Friday, March 8, 2013

The Writing Game, Feral Cats, and Schadenfreude

There are times when getting to work reminds you of crime scene barriers as portrayed by television dramas. Instead of the yellow Crime Scene tape, there are barriers advising Work Area.  Keep Out.  Trouble is, you don't want to keep out; you want in.  Such signs and barriers suggest the difficulty not only in gaining entrance but being able to work once you're inside.

Other times, you visualize plush rope barriers outside restaurants or night clubs, your entrance interdicted by beefy, intimidating bouncers.  You are made to feel by facial gestures, body shrugs, and verbal address bordering on the abusive that the likes of you have no place inside.  You are recognized for what you in fact are, a gawker, a tourist, a wannabe.

The best times always are the times you scarcely notice the entryway; you pause for a momentary gulp of air or sip of coffee, not surprised at all to see notes spread before you, as much as a page or two already composed.

How can there be such a wide diversity of approach to the matter?  How can you or anyone else for that matter relate external events, matters from the world of Reality, to the ease or lack thereof as they relate to your ability to get at and to work?

The shimmering, eternal beauty is manifest in the fact that such matters don't present themselves to you when work is easy, when the work comes well before you expect or intend, perhaps even in the midst of a conversation with a person of great value in your esteem.  Thinking as such is an adjunct matter, something that arrives after the sessions of primary work, the work of getting some impressions and activity down in scenic form.  However difficult the process was in the beginning, you've learned--mostly--to listen to the characters as they talk to one another or, on occasion, to you, asking for some help in getting a grip on a situation or getting out of an uncomfortable situation.

By now, many of the characters you create regard you with the same kind of wary suspicion a dog or cat at an animal shelter regards the tourists, the passers by.  The characters know of your commitment to immerse them once again in some difficulty rather than getting them anything resembling an A Ticket to Disneyland.  These characters also seem to have an instinct for being suspicious of situations where you step in with an offer to help them elope or escape or take significant steps toward living a better life.  They in effect have learned to read the find print, look for the scam or gimmick.

You are in effect offering them a quid pro quo, the quid being rendered as memorable as a consequence of the quo through which you are committed to send them.  Thus no, you can't expect any help from them.  They pretty well sense they're on their own.  If anything, they experience a kind of schadenfreude whenever you have difficulties with your work.

This is as it should be, you believe.  In the final moment, story should seem easy but not be easy; story should develop from things going, as Robert Burns put it, going "aft aglay."  The reader should be able to experience the tugs and pulls felt by each character, anticipate the slick escarpments and merciless deserts of yearning and longing, relieved the participants are not them, thus schadenfreude expressed in yet another way.

If the entry is sometimes difficult, if the characters don't trust you, if you have difficulty interpreting what they're saying to one another and/or doing to one another, why is this all that worthwhile an enterprise when you could be doing so many other things of greater potential worth?

First and foremost, you have had through a remarkable path of whimsy, a great deal of experience with feral cats.  This came about when you and your late wife thought you were offering a bowl of scraps to an itinerant male, passing through.  Wrong.  You later came to name the cat Madam Ovary, rectifying your misread of her gender.  She produced a number of litters before you could take steps toward birth control, bringing you in contact with an individual you've drawn upon many times in story.

Feral cats do not rub against pant leg nor do they follow one about, hopeful of an occasional pat.  They will accept food from you, although part of the covenant calls for you placing the food in a convenient spot, then removing yourself from the immediate area.  Feral cats recognize you.  They may even assign audible forms of recognition of your presence.  They tolerate you for the greater good of the  feline species and perhaps with some recognition that more than one species can occupy the same territory at the same time.  For your part, you would have the same experience all over again.  Of the enormous population of feral cats with whom you shared two home sites, you actually achieved a relationship with two that could approximate a relationship beyond mere recognition.

Characters are, in effect, like having feral cats.  Writing is in its way like roaming the aisles of an animal shelter.  One particular incident relative to such animal shelters had a result you used in a short story, wherein a character was told his application to adopt a cat had been denied on the grounds that he was not a cat person.  You'd been told in effect that dogs might tend to have issues in your company.

The longer you engage in attempts to tell stories, to write reviews of books, to compose booklength works of nonfiction or essays, the more analogies arise between such activity and others such as dogs, cats, crime scenes, and entrances to restaurants or hard rock cafes.

The longer you engage, the more likely you are as well to see potentials for schadenfreude.  You are still stung, for instance, by a former student, whose work brought him a motion picture development deal for which his pay was in the high end of six figures, and subsequent membership in Writers' Guild of America, west.  For the most part, you've been pleased and proud when students or clients publish.

Neither pleasure nor schadenfreude seem to have any effect on whether you can get to work on a given day.  As a consequence, you've made it a point to develop the muscle memory of attempting to work every day.  Thus you have emerged with a habit composed in its way of schadenfreude, feral cats, suspicion, and a growing braid of stubbornness more complex and notional than the stubbornness genome issued you at birth.

Yesterday, in the midst of a physical exam in which you were being poked, prodded, your reflexes tested, probed, measured, and hooked to any number of machines that in effect wrote things about you, your primary care physician asked you, "Are you a happy man?"

You said "Yes, very."

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