Friday, June 29, 2012

High Wire Act


Sometimes the voices in your head remind you of a family gathering before the meal is served, tinged with hunger and impatience.  Other times, the voices remind you of a faculty meeting before the agenda is addressed.  The atmospheres of each is crowded with the resonance of new arguments to be explored, new jokes to be tried out, and the democratic leavening of gossip offered about as an hors d’oerve.  Old complaints appear with the ant-like persistence of Ron Paul posters, appearing two days after an election.

These voices are nothing to be concerned about; you’ve heard them most of your life, although it was not until you were moving along into and beyond your teens when you realized they were mostly you in your various stages and states.

The others were a clutter of authority sorts, real and concocted by you as a kind of universal, adult “them” at whom to vent your smoldering resentments at what you called the vital lies, things you were supposed to take at face value.

Because you came up during a golden era of what you will call “radio before television,” some of the voices were of individuals you listened to for their sounds as well as their content, not yet aware that you’d have to have a range of voices much like the watercolors in your favored watercolor tin.

Some of your voices beyond parents and teachers were Aimee Macpherson, Jack Benny, George Burns, a woman named Eleanor Dean, who read stories on a local radio station, yet another evangelist, Sister Mirandy, and two men with wide differences in their voices, the nasal, twangy, Mel Lamond, and another known only as Old Pal Gus.  These two were the respective voices of the Los Angeles Times, and Examiner Sunday morning comic section read.  You were not at all interested in evangelism, Sisters Aimee and Mirandy had voices that informed you of places of excitement and enthusiasm within yourself you recognized but did not yet know how to articulate.

Your favorite voice of all was the nightly newscaster, Chet Huntley, whom you admired for his voice and for his political commentary, a respect that carried over when he moved to New York, then teamed with David Brinkley on the nightly NBC television news when television news had some measure of substance.

The voices are the reason you sometimes leave the quiet and comfort of home, venturing to the Caf√© Luna in Summerland, or Peet’s on upper State Street, where the voices to be overcome are not your own but rather the voices of a wide range of others, finding themselves in need of a place to work.

You’ve not discussed this with anyone else but there is some sense you are on the right track thinking the buzz and chatter of others presents the right degree of distraction that must be overcome in order for the work to come.

Sometimes at home, one of the voices has won out and there is no need to go anywhere other than where you are, where you still have access to Peet’s coffee from your freezer, and a range of Bialetti stove-top espresso makers should you feel the need.

Voice is the way you sound when you write.  Although you often hear the material as though Chet Huntley was discussing it, when you read it aloud, there are wry traces of David Brinkley present.  Both men provide good platforms for putting satisfying voice into the work, getting it in shape to the point where you then remove these two so that what remains is you—all of you, or those who argue with the most force and conviction.

Whether the work at hand is fiction or nonfiction, you believe it needs a voice to impart life and attitude.  Without voice, fiction and nonfiction are mere bundles of information, the fiction being more emotional information, the nonfiction carrying fact along a pathway toward a conclusion that is both informative and emotional.

You believe story without voice is every bit as much a flailing neophyte swimmer as the youngsters you see in the instructional classes at the Y.  You also believe that voice without story is of a piece with a musician running scales or a dancer practicing steps or an actor doing vocal exercises.

The human experience is overloaded with conflicting and supporting techniques that allow us to present dramatic and factual information as well as to receive it.  Herein reside the troubles you confront as a person and as a writer on a daily basis.  You chose with care the individuals you wish to spend time with, whose works you read; you chose friends, intimates with the belief that you can understand and relate to them at the same time you provide them access to your meanings and intentions.

You are not always successful.

The work you do with story is by increased degrees of complexity more problematic because you may be telling one story in good faith while a second story or third or fourth is being received in equally good faith.  You toe the high wire of ambiguity in good faith.  When you slip or fall, you get up and begin again, your good faith still present but having gone through gauntlets of risk to the point where it has become now the good faith that has taken some falls, sees the potential for more, trudges on without the confidential shine and empathy it had in the beginning.

Your voices begin shouting instructions.

Are we there yet?

Are we lost?

Is this worth it?

Shut up, you explain.


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