Saturday, February 23, 2013

In Character

Your formal introduction to reading was the Dick, Jane, and Spot series of books, which were so repellent to you that you struck out on your own, wishing to put these characters and their well-intended, perhaps even effective repetitions behind you.

"Come. Come. Come.
Come, Spot, Come."

After all these years, such tropes are still burned into your hard drive.  You remember these books because of your sentiment that reading had to be better than this.  Indeed, reading became better as fast as you could manage.

Geometry took a bit longer, although your sister, characteristic of her lifelong effect on you, helped set the bar of your expectations high by imparting a snippet of information that parallel lines, so far as geometry was concerned, met in infinity.  This observation seemed transformative.  You spent time wondering, speculating what the circumstances would be for the meeting of the lines.  Since the meeting was in infinity, it could well be a secret meeting.  You supplied the word "tryst," which had a mischievous sound to you, but both mother and sister suggested in one of those you'll-understand-when-you're-older tones that you keep tryst to yourself.

Later--much later--you were able to supply for your own students an observation about parallel lines.  "In geometry, they meet in infinity.  In fiction, they meet in the last chapter."

Geometry did not live up to your expectations, much less your understanding.  You'd progressed from the grade of B in Geometry I to a D in Geometry II.  Passing grades were necessary in both to satisfy the then State requirements.

Again, you had to find reasons to use geometry, to make it work for you.  There was some immediate help in the form of a course in typography and graphic design, your first experience with having to visualize the inner beauty of pages of printed text.  Of a sudden, you were on good, then glorious terms with geometry, and by the time you were in your early forties, you were designing books because you enjoyed the process.

Against this background of you and your confrontations with Reality, the learning process, and the sometimes achingly slow growth of your storytelling craft, you began to see yourself as one of a series of parallel lines. How natural for you to think of having trysts in infinity with those parallel lines you were aware of.

For instance:

You knew from watching dramas, from skilled actors, and from your own exercises in learning acting techniques that a character whose role calls for the portrayal of being drunk makes a point of exaggerating his or her appearance on the side of sobriety or deliberation.  This lesson came home--dare you say in dramatic fashion--early one morning when you'd returned home from an evening on the carouse.  Trying to fit your key into the door lock produced such a riot of understanding and awareness that you were overcome with giddy laughter.  Taking yourself and the key in both hands, with some focus and deliberation, you fit the key into the door, gained entrance, stumbled to the sofa, where you disturbed the morning repose of your cat, Sam.

You also know, from watching parallel lines of you, actors in plays and film, and characters books, experiencing situations of uncertainty, that there are certain giveaway activities, "tells" broadcasting indecision, bafflement, uncertainty.  These traits are the dramatic equivalents of radios, tuned to emergency broadcasting frequency.  You begin by watching yourself in your attempts to orient yourself to a place or a situation.  You watch crowds for signs of those who are lost, uncertain, undecided, taking mental notes about how characters sometimes call themselves directly to your attention with gestures meant to cover up their embarrassment at being so vulnerable in public.

Reversing the situations, you watch for the movements you make in situations where you are confident and which behavior in public places seems to convey to you confidence and purpose in others.

Spending time in coffee houses has become the adventure of the actor's studio for you.  Sometimes, as you enter your two favored venues, the Peet's Coffee and Tea on upper State Street, or the Cafe Luna in neighboring Summerland, you chose an exercise.  You are about to enter a room where there are a number of others in various states of a snack, a meal, or coffee.  Your goal is to be invisible, not so much as a visit from the owner, a chat with a waitperson, a nod from another customer.  With a growing rate of success, you find you've taught yourself to keep your horizon limited to the edge of your table, to immerse yourself in what you appear to be reading, writing, or sipping, not looking about, offering in any way a glance or body language suggesting you are available for a nod, a smile, a conversation.  Of course, if you'd been quite determined not to be noticed, you'd not have gone out in the first place, but the effects on the exercise and your ability to observe would be compromised.

Working the other side of the street is more difficult, involving more eye contact and inviting posture, extending the horizon beyond the edge of the table.  In effect, you are making yourself an attractive target, which at one point meant attracting an invitation to buy raffle tickets, and another still resulting in a conversation you were also relieved to have at an end.

The point is that all this filters through you and your observations.  You are indeed one line, attempting to run in parallel with characters created by authors and actors to the point where you admire them.

As yourself, the observer of yourself and the world about you, certain basic needs come to the front of the line.  You must see, describe, and learn the idiosyncrasies of the world about you, lest it revert back to the Dick, Jane, and Spot world, the world where you were casting off in your own vehicle.  You and the universe you see must hold some promise for you, the observer, just as geometry held forth the key to helping you design the interiors of books and have greater appreciation of countless others.

You must learn to be a participant as well as an observer in the universe you are able to call to mind and presence about you.

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