Monday, July 30, 2012

You've Pissed off Zeus Yet Again


At this stage in your writing life, there are two basic machines working, sometimes as a hybrid, to power your output.  Both are based on a metaphoric extrapolation of satellites or sentinels, sending back information for you to interpret in one way or another.  In a sense, these satellites are like lymph nodes in that they support the metaphoric extension of your immune system. 

These “lymph nodes” protect you from being overcome by bad taste, poor literary judgment, and silly influences as opposed to lunatic risks that might produce something of value.

One of these machines is the Response Drive, cutting into operation when you read or see something you find to be of incredible dreadfulness.  This response leaves such a bad taste that you are driven to provide an immediate substitute.  A valuable subset of this Response Drive includes stimuli that trigger uncontrollable envy; say the kind when you read Dennis Johnson’s Train Dreams, or nearly anything by Daniel Woodrell or Deborah Eisenberg. 

Thus a good formula for firing up your own engine is to happen at random upon some stimulus of awful evocation or to deliberately consult a short story or novel by any of the worthies named above, to which you have a larger list of candidates.  The Response Drive has a degree of passivity embedded, although the final product will probably have shed that passivity in the course of revisions.

This leaves the Connection Drive, which cuts in at the most curious times and places.  In metaphor it is of a piece with you having gone to the Humane Society any number of times when you were in need of a new animal partner, only to meet disappointment after disappointment.  Then there was the day you went, locked eyes with Sally, whereupon you both said “yes.”

You could call that event an example of connection or inspiration or chemistry.  Neither of you had an idea how things would work out, but you both seemed to affect some kind of first-draft agreement, and now you’ve evolved into a kind of arrangement where you are shifting the Felix-Oscar roles on a daily basis, but each of you is aware of the broader “Odd Couple” implications.

In the Connection Drive, as in Real Life, there is an element not necessarily present in the Response Drive.  You’d have brought Sally home that same day in November of 1997, except that Sally had somehow been put into a cage of a dog named Bonnie (which you could never imagine working as a name for Sally) and thus Bonnie’s papers were filed with the Bonnie cage and there was no possibility that Sally was a spaniel/terrier mix.

Bureaucracy has its way with ideas and concepts that come through the Connection Drive, sometimes adding a special tang to the development, producing yet other unanticipated results.  Once it is in place and working, there is a constant undertone of excitement and anticipation, all of which is invigorating.  In the simplest of terms, you do not know how it will work out.  You are driven by curiosity and some kind of awareness of power that you do not have relative to other things.  These qualities, curiosity and power, motivate you to find the outcome.  You are working against the calculus that you can never hope to render the vision exactly as it has come to you.  But this is small potatoes because there are so many circumstances where you are swimming between Scylla and Charybdis that you seldom give that much pause.  Being between Scylla and Charybdis is a part of the human genome; if you were not there in a given matter, you’d be suspicious, probably have to stop what you were doing and read a book by Tom Clancy or Dan Brown to get the Response Drive to kick in in order to get some work done.

Although you may have come hard wired with these two approaches, you did not know you had them in your tool kit until recent years.  As a consequence, you suffered when work seemed to avoid you like the blind date who’d managed a look at you, then bolted.

Now, it comes to you that you may have gone too far, offended some metaphoric equivalent of Zeus and become Sisyphus, pushing your rock up the crest of a hill, only to see it tumble down the other side.

But there is story in this, too.  It is not an eternity of boring, meaningless work.  There are endless permutations of pushing that rock up and what happens to it and you on the way up and down.  And so, if you have, indeed gone too far, you’ll hope to discover how and when, and whom the Zeus was you pissed off.

All you know so far is that it was worth doing.

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