Monday, February 27, 2012

Up to One's Ass in Broken China


The goal at first is to get a succession of triggering events down in some semblance of a relation to reality.  This is how the juggling process begins—a few balls, metaphorically tossed into the air.

By “triggering events,” you mean incidents having a direct effect on another, incidents such as a decision made or delayed, an attempt toward a goal, an encounter with some mind-changing force, to mention a scant few.

Of course you require characters, individuals to portray these circumstances with sufficient presence and motive to cause them to seem resonant with inner life and ambition, thus convincing to any reader who happens upon them.  Not to forget a setting against which to portray these events you are about to cause to happen or, indeed, the pace or rate of occurrence with which they take place.  While you’re at it, you need the manners in which these creations of yours, these characters, speak to one another.

Quite a house of cards you’ve built already, and yet the characters don’t even have names nor have you selected the historical or near-present-day time frame in which this fraught, writhing presence squirms its way along the birth canal.

Have you given so much as a moment to the selection of your amanuensis?  Don’t try the delaying tactic of wondering aloud if your edifice can stand without an amanuensis.  How many books on narrative technique, your own in the bargain, devote space to such things?

Your amanuensis is the point (or points) of view you have (or, appropriately, will have) appointed to take down the notes and minutes of these events and, in doing so, impart particular cultural, social, educational, and psychological biases to your narrative-a-aborning, which you, in your wisdom (or perhaps blind chance) intend as an ironic backdrop against which to play this counterpoint.

Will you need to be reminded that some amanuenses are so eager to take the story out for a spin that they will present themselves as reliable, trustworthy reporters while in fact they are naïve or have some time back parted company with such niceties as truth?  Perhaps you’d not conducted sufficient interviews to determine how significant their world view, leading you in subsequent drafts to discover they have an uneducated vision of the history of evolution, much less a familiarity with the constructs of logical procession.

All this to get a narrative launched?  Could you be thinking of the final summary of Huckleberry Finn, where he arrives at the point where “There aint no more to tell and I’m rotten glad of it because if I’d of knowed how much trouble it was making a book, I’d never have started.”?  What factors have you not yet enumerated in these vagrant paragraphs, but surely must employ?  What, say, of voice, the resonant frequency in which a narrative is written so that, whomever your amanuensis, your narrative will seem to have your brand on it like a name tag sewn into a schoolchild’s sweater by a concerned mother?

What also of surprises, those moments arriving within your paragraphs like uninvited guests—after you had already planned the menu and rate of service, but which now will have to be built in because—well, because, damnit, the implications now are more mischievous than you’d realized and you are a fool for mischief.  

These metaphorical balls, tossed into the air, have made you a juggler in spite of yourself.  Excellent advice for the beginning juggler: Do not use dishes until you are at an advanced stage of ability, lest you find yourself up to your rear end in broken china.

At one point in your life when you were in theory experienced enough to distinguish urban myth from demonstrable fact, you were told by someone who was briefly married to a circus performer that the maximum number of items a juggler could juggle was eleven.  You have tried to verify this information, although how many jugglers have you come in contact with in your time? When you were with the carnival, your had no associations with the side show performers (with one notable exception that turned out a disaster) and you still have no way of knowing.  Your own attempts at juggling have brought you no farther than threesies, even that not for long.

Now that you think about it, in much the same manner as Briony Tallis, the remarkable novelist narrator from Ian McEwen’s, Atonement, wonders if her inner life makes her different than most other people or whether there is not much difference at all between individuals, you wonder how many individuals you see in the warp and weft of your life are juggling metaphoric things of the same and even more intense awareness as you.  Are you seeing any ten- or eleven-dish jugglers?

Are you in fact anywhere near that level, or are you limited to the scant three items and those only for moments at a time?

Are you, in fact, accomplished in any manner or do you stride forth, up to your ass in broken china?


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