Monday, April 30, 2012

There's a Story in There, Somewhere

The locked-room murder mystery is a staple within the detection genre.  One or more corpses are found in a landscape, which has been sealed off or to which no apparent access could have been found, causing the reader and one or more detectives to wonder how the body got in and the killer got out.  Among the most famous of such mysteries is the short piece by Edgar Allen Poe, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” but your own favorite is Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.

Although there were no corpses involved, you were more or less in a locked room most of Saturday and yesterday with eight writers and a literary agent.  There was no mystery at all about how you got into the room or out of it, but while you were there, you couldn’t help thinking about some of the connections revolving about locked-room locales and the metaphoric locked room of a story, wanting to establish itself as an entity without leaving the tracks of the author who perpetrated it.

You are also led to think of the characters who by some stealth or motive or combination thereof manage to work their way into stories, how many of them you have followed, eager on their behalf as they sought ways of escape.

At this point, you begin comparing friends in the outer world, which is to say real individuals with whom you have some bond of friendship, and imaginary individuals, men and women of a spectrum of ages, ethnicity, geography, and social status.  And you consider the times you have followed them, real and fictional, into locked rooms.  Your vision cannot be complete without you considering occasions in which some of them followed you into locked rooms.

Grief, despair, and bewilderment are often the repo men of reality, edging you into situations other than a comfortable or near-comfortable relationship with the narrative of life.  They lurk about you as though you have defaulted on your payments of happiness, comfort, and equilibrium and now wish to call you to account for having reneged on a conditional sales contract.

At this moment, one of your oldest, dearest friends is consuming ever more oxygen as his life ebbs away like a waning moon, another is finding it more difficult to get about without having to lean on something, and your great canine friend, with you since 1997, is experiencing times when getting to her feet is a frustration.

These are some of the consequences of having friends in the first place, which is a saving grace when you think it through, attempting such exercises as wondering how your life would have been ever so much less meaningful without them before arriving at the observation that, knowing how books and stories end has in no way prevented you from rereading them.  You glance to your right, at the splendid oil portrait of Molly, with whom you shared fortunes before Sally came into your life.  The portrait was a gift from the friend mentioned earlier.

Friends, whether human, canine, or fictional, form a major presence in your life and, you venture, in much life in general.  Friends, characters, dogs, cats are the connecting links with incidents you pull from the shelves of memory to give second or third or sixteenth thought when, as Wordsworth put it, “The world is too much with us, late and soon…”

You tend to forget sometimes how close your friendships were with individuals and events you created or how your friendships with characters and events someone else created saw you through the dazzle of experience and the worrisome clang of processing that experience into some useful product.

You’ve spent considerable time in locked rooms of your own stubbornness or lack of planning or frustration, using the story you forged in your imagination as a kind of Swiss Army knife of implements to get you out.

Sometimes, as you reminisce or try to recall events, you not only have difficulty remembering where you first picked up the story, you have moments of difficulty recalling if the information came to you from reality or fiction.   You’ve often observed how boring information can be unless it is freighted by story, an observation that gives weight and substance to your resolution of the equation:  Dramatic information is more memorable.

There’s a story in there, somewhere.

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