Monday, January 2, 2012

Locked out of Your Imagination

Not long ago, your landlady locked herself out of her apartment above yours and you were called upon to help her regain entry.  With the help of a ladder and some moves you recalled from action /adventure movies, you were on her balcony and in through the balcony door.  Rescue accomplished.  

You find yourself in the position from time to time of having locked yourself out of not only a work long in progress or, perhaps, a work recently begun, or a work on which you wish to establish some sort of beginning.

It is an uncomfortable feeling, as though some dimension had been extracted from your psyche. At such times, you wonder if there is some way you can leave the equivalent of a hidden key, saving you the need for a ladder and Errol Flynn leaps over some railing.  You circle the material and yourself, warily checking the senses to see if they are all present, if you hadn’t left some sense somewhere, as you seem to leave novels you’re reading at coffee shops, or your notepad folder, which is with some regularity discovered between the seats of your car,

This very site is one way you have chosen to represent the equivalent of a hidden key; five or six hundred words set down begin to wedge the front door ajar to the extent that you can slide in and begin responding.
But there are times when even this easy side door in seems shut tight and you find yourself trying to do something years of conditioning have demonstrated as ineffective—you try to think your way in.

Thinking is a lovely thing to do when you are addressing a second or third or any subsequent draft.  Thinking is a way of focusing on images so that they present a stream of impression that will approximate how the work plays out when read.  You might even, by thinking, discover some anomaly or fallacy in logic or one of your least favorite effects, the pathetic fallacy, which is imparting human traits and characteristics to such un-human things as mountains, trees, riverbeds, oceans, and similar glorious phenomena.

Thinking is a wonderful and human thing to do, but after the fact of composition.  Thinking gives you the opportunity to scan your library of feelings and sensations for the right verb, the most effective analogy, the historical or literary parallel you chose to grab onto, hopeful of getting your own thoughts and feelings into an orbit about a blistering sun and at least one cool, precise moon.

Such days, locked-out days, you call them, are less common now than they used to be.  They rarely come in pairs or triads, rather occurring by surprise, catching you off guard, sending some plan or work schedule awry.  They appear like visiting relatives.  We’re here.  We’ve come to see the sights.  Perhaps you will show us your favorite spots. At one time, you took their appearance as some kind of personal sign of weakness, favoring instead the vision of you caught up for days and weeks at a time in a project.  Of all the many writers you’ve admired up to this pointing your life, you were almost as enthused by George Simenon’s work habits as you were by his non-Inspector Magrait mysteries, the novels he called his noir dur stories, dark and hard narratives written and revised and reedited in a matter of weeks.  And while you still admire his work, you found an American counterpart of whom you held much more admiration and envy—the late, lamented Donald E. Westlake, who was so work oriented, so prolific that he needed pseudonyms to keep track of his output.

After having gone through so many heroes and heroines over the years, you are still impressed by that line of poetry from Andrew Marvell, “But at my back I always hear/Time’s winged chariot hurrying near…” and of course that calls to your mind John Keats’s:  “When I have fears that I might cease to be/Before my pen has gleaned my teeming brain…” Then you ask yourself What teeming brain?  You have been locked out.  And the key thrown away.

Such antics often break the spell.  You are neither in a race with any of these worthies or, indeed, with yourself.  You are “on” to your process just as it is “on” to you.  These are in some ways young boy games, locker room towel-snapping games.  The winner is always you if you keep at it.  The lost-key days are in a sense your ticket of admission to a page or two that may be worth keeping. 

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