Thursday, March 22, 2012

Friendly Fire

Among the many aspects and traits it has become fashionable to endow upon a character, fatal, psychical, and emotional flaws rank high.  Thus we have front-rank characters with autism, Tourette’s syndrome, stuttering, the Capgrass Syndrome, cancer, sexual issues, fear of heights, and a veritable smorgasbord of afflictions, prejudices, and predilections of enough severity to insure some dramatic deviation of behavior from the norm.

Who among us would relish reading about the solution of a complex mystery by a normal individual?  Who among us would go so far as to fantasy a romantic relationship with an opposite member bearing the emotional equivalent of 20/20 eyesight?  The ability to see twenty feet away with normal clarity is so—so ordinary.  So normal.

Which of us yearns to read a drama set in an historical era where there was no war, no famine, no rebellion, no shortage of men or women, no epidemic?

You suppose it possible to argue that expectations, in reality and in story, can be classified as a character flaw of some egregious rank. Because of their use in inflammatory domestic situations, expectations have been moved variously to the back of the bus or entirely off the bus.  “I expected better of you.”  “I was expecting a raise.”  I was expecting --  and Don’t expect—(fill in the blanks as you prefer) are shots fired across the bow of the enemy ship; they are provocateurs, instigations, challenges.

In life as in story, individuals who arrive bearing expectations turn out to be troublesome, picky guests, exuding the kind of aura a room-freshener spray cannot overcome.

Although we may try to keep our expectations to a healthy minimum (no one has figured how minimal “healthy” is) in life, it is more often than not amusing to see grown adults in a situation, attempting to portray a Buddhist-like detachment when they are, in fact, tuned in to some outcome in some part of the earth or other that will have consequences for them.

Those of us who send straw persons into scenes and narratives are well aware of the impact investing those straw people with expectations can produce.  You could say—and sometimes do—that there is a direct relationship between the number of expectations a straw person has in a given story and the emergence of that straw person into a vital, memorable character.

Conventional wisdom may be personified here to argue with conviction how nothing lives up to its expectations, which are always better or worse.  Through a strange and curious turn of logic, you argue yourself into camping with the Optimists; things (events, people, books, music, meals) tend to work out much better than you’d expected.  True, your judgment is rendered after the fact of you having looked with some distaste at the event before the fact of your engagement with it; nevertheless, Optimism often overcomes pessimism for you, thus you find yourself with expectations of being if not deliriously happy, then of relative good cheer, exhibiting all the energy that accompanies good cheer.

Any given story you work on produces within you a replica of that twisted logic informing Optimism.  You do not expect a story to work out as well as you’d hoped when you were first attracted by its signal fires and you’d then set forth to track it down, see if anything were wrong, if there were anything you might do to help.

After a draft or two with a relatively flat or so-what ending, you expect to discover through another great gift to the composer, surprise, a less-than-flat-ending.  Past experience has taught you to keep at the material until the surprise arrives, often with a greater emotional clang than the original vision for the story.  Pausing now as you compose this, you are seeing a procession of such endings, all of which came from what seemed a great emotional distance, light, you might say, from a distant star.

You are much attracted to noir writing, stories that seem to emerge because individuals had no expectations and subsequently became thrown into situations where they began to have them, only to shut them down in the belief that they were too good to be true and thus, why subject themselves to yet another bitter disappointment?

There are times when you find it easy to confound the equations of Optimism and Pessimism as the only possible paths a narrative can take.  From your political beliefs, you distrust if not resent attempts to make a middle-of-the-road approach seem sane, healthy, possible; these arguments seem to you deliberate attempts to propagandize, to detract from and make fun of your position.

All positions, yours among them, are of equal absurdity.  Expecting that to be the general case whether in Reality or story, you see them all—however nuanced these positions may be—as targets.  Not as enemies.  As targets.  And so you take aim.  Thus do you open the field of vision for your own position to be struck by, shall you call it friendly fire?

You expect, after some drafts, the cavalry to arrive, bagpipes droning—a surprise discovery, the revelation that causes the warring sides to look up for a moment or two before returning to their squabble.

You expect surprise.  You expect to have to wait for it to arrive.  When it does present itself, you have that final judgment to make:  was it better surprise or less than you expected?


1 comment:

Storm Dweller said...

My pastor is ffond of saying that "expectations are the seeds of future resentments." Resentments result in conflict, and conflict results in story... Normal is over rated. I've learned not to expect normality in anything. It breeds a lackluster sense of resentment, when there are far more flavorful resentments to machinate over.