Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Literary Equivalent of Shouting Wolf


The ordinary goes on about you, at its own pace, comfortable, familiar, not in the least threatening.  Of course there are no surprises, but you do not venture into the ordinary with expectations of meeting surprises.  By choosing the ordinary, you have opted for the predictable.  Your focus is on comfort, perhaps even the comfort of what worked once before—or several times before.

The ordinary sometimes works on such ventures as your evening walk, where you want a slight interior focus to work out things you wish to writer or for some reason or other need to write and cannot yet bring yourself to start.  The ordinary sometimes works in these daily practice essays, which help you articulate things you wish to start growing, but can’t quite see how—yet.

Your theory that a mini-essay every day should, after a while—a year or two or three—produce some kind of muscles that overcome the comfort and familiarity and lack of threat, taking you into neighborhoods where there is known risk.

These risky neighborhoods are the ones where the shadows begin playing on your imagination, assuming shapes that trigger primal thoughts of peril.  If you are not careful, you may even find yourself crossing the street to avoid passing some of these shadows at too close a range where, for instance, your posture may give you away as a potential victim.

You have not given conscious attention to the potential you have for being a risk profiler.  There are no risks in the ordinary neighborhoods, only occasional splashes of adrenaline when a cat dashes from behind a hedge, or a dog appears before you, unattended, sniffing, yet insouciant, as though having at this moment materialized for the purpose of messing with your comfort zone.  Dogs and cats are known to pick up on pheromones, to “read” humans such as you, who go traipsing through ordinary neighborhoods.  Attributing supernatural abilities to them loses sight of the differences between what seems supernatural and what things are in actuality natural abilities with logical explanations.

Dogs and cats and apparent risks are part of the borderlines between ordinary and risk.  You accept that ordinary, while not threatening, while even comfortable and encouraging of inner exploration, produces only ordinary inner exploration, which is about as satisfying as checking through the movie ads running at this time of year to see if there is anything of vague potential as interest for you, or finding an excuse to visit Chaucer’s, the independent book store you favor, thinking to browse.

Of course much of this is metaphor.  Walking an ordinary route is a metaphor for writing that seems to reflect ordinary to you, or for not taking a chance in some relevant life venture because comfort is so easy to visualize and the risk of dodgy choices places a great deal of expectation and accommodation on the outcome.

You try to be on your guard to make sure the comfort of the ordinary is not too easy a choice.

Explaining the arrival of ideas and associations as some mystical process may sound attractive, even romantic, but as the case is with dogs and cats and other animals and their abilities to see things you are not able to see, there are often more direct, rational or, if you will empirical bases for the arrival of associations, ideas, and out-of-the-ordinary visions.

The process you’re after, depicting your own vision of the neighborhoods and their denizens about you, is not so compartmentalized as you once thought.  The process extends through everything so that even when you think you’re taking time off, away from writing or reading, or thinking about writing or reading, you are doing no such thing.  You are continuous in your articulation of everything you come in contact with.  Even sights and events that seem descriptive of setting and background appear to you with word sets and cadences of clauses and phrases, all of them reflecting your feelings at the time, your attitude, your vision, your particular sense of being alive.

No more ordinary walks for you.  No more ordinary sentences.  You have another shot at kicking them down the road into the risky neighborhoods when you set about revision, and that awareness is the kind of comfort that means more to you than the easygoing sense of comfort that comes when you’ve convinced yourself all is safe and without tension.

Readers set such text aside, perhaps far enough aside to keep track of where they put the text down.  You wish no such incidents.  In the same manner in which you write to see what happens next, you hope to lay enough crumbs along the path to keep the reader in the risky neighborhood with you, too fascinated to worry about that rumbling, wolf-like grumble off toward the shadows.


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