Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Negotiated Settlements

Without realizing it at first, you were being propagandized as you sought refuge, direction, and companionship in story.  You were being inculcated well before you knew what the word meant.  True enough, there were some bits of wisdom in Aesop's fables, and underneath Ben Franklin's spray-on practicality, there were some things that rang true for you, helping you to overcome some of the happy ending and justice-will-be-served stuff dished up like careless cafeteria mashed potatoes.

Because you took a straight-on approach to your college years reading, which is to say you managed to squirm your way out of history, you almost but not quite lost sight of the fact that many English novels ended with marriage because that was seen as the meeting ground ending where justice triumphed and the good guys got the good ladies, and the bad guys made themselves so obnoxious that their evil machinations were discovered and they got nothing, no wife, no dog, no friend.

You've managed to pack away enough history now to see where you'd missed out on a good deal more than The Peasant's Revolt, The Gunpowder Plot, and, over here, on this continent, The Dred Scott Decision, The Smooth-Hawley Act, and Reconstruction.

Endings were no longer the simplistic things you'd leaned into accepting; they needed a more open-ended display, where outcomes had a sense of the ending of an episode but not necessarily a one-size-fits-all finality.

The way you saw it, endings--those pesky resolutions of the issues and hard-to-reach itches of story--were more a matter of negotiated settlements, endings temporarily carved out of Reality by some characters, but by no means all of them.

A story could end with persons who were essentially likable, not getting anything close to what they'd set out to achieve.  The lesson to be learned was that virtue may be its own reward on an internal basis but it does not necessarily buy a load of groceries.

For as long as you've been aware of such things, you've been in that negotiation phase with Reality, in effect trying to make each story one you thought was the best work you'd ever done.  Whether it sold or not was another matter.  The satisfaction did not always buy groceries, but it bought a sense that there would be another project for which you had high hopes to the point where, when it was done, you knew you'd once again won an important outcome, not with Reality, which is always conservative and plays things close to its vest, but with yourself, profligate, got a million new stories.

Negotiated settlements give you a sense of having been engaged in an argument with the conventions, institutions, cultures, and traditions that bump shoulders with you every day of your life.  You can, and on occasion do come to the conclusion that it is foolish to argue, but it has been some years since you entertained the conclusion that writing was not a promising path.

A favored trope of yours comes from one of the great Hindu epics, The Bhagvad Gita, as translated in part by a man you'd come to admire, Christopher Isherwood.  "To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof," he parsed out of the Sanskrit verses, aided and abetted by his teacher, Swami Prabhavananda.

At one point when the work was not only not going well, it seemed to have hidden behind a pile of argumentative attitude and internal conflict.  You went storming into the Vedanta temple for the vespers service, where you addressed yourself to that fiery and cranky aspect of the godhead known as Kali.  You'd been aware of her supposed presence ever since that motion picture version of Gunga Din,  Although you do not believe in her, you do believe in her representation of a force of creation and destruction, the aspect of the godhead known as The Divine Mother.

All right, you said, if I'm entitled to the work, bring it in.  Screw the fruits thereof.

That afternoon, you were hit with an idea for a short story.  When you next saw Isherwood, you told him about the "negotiation" with Kali, emphasizing that you'd never brought "the fruits thereof" out on the table.  He allowed that this was simultaneously admirable and all you could ante up.  He allowed that such an attitude would keep you busy enough to stay you from trouble.

Up to a point, that was a good observation on his part.  Reality has little interest in you, what with the 24/7 need it has for dramatizing the universe.  Reality also has no time for nuanced endings, rather it often provides scant results beyond mere conclusions.  The house always wins.  Some individuals appear to hit a good streak, but the rest of us have no way of knowing who those individuals see in bed next to them first thing upon awakening or, should they wake up alone, of what they see when they first glimpse themselves in the mirror.  Oh, Dorian Gray, where are you when we need you?

You are not bargaining, which is not to say you have renounced all hope.  You are comfortable with that most uncomfortable of all outcomes, the outcome of Sisyphus.  The work seems to continue coming, just as there will seemingly always be a large boulder for Sisyphus to nudge up that hill.

So long as you get the work, you'll feel you've met Reality's stare head on, without flinching.

To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof.

Works fine for you.

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