Monday, March 4, 2013

Story: Lights from Distant Stars

You're able to remember with some clarity a seeming conflict between you and parents that produced a positive, mind-expanding result.  You were five or six at the time, sitting outside in the growing darkness of evening against parental suggestions, then requests, then demands that you come in.

You'd become aware, perhaps for the first time, of the absolute multitude of stars, twinkling in the nigh sky, a fact you communicated with some passion, perhaps thinking this would give you a bit more time to watch the glow of splendor before you.

Although your mother was a quick read of who and what you were, memory tells you it was Jake who caught on to the subtext of anxiety you were experiencing.

If the weather conditions permitted, he assured you, those same stars would be in place tomorrow at about the same time and you would, once again, be able to watch them.  At that point, Annie chimed in.  Many people were fond of watching the stars at night.  They made it a point to do so whenever possible.

Jake jumped in with a pretty good offer.  Tomorrow, right after dinner, he'd take you to a nearby park, from where it would be possible to see even more stars, and if you were still interested, next weekend, you'd go to the Griffith Park Observatory, where you could see and learn about even more.

You were pleased to accept the offer.

Some years later, perhaps as many as ten, you learned that some of those stars you'd been looking at were so far away that even though light travels at an impressive speed, the lights you were seeing came from stars that had been dead for some time.

This information came to you in a science class.  Although you were impressed with the information, you were more impressed with the fact that such information was the kind of things adults were talking about whenever they told you how you would understand things better when you were a bit older.

At about this time, you increased your reach somewhat by equating things you'd read by long dead writers with light from dying stars.

To be sure, you were still being told by adults and authority figures that you'd come along a way or so, but you still had plenty to learn because of your relative youth.

Another set of near simultaneous events:  Every year, the publication Writers' Markets, put out a special one-shot publication, filled with hints and advice from established writers.  There were two short features you've thought about over the years, trying to find in their original versions. One was what seemed to you a transformational, revelatory piece from Dashiell Hammett, little more than a list of remarkable things that had happened to him while working as a private detective for the Pinkerton Agency. One of these events involved being sent to track down a man who'd stolen a Ferris wheel.  In many ways, the format had direct and tangential effects on your approaches to telling a story.

The other essay was from a writer you admired, Salvatore Lombino, who wrote as Ed McBain.  In his essay, he outlined a pathway for braiding three disparate elements into a story, using one of his Eighty-Seventh Precinct police procedurals, Ice, as an example.

You now had an equivalent of a recipe for telling a story that was as much a reflection of you as a reflection of your ability to use your understanding of dramatic principles.

Story for you became information, coming to your characters (and you) from distant sources, perhaps coming from beyond your lifetime and/or range of experience.  Story became things you may have seen--such as the stars that one night--and not registered until later, thanks to some stimulus or collision of facts.Questions you wished to have answered by men or women you knew about, but did not know on a personal basis.

You in the middle, filling in details that came to you as a result of some desperate fear such as the fear the five-year-old you felt at being ordered to come in.

Being the youngest in your immediate family, your early year bedtimes were dictated more by your mother's sense of what was appropriate for someone of your age and, without doubt, her need to have time away from the vagrant mass of energy, curiosity, and humors you were at the time.  Often, when you were prepared for and sent to bed, you'd lay awake, listening to the sounds and conversations your parents and sister had, thinking how fortunate they were to have this extra time to experience things.  In reality, you probably hung on to wakefulness for fifteen or twenty minutes rather than the hours apparent to you, but even in those few minutes, the world of your parents and sister seemed so alive and filled with surprises, connections, discoveries you longed to experience.

Now that they are gone and you have them only as lights from distant stars, you have on a number of occasions, dreamed of those times at 6145 1/2 Orange Street, Los Angeles, California, an address of vital importance to you because those were also magical years in still another way.  Those were the years of premiums you could--and did--buy from the makers of breakfast cereals:  decoder rings, badges, adventure books, communications devices so that, were you ever to be lost in the Old West or deepest, darkest Africa, you could find your way out.  If you knew your address by heart, you could send for these treasures.

At one point, you'd thought to take pictures of the places you'd lived as a family, starting with the address in Santa Monica on your birth certificate, and extending to 603 S. Hauser Street, the place from which you sister left to marry and begin her own orbital venture into the worlds of wife, mother, anthropologist and psychologist.  You'd done quite well with photographs of Santa Monica and Burbank, then picked up through equal coincidence a few others, but when you were finally able to get to 6145 1/2 Orange Street, it was not there.  The fourplex building had been subsumed into a condominium complex.

Now, 6145 1/2 Orange Street is another light from a distant star.  You have one or two photographs of the stranger who was you, a short, squinty lad, standing on the stoops.  You have a sense of who you were, where you went to play, what you played at, and at what gardens along the way there were patches of a plant you called sour grass, which was quite the most wonderful thing to chew.

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