Sunday, July 1, 2012

POV, Melons, Osso Bucco, Tangerines

Somewhere back in the past, let us stipulate one of the early creative writing classes you had after high school, you came to grips with the concept of point-of-view.  Because of a remarkable experience in junior high school, one of the few positive experiences in that venue, you’ve always had a particular fondness for the second-person POV, settling slowly into it for your journals and, later, your blog essays, after no small amount of nudging from your friend, John Sanford, who published volumes of autobiographical materials in the second person.

Because you were off to an early start, you went about “learning” point of view the way you “learned” about metric feet. You wrote hopeless, bad poetry by the ream, working your way up to a thesis on the metrics of the Shakespearean sonnets, efforts you do not in any way regret, in particular because they did not make you a decent poet.  Far from it.  But you can hear and do listen for the cadence in narrative.  You listen in fact for a good many things, most of them quite a bit more idiosyncratic than spondees or anapests or such extremes as Longfellow’s dread “Hiawatha:”

By the shores of Gitche Gumee, by the shining Big-Sea-Water,
Stood the wigwam of Nokomis, daughter of the Moon, Nokomis.
Dark behind it rose the forest, rose the black and gloomy pine-trees,
Rose the firs with cones upon them; bright before it beat the water,
Beat the clear and sunny water, beat the shining Big-Sea-Water,

all of which is an example of trochaic hexameter and an English major at their extreme margins.

You think to have done better at point of view; outside these vagrant blog lines, your favorite POV is multiple because of your longtime fascination with the drama of ambiguity as well as your belief that you’ve not done well at all in presenting yourself as a reliable enough narrator, which is something of a plus because self-appointed reliability is a one-way ticket to pomposity, and we know what happens to pomposity in most narratives.

Your use of the second person in your blog mini-essays represent attempts to pin down narrative threads, truths, and open-heart surgery on your visions of yourself and the world about you so that you may make appropriate distinctions when you present characters you wish to portray as being different than you, in some cases brighter, in yet other cases more intelligent, in other cases still less pompous.

You sometimes approach your self the way you approached a cantaloupe not many days ago, thumping it, sniffing it, pinching it, only to have had it politely removed from your hands by the produce manager, who recognized a writer when he saw one.  “You wanna melon’s good for today, tomorrow, you try this one.  That one you got, it’s need maybe two, three more days.”
There is something of near mystical knowledge in such transactions.  The cantaloupe was in fact as sweet, juicy, and delicious as the produce man supposed, and you found yourself wondering, as you plunged a spoon into its chilled perfection, if you could be so certain about the effectiveness and ripeness and overall readiness of your narrative voice.

For the longest time, you had a friend, Jack, who was a butcher at the market you normally patronized.  He showed you ways to determine the readiness and potential for flavor or a steak or a leg of lamb or, for that matter, a lamb shank.  He would seem to heft a package, poke at the plastic outer wrap, then his eyes would glaze over for a moment, as he seemed to be in communication with the meat.  “Not a second more than forty-five minutes at 325,” he’d say.  Or perhaps, “This one, you pan fry, you understand.  You get you a cast iron skillet.  One tablespoon the best olive oil.  Five minutes onna side.”

If you could understand the qualities of your characters the way the produce manager understands not only cantaloupes but such recondite things as rappini, broccolini, and kale, or the way Jack spoke to meat and it answered him back, you would feel you were upholding your end of some cosmic bargain in your observations about point of view or motivation, or how a character would respond.

Last night, as you are leaving the CafĂ© Luna after a late evening pear torte and latte, Chris, the manager of the pantry, his long Rasta braids swirling, approached you, his hands closed about something in that surprise about to come forth gesture.  “I’m sending you off with a special tangerine. Not too sweet, just enough to take complement the latte and torte.”

To know such a thing about a tangerine may seem matter-of-fact, but to you it suggests there are persons out there in the world who can and do talk to the elements and to whom the elements respond in some meaningful conversation.

You peeled the tangerine as you headed onto 101 northward toward the downtown off-ramp where you depart the freeway.  As you popped the segments into your mouth, your taste buds were suffused with the fine sense of spray that hits your windshield first in an automated car wash.  A slight acid tang, reaching out to the memory of the latte and torte, assures you of the possibilities for assessing the inner qualities of things, assuring you that perhaps it can become within your grasp to see the intent and personality in a line of narrative.

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