Monday, January 7, 2013

Power Outage

You often forget the importance of power in the alchemy that turns event into drama.  Power is there, in every scene, sometimes lurking, other times in the form of seething resentment as a dynamic between those who have it and those who are in constant pain over their recognition that they do not have it.

In practical terms, your entire youth, from the first stream of awareness, well into your teens, saw you the equivalent of the real you at your first dance, in the power of social traditions, your own lack of confidence, and most important of all, slave to your raging hormones.  In context, you were also in the power of your parents, teachers, most other adults, including employers, and the parameters of the era in which you came of age.

You were under the power administration of your own awareness of your education level, your wish to expand it, your sense of self in relationship to it.  People had power over you to a greater degree than you had power over those about you, friends, acquaintances, associates, potential lovers.  In some ways, you understood that story was the natural result of frustration experienced by those who had less power over their immediate and future destinies than others, their arrest desire to do something about the situation, and the outcome.

At no time during those more formative years could you have formed the dramatic equation of story, beginning at the attempt of one or more individuals to challenge entrenched, established authority, and the downstream consequences of the challenge.  Nor could you have seen the Marxist implications in such confrontations, even though you were beginning to read, argue, and wonder about the dynamics of the Marxist rhetoric as it applied to class distinctions and the gravity of real and implied entitlements.

Until you'd written millions of words, published too many of them without taking more time with them, you did not see the connection inherent in the dynamic of power because you were too much in the moment of immediacy, too much like some of the characters you sought to create, men and women who wanted something, wanted it with great passion, wanted it right now.  You wanted the secrets many men and women had worked for years to achieve.  You also wanted an equivalent of a Teflon coating related to achieving the knowledge of how to do what you wished, which is to say you were not far enough from solipsism to allow for any traction with sympathy and empathy in your work, both of which you thought it sufficient to achieve by describing them, talking about them rather than evoking them through the dramatic interaction between your characters.

This approach works well for a time because you were not as much a snob about your goals and desires as you might have been.  You were working off  early, undifferentiated idealism, not so much in favor of cynicism as much as in favor of a growing awareness of who you were, how you fit in with others, and what you expected your writing to accomplish.

When you were in teens and twenties, you were not so different from the off-the-rack models of your peers in your wishes to make contributions, right perceived wrongs, make a difference, and be original in the process of accomplishing all these.  You wanted as well to prove you knew a thing or two, things that were on the same plateau as adults you admired for their contributions.  Even now, before the fact, you apologize to the you who will be coming through these paragraphs, looking for ideas and insights, for the possible suggestion that you are ever so much more evolved now in your late middle age or, as Edward Said expressed it, working now in your late style.

Your current ideas are, in fact, not that far away from your ideas, notions, and idiosyncrasies of your youth.  You've had more time to live with them, sort out the blazing anomalies and absurdities of them to the point where they are near to making sense. You've had some practice articulating them, ironing out some of the persistent bumps and wrinkles. This is where you wish them to be, the trail of ducks that pass before the shooter's eye at the shooting gallery.  By shooting down some of your enthusiasms in dramatic format, you hope to allow the reader a greater role in determining the payoff, the response to the outcome.

Power is the nascent energy and potential force in one person having something someone wants.  The late and philosophical writer, Iris Murdoch, often defined power in terms of John loves Mary, Mary loves Bill, but Bill loves Fred.

What a wonderful potential for a dramatic moment when character A realizes her power over Character B, to establish the outer limits of a story.  But then comes character A's realization that the alchemy had changed, her power is vanished or is seeming to be on the wane.  What will she do to restore the power? Will her strategy be effective.

Such terms as power play and power struggle have currency in drama, politics, sports; they are a part of the dynamic of a class or social station reminding lower strata to "remember your place," and those of such strata no longer willing to play by the rules of that particular social dynamic.

How an individual--you included--engages and then fares in a clash of power sources has grand potential for being story.  If you start looking at some of the stories within the long list of works in the Western Canon, you'll see men, women, and youngsters becoming resentful of a power system, whether that have to do with family, larger reaches of society, or profession.  In a real sense, there is an entire genre of power struggle in women's ongoing quest for recognition as equals, but there is yet another sort of power struggle inherent in a boy attempting to sign up for a high school course in sewing or cooking, a girl wishing to sign up for auto shop.

Tradition and Convention are the castle gates being closed,the drawbridge being raised against the onslaught of power, knocking.  Power is the super glue holding someone else's Reality together until you and your characters have arrived, as though immigrants from abroad, seeking to make their home in the worlds of ideas and story of the twenty-first century.

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