Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Research: Internal and External

The way you see the matter of research, there are two basic approaches to source material.

First comes the research of external resources such as the library or such reference books as you happen to have strewn about the house, then the various Internet sites, including search engines you use on a more or less regular basis, followed by Internet searches for online sites you need at some point to assess for such matters as accuracy and bias.  There are times when you wish a particular passage from a particular book.  There is also the potential for recommendations from acquaintances and friends for source material and special collections with which they may be familiar.  In a positive sense, these are all potential research tools, whose availability and validity you pursue.

All these possibilities have the added, accidental potential you associated with browsing in the libraries of universities with which you were or are associated in some way.  You’re saving the magazines, journals, and supplements to which you subscribe.  Most all of these sources have a specific section related to books, which often provoke interest or curiosity to discover more specificity; many of these are in fact compilations of reviews of books which, by their titles and/or their authors, provoke curiosity.  Some of these have essays, informative versions of the ”what-if?” trope of story.

The “other” approach to research is much less conventional; it has to do with internal gathering of information, as in:  How do you feel about a particular person, place, thing, or condition.  There are often internal equivalents of books strewn about the house for you to consult.  When faced with the possibility of being served any of the species of squash, your early response would have been one of extreme distaste followed by a desire to avoid.  For the past twenty-five or so years, you have been quite the opposite, appreciative of any number of types of squash; well motivated to try any you’ve not yet met.

Even though the notion of not knowing how you feel seems an irony to you, a condition bordering on incomprehensible, you have to admit there are times, places, and circumstances where you have to pause, then browse hurriedly to discover how you feel because the circumstances are either foreign, complex, complicated, painful, and unsettling to the point where you not only don’t know how you feel, you’re motivated by some sense of aversion not to want to know.

This last is a tricky business.  If you don’t know how you feel about a thing, how can you hope to deal with it, perhaps learn from it, perhaps even profit from it on an emotional and/or intellectual level?

If you are to have any sense of success as a writer, an editor, or a teacher, there is an urgent sense about your need to know how as many of your known and unexplored aspects feel so that you may portray individuals as a simulacrum with a strong potential for being believed and understood.  Of course you must secure this information if you are to have any possibility of success as an individual.  

Both approaches to research, the external and internal, are curiosity based.  Each begins with a faint gnawing of wonder.  What if?  What would it be like?  Do you suppose?   Don’t you feel the irony inherent in external research often being easier, more accessible?

What can you do to provide yourself with more resources?  Funny you should ask.  You can write with a ferocity of focus on what the characters in your drama want because if you care for them at all—and you ought—you’ll catch some of the aura of their wanting.  You can resolve your stories so that your characters are buying into as little propaganda as possible.  You can want to do better, not be satisfied, alert for ways to make your negotiation with Reality have more weight, because in the end those negotiations are all you have. You become the person against the forces that most keep you from knowing how you feel.  This is often painful, frustrating knowledge, but it is your best chance to negotiate for the sense of you that will allow you to do your best work with those whom you chose as allies.

In so many ways, curiosity to know, understand, and connect is the genome that drives the species along the narrow cusp of risk between extinction and excellence.  You may not always like what you find when you do your research, but you are better equipped to live with the results.

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