Saturday, August 18, 2012

Denial Mechanism

Quite often these days, you find yourself attracted to characters with some equivalent of baggage.  The baggage is often of an emotional/experiential variety, but there are other types as well.  Consider, for instance, the simple fact of a person having to lug about one or more suitcases or duffle bags.  For added consideration, visualize a character with a briefcase or attaché case that is cuffed to that person’s wrist.

This is an all-the-above option for you; how delicious the thoughts of writing or reading stories about the first group, men and/or women with some weighty, cumbersome emotional material, rendered a tad more convenient because of the equivalent of attached rollers, which is to say some form of rationalization or a denial mechanism.

You like that last trope so well, you’re considering naming this mini-essay in its honor.  Gritty, interesting characters do tend to have rationalized or denied in some degree some relevant truth or impediment.

Your own quirky vision, perhaps in a reach out of solidarity with Samuel Beckett and his absurdist narratives, includes a longish story, perhaps moving on toward a novella in length, in which one or more characters lugs a suitcase or large duffle bag about during the entire narrative to the point where someone asks about it and its contents.  The character is dismissive and uncommunicative about it.  The reader in fact never discovers the contents or the reason for the baggage being carried about.

A variation on the above:  a man or women with an attaché case attached to a wrist with a locking device, being asked direct questions about the case, such as, “Ah, diplomatic service, eh?”  The “wearer” politely says no, and then changes the subject.  Once again, the reader never learns the contents.

These ventures remind you of the balance, the dance between absurd and
ambiguous matters. You are reminded as well of the sense of each we carry about or witness of each on an almost daily basis.

You believe you’ve discovered hidden aspects of your fondness for gritty, baggage-laden characters of either the emotional or physical types by the simple act of writing down these notes.

Onward.  A greater revelation awaits you relative to your preference for characters on the outside or margins, individuals you purposefully recognize as not entirely likeable.  Of course such characters, if they are placed in starring roles in longform works, stand to grow, evolving in more positive or negative—but not neutral—ways.  This is one of the side effects of story—lead characters change in some manner before or because of the conclusion/payoff.
From time to time, you become caught up in the evolution of a character you find yourself not liking.  This character strikes you as having little or no relevant interest to you, scant redemptive values, and so far as you are concerned, limited in the curiosity of how things and people and the universe “work.”

You’ve pretty well lighted torches along the path to the revelation, haven’t you?  Charles Baudelaire.  The Flowers of Evil.   “You, hypocrite reader—my semblance, my brother…”

With all those disparate aspects of your personality whirling about within the psychical cocktail shaker that is you, there are sides of you that seem uncomfortable to the uber-you, the editorial director, as it were.  They bear similarity to real persons you meet and observe in reality.  They bear great similarity to characters you develop reasons for not trusting and for outright disapproval of their behavior when you encounter them in someone else’s story.

In that sense, some aspects of story remind you of those uncomfortable times in the early years of your high school education where you confronted geometry and, for the longest time, geometry won.  Demonstrating the congruence of triangles and rectangles and parallelograms became a capacity you needed to revisit time and time again before you could move on to the next levels of logical and emotional thought.

A delightful surprise awaited you, who’d announced to yourself with defensive bravado that an English major, a student with interest in English and American literature, had no need for geometry.

Years later, 1974 in fact, when you started your arc toward editor in chief status at a scholarly book publisher, your great friend in performing a thoroughly pleasant task of designing the typographic appearance of a book, was geometry.

Shady, disagreeable, grumbly, and otherwise quirky characters lurk within you, calling you to recognize friends in the characters you encounter in the stories of others writers and those characters who elbow their way into stories you bring forth.

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