Monday, April 16, 2012


  What makes a story work?
What causes people to look up from a conversation or a drink or meal when a particular individual enters a room?
What draws a bee or hummingbird to one flower in a bed of similar flowers?
What makes us care about one person, place, or thing and not care about other persons, places, or things in equal measure?
What makes us care about a character who may “live” in a remote culture and/or another historical era?
Where is the boundary between curiosity on the one hand and attention to the immediate task on the other hand?
Why are we as a species so often engaged in internal and external civil wars?
What would it be like not to care about any or all of the previous questions?
Why is curiosity thought to be the metaphorical instrument that killed the metaphorical cat?
Have you ever seen a non-curious cat?

Curiosity is the itch within the brain; it pesters us to find out why, how, when, where, possibly even whom.  Curiosity is the human equivalent of a dog, attempting to scratch a rug, carpet, sofa, even a wooden floor into submission.  Most of us who care about dogs have figured the connection with the dog pawing and circling before it settles down.  Some of us have reached the point of assuming a constant level of wonderment, of what it, of, go ahead, say it, of curiosity about the self, about others, about the cosmos.

Curiosity is the thing that forestalls sleep at night; sometimes sneaking into the dream state to inject glimpses of forbidden solutions which, upon waking, we are somewhat shaken to realize we’d entertained on some level.  Yes, that includes sex, argumentativeness, sorrow, certainly fear and its BFF, dread.

Without curiosity, there would be no story, no invention, no shortcut or alternate route; there would be no regret, recrimination, enormous satisfaction or graveyards of bad ideas, inventions that perhaps did what they were designed to do, but in the process made their intended purpose seem silly.

Without curiosity, there would be no accidents, some of which prove to be disasters while others yet prove to benefit humanity in remarkable ways.

A character who ventures into a story without curiosity will be seen to be timid, conservative, lacking the qualities to carry a narrative on his or her shoulders, perhaps from the fear of “things” getting out of hand or an unwillingness to challenge the mighty, often impenetrable weight of logical progression.

Curiosity will be seen as having no brief for precedent, wishing instead to strike out on its own, distractions be damned, discovery for its own sake.  In fact, in some scholastic incidents, curiosity maybe seen as the enemy of an on-task discipline, where a task—any task—represents the ends, disciplined application the means, and curiosity the distraction, because who knows where the distraction will lead.

Curiosity may become a partner to impatience if we are momentarily involved with an individual who is led off on her own vector of curiosity, while we are left waiting their pleasure.  If we are the distracted, digressive one, we run the risk of explosive reaction to someone who is impatient, waiting for us to finish our inquiry.

The image of the “pure” scientist persists, she or he who follows a line of inquiry regardless of its final destination.  To a similar extent, the musical player who embarks on a course of improvisation is following a similar course.  So, too, the writer who is not bound by the metaphorical albatross of an outline, in which the outcome is set and now the resolution is adjusted to make as plausible-seeming a result as possible.

In so many ways, you set forth on journeys of wondering how a thing would be, aware by now, as you more or less have since your late twenties, that a resolution is never as you anticipated; the resolution is much better or much worse than you projected.  Indeed, sometimes it is better than your dire worse prediction or worse than your best anticipation.

To put curiosity into a workable platform, you must begin by caring.  The next step is the awareness that caring may mean dread as well as excited anticipation.  You must dread an event or outcome or you must have high hopes for it.  Not caring doesn’t work here.

You must launch forth.  As Walt Whitman put it, “Now voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find.

You wonder if that works.  

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