Friday, December 28, 2012

Arguing Neighbors

Sometimes in a quiet moment, when you are trying to pull the most resonant word out of the murk, or when you are on the point of drifting off to sleep, you hear the neighbors arguing.  Of course you are then roused to curiosity.  You listen, eager to hear the extent, the charges and countercharges, the points of view.

Of course the neighbors are not your actual neighbors on Sola Street, most of whom you are insulated from by some distance or sound-absorbing hedge.  The arguing neighbors are having at it within you, pursuing the ongoing dialectic between the urge to compose based on response to some idea or concept, and the urge to compose as a response to something you've read or heard during your travels in Reality.

There is a kind of rivalry between the two, reminiscent of the rivalry in baseball between the Giants and the Dodgers or, closer to home, your alma mater, UCLA, and USC, the crosstown, private university where you taught for so many years.  For the longest time, you'd thought reactive composition, writing as a kind of protest or refutation, was more reflexive that setting forth out of finding yourself resonating with some combination of forces you'd not previously considered.  But you've long since come to the awareness that even the most vituperative rant, if followed where it takes you, will likely leave you with the present of some discovery, some thing or connection about the universe, about things, or even about yourself that you did not realize you knew.

This awareness allows you to listen to the arguments, even participate in them to the point where you can sense the participants about to turn on you with something not quite an ad hominem attack.  Who asked you?  We were having a perfectly fine conversation before you joined in.

Once again, you've come to an awareness.  Perfectly fine conversations have their place in human contact.  They allow for choices of restaurants or television dramas or even vacation sites.  They allow for times for future meetings.  They accommodate individual agendas and idiosyncrasies.  But perfectly fine conversations move you from the worlds of drama you seek to inhabit, even to the point of putting protective coatings around information and the individuals involved in the conversations.

You want in essence a dramatized version of the Talmud, the law governing the individuals of your cultural heritage.  You want the logic and awareness of the laws and traditions of your more or less adopted cultural heritage, where individuals are striking flint-like sparks from their partners in argument, forging visions of attitude, edge, behavior that will lead to some kind of action by which we may get an even clearer vision of the individual's tastes, preferences, and goals, his or her willingness to be a social animal while at the same time respecting the needs inherent with being an individual.

To be clear, you have little taste for the kinds of argument that include the you-always or you-never tropes, the facets of argument that reveal more of an individual's tendency to meanness of spirit rather than openness of mind and heart.

A few years back, you received a phone call from someone you'd not seen in a great number of years, perhaps as many as forty.  The conversation was doomed from the start because of your caller's  this is a voice from the past attitude, but in equal measure because of your tendency to become irritated by such an approach.  Each side fired shots across the other's bow, much in the manner of those wonderful Horatio Hornblower seafaring novels.  "You always were an arrogant son of a bitch," your caller informed you across this void of years without contact.  And your response, "What else have you learned about me?"  This came from some depths of passion and conviction, thoroughly pleasing you with its seeming existential awareness of the situation two former friends had got themselves into.  Your response clearly had some effect on your caller, who sputtered, then hung up, ending the conversation.

This is not the kind of dialectic you prefer.  Cuteness and impatience do not mix as well as, say, rum and lime juice.

Cuteness was probably a part of your tool kit at one time, but you'd have to scrape about to find it now.  On the other hand, you have by no means sent impatience packing.

Something to work on.

Impatient writers tend to let small details get past them.  Impatient writers tend to convey an attitude of faux martyrdom, which is high falutin for victim.  Don't have time for this nonsense, whatever this nonsense happens to be.

Writers don't have time to be impatient.  Doing so turns off the argument far too soon.

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