Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Scheherazade Process: Adventures in Writing

You believe the well-thought out frame tale of A Thousand and One Nights has its origins in the works of Muslim storyteller equivalents of Homer, the product of more than one teller.  Thus Scheherazade is legend; there was no such real person, even though the primary translator into English of her tales, Sir Richard Burton, gives her a fine curriculum vitae, including the fact of her being a great reader and astute student of human nature.  His notes on her add to the sense of her having been real, just as Homer's "people" and gods were real, just as any enduring characters, say Anna Karenina, or Tom Jones, or Mister Micawber are real.

Scheherazade appeals to you because she represents yet another example of the frame tale, arriving from yet another culture, suggesting the format has relatives in all parts of the world, is still ripe for contemporary use, and for the highly personal reason of your own identification with this narrative process.  A group of pilgrims, riding from London to Canterbury, tell stories to pass the time of the trip.

The legendary Scheherazade kept herself alive for a thousand and one days through her ability to tell a prickly and punitive king stories with excruciating cliffhangers.  In some versions of the legend, the king had discovered his wife cheating on him and had condemned her to death, whereupon, still seething with vengeance lust, he married a new wife each day, then had her executed the next.  When he married Scheherazade, he got more than he bargained for.  In some versions of the legend, he's fallen in love with her to the point of wanting to keep her alive and stop marrying new wives.  Had you world enough and time to take this delight of a legend in hand for your own version, you'd in rapid order have the king's inflated self-importance and vindictiveness drive Scheherazade to the arms of a more considerate and tender man, but that digresses, nay, veers from your intent.

In a real sense, Scheherazade has taken up studio space within your own psyche.  She keeps you doing what you need to do if you are to have any chance of realizing your self-imposed goals.  She keeps you writing.  Not only that, she keeps you mindful of the need to study things, observe things, consider things, and write things of interest to you. 

In earlier days, before your arrival at the computer form of composition, you wrote early draft on any number of stationery pages supplied you from bankrupt organizations by your father, who auctioned off assets of such organizations for various referees in bankruptcy.  At times, dozens, even hundreds of such pages often met the wastebasket with considerable force.  Other times, they met the wastebasket one crumpled page at a time.

Your present day equivalent is the delete key, top right of the keyboard, although there are at times when, at various coffee shops of your routine, there is the familiar feel of a sheet of paper, torn from a note pad, then balled into an expressive wad.

There is indeed some role reversal involved with this inner Scheherazade.  You could well be the source of killing off her interest with some of the things you produce, and so on that basis, she serves as a kind of role model.  What could you write that would be of interest to her?  How ever could you hope to keep her interest?

Of course all such things are simple turns of imagination; it all comes from within your own imagination, mixed with what you have read, leavened by any recent associations you've made between items, events, and individuals you once thought to have no connection or any possibility of connection.  Things such as being spoken to by characters, being tormented by them, crying when they die or run away from home, these are all a form of sophistry.

But they seem real, real enough for you to do things within your power to encourage the development of this Scheherazade process.

At one time, your mentor told you her process was taking down the dictation of the voice she heard in her head.  She then asked you if you heard voices or saw pictures.  Wanting to be like her, you were prompt in your response.  Voices, you said.  The degree of whiteness to the lie is irrelevant; your answer was a lie.  You'd in fact never considered either possibility.  You sat to compose.  Things came out.  Even when you were otherwise engaged, things came out and you scribbled them down.

Soon, very soon, you began a purposeful listening for voices, the word meditating being at the time close to an affront because you were not at all comfortable with that process, much less did you have much understanding of it.

Years later, when you were in fact meditating, you were seated in group of others meditating, your chairs arranged in aisles.  You thought you felt some pressure against your knees, as in someone attempting to move past you without disturbing you.  Without opening your eyes to break the spell, you drew your knees closer, thinking to let the person pass.  Then you heard the whisper.  "Please," the whisperer said.  "Get my name right.  My name is not Nancy.  My name is Polly."

When you went home, you changed the character from Nancy to Polly and were not surprised when the ending you'd been seeking "came" to you.

This was one of the first times you connected the fact that your characters not only could but should have conversations with you.

You were fortunate to have yet another mentor, an actor, to whom you related this incident.  She was not in the least surprised.  "How do you think I 'get' the characters I portray?"  she said.

You would not go so far as to consider a mentor, more a colleague, lurking within those shadowy walks and passageways of your psyche.  There is nothing of the remotest supernatural about this; it is all quite natural and functional.

In a large sense, you're grateful to have got all this when you did; it allowed you to stop shouting over the conversations your characters and ideas wished to have with you, and in her way,Scheherazade is in there, keeping you in production, providing you with things to listen to.

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