Long sentences take you over the dramatic rapids, through the white waters of the past and their effects on you of earlier situations, into the reefs and shoals of the present moment, where you are aware with prickling intensity of what went wrong back then, all the while feeling the pressure of the immediate moment to make decisions relative to things hovering about you now.
You tended to avoid such sentences, perhaps from the belief that they discourage the kinds of activity you wished to portray. Although mannered in its way, the narrative you wrote in the past reflected your vision of individuals as bewildered by their circumstances as you were by your own. Goals and their achievements seemed to you of high temporal nature then. You went to graduate school or you did not. You were embarked on a relationship that would lead to marriage or it would not. You took a particular job or you did not. One close chum bowled you over by his observation that he did not know whether to buy a pair of shoes or go to Mexico.
Such things became the focus of your emerging writing: tickets to a concert or play, winning a treasure hunt, correctly identifying the gestures in a mime contest, contriving a word with a Q or a Z in it to fit on a triple-word score in Scrabble ®. Small victories. Portents of larger ones to come in more serious transactions such as relationships. The explosive argument between emerging artists. Hints of insights to come while pondering in unguarded moments the conundrums described by some about you as “mysteries of the universe.” Individuals, bewildered as the adults they had become, by the disappearance of play and improvised amusements they’d found with such ease when they were younger. Adults dissatisfied with such adult things as golf, bridge, dancing, and tennis.
Laboring to the point of struggle with the belief that you were naïve in your avoidance of the darker sides of personal interaction, you dutifully took on the reading of noir writers, Simenon, or Hardy for instance, who, from your university reading recollections managed both darkness and a repudiation of convention, and doing so in longer sentences.
You fought with the notion that you could in actuality read noir and still write to amusement, even attempting to conflate noir and amusement. You took on the noir panoply of Black Mask Mystery Magazine writers, along with James M. Cain, Horace McCoy, and John O’Hara.
If James (Henry) and Faulkner (William) don't get you seeing and feeling dark, nothing will, you were advised. Thus you read at them as well and, for good measure, Conrad (Joseph, not Barnaby, who was already becoming your closest friend), and Ford (Maddox Ford).
They got to you but they didn’t get you; however dreary the others, however seemingly appropriate their visions, yours remained that the work and the subject still had to be fun. In fact, the breakthrough may well have been the awareness that humor opens the door to darkness. Through James’s increasingly long sentences, you see men and women struggling with meanings, intentions, and existential doubt as they arose, almost in the nature of salon debates. In Faulkner’s sentences, you saw men and women arguing with the past—their own past, the Civil War past, and Faulkner’s past.
You finally made the connection with their pasts, your own past, and your cultural past. Story begins where characters expect to understand things, where characters believe they know one another. Pasts converge in novels and scriptures and philosophies. Your culture provided you the vision of the Talmud. You’ve been less than a student of it than you might, but you are aware of its cultural effect on you, The Law, the focus on ethics and morality as argued over the generations, argued with the notion of defining, clarifying, thus your cultural heritage is that kind of argumentive clash that is not yet a clash.
The memory of Belle, your favorite waitress at Linny’s Delicatessen in Beverly Hills, arguing with your choice of a sandwich, becomes a cultural metaphor. Something is maybe not to your liking about the corned beef here? Max Krauthammer, the owner of Linny’s, grows disturbed at your unwillingness to consume the rest of your cabbage soup, which you denounced as being sweetened, thus Russian, a serious affront to Max, whose roots were in Vienna, and your own heritage, back there in the wine country of Hungary from whence the legendary Zinfandel came to California. Cabbage soup is not sweet. Neither is it sweet and sour.
Today, as you are having your eyes tested, you are peering through a machine. The doctor asks you what you see. “Nothing,” you reply.
“Ah, a true Buddhist,” he replies, opening the door on the same kind of conversation you’d have use to begin a story. Such conversations are not supposed to take place in reality; they must be reserved for your stories. Of course he realizes he has not flipped a particular switch that would have caused you to see something he could use to quantify your vision potentials. Of course you both recognize the value of seeing nothing as the basis for some beginning of understanding.
Do you understand more about yourself and the universe when you finish a story? You understand enough to know it is not amiss for you to use longer sentences, just as it was not amiss this morning for the doctor, seeing you to the door, to remind you to get your sunglasses on against the glare soon to assault your dilated pupils.
Do you have dilated pupils and clients?
What is the vision of one sentence, trying to squirm out of a paragraph the way a cat attempts to escape a carry box?
Monday, February 13, 2012
Posted by Shelly Lowenkopf at 8:06 PM