Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Unthinkable in Story


You find it safe and not a bit threatening to regard your life as it now stands to be focused on arranged and hoped-for outcomes.  You have “arranged” to formal teaching for at least another three years, have given little or no thought to how long you’ll maintain your private workshops, can’t see your way to returning to the Santa Barbara Writers’ Conference after changes in its ownership and management visions; your approach to individual lectures or presentations is pragmatic.

There are at least four books you wish to write, thus each of those projects has a hoped-for outcome, to which you add the hoped-for outcome of their publication.

In addition, there are hoped-for outcomes related to living arrangements, health, recreation, study, times with friends, times related to musical events, splendid meals, and a broad, undifferentiated spectrum of outcomes that land indiscriminately on your fancy, much as a mosquito chancing on your arm of a summer’s evening.

Beyond all these is the hoped-for outcome of improvement in your craft as a writer, as an editor, and as a teacher.

These hoped-for outcomes or goals are not the entire sum and substance of you at the moment, but they do represent a significant picture of what you are now, on October 16, 2012, if not a significant picture of who you are.  Along those lines, you like to think of yourself as a work in progress.

No surprise that such goals and projected or hoped-for outcomes are useful informants when the time comes for you to create characters for your own work or approach the analysis of the characters of other writers in the matter of your teaching, book reviewing, and other nonfiction writing.

Somewhere in the computation of why and what you are, what you think and why you think it, how you write and why you write it, there is a disconnect.  You’ve thought and written about this disconnect before.

When you consider the men, women, and in-betweens you’ve followed as a loving and trusting reader, you are reminded how their creators, their authors, sent you beyond your comfort zones by making worse consequences than you could have imagined. The unthinkable had come to pass.  This neither means nor intends unthinkable events are the exclusive province of story; the unthinkable often makes its presence in real life, shifting, often shattering the lives of those it effects.

Story thus moves you beyond your tolerance for accepting the downward arc of the hoped-for, makes you better able to peer directly into the eyes of the unthinkable as it approaches you in the Trader Joe’s parking lot, wanting to know if you’ve got any spare change.  Story has given you a menu of unthinkable things happening to individuals you in some ways know better than you know real, live persons.

Story, as you encounter it and taste of it and feel yourself grow from it, challenges you to bring better, more intense unthinkables to the characters you create, not to fill some temporal standard or dramatic convention but instead to help yourself and, perhaps, some unseen reader accept the real fiction that your story is fiction.

In some ways, particularly sexual, fantasy is about gratification.  You’re comforted to see that many of your fantasies, in particular the sexual ones, move toward partnerships, mutuality, regard for another.  To that extent, fantasy could be seen as an accurate index of one’s==your—depth as an individual.

To the extent that dreams and hoped-for outcomes are fantasy, let those dreams and hopes and fantasies focus on the unthinkable as the object to be transcended.  Whether we get to the unthinkable and conquer it, or it wags its finger at us and says, Sorry, kid, not this time, we are not settling for the easy out.  We are saying we are in life and in story to win.


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