Thursday, March 15, 2012

Reality as First Draft


 Unlike those who take the time and trouble to arrive at work with a considerable outline, you arrive often in the fog of having recently awakened and not had coffee, with equal appearance as one baffled but ready for work, or not much certain of anything.

From these and other vantage points, you begin the day’s composition, following some path or forging a new one.

The goal is always the same:  a completed draft.

With the draft in hand, on the screen, or in a jumble of note pages, written in pen of one sort or another, the draft is now subject to examination.  Who are you, anyway?  Also, What do you want to accomplish?

Perhaps the draft already knows that last one; perhaps it was written in the heat of some catalyst, be it a happenstance glimpse of something on a rightwing TV program, an assertion in a review, a paragraph or even a sentence in a blog essay.

This is about such documents, drafts, first or second, examinations, MRIs, as it were of an essay, a review, a screed, a short story, a longer work such as a novel or thesis (but not, heaven forefend, an academic one).

Let us then begin with some potential definitions, descriptions useful in pinning you down in later examination, or as benchmarks to demonstrate the rate of development from today’s expository romp.

A good place to start is with the proposition that a dream is an unwritten early draft, a comet across the night sky of the awareness.  As such, it is highly susceptible to being lost unless some written note is made of it.  Vivid dreams, which is to say vivid dreams for writers, earn the category of vivid because they prompt the dreamer to in some way write it down, whether in a notebook, a vagrant scrap of paper, or a list.

Reality is often first draft; even well-rehearsed or exquisitely planned events often don’t evolve as planned and prove more fraught or boring than imagined, significant in the outcome being much worse or much better than anticipated.

On reflection, we spend time trying to revise reality, with frustrating results, perhaps attempting to change the characters or replay a past event with the same character only to discover that the past performance does not bear repetition.

When you were in your twenties, even into your early thirties, you’d often try to plan dialogue for real-time events, only to realize dialogue, while important in story, cannot work the same magic in reality.  You’d earlier learned that dialogue you admired from stories does not play out well in real time; the characters to whom it’s addressed often had no idea what you were talking about.

True enough, you have had in real time some types of discussions, such as arguments or requests for clarification, or statements of intent, but they were more conversational than their fictional counterparts.

You can no longer imagine how it was that you were able to send off barely revised compositions nor are you at all as apt as you once were to become testy and/or defensive were someone to ask you what you meant by a particular statement.

Your most recent experience with testiness had to do with a client whom you no longer wished to serve.  When you told her this, and she asked you what you meant, you promptly had a vision of being a waiter who had become so appalled with a customer than he no longer wished to consider her order much less serve it to her.

You recalled a delicious confrontation you’d thought was gone from your memory, in which a patron at the then favorite Italian restaurant had just been served a steaming bowl of linguini with clam sauce.  The patron requested Parmesan cheese.  The waiter refused.  Even then, you knew not to put grated cheese on clam sauce.  The customer didn’t; the customer repeated his request.  The waiter politely asked the customer to leave the restaurant.  At the time, you were thinking how similar the waiters in Jewish and Italian restaurants.  The customer asked to see the manager.  The waiter brought the manager, who was informed of the request.  The manager took up the bowl of linguini with clam sauce, then pointed to the door.  The customer said he couldn’t fucking believe this.  The manager said he could not believe someone would wish to put cheese on his clam sauce.  He, too, pointed to the door.

This is a lovely system you were privileged to see.  It adds stature to your belief that story is a circumstance into which characters, all convinced they are right, enter the scene.  You are fond of that restaurant and of the notion that events are minefields, waiting to be trod upon, alerting us to be observant, watchful, aware of principals.

You handed the offending manuscript to the client, nodded politely, then said you had no wish to edit this work.  In a recent conversation that, although undertaken when both parties had not had any alcoholic beverage, could have come from a Raymond Carver story in which both characters had been at the grape.  It could, for a moment, have become an occasion of defensive response, starting with that most defensive lead-in of all, “What do you mean by that?”

To your immense satisfaction, such exchange and its potential escalations failed to appear.  You gave what you felt was a remarkable account of what love is, so remarkable, in fact, that you felt the easy calm of having presented a thesis that spoke for itself, needed no defense nor footnote nor reassurance.  In fact, the one-word answer you got—“oh,” was sufficient.  The answer was disappointing, as such things can be, but it, too, was neither defensive nor judgmental.  In a story, you’d have ended the scene, perhaps even the story there.  In real-time, you got more dialogue, you’d even call it Chekhovian dialogue, because it was what fond, engaging individuals do say to one another in real time.

You are fond of real time.  It is an endlessly fascinating early draft of an endlessly fascinating dramatic narrative.

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