice and men gang aft agley and leave us naught but grief and pain for promised joy,” “we” knew one of our people understood the calculus of life and made it available for us.

When one of “our guys” such as the multiple felon, Huddie Ledbetter, made his guitar come to life with songs of our inner woes and fears, we more or less forgot his criminal past because we’d once again heard a man or woman singing our song.  Although she’d come from a privileged background, she was nevertheless only one of ten surviving siblings, not the halest nor hearty of youngsters.  And since she’d already had a vision or two, what better way to make points than to “give” her to the church.  By the time she began composing liturgical music, she was one of “us,” sharing her visions with us, her resources resonant in her vision and her voice.

Times change.  The earth moves inexorably away from what it was to what it wants to become which, in many cases—the pyramids, the Colossus of Rhodes, The Ronald Regan Presidential Library—is a monument to self, and pass on some crumbs to “us.”

Esterhazy, wanting to outdo all the other empires of his day, hires Joe Haydn as his court musician so that all his peers will know he had the vision to select someone who would live beyond his own stature and, to “our” benefit, turn the potential for Western music on its ass.

Dystopia reflects the ongoing sense of the world, of reality, gathering escape velocity.  At least one artist or writer per era gets it down, memorializes it, beings it into the language.

Such was the agitprop of your time that, not long after December 7, 1941, you had found yourself swept up in the certainty that you would never forget Pearl Harbor.  You cannot think to count all the events of which you’re aware since then of the things you are supposed never to forget.  Even with such remarkable tools available to you as your iPhone model 4S, you have not been able to remember toothpaste or liquid laundry soap your last two times to the market.

The world, your world, your reality, is getting away from you.  You can think of a number of reasons why to the point where you do not wish to remember any more.

At the time Conrad’s great pal, Herb Caen wrote of the incident with the Japanese tourists, you were outraged by the potential racism.  Two Japanese tourists to San Francisco recognized Caen, approached him to ask if he could direct them to Coit Tower in North Beach.  “You didn’t have any trouble finding Pearl Harbor.”

Perhaps your vision now requires you to remember things you’d managed to forget, and your voice is ready to cooperate.  

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